Friday, July 22, 2011


Amman, Jordan
The core principle of Zionism, from the start of its dream in the late 19th century, has been a sanctuary to protect the Jewish people from persecution. At first the exact location of the sanctuary was a matter for debate. Argentina and Uganda each had its supporters. The idea of initiating the Zionist project in the historic land of Palestine did not come until later. It was endorsed warmly by many in the early Zionist movement, and eventually became the land of choice.
Before the first Zionists arrived there were already Jews living in Palestine. Many of them were the descendants of people who had been there since antiquity. Yes, Jews had lived peacefully with the other indigenous people for millennia. They farmed the land, worked as merchants, and lived in harmony with their neighbors. When the early Zionists arrived in the 1880’s they too lived harmoniously for a time with the Arab majority.
Today, Palestine, consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, represents a mere 22% of the land that was historic Palestine. Jewish Israeli colonists, so-called settlers, with almost complete support from the Israeli government, are stealing much of what remains. Along with land expropriated for use as ‘closed military areas’, the ‘settlements’ and their infrastructure now comprise 60% of the West Bank!
Now imagine this: land on which the Palestinian people have been living for centuries, and that the entire world community, except for Israel and the United States, recognize as Palestinian land, is being literally stolen from under their feet by these ‘settlers’ and their henchmen. What remains of the West Bank is a collection of Bantustans- isolated communities separated from the rest by segregated roads, ‘closed military areas’, and, in many cases, a  concrete wall 25 feet high. Can you imagine what it’s like to live there? 
I just spent a month in the West Bank. Let me tell you what it’s like. First of all, get a sense for the size of the place. The entire West Bank is only about 30 miles wide and 70 miles long. The Wall, which is about 65% complete, will be over 400 miles long when finished! In some rural areas it is a high wire fence topped by razor wire, with motion detectors and other fancy electronics. On each side of the fence are roads for Israeli military patrols. Near urban areas it is a thick, ugly concrete mass, twice as high as the Berlin Wall, with razor wire on top. There are many watchtowers with bulletproof windows providing viewing and sniping sites for soldiers. In most populated areas it’s hard to drive for more than five or ten minutes without encountering the Wall. 
At many sites the Wall is painted to mask its ugliness.

Imagine living near this monstrosity.

An army soldier pretending to be important.
The Wall dominates the visual and psychological landscape. I was conscious of it even when it wasn’t in view. There’s a sense of literally being imprisoned. If you drive outside an urban area you will pass military checkpoints, roadblocks, and other obstacles impeding your path- 700 in total. Many of the checkpoints, like most of the Wall itself, separate Palestinians from other Palestinians, not from Israelis. Some of these checkpoints are massive and require people on public transport to go through prison-like electronic turnstiles into secured areas where their parcels are screened by X-ray, their biometrics are computer-matched to their records, and the military personnel inside bombproof enclosures tell you what to do by loudspeaker. To call it demeaning and dehumanizing would be a gross understatement. 
Now the Israeli government has said that the Wall is being built for security purposes. If that were truly the case, and if it were built along the Green Line- the border with the West Bank- you might question its aesthetics, and perhaps the paranoia that caused it, but you couldn’t argue with the right of a government to build it. It would be like you building a fence on your own property to maintain your privacy. But of course that is not the case. Fully 85% of the Wall is built within the West Bank- Palestinian land. In most cases the Wall follows a serpentine path to incorporate ‘settlements’ and not incorporate Palestinian cities, towns, and villages. This leaves situations like Qalqilya, a small city, almost totally surrounded by the Wall. To enter or exit the city one has to go through the a military-controlled gate that can be closed at the whim of the regional commander. 
Map of the northern West Bank showing Qalqilya (on the far left)
almost totally surrounded by the Wall (in red)
Because of the location of Israeli settlements, there are some instances where Palestinian villages are on the ‘Israeli side’ of the Wall. Over 6000 Palestinians currently live between the Green Line and the Wall in a sort of No Man’s Land. They are not allowed to enter Israel; they are legally part of the West Bank, yet they have to pass through a checkpoint to get there. I saw farmers who have to go through a checkpoint that’s opened for one hour three times a day to get to their fields. When the Wall is completed there will be 25,000 Palestinians on the ‘Israeli side’ of the Wall. Is it plausible to make the case that the Wall is really for security? 
The ‘settlers’ in the West Bank consist of two essential types. First are those who are simply looking for better lives for themselves. Often they are immigrants from Eastern Europe who are seduced by the economic incentives offered by the Israeli government to relocate to the West Bank. I spoke with one woman who grew up in a ‘settlement’ and didn’t realize until adulthood that she was actually not living in Israel. By providing apartheid roads for settlers only, as well as other amenities, Israel is normalizing the colonization of Palestinian land. It’s easy to see how a new immigrant might be fooled into believing s/he is in Israel.
The other ‘settler’ type is the ideologue. Ideologues are religious extremists. They view themselves and their fellow Jews as the Chosen People who have a biblical mandate to the entire land of eretz Israel (essentially, historic Palestine). They treat the military as their own personal bodyguards, isolate themselves in enclaves behind high fences topped with razor wire, and never in their day-to-day lives encounter the very Palestinians whose land they continue to steal. They have demonstrated no desire to live as their ancestors did, in harmony with the indigenous people. 
These ideologues have gained political power far in excess of their numbers. Middle-of-the-road legislators often vote for their extremist agenda out of fear of a backlash. Their political parties have leverage because a ruling coalition usually cannot be created without their participation. Consequently it can be said that they rule the government. Spearheaded by Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Minister who has publicly called for the ethnic cleansing of Israel, they represent to the Palestinians the epitome of the cruelty and evil of the occupation. 
So, yes, it can be said that the Jews created a sanctuary, an asylum, for themselves in their ancient homeland. Unfortunately, the inmates are running this asylum, and in the process are bringing oy to the world!
Yellow plates are for Israelis.

