Saturday, January 3, 2009

Some Voices of Dissent

**Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza today; Israeli defense minister Barak promised that the invasion "won't be short" and called up thousands of reservists. (,**

This collection of articles and essays includes voices of dissent coming from inside of Israel and other places in the Jewish world. Some of the dissent is organized as demonstrations and petitions and some manifests on blogs and in more traditional publications.

1) One of the more moving voices of dissent is coming out of Sderot and other Israeli communities around Gaza. A group called "The Other Voice" has published a petition calling for the Israeli government to prevent escalation and restore calm to the area (the petition and an article on the group are included as the first items below). The petition was written in November and is gaining more publicity now, for obvious reasons. It states" We prefer an option of a cold war in which not a single rocket is fired to a hot war with tens of innocent victims and casualties from both sides." So far more than 2,300 Israelis have signed it, including more than 500 people from Sderot. (Adam Horwitz also reported on it in Huffington Post (

2) Another voice from that part of Israel belongs to Julia Chaitin, who opposes this war supposedly being fought for her protection. In her simple, beautiful prose, she outlines how this war is "unnecessary, cruel and cynical," and will not bring quiet or "normal" life to the people in the Negev. She says "We will know peace only when we accept the fact that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have every right to lives of dignity. We will know peace only when we recognize that we must negotiate with Hamas, our enemy, even if we are devastated that the Palestinians did not elect a more moderate party to lead them. We will know peace only when our leaders stop considering our lives cheap and expendable..." In an encouraging development, this essay was published in the Washington Post.

3) Conscientious objector Haggai Mattar wrote a short essay entitled "Stopping at Red" about the growing protests throughout Israel and the way the Israeli and international media usually ignores or distorts them in its coverage. The essay was published on page 1 of the entertainment guide in Tel Aviv's local newspaper - an unusual act - and also announces a demonstration in Tel Aviv tomorrow (6:30pm at Sderot Chen and Frishman, near Rabin Square).

4) An interview from 12/31/08 on Democracy Now! with Dov Khenin, Knesset Member from the Hadash party, and conscientious objector Jonathan Ben-Artzi. In addition to Khenin's report on protest in Israel, this segment contains sharp insights and analysis from both men.

5) Deb Reich writes of her friendship with two Palestinians in Gaza, the deliberate, intentional steps she takes to refuse the default position of "enemy," and her friends' struggle to stay alive.

6) Sara Roy, whose analysis of Gazan life and economy is so invaluable, wonders what becomes of Jewish life and ethical culture in light of Israel's huge crimes. She says, "It is one thing to take an individual's land, his home, his livelihood, to denigrate his claims, or ignore his emotions. It is another to destroy his child...Why have we [Jews] been unable to accept the fundamental humanity of Palestinians and include them within our moral boundaries? Rather, we reject any human connection with the people we are oppressing. Ultimately, our goal is to tribalize pain, narrowing the scope of human suffering to ourselves alone."

7) In his Ha'aretz article entitled "Right and Left, Diaspora Jews are more critical of Israel than ever," (reprinted in the Huffington Post), Anschel Pfeffer writes of a "quite significant" number of Jews who are reflexively supportive of Israel but also "extremely disturbed and hurt by the level of civilian deaths and destruction" Israel is causing. He notes that "Israel expects support, fund-raising, lobbying and media advocacy efforts to be made by the Jews of the Diaspora on its behalf," but this war brings these Diaspora Jews "frustration and disillusionment" with Israel. Given that mainstream Jewish organizations, including the more left-leaning Reform movement, are squarely behind Israel's actions in Gaza, Pfeffer's article suggests that a growing number of Jewish people simply - and probably silently - don't agree with these organizations that speak in their names.

8) Finally, a short piece from the JTA reporting that the Rome Jewish Community and the Union of Italian Jewish Communities responded to an appeal from the Italian foreign minister to raise funds for victims of Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rocket-fire. The Jewish community's $400,000 is to be split evenly between Jewish and Palestinian grantees. Humanitarian aid is a gesture which doesn't require assigning blame or responsibility to either side. Whatever their reasoning for making this gift, it notable that a Jewish community is officially acknowledging the suffering of people under direct assault by the Jewish state.

This collection is just a partial collection of dissent. Hopefully more posts on this topic will follow.

Sarah Anne Minkin

"Kol Acher" - "The Other Voice" (petition translated here by Tom Pessah)

Kol Acher (The Other Voice) from Sderot and the communities around Gaza calls on the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister to act urgently to restore calm in the area.

The period of calm dramatically changed the lives of the inhabitants of Sdrerot, Ashkelon and the communities around Gaza , and enabled us all to re-experience a normal and sane life. Continuing the period of calm is crucial and critical for the inhabitants of the areas from every possible angle: physical, psychological, mental and economic.

Another round of escalation could break down our psychological strength, fragile as it is, and bring all of us into another round of self destruction and pointless bloodshed. We will not necessarily survive it, and you should be aware of that, if you really care about the inhabitants of the area. We've been in this movie for too many years, and the results speak for themselves – a feeling of no way out, abandonment and a loss of hope for us and our children!!

On the other side of the border a million and a half Palestinians live in an unbearable reality, and the majority of them, like us, want quiet and a future for themselves and their families.

