Category Archives: People

Zero-sum logic – the existence of a people depends on the nonexistence of the other

A Palestinian scholar from Gaza, Jehad Abu Saleem, shared the following analysis in February 2018:

The collapse of life in Gaza has entered a critical stage. The eleven years of siege, isolation, and destructive wars of aggression are bearing their bitter fruits. What else but collapse will result from more than a decade of intense choking of a population of two million people. The collapse of Gaza manifests itself on every aspect of life there: rising suicide rates, crime, and new levels of poverty and impoverishment at unprecedented scales.

The siege on Gaza has become a forgotten part of the Palestinian experience under occupation. The siege was normalized despite several attempts to put an end to it. At this point, the fact that Gaza is under siege is a given. Gaza and siege became synonyms. The fact that the siege still persists despite all the attempts to end it should make us rethink the way we talk about Gaza, its history, and its place within the larger context of the Israeli occupation and control of Palestinian lives.

three evils

Much has been written and said about the siege from a humanitarian lens/framework. While a humanitarian framework can be useful when responding to urgent situations, sometimes it distracts us from the larger historical, political, and moral questions that need to be asked when we are faced by large-scale man-made crises like the one in Gaza.

The siege on Gaza is not an isolated event in the history of Palestine. It happened as part of the unfolding of a larger and much more complicated history and series of events. The siege on Gaza and its perpetuation to the current level is the logical conclusion of a situation that is inseparable from the logic that defines the relationship between Zionist Jews and Palestinian Arabs in historic Palestine. It’s a zero-sum logic, a mutually exclusive reality in which the existence of a people depends on the nonexistence of the other.

amir-schiby-bakr-boys-cf

The question haunting people in Gaza now is what will become of them in light of any future escalation. No one knows what will this look like, but what we know for sure by now, and it’s a terrifying thing: we know that we are now in a region where people’s wishes for dignity and liberation no longer mean anything. The triumph of counter-revolution backed by regional and international players has normalized acts of mass murder and depopulation of millions of people for the sake of crushing demands for liberation. We know that Palestinians are vulnerable in light of the current alignment of powers in the Middle East. All this nonsense about a so-called “resistance” camp rushing to the rescue of Palestinians is pure nonsense in light of the current geopolitical context. Gaza might end up paying the price of the normalization of what we saw in Syria, Yemen, the Sinai, and Iraq under the pretext of “war on terror.”

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Filed under Gaza, Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized

The magical Oud

Music can sooth the busy mind, and calm the tormented soul.  Music can bring people together, and it can lift them above their struggles.

oudFive years ago, on a beautiful evening in Gaza, I was serenaded by an Oud player and his fellow musicians for several hours. The event was a complete surprise to me, and was without a doubt one of the highlights of my visit.  I will never forget the magical feeling I had that evening. “This can’t be real.”  “This is too good to be true.”  “Someone pinch me and wake me from this dream.”

I haven’t stopped thinking of these wonderful musicians in Gaza, especially the Oud player, Yehal Adel.  You can catch a snippet of Yehal’s talent here. He composed the music and words to this beautiful song about his love for Jerusalem.

Recently I was reminded of the power of the magical Oud when I heard Rahim AlHaj play in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He was playing with a group at the St. John’s United Methodist Church.

Rahim AlHaj is world famous and his performance at the Library of Congress is just a sample.  I hope I can introduce these two Oud players, and someday they may play together!

Rahim AlHaj was born in Baghdad, Iraq and began playing the oud (Arabic lute) at age nine. He moved to the US in 2000 as a political refugee and has resided in Albuquerque, New Mexico, ever since. Rahim has performed around the globe and is considered one of the finest oud players in the world. His compositions evoke the experience of exile from his homeland and of new beginnings in his adopted country. In 2015 Rahim was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.

Sourena Sefati was born in Ramsar, Iran, and started playing santour (hammered dulcimer) at age 11. He won the award for best composer of Iranian music at Art University in 2006 and served as instructor at Art University and Elmi-Karbordi University in Tehran from 2008 to 2014. Sourena moved to the United States in 2014, and teaches Iranian music in Albuquerque.

Issa Malluf is a Palestinian-American native of New Mexico. Originally self-taught, Issa has become a highly skilled and internationally recognized specialist in Middle Eastern, Arabic, and North African percussion.

