Category Archives: Spiritual – Religion

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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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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Listen with open hearts and minds in 2018

Five years ago tonight I joined friends at the Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza City to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

This year I attended midnight Mass in America’s First Cathedral — the Basilica in Baltimore — with Bishop Madden presiding.

Xmas Eve Mass Holy Communion 2

Holy Communion at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 2017 in Baltimore’s Basilica

Bishop Madden is a very special man. I first met him in 2015 when a friend invited me to join his monthly “Bishop’s Walks” in different distressed Baltimore neighborhoods.

Bishop Madden October 2015

Bishop Madden and Lora – October 2015

He believes in putting words and prayer into action, and regularly leads groups (usually 30-50 people) around neighborhoods that have recently witnessed violence. I’ve probably joined a dozen or more of these “Bishop’s Walks” and participated in the songs and prayers for community peace and healing.

Bishop Madden leads walk

Bishop Madden leads a walk through a Baltimore neighborhood.

Then I learned that Bishop Madden had lived and worked in Gaza City many years ago, and my bond with him was cemented.  Every time I’ve prepared to travel back to the Middle East, I’ve ask him to pray for me. He does and he asks me to pray for him. I do.

Tonight on Christmas Eve his sermon focused (of course) on the birth of Jesus, emphasizing that Jesus came to live among humanity to provide hope and an example of how we must treat each other. Then he mentioned “September 23, 2017 in Albuquerque, New Mexico” and my ears perked up.

Bishop Madden spoke of a police officer in Albuquerque who responded to a burglary, and when he got to the scene he saw a man and woman both shooting up with needles in the yard outside. The woman was clearly very pregnant, it turned out later that she was 8 months pregnant. The officer talked with them and the woman said she didn’t want to keep her baby, she knew she couldn’t raise the child. At that moment, the officer knew that he could raise the child. He and his wife had 4 children at home, the youngest was 10 months old. He went home to confer with his wife, which drew chuckles from the people in the Basilica. They have since adopted the baby as their own.

Xmas Eve Mass nativity

Nativity scene at the Basilica

Bishop Madden shared a couple of other examples of how average people who have their hearts and minds open to possibilities, can hear the spirit lead them to do good things. In these troubled times at home and around the world, we must each keep our hearts and minds open to possibilities to do good.

His sermon resonated with me. At the end of the service, Bishop Madden told us he would pray for us to find the good that we are called to do, and then he asked the congregation to pray for him for the same reason.

Xmas Eve Mass Bishop Madden 2As everyone filed out of the Basilica, Bishop Madden stood outside greeting and wishing everyone Merry Christmas. I went up to him and gave him a card I made especially for him with a photo of the Christmas Eve Mass at the Holy Family Church in Gaza City. Bishop Madden’s eyes twinkled as he thanked me. And I wished him a Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to my family and friends, near and far!

May we each find the good that we are called to do in 2018.

Xmas Eve Mass card

 

 

 

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Turn ‘Black Friday’ into Golden Generosity

“Black Friday” represents good shopping deals to some, and the cash register ringing for retailers when their bottom line goes from red to black, but for me it’s become a day symbolizing what’s rotten about the USA and I can’t pretend to hide my scorn.

Few realize the origin of “Black Friday” —

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

The modern version spells bad news for the climate, the economy and the human spirit. But rather than itemize the doom and gloom of crass consumerism and why it’s so bad for our souls and the planet, I’m sharing some tips for alternative “shopping” if people have greenbacks in their wallets. Avoid your credit cards. If you don’t have the cash in hand, you shouldn’t be caught up in holiday shopping of any kind. Sit down, stretch your imagination and make your gifts.

Two years ago, I blogged about gift ideas from my perch in Cairo, see here.

Idea #1 – Remember the refugees.

More than 20 million refugees have fled their homes. Most are living in dire circumstances today, caught between violence, disease, lack of security and respect, and an uncertain future. Treat yourself and family to Ai WeiWei’s documentary ‘Human Flow’ perhaps playing at a theatre near you.  The filmmaker suggests some actions we can take, check it here.  (My sister has been making microloans with Kiva for years. I’m going to follow her example.)

A store is opening in London, the first of its kind, where shoppers can stop by and purchase gifts for refugees. The retail space has been donated by a real estate investment trust. The organization, Help Refugees, will get the gifts into the hands of refugees and an online store is planned soon. If you’re not in London, you can donate here.