We feel that you wasted the period of calm, instead of using it to promote understandings and the beginning of negotiations, as well as continuing to fortify the houses of the inhabitants, as you promised.

We call on the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister not to lend your ears to the voices of incitement, and to do whatever you can to prevent another round of escalation, to promise the continuation of the period of calm and to work quietly for direct or indirect negotiations with the Palestinian leadership in Gaza in order to achieve a document of long term understandings.

We prefer an option of a cold war in which not a single rocket is fired to a hot war with tens of innocent victims and casualties from both sides.

We ask that you offer us an option of a settlement and political hope, and not an endless cycle of bloodshed!!!

"Kol Acher" – The Other Voice is a group from Sderot and the communities around Gaza , which has been engaged for the past year in conversations with people from the Gaza Strip that represent "an other voice". In the conversations, the suffering and hardship on both sides of the border come up, as well as the mutual will to break the continuing cycle of violence, and to offer a political option that will give civilians on both sides of the fence a true hope for a better future.


Sderot, Gaza residents call for renewal of truce

Some 1,800 Israelis and Palestinians, including 500 Sderot residents, sign petition calling for end to IDF operation in Gaza, renewal of dialogue between Israel, Hamas

Daniel Edelson

Despite the ongoing rocket attacks on their town from Gaza in the last several years, some 500 Sderot residents have recently signed a petition calling to stop the IDF operation in the Strip and renew the truce with Hamas.

Arik Yalin, 43, from Sderot told Ynet that over 1,800 Israelis and Palestinians have already joined the petition. "About a month ago we realized that the situation was about to deteriorate into total chaos," he explained.

"It's important for us to voice an opinion that represents quite a few residents who live within the rocket range but who believe that we can, and should try to resolve this ongoing conflict in a peaceful manner

"We have experienced the terrible hardship of life under rocket fire for the past eight years, and it has deeply hurt us both mentally and physically. Our need to voice a different stance stems from the strong desire to change the situation and begin negotiations with the other side in order to stop the violence," he added.

According to Yalin, a military operation will only deepen the hatred on both sides and reduce the chances of reaching a settlement. "The underlying assumption is that eventually there would be some kind of understanding. The only question is how many innocent people would get killed along the way."

'Operation only leads to more hate'

Hakim Hassona, the owner of a Gaza hauling company, praised the initiative. "Why use violence when there are no winners in this war?" he asked. "At the end we are cousins and neighbors and there's no need to get into this situation.

"They say that an assault will create deterrence, but what kind of deterrence? This only leads to more hate. There isn't a family in Gaza who hasn't had a relative hurt in the raids… the ordinary person doesn't care about the war, he just wants to live in peace."

The "Different Voice" group, which was formed by Yalin and his friends, seeks to promote dialogue between Israel and the Hamas leadership in Gaza. Dozens of the group members maintain constant contact with several of Gaza's residents.

Yael Levy contributed to the report


Darkness in Qassam-Land

By Julia Chaitin

Wednesday, December 31, 2008; A15

In the winter, the Negev becomes quite beautiful. Though it rains very little here, the rain we get turns everything green, and there is a cleanness in the air that we don't have during the dry summer months. But since Saturday, when a major Israeli offensive began in the Gaza Strip, less than 20 kilometers from my home and less than two kilometers from the college where I teach, all we have had is darkness, despair and fear.

This war is wrong. It is wrong because it cannot achieve its manifest goals -- long-term "normal" life for the residents of the Negev region. The war is morally wrong because most of the victims are Palestinian and Israeli civilians whose only "crime" is that they live in Negev or Gaza. This war is wrong because it is not heading toward a viable solution of the conflict but is instead creating more hatred and greater determination on the part of both peoples to harm one another. It is wrong because it is leading to stronger feelings that we have nothing to lose by striking further, with greater force. This war is wrong because, even before the last smoke rises from the rubble and the last ambulance carries the dead and wounded to hospitals, our leaders will find themselves signing a new agreement for a cease-fire.

And so this is an unnecessary, cruel and cynical war -- a war that could have been avoided if our leaders had shown courage during the months of the cease-fire to truly work toward creating better lives for people whose only crime is that they live in the south.

Since the Israeli air force began bombing Gaza, it has been almost impossible to speak openly against the war. It is difficult to find public forums that welcome a call for a new cease-fire and for alternative solutions to the conflict -- ones that do not rely on military strength or a siege of Gaza. When people are in the midst of war, they are not open to voices of peace; they speak (and scream) out of fear and demand retribution for the harms they have suffered. When people are in the midst of war, they forget that they can harness higher cognitive abilities, their reason and logic. Instead, they are driven by the hot structures of their brains, which lead them to respond with fear and anger in ways that are objective threats to our healthy survival. When people are in the midst of war, voices calling for restraint, dialogue and negotiations fall on deaf ears, if their expression is allowed at all.

I live in the Negev and teach at the Sapir Academic College -- the school located next to Sderot -- in the heart of what is called "Qassam-land," after the rockets that fall on us. I know the fast beating of your heart and the awful pit in your stomach that comes when a tzeve adom -- red alert -- is sounded, heralding a rocket attack. I know what it is like to comfort students and colleagues when the rockets strike very, very close -- and to wish that someone was there to comfort you as well. I know what it is like to be afraid to get into the car and drive to work because you are not sure you will make it from the parking lot to your classroom alive.

