This is a special appeal on behalf of three projects in Palestine:
(1) Save Gaza's pilot project on Sustainable Gardens in Gaza, including Rafah;
(2) The Rebuilding Alliance's West Bank "Abir's Garden" playground project (note September 16 deadline for fund raising contest; and
(3) Fida Qishta's Rafah Life Maker's Children's Center.
Please send your donations directly to each group as noted, and not to MRSCP. One project is currently tax-deductible, two are not. As always, thanks for your support.
Jennifer Loewenstein, The Progressive, June 26, 2007
Contrary to the many claims that the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip represents the failure of US and Israeli policies in Palestine, the violent civil infighting that has dominated the Gaza Strip over much of the last year and a half and that led directly to the Hamas coup of June 2007 marks yet another major foreign policy victory for the occupiers. Hamas will never be allowed to remain in power in Gaza so we must fear for the future of that tiny, desperately overcrowded strip of land and its 1.4 million inhabitants; additionally, Abbas – in order to maintain his role as “Good Guy”— will have to accede to the dictates of Israel and the United States or suffer the same fate as his predecessor, Yassir Arafat.
Western nations are standing by in silence as the deadly siege of Gaza and the dismemberment of the West Bank continue unabated. What we are witnessing in full view each day are unprecedented steps taken by the world’s only superpower and its favorite client state, Israel, to ensure the death of a nation. While friction between the two key political factions in the occupied Palestinian territories has long undermined the smooth functioning of internal affairs, it was the direct, cynical involvement of US and Israeli policy-makers in these affairs that guaranteed the breakdown of internal stability and paved the way for the Hamas “coup” in Gaza.
Media reports have been careful to leave out important facts leading up to the coup such as that Hamas was the legitimate, democratically elected ruling party in the Palestinian territories following the January 2006 Palestine Legislative Council elections; that it was the US-Israeli dismissal of those election results that fueled the civil infighting between Hamas and Fatah; that obvious US backing of Fatah against Hamas helped create popular mistrust of Fatah increasing Hamas’ popularity in Gaza and leading directly to Hamas’ takeover of the Fatah military apparatus in the Gaza Strip. In other words, there were real and understandable reasons for the coup. But in the end, Hamas’ seizure of the power that it should have had in the first place ends up serving the interests not only of Mahmoud Abbas and the warlord Muhammad Dahlan. It also provides the perfect opportunity for US-Israeli policy in the region to move forward with even fewer objections, if that is possible to imagine, than have heretofore been made. Who will stand up for a “terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel”? The line has been beaten into our heads with every mention of the word “Hamas” for years. We should not expect a change in the behavior of the American public or of other western audiences until, when Israel is mentioned, we immediately say to ourselves, “a terrorist state that seeks the destruction of Palestine.” Seeks and is succeeding in it.
Watching the barbarous killing between brothers in Gaza, a power struggle between rival factions seething in frenzy like the great prison in which they thrive, Israeli and American political analysts can rest their cases with confidence. Across the spectrum of debate, these experts can expect vindication by the media juries which, in sanctimonious indignation at the brutality meted out by partisans of Fatah or Hamas, have assembled all the “evidence” they need to justify our righteous war against Muslim-Arab terrorists and their internecine blood feuds.
That the US has temporarily chosen a weak, compliant leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the power thirsty warlord, Muhammad Dahlan, to back during the bitter strife between key Palestinian factions testifies not to a belief that one side is trustworthy and deserves our support, but rather to the ease with which the Americans and their clients pick and choose their pawns in their bitter regional cockfights. Today’s statesmen were yesterday terrorists, their titles dependent on the needs of the superpower and its clients: Yesterday Fatah was on the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations and its leader, Yassir Arafat, was a declared “terrorist,” “irrelevant,” and exiled in his presidential compound in Ramallah until his mysterious death. Fatah’s military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades is still listed as a foreign terrorist organization. Neither of these factors apparently bothers the current leadership, which understands that power and prestige are most easily acquired and unchallenged when bequeathed from above.
Truth be told, the Abbas/Dahlan alliance elicits far greater contempt in the eyes of the masters than the more independent and genuine resistance faction headed by Hamas. The numerous meetings and photo-ops between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas, and US President George Bush and Abbas, are little more than tactical stunts to make it look as though genuine negotiations are taking place. In fact, Abbas has been repeatedly bypassed and shunned when Israeli and US negotiators make the real policy decisions—decisions that remain one-sided and dismissive of any demands (other than those that are entirely self-serving) that Abbas and his entourage have made. The arms and funding channeled through Abbas’ Fatah (for his clique represents only one of the many spin-off Fatahs that emerged during the secondIntifada) signify little more than the conduit through which US-Israeli policies can be secured. For all the claims about US backing of Fatah, neither Abbas nor Dahlan have yet to benefit on the ground from this “support.” Indeed, the ease with which Hamas was able to wrest control of Gaza indicates just how little US support for Fatah was worth there. Nevertheless, the same pipeline of support for “Fatah” has done a great deal to bolster perceived US and Israeli national security interests in the same region.
Once again the pictures on our television screens in our newspapers are intended to suffice for missing substance. The context of empire is invisible or deliberately obscured –in Palestine as in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. If the takeover of Gaza by Hamas was unanticipated, its success was a gift of immeasurable value to the overlords, a welcome but unforeseen consequence of fueling divisions among a weakened and oppressed people, undermining any steps toward positive change. Abbas and his underlings have foolishly offered up Palestine cut in two to the occupation regime that worked so hard to end the charade of a single Palestine to begin with. This was a coup for Israel in its ongoing quest for regional hegemony, and a triumph for America’s “War on Terror.” For all the talk about a one-, two- or bi-national state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, the reality is that no state solution for Palestine is on the near or distant horizon. Palestine is a series of disconnected pieces whose division into still smaller parts continues month after month.
Those fretting about a “Hamastan” in the Gaza Strip ought to be worried not about its viability or longevity or about whether or not Islamic law and social mores will be imposed. Hamas’ presence in Gaza will be but a short-lived, transitory phenomenon entirely at the mercy of the US-backed Israeli military, which has not left Gaza alone for a single day since Hamas’ coming to power despite a yearlong ceasefire called by its leaders and scrupulously observed. Those concerned about a Hamas-controlled Gaza ought instead to be wondering how they are going to justify Hamas’ destruction within the Strip and all the suffering, chaos and death that will ensue over the shameful silence of the international community.