Friends in Washington, DC can purchase a Palestinian falafel sandwich for $3 and a portion of each dollar will be sent to help feed refugees worldwide. Check it out here.

Give a gift to a Palestine refugee through UNRWA-USA, the agency that’s been working closely with refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Check out the button on the top right corner here.

If you have the time, flexibility and desire to help refugees directly, there are many opportunities. I recommend Advocates Abroad currently operating in Greece.

Idea #2 – Double the impact.

Good journalism requires eyeballs and subscribers. Give holiday subscriptions to family and friends. You’ll be supporting the journalism you appreciate and sending a subtle message to the gift recipients where their attention should be focused.  Of course, a digital subscription is preferable.

My favorite recommendations include:

Yes! Magazine — “YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions.”

The Nation and the Christian Science Monitor are my two picks for keeping informed on international and local news.

Idea #3 – The children in your life.

This might be the toughest part of holiday giving, at least for me. I remember my own childhood and unwrapping tons of gifts Santa had spread under the tree. I want children today to feel the same anticipation and excitement.

Olive harvest and children

Children in Gaza – 2013

Children everywhere need security, love, education, a planet that can sustain them, and adults who respect their needs today and in the future. If the TV commercials would only drum that message into consumers’ heads rather than the latest iPhone 10 and electronic gadgets.

Books are a good gift for any age, and if you can find them at your local independent bookstore, that’s even better.

P for Palestine

P is for Palestine – A Palestine Alphabet Book sold out within days of its launch in November 2017 but you can preorder your copy of the second edition for delivery in Spring 2018 here.

Other titles to consider:

White and Black – Political Cartoons from Palestine by Mohammad Sabaaneh (2017) for teens and adults.

The Last Earth – A Palestinian Story by Ramzy Baroud (2017) has not been released yet but can be pre-ordered here.

The Anteater and the Jaguar by Rayek R. Rizek (2017) is another book I’m ordering. It’s available on Amazon.

In addition to books, give your time to the children in your life. Itemize your talents (cooking, drawing, story-telling, sewing, knitting, hiking, writing, photography, fishing, etc.) and prepare a home-made gift certificate with a promise to share your talent with your child in a real and meaningful way.

Family photo album with names, dates and stories about family members is a gift I wish I’d received as a child, and I wish I’d given to my own. My family photos are scattered in boxes in storage now.

Time with the children is the best gift any parent can give any child of any age. Their time is priceless because many parents are working two jobs just to put food on the table. Carving out a day, a weekend, or an hour every evening just for your child may be challenging, but the effort will reap rewards for everyone. (This goes for Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, and everyone else.)

hiking

Photo Credit: Michelle Lake 

Idea #4 – Put your money where your heart is.

I don’t believe our hearts reside in Wal Mart #1 retailer, Costco #2 retailer, or Kroger #3 retailer in the U.S.  Shop with thoughtful intention during this holiday season and every day.

Chain store proliferation has weakened local economies, eroded community character, and impoverished civic and cultural life. Moreover, consolidation has reduced competition and may harm consumers over the long-term. See here and here.

Remember, you’re the role model for your family and friends. Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

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Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint?

Rabbi Arik Ascherman originally presented these remarks at a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.  They were subsequently published in The Times of Israel on Sept. 20, here. I share them on my blog to find an audience that might not have seen or read his plea earlier.  Shana Tova to my Jewish friends and family.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Presentation for Senate Briefing – September 19th, 2017

My name is Rabbi Arik Ascherman, and I am here to plead for the life of Aysar’s village. After 21 years leading Rabbis For Human Rights, I recently founded “Torat Tzedek Torah of Justice,” dedicated to the human rights of Israeli single parent moms and Palestinians alike, because the Torah teaches us that every human being is created in God’s Image. I come before you without a political agenda. Defending human rights does take place in a political context. What I mean is that, while we believe that the Occupation must end because it inevitably leads to human rights violations, it is beyond our mandate as a human rights organization to take a position on a one state versus two state versus ten state solution, or where borders should be.

