Category Archives: Video

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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Israel has crossed the red line – no longer the lawful occupant of the Palestinian Territories

When is enough, enough under international law?

michael_lynk

Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk

That’s the question that the UN rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories, S. Michael Lynk, asked and answered in his report to the U.N. General Assembly in October 2017.

Lynk is a Canadian professor of law and human rights expert. His words should carry some umpf! in the international community, if not with Israeli officials who have persistently refused to accept more than 40 UN resolutions over the past half century pertaining to the occupied territories.

To summarize this 22 page report, which should be required reading for everyone interested in the future of Israel and Palestine, Professor Lynk is opening a new (legal) chapter in Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

He is making the case for recognizing Israel as an illegal occupier, and calling on the international community to use all of the tools in its toolbox to end this illegal occupation.

Israel denies that it’s occupying Palestine, despite the contrary opinion of the rest of the world. (Israeli deputy foreign minister denies Palestinians live under occupation: ‘This is Judea and Samaria’)

Loss of Land

“The Israeli occupation has become a legal and humanitarian oxymoron: an occupation without end,” Professor Lynk writes. It is the longest-running military occupation in the modern world.

The inability to end the Israeli occupation has been an abject failure of international diplomacy, a darkening stain on the efficacy of international law and the source of multiple broken promises to the Palestinian people. Nor does the prolongation of this occupation serve the people of Israel, for it corrodes their society and their public institutions by entangling them in their government’s drive to foreclose a viable and just solution to the half-century of occupation and the century-long conflict, and makes them the benefactors — unwittingly or not — of a profoundly unequal and unjust relationship.

How should we characterize this occupation in 2017? Professor Lynk proposes that Israel is no longer the lawful occupant of the Palestinian territory, but has now crossed a red line and has become the unlawful occupier. His argument goes like this:

  1. “Two decades into the 21st century, the norm that guides our global community is that people are citizens, not subjects, of the state that rules them. … Colonialism, occupation and other forms of alien rule are very much the exception to this norm.”
  2. The right of self-determination, and economic, social and cultural rights — are to be interpreted broadly, while the exceptions to these fundamental rights — such as military necessity, significant threats to national security or public emergencies — are to be interpreted narrowly.
  3. Three core purposes of modern international humanitarian law related to foreign military occupation are: (a) closely regulate the occupation to ensure that the territory achieves, or is restored to, a state of sovereignty, (b) prevent the territory from becoming a fruit of conquest, and (c) safeguard the protected people under occupation.
  4. The International Court of Justice has affirmed that international human rights law continues to apply in times of conflict and throughout an occupation.
  5. The right to self-determination is a right that applies to everyone living under occupation, and the court has specifically recognized the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.
  6. Israel has occupied the Palestinian territory – the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza – since June 1967, and therefore the Fourth Geneva Convention applies in full. 
  7. Palestinians are “protected persons” under international humanitarian law and are entitled to the protections of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The international community has widely rejected Israel’s assertions that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply.

So what should the international community do?

Professor Lynk proposes that the U.N. General Assembly seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the question of the legality of the occupation.

ICJ

International Court of Justice

Courts and lawyers favor tradition and precedent (stare decisis), and Professor Lynk finds ample precedent in the ICJ’s 1971 Namibia opinion, where the court decided that South Africa’s continued presence in the territory of Namibia was illegal.  (On a side note, I’ve just completed a couple of online courses in International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, and really appreciate how Professor Lynk’s report connects all of the dots that I’ve just learned.)

Application of the Legality Test to Israel’s Occupation

The ICJ should consider four elements, Professor Lynk writes, to determine if Israel is now an illegal occupying force.