Claims that Hamas’ “victory” in the Gaza Strip is a sign that the Bush Doctrine in Palestine has failed are misguided. While no one can foresee all of the events that might take place in a region as volatile as the Middle East, Hamas’ takeover in Gaza will ultimately benefit Israel and the United States. It will benefit Israel by giving it a free hand to destroy Hamas, permanently sever the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, and re-“negotiate” with its newly appointed “partners” the remaining islands of economically unviable territory that will soon be entirely encircled by a concrete and barbed-wire wall, cut off from their supplies of water and fertile land, and separated internally by “Arab-free” roads. It will benefit Israel and the United States by assuring another compliant puppet regime adjacent to Jordan, friendly to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and hostile to Hizbullah, Syria and Iran, even as the fault lines harden. It has already benefited both Israel and the United States by reassuring them that their tactics for undermining indigenous experiments in democracy have once again proven effective, that the people who have dared to defy those tactics learn quickly how painful it is to advocate or practice popular sovereignty and the rule of law.
Mahmoud Abbas has already learned how well complicity and collaboration are rewarded. Having dismissed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, dissolved the national unity government, declared a new, ‘legitimate’ government under his rule and appointed his friends to work beside him, he recently stepped into the limelight with an address on Palestine TV, broadcast in the US on C-SPAN, by announcing how he would further “enhance democracy.” This would begin by no longer speaking to “murderers,” by which he meant Hamas.
Clearly, his membership application into the club of the Good Guys has been, for the time being, approved.
Jennifer Loewenstein is the Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a member of the board of the Israeli Coalition against House Demolitions-USA branch, founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and a freelance journalist. She can be reached at: amadea311 at earthlink.net
John Nichols, Capital Times, June 20, 2007
The tragedy of Washington’s narrow “debate” about the Middle East is that few American political players are willing to comment in a serious manner about the fact that George Bush’s mishandling of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has done more than money or guns to advance the cause of the Islamic fundamentalists who now control the Gaza Strip.
Disengaged when engagement was called for, meddling when a hands-off approach would have been wiser, and always staggeringly ignorant — remember Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s shock when Hamas won the Palestinian elections early in 2006? — the Bush administration’s approach has been so disastrous that the International Crisis Group’s Robert Malley is being generous when he says “almost every decision the United States has made to interfere with Palestinian politics has boomeranged.”
Almost? Let’s be realistic. Hamas had expanded far beyond its fundamentalist base to draw significant support from Palestinians who simply wanted an end to the corruption of the rival and more secular Fatah group. Bush and Rice responded by throwing U.S. support fully behind Fatah.
The point of the U.S. maneuvering was to isolate and destroy Hamas. According to a recent report in London’s Guardian newspaper, the U.N. Mideast envoy, Alvaro de Soto, confirmed that the U.S. pressured Mahmoud Abbas to refuse Hamas’ initial invitation to form a “national unity government.”
The strategy was a miserable failure. The Bush administration only strengthened the hand of militant factions within Hamas.
This should not surprise anyone. In February 2006, former President Jimmy Carter, whose expertise on the Mideast is respected almost everywhere but in the U.S., warned, “My concern is that in order to try, on behalf of the United States and Israel, to punish Hamas, we’ll actually going to be punishing the Palestinian people who are already living in deprivation. And it’s going to turn the Palestinian people even more against the West and against Israel, against us and make Hamas seem to be, you know, their only friend.”
The fact that Carter’s warnings proved to be prescient will not earn him any forgiveness from his critics. Even the urgency of the moment is unlikely to bring much improvement in the quality of the debate about Bush’s failed Mideast policies. Carter tried, and he was ridiculed, smeared and dismissed for doing so.
It is this reality that has led most prominent political players in the U.S. — especially those seeking the presidency — to avoid saying much of consequence about the administration’s monumental Mideast blunders.
There are, of course, exceptions. One presidential candidate, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is wading into the thick of the debate. “The chaos and factional violence in Gaza that ultimately led to the Hamas military takeover of the Presidential Compound and the National Security Guard building demonstrates a failure of President Bush’s strategy in matters relating to Hamas,” says Kucinich.
Picking up on Carter’s assessment, the congressman adds, “The humanitarian, economic and political boycott imposed on the elected Hamas government were meant to force Hamas to accept U.S. and Israeli conditions or alternatively to force it out of power. The boycott has accomplished neither goal and instead has created a severe humanitarian crisis that is now marred by political factionalism, violence, and unrest.”
Give Kucinich credit for recognizing the crisis on the ground. As the congressman notes, since the suspension of aid to the Palestinian Authority began in April 2006, the number of Palestinians living in abject poverty has risen to more than a million. And a Palestinian Authority budget that was once $1.5 billion annually has shrunk to $500 million, making it impossible to maintain basic services.
Kucinich is calling on Congress to pressure the Bush administration to:
1. Announce that the U.S. will immediately extend diplomatic recognition to the former national unity government coalition of Hamas and Fatah.
2. Ask for the reconstitution of the coalition government.
3. Initiate high-level diplomatic talks in the region, including representatives chosen by the coalition government.
4. Send emergency food and medical aid to Gaza, under auspices of the U.N. and NGOs.
Those are rational proposals — admittedly optimistic, but not irrationally so.
Congress is unlikely to even begin to exert the sort of pressure Kucinich proposes. In the absence of meaningful debate and serious challenges to their approach, Bush and Rice will continue to get it wrong. In so doing, they will make life worse for Palestinians, and for Israelis. They will place the prospect of stability further out of reach in the entire region.
And, despite all their pronouncements to the contrary, they will make the world a dramatically more dangerous place.
MIKE MURRAY, Cap Times, Jun 9, 2007
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 war in which, most Americans believe, a small, gallant Israel defeated powerful attacking Arab armies.
A few brave Israeli historians now argue that this is a myth and that Israel’s 1967 pre-emptive attack on Egypt was a “war of choice.”
But it is clear enough that the war produced 40 years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, as well as Syria’s Golan Heights.
The Israeli occupation is the longest ongoing military occupation in the world. It violates international law and scores of United Nations resolutions. It inflicts daily violence, brutality and humiliation on hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, leading to two bloody revolts.
Just days after the war’s end, Israel demolished an entire Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem in order to open up the “Western Wall” for Jewish use. Since then, Israel has demolished more than 18,000 Palestinian homes.
More than 240,000 Jewish settlers now live in illegal colonies in the West Bank, using up the water, guarded by Israeli soldiers and traveling Jewish-only roads that trap Palestinians in isolated, economically starved ghettos.
The United States and Israel are blockading the elected Palestinian government, and so the occupied territories are wracked with violence, poverty, unemployment, and malnutrition.
Why should Americans care? There are many regimes that commit human rights violations around the globe. But it is difficult to find another example with such deep U.S. involvement. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.
Some prominent Americans have pointed out that this generates worldwide Arab and Muslim anger and that it is bad for Palestinians, Israel, and the United States.
