Category Archives: Uncategorized

U.S. Senators tell Netanyahu to stop!

Dianne-Feinstein-with-Susiya-residents

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) with residents of the Village of Susya

I’m really amazed that U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) — my Senator — added his name, along with nine other Senators, to a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu urging him not to destroy the Palestinian village of Susya. I haven’t seen Senator Heinrich’s support for Palestine in past years, but maybe I need to be looking closer. His signature on this letter certainly earns my appreciation.

In September 2017, I shared Rabbi Arik Ascherman’s testimony to Congress about Susya here.  Another very good summary of the history of the conflict pertaining to Susya was written by a religious Jew, Zionist and former IDF soldier — Shaiya Rothberg. Here’s the link to that Tikkun article in December 2016.

Susiya-Tent

Photo credit – Guy Butavia, The New York Review of Books – ‘I Am an Illegal Alien on My Own Land’ by David Shulman

Rothberg writes: “The Israel-Palestine conflict is complex, but Israeli policy in Susya is simple: It consists of destroying Palestinian Susya by dispossessing and expelling her residents, and in parallel building Jewish Susya, populated by Israeli Jews.

First, it is clear that this is not legitimate government. Why do we respect the authority of the state to plan our shared spaces? Because as citizens we can equally participate in the state’s decision making process and because the state is responsible for our wellbeing. But the Palestinians of Susya do not live in the State of Israel and are not Israeli citizens. They are denied any role in state decisions regarding them. And the state does not seek their wellbeing but rather to destroy their village and build a settlement for Israeli Jews in almost the same spot. This is not legitimate government but a form of organized crime. To argue that the homes of Palestinian Susya are “illegal”, because our discriminatory regime authorizes building for Jews but prohibits it for Palestinians, is a mockery of the idea of law.

Susya is a national test for Israel. I believe that anyone who cares about Israel or Judaism must help us break out of this immoral and self-destructive cycle. We need you to take a stand. Destroying Susya will cause terrible suffering, unjust and unnecessary, and endangers the lives of us all. If you care about Israel, this is the time to raise your voice in protest – and wake up your community to do the same – before our bulldozers are sent to destroy the homes of the defenseless residents of Palestinian Susya.”

The Senators’ letter is unusually strong but until Congress is willing to make demands of Israel that carry some consequences, I fear these words won’t stop Netanyahu from carrying out his plans.

November 29, 2017

His Excellency Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

We write today to urge your government not to demolish the Palestinian village of Susiya and the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar. The displacement of entire communities would be an irreversible step away from a two-state solution, and we urge your government to abandon its efforts to destroy these villages.

As you know, Susiya sits atop private Palestinian land in “Area C” of the West Bank, and has existed in the South Hebron Hills since at least since the 1830s. Today, approximately 45 families—including 85 children—call Susiya their home and survive through subsistence farming and shepherding.

Khan al-Ahmar is a Bedouin community of 170 people situated east of Jerusalem and adjacent to the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. It has a mosque and a local school built of recycled tires and mud, which serves more than 150 children from the surrounding area. Because of the community’s location, demolishing Khan al-Ahmar would make it increasingly difficult to establish a contiguous Palestinian state as part of any future two-state solution.

Earlier this year, we were alarmed by the public comments of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who said that “work was being done to implement plans to evacuate the Palestinian villages of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills and Khan al-Ahmar near Ma’aleh Adumim within a few months.”

Instead of forcibly evicting these communities, we encourage your government to fairly re-evaluate Susiya’s professionally-developed master plan and provide the residents of Khan al-Ahmar equal building rights. Your government’s threats to demolish these communities are particularly distressing in light of the Israeli Civil Administration’s efforts to dramatically expand settlements throughout the West Bank.

According to the Israeli non-government organization Peace Now, in 2017, Israel advanced 88 plans that include 6,742 housing units in 59 separate settlements, a 258 percent increase in the number of housing units proposed in 2016. Further, your government officially approved the construction of the new settlement of Amihai, which is in addition to the 19 settler outposts that have been retroactively legalized since 2011.

We have long championed a two-state solution as a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, your government’s efforts to forcibly evict entire Palestinian communities and expand settlements throughout the West Bank not only directly imperil a two-state solution, but we believe also endanger Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy. We urge you to change course so that you do not foreclose the possibility of establishing two states for two peoples.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Bernard Sanders
United States Senator

Patrick Leahy
United States Senator

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Tom Carper
United States Senator

Al Franken
United States Senator

Elizabeth Warren
United States Senator

Martin Heinrich
United States Senator

Jeff Merkley
United States Senator

Brian Schatz
United States Senator

 

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Filed under Israel, People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy

Dreaming of Freedom

dreaming-of-freedom

Dear Representative McCollum,

Thank you for sponsoring H.R. 4391, Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.  I want to help educate your colleagues in Congress about the serious abuses perpetrated upon Palestinian children by Israel, including military detention and torture.

