Peace

Rabbi Shalom Rav speaks out about Israeli crimes in Palestine-Gaza Strip

The following is what Rabbi Shalom Rav writes – I must admit, although simple language is used it is inspiring and heart warming.

Israel’s military assault on Gaza in 2008-09 represented an important turning point in my own relationship with Israel. I recall experiencing a new and previously unfamiliar feeling of anguish as Israel bombarded the people living in that tiny, besieged strip of land over and over, day after day after day. While I certainly felt a sense of tribal loyalty to the Israelis who withstood Qassam rocket fire from Gaza, I felt a newfound sense of concern and solidarity with Gazans who I believed were experiencing nothing short of oppression during this massive military onslaught.

And now it’s happening again. Only this time I don’t think the term “anguish” quite fits my mindset. Now it’s something much closer to rage.

It’s happening again. Once again 1.7 million people, mostly refugees, who have been living in what amounts to the world’s largest open air prison, are being subjected to a massive military assault at the hands of the world’s most militarized nation, using mostly US-made weapons. And our President is not only looking on – he is defending Israel’s war crimes by saying that Israel had a right to “self-defense in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians.”

Let’s be clear: this tragedy didn’t start with the Qassams.  It didn’t start with the election of Hamas. And it didn’t start with the “instability” that followed Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.

No, this is just the latest chapter of a much longer saga that began in 1947-48, when scores of Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their cities and villages in the coastal plain and lower Galilee and warehoused in a tiny strip of land on the edge of the Mediterranean. By all accounts, most were simply too overwhelmed to realize what was happening. Some tried to return to their homes and were killed on sight. Others resisted by staging raids in the newly declared state of Israel. Sometimes they succeeded, more often they did not. Either way, Israel decided early on that it would respond to each of these reprisals with a overwhelming military show of force.  And those reprisals and that show of force have essentially been ongoing until this very day.

I realize, of course, there is plenty of political subtext to this latest go-around.  I’ve read the timelines and have formed my own opinions on the latest “who started it?” debate. I’ve also read plenty of analyses by Israeli observers who believe that this was not a response to Qassam fire at all but was very much a “war of choice” waged by an Israeli administration looking to shore up political support in an election season.

I’ve also read a widely circulated article from Ha’aretz about Israel’s recent execution of Ahmed Jabari (the head of Hamas’ military wing). I learned that up until now, Jabari was “Israel’s subcontractor” for security in the Gaza Strip, that Israel has been literally funding Hamas through intermediaries in exchange for peace and quiet on their southern border, and that when Jabari failed to deliver of late, the decision came down to take him out. Another article, written by the Israeli who negotiated with Jabari for the release of Gilad Shalit, revealed that negotiations were still ongoing between Jabari and Israeli officials when Israel assassinated him with a drone strike.

Yes, the wonky side of me has been avidly reading all these analyses. And while I do believe they provide an important counterbalance to the mythic statements by Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the US State Department, the more I read the cynical political subtext for this war, the sicker I get. No, this isn’t about Qassams, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s about elections either. It’s really just the most recent chapter in a much longer litany of injustice – the latest attempt by Israel bring the Palestinian to their knees through the sheer force of their formidable military might.

Of all the analyses I’ve yet read, one of the very few that truly seemed to grasp this truth came from Yousef Munayyer, of The Jerusalem Fund/Palestine Center:

The problem Gaza presents for Israel is that it won’t go away—though Israel would love it if it would. It is a constant reminder of the depopulation of Palestine in 1948, the folly of the 1967 occupation, and the many massacres which have happened since them. It also places the Israelis in an uncomfortable position because it presents a problem (in the form of projectiles) which cannot be solved by force…

Israel has tried assassinating Palestinian leaders for decades but the resistance persists. Israel launched a devastating and brutal war on Gaza from 2008 to 2009 killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, but the resistance persists.

Why, then, would Israel choose to revert to a failed strategy that will undoubtedly only escalate the situation? Because it is far easier for politicians to lie to voters, vilify their adversaries, and tell them ‘we will hit them hard’ than to come clean and say instead, ‘we’ve failed and there is no military solution to this problem.’

Like last time, I know many in the Jewish community will say it is unseemly of me to criticize Israel this way while Israelis live in fear of Qassam fire out of Gaza. I know there are those who believe that by writing these words, I’m turning my back on my own people in their time of need. But I know in my heart that my outrage at Israel’s actions goes hand in hand with compassion for Israelis – particularly those who know that their leaders’ devotion to the sword is leading them into the abyss.