And green for Palestinians in the West Bank. In the entire history of
the world including apartheid South Africa, never before
have roads been segregated!
Salaam and Shalom,

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Nablus, Palestine

Among Israeli Jews and among many people in the US there’s a mantra that one hears repeated almost constantly when discussing the question of Israel-Palestine. This mantra’s salience is presumed; its validity is believed; its wisdom is unquestioned. Yes, when it comes to this question people who consider themselves pro-Israel almost always repeat this mantra as if its mere repetition will drive away evil spirits: SECURITY..........SECURITY..........SECURITY. 
What they’re referring to, of course, is only the security of Israeli citizens; the security of Palestinian citizens is almost never a consideration and doesn’t enter their calculus. That’s why, for example, the Israeli military can drop a 1000 pound bomb on the apartment house of suspected terrorist Salah Shehadeh in Gaza in the middle of the night, killing him and in the process fifteen innocent people including nine children, and wounding 150 others. (Apparently the irony of this act has escaped the world media.) 
But despite the repetition of this mantra for 63 years or more, and despite governmental policies purportedly built upon it, there is still no peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and for that matter, between Israel and some of its neighbors. Yes, 63 years! How long does one people have to cling to a false belief before it realizes that the belief is not serving its interests. Israel has by most accounts the fourth most powerful military on the planet, including a nuclear arsenal of between 100 and 200 warheads. It has an unshakable friendship and alliance with the US. How much more security does it need? The Palestinians on the other hand have virtually nothing: no air force, no navy, no army. Just what is the Israeli government afraid of? 
Consider this possibility: Maybe Israel has had it wrong all this time. Maybe peace doesn’t come through security; maybe security comes through peace. Reversing the dominant paradigm would have an earth-shaking effect on the whole Middle East, and, in fact the entire world. It wouldn’t  mean Israel would disarm. It would simply mean it would act peacefully. And what would acting peacefully look like? It would start with the Israeli government negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians with the objective of securing peace, not land. It would mean the Israeli government would join the vast majority of the world community who want peace in the Middle East and who believe in International Law. It would mean the dismantlement of the so called settlements on Palestinian land, the end of the siege of Gaza, the release of political prisoners, and a halt to the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of both Israel, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. 
Ah, but this scenario presumes that the Israeli government is a rational actor and actually wants peace with the Palestinians and its neighbors. What if it’s a rational actor and wants land? It would be using its occupying army to segment the West Bank into cantons so that a Palestinian state will never be viable; it would be expropriating as much land from the Palestinians as possible; it would be establishing new ‘settlements’ and expanding existing ones; it would be creating conditions that make daily life for Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank so harsh that people decide to emigrate. 
Wait a minute! This is exactly what it has been doing for at least 44 years! Could it be that the mantra is simply a smokescreen? Could it be that the vaunted Israeli public relations machine has pulled the wool over its citizens' and much of the world's eyes? Well, you do the math.
Salaam and Shalom,
P.S. Two days ago in Jerusalem was an historic day. For the first time in 20 years Jews and Palestinians (and a few internationals) marched together for peace and an end to the occupation- over 2000 people. It was heartwarming. And with all the chanting done during the march, not once did I hear SECURITY. 
Some of the over 2000 who marched to end the occupation.
The Israeli PR machine hasn't fooled all its citizens.