But I know the answer to our conflict will not come with this war. We will know peace only when we accept the fact that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have every right to lives of dignity. We will know peace only when we recognize that we must negotiate with Hamas, our enemy, even if we are devastated that the Palestinians did not elect a more moderate party to lead them. We will know peace only when our leaders stop considering our lives cheap and expendable, and help us create a beautiful, green Negev, free of fear and despair.

The writer is a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work at the Sapir Academic College and program developer at the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development.


Stopping at Red

At the beginning of the Lebanon War they also said there's only a bunch of us. Everyone knows how it ended.

You may not have heard, but there is huge resistance in the country to this war. Last Saturday evening, less than 12 hours after the Israeli Air Force killed 250 people in three minutes and 45 seconds, 1500 Israelis marched in the streets of Tel Aviv towards the Ministry of Defense. Since then, every day hundreds of people come to demonstrations in different parts of the city: Antin Square (Tel Aviv University), Jaffa, Sderot Ben Tzion and more. Other rallies are occurring in Jerusalem, in Beer Sheva and in Haifa. This huge mobilization of thousands of Israelis is something special. On the first day of the war in Lebanon in 2006 – an equally murderous and unnecessary war – 20 people stood in front of the Ministry of Defense. Within a week their number went up to 500. Only at the end of that war did the numbers of protesters reach what it is already now.

But no one hears of this protest. If the media actually shows the protest within the country, it only shows the protests in the Arab sector. "Israeli Arabs With Gaza" was one of the typical headlines this week, above frightening pictures of faces hidden by scarves. It seems like there is nothing that frightens the mainstream more than real Jewish-Arab cooperation in opposition of the war. But this is what is happening. And it's not just the rallies. In Tel-Aviv this week you could hear the voices of many who didn't come to the rallies, but understand that what is happening here is completely crazy. They realize that this war is an election spin, that it won't solve the problem of qassams. The other side is offering calm in return for opening the crossings, freeing Shalit in return for freeing prisoners, a peace treaty on the basis of the '67 borders – and what more could we achieve?

While these lines are being written Gaza is counting more than 300 casualties, the bombings continue, the sewage system has collapsed and filled the streets, and the Israeli leadership is talking about this being only the beginning. It's time for us to put an end to this. Every day there are more protest actions taking place around the country, especially in Tel Aviv. On Saturday many thousands will march in the streets of the city in protest of the war. Instead of crying in two months about another useless and unsuccessful war, come and stop it right now.

Haggai Matar – Achbar Ha'Ir [Tel Aviv Entertainment Supplement], page 3, 1.1.09


Democracy Now!

December 31, 2008

Israeli Lawmaker and Conscientious Objector Nephew of Ex-PM Benjamin Netanyahu Denounce Israeli Attack on Gaza Strip

Israel has rejected a French proposal for an immediate emergency forty-eight-hour ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. As Israeli air and sea attacks against the Strip continued into its fifth day, basic food supplies in Gaza are running low, and hospitals are struggling to cope with the rising casualties. We speak to two Israelis opposed to the assault: Dov Khenin, a Knesset member with the Jewish-Arab party Hadash; and Jonathan Benartzi, an Israeli conscientious objector who spent more than a year in prison for refusing to serve. He also happens to be the nephew of Benjamin Netanyahu, a leading proponent of attacking Gaza and a favorite to win the upcoming Israeli elections. [includes rush transcript


Dov Khenin, Israeli lawmaker. Member of the left-wing Hadash party, a Jewish-Arab party also known as the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality.

Jonathan Ben-Artzi, Israeli conscientious objector. He also happens to be the nephew of Benjamin Netanyahu.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel has rejected a French proposal for an immediate emergency forty-eight-hour ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. As Israeli air and sea attacks against the Strip continued into its fifth day, basic food supplies in Gaza are running low, hospitals are struggling to cope with the rising casualties. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said any plan for a truce would have to make certain minimum demands on Hamas.

YIGAL PALMOR: They need to guarantee the cessation of rocket shooting. They need to guarantee the cessation of terror activities by Hamas from Gaza. They need to contain some sort of guarantee that will stop the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza. Short of that, no truce plan can hold water.

AMY GOODMAN: Four Israeli citizens, including two Arab Israelis, have been killed by rockets from the Gaza Strip since Israel began its offensive on Saturday. Nearly 400 Palestinians have been killed and at least 1,600 injured. Latest reports indicate Israeli bombs have hit the network of tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border that many have described as a "lifeline for the Palestinian people," because it's been a major channel for smuggling in basic supplies from Egypt. Israel maintains the tunnels are used to smuggle weapons in.

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, released a video statement Tuesday warning it would increase rocket attacks if Israel considers a ground invasion or the bombing doesn't stop.

ABU OBAIDA: [translated] If you enter the Strip, the land of Gaza will turn into a volcano and explode in the faces of your defeated soldiers. We promise you that if you enter Gaza, the children of Gaza will collect pieces of your soldiers.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said international peace efforts are too focused on equating the situation in Gaza and Israel.