Additionally, as I wrote under tragically similar circumstances in 2009:

I believe Israel’s response to Hamas’ missile attacks have been disproportionate and outrageous. I believe their actions only further endanger the security of  Israelis while inflicting collective punishment and a severe humanitarian crisis upon Gazans. Indeed, just as I cannot understand what it must be like to be a citizen of Sderot, I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to be a Gazan citizen at the moment, living under constant air attack, with no running water or electricity and dwindling food, as hospitals fill up with wounded and corpses lie rotting in the streets because relief workers are unable to reach them.

When will we be ready to accept that this is not a “balanced” conflict or even a “war” by any reasonable definition – and it never was.  When will we face the painful truth that this is not a story about one side versus the other but about one side oppressing the other?  Frankly, all the well-meaning liberal comments about “praying for peace on both sides” and leave me cold. Worse, I find them insidious because they simply serve to support the myth that this is a conflict between two equal parties. It is not. And peace will not come until we admit this – until we admit that there is an essential injustice at the heart of this tragedy and that try as it might, Israel will never be able to make it go away through the sheer force of its increasingly massive military might.

Beyond the rage, I’m heartened that this time around there is a growing community of conscience that is speaking out publicly and in no uncertain terms to protest Israel’s latest outrage in Gaza. I am so deeply grateful for my friends and colleagues at Jewish Voice for Peace, who is alone in the Jewish world in condemning this latest assault.  I urge you to read JVP’s courageous statement, which I know gives voice to increasing numbers of Jews and non-Jews, young and old, religious and secular, who are coming together through the courage of their convictions.

At this point in my posts I would typically write “click here” to lend your voice to some kind of collective statement.  I’m going resist that temptation and urge you instead to take to the streets.

I’ll see you there.

Remembering Brian Haw

Early morning June 18, lung cancer claimed 62 year old UK anti-war activist Haw after a long battle, a man London Independent contributor Mark Wallinger called “the conscience of the nation grown quiescent.”

His family left a message, saying: “He left us in his sleep and in no pain, after a long, hard fight,” ending three months of treatment in Germany. His long vigil, in fact, contributed to his poor heath. It also led to a divorce and largely separated him from his seven children.

After others stopped protesting America’s Afghan and Iraq wars, Brian was steadfast against his own government’s complicity. In fact, from June 2001, months before 9/11, he camped out in London’s Parliament Square against the UN’s appalling economic sanctions. They got former UN representative for Iraq’s Oil and Food program Denis Halliday to resign for being asked to commit the equivalent of genocide, killing 5,000 children monthly.

Haw, in fact, documented horrific Gulf War depleted uranium birth defects, repeated lies and evasions of US and UK leaders, and imperial lawlessness waging unconscionable wars. Resolutely he remained tenacious against injustice, championing peace and love.

See here an Interview where Brian Haw talks about peace:

On his own, his decade-long presence pressured his government relentlessly. In return, authorities hounded, arrested, and assaulted him. In 2002, the Westminster City Council petitioned Britain’s High Court for an injunction to remove him, claiming he blocked the pavement. The Court, however, declined, ruling his presence wasn’t unreasonable.

In 2003, the House of Commons Procedure Committee recommended a law change, prohibiting unlicensed protests on security grounds. He never left.

In 2005, after Tony Blair called him a nuisance to get rid of, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) passed, legislation enacted against him, making it illegal to protest within a one km radius of Parliament without police permission.

Nonetheless, he successfully argued that his vigil predated parliamentary terrorism, winning the right to continue protesting against Britain’s lawless participation in Washington’s imperial wars.

Preaching “Love….peace….justice….for all,” he camped out night and day every day, in good and bad weather, in spite of everything authorities tried to harass, deter, and banish him.

Using a megaphone, banners, placards, homemade signs, peace flags, photos, and slogans, his message resonated in Westminster and worldwide, a testimony to his heroic spirit, dogged presence against war, and refusal to quit until illness forced him.

Wallinger called him “a unique and remarkable man,” citing his “tenacity, integrity and dignity,” then asking: “What are we going to do now there is no (Brian) there?”

A lead Independent article called him a “Rebel with a cause….(a) one-man peace camp….a mighty irritant slap in front of the seat of national government,” challenging the illegal war-making of three prime ministers.

He survived numerous arrests, dozens of eviction attempts, and the mayor of London’s failed effort to clear his pavement space for Britain’s royal wedding. His resilience made him a hero for many.