Palestinians queuing up to go through a military checkpoint
to get from one part of Palestine to another.
On this day it took 45 minutes. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Your intrepid reporter bringing his Peace
and Love Campaign to the Israeli army.

Ramallah, Palestine
I thought I’d seen it all. After all, in my first month in Israel/Palestine I’d seen: 
  • segregated roads for use only by Israeli Jews who live in so called settlements (more accurately, colonies) on Palestinian land,
  • the apartheid Wall surrounding Palestine like a concrete noose, built by the Israeli government ostensibly to deter terrorism, but actually to seize land and ethnically cleanse it of Palestinians,
  • Bedouin villages in Israel, built prior to the founding of the state, declared ‘illegal’ with no utility or governmental services (no water, no sewage, no electricity) awaiting demolition,
  • the rubble from houses that had been demolished by the Israel military because they were built without building permits, which are impossible to obtain, and whose owners were then charged for the cost of demolition,
  • a family whose house has ‘settlements’ on two sides, and who has to wend its way through half a mile of backyards because it is not allowed to walk on the ‘settler-only‘ road, 
  • military checkpoints which separate Palestinians from other Palestinians, disrupt ordinary life, and humiliate those who use them daily, 
  • a house surrounded on all four sides by apartheid walls, whose six residents are cutoff from their village and harassed by the military in an effort to get them to leave, 
  • the market area in Hebron with a sturdy iron grill built over it to prevent Palestinian shoppers from being injured by heavy objects thrown from 'settler' homes above.

I’ve seen all that and more. It’s deeply affecting and almost beyond belief. But yesterday I saw something even more grotesque. I saw a house in East Jerusalem built before the founding of Israel in 1948, with an addition that had been added later. Because the addition is ‘illegal’, it was condemned for demolition. That happens hundreds of times each year and would not be particularly noteworthy except that the addition was not demolished. Instead the family was forced to vacate the addition and a ‘settler’ family moved in! Imagine this: a large Palestinian family is squeezed into the back of the house, and a small Jewish family is in front. Talk about chutzpah. This is beyond chutzpah! This is a blatant example of government-sponsored racism. But even more than that, it's so mean spirited that it left a foul taste in my mouth. 
The front of the bi-state house, with the Israeli
flag prominently and provocatively displayed
But that’s the way things work here in the so called Holy Land. What Palestine has become, as any observer who makes the effort can plainly see, is a vast matrix of control established by the Israeli government and implemented by its military. Over 60% of the West Bank has been expropriated for Jewish-only use (‘settlements’, roads, the Wall, and ‘closed military zones’.) The remaining piece is segmented by ‘settler-only’ highways that segregate the Palestinians in an archipelago of isolated communities with checkpoints at every entrance that can be closed at any time at the whim of a military commander. Plus they have a permit system so that a West Bank Palestinian requires a permit to enter Jerusalem. These permits are difficult to obtain, need to be renewed periodically, and never include a vehicle. 

It truly boggles the mind what has been done here. The Palestinians have literally been imprisoned. They have walls and checkpoints impeding their daily lives, permit requirements for travel and construction that are almost impossible to meet, and when the apartheid Wall is eventually completed, they will be totally surrounded by concrete walls 25 feet high. They will be 'living' in four totally separate areas: Gaza, northern West Bank, southern West Bank, and Jordan Valley. East Jerusalem, which was designed to be their country’s capitol, has already been annexed illegally into Israel. 
A section of the apartheid Wall which stretches over 400 miles
in length and has become the world's largest palette. Note the
guard tower with armed sentries, and imagine how you would
 feel with this across the street from where you live.  

I’ve often wondered what the Israeli government’s endgame is. It’s seemed to me that as it continues down this road of stealing and segmenting land, (all in violation of international law, but that’s another story), it is destroying the possibility of a two-state solution. At some point, and I think that point has been reached already, the Palestinians will not have sufficient territory or contiguity for even a mini-state. What then are the options? Well, there’s (1) a one-secular-state solution which is the Israeli government’s greatest fear, (2) the ethnic cleansing of all historic Palestine, which even Israel would have a hard time getting away with, and then there’s (3) reservations. I hadn’t thought of this latter possibility until I saw what’s going on here firsthand; now it seems obvious. What the government here is doing is a duplicate of what the US did to it’s indigenous population. The Palestinians have been marginalized, treated as sub-human, and are now being ghettoized and ethnically cleansed in slow motion, one house or village at a time. So called peace agreements have been violated consistently, and more and more land has been expropriated. What's most astonishing is that the Israeli government is accomplishing its diabolical mission with the eyes of the world on it and with so many Westerners believing that it is truly interested in peace. 
It’s remarkable to me how Israeli Jews, just a few generations from their holocaust, could have interpreted ‘Never Again’ to refer to Jews only. David has truly become Goliath, and the Palestinians have become the victims of the victims. Only a myopic fool would think this is in the long-term interest of Jews and Judaism. 