FAWZI BARHOUM: [translated] Regarding the talk about the ceasefire and engaging in calm, as they say, at the current circumstances, is an act of equating between the victim and the jailer. What is required at this moment and immediately is an Arab Islamic international effort to stop this aggression, lift the siege, open the crossings, and a rebuilding of the Gaza Strip.

AMY GOODMAN: And inside Israel, the hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu rebuffed calls for a truce. He said on Tuesday the international community had to choose between Hamas and "the rest of humanity." Netanyahu, who is leading the polls ahead of the elections in February, said a government under his leadership would use "all means necessary" to end Hamas's rule in Gaza.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: So now the international community has a question, and I turn it back to the—to our critics, and I say you have to take a stand today. You have to tell the terrorists that this is an illegitimate operation. You cannot say both Israel and Hamas are symmetrically to blame. They're not. One side is to blame, the side that targets civilians and hides behind civilians. That's Hamas. The other side represents the rest of humanity. Now choose.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm joined right now on the phone from Tel Aviv by the Israeli lawmaker Dov Khenin. He is a member of the Hadash party, a Jewish-Arab party also known as the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. Khenin has been speaking out against Israel's military operation.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Dov Khenin.

DOV KHENIN: Hello. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. We are also joined via Democracy Now! video stream by the nephew of Benjamin Netanyahu. He's at Brown University. We're speaking to him in Providence, Rhode Island. He's an Israeli conscientious objector. His name is Jonathan Ben-Artzi. He also is a member of the Hadash party.

I'm going to start with the member of parliament in Israel. I'd like to start off by asking, the response in Israel right now to the pounding of Gaza by the Israeli military, Dov Khenin?

DOV KHENIN: Well, the most important thing to realize is that there is an opposition inside Israel to the war and to everything going on around right now in Gaza. This position is a Jewish-Arab one. On Saturday night, we had a demonstration in Tel Aviv of 2,000 young people, mainly Jews, and there are a lot of demonstrations all over Israel of Jews and Arabs opposing the war policy of the current government. This opposition is growing steadily. It is very important to know this and to understand that there are other voices in Israeli society who do not express [inaudible] a war, and they believe there is a better alternative for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Ben-Artzi, as you listen to your uncle, who is vying to lead Israel in the February elections, Benjamin Netanyahu, what are your thoughts today?

JONATHAN BEN-ARTZI: Well, it's not—you know, it's not only my uncle. It's the voices of most Israelis. And what's worrying is that it's the voices of many—although there are many who, as Dov said, many Israelis who do oppose this, there are far more Israelis who blindly support this. And, you know, even given the war in Lebanon of two-and-a-half years ago, where Israel killed so many people and yet emerged the loser, by all accounts, of that endeavor, they once again support something similar, which is bound for failure, only after collecting hundreds or thousands of bodies of dead innocent people.

So, you know, I'm speaking to you here not as anyone's nephew or anything like that, but just as someone who's, you know, speaking as an Israeli—I'm not an American—and trying to speak out to Americans to tell them you don't have to support Israel blindly. Not everything that Israel does is holy. And sometimes you have to speak firmly to Israel and tell us, tell our government, you know, stop doing this.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Ben-Artzi, you are the first Israeli soldier to be court-martialed and jailed. Explain what your refusal was first about.

JONATHAN BEN-ARTZI: I refused to join the military for pacifist reasons, and I was joined by others who refused for pacifist and also political reasons regarding the occupation. And this was around 2002. And I was jailed for roughly one year and a half in Israeli military prison. Of course, it didn't—it never made it to mainstream American media. It did make it to European media. But America—in that sense, America is actually even worse than Israel, because in Israel it was a public discussion. In America, it was completely blocked from the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: Dov Khenin, the response of the Israeli government is that this is not equal, that it was Hamas that broke the ceasefire, that they continue to fire rockets into Israel, they have killed four Israelis, two of them Arab Israelis, that this is their fault. Your response to that?

DOV KHENIN: Well, my response is, of course, I do not accept the politics of Hamas. I think that Hamas is a disaster for the Palestinians, and, you know, it doesn't have any political program of how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, when I hear these speeches of right-wing Israelis, you know, it makes me wonder. You know, they do not see the fault of the Israeli government and the Israeli army in whatever is happening in Gaza. And, you know, the things happening there are really bad, you know? A lot of people are dead there. What is their fault, you know?

And the most important thing to realize is that there is an alternative. We should not go along the line of the extremists. We should not go along the line of total war between Israelis and Palestinians for generations. We should have another option, which is much better and possible, and that is the option of achieving a real and substantive peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. This is the possibility that the Israel government do not accept. This is the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Benjamin Netanyahu, the opposition leader running to head Israel in February, said Hamas openly declared its goal to eradicate the state of Israel from the face of the earth. They're aligned with Iran, that openly declares its goal to eradicate Israel from the face of the earth. You make peace with those of your enemies who are reconciled to peace. Jonathan Ben-Artzi, your response?

JONATHAN BEN-ARTZI: Well, you know, maybe someone should go to Israel and poll Jewish Israelis how many of them think Palestinians should be eradicated off the face of the earth. You'd be surprised at the results, you know? So these, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that further.