The Democratic-controlled Congress is timidly beginning to reject the neo-con agenda and grasp the need to extricate the United States from the Iraq nightmare. Yet when it comes to Israel, they rush to join ranks with the Bush administration and pander to Israel’s well-heeled U.S. lobby, AIPAC, in support of the occupation.
The Israeli occupation is carried out with our money, our government’s support, and – in the eyes of the rest of the world – in our names. Unless we insist that our politicians change course, all parties can look forward to another 40 years of bloodshed and suffering.
Murray is a member of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.
Jennifer Loewenstein, Islamic Human Rights Commission, 06 June 2007
Jennifer Loewenstein brilliantly illustrates the horrors of living under fire and portrays the Palestinians of Gaza as a people abandoned by the world to the murderous Israeli occupation, but whose will to resist strengthens with each atrocity committed against them.
June 2007, Jennifer Lowenstein, originally published in Palestine Internationalist, Volume 2 Issue 4
An opened jaw with yellowed teeth gaped out of its bloodied shroud. The rest of the head parts were wrapped in a plastic bag placed atop the jaw and nostrils as if to be close to the place to which it once belonged. The bag was red from the pieces that were stuffed inside it. Below the jaw was a human neck slit open midway down: a fleshy, wet wound smiling pink and oozing out from the browned skin around it, the neck that was still linked to the body below it. Above him, in the upper freezer of the morgue lay a dead woman, her red hennaed hair visible for the first time to strange men around her. More red plastic wrapped around an otherwise absent chin. She was dead for demonstrating outside a mosque in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza where more than 60 men sheltered during the artillery onslaught by Israeli tanks and cannons.
Most of the others still had their faces intact. They lay on their silver morgue trays stiffly as frozen food. One man had a green Hamas band tied around his head; he looked like a shepherd from some forgotten, pastoral age. Another’s white eyes were partially opened, his face looking out in horror as if he’d died seeing it coming. Then a muddy, grizzled blob on the bottom left tray, black curls tangled and damped into its rounded head and blessedly shut eyes. A closer look revealed a child, a boy of 4: Majed, out playing his important childhood games when death came in like thunder and rolled him up in a million speckles of black mud. The other dead had already been taken away.
Muslim burials take place quickly, a god-send to the doctors, nurses and undertakers who, at the hospitals and morgues, desperately need the space for next batch of casualties who would sleep on the same sheets, same steel-framed beds, in the same humid heat, in the same close, crowded, grief-stricken rooms, often on the floors, with the same tired, unpaid attendants doing their rounds without the proper supplies to help them if they were still alive. And some would die on the operating table like the young man gone now to the Kamal Adwan hospital morgue when his wounds became too much for his body to bear. Two young girls preceded him earlier the same day. Blessed are they who leave this human wasteland washed and shrouded for a quiet, earthy grave.
Today the hospitals will be filled beyond capacity again when the 18 civilian dead from a pre-dawn attack on Beit Hanoun — women, men and children blasted out of their sleep into human chunks — roll out of the ambulances and into the freezers of Shifa or Kamal Adwan hospitals in the northern Gaza Strip. How dare they sleep in their houses at night when the tanks are barking out commands?
Do you believe this was an accident? That an international investigation will ever take place? Like after Jenin? Like after Dan Halutz and his 2000 pound bomb which was dropped on an apartment building in Gaza City killing 15 people, 9 of them women and children? Like after the siege of Jabalya in the fall of 2004? Like after Operation Rainbow in Rafah? Like after Huda Ghalia’s family was blasted into nothingness during an outing on a Gaza beach? Will US eyes, glued to their glaucousy TV screens to find out which marketed candidate won the corporate-managed midterm elections, ever know that another massacre of Palestinians took place?
At Shifa hospital, Gaza’s central hospital, where Dr. Juma’ Saqa and his staff cope with the daily shortages of supplies from kidney dialysis machines to fans and clean linens; where cancer medications are unavailable to the increasing rate of cancer patients and elective surgeries, such as for hernias or tonsils, are a thing of the past. This is where doctors and nurses witness how the water that Gazans drink causes innumerable ailments, rotting teeth, anemia in children and kidney dysfunction because of its brackish, poisonous quality. This is where children lie half naked in their beds, white tape across their noses holding tubes to their faces so that they may eat or breathe– like Ahmad aged 3, also from Beit Hanoun, who took a bullet in the right side of his belly that exited on the left. His mother stands over him passively, grateful. Ahmad, at least, is going to live. But for what?
Each night in Gaza City that first week in November, explosions sounded in the northeastern corner of Gaza: a succession of bullets, booms, bombs, canon fire. On the first night of the onslaught we could still see lights from Beit Hanoun 10 miles from us blinking and twinkling as if nothing were really happening; it was all a dream—fireworks, a distant celebration perhaps. But then, by the second night only a swath of blacked out space lay in the place of Beit Hanoun, electricity-less and water-less as the booms continued unabated for an hour or more and the hum of the pilot-less drones circled round again and again above us, above Beit Hanoun, above Gaza, automated people-monitors taking stock of the activity below. Nobody from Beit Hanoun could leave by day to get to work without announcing to the tanks and the drones that he was prepared to sacrifice his life for a semblance of normalcy. All men between the ages of 16-35 were rounded up onto trucks and hauled away for “questioning”. What will happen to them and their families? Will anyone follow up? Will they add to the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, left to rot while their wives and children, sisters, brothers, parents go on struggling to survive?
There lies Gaza stretched 28 miles long in a tumbledown graying, decaying heap, yawning, tired, wretched, full of garbage. Tape gauze over your nose to avoid the smell of sewage and burning trash. Try not to notice the metal-shuttered shop fronts, the empty stores, the proliferation of horse- and donkey-carts clopping along the streets for lack of fuel, the ribs of the tired beasts jutting out from their bellies as boys whip them along to keep going. The joke is the cerulean blue sky illuminating the rubbish tip, the palm trees and purple flowers beaming in the November sun – natural non-sequiturs, like the box of fresh chocolates offered to the journalists filming the woman’s wounded son as she yells out her frustrations and horror at the Americans and the Israelis who are killing her family. Why? She asks. Why, why, why?
Ask Mark Regev, Israel’s eager, hideously sincere government spokesperson. On CNN’s international news he tells us in earnest that this is Israeli self-defense. The Qassam fire into Sderot and Ashkelon must stop. Israelis have the right to defend themselves. The “operation” in Beit Hanoun will not stop until the Qassams stop. Each word drivels out of his mouth into a bubble of obscenity for everyone watching from the vantage point of Gaza. Verbal pornography, sado-masochistic jargon from the prince of Hasbara leaks onto the dust like poisonous bile bought, paid for and sought after by the lords of power and their occupying machinery.