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Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized, Video

District Court slaps anti-boycott state law

A big day for Americans who believe in peaceful, non-violent protest such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

A teacher from Kansas is standing up for her right to boycott Israeli products, and taking the State of Kansas to federal court.

The following excerpts are from the district court’s opinion.

First, STATE OF KANSAS PASSES ANTI-BOYCOTT LAW:

In June 2017, Kansas enacted House Bill 2409 (“the Kansas Law”). This law requires all state contractors to certify that they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel. Kan. Stat. Ann. § 75-3740f(a).

The Kansas Law defines a “boycott” as:  [E]ngaging in a refusal to deal, terminating business activities or performing other actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with persons or entities doing business in Israel or in territories controlled by Israel, if those actions are taken either: (1) In compliance with or adherence to calls for a boycott of Israel other than those boycotts to which 50 U.S.C. § 4607(c)1  applies; or (2) in a manner that discriminates on the basis of nationality, national origin or religion, and that is not based on a valid business reason . . . .

Second, KANSAS TEACHER DECIDES TO BOYCOTT ISRAEL:

In May 2017, plaintiff Esther Koontz began boycotting Israeli businesses. She first became motivated to boycott Israel in 2016 when she saw a presentation about conditions in Israel and Palestine. And on July 6, 2017, Mennonite Church USA passed a resolution calling on Mennonites to take steps to redress the injustice and violence that both Palestinians and Israelis have experienced. Ms. Koontz is a member of a Mennonite Church organization. Specifically, this organization’s resolution called on Mennonites to boycott products associated with Israel’s occupation of Palestine. As a consequence, plaintiff decided she would not buy any products or services from Israeli companies or from any company who operates in Israeli occupied Palestine.

Esther Koontz Kansas teacherEsther Koontz, Kansas teacher, credit to ACLU

Ms. Koontz was qualified to train math teachers and accepted for employment, but when she refused to sign the state’s certification that she would not boycott Israel, Kansas wouldn’t hire her.

Twenty-two states—Maryland, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Illinois, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, California, Michigan, Texas, Nevada, Kansas, and North Carolina—have so far passed some form of legislation against boycotts of Israel.  Wisconsin makes it twenty-three.

The Intercept noted that the attempts to punish and repress speech and activism aimed at ending the Israeli occupation are so widespread that the Center for Constitutional Rights has dubbed this movement “the Palestine Exception” to free speech rights in the U.S.  Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md) wanted to send violators of his anti-boycott legislation to prison.

Ms. Koontz — with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union — decided to sue Kansas claiming its anti-boycott law violates the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.  Along with her complaint, she asked the Federal District Court to enjoin the State of Kansas from enforcing its anti-boycott law while the case is pending.

The attorneys for Kansas argued her request for an injunction shouldn’t be granted because Ms. Koontz had never requested a waiver from the anti-boycott law. If she had, the state says it would have granted her a waiver.

The Court ruled January 30, 2018 that a person doesn’t have to apply for a waiver in this type of case because of the chilling effect the Kansas law has on our First Amendment liberties.  And Judge Crabtree decided that Ms. Koontz is likely to win her case!

The conduct the Kansas Law aims to regulate is inherently expressive. It is easy enough to associate plaintiff’s conduct with the message that the boycotters believe Israel should improve its treatment of Palestinians. And boycotts—like parades—have an expressive quality. Forcing plaintiff to disown her boycott is akin to forcing plaintiff to accommodate Kansas’s message of support for Israel.

I wonder if any of the other anti-boycott state laws have been challenged in court. Maybe this challenge from Kansas will send a sobering message to states that may be considering adopting such laws.  “Think twice before you get on AIPAC’s and Israel’s bandwagon. Don’t tread on Americans’ First Amendment rights!” 

Read the court’s opinion in full. This is a case to watch closely. Thank you Ms. Koontz!

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Jewish Federation’s astonishing admission to New Orleans City Council

In an odd twist of events, on January 11, 2018, the New Orleans City Council approved a non-binding resolution to review the city’s investments and contracts to ensure that they are consistent with human rights; and two weeks later the city council unanimously withdrew the resolution. The stated reason was to correct a procedural flaw in its passage.

There’s more to this story than meets the public’s eye. But first, read the resolution, reprinted in full below.