Graffiti is prevalent throughout Palestine. This is one of
my favorite pieces in the Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus.
A Bedouin village in southern Israel standing in stark contrast
to the ultramodern city of Be'er Sheva in the background.  The
village may not look like much to you, but it means
a lot to the residents, and it's where they want to live.
The iron grill over the Palestinian market with objects on it
that were thrown from the 'settler' homes above.
As Arundhati Roy said, " The trouble is that once you see it, you can't unsee it. And once you've seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out."

Salaam and Shalom,

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Boulder, Colorado, USA
If anyone thought the recent legislative gains by the Republicans in the midterm elections weren’t going to embolden the Israeli government in its treatment of the Palestinian people (and Administration officials), now is the time to disabuse yourself of that naive notion. A couple of days ago, during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s state visit here, US Vice President Joe Biden, in a speech to the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans said, “When it comes to Israel’s security there can be no daylight-no daylight- between Israel and the US.” 
These were almost exactly the same words he used in March of this year during a speech in Israel. The response he received from the Israeli government was almost identical as well. In March, immediately after his remarks, the Israeli Interior Minister announced its government’s plan to construct 1600 new housing units for Jews in occupied East Jerusalem. Biden and Barak Obama were so outraged by this insult that they issued a stern objection to the Israeli government which responded by saying that the Interior Minister hadn’t informed the Prime Minister of his plans. (Ha!) On his next state visit to the US two weeks later Netanyahu was kept waiting at the White House while Obama ate dinner in private, had no official photos taken, and in general was not treated in a manner consistent with a head of state.
This time, immediately after Biden’s remarks, the Israeli government announced plans for 1000 new housing units for Jews in occupied East Jerusalem. The response from the Administration, recently chastened in the midterm elections, was silence! 
Now if anyone is feeling sorry for Joe Biden let me remind you that this is the man responsible for two of the worst disasters of the Bush I and Bush II years. If it weren’t for Joe Biden, Clarence Thomas, arguably the stupidest Justice ever to don a Supreme Court robe, would never have been confirmed by the Senate, and there’s good chance the US would never have invaded Iraq. 
Now I know the US electorate has a short memory, so let me remind people of the events of those times. During the Clarence Thomas hearings Joe Biden was Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is the committee that was investigating Thomas’ fitness to serve on the High Court. Anita Hill, previously an employee of Thomas when he was head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleged that Thomas made sexual remarks to her and treated her in a manner that she took to be harassment. She was a highly educated lawyer, and articulate and intelligent in her testimony. She made a compelling and highly plausible case against Thomas who vigorously denied the allegations. 
People following the proceedings were divided in their opinions. Some were convinced that Hill was telling the truth, while others thought she was lying. Other women had also stepped forward to allege that Thomas had sexually harassed them. They were interviewed by committee staff, but were not allowed to testify to the full committee. If they had, Thomas almost certainly would not have been confirmed for the High Court. And who do we have to thank for this? Joe Biden, who decided their testimony was unnecessary.
But that tragedy pales in comparison to the next. In 2003 Biden was Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. It was holding hearings on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Scott Ritter, the chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, was ready to report that his organization, after eight years in Iraq, had found no evidence of these weapons. Biden decided that Ritter’s testimony wasn’t necessary for the committee’s decision making, and refused to allow him to testify. The result was the US invasion of Iraq, the destabilization of the entire Middle East, hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, and a US economy unable to rebound from its current malaise. 
It’s small comfort to those who believe in justice, but Joe Biden got his comeuppance yesterday. After his remarks in New Orleans the Israeli government issued another plan to expand colonies in occupied Palestinian territory, clearly a diplomatic slap in the face. But this time Biden’s response wasn’t anger. It was silence. 
I wonder what karma the Israeli government is creating now by its harsh treatment of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. 

