Thursday, February 12, 2009

Antiwar Activism in Israel, Unseen on TV

Absent from Israeli and most other TV networks are the ongoing activism and protest inside Israel against Israel's siege and, now, war on Gaza. Immediately below is a video report on two of many such actions. In Hebrew and Arabic, they nevertheless offer glimpses of current activism in Israel. The first segment documents a demonstration in Tel Aviv and bits of the police reaction. The second was recorded at a public meeting, just hours before the demonstration, addressed jointly by Palestinian and Israeli members of Combatants for Peace. The report was created by the alternative media group, Social TV (for details on the group see:

Rela Mazali is an Israeli feminist writer and peace activist. A founder of the New Profile movement to de-militarize Israeli civil society, Mazali has worked for many years to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hamas TV won't change me

People like to share with me the terrible stories about the Palestinians, Hamas, Arabs, and Muslims. It goes with the territory of being a peace educator. I assume people have a hard time feeling absolutely right when people like me seek peace. From where I sit, feeling absolutely right is a luxury we cannot acquiesce to. War is murky and the best thing we could do is live with doubt and constantly check our opinions.

The most recent piece I received from the New York Daily News is about how the Hamas TV channel has “perverted children’s programming” with stories about furry suicide bombers and victims of Israeli violence. To quote the article, “After Assud dies, his friend Saraa wails: ‘Don't die, Assud. Victory is near. The soldiers of the Pioneers of Tomorrow will grow up. O, Palestine, we will liberate your soil, Allah willing. We will liberate it from the filth of the Zionists. We will purify it with the soldiers of the Pioneers of Tomorrow.’ What hope can there be as long as Hamas steeps the most innocent of the Palestinians in a culture of death?” (New York Daily News)

To be quite honest, I don’t know what to do with this stuff. The story is terrible. I’m full of sadness for those children and have mercy on the parents who are forced to raise families in that environment. I am appalled that human beings try to indoctrinate the most frail and innocent in our society with hateful messages. If I owned a television network, I would surely not allow them to broadcast on my frequency. Furthermore, I would call for the Palestinian television licensing authority to revoke their license. Now what?

What I believe the people who sent me these articles are trying to do is to say, “Look how vile these people are. They are sub-human. They deserve to be killed.” Maybe in the best cases, there are those who are trying to say, “Hey David, I want you to have the full picture of the situation, so you can make the most informed decisions”

Decisions are really the core of the matter though. What decisions will we make that will lead to behavior on our part? How will our minds affect what we do in the physical world?

So here we have it. There are people out there doing terrible things. We feel compelled to do something about it. “Surely you should rebuke (maybe reprove) your fellow. (Leviticus 19:17)” But what exactly is a rebuke? One thing I believe, it is verbal and non-violent. We can’t make other’s bad the cause of our own bad. If we don’t like their message, we shouldn’t use it’s tone or lexicon to prove its character.

I explore this question of how to respond to evil in the world a lot. I concern myself with creating Justice and rebuking injustice, but I know the limits of my task. The one thing I have most control over is what I do, so this is where I always start. I could have the worst neighbors in the world, but that doesn’t need to make me like them. I do not need to look outside at the world to determine what I know to be right or wrong. I can only do this by starting with Kantian monological reflection and then by creating meaning in dialogue with the world, as Habermas directs us. The rabbis did this in chevruta when they would challenge each other with 24 questions and force their partners to come up with 24 answers. Their goal was to flesh out the most comprehensive meaning of a text. We should be doing this with the texts of our lives.

What would be so terrible if we asked our selves, as Newsweek magazine did so famously after 9-11, “Why do they hate us?” What might we discover?

I imagine that a Palestinian looking at Israelis would say that at least the Hamas constitution is honest about their intentions, while the Israelis live without a constitution and do not uphold the texts of their Declaration of Independence. For instance, it says, “The state of Israel…will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions…” Yet, unfortunately, Israel does not treat all inhabitants equally. There is an absolute taboo on incorporating an Arab party into the government, and it is the only country in the world where Jews don’t have freedom of religion. I know because my wedding with a Reform rabbi in Israel wouldn’t count unless I was married abroad.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence says, “We appeal…to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the up building of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.” Yet it is clear that Israeli Arabs are second class citizens. And it says that, “We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.” Yet the last three Israeli wars have been offensive against the neighbouring states and Israel continues to militarily occupy the West Bank and its large Palestinian population who live without any civil or political rights.

By talking about how vile the enemy is, we only accomplish two things, neither of which is positive; we delay the advancement of peace and we make it easier for ourselves to kill them by making “the Palestinians” less than fully human. This is a tactic that was used against us. It shames me that we can do it ourselves.

By looking in the mirror and saying, “Wait a second, do I really want to be like this?” I give myself a moment to think and the choice to live my life according to my values, to not always live in response to the world but to lead in it to be proactive and not reactive. By being self critical, I create the opportunity to improve myself and my relations with others.

If we were not occupying the West Bank and we dealt fairly with our neighbors to the south, and we gave full equal citizenship to all the inhabitants of our own country, then I would have no problem firing back when missiles land in Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beer Sheva. I am not a pacifist. I think it is wrong to not defend oneself under attack. I just don’t call it self defense if I walk down the street and punch somebody and then need to protect myself against the reprisal.

So next time you think of sending me one of those messages telling me how bad our enemies are, please save your energy for some good old introspection and see if there is something we can change about ourselves before you waste time trying to convince me that two wrongs make a right. I already know it’s terrible to shoot rockets at civilians, to teach children to hate their neighbours, to use oneself as a human bomb in the act of homicide. That doesn’t take a lot of brain power. The demanding work is to look inside ourselves and change what we know to be wrong.

the IDF code of ethics

I read this article in HaAretz about the IDF code of ethics. It bothered me because there is no mention of Judaism in the article. Then I found this article by the author of the code.
The motivation for this code is strictly the war on terror. I perceived this as yet another example of why Yeshayahu Leibowitz was right. Mixing religion and state in Israel is bad for Judaism.

I'd be eager to hear other people's opinions about this.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Trick me once, shame on you; trick me twice, shame on me

During the second Lebanon War, Israel denied using white phosphorus bombs and then admitted that it had used them afterward. Now it seems that the same is true for the Gaza War.
The old adage, it's better to ask forgiveness than permission is at work here in a very screwy way. Of course, Israel will not ask forgiveness, but the government has and will admit to a lie after it received the support it needed during the war. Permission for breaking the Geneva Conventions and all international standards of warfare is not even an issue. Nobody asks and both sides break the conventions.
The main issue is whether we want to be a nation that doesn't respect its own citizens, its own laws and its own values. A lying government that reveals the truth after the fact is not the way of my people as I understand us. Disrespecting our own laws has become very common place, but it is also not the way of our people and abandoning our values is like taking away what makes us distinct among the nations. If this is our path, then we are basically saying that we are Jews as an ethnicity or because there are anti-Semites in the world, since Judaism, as a system of practuice and values, is not tying us to our tradition. This is the biggest shame of the Gaza War and the conduct of Israel, as it is only out of love for ourselves that we can move forward.
Love thy neighbor as thyself, means we need to love ourselves before we can love our neighbors.To fulfill this task, we must be honest with ourselves and choose leadership that is honest with us. And we must stick to the rich tradition which has produced our distinct ethical and moral way.