RESOLUTION

NO. R-18-5

CITY HALL: January 11, 2018

BY: COUNCILMEMBERS CANTRELL, BROSSETT, GRAY, HEAD AND WILLIAMS

WHEREAS, the City of New Orleans (hereinafter the “City”) was declared to be a Welcoming City on October 1, 2015, to create a more inclusive, receptive city environment for all local populations; and

WHEREAS, the City commits itself to protect, respect, and fulfill the full range of inherent human rights for all, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous other international human rights instruments; and

WHEREAS, the City enshrined these values in Ord. No. 19278 M.C.S.; 25700 M.C.S.; Code of Ord. Sec. 86-4. (Safeguard all individuals within the city from discrimination because of race, creed, national origin or ancestry, color, religion, gender or sex, sexual orientation, gender identification, marital status, age, physical condition or disability in connection with employment, housing, public accommodations, financial practices, and credit transactions; to protect their interest in personal dignity and freedom from humiliation; to make available to the city their full productive capacities in employment; to secure the city against domestic strife and unrest which would menace its democratic institutions; to presevre the public safety, health, and general welfare; and to further the interest, rights, and privileges within the city); and

WHEREAS, the City has pledged to meet its commitments to rewarding workplace diversity, promoting local industry, protecting the environment, and promoting equity through compliance with civil rights; and

WHEREAS, consistent with its responsibilities to its residents, the City of New Orleans, has social and ethical obligations to take steps to avoid contracting with or investing in corporations whose practices consistently violate human rights, civil rights or labor rights, or corporations whose practices egregiously contradict efforts to create a prosperous, educated, healthy and equitable society; NOW, THEREFORE

BE IT RESOLVED, That the City Council encourages the creation of a process to review direct investments and contracts for inclusion on, or removal from, the City’s list of corporate securities and contractual partners, according to the values of the City as referenced in this Resolution.

THE FOREGOING RESOLUTION WAS READ IN FULL, THE ROLL WAS CALLED ON THE ADOPTION THEREOF, AND RESULTED AS FOLLOWS:

YEAS: Brossett, Gray, Guidry, Ramsey, Williams – 5

NAYS: 0

ABSENT: Cantrell, Head – 2

AND THE RESOLUTION WAS ADOPTED.

Not a word about Israel, Palestine, BDS, or human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories. Not a peep about which investments or contracts the city should review. But as soon as the ink was dry, the Jewish Federation of New Orleans was down at City Hall lobbying councilors to rethink their support for this pro-Palestinian resolution because they found the resolution’s “anti-Israel sentiment was offensive.” And the elected officials fell right into line.

latoya-cantrell-51c5550333bea9d5

New Orleans Mayor-Elect LaToya Cantrell ((Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) )

Mayor-Elect Cantrell explained her reason for rescinding the resolution.

Compounding the procedural deficiencies in the adoption of this resolution, [suspension of the rules is allowed via Rule 17] its passage has shrouded the city in an undesired and damaging falsehood. Statements from outsiders now claim that New Orleans is now one of the largest cities in the United States supportive of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), a movement aimed at delegitimizing the State of Israel. This is totally inaccurate, untruthful and does not reflect the values of New Orleans. We are a city that is welcoming, and open to all. Well intentioned actions can be taken out of context by others for their own political benefit, with negative connotations that overshadow any original motives; I believe that is what happened with this resolution.

As mayor-elect, I am committed to leading a city that champions civil and human rights, democratic engagement, and transparency. While I will continue to examine issues of civil rights and fair contracting, I want to unequivocally reiterate that I am neither supportive of the BDS movement nor in any way hostile to the Jewish community or the State of Israel.

Clearly, the Mayor-elect did not hear from the UN Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk (Canada), who recently called on the international community to recognize Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestine as unlawful under international human rights law and to use the tools in its toolbox to bring an end to the occupation. (Photo on Left)

The Mayor-elect didn’t hear from Amira Hass, the Israeli journalist who has written extensively about the occupation and its impact on both Palestinians and Israelis, and most recently about Israel’s decision to blacklist people and organizations that support BDS. See her Jan. 8 column.  (Photo top right).