In 2007, Channel 4’s Political Awards voted him the Most Politically Inspiring Figure of the Year. By then, in fact, he was internationally recognized. In Britain, tour guides included him on their itineraries, and documentaries and docudramas on Britain’s involvement in America’s wars featured him.

On June 19, a message from supporters on his web site said:

“Brian showed great determination and courage during the many long hard years he led his peace campaign. (He) showed the same courage and determination is his battle with cancer. He was keenly aware of and deeply concerned that so many civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine did not have access to the same treatments that were made available to him.”

On June 2, 2001, police asked him how long he’d be there. He replied, “As long as it takes.” He kept his word until his deteriorating health demanded treatment in Germany.

He’s survived by his wife former Kay, seven children, and legions of global admirers, perhaps inspired enough by his courage to pursue peace in his absence.

A Final Comment

On June 20, anti-war activist former UK MP Tony Benn headlined a London Guardian op-ed, “Brian Haw gave his life for peace,” saying:

He stood for principle against lawless wars. “Every MP on the way to work would pass Brian and know he was always there and underst(ood) what he was saying.”

His activism “frightened the establishment” enough to try stopping him legislatively, mindless of his dogged determination to resist.

“The remarkable thing about Brian was not only his principle, but his determination, alone, to be effective as indeed he was; for millions of people must have seen him there or on television, and came to know of his campaign.”

Some called him “the man of peace in Westminster,” a different message from warmongering MPs, Benn never one of them.

“Brian did not stop the Iraq war” or others, “but he will be remembered as a man who stood” for peace and gave his life championing it.

“He will be sadly missed and his death marks the end of a historic enterprise by a man who gave everything to support his beliefs” – honorable ones against Washington and UK war criminals, reigning terror and destruction he valiantly tried to stop.

Netanyahu Spurns Peace

Calling for Palestinian capitulation, not peace and liberation, Netanyahu delivered a litany of lies, fabrications, misstatements, and half-truths to AIPAC members on May 23, saying:

— “Israel is unjustly accused of not wanting peace with the Palestinians. Nothing could be further from the truth.” In fact, he once called the peace process “a waste of time,” governing accordingly to avoid it.

— Peace “can only come through….mutual trust,” he said, adding that he envisions “peace in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state.” In fact, they’re preconditions solely for them, no other states with which Israel has diplomatic relations, including peace treaty terms with Egypt and Jordan.

— “Israel stands ready to make compromises necessary for peace.” In fact, Israel never had a peace camp. For decades, efforts were stillborn, obstructing it, perpetuating conflict, and denying Palestinians a sovereign independent state or a viable one-state solution for all its people.

— “(O)ne thing I will never compromise is our security.”

In fact, claimed existential “security” threats are bogus, a red herring, mischaracterizing Israel as vulnerable, surrounded by hostile Arab states. Nuclear armed, it’s a regional superpower, unthreatened since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Addressing Congress on May 24, he repeated the same canards, including saying he’s ready to “make painful compromises (for) peace,” while remaining obstructionist against it, a viable Palestinian state, Jerusalem as its capital, Hamas/Fatah unity, and the inviolable right of return.

In response, New York Times writers Helene Cooper and Ethan Bronner headlined, “Netanyahu Gives No Ground in Congress Speech,” saying:

“….Palestinians will not get a right of return to Israel…. Jerusalem will never again be divided,” and Israel’s 1967 borders aren’t defensible. New ones must incorporate expanding settlements, an IDF presence along the Jordan River, and Palestinians confined to isolated cantons in ghetto communities or worthless scrubland, an offer no responsible leader will accept.

Moreover, he demanded abandonment of Palestinian unity as a precondition for negotiations, saying Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist. In fact, it accepts it in return for a viable Palestinian state within 1967 borders, 22% of historic Palestine, a major concession Israel rejects, wanting all valued parts of Judea and Samaria.

No matter. Congress treated him like visiting royalty, Cooper and Bronner saying he got “so many standing ovations that at times it appeared that the lawmakers were listening to his speech standing up.”

Rejecting Netanyahu’s Obstructionism

In response, Mahmoud Abbas said he offered “nothing we can build on.” In fact, he “traveled far from peace,” subverting it by dictating terms, remaining obstructionist like all Israeli leaders.

A May 25 Haaretz editorial was just as harsh, headling “Netanyahu wasted his chance to present a vision for peace,” saying:

Instead of new ideas, a constructive vision, and genuine willingness to negotiate equitably, “we were witness to the same old messages,” dictating terms, offering nothing substantive in