The shoddy, home-made Qassams hiss like cornered alley cats when they are fired into the skies. Stupid and bestial, they zing across the border like crazed beasts not knowing where they are going. They’ll dash forever like this until the occupation of Palestine ends. The Gazans know this, Hamas knows it, Fatah knows it, the PFLP knows it; In Israel, Labor and Likkud know it, Meretz knows it, Yisrael Beiteinu knows it, Shas knows it; Peretz, Olmert and Lieberman know it, Sharon knew it, the Israeli people know it, official America know this, so 40 years after 1967 and 58 years after 1948, why is the occupation not yet over?
Because Israel does not want it to end. Because Israel wants the land and the resources without the people. Because you have to eviscerate a culture in order to maintain total control over it. Because the United States says that’s just fine with us, you serve our purpose well. You help make the war on terror convenient. You help fit Iraq into the scheme. You’ll help us with Iran as well. Who the hell cares about a million and a half poverty-stricken Gazans and their dust, their sand, their stinking, crumbling heap of a disaster area homeland?
What a terrible shame it is that Gazans have not yet attained the status of Human in the eyes of the Western powers, for the resistance there will continue to be an enigma until this changes. For now, however, the slaughter will continue unabated.
Leaving Gaza 6:30am Saturday morning, November 4th 2006, I hear a loud explosion. My cab driver picks me up and we drive down the main street in Gaza City toward Erez. Suddenly, unexpectedly, there is a smoldering mass of wreckage in front of me, a car surrounded by boys picking at its still-hot exterior. Inside are four blackened, seared human shapes, crispy at the touch, faceless from the burns, charcoal, shreds of steaming cloth, a smell of barbecued human flesh, sirens in the distance. Burnt and vaporized metal looks like what you see in a science fiction movie. Burnt humans look like singed paper mache monsters whose pieces fall off at the hint of a breeze.
Gaza is sorry for these indiscretions, this poor taste, this unseemly topic of conversation. You are right to express your indignation. How Dare Gaza Speak of These Things!? But it can no longer contain its secrets even with the blockade of visitors to its vile shores; its voice is shrill even when sublimated through the layers of media deceit. The smoke rises higher in the skies each time. The prison is imploding and the resistance will never end.
Jennifer Loewenstein is the Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She spent a year as Visiting Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Program where she began work on a book dealing with resistance and the rise of Islam in Palestine and Lebanon. Jennifer is a freelance journalist, human rights activist and founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. She has lived in Beirut, Jerusalem and Gaza City and has traveled extensively throughout the region. Her articles have appeared in books and journals such as The New Intifada by Roane Carey, ed; Searching Jenin, by Ramzy Baroud; the Journal of Palestine Studies, the Forced Migration Review and the CounterPunch newsletter. Jennifer lives with her husband and daughter in Madison, Wisconsin.
Copyright © 2007 Palestine Internationalist
Palestine, Israel and Lebanon 40 Years after 1967
“Hizbullah, Israel and Lebanon: The Summer War, 2006”
Fawwaz Trabulsi, Lebanese-American University, Beirut, Lebanon
April 12th • 1351 Chemistry • 7:30 pm
“Jerusalem Women Speak: Three Women, Three Faiths”
Huda Abu Arqoub, Muslim Palestinian and consultant for the Palestinian Ministry of Education; Tal Dor, a Jewish Israeli community activist; and Amal Nassar, Christian Palestinian grassroots organizer and nurse.
This “Three Women of Jerusalem” tour will also appear at three local high schools.
April 16 • 2650 Mosse Humanities • 7:00 pm
“Democracy, Disengagement and Destruction: The United States, Israel and the Rise of Hamas”
Laila El-Haddad, freelance journalist, Gaza
April 19th • 105 Psychology • 7:30 pm
“On Dignity and Dissent: Reflections on Palestine by a Child of Holocaust Survivors”
Sara Roy, Harvard University
April 26th • 105 Psychology • 7:30 pm
“The Threat from Within: Democracy & Demography in Israel and the Modern Zionist Ideology”
Jonathan Cook, journalist, Nazareth, Israel; formerly of the London Guardian
May 3rd • 105 Psychology • 7:30 pm
Sponsored by the University of Wisconsin Middle East Studies Program, Comparative Literature, the Havens Center, and Religious Studies; Partners for Peace, and the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.
Washington – The simmering debate over American policy toward Israel and the role of the Jewish community in shaping it exploded with near-nuclear force this week. Several of the nation’s best-known international affairs commentators fired salvos at pro-Israel lobbyists and defenders of Israel fired back with unprecedented fury.
In the space of three days, major critiques of Jewish lobbying were published by controversial billionaire George Soros, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof, the respected British newsmagazine The Economist and the popular Web site Salon.
The replies were furious. The New York Sun accused Kristof and Soros of spreading a “new blood libel.” The American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, wrote in a Jerusalem Post opinion article that Kristof had a “blind spot” and had “sanctimoniously lectured” Israel.
The editor of The New Republic, Martin Peretz, renewed an attack on Soros that he began a month ago when he called the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor a “cog in the Hitlerite wheel.”
The outburst over Middle East policymaking was triggered in part by the annual Washington conference last week of the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a highly publicized event that put the issue of pro-Israel influence in the media spotlight. A parade of politicians and presidential candidates came to the conference to declare their unwavering support for Israel, while the lobby itself reaffirmed a hard-line agenda that included cutting all American ties with the new Palestinian government.
At the same time, the latest attacks and counterattacks were also a continuation — and an escalation — of an ongoing debate in Washington over the purported role of the pro-Israel lobby in shaping American policy in the Middle East and stifling debate. Those attacks reached a peak of venom last year with the publication of a contentious document by two senior political scientists, Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, who charged that a sprawling, powerful “Israel Lobby” had pushed the United States into war with Iraq.
Among the latest group of critics, Soros, the billionaire philanthropist and currency trader, was the harshest. In an article in The New York Review of Books, published
Monday, he argued that the United States is doing Israel a disservice by allowing it to boycott the Hamas-Fatah Palestinian unity government and to turn down the Saudi peace initiative. But, he wrote, there is no meaningful debate of such policies.
“While other problem areas of the Middle East are freely discussed, criticism of our policies toward Israel is very muted indeed,” Soros wrote. He added that pro-Israel activists have been “remarkably successful in suppressing criticism.”
Soros singled out Aipac as a key source of the problem, accusing the lobby of pushing a hawkish agenda on Israeli-Palestinian issues. “Aipac under its current leadership has clearly exceeded its mission, and far from guaranteeing Israel’s existence, has endangered it,” he wrote.
