Sunday, January 4, 2009

Views on the Gaza Invasion

This YouTube clip from yesterday (Saturday) morning, was taken before people at this large demonstration near the government buildings in London had found out the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip had begun.

The first speaker is Clare Short, a former UK Cabinet member, and a current member of Parliament. Madame Short was a patron of the London performance of my work about Gaza, The Skies Are Weeping. When I met this courageous woman at a reception before the Nov. 1, 2005 concert, I told her, "Madame, I must say, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, you were the only influential politician on either side of the Atlantic with any BALLS at all."

Her reply, as she took my arm, was, "Young man, may I buy you a drink?" When we sat down with our drinks, she started asking questions about Alaska politics. She knows Sen. Stevens.

Below the Youtube is an op-ed from tomorrow's - Monday's - UK Times of London by Rabbi Michael Lerner, one of the founders of Tikkun, and an American activist rabbi. I met Michael Lerner in 1971, when we were both in our early 20s. I was working at Seattle's KRAB radio. Lerner was there several times, as a representative of the Seattle Liberation Front. It was a breakoff group from Students for a Democratic Society. So were the Weathermen.

Lerner's group, some say, was formed in reaction to the hardening of attitudes at SDS, due to influence from groups like the Weathermen. I've lost most of my notes from that period at KRAB, but from what I can remember, Lerner seemed to be pretty wrapped up in local issues, was very positive, and wasn't reacting to people like William Ayers, but was instead reacting to local needs in the Seattle antiwar community.

January 5, 2009

It breaks my heart to see Israel's stupidity

-- Michael Lerner

Israel's attempt to wipe out Hamas is understandable, but stupid. No country in the world is going to ignore the provocation of rockets being launched from neighbouring territory day after day. If Mexico had a group of anti-imperialists bombing Texas, imagine how long it would take for America to mobilise a counterattack. Israel has every right to respond.

But the kind of response matters. Killing 500 Palestinians and wounding 2,000 others (at the time of writing) is disproportionate. Hamas can harass, but it cannot pose any threat to the existence of Israel. And just as Hamas's indiscriminate bombing of population centres is a crime against humanity, so is Israel's killing of civilians (at least 130 so far in Gaza, not to mention the thousands in the years of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza).

Hamas had respected the previously negotiated ceasefire except when Israel used it as cover to make assassination raids. Hamas argued that these raids were hardly a manifestation of a ceasefire, and so as symbolic protest it would allow the release of rocket fire (usually hitting no targets). But when the issue of continuing the ceasefire came up, Hamas wanted a guarantee that these assassination raids would stop. And it asked for more. With hundreds of thousands of Palestinians facing acute malnutrition, Hamas insists that the borders be opened so that food can arrive unimpeded. And in return for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, it asks for the release of 1,000 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

Hamas has made it clear that it would accept the terms of the Saudi Arabian peace agreement, though it would never formally recognise Israel. It would live peacefully in a two-state arrangement, but it would never acknowledge Israel's “right to exist”. This position is unnecessarily provocative, and is deeply self-destructive for Palestinians who believe it is the only symbolic weapon they have left.

How do we get out of this destructive spiral? The first step is for the world to demand an immediate ceasefire. That ceasefire should be imposed by the United Nations and backed unequivocally by America. Its terms must include the following:

— Hamas stops all firing of missiles, bombs or any other violent action originating from the West Bank or Gaza, and co-operates in actively jailing anyone from any faction that breaks this ceasefire.

— Israel stops all bombing, targeted assassinations or any other violent actions aimed at activists, militants, or suspected terrorists in the West Bank or Gaza, and uses the full force of its army to prevent any further attacks on Palestinians.

— Israel opens the border with Gaza and allows free access to and from Israel, subject only to full search and seizure of any weapons. Israel allows free travel of food, gas, electricity, water and consumer goods and materials including from land, air, and sea, subject only to full search and seizure of any weapons or materials typically used for weapons.

— Israel releases all Palestinians in detention and returns them to the West Bank or Gaza according to the choice of the detainees or prisoners. Hamas releases Gilad Schalit and anyone else being held by Palestinian forces.

— Both sides invite an international force to implement these agreements

— Both sides agree to end teaching and/or advocacy of violence against the other side in and outside mosques, educational institutions, and the media.

— This ceasefire would last for 20 years. Nato, the UN, and the US all agree to enforce this agreement and impose severe sanctions in the event of any violations.

These steps would make a huge difference, isolate the most radical members of each side from the mainstream, and make it possible to then begin negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on a broader and deeper set of issues.

The basic condition for creating peace is to help each side feel “safe”. A first and critical step is to speak in a language that is empathic toward the suffering of each people in a climate of discourse in which both sides' stories are heard and understood.

Yet Israel, as the militarily superior power, ought to take the first steps: implementing a massive Marshall Plan in Gaza and in the West Bank to end poverty and unemployment, rebuild infrastructure and encourage investment; dismantle the settlements or make settlers become citizens of a Palestinian state; accept 30,000 Palestinian refugees annually back into Israel for the next 30 years, apologise for its role in the 1948 expulsions and offer to co-ordinate a worldwide compensation effort for all that Palestinians lost during the Occupation; and recognise a Palestinian state within borders already defined by the Geneva Accord of 2003.

This is the only way Israel will ever achieve security. It is the only way to permanently defeat Hamas and all extremists who wish to see endless war against Israel.

The most significant contribution the new Obama administration could make to Middle East peace would be to embrace a strategy that homeland security is best achieved not by military or economic domination but by generosity and caring for others. If this new way of thinking could become a serious part of US policy, it would have an immense impact on undermining the fearful consciousness of Israelis who still see the world more through the frame of the Holocaust and previous persecutions than through the frame of their actual present power in the world.

It breaks my heart to see the terrible suffering in Gaza and in Israel. As a religious Jew I find it all the worse, because it confirms to me how easy it is to pervert the loving message of Judaism into a message of hatred and domination. I remain in mourning for the Jewish people, for Israel and for the world.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine. (


Unknown said...

Governments are not like Ghandi. Individuals may make a choice to stand for peace in the face of violence, but Israel has already learned what happens to Jews when they remain passive in the face of irrational hatred. Never again.

Hamas has given every sign that its sole permanent interest is the extermination of Israel. Israel has concluded, correctly I think, that no meaningful peace can ever be acheived with Hamas. When Hamas is out of power, and Israel is able to negotiate with a government which will keep its commitments, perhaps Fatah, then the noble hopes of Rabbi Lerner and the rest of us may be achieved. I hope so.

Philip Munger said...


Israeli vehicular and other homicide cases per year outnumber the victims of Hamas' rocket attacks by a factor of ten or more, depending upon the year. You don't see the IDF blowing up Israeli bars, liquor stores, bordellos, crack houses and so on.

The Israeli police force is one of the best-equipped in the world. If they can't stop hundreds of homicides in their own country in one year, why should anyone expect the Palestinian Police in the Strip to stop those criminal rocket builders and shooters, with a police force that has almost nothing in the way of equipment or intelligence infrastructure from killing a very, very few Israelis?

Unknown said...

Phillip: My guess is that the IDF would say of your list that Hamas is the one factor they believe they can control.

I think I understand your core argument, and am proud that your voice puts peace and humanity first, particularly for the average Palestinian family who has no control over Hamas. The problem is that the extremists of Hamas are between you and success.

Philip Munger said...

Hams is typical of organizations who have weedled themselves into representing impoverished, hopeless, dispossessed people in squalid settings, with high birth rates, and a high proportion of superstitious clergy to enable them.