Monday, November 8, 2010


Boulder, Colorado, USA
As anyone who has paid even a modicum of attention to the goings on in the Middle East can tell you, the United States exerts an enormous amount of influence there. Scholars such as Noam Chomsky and Edward Said have long argued that Israel is a client state of the US doing its bidding in the region. The State Department since the early 1970’s has considered Israel a strategic asset, and has propped up the Israeli military to the tune of $3 billion of aid per year. Most of this aid is in the form of military equipment superior to that of any conceivable enemy. And this is just the above-the-table aid. When accounting tricks such as loan write-offs and tax incentives for American citizens to donate money to Israel are considered, the total is much higher.
As the US-Israel relationship has evolved since the 70’s one thing becomes crystal clear: the tail has started to wag the dog, so to speak. The Israeli government’s behavior has become so egregious that not only is it violating international law, UN resolutions, and the Geneva conventions, as it has done almost from its inception, but it is also acting against the strategic interests of its political master, the United States. A recent example of this is the Administration’s desire for an extension of the freeze on Jewish settlements colonies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Israeli government thumbed its nose at the rich package of incentives it was offered by the US to comply with international law in the US’ effort to keep ‘peace talks theater’ alive. 

General David Petraeus, the Army’s CENTCOM Commander, in a recent warning to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, finally let the cat out of the bag regarding US strategic interests. He said, “Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing US standing in the region.” Well, Duh! Unfortunately his warning was largely ignored by the corporate media and Congressional representatives.
So now we have the situation where the US is funding Israeli aggression and that behavior is actually working against the strategic interests of the US. How could this be happening? One reason for this could be the influence of Israeli citizens within the US government. Yes, it’s true. People with dual US and Israeli citizenship can serve in high level posts in the government. The list of recent appointees is long. Here is a small sample:
  • Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General
  • Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Paul Wolfowitz, former Deputy Defense Secretary
  • Richard Perle, former Chair of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board
  • Douglas Feith, former Under Secretary of Defense
  • ‘Scooter’ Libby, Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff
  • Elliot Abrams, National Security Council advisor
  • Ari Fleisher, former White House Spokesperson
  • John Bolton, former UN Representative
  • Rahm Emanual, Barak Obama’s former Chief of Staff
To say that someone has duel citizenship is to say that s/he has duel allegiance. Why these people are selected to represent the interests of the US when they clearly have a bias for another nation is beyond me, but select them we do.  