Soros’s article was noteworthy in part because it broke his longstanding practice of avoiding public identification with Jewish causes. While he has given hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade to democratization in the former communist bloc, he has given almost nothing to Jewish causes. In this week’s article, however, he stated — apparently for the first time — that he has “a great deal of sympathy for my fellow Jews and a deep concern for the survival of Israel.”
He said that while he has disagreed with Israeli policies in the past, he has kept quiet because he “did not want to provide fodder to the enemies of Israel.” However, he said, the mishandling of recent events by Washington and Jerusalem now demanded greater public debate, which he said was stifled by groups like Aipac.
He also sprang to the defense of his fellow Jewish liberals, criticizing a recent essay on “Progressive Jewish Thought,” written by Indiana University historian Alvin Rosenfeld and published by the American Jewish Committee, for its attack on critics of Israel.
Soros wrote that he is “not sufficiently engaged in Jewish affairs to be involved in the reform of Aipac” and called on the American Jewish community “to rein in the organization that claims to represent it.”
A spokesperson for Aipac said the group will not comment on Soros’s remarks.
An argument echoing Soros’s was posted a day later on the popular Web site Salon, in an article titled “Can American Jews unplug the Israel lobby?” The writer, Gary Kamiya, called on American Jews to “stand up and say ‘not in my name’,” and to challenge the notion that Aipac’s views are representative of the broader Jewish community.
Less pointed, but far more widely circulated, was a critique of American policymaking published Sunday by New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof. The much-decorated journalist, famous for his determined coverage of the Darfur genocide, argued that American politicians have “muzzled themselves” when it comes to Israel and that “there is no serious political debate among either Democrats or Republicans about our policy toward Israelis and Palestinians.”
Both Kristof and Soros compared America’s Middle East policy discussion unfavorably with the lively debate in Israel over the government’s policy. Both claimed that while Israelis feel free to criticize their government and question its policies, American politicians are afraid to take it on.
The Economist, the internationally respected British newsweekly, summed up Friday in a prescient article the “changing climate” facing the pro-Israel lobby. It mentioned challenges to Aipac from Arab Americans, liberal Jews and foreign-policy experts worried about America’s standing in the Arab world. “America needs an open debate about its role in the Middle East and Aipac needs to take a positive role in this debate if it is to remain such a mighty force in American politics,” the article concluded.
This burst of criticism against the Israel lobby and its role in the shaping of American policy toward Israel was immediately met by critical articles from supporters of Aipac and of America’s pro-Israel policies.
A Monday editorial in the New York Sun was the harshest of all. It compared Soros’s and Kristof’s criticisms to the so-called blood libels directed against Jews in medieval Europe. “The fact is that they write at a time when a war against the Jews is underway,” the Sun wrote. “It is a war in which the American people have stood with Israel for three generations… The reason is that Americans are wise enough to understand which side in the war against the Jews shares our values — and to sort out the truth from the libels.”
But Soros’s greatest critic is no doubt New Republic editor Martin Peretz, who posted only a brief reaction on his blog to Soros’s article, promising to elaborate when he returns from his trip abroad. Peretz had attacked Soros in February for saying that the United States would need “de-Nazification” after President Bush leaves office, charging that Soros himself had been guilty of collaborating with the Nazis as a teenager in Hungary. Soros replied in the magazine that the charge was false, and Peretz backed off somewhat. Now, however, he has promised to come back with guns blazing, after he returns from an overseas trip.
“Since he has picked the scab off his own wound this time, I will not be so kind this time,” Peretz warned.
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, also joined the debate in an opinion article in the Jerusalem Post. Harris praised Kristof’s acclaimed foreign reporting but said he has a “blind spot” regarding Israel. He added that “Israel doesn’t need lectures from well-intentioned journalists on the need for peace. Israel needs well-intentioned partners for peace.”
The current round in the debate over the pro-Israel lobby is already spilling over into the political system. Presidential candidate Barack Obama, who was seen as being supported financially by Soros, distanced himself from the billionaire following Soros’s article on Aipac.
“On this issue he and Senator Obama disagree,” said a statement from the Obama campaign issued Tuesday. It is now unclear how willing Democratic candidates will be to accept campaign contributions from Soros, who is one of the biggest donors to Democratic-aligned advocacy groups.
While the debate is reaching a boiling point in the public sphere, work on the ground on establishing a new lobbying apparatus by dovish Jewish groups and individuals is moving at a much slower pace.
The initiative was initially called in media reports “the Soros lobby,” after the financier attended an exploratory meeting last fall in New York to discuss creating a new lobby. Since that meeting, however, Soros has shown no further interest in the effort, organizers said.
“He met with us once and that’s it,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, one of the main figures behind the initiative. Ben-Ami stressed that that Soros has not yet pledged any funds for the new advocacy group and that the initiative is still in need of donors. Many in the group now refer to it jokingly as the “non-Soros lobby.”
Major Givers Reportedly withholding Funds from School, Sparking Fierce Free-Speech Debate on Massachusetts Campus
Larry Cohler-Esses, The Jewish Week (New York), February 16, 2007
Major donors to Brandeis University have informed the school they will no longer give it money in retaliation for its decision last month to host former President Jimmy Carter, a strong critic of Israel.
The donors have notified the school in writing of their decisions–and specified Carter as the reason, said Stuart Eizenstat, a former aide to Carter during his presidency and a current trustee of Brandeis, one of the nation’s premier Jewish institutions of higher learning.
They are “more than a handful,” he said. “So, this is a concern. There are evidently a fair number of donors who have indicated they will withhold contributions.”
Brandeis history professor Jonathan Sarna, who maintains close ties with the administration, told The Jewish Week, “These were not people who send $5 to the university. These were major donors, and major potential donors.”
“I hope they’ll calm down and change their views,” Sarna said.
Sarna indicated he knew the identity of at least one of the benefactors but declined to disclose it. He said only that those now determined to stop contributing include “some enormously wealthy individuals.”
Eizenstat said his information came from discussions Tuesday with university administrators, who did not disclose to him who the donors in question were, or how much was involved.
Kevin Montgomery, a student member of the faculty-student committee that brought Carter to Brandeis, related that the school’s senior vice president for communications, Lorna Miles, told him in a meeting the week before Carter’s appearance that the school had, at that point, already lost $5 million in donations.
Asked to comment, Miles replied, “I have no idea what he’s talking about.”
Miles said that university President Jehuda Reinharz was out of the country and unavailable for comment. The school’s fundraising director, Nancy Winship, was also unavailable, she said.
“I have not heard anything from donors,” said Miles. “I don’t know where Stuart’s information is coming from. I don’t think there is any there there, in your story.”