  1. The prohibition against annexation: Israeli officials have made their intentions crystal clear. There are now 210,000 Israeli settlers living in occupied East Jerusalem, and another 400,000 settlers live in approximately 225 settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel has been establishing its “facts on the ground” for a de facto annexation of the occupied lands that belong to the Palestinian people under international law. “The settlers live under Israeli law in Israeli-only settlements, drive on an Israeli-only road system, and benefit greatly from the enormous sums of public money spent by Israel on entrenching and expanding the settlements. … What country would invest so heavily over so many years to establish many immutable facts on the ground in an occupied territory if it did not intend to remain permanently?”
  2. Occupations must be temporary, and not indefinite or permanent. “Modern occupations that have broadly adhered to the strict principles concerning temporariness, non-annexation, trusteeship and good faith have not exceed 10 years, including the American occupation of Japan, the Allied occupation of western Germany and the American-led coalition’s occupation of Iraq.” Israel’s occupation is 50 years old. “The only credible explanation for Israel’s continuation of the occupation and its thickening of the settlement regime is to enshrine its sovereign claim over part or all of the Palestinian territory, a colonial ambition par excellence.”
  3. The Best Interest/Trust Principle. “Under international law, Israel is required to administer the occupied Palestinian territory in the best interests of the Palestinian people, but the social and economic impact of the occupation on the Palestinians in the occupied territory, which had always been disadvantageous, has become increasingly dire in recent years.” Professor Lynk’s report spells out in no uncertain terms how Israel has taken advantage of the natural resources, and ruled the Palestinian Territory as an internal colony, to create a “strangled economy, mounting impoverishmet, daily impositions and indignities, and receding hope for a reversal of fortune in the foreseeable future.”
  4. Good Faith. Professor Lynk says that Israel has not been acting in good faith because it hasn’t complied with the 3 elements above, and it hasn’t complied with specific directions issued by the United Nations pertaining to the occupation. The enumeration of Israel’s noncompliance with international law is damning and shocking when it’s all spelled out in one place. Israel (and it’s best friend the United States Congress) might argue that the United Nations is bias against Israel, but what Israel really means is that the community of nations has not accepted Israel’s blatant attempt to unilaterally rewrite international law to suit its own self-interest.
checkpoint

Israeli checkpoint for Palestinians posted by Husam Jubran on Facebook Nov. 2, 2017

Professor Lynk’s concluding observation is an alarm bell that every lawyer should take seriously, regardless of personal opinions about Israel / Palestine and the occupation.

International law is the promise that states make to one another, and to their people, that rights will be respected, protections will be honoured, agreements and obligations will be satisfied, and peace and justice will be pursued. It is a tribute to the international community that it has sustained this vision of international law throughout its supervision of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory.

But it is no tribute that — as the occupation deepened, as the occupier’s intentions became crystal clear, and as its defiance grew — the international community recoiled from answering Israel’s splintering of the Palestinian territory and disfiguring of the laws of occupation with the robust tools that international law and diplomacy provide. International law, along with the peoples of Palestine and Israel, have all suffered in the process.

The challenge now facing the international community … is to devise and employ the appropriate diplomatic and legal steps that, measure by measure, would completely and fully end the occupation.

 

 

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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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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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We All Live in Gaza

A couple of years ago, Maurice Jacobsen contacted me out of the blue.  I remember it well because I was sitting in Cairo trying to return to Gaza, and Maurice was an American who wanted to travel to Gaza also. He’s a filmmaker, and producer-director at Inshallah Media Project.

I couldn’t give him much encouragement because I hadn’t found any cracks in Israel’s tight siege of the Gaza Strip.  But Maurice didn’t give up.

The fruit of his labors can be seen in this wonderful short film.  Congratulations Maurice! Thank you for bringing all of these Palestinian artists to our attention.

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#Gaza5K – where every step and $$ counts

IMG_4443

In a couple of weeks I’ll be walking, not running, in the #Gaza5K to raise funds for UNRWA-USA to support the Gaza mental health progran for Palestinian refugees.  This will be my 3rd year and I’m really looking forward to it.