This year, September 21st is both International Peace Day, and Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new year. Also known as Yom Hadin, the day of judgment, in two days we will pray, “On Rosh HaShanah it is written. On Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who will live, and who will die… Who will be content, and who will suffer.” Many of you know this prayer because the late Leonard Cohen put some of the words to music, “Who by fire, who by water” In Susya’s case, “Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint? Who by direct force, and who by slow strangulation? Who by Jerusalem, and who by Washington?”

Arik at US capitol

I’m here, rather than home in Israel preparing for Rosh HaShanah, because the fate of Susya will in all likelihood be determined in Washington. I will explain, but first a bit of background:

The Palestinian residents of Susya lived on both sides of what became the 1948 border. They fled or were expelled, depending on your narrative, from their lands on the Israeli side. Their village on the side under Jordanian control was Susya. In 1967 they again came under Israeli control. In this age of alternative facts, some say that Susya never existed. The truth is that there are pictures of a visit by representatives of the U.S. Consulate, it appears in British records, and there are signs in the archeological site that used to be Susya pointing out the caves that were once homes. There is a 1982 report from the Israeli government lawyer, Plia Albeck. She is known as the “mother of the settlements.” She certainly did not accept the idea that most experts on international law who are not over the top pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian adopt, that the Fourth Geneva convention applies in the West Bank, and forbids the creation of settlements even on so called State Land. She proudly explained in her memoirs that she did everything she could to find lands to establish settlements. In her 1982 report, she is trying very hard to establish a settlement in the area. However, she writes that she has a problem. There is a Palestinian village called Susya, surrounded by 3,000 dunam (750 acres) of privately owned and registered land. It would take me all day to explain the ins and outs of determining land ownership. Suffice it to say that it is highly unusual for Israeli officials to acknowledge Palestinian lands as privately registered, certainly in the South Hebron Hills.

Albeck indicated that there was one hill where a settlement could be set up, and the settlement also called Susya was established in 1983. Several years later the settlers asked Albeck for help, and she wrote to them that they had so clearly built beyond the area she said could be built upon that any attempt on her part to help them would only get them in more legal trouble. More recently, a report by the pro-Settlement NGO “Regavim” noted that there were some 23 homes in the settlement of Susya built on private Palestinian land. Nevertheless, Israel maintains that there is no issue of eifa v’eifa (discriminatory double standards), but simply maintaining law and order.

In 1986, the residents of Palestinian Susya were expelled from their homes in order to make an archaeological site out of an ancient synagogue located there. Make no mistake, we Jews do have ancient roots in our homeland. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians should try to establish their root in our shared land by denying the roots of the other. However, rather than make the synagogue alone an archaeological site, the residents were forced to abandon their entire village. Some of them moved on to their nearby agricultural lands, living again in simple caves. Harassment began in the mid-90s. The villagers were again expelled after a settler was murdered in 2001 (Not by somebody from Palestinian Susya, and no actions have been taken against the settlements where settlers who murdered Palestinians live.) Settlers accompanied the soldiers, who demolished the caves and filled in water cisterns.

The Israeli High Court ruled that this was an illegal expulsion, and returned the Palestinians to their lands. However, they were left “Nisht aher, un nisht aher,” (Yiddish-neither here nor there), because the Court neglected to address how they could replace their demolished homes. In 1971 the Israeli army, in contradiction to the Hague Convention that requires leaving civilian affairs in the hands of the civilian population unless there is an overriding military necessity, abolished Palestinian local and regional planning and zoning committees. The army assumed all planning responsibilities. For the most part, they either inadequately plan for Palestinian building, or don’t plan at all. All of Susya’s applications to build legally were rejected. In the most recent attempt, the army committee ruled in 2013 that it would be “unfair” to force the Palestinians to live in an isolated area without infrastructure. There are of course many isolated settlements. Electrical lines and water mains actually run right by Susya from settlement to settlement, but Palestinian Susya isn’t given access to this infrastructure. The real reason, as a representative of the U.S. Consulate who attended the meeting of the army planning commission with us heard, was expressed by a representative of the local settlement council, “We all know that this hearing is a joke. You would never approve a Palestinian village so close to our settlement.”

In 2011, the local settlement council and Regavim initiated a Court appeal to have Palestinian Susya wiped off the face of the earth. They demanded that all the structures that Palestinians were forced to build “illegally” be demolished.