The apparent donor crisis comes on the heels of a series of Israel-related free speech controversies on the Waltham, Mass., campus, of which Carter’s January appearance is only the latest and most high-profile. Critics of Israel last year protested Reinharz’s removal of an art exhibit from the school library containing anti-Israeli paintings–denounced by some as crude propaganda–by youths from Palestinian refugee camps.
The university got flack from the other side when it awarded an honorary doctorate in June to renowned playwright and frequent Israel critic Tony Kushner, who once referred to Israel’s founding as “a mistake.”
The run-up to Carter’s appearance was also punctuated by acrimony when the former president declined an initial invitation to appear in a debate format with Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz. Instead, Dershowitz appeared only after Carter left the hall.
Yet, the school has also won notice for a course it offers on the Middle East conflict co-taught by Shai Feldman, a prominent Israeli strategic analyst, and Palestinian Khalil Shikaki, a leading West Bank demographer. It also conducts an exchange program with Al Quds University, a Palestinian school in East Jerusalem. The Brandeis student body of about 5,000 is about 50 percent Jewish but also contains a significant population of Muslims.
Nevertheless, the free-speech controversies seemed to pit Brandeis’ commitment to maintaining its status as a top-tier, non-sectarian university–with all the expectations of untrammeled discourse this brings–against its determination to remain, in Reinharz’s words, a school under “continuous sponsorship by the Jewish community.”
The alleged action by some top donors has now sharpened the tensions between those two goals, intensified by the school’s commitment to the ideals of its namesake. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a founder of American Zionism and one of the judiciary’s fiercest free speech defenders.
“The American Jewish community understands the visit by Carter to Brandeis to be reflecting a heksher”–a stamp of approval–“from the university,” said Sarna, whose field is American Jewish history. “They see it as a statement that Brandeis certifies him as kosher.”
“The faculty views it very differently,” he said, “that Brandeis is a forum; that views are uttered in that forum, some of which we agree with and some of which we don’t. But the faculty does not view his appearance as a heksher.”
“It’s that gap in perception that seems to require greater dialogue between the two entities so at least one understands the other,” said Sarna.
But the Carter event may have instead opened the door to greater tensions. Emboldened by it, a group of left-wing students are now seeking to bring to campus Norman Finkelstein, a controversial Holocaust scholar who charges that Jewish leaders exploit the tragedy to fend off and silence criticism of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. He charges, too, that Jewish organizations have inflated the number of Holocaust survivors to inflate reparations payments.
A group of right-wing students has invited to campus Professor Daniel Pipes, an Arabist and policy analyst who writes often of the security threat he sees to the United States and Europe from Muslim immigrants. Pipes has also founded Campus Watch, a program that seeks to monitor what professors teach in class and publicize those it regards as extremists. This has provoked charges he is a McCarthyist, which he denies.
In a contentious meeting with faculty after the Carter event, Reinharz denounced Finkelstein and Pipes as “weapons of mass destruction,” according to a report in The Justice, the Brandeis campus newspaper. His executive assistant, John Hose, explained, “These are people who tend to inflame passions, whose mission is not so much discussion and education as it is theatre, a show … If you want serious discussion, there’s lots of resources available for that already at Brandeis.”
At the Feb. 5 meeting, Winship, the school’s chief fundraiser, also alluded to the brewing problem with donors. The e-mails from them “kept coming and coming,” The Justice quoted her as saying. “We’re just trying to repair the damage. The Middle East is just this trigger of emotions for our alumni and for our friends. For the most part, the donors who come to us come through the Jewish door.”
Reinharz sharply criticized the committee that brought Carter to campus for leaving the university with $95,000 in logistical and security costs, according to The Justice.
“Faculty members should not be allowed to invite whoever they want and leave Brandeis with a huge bill,” Reinharz complained, according to the paper.
The school’s budget for 2005, the latest year for which tax records are available, was $265.75 million against revenues of $310 million.
Members of the sponsoring committee protested that Reinharz had earlier assured them money would be no barrier to bringing the first U.S. president to Brandeis since Harry S Truman’s 1957 commencement speech there.
“I think Jehuda [protested the cost] because he wanted to distance himself from Carter,” said Montgomery, the student member of the Carter committee. “I feel this is Jehuda’s attempt to appease the harsh donor critics.”
The Brandeis president did not attend the Carter event, with his office making it known that Reinharz was out of town.
At the faculty meeting, Susan Lanser a professor of English, complained, “I know many, many faculty who do not feel they can speak freely about the Middle East” in public forums. And in an interview with The Jewish Week, Mary Baine Campbell, another English professor, spoke of “the chilling effect of knowing one speaks about things unwelcome by the administration in charge of working conditions and pay. They could be angels. I don’t know. It’s a slightly chilled atmosphere.”
Lanser said the administration’s warnings about donors had reinforced that sense. “I’m not saying that was the intent of the meeting,” she said. “I think Brandeis is committed to open intellectual inquiry. But this issue gets complicated because of the strong feelings of some donors.”
This vexed aftermath contrasted sharply with the widely praised tenor of the event itself. The university audience of almost 2,000 received Carter with notable civility and even gave him several standing ovations. At the same time, student questioners challenged him with tough and critical queries.
The focus of hostility toward Carter–his new book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–has led to no less than Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham Foxman charging him with “engaging in anti-Semitism.” Many others have echoed this.
The protests start with the book’s title, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, implicitly comparing Israel’s policies towards Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza to apartheid-era South Africa. The book itself contains gross factual errors, charge critics, and a lopsided bias that lays blame almost exclusively on Israel for the failure to resolve the conflict.
Critics object especially to Carter’s claim that pro-Israel forces in the United States have a disproportionate and stifling impact on public debate of the issue–denounced by Foxman as “the old canard and conspiracy theory of Jewish control of the media, Congress and the U.S. government.”
At the event, Carter defended himself against such charges. Interviews with audience members suggested their ovations stemmed more from respect for Carter’s former office and their acceptance of his basic integrity and good faith than agreement, necessarily, with his views.
“I think everyone was surprised at how well he was received,” said Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar and historian unaffiliated with Brandeis. “That may be the most important part of the story. Instead of coming as partisans, they listened to Carter attentively, asked tough questions and gave him an audience. The Jewish community may have a more significant generation gap than they understand between what young people are prepared to hear and what older activists are prepared to hear.”
Amira Hass, Haaretz, Feb 14, 2007
The Gaza Strip is ‘abroad’ in a strange way. Israelis need a passport to get there, and Palestinian Jerusalemites need a laissez passer – the same one they need to present when they fly to Paris via Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Now it is official: The Gaza Strip is “abroad.” As of February 1, the few Israelis whose entry into the Strip is approved by the army have had to present a passport at the Erez crossing, and they are listed on the Interior Ministry’s computer as having crossed the country’s borders.