I suspect the Mayor-elect might not know Gideon Levy, another Israeli journalist, who has written for many years about Israel, Palestine, the occupation and BDS (photo middle right), nor Rabbi Arik Ascherman (photo bottom right) who lives in Israel and after 21 years leading Rabbis For Human Rights, recently founded “Torat Tzedek Torah of Justice,” dedicated to the human rights of Israeli single parent moms and Palestinians alike, because the Torah teaches Jews that every human being is created in God’s Image.

That a non-binding resolution — calling for the city to review its investments and contracts to ensure they’re consistent with the city’s support for human rights — might impact the State of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, is a damning confirmation by the Jewish Federation of New Orleans that at least some American Jews know that Israel’s dehumanizing treatment of Palestinians is contrary to international human rights law.

THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MOMENT!

I hope New Orleans Mayor-elect and the full City Council will reflect on this unintended admission by the Jewish Federation, and take it upon themselves to learn more about the non-violent BDS movement whose goal is not to “delegitimize Israel” (as the Mayor-elect seems to believe) but to focus the world’s attention on the human rights of Palestinians who have lived under Israel’s occupation for half a century. The City of New Orleans needs to get on the right side of history.

Loss of Land

 

 

 

 

 

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One Country – A Bold Proposal To End The Israeli-Palestinian Impasse

By Ali Abunimah (2006)

One Country

“Crazy!” my Jewish friends and family might say, but this small book (a quick read in two nights) spells out a very strong argument for ending the status quo in Israel-Palestine which few think is good for anyone.

This might have been “bold” in 2006 but the one-state idea has received much more attention in recent years.

The status quo isn’t working for anyone.

Israeli Jews live in constant fear of the “other” and discomfort that the realities of the occupation don’t match up with their religious ideals of justice, fairness and טוֹב.

Palestinians live under the daily grind and humiliation of the occupation, the unrelenting violence and death, the brutal treatment at the hands of the “other”.

The exalted two-state plan has been the ostensible goal of the international community and U.S. Administrations for decades. Presumably, Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” envisions two states. But that idea is dead and it’s time for a formal burial.

For most observers familiar with the “facts on the ground” and the rapid settlement expansion on Palestinian territory in recent years, the notion of two states existing side-by-side evaporated 10-15 years ago.  But then what?

Ali Abunimah (a Palestinian-American) proposes urgent action on two fronts: dialogue and resistance. “One is in the realm of dialogue, imagination, and construction of an inclusive vision,” Abunimah says.  “At the same time, there is a pressing need for resistance to the outcome Israel is trying to impose on the Palestinians, one that can only lead to greater bloodshed and suffering on all sides. These appear to be contradictory mandates, but they mist go hand in hand.”

Ali-Abunimah

Ali Abunimah – author

Chapter One, An Impossible Partition, is a good history lesson for anyone who needs a refresher.  I would add, ten years after the book was written, that Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk has recently called for the international community to recognize the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories as unlawful under international law, a fairly new development which adds more fuel to Abunimah’s call for dialogue about alternatives.

Chapter Two, “The State of Israel is Coming to an End” focuses on the demographic realities which pose an insurmountable hurdle for Israel to remain as a democratic Jewish state.

In 2004, Professor Arnon Soffer, chair of geostrategic studies at the University of Haifa, predicted that by 2020 there would be 6.3 million Jews and 8.8 million Palestinians due to the high Palestinian birth rate. Sergio Della Pergola, a demographer at the Hebrew University, noted that even using the lowest possible credible estimates for the Palestinian population in the occupied territories, the trends are “incontestable” : Within a few years Palestinians will form a clear majority.

Israeli planners and government officials have been engaged in all sorts of contortions to redraw the lines of Jerusalem proper to grab as much land with as few Arabs as possible to address this demographic challenge.    EastJerusalemMap

Chapter Three, It Could Happen Here is a chilling warning. Many might turn away and prefer not to look, just as many Germans did in the 1930s. Israeli Professor Zeev Sternhell, a world specialist on fascism, who headed the Dept. of Political Science at Hebrew University, puts it best in his op-ed in Haaretz on January 19, 2018. “In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism“.  In the very same issue, Jeff Halper, an Israeli-American Jew, shares his opinion.  “The ‘Two-state Solution’ Only Ever Meant a Big Israel Ruling Over a Palestinian Bantustan. Let It Go.”

Chapter Four, A United, Democratic State in Palestine-Israel sketches out with broad strokes what a One State might look like, reminding the reader that this isn’t the first time in world history where different ethnic and religious communities came together as one. In fact, the idea isn’t even a new one for the Zionists and Palestinians. And Belgium offers some lessons.