JONATHAN BEN-ARTZI: Well, when you're in Israel, people there are very—you know, I'm not a sociologist, so I would be—I would find it very hard to explain. It would be very interesting to hear someone try to explain this. But for some reason, the Israeli population, the Jewish Israeli population is very much—has a lot of hatred towards these people, although, by all accounts, I would say that they're actually very nonviolent. If instead of Palestinians we had as neighbors Irish people and we had to deal with the IRA, I think Israel would have a much rougher time. Relatively, there is so little violence coming from the Palestinians and such terrible violence coming from Israel.

You know, it's easy to say the Palestinians are targeting civilian Israelis, when you, as the Israeli Air Force, you know, you have huge one-ton bombs and you can drop that bomb into a crowded neighborhood, say you were targeting, you know, this and that person, and at the same time you also kill twenty other people, and that's—how is that called?—collateral damage. So, and then you're OK, because you targeted that one person, whereas, you know, at the same time, Israel has to remember that it does have military bases right smack in the middle of Tel Aviv, and these are also, you know, by Israel's standards, would be legitimate military targets. So if you go into that game, you might end up being the loser. So it's a very dangerous road.

AMY GOODMAN: Dov Khenin, you're a member of the left-wing Hadash party, the Jewish-Arab party in the Israeli Knesset, in the parliament, known as the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. Can you explain the Israeli government's position on the press, the Foreign Press Association filing the challenge on behalf of 400 reporters barred from the Gaza Strip, saying an unprecedented restriction of press freedom, the world's media unable to accurately report on events inside Gaza at this critical time? Here in the United States, Reuters, the New York Times, BBC and other publications also have complained to the Israeli prime minister. Why are journalists not allowed in Gaza?

DOV KHENIN: Well, I think that journalists are not allowed into Gaza, in order to not—to not make it possible for people around the world to see whatever is happening in Gaza right now. The situation in Gaza is terrible. You know, the people are doing surgery without, you know, any tools, without anything needed to take care, medically, of people wounded. The situation there is really terrible.

The most—the saddest thing of all is, you know, that the Israeli population also suffers, you know, because in Israel a lot of people in the southern part of Israel are now under the threat of the missiles and the rockets fired from Gaza. It is only proof that this war is a disaster. It is, of course, also a disaster for the Palestinians in Gaza, but it is also a disaster for the Israelis themselves. The only option is to stop this war and to go in the opposite direction.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would that be? What would that look like, Dov Khenin?

DOV KHENIN: Well, the first thing to do right now is to decide on immediate and total ceasefire. Now, such ceasefire should include not only the stop of bombing and the missile rockets, it should include also a lifting on the blockade on Gaza, because it is impossible to continue the situation existing before the war when one-and-a-half million Palestinians were, you know, in impossible conditions under a blockade.

And another thing that should be agreed immediately is an agreement on the release of prisoners, both Palestinian prisoners and Gilad Shalit, bringing him back to his family. Such an agreement is also possible.

Now, if we stop the war and move forward into a total and real ceasefire and lifting the blockade on Gaza, it can create the first condition for the restart of peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Such a peace process is very, very important, because if Israelis and Palestinians will not have the horizon of hope—and the horizon of hope can be achieved only with the vision and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel—if such a region of hope will not be opened to the Israelis and Palestinians, things will continue to deteriorate, and the extremists will gain more and more political strength.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Dov Khenin, member of the Hadash party, Jewish-Arab party known as the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, speaking to us from inside Israel; and Jonathan Ben-Artzi, Israeli conscientious objector, first to be tried by an Israeli military tribunal, served in jail for over a year, now at Brown University, a graduate student and nephew of the opposition leader running for prime minister in February, Benjamin Netanyahu.


Israel's 'victories' in Gaza come at a steep price

The Jewish ethical tradition means embracing Palestinians, too. By Sara Roy

from the January 2, 2009 edition

Cambridge, Mass. - I hear the voices of my friends in Gaza as clearly as if we were still on the phone; their agony echoes inside me. They weep and moan over the death of their children, some, little girls like mine, taken, their bodies burned and destroyed so senselessly.

One Palestinian friend asked me, "Why did Israel attack when the children were leaving school and the women were in the markets?" There are reports that some parents cannot find their dead children and are desperately roaming overflowing hospitals.

As Jews celebrated the last night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights commemorating our resurgence as a people, I asked myself: How am I to celebrate my Jewishness while Palestinians are being killed?

The religious scholar Marc Ellis challenges us further by asking whether the Jewish covenant with God is present or absent in the face of Jewish oppression of Palestinians? Is the Jewish ethical tradition still available to us? Is the promise of holiness – so central to our existence – now beyond our ability to reclaim?

The lucky ones in Gaza are locked in their homes living lives that have long been suspended – hungry, thirsty, and without light but their children are alive.

Since Nov. 4, when Israel effectively broke the truce with Hamas by attacking Gaza on a scale then unprecedented – a fact now buried with Gaza's dead – the violence has escalated as Hamas responded by sending hundreds of rockets into Israel to kill Israeli civilians. It is reported that Israel's strategy is to hit Hamas military targets, but explain that difference to my Palestinian friends who must bury their children.