Your legislation requires that the Secretary of State certify that American funds do not support Israel’s military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children. This measure should be a no-brainer, but I know that the Israeli lobby will fight tooth and nail to obfuscate the issues.

I highly recommend a book on this subject “Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak” (June 2016).  I hope the testimonies of Palestinian child prisoners who have been subjected to Israeli detention and torture will be part of the public record.

I will ask my member of Congress from New Mexico to cosponsor your bill. If there’s anything further I can do to help, please let me know.

Sincerely,

 

 

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When is “anti-Semitism” NOT anti-Semitism?

antisemitism

The program on Baltimore’s WYPR caught my attention because it was focused on a discussion about anti-Semitism with Ira Forman, a distinguished visiting professor at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the University’s Center for Jewish Civilization. Professor Forman, who has worked for more than forty years as a leading advocate for Jewish culture and community, is currently teaching a course in Contemporary Anti-Semitism. Previously, he spent four years as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

This 40 minute program is worth a listen, here.

I thought the host, Tom Hall, did a great job with the discussion about BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) but, unfortunately, his guest’s mischaracterization of anti-Semitism went unchallenged. I wrote him a letter to point out the problem.

Dear Mr. Hall,

I listened to your program today with Ira Forman and was pleased with your discussion about BDS.
However, Mr. Forman was incorrect with his 3Ds (Delegitimize, Demonize, Double Standards) to describe an anti-Semite.
Wikipedia notes that “the 3D Test of Antisemitism is a set of criteria put forth by Natan Sharansky to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from antisemitism. The three Ds stand for Delegitimization [of Israel], Demonization [of Israel], and [subjecting Israel to] Double standards, each of which, according to the test, indicates antisemitism. It was published in the Jewish Political Studies Review in 2004. The test is intended to draw the line between legitimate criticism towards the State of Israel, its actions and policies, and non-legitimate criticism that becomes antisemitic.”
Although the 3D test has been adopted by the State Department and has gained wide acceptance among Zionists and Israel lobbyists, it is a recent aberration which the State of Israel has been vigorously pushing.
The correct definition of anti-Semitism is “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group.”
The clear danger of the Israeli government’s definition is the chilling impact it has on legitimate free speech. The potential sting of being called an anti-Semite silences many (most?) people who have legitimate criticisms about Israel’s 50-year occupation of Palestine.
Shielding the State of Israel from criticism has been a major foreign policy objective for its government for decades, but recent efforts have intensified in response to the growing success of the BDS movement.
I hope there will be an opportunity to correct the record on your program sometime in the future.
Sincerely,
Lora Lucero

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Dystopia

A question for my friends who are history buffs.

Were there any journalists in Germany in the 1930s writing about the shocking and disgusting actions occurring in the concentration camps? I’m talking about contemporaneous reporting that provided the truth behind the barbwired fences.

Dachau

Inmates in Dachau line up. This photograph was on the cover of the Munchen Illustierte Press edition on July 16, 1933. Photo credit: USHMM Photo Arhives

Although I found this photo published in 1933, my hunch is that the German people were not informed about the atrocities occurring in the camps — the medical experimentation, the severe deprivations of food and other basics of life, and the gas chambers.  The Germans didn’t know about all of that, right?  (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

In Israel today, thanks to journalists like Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, the average Israeli has access to the brutal facts about Israel’s occupation and 10+ years blockade of Gaza, the largest open air prison on the planet.

Although Israel has prevented Israeli journalists from entering Gaza for many years, reports are getting out, like this report [Gaza Kids Live in Hell: A Psychologist Tells of Rampant Sexual Abuse, Drugs and Despair] from Israeli psychologist, Mohammed Mansour.

Mohammed Mansour

Mohammed Mansour, a psychologist who volunteers in Gaza with Physicians for Human Rights. Tomer Appelbaum – Hareetz

Gideon Levy writes: Mansour describes dystopia, a society that is falling apart. Devastation. Gazans demonstrate astonishing endurance, spirit and solidarity in their families, villages, neighborhoods and camps, after all the plagues they have suffered: refugees, children of refugees, grandchildren of refugees and great-grandchildren of refugees, are falling apart.

Mansour described an all-out struggle for survival, with addiction to painkillers as the last refuge. Nothing is left of the Gaza we knew. Nothing reminds us of the Gaza that we loved. “It will be difficult to restore Gaza’s humanity. Gaza is hell,” says Mansour.

This is a man-made, evil catastrophe just as Hitler’s concentration camps were …. there is no difference, and no justification.

Maybe Germans didn’t know what their leader was doing to an entire generation of Jews secreted away in those concentration camps. The Israelis today have no excuse for the state’s inhumane cruelty perpetrated on several generations of Palestinians. History will judge Israel, its leaders and its people harshly, as it should.