The Gaza Strip is “abroad” in a strange way. Israelis need a passport to get there, and Palestinian Jerusalemites need a laissez passer – the same one they need to present when they fly to Paris via Ben-Gurion International Airport. But when these same Jerusalemites go to Jordan via the Allenby Bridge, they use a Jordanian passport. And the Palestinians who live in that “abroad” – the Gazans – are, for the meantime, exempt from crossing with a Palestinian passport; this exemption also applies to residents of the West Bank, by order of the interior minister.
The confusing multiplicity of procedures is still more remarkable in light of the fact that Israel allows only a few people to enter and leave the Strip. Only a small number of Israelis receive this permission – mainly those with relatives in Gaza or people, primarily women, who have been married to Gaza residents for years. Receiving a permit requires prior coordination, which is very cumbersome, and it sometimes takes days until the request for a permit or a permit extension finds a fax line without a busy signal at the “office for Israeli affairs” in the Civil Administration, a military body to which the interior minister has granted the authority to continue operating the crossing.
Crossing the approximately half a kilometer that separates the Palestinian side from the Israeli one requires additional coordination, on the phone, and an hours-long wait until the soldiers and clerks on the Israeli side allow permit holders to walk through. But this is not what makes the strangeness of the Gazan “abroad” unique; to many, this is simply reminiscent of the difficulties that totalitarian regimes imposed on travel between countries in Eastern Europe.
The “abroad” of Gaza is strange primarily for a different reason, a more fundamental one: All its residents are listed in the same population registry as residents of the West Bank, which is not “abroad,” and the entire list is controlled by Israel’s Interior Ministry. This control gives Interior Ministry representatives in the Civil Administration authority that the Palestinian interior minister lacks. This control allowed Israel to deprive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians of their residency status after 1967. It allowed the continuation of marital, social, economic, religious and cultural ties between Gaza and the West Bank until 1991 – and then, it severed those ties. This control allows Israel to prevent the addition of foreign residents to the population registry; it allows Israel to intervene in, and even decide, the choice of a partner, place of study, type of medical treatment, address, quality time with children, participation in celebrations and funerals, the writing of wills and distribution of family property. Israel has the authority to ban the entry of friends or family members who are not Palestinian residents – not just their entry into Israel, but also into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since October 2000, the ban has been comprehensive.
Only Palestinians registered as residents in the Israeli computer system can cross at the Rafah terminal, when it is open. Israel has the authority to ban Gazans from traveling to the West Bank or living there, and has been doing so with increasing fervor since 1991, when it began implementing the closure policy. This is the “abroad” that Israelis require a passport to enter. This is the “abroad” for which Israel argues that it has no responsibility. And this is the greatness of the Israeli occupation: It manages to present itself as nonexistent, while its authority reaches all the way to the bedroom.
No, this is not a recommendation to take another unilateral step and erase the Gazans from the Palestinian population registry, which is under Israeli control, in addition to the geographic and human separation. On the contrary! It is preferable for Israel to continue snooping around in their bedrooms than to take a step that would finally complete the separation between Gaza residents and their brothers in the West Bank.
There is reason for concern. A move such as erasing the Gazans from the registry fits the thought process that has characterized Israeli policy toward the Strip since 1991. Over the past 16 years, residents of the crowded, 360-square-kilometer Strip have been ordered to get used to its transformation into a kind of isolated autarkic economy and make do with the little it produces: increasingly little (and increasingly polluted) water; diminishing land; declining sources of income; industry and agriculture with no markets; and inferior educational and health institutions, due to their isolation from the world and the West Bank.
The peak of this policy, so far, was the disengagement in 2005. This is a policy that contradicts what is written in the Oslo Accords, which call the Strip and the West Bank a single territorial unit, as well as international resolutions about the solution for peace. But evacuating a few thousand settlers from the Strip was successfully marketed as Israeli moderation, even as Israel strengthened all its methods of control over the West Bank. Israel is also liable to market the deletion of Gazan names from the population registry as some kind of goodwill gesture. But such a move would only intensify the human distress of Gaza’s 1.4 million residents, as well as their separation from the world. And that is a proven recipe for keeping a reasonable peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians at a distance.
Miko Peled, The Electronic Intifada, 13 February 2007
Palestinians wait at the Rafah Crossing in Gaza to pass through to the Egypt, 6 February 2007. (MaanImages/Hatem Omar)
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one area where liberals and neo-conservatives in America find common ground. From Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton all the way to George Bush and Condoleezza Rice one and all are united in supporting Israel’s assault on the Palestinian people and their land.
The criticism of Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid is a case in point. The hysteria on the Right is not worthy of repetition, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi outdid herself by issuing a statement that: “It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression.” Wrong to suggest? Here is something right to suggest: Madam Speaker, it is time for you to visit Gaza.
In The Tribes Triumphant, arguably one of the best books ever written about the Middle East, journalist Charles Glass describes children in Gaza on their way to school: “… little girls with white fringe collars, boys leading their younger brothers … with canvas bags of books on their backs, hair brushed back and faces scrubbed … Thousands and thousands of children’s feet padding the dusty paths between their mother’s front doors and their schools … Beautiful youngsters so innocent that they could laugh even in Gaza.”
Glass reveals that 56.6 percent of the 1.4 million people living in Gaza (if you can call it living) are under the age of 18. That means 792,400 children; Gaza has no cinemas, no theatres, no concert halls, and no space for entertainment or amusement. Where then do these children play? Israel controls all access to, from and within Gaza, never allowing these children to see the world outside this tiny crowded strip of sand they call home. If this, Madam Speaker, is not ethnically based oppression, what is?
“Gaza First” was the slogan that got the Oslo accords off the ground in the early 1990s. Today, as innocent, unarmed men, women and children in Gaza are imprisoned, starved and killed by Israel in broad daylight, its obvious that it, meaning the Oslo agreement, was another nail in the coffin of a just and lasting peace. Then came Sharon’s Gaza disengagement, which was a disingenuous claim by Israel to make “concessions for peace”. Pretending to pull out of Gaza for the sake of peace, Israel tightened the noose around Gaza and its people while freeing itself from any obligation for the welfare of the people of Gaza.
People call Gaza a hotbed of terror, neglecting, or perhaps refusing to see that people in Gaza are attempting, albeit in all futility, to resist the terror under which they are forced to live. Close to one million of Gaza’s 1.4 million residents are refugees or descendents of refugees forced out of their homes from other parts of Palestine only to be imprisoned and impoverished in Gaza. In The Roadmap to Nowhere Tanya Reinhart writes: “Since 1967, 280,000 people in Gaza have passed through Israeli prisons, detention cells and interrogation rooms.” The connection cannot be overlooked: Residents of Gaza have made a name for themselves in resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine even before 1967 and they have paid dearly for this resistance.