Here Washington comes in. Contrary to what Israel tells many foreign governments, the Israeli High Court has never ruled that Susya must be destroyed. In fact, the case is still in court. However, neither has the Court prevented the demolitions. Currently, the decision to demolish or not demolish is a government prerogative. The court is interested in an agreement, and will not order the destruction of Susya if the Israeli government objects. It’s therefore legitimate and crucial for the international community to express an opinion. Given the settlement movement’s intense pressure on the government to demolish, the only reason that Susya is still standing today is because of international concern led by the U.S. As a result of that concern, Israel budged in 2015. They agreed to meet with the residents of Susya.

I was present at those meetings. The army offered to recognize and help build Palestinian Susya on their lands. The only disagreement was over which part of their lands the village would be built. Defense Defense Minister Lieberman then replaced Defense Minister Ya’alon. In August 2016, Lieberman asked the Court for more time to study the issue. He requested a postponement until just after the U.S. elections. He has continued to ask for postponements.

Frankly, the common wisdom in both Washington and Jerusalem, was that the current U.S. administration would quickly give the green light for Susya’s demolition. Apparently, that hasn’t happened until now. It seems that in Washington there was an understanding that there will be no chance for a renewed peace process if the U.S. backs down on elementary issues of fairness and justice.

Susya’s residents must be allowed to live on their lands, whether or not there will ever be peace, and no matter who will eventually be sovereign over this area. If we take our Prime Minister seriously when he declares that there will not be a Palestinian state on his watch that only increases our responsibility towards the Palestinians who will remain under our control for the foreseeable future. However, let’s be clear. The obstacle to peace is a lack of hope. Polls show that both Israelis and Palestinians want peace, but neither believe that the other side wants peace. If you allow Susya to be destroyed, hope will be diminished. The Palestinian trust in the ability of the U.S. to be an honest broker will be further compromised.

We are extremely concerned that Washington’s position has now changed, or that Israel believes that Washington has no intent continuing to vigorously engage Israel on behalf of Susya. While we are waiting for the next scheduled court deadline in late October, Minister Lieberman recently declared that the Ministry is working on plans to destroy Susya and the community of Khan Al Akhmar in the coming months. (Khan Al Akhmar is one of the West Bank communities of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, intimidated into leaving Israel in the early 1950s. Along with Susya, Khan Al Ahmar is a very symbolic test case, because all the sides have drawn lines in the sand. Up until now, the international community has protected the school Rabbis For Human Rights helped build there.)

My questions to you are, “What can each of you do to ensure that the U.S. continues to vigorously lead international support for Susya. How many members of Congress will make personal phone calls to the President, his advisors, and the State Department?” I would prefer that human beings do not play God, deciding “Who shall live and who shall die.” But, that’s the reality. In two days I will stand before God to plead for a sweet and good year for myself, for my loved ones, for my people, for my country and for our world. I will pray for Susya, for Khan Al Akhmar, for Israelis in need of public housing and also for Israeli Bedouin communities such as Umm Al Hiran and Al Araqib. They too won’t exist in another year if Israeli government policy doesn’t change, or if there isn’t salvation from another quarter. However, our tradition teaches us that we cannot ask for God’s forgiveness and blessing before making every effort to make amends with our fellow human beings. In the same vein, I cannot come cleanly before the heavenly tribunal without standing first before you. You in this room and in this city are the tribunal with the ability to determine whether Aysar’s village will live or die. With power, comes responsibility. Please do not shirk your responsibility. If you do, this boy will not have a home. It is really that simple.

Some say that Israel’s democracy should make these decisions. That is disingenuous. Palestinians cannot vote for the Knesset. They cannot sit as judges on the courts that determine their fate, nor serve on the planning committee for their communities. Israelis cannot claim a democratic right to determine the fate of those not part of their democracy. Because Israel doesn’t have a constitution or a Bill of Rights, even Israeli Bedouin villages such as Umm Al Hiran or Al Araqib don’t have the protections that democracy is supposed to provide. Although Al Araqib existed before the State of Israel, and Umm Al Hiran exists where Israel placed its residents in 1956, they are a minority. The majority has “democratically” decided to destroy them. Al Araqib has been demolished nearly 120 times since 2010. Israel is currently seeking to complete the expulsion of the non-Jewish residents of Umm Al Hiran, in order to continue the building of Jewish “Hiran” on the rubble of Umm Al Hiran. As a Jew, an Israeli, a rabbi and a Zionist, it pains me to share with you these truths, but they are the truth.