My goal is $1000 this year.  As of August 21, I’m 1/4 of the way there so I really need to focus on my fundraising and would appreciate any donation of any size. Donations are tax deductible, and I’m confident that the funds are spent wisely.  Please check out my story here.   And here’s my story and photos from the #Gaza5K last year when I exceeded my goal of $2,000. To make a safe and secure donation, please click here.  Thank you!

 

 

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Charlottesville and Israel – too much hatred going around

I think I need a Venn Diagram to help me understand who is aligned and opposed with one another in this complicated world of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, progressives, Jews, Christians and all the rest.

One moment I think I have everyone properly pigeon-holed in their appropriately-labeled box, but then someone throws in a spoiler.

Take this example which really has me puzzled.

The invitation sent out to the KKK and their buddies to come over for a jolly good time in Charlottesville made it clear what the organizers of this “Unite the Right” march think about Jews and African Americans.

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Pick up tiki torches before you leave your hometown. There will be a torchlight ceremony and the tiki torches will all be gone from the shelves of the local stores. Dollar stores are your best bet. Wal-Mart has them cheap as well. Make sure and get some tiki torch fuel/oil too. Otherwise they won’t burn.
Note: Do your best, but if you can’t get a tiki torch in time, don’t worry about it – it is a requirement, but some people are bringing extras.

The only difference between these jerks in Charlottesville and the KKK wearing their white robes and hoods and burning crosses, was their brazenness in exposing themselves to the cameras for future identification.  Surely, their vile hatred and racist chanting would be roundly condemned by Americans of every political stripe.

Was I ever wrong.

Before the last tiki torch was put out, a Republican leader from New Mexico was blaming the “violent, leftist protesters” —-

“These violent, leftist protesters are the brainless robots that are created by evil Soros money,” Roman Jimenez said in a post on the county party’s Facebook page on Sunday. “The white ones have been taught to hate their color, the women are taught to hate men, black and minorities want to kill whites and police.”

“They then have the audacity to call conservatives racist,” Jimenez wrote. “Their own racism, hate and violence has created the divide amongst those that refuse to be bullied on anymore. They’re getting exactly what they asked for. A segregated society of groups that they’ve created and even labeled themselves.”

Huh?  What universe does this guy live in?

Nazi salute

Then a Republican leader in Israel chimed in.  A Jew, an Israeli-American, a Republican. Instead of a full-throated condemnation of these neo-Nazi Fascists, he used almost the same talking points as the politician from New Mexico.  Who is writing their script?

“I am, of course, no supporter of Nazis or white supremacists. But this very tragic event could have been avoided,” he said. “It was clear to all that the leftist thugs would come out to provoke and escalate the events. These thugs are the ugly face of progressivism around the country. They are looking to shut down free speech.”

He went on ….. that the car-ramming attack, in which 20-year-old James Alex Fields plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing one, “must be investigated. I am confident that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the newly appointed director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, will conduct a proper investigation. And I will not be surprised if they find that the incident was deliberately provoked by the left.”

The clincher was this ….. “When whites become a minority, then, just like the Black Panthers, they, too, are going to get into their identity as whites and demand their place. So we have the extremists on the left against the extremists on the right. And both of them are anti-Semites and pro-Palestinian.

Now I’m really scratching my head.  This moron from Israel is throwing everyone into the “extremists” bag and calling them anti-Semites and pro-Palestinian.  This novel conflagration of anti-Semitism and pro-Palestinian (forget that Palestinians are Semites too so he’s actually blasting these extremists for being both anti- and pro-Palestinian at the very same time) is insulting to Jews and Palestinians alike.

The organizers of the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville must be smoking their cigars with deep satisfaction. They’ve divided Americans in a way that we haven’t seen in a very long time.25On Monday, two days after the violence in Charlottesville, protesters made their voices heard in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan. Their messages were clear, their delivery was strong and peaceful, and they left no doubt what they think about Trump and the white supremacists who inhabit the White House today.

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