The recent mid-term election in the US has some people wondering how the outcome will affect the Israeli-Palestinian situation. If we listen to the pundits, the election will bolster support for Israeli actions and hurt the cause of the Palestinians. Richard Cantor is poised to assume the majority leader post in the House. He is a Jew who has been vocally critical of the Administration’s efforts to pressure Israel to extend the settlement colony freeze. He said that ‘playing hardball’ with Israel is dangerous to US security. 
Another key player in the House will be Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican. Her district includes Miami with its large Jewish constituency. She will likely become the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a group with enormous influence on US foreign policy. 
Now. you might be asking yourself why Republican politicians would support Israel even more stalwartly than Democrats. One reason is that many of these Republicans are Christian Zionists. You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist. There are Jews who are Zionists and others that aren’t. Similarly with Christians. And, why are these Christian Zionists so fanatical in their support of Israel? For most of them the answer is that they believe in the biblical prophesy about Armageddon and the coming rapture, when Christians will be gathered together in the clouds amid trumpets and angels to meet Christ at the time of his return. 
Christ, in this formulation, will be returning to earth to initiate the ‘God’s wrath tribulation period’ on all the sinners remaining. Ironically they are supporting Israel and at the same time expect that the Jews and Muslims there will be left on earth in the Armageddon while the Christians ascend to meet Christ. Yes, US politics has sunk to this level. 
Ha’aretz, Israel’s version of the New York Times, has reported that, “In Benjamin Netanyahu’s circles, many are hoping that a weak Obama will be good for Israel. They assume that a president who has had his wings clipped in the middle of his first term will devote the second half of his term to fighting for reelection.”
That’s the bad news. The good news is that these so called pundits have been wrong far more often than they’ve been right. Predicting the future is not an easy task. Currently their analyses seem plausible and likely. Time will tell if they prove true.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Boulder, Colorado, USA
I just returned to the good old US of A yesterday, having spent the past week in Belgrade, Serbia where I was relaxing and reflecting on my convoy experience and on the nature of terrorism. The reason I was thinking about terrorism is that Gaza is governed by Hamas, a political party deemed to be a ‘terrorist organization’ by the ever-vigilant US government. My first exposure (so to speak) with Hamas was in Syria. 
One night while in Latakia, after spending the evening with friends (I have witnesses), I returned to the compound and noticed a big banner above the pavilion indicating that Hamas, the political party elected by the people in Gaza, had organized a rally of some sort there at the compound. Did I mention that I wasn’t there? 
Hamas has been identified as a ‘terrorist organization’ by the US government. The fact that its elected leaders are headquartered in Syria because the Israeli government routinely assassinates them (and often family members in the vicinity of its bombs and missiles) in Gaza apparently hasn’t struck the Administration as as ironic as it strikes me. Anyway, it held a rally there (that I did not attend.)
Hamas engages fully in the electoral process. Before the previous Palestinian election in 2006, Israel, demonstrating its contempt for democracy in the territories it occupies, attempted to disrupt the process by refusing to allow anyone in East Jerusalem to vote. George W. Bush, in one of his rare wise decisions, ordered the election to go forward. Hamas garnered 44.5% of the vote compared to Fatah’s 41.4%. But because the United States and Israel consider Hamas a ‘terrorist organization’, they refused to acknowledge the electoral result. By so doing they were attempting to delegitimize, stigmatize, and marginalize the organization. In fact, it was immediately after the election that the blockade of Gaza was instituted. 
Let’s be clear about this. Hamas refuses to renounce violence. When violence suits its ends, it claims the right to use it. Allegedly because of this, Israel and the US refuse to negotiate with it. It is the fairly-chosen representative of the Palestinian electorate and the governing party of Gaza, yet neither Israel nor the US will treat it that way. 
In my previous post on terrorism, “Your Terrorist Is my Freedom Fighter" (September 29, 2010), I discussed using the framework of reciprocity- what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander- when investigating these matters. Let’s apply it to this situation. The Israeli government is represented by the Likud party. Like Hamas, it refuses to renounce violence, and has shown its willingness to use it to a far greater degree than Hamas ever has. Just yesterday, for example, Israeli bulldozers and tanks destroyed homes in Gaza. So I’m wondering why it’s important for Hamas to renounce violence when the US and Israel, both of whom use violence to a far greater extent and are much better armed, are unwilling to do the same.
And let’s remember that the West Bank and Gaza are occupied territories. They are controlled by the Israeli government, and have been for 43 years. When France was under the occupation of the Germans during World War II the French partisans, who refused to renounce violence, were viewed as heroic by those in Allied countries. What’s different about this situation, other than that this occupation has lasted 43 years rather than four and a half? Why should the Palestinians foreswear violence when they are living under an occupying power that allows its Jewish citizens to appropriate Palestinian land and water? 