 

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Why we pretend to know things*

*Thanks to Sean Illing for writing about Steven Sloman‘s work as a cognitive scientist in “Why we pretend to know things, explained by a cognitive scientist” published on Vox.com on November 3, 2017 here. I encourage you to read it.

This is my response to Illing’s provocative article mentioned above.

Most of us know that we’re living in information bubbles, especially those of us who frequently rely on social media (Facebook and Twitter) for our news diet.

But Steven Sloman, a cognitive scientist, provides a thoughtful explanation about our bubbles.

The author of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think AloneSloman’s research focuses on judgment, decision-making, and reasoning. He’s especially interested in what’s called “the illusion of explanatory depth.” This is how cognitive scientists refer to our tendency to overestimate our understanding of how the world works.

The decisions we make, the attitudes we form, the judgments we make, depend very much on what other people are thinking,” he said.

So let’s take Donna Brazile’s “bombshell” that she dropped on Americans about the “secret agreement” in 2015 between the Clinton campaign and the DNC as an example.  Clinton agreed to make serious infusions of cash into the bankrupt DNC in exchange for control on certain DNC hiring and other decisions during the primary.

I watched the furor unfold on Facebook.  Bernie Sanders’ supporters roared “We knew the primary was rigged, and Donna’s disclosure has proven it.” Many heaped praise on Brazile for her “courage.”

Clinton’s supporters yelled “Treason” and “Foul play!” and quickly condemned both the message (“a lie” “every candidate signs the same agreement”) and the messenger as a self-promotional, treasonous bitch.

Steven Sloman says:

I really do believe that our attitudes are shaped much more by our social groups than they are by facts on the ground. We are not great reasoners. Most people don’t like to think at all, or like to think as little as possible. And by most, I mean roughly 70 percent of the population. Even the rest seem to devote a lot of their resources to justifying beliefs that they want to hold, as opposed to forming credible beliefs based only on fact.

Damn right, Steven.  I was shocked by the vituperative attacks against Donna Brazile, most led by Clinton’s supporters or Dem Party loyalists. I understood the self-congratulatory tone that many Bernie supporters took, but even they were disconnected from any facts. They don’t know (still don’t know) what kind of influence the Clinton campaign actually wielded on the DNC during the contested primary season.

I’d just finished reading Clinton’s memoir “What Happened” the night before Brazile’s “bombshell” landed. I wanted to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt and hoped that she, or her spokesperson, would provide a quick and thorough explanation to put the whole controversy to rest. I waited. And waited. Her spokesperson finally issued an unresponsive press release. Guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I watched as everyone formed their opinions about this “bombshell” and it was clear no one knew what they were talking about. Steven Sloman explains:

One danger is that if I think I understand because the people around me think they understand, and the people around me all think they understand because the people around them all think they understand, then it turns out we can all have this strong sense of understanding even though no one really has any idea what they’re talking about.

No shit, Sherlock!

But some people do try to rise above the crowd: to verify claims independently, to give fair hearing to others’ claims, and to follow the data where it actually leads. In fact, many people are trained to do that: scientists, judges, forensic investigators, physicians, etc. That doesn’t mean they always do (and they don’t always), just that they’re supposed to try.

Well, I pride myself for being an “independent thinker” — at least trying.  But I catch myself and kick myself for falling into “group think” and so I know it’s impossible to disentangle oneself completely from the sway of public opinion.

I applaud Steven Sloman’s goal and share it.

I like to live in communities that put a premium on getting things right even when they fly in the face of social norms. This means living with constant tension, but it’s worth it.

Now, what does this have to do with Israel / Palestine and Gaza, the subject of my blog?

Many self-described activists for Palestine will easily condemn Zionists and everyone else who cheers for Israel as thoughtless dupes who don’t know the “truth” about the 50-year occupation.

Many self-described Zionists will condemn the activists for being Hamas stooges and bleeding heart leftists.

Neither side will give the other any credit for exercising independent judgment and analysis. And now it appears, based on Steven Sloman’s work, both sides may have a valid point.

The Zionists stay within their circles chanting their mantras about the Palestinians, and Arabs generally, having a murderous intent to destroy Israel.

The Palestine activists remain within their “small” networks to prop up their feeling of “rightness” and “righteousness” in the firm belief that they know the truth.

The internet is clearly making it worse in the sense that we can reach out and form these online communities of fellow believers. And the fact that our news is getting individualized makes it much worse. So, even if I want to understand what the other side sees, Google is constantly feeding me the things I want to see.

And that’s bad for all of us.