Chapter Five, Learning from South Africa provides some comparisons between Israel-Palestine and apartheid South Africa. Israelis today will bristle at the mention of the two in the same breadth, but there’s no denying the similarities.  Although South Africa still has a long way to go, they have already come far in dismantling the apartheid regime that priviledged the white Afrikaners and treated the black Africans as subhuman.  What did it take for the Afrikaners to give up power? What will it take to get the Zionists to give up their power? Abunimah says the whites were able to dismount without being devoured because the ANC was ready with a vision that allowed them to do so. The Palestinians must begin providing a vision of one country with equal rights for all — Jews and Palestinians.

Living in what amounts to a self-contained moral universe in which the victors are the permanent victims and the “others” are invisible except as a threat allows Israel — as with apartheid South Africa — to justify to itself almost any measure.

Chapter Six, Israelis and Palestinians Thinking the Unthinkable 

Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli geographer and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, predicted more than twenty years ago that eventually Israel would be faced with the choice between extremist solutions to maintain its exclusivist “Jewish character” or binationalism.

Palestinians do not have the political or material strength to stop the settlements and walls that have rendered a two-state solution unworkable. But Israel’s might is useless in a struggle that is not about winning territory but securing democratic rights for all.

The PLO and its older leadership never appreciated the need to build international support; they were/are more concerned about statecraft and setting up embassies in foreign countries, and gaining recognition in the halls of power. But the younger Palestinians, both in Palestine and the diaspora, aren’t waiting. They are eagerly building the international connections and solidarity with people around the globe. That might explain why the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is spreading so rapidly, and why Israel is responding so harshly to BDS supporters.

Ali Abunimah’s book might have been ahead of its time, but it’s very important reading right now, today. I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

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Why I Am Angry by Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist, journalist and writer, began his life in Hitler’s Germany, arrived in Palestine with his family in 1933, joined the Irgun underground in 1938 to fight the British but quit after three years in protest of the Irgun’s anti-Arab attitudes and its terrorist methods. His biography is very interesting, check it out here.  I haven’t read any of his books, but pledge to correct that deficiency this year.

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery credit – Veterans Today

Avnery wrote the following message on January 6, 2018.  I share it here in full because the history of the two branches of Jews (the Mizrahim and Ashkenazim) is currently playing out in Israel’s politics, with deep implications for the future of the region and the Palestinians. This internal division may be more consequential than the Israeli-Arab divide that dominates the news.

Why are we (humans in general) so predisposed to see our neighbors as “the other” and to cast “the other” in such disparaging terms?  What is the antithesis of “the other”?            

Why I am Angry

I AM angry with the Mizrahi elite. Very angry indeed.

Mizrah is the Hebrew word for East. Eastern Jews are those who lived for many centuries in the Islamic world. Western Jews are those who lived in Christian Europe.

The words are, of course, misnomers. Russian Jews are “Westerners”, Moroccan Jews are “Easterners”. A look at the map shows that Russia is far to the East of Morocco. It would be more accurate to call them “Northerners” and “Southerners”. Too late, now.

Westerners are generally called “Ashkenazim”, from the old Hebrew term for Germany. Easterners were usually called “Sephardim”, from the old Hebrew term for Spain. But only a small part of the Easterners are actually descended from the flourishing Jewish community in medieval Spain.

IN TODAY’S Israel, the antagonism between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim is growing stronger from year to year, with vast political and social repercussions. It is no exaggeration to see this as the determining phenomenon of current Israeli society.

Before I continue, allow me to state (once again, I am afraid) my personal part in this.

My last few years in Germany, before we fled, were spent in the shadow of the ascent of the Swastika, the last half year already under Nazi rule. I came to hate Germany and everything German. So when our ship reached the port of Jaffa, I was enthusiastic. I was just ten years old, and the Jaffa of 1933 was in every respect the exact opposite of Germany – noisy, full of exotic smells, human. I loved it.

As I learned later, most of the early Zionist “pioneers” who arrived in Arab Jaffa hated it on sight, because they identified themselves as Europeans. Among them was the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl himself, who did not want to go to Palestine in the first place. On his only visit here, he hated its Oriental character. He vastly preferred Patagonia (in the Argentine).