On 11 December 2006 Jan McGirk described in The Independent the effects of Israeli terror on the children of Gaza: “No sane child can remain unaffected by the mayhem of Gaza Strip. Playmates frequently are killed or maimed: at last count, Israeli guns had slain 88 Gazan children and wounded another 343 between mid-June and December, 2006” She further writes that “In Gaza’s grim conditions, mothers find it hard to tell if their offspring are crying out of fright, pain or misery. But when normally bickering brats fall silent, it’s the first sign of mental scars from being constantly scared.” She adds, “Muhammad, who would hit smaller children or shatter cups when he did not get his way, eventually revealed in an after school meeting that two IDF soldiers had executed a young man right in front of him.”
In America people still speak of a “peace process”, and the situation in Gaza and in the West Bank is characterized as a conflict between two people who can’t find a fair compromise. Few dare to mention that the only process that is taking place is oppression for the sake of expansion. Palestinian children are imprisoned, traumatized, starved and murdered so that Israeli can maintain its hegemony over the: “Land of Israel”.
Gaza is collateral damage, the children of Gaza are of no consequence and the leaders of the enlightened, democratic Western world could not care less. But in spite of its enormous military might Israel’s authority over life in Gaza can be must be defied. People conscience must act so that the ethnically based oppression, of which House Speaker Pelosi says it is wrong to accuse Israel, must be brought to an end.
Miko Peled is an Israeli living in San Diego. He is the son of Israeli General Matityahu Peled.
Bassam Aramin, The Forward, February 9, 2007
I fought with my daughter on the day she was shot.
On her way out the door to school, Abir announced, in that way children have of doing, that she would be playing with a friend that afternoon rather than coming straight home to study for an exam scheduled for the next day. She was 10 years old, smart, dedicated to her schoolwork and still a little girl.
She wanted to play. I told her to not even think about it.
If I could tell her anything now, it would be: Go. Do whatever you want. Play.
Because now, she never will. She will never laugh again, never hear her friends calling her name, never feel the love of her family wrapped around her at night like a warm blanket.
Abir, the third of my six children, was shot in the head as she left school January 16, caught in an altercation between Israel Border Guard troops and older kids who may or may not have been throwing rocks. She died two days later.
I know what the Israeli army has said about the incident, and I know what Abir’s older sister Arin saw with her own two eyes: Abir was running away from the troops when she suddenly stopped and fell, and blood splattered onto the ground. An independent autopsy confirms the most likely cause of death: a rubber bullet, through the back of Abir’s head. I have that bullet in my house, because poor Arin, watching her sister get shot, picked up the bullet and brought it home. I was not surprised when the Israeli army tried to blame Abir for her own death. First we were told that she was among the rock throwers; then we were told that “something” blew up in her hands — though her hands remained miraculously in tact— before she could toss it at the Border Guard jeep.
I was not surprised, but the anguish that such fabrications cause my wife and me is hard to express. Our baby was killed — must her name and innocence be desecrated, as well?
It would be easy, so easy, to hate. To seek revenge, find my own rifle, and kill three or four soldiers, in my daughter’s name. That’s the way Israelis and Palestinians have run things for a long time. Every dead child — and everyone is someone’s child — is another reason to keep killing.
I know. I used to be part of the cycle. I once spent seven years in an Israeli jail for helping to plan an armed attack against Israeli soldiers. At the time, I was disappointed that none of the soldiers was hurt.
But as I served out my sentence, I talked with many of my guards. I learned about the Jewish people’s history. I learned about the Holocaust.
And eventually I came to understand: On both sides, we have been made instruments of war. On both sides, there is pain, and grieving, and endless loss.
And the only way to make it stop is to stop it ourselves.
Many people came to support and comfort us as Abir lay dying, her small face chalk white, her eyes forever closed. Among those who never left my side were a number of men I have recently come to love as brothers, men who know my past, and who share it. Men who, like me, were trained to hate and to kill, but who now also believe that we must find a way to live with our former enemies.
Israeli men. Every one of them, a former combat soldier.
These men and I are members of Combatants for Peace. Each of us, 300 Palestinians and Israelis, was once on the front lines of the conflict. We shot, bombed, tortured and killed. We believed it was the only way to serve our people.
Now we know this not to be true. We know that to serve our people, we must fight not each other but the hatred between us. We must find a way to share this land each people holds in the depths of its soul, to build two states side by side. Only then will the mourning end.
I will not rest until the soldier responsible for my daughter’s death is put on trial, and made to face what he has done. I will see to it that the world does not forget my daughter, my lovely Abir.
But I will not seek vengeance. No, I will continue the work I have undertaken with my Israeli brothers. I will fight with all I have within me to see that Abir’s name, Abir’s blood, becomes the bridge that finally closes the gap between us, the bridge that allows Israelis and Palestinians to finally, inshallah, live in peace.
If I could tell my daughter anything, I would make her that promise. And I would tell her that I love her very, very much.
Bassam Aramin lives in Anata, just outside of Jerusalem.
Ali Abunimah is coming to Madison to speak on his new book, One Country — A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.
A Palestinian-American, Abunimah is a co-creator and editor of the The Electronic Intifada web site and more recently, of Electronic Iraq and Electronic Lebanon. A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Chicago, he has written for the Chicago Tribune, among numerous other publications.
One Country presents a provocative approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is sure to touch nerves on all sides. Clear-eyed, sharply reasoned, and compassionate, the book proposes a radical alternative: the revival of an old and neglected idea of one state shared by two peoples.
One reviewer had the following to say about the book: “Ali Abunimah shows how the two [peoples] are by now so intertwined—geographically and economically—that separation cannot lead to the security Israelis need or the rights Palestinians must have. He reveals the bankruptcy of the two-state approach, takes on the objections and taboos that stand in the way of a binational solution, and demonstrates that sharing the territory will bring benefits for all. The absence of other workable options has only lead to ever greater extremism; it is time, Abunimah suggests, for Palestinians and Israelis to imagine a different future and a different relationship.”
Abunimah will be appearing at the Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium at 7:00pm on Thursday, February 22nd. A reception and book signing will follow at the Memorial Union.
Sponsored by the Distinguished Lecture Series of Wisconsin Union Directorate and the Associated Students of Madison. Co-sponsored by Al-Awda Wisconsin, Campus Anti-War Network, Four Lakes Greens, Madison Area Peace Coalition, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, Rainbow Bookstore, UW Middle East Studies Department, and WORT radio.
For more information contact DLS at 262-2216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.