Going back to our French analogy for a moment, let’s remember that not all the French were partisan fighters. There were some who renounced violence and cooperated with the Germans. They established a subservient government in Vichy under the leadership of Philippe Petain. After the liberation of France by Allied forces in 1944, Petain was sentenced to death for treason. Later he had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment, but, still, you get the point. This is how leaders who renounce violence and collaborate with occupying powers have been treated historically. The leader of the subservient Norwegian government during the German occupation, Vidkun Quisling, had his surname enshrined in infamy. It’s now a synonym for ‘traitor’.
Consider for a moment the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, Poland under occupation by the Germans during World War II. The people there refused to renounce violence. They murdered their own brethren who collaborated with the enemy. They fought the occupying power tooth and nail before finally succumbing. In the west and in Israel they are viewed today as freedom fighters and heroes who died in pursuit of their people’s liberation. 
So maybe someone can explain to me how the situations of the French partisans and the Warsaw Jews are different in kind from that of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza today. It can’t be because the Germans jailed large numbers of innocent people; the Israeli military routinely does that, and currently has over 10,000 incarcerated, many with no charges filed against them. Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, an activist in the West Bank was sentenced to a six-month jail term for non-violently protesting the building of the separation barrier. It can’t  be because the Nazis tortured people; the Israeli military routinely engages in harsh, abusive, and inhumane treatment of detainees. The High Court of ‘Justice’ in Israel has legitimized coercive interrogations including violent shaking, hooding, deafeningly loud music, and sleep deprivation. It can’t be because the Germans engaged in collective punishment. The Israeli military routinely destroys the houses where ‘terrorists’ once lived. So what’s the difference?
Oh, wait a minute! I’ve got it! The Nazi occupations lasted at most four and a half years; the Palestinians’ has lasted 43 years. Oh, and the Nazis didn’t pay the Aryan citizens of Germany to steal the occupied land and build their own homes on it. And here’s another difference: the Germans didn’t steal water from their occupied lands. But these are exacerbating factors, hardly mitigating ones. To believe that it was noble for the Jews in Warsaw and the partisans in Paris to fight back, but ‘terrorism’ when the Palestinians do so is to turn history on its head in a misguided attempt to justify an inhumane and brutal oppression. 
United Nations resolution 42/159, passed in December,1987 by a 172-2 vote, which was a loud denunciation of terrorism, explicitly exempted occupied people from the dictates of the resolution. In other words 98.9% of those countries voting thought it permissible for occupied people to utilize whatever means possible to gain their freedom. Oh, guess which two voted against the resolution- the US and Israel, no big surprise, I’m sure, and yet another example of this alliance standing in opposition to the civilized nations of the world.
Terrorism is in the eye of the beholder. Essentially it’s a propaganda term designed to sway public opinion in the direction desired by the user. The US and Israeli governments use the term freely against groups whom they seek to marginalize. And they have been quite effective at this. 
When one takes a look at the definition of the term, however, one sees that both the US and Israel frequently utilize terrorist tactics themselves. The killing of over 1400 people in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, the three-week-long Israeli bombing and invasion in 2008-09 is a case in point. The destruction of the Gazan economy and infrastructure, and the tightening of the siege which prevents the reconstruction of destroyed factories, schools, hospitals, and sewage treatment facilities is another. 
If we just keep the definition of terrorism in mind- the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective- and ignore our predispositions  about the actors, it becomes clear that the Israeli government routinely engages in this tactic. Here’s another example: it has a policy of assassinating supposed enemies (in violation of international law, I might add). According to Wikipedia, since 2000 Israel has assassinated twenty-six officials it didn’t like, along with fifty innocent bystanders.  Other than the United States which assassinates supposed Taliban leaders (and those nearby) in Pakistan via drone missiles, I know of no other nation that systematically uses assassination as a foreign policy tool. 
I’m a pacifist. I don’t believe in the use of violence to achieve political goals. To me, the ends never justify the means; the means are the ends. Had I been leading the convoy, I would never have associated with groups advocating violence. The convoy leaders do not hold the same value about this. Their view is that they will befriend any group they think will help end the siege of Gaza. To them it’s the mission itself that is paramount, not the means by which it is achieved. 
While I don’t agree with this viewpoint, I can understand their perspective. And again, let’s be real here: If the Israeli and US governments regularly use terrorism as a means to achieve their ends, doesn’t it seem incredibly hypocritical and disingenuous of them to stigmatize Hamas for advocating similar tactics, particularly since Hamas is the low-powered actor in the Middle East drama? Did I mention that I wasn’t there at the rally? 
Salam, Shalom, Paz
A government facility destroyed during
the 2008-09 massacre