On Nov. 5, Israel sealed all crossing points into Gaza, vastly reducing and at times denying food supplies, medicines, fuel, cooking gas, and parts for water and sanitation systems. A colleague of mine in Jerusalem said, "this siege is in a league of its own. The Israelis have not done something like this before."

During November, an average of 4.6 trucks of food per day entered Gaza from Israel compared with an average of 123 trucks per day in October. Spare parts for the repair and maintenance of water-related equipment have been denied entry for over a year. The World Health Organization just reported that half of Gaza's ambulances are now out of order.

According to the Associated Press, the three-day death toll rose to at least 370 by Tuesday morning, with some 1,400 wounded. The UN said at least 62 of the dead were civilians. A Palestinian health official said that at least 22 children under age 16 were killed and more than 235 children have been wounded.

In nearly 25 years of involvement with Gaza and Palestinians, I have not had to confront the horrific image of burned children – until today.

Yet for Palestinians it is more than an image, it is a reality, and because of that I fear something profound has changed that will not easily be undone. For how, in the context of Gaza today, does one speak of reconciliation as a path to liberation, of sympathy as a source of understanding? Where does one find or even begin to create a common field of human undertaking (to borrow from the late, acclaimed Palestinian scholar, Edward Said) so essential to coexistence?

It is one thing to take an individual's land, his home, his livelihood, to denigrate his claims, or ignore his emotions. It is another to destroy his child. What happens to a society where renewal is denied and all possibility has ended?

And what will happen to Jews as a people whether we live in Israel or not? Why have we been unable to accept the fundamental humanity of Palestinians and include them within our moral boundaries? Rather, we reject any human connection with the people we are oppressing. Ultimately, our goal is to tribalize pain, narrowing the scope of human suffering to ourselves alone.

Our rejection of "the other" will undo us. We must incorporate Palestinians and other Arab peoples into the Jewish understanding of history, because they are a part of that history. We must question our own narrative and the one we have given others, rather than continue to cherish beliefs and sentiments that betray the Jewish ethical tradition.

Jewish intellectuals oppose racism, repression, and injustice almost everywhere in the world and yet it is still unacceptable – indeed, for some, it's an act of heresy – to oppose it when Israel is the oppressor. This double standard must end.

Israel's victories are pyrrhic and reveal the limits of Israeli power and our own limitations as a people: our inability to live a life without barriers. Are these the boundaries of our rebirth after the Holocaust?

As Jews in a post-Holocaust world empowered by a Jewish state, how do we as a people emerge from atrocity and abjection, empowered and also humane? How do we move beyond fear to envision something different, even if uncertain?

The answers will determine who we are and what, in the end, we become.

Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, and the author, most recently, of "Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict."


Shiv'a in Gaza: December 2008

By Deb Reich

My heart has been broken so many times, writes Alice Walker somewhere, that it feels like an open suitcase with the wind blowing through it… But maybe, she muses, hearts are made to be broken, and what is required of us is simply a steadfast acknowledgment: Open up and let the wind blow through; that's what hearts are for.

If so, Gaza 2008 is good cardiac training.

I am an American-Israeli Jewish woman of 60 living now in an Arab town in Israel and working for Jewish-Palestinian-Arab-Israeli reconciliation. I have two friends in Gaza and I will tell you how we came to be acquainted.

The first step was simply refusing to be enemies. There are thousands of Palestinians and Jews like me, in the Middle East and worldwide, who refuse to be enemies. We rarely make the headlines in your local paper, but we are here. One day we will prevail - not over anyone, but with everyone together. We are creating a new reality together and the paradigm, sooner or later, will shift decisively. Meantime, people needlessly bleed and suffer and die and mourn; the scenarios are endless but the outcomes are identical: death, injury, pain. What distinguishes Gazan suffering at the moment is that the noncombatants have nowhere to run to. The borders are sealed. The bombs fall. The world watches.

* * *

In 2006, one of my several informally adopted children, business consultant and "business for peace" activist Sam Bahour of Al Bireh, Palestine, started an Arabic-English-Arabic translation service, AIM Word Factory. A key goal was to provide employment for underemployed Gazan translators. To have the honor of being one of the first customers and helping that great idea launch, I sent him, for translation into Arabic, an anti-war story I wrote many years ago called "Dudu in Heaven [1]," about an Israeli woman who loses her brother in the 1967 Six-Day War. The translator in Gaza was a young professional named Maha M., and the shared literary mission led to some email exchanges, all conducted via Sam. "Maha says the story is too sad," Sam reported at one point. "She likes it very much, but she says you ought to write a happier one next time."

Not long ago, I discovered that Maha's nephew Mohammed, 14, is the boy whom Sam has been helping for some years now in a very personal struggle with a rare inherited immune disease, CGD. Sam donates and helps raise money from private donors for Mo's treatment and medication and has been successful in assisting Maha to get the necessary "permits" from Israel to enable her to accompany Mo for his treatment. Mo became a patient at the Edmond and Lily Safra Children's Hospital, Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, an excellent Israeli facility near Tel Aviv. ("Everyone on the medical staff will go straight to heaven someday," says Sam.) Mo and Maha recently spent two and a half months at the hospital and the nearby Bet Hayeled ("Children's House"), the hostel for young patients and their families on the hospital grounds; their "permits" do not permit them to leave the campus and their travel documents are deposited with the guard at the hospital entrance. This is the reality of Israel and
Palestine, so far; the change we are struggling to midwife is not yet. In November, Mo underwent a bone marrow transplant at Tel Hashomer.