Fifteen years later, during Israel’s war of independence, I was promoted to the lofty rank of squad-leader and had the choice between new immigrant recruits from Poland or Morocco. I chose the Moroccans and was rewarded by them with my life: when I was lying wounded under fire, four of “my Moroccans” risked their lives to get me out.

It was then that I got a foretaste of things to come. Once, when we got a few precious hours of leave, some of my soldiers refused to go. “The girls in Tel Aviv don’t go out with us,” they complained, “for them we are blacks.” Their skin was just a little bit darker than ours.

I became very sensitive to this problem, when everybody else still denied its very existence. In 1954, when I was already the editor-in-chief of a news-magazine, I published a series of articles that caused a huge stir: “They (expletive) the Blacks”. Those Ashkenazim who did not hate me before, started to hate me then.

Then came the riots of “Wadi Salib”, a neighborhood in Haifa, where a policeman shot a Mizrahi. My paper was the only one in the country to defend the protesters.

A few years later the small group of Mizrahim started an unruly protest movement, expropriating the American term “Black Panthers”. I helped them. Golda Meir famously exclaimed: “They are not nice people”.

Now, many years later, a new generation has taken over. The Internal conflict dominates many aspects of our life. The Mizrahim make up about half the Jewish population of Israel, the Ashkenazim form the other half. The division has many manifestations, but people don’t like to talk about them openly.

For example, the great majority of Likud voters are Mizrahim, though the party leadership is predominantly Ashkenazi. The opposition Labor Party is almost completely Ashkenazi, though they just elected a Mizrahi leader, in the vain hope that this will help them to overcome the profound alienation of the Mizrahim.

MY OPPOSITION to the treatment of the Mizrahim was primarily a moral one. It sprang from the desire for justice. It also sprang from my dream that all of us, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, would eventually be submerged in a common Hebrew nation. But I must confess that there was another motive, too.

I have always believed – as I believe now – that there is no future for Israel as a foreign island in the Oriental sea. My hopes go much further than just peace. I hope for Israel’s becoming an integral part of the “Semitic region” (an expression I invented long ago).

How? I have always entertained a monumental hope: that the second or third generation of Mizrahim will remember its heritage, the times when Jews were an integral part of the Muslim world. Thus they would become the bridge between the new Hebrew nation in Israel and its Palestinian neighbors, and indeed the entire Muslim world.

Being despised by the Ashkenazim as “Asiatic” and inferior, would it not have been natural for the Mizrahim to reclaim their glorious heritage, when the Jews in Iraq, Spain, Egypt and many other Muslim countries were fully integrated partners in a flourishing civilization, at a time when Europeans were mainly barbarians?

Jewish philosophers, mathematicians, poets and medical doctors were partners of that civilization, side by side with their Muslim counterparts. When the persecution and expulsion of Jews and the inquisition were facts of life in Europe, Jews (and Christians) enjoyed full rights in the Muslim world. They were accorded the status of “Peoples of the Book” (the Hebrew Bible) and fully equal, except for being exempted from army service and paying a tax instead. Anti-Jewish incidents were rare.

When all the Jews were expelled from Christian Spain, only a small minority immigrated to Amsterdam, London and Hamburg. The vast majority went to Muslim countries, from Morocco to Istanbul. Curiously enough, only a handful settled in Palestine.

HOWEVER, WHEN masses of Oriental Jews arrived in Israel, my hopes were dashed. Instead of becoming the bridge between Israel and the Arab world, they became the most ardent Arab-haters. The centuries of Muslim-Jewish culture were erased, as if they had never existed.

Why? Being despised by the “superior” Ashkenazim, the Mizrahim started to despise their own culture. They tried to become Europeans, more anti-Arab, more super-patriot, more right-wing.

(Though one Mizrahi friend once told me: We don’t want to be a bridge. A bridge is something people trample on.)

Yet no one can escape from himself. Most Mizrahim in Israel speak with an Arab accent. They love Arab music (presented as “Mediterranean” music), and have no love for Mozart and Beethoven. Their features are different from European ones. All the more reason to hate the Arabs.

The erasing of the Eastern-Jewish culture is all-encompassing. Israeli children of Eastern descent have no idea of the great writers and philosophers of their heritage. They don’t know that the Christian Crusaders who conquered the Holy Land butchered Muslims and Jews alike, and that Jews defended Jerusalem and Haifa shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim neighbors.