In 2011, I decided to get out of my bubble, to visit Palestine and see for myself where the “facts on the ground” might lead me. I didn’t actually make it into Gaza until September 2012, but for the next nine months I learned a lot. I tried to keep an open mind. I questioned everyone, and more importantly, I questioned myself.

Now I’m writing a book about that experience.

Steven Sloman concludes:

People who are more reflective are less susceptible to the illusion. There are some simple questions you can use to measure reflectivity. They tend to have this form: How many animals of each kind did Moses load onto the ark? Most people say two, but more reflective people say zero. (It was Noah, not Moses who built the ark.)

The trick is to not only come to a conclusion, but to verify that conclusion. There are many communities that encourage verification (e.g., scientific, forensic, medical, judicial communities). You just need one person to say, “are you sure?” and for everyone else to care about the justification. There’s no reason that every community could not adopt these kinds of norms. The problem of course is that there’s a strong compulsion to make people feel good by telling them what they want to hear, and for everyone to agree. That’s largely what gives us a sense of identity. There’s a strong tension here.

My colleagues and I are studying whether one way to open up discourse is to try to change the nature of conversation from a focus on what people value to one about actual consequences. When you talk about actual consequences, you’re forced into the weeds of what’s actually happening, which is a diversion from our normal focus on our feelings and what’s going on in our heads.

Maybe Steven Sloman has the answer. Lets try to change the nature of the conversation and focus on the consequences in the Middle East of no justice, no peace, no resolution to the conflict.

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Action, not more words

Lord Balfour

Lord Arthur Balfour

Most Americans don’t give a squat about diplomacy and history, so the 100th year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration won’t register much more than a tick in U.S. papers and social media.  The U.S. Congress will be quietly considering a resolution in support of this abomination in the next few weeks.

On the other hand, the history and import of Balfour’s infamous letter, giving a homeland to the Jews in the land of Palestine, is drawing a lot of attention in the UK and Palestine.

On November 2, 1917, Lord Balfour wrote:

“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The Zionists considered this short statement (which they drafted in large measure) their first and biggest diplomatic success. From these 67 words, sprang the Zionists’ dream and the Palestinians’ nightmare. Today, a century later, it is clear that the first part of Lord Balfour’s declaration has been realized, but not the second.

Many are calling attention to this failure, walking 3,400 km. from London to Jerusalem to drive the point home. 

Today (Nov. 2, 2017) a new declaration was presented to the Consulate-General in Jerusalem with a request that it be passed on to the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, and to the Prime Minister, Theresa May.

Preamble
We have walked more than 3,400 kilometres to be here today. We have walked in penance and in solidarity. We have walked in recognition that the Balfour Declaration led to one people’s freedom and another people’s oppression.

We have walked with our Christian, Muslim and Jewish partners in the Holy Land to hear their witness to the consequences of Balfour. Today, one hundred years after the original Balfour Declaration was made, we propose a new declaration. We offer a ‘new Balfour’ to Her Majesty’s Government, a new 67-word declaration written in the belief that peace will only come through justice and reconciliation.

“Her Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine/Israel of a safe and secure home for all who live there. The nations of the world should use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this objective, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil, political and religious rights of Palestinians or Jews living in Palestine/Israel or any other country.”

I understand and appreciate the sentiments expressed in this new declaration but it’s naive and, even if everyone agreed with it (especially leaders in the UK, Israel and Palestine), it’s too little, too late.

Rather, world leaders should take note of the report released this week by S. Michael Lynk, a Canadian professor of law and human rights expert, and the UN rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories. He’s calling for sanctions against Israel to pressure that government to end its military occupation. This is a critical and necessary step to secure justice for the Palestinians, but it’s also important to reaffirm our global commitment to international law and the rule of law.

The “duration of this occupation is without precedent or parallel in today’s world,” the report said. Israel has “driven Gaza back to the dark ages” due to denial of water and electricity and freedom of movement. There is a “darkening stain” on the world’s legal framework because other countries have treated the occupation as normal, and done nothing to resist Israel’s “colonial ambition par excellence,” which includes two sets of laws for Israelis and Palestinians.

Words will no longer suffice a century after Lord Balfour’s declaration. Palestinians need action, not more words.

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The Virtual Dinner Guest Project!

Open Roads Media is no ordinary media outlet. It was created a few years ago by a friend of mine with a very cool idea.  I wrote about its beginning here.

Bringing the media directly to the people — connecting people from very different parts of the world — is not only a super cool idea, but also opening minds and hearts in ways that the most experienced U.S. diplomats can only dream about.

Here are Eric Maddox’s latest videos connecting Palestinians in Gaza with people from Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Each side asks questions of the other side. Then they close by asking a global question to be shared with the average person on the street.

Listen to the Palestinians share their dreams, in the first video.  And in the second video, people in Rotterdam answer “what is the biggest problem in the world?”

I wish we could have virtual dinner guests in every community.


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