I only discovered that our Gaza-based translator of "Dudu in Heaven" was in Israel toward the end of their stay, early in December when Sam mentioned it by chance. I got organized fairly quickly and went to visit them, accompanied by Abdalla, the 22-year-old son of my landlord upstairs. I figured Mo would enjoy an Arabic-speaking visitor and Abdalla was happy to oblige. We invested in an enormous basket of chocolates - "the absolutely correct gift to bring to a Palestinian child in the hospital," according to Abdalla - chocolate being one of those things that evidently transcend cultures. Also for the young patient, Abdalla's mom Faryal contributed some never-worn boy's jeans and sweatshirts that her sister Shadya in New Jersey sent recently for Abdalla's kid brother, who is too big to wear them. For Maha, I raided my bookshelf and selected Garrison Keillor's anthology, "Good Poems for Hard Times," and a couple of other books I thought she might enjoy.

We drove to the hospital and found Maha and Mo and a parking space, and had a wonderful visit, everyone bonding instantly after the first hug. Maha is a writer-editor-translator type just like me, only a couple decades younger. She and Abdalla took a bunch of digital photographs and I prayed inwardly - even though some ghastly crisis in Gaza was already clearly imminent - that all four of us would be back together again one day soon for a reunion. Mo is a great kid: undersized, on account of the illness, but with a smile like a lighthouse and a passionate interest in airplanes. His dream to become an airline pilot someday is not the most realistic dream for a seriously ill Palestinian child from Gaza in 2008, but insofar as our dreams keep us going, maybe it's very functional. The boys talked soccer and other guy topics and there was a lot of laughter. The chocolates were a big hit.

Abdalla was rather subdued afterwards and I saw that the experience had deeply affected him. We talked mostly of inconsequential things during the drive home.

* * *

Around the time of that visit in early December, after a battery of tests, Mo's bone marrow transplant was declared a guarded success and he was discharged the week before Christmas to make room for the next young patient, despite the iffy situation in Gaza and the near-impossibility of obtaining "permits" to return to the hospital for the required twice- monthly follow-up treatment. There are never enough beds, apparently, for the sick children in this world.

Mo's prospects soon took a dramatic turn for the worse with the Israeli assault on Gaza launched last week - two days after Christmas, on December 27, 2008. Not even the indomitable Sam Bahour can get a child out of Gaza right now. The date for Mo's first post-op intravenous treatment at Tel Hashomer - December 30th - came and went. The treatments are - how shall I put it? - not optional. As I write this, cosy at my desk with a fresh cup of coffee and plenty of everything, Mo and Maha are sitting in Gaza in the dark, in the cold, with little fuel and no reliable supply of food and water, along with Mo's parents and six siblings. Right about now, the family are surely thinking of Mo's seventh sibling, Nora, who died four years ago of CGD at the age of 16, in a hospital in Egypt, before the doctors were able to diagnose her. Mo has a good chance to manage his illness, if only he can somehow get back to Tel Hashomer. I think of them sitting there, listening to the bombs whistle in
and waiting for the planned Israeli ground assault, while tanks mass along the Gaza perimeter. In the lethal game of mindless violence and counter-violence playing out in Israel and Palestine lo these many years, Mo and his family are innocent bystanders. His innocence will not get Mo to his IV treatments, however.

Can you feel that wind blowing right through your heart?

* * *

While Abdalla and Mo were talking sports at the hostel that day in early December, Maha and I were chatting about the things women talk about. She told me about her shopping, at the minimarket on the hospital grounds, in preparation for their expected return to Gaza. "My sister-in-law told me to buy us a lot of candles," she remarked, "because, you know, there's no electricity most of the time now." We contemplated this bleak picture together in silence for a few moments.

"So I asked the clerk at the shop to sell me some candles that will last a long time," Maha continued. "And he showed me these fat, tall ones that are encased in a solid glass container…" I could feel the hair lifting on the back of my neck. "He said they would burn for a week, so I bought a whole bunch of them," concluded Maha, oblivious, as I sat there, dumbstruck. She was describing the traditional Jewish shiv'a candle - the candle of bereavement lit by Jewish families all over the world for the seven days of mourning on the death of a loved one.

As this ghastly December drew to its grim close, Maha still had enough fuel left to run a small generator for an hour every day or two, so she could get online and do some emails or charge her mobile phone. I got an email saying they are OK ("bombs falling nearby but not on us, so far") and I sent my love and prayers for the family. As of New Year's Eve, I knew they were still alive because I got an e-card from Maha yesterday. Her message said: Dear Deb, I wish you and your children a Happy New Year and a long, happy, healthy and successful life. May every day of the New Year glow with good cheer and happiness for you and your family… Love and best wishes, Maha.