Finally, it is not popular in Israel today to be a human rights defender. If you google, “Ascherman, knife,” you can watch me being attacked by a young knife wielding settler in October 2015. It wasn’t the first time I was physically attacked, nor the last. At the recent sentencing hearing, I said I was not interested in punishment, but rehabilitation. Every young person, whether or not I agree with him or her, and whether they are Jewish or not, should have their entire life ahead of them to fulfill dreams and contribute to society. Having expressed that to an Israeli court on behalf of my attacker, I certainly feel qualified to make the plea in the court before which I now stand -You. “Do not take from Aysar his dreams and his future.” The power is in your hands. Not to make a decision is to make a decision.

Thank you. Shana Tova. I wish you a good and sweet new year. Gmar Khatima Tova-May the final seal for Susya, Umm Al Hiran, Khan Al Akhmar, Al Araqib and for all of us, be the seal of life.

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American Rabbi prevented from traveling to Israel/Palestine

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Israeli government denied 5 members of an interfaith delegation (Jewish, Muslim and Christian) from boarding a flight at Dulles Airport to Israel.

The five people prohibited from flying were Rabbi Alissa Wise, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) deputy director, Philadelphia, PA; Alana Krivo-Kaufman, Brooklyn, NY and Noah Habeeb, Virginia, both also of JVP; Rick Ufford Chase, of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Rockland County, NY; and Shakeel Syed, a national board member with American Muslims for Palestine, Los Angeles, CA.

Read the press release issued by Jewish Voices for Peace.

I think the Israeli government is retreating from the community of Nations behind its carefully constructed “security” apparatus, apparently fearful of everything.

I’ll just put this information here in case anyone feels it’s necessary to contact the Israeli Embassy in the US.

Embassy of Israel

3514 International Drive N.W.

Washington D.C. 20008
 
Tel: 202-364-5500

Email:
Consular Services consular@washington.mfa.gov.il
General Information info@washington.mfa.gov.il

 

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Filed under Israel, People, Politics, Spiritual - Religion, Video

UCC Synod and Palestinian children

 

Leaders of the United Church of Christ (representing nearly a million people) are convening in Baltimore June 30 – July 2. The UCC Synod will be considering resolutions to guide their actions, everything from becoming an immigrant welcoming church, to studying gun violence as a public health emergency, to a more just economy with living wages and job creation, enacting $15/hr minimum wage laws, and working toward disability justice.

UCC

Two resolutions have especially caught my attention.

A Call for the United Church of Christ to Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation and The Earth Is the Lord’s-Not Ours to Wreck; Imperatives for a New Era. 

I’m not a member of UCC but I’ve been invited to attend the Synod and share my thoughts about Palestine.  I’ll be joining others outside Friday evening holding signs at a vigil in front of the Convention Center.

Sunday, I’ll go inside and talk with delegates about Palestinian children who have been detained by Israel. I’ll bring my copy of Dreaming of Freedom.  dreaming-of-freedomrecently learned that Israel is the only country that has a juvenile military court, for Palestinian minors, certainly not Israeli minors. The imprisonment of Palestinian minors is so pervasive, there’s even an international campaign to end this abhorrent practice.

I’ve read the UCC resolution on the rights of children living under Israeli military occupation. Someone certainly did their homework. The facts are irrefutable, and they’re all here, along with a slew of footnotes and references.

However, the resolution is more than just exhortations to the State of Israel and the US government to do the right thing.

In addition to a call to action for the UCC members to educate themselves about the plight of Palestinian children prisoners, this resolution provides very detailed guidance to the U.S. Congress and to Israel about what is expected of them. The actions include: (1) withhold military assistance to Israel consistent with the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, (2) lists specific changes that Israel must make in their process of arrests and detention of children, (3) the U.S. Senate must join 194 countries who have signed onto the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and more.

This military occupation is going to end, and the Palestinians will be free. The wave of public opinion from many different faiths supporting Palestinians is unstoppable. Whether the State of Israel can survive in the future as a neighbor rather than an occupier is yet to be determined.

 

UCC 1

 

 

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Filed under Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion, US Policy