More destruction

A destroyed home

Children in Gaza

Children and a convoy member

Hamas leaders preparing to meet with the women in the convoy
(I wasn't there)

Another building in ruins

Yet another
P.S. And don’t get me started about how the state of Israel was founded with the help of  groups like Irgun and the Stern Gang (with future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir as one of its leaders) that employed terror extensively. Or did you think the 700,000 Palestinians refugees who left in 1948 did so because they preferred the weather in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon? 
P.P.S. I know a number of American Jews read this blog, and I suspect some may be unhappy with my analysis. To them I say with the utmost kindness the words originally said by Martin Luther King, Jr, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Belgrade, Serbia
It rained all day yesterday- perfect weather for my plan to just relax, catch up on sleep, and reflect on my recent convoy experience. My freedom feels so good! The simple matter of making decisions about my personal welfare- where to go, when to eat, what to eat, what to do- has been joyful. After the convoy I’m not taking for granted the personal responsibility that defines what it is to be an adult. Ah, sweet freedom! My first forty-eight hours of it has been delicious. 
I’ve also been enjoying being alone for the first time in over five weeks. The convoy experience is characterized by intense togetherness. We drove together, ate together, shared communal (same-sex only) bathrooms, shared bedrooms, attended meetings and rallies together, and loaded vans together. My first two days alone have been heaven. I’ve been doing very simple things: catching up on emails, reading, blogging, relaxing. I feel like my batteries are being recharged.
Whenever I’ve taken personality tests I’ve always fallen near the middle on the introversion/extroversion scale. On some tests I would be slightly introverted and on others slightly extroverted. Extroverts get energized by being with people, introverts by being alone. So I guess this makes me an outgoing introvert rather than an ingoing extrovert. 
One of the things I’ve been reflecting on is how the convoy members were managed almost exactly like a military unit. The only things missing were the uniforms and medals. Here are the similarities I see:
  • Top-down decision making. Those at the top were in sole charge of thinking for the  group. 
  • Strict hierarchy and chain of command for communication.
  • Communication on a need-to-know basis only.
  • Discipline was demanded and expected.
  • Instructions were disseminated with orders and occasionally threats. 
  • Motivation of subordinates was assumed. On those occasions when motivation was attempted, it was done with negative criticism.
  • Logistical needs always trumped personnel needs
  • On those rare occasions when positive reinforcement was employed, it was given only to lower-ranking leaders, never the actual workers. 
  • Leadership focus was consistently on what’s wrong rather than what’s right.
  • Collective punishment was utilized.
  • Bureaucracy was the norm. Rule-adherence trumped common sense.
  • The ends were assumed to justify the means.
  • People were used like any other resource to achieve desired ends.
  • The leadership displayed no doubts or any other chinks in their psychological armor.
Some may argue that this convoy was, by it’s very nature, a military exercise, and thus it should be managed like one. Well, there were some specific situations during the course of the convoy experience when I would agree that’s true. On the whole, however, I suggest that it is not. Organizational development specialists recommend a variety of leadership styles depending on the task-relevant needs of the moment, and the willingness and ability of the group members to accomplish the task. For example, when speed is a prime consideration, top-down decision making is often optimal. When the commitment of subordinates is important, their participation in the decision-making process is vital. It’s this latter parameter that was missing for me and many others- commitment to operational means. In my opinion, the tactics and operational means employed were definitely sub-optimal. It was a case of, When the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything like a nail.
On a broader note, I’ve been reflecting on whether the strategic aims of the convoy themselves were optimal. This, it seems to me, is a much more difficult and important question. On the one hand we have the fact that the people in Gaza are suffering under a torturous siege. Vital ingredients for a fully functioning society are missing- for example, cement, steel, and concrete to rebuild their infrastructure, sufficient fuel for their power plant to operate continuously, medicines and medical equipment to treat the ill and infirm, sufficient fuel to operate their power plant continuously, and even children’s toys. Clearly the intent of the blockade goes well beyond any supposed need to prevent weaponry from entering. It seems designed more to break the will of the people. 
So on a material level it’s obvious that the people of Gaza need assistance. Our convoy provided them with about 140 vehicles usable as ambulances and a significant quantity of medical and educational aid. Considering that there are 1.5 million people living in Gaza, it’s a small portion of their total needs, but they’re certainly better off for having it. 
There can be no disagreement on this point. 
That’s the material level. On a psycho-spiritual level, not only was the convoy conducted like a military operation, but the entire strategy was military in design. Here’s what I mean by that: The Israeli government has instituted a blockade designed to break the will of the people in Gaza. We, being appalled by the intent and effects of the blockade, institute a strategy to break the siege- at least symbolically. In effect, we’re pushing back against the Israeli government. This countervailing force is just that- force. It’s meeting the Israeli government on its own terms. It’s fighting fire with fire. It’s utilizing the dominant paradigm instead of creating a new one. And that, in my view, is why we may have won the battle and lost the war.
Albert Einstein, Time Magazine’s Person of the 20th Century, said it best. He said, “No problem can be solved with the same level of thinking that created it.” As I see it, the convoy as a solution to the siege is just another example of using force to effectuate desired change. There’s no subtlety to it, no creativity, no imagination. Oh, sure, it’s clever, audacious, and beneficial. But it solves the symptom rather than the problem. The symptom is that the people in Gaza don’t have enough, but what’s the problem? 
Here’s where it gets difficult- defining the real problem. What are the possible root problems? Here’s a partial list:
     -     The Israeli government has instituted a blockade.
     -     The Israeli government doesn’t obey international laws.
     -     The Israeli government wants territorial expansion.
     -     The Israeli government doesn’t want a pluralistic society.
     -     The Gazan government refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
     -     The Gazan government (or others in Gaza) shoot rockets into Israel.
     -     There’s still an occupation after all these years.
     -     The UN Security Council doesn’t enforce its resolutions.
     -     The United States supports Israel militarily.
     -     Public opinion in the United States is pro-Israel.
     -     The Israeli and Palestinian people hate one another.
If we turn to Einstein once again, he said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I knew the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” So, what’s the proper question to ask? I don’t know. I plan on reflecting on that, and I welcome any suggestions from my readership.
I may not know the question, but I do know the answer. For the Palestinians, and, I suppose, the Israelis as well, it’s Ah, Sweet Freedom