Deb Reich is a writer and translator in Israel/Palestine, at


Anshel Pfeffer / Right and Left, Diaspora Jews more critical of Israel than ever

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent

There is something very strange and more than a little frustrating for a reporter used to being on the frontlines to experience a war in Israel from afar. Having to experience the goings-on not only from the reports of one's Israeli colleagues but also through the hall of mirrors that is the international media, with its sometimes incomprehensible agenda and likes and dislikes. At least as an Israeli you know where you stand, with all the familiar personal views, loyalties and criticisms. But to be a non-Israeli Jew can be a lot more difficult during such times.

Well not for all Jews. A vast number, I hesitate to say the majority, are just not that interested. They are much busier eking out the days left of their Christmas/New Year's vacation, and news of renewed conflagration around Gaza receives only a passing register. Those who are engaged enough to really care and spend time glued to the news channels and reading every bit of information available on Web sites can be divided into three groups.

There are large number of Pavlovian flag-wavers, good and innocent Zionists and Jews who see only the trauma inflicted on the people of Sderot, Ashkelon and other parts of the country's south-west, and instinctively position themselves behind the IDF, often saying that the government should have allowed it to go in further and strike harder.

There is, in my impression, a somewhat smaller but highly vocal group belonging usually to the more radical left, and even fewer to the anti-Israel Neturei Karta sect, who feel compelled to atone for Israel's manifold sins and join its enemies in the demonstrations and sign petitions accusing the Zionist entity of war crimes. They have cut themselves firmly off from the local community's mainstream, and they are fine where they are.

There is, though, a third stream of Jews - perhaps not the widest one, but I believe quite significant - who have more complex and uncomfortable feelings on the matter. They care deeply for Israel and understand even why its government felt compelled to launch the devastating Operation Cast Lead, but they are extremely disturbed and hurt by the level of civilian deaths and destruction that almost seems part and parcel of the action. Surely, they say, there must, there has to be another way of doing this. And they live with those doubts, often unexpressed, even among families and close friends because the worst thing they find is that others around them don't seem to discern between the different nuances, and can't find in themselves compassion for the dead and wounded on the other side. They begin asking themselves very awkward questions: Are they surrounded by latent racists, or is something wrong with them that denies the feelings of certainty of those around them? Or does everyone
have similar doubts but are simply afraid to express them?

Perhaps those in the most difficult predicament are those who work daily in Jewish and community organizations, the kind of august institutes that have already felt the need to issue those meaningless announcements that "the pan-national Jewish forum stands firmly in support of Israel." Almost constantly, they find their dearest beliefs challenged.

"I just couldn't understand how the other people in the office were just incapable of acknowledging there was any real suffering on the Palestinian side, and that Israel has a significant portion of the responsibility for that," said to me a friend working in one of those organizations in London. "I feel so alone because no one seems to understand how torn I feel about this. I understand Israel's position very well and to a degree identify with the reasons for launching the operation, but why are none of them saddened by children dying? They don't even seem to see these reports."

Two sides of the same coin

My friend found his own peace by trying to keep quiet at work but donating money to an NGO purchasing medical supplies for hospitals in Gaza.

For Jews in the U.S., things are easier. Due to the size of the community and the relative self-confidence of American Jews, there are more platforms and mid-streams that allow people to show both support and criticism at the same time, and far greater openness to individuals forming and expressing their own independent views. In smaller communities like those of Britain and France, the establishment seems to operate on a siege mentality, and the ideas of "us" and "them" are much more rigid.

Many Israelis will think that all this is indulgent bleeding-heartedness on the part of those who don't serve in the IDF and pay Israeli taxes, and their families are nowhere near the range of the Qassams and Grads: Why should we care about what they are thinking? But Israel expects support, fund-raising, lobbying and media advocacy efforts to be made by the Jews of the Diaspora on its behalf, and that can only take place in an open environment.

Ultimately, only Israel's citizens, Jewish and Arab, have the right to vote and decide, but it has to be realized that while the world's Jews are still broadly in favor of Israel, they have more information and less innocence than ever before and will give that support, but with a healthy dose of criticism - whether from the Right of the Israeli government being too namby-pamby with the Palestinians, or from those on the Left who want to see the military option used as sparingly as possible.

Both Israeli and Diaspora leaders should be providing space for this kind of discourse, because stifling will not consolidate support for Israel but increase frustration and disillusionment with it.


Italian Jews to aid Israeli, Gaza children

December 31, 2008

ROME (JTA) – Italy's Jewish community will send medical supplies to aid children in both Israel and Gaza.

Rome Jewish Community President Riccardo Pacifici said community representatives will meet with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Jan. 5 to formally present the offer of more than $400,000 in aid.

In an announcement, the Rome Jewish Community and the Union of Italian Jewish Communities umbrella group said that half of the donation will go to children and other civilians in Gaza "caught up in the targeted attacks on the Hamas terrorist infrastructure."

The remaining will go to children and civilians in southern Israel hit by Hamas rockets.

"Ours is a gesture of humanity aimed at alleviating the suffering of children in Israel and Gaza, accompanied by the hope that in Gaza the predominance of groups who make indiscriminate use of violent and terrorist methods will cease," said UCEI President Renzo Gattegna.

The donation was made in direct response to an appeal launched Tuesday by Frattini, which called for Italians to raise about $1.4 million to aid civilians hit by both Hamas rockets and Israeli airstrikes.

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