Rabbi Moses Maimonides – the great Rambam – is well known, but only as an important rabbi, not as the friend and personal physician of Saladin, the greatest of Muslim heroes. The many other medieval Sephardic intellectuals are hardly known at all. None of them appears on our paper money.

YET I am an optimist, in this respect also.

I believe that a new Mizrahi intelligentsia will search for its roots. That with the rise of its social status, social complexes will give way to a normal patriotism. That a fourth or fifth generation will come forward and struggle not only for equality, but also for peace and integration in the region.

As our Arab friends would say: Inshallah.

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How mainstream media gets Palestine wrong

Mariam Barghouti

Mariam Barghouti – credit Al Jazeera

Thanks to Mariam Barghouti, a Palestinian American writer based in Ramallah, for lifting the veil from the mainstream media’s reporting on Palestine. Her piece in Al Jazeera (Dec. 30, 2017) is a must read for anyone who cares to understand the context behind the “news” and how the mainstream media can get so much, so wrong!

I like to think that I’ve become a more critical consumer of the news media since living in Gaza (2012-2013). I admit I was certainly fooled for many years, or perhaps just a lazy news consumer who had no reason to question the “accepted” narrative.

When the New York Times deletes reference to “occupied Gaza” as it did here, and NBC pulls its veteran reporter from Gaza after he witnessed and reported the killing of four Palestinian kids on the beach, it’s clear to any thinking adult that the mainstream media is massaging the narrative. The questions we should be asking ourselves are why? for what purpose? for who?  The following answers are my own formulations; I’d like to hear from more experienced media analysts.

WHY?  Why is the mainstream media invested in perpetuating the colonial narrative in the Israel – Palestine story rather than standing back and providing a deeper, richer context?

Some believe in the conspiracy theory, that the Jews control the media and so the narrative of the Middle East is naturally designed to suit their interests. Hogwash!  I’ve heard this old canard repeated by nuts and also by people who should know better. While there may be some Zionists in high positions who are able to exert editorial control, the notion that Jews control the mainstream media is a broken record and should be resoundingly rejected once and for all.  Read this piece from 1996 in FAIR to understand how this conspiracy theory got started.

I tend to think that the mainstream media is simply stuck in its own cocoon of ignorance. Too many generations of western journalists have grown up inside the colonial narrative which says that Israel is fighting for its very existence surrounded by hostile neighbors. If that skewed notion forms the bedrock of their understanding of current events, then we shouldn’t be surprised with the mainstream media’s version of events.

Maybe western journalists need to be acculturated into narratives other than their own. I’m not suggesting that they adopt wholesale the narrative propounded by the Palestinians; that would be just as unprofessional as the dilemma they face today. But they must be made aware of narratives that challenge the dominant narrative.

What purpose?  For what purpose does the dominant colonial narrative about Israel – Palestine seem to stick despite abundant contradictory evidence?

Here’s where I tend to believe in a conspiracy theory. Israel has been the U.S. protectorate since before David Ben-Gurion, the head of the World Zionist Organization, declared the independence of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. The U.S. was the first country to recognize Israel minutes later. The state of Israel has benefitted from U.S. largesse both in terms of money and protection from international condemnation at the United Nations.

The state of Israel has also benefitted from the U.S. government’s refusal to investigate or hold it accountable for its misdeeds. If Americans only knew how tight the U.S. government and the government of Israel really are, we might question those in power. As it currently stands, there’s very little questioning and a great deal of genuflecting when Israeli leaders call Washington.iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

For who?  Certainly, the fallacious facade of the U.S. as a neutral mediator for peace in the Middle East has been stripped away once and for all. Perhaps then-Secretary John Kerry was the last to believe he could carry such a mantle in 2013. Many of us knew years earlier which side the U.S. was beholden to.

The mainstream media’s dominant narrative serves one side, and one side only. It’s time for professional journalists and their editors to come to that realization. When Israel’s hasbara permeates our news diet so thoroughly and without question, we all suffer, and the media’s credibility suffers just as much as when Donald Trump yells “fake news”.

Please read Mariam Barghouti’s piece in Al Jazeera (Dec. 30, 2017). The lives of Israelis and Palestinians depend on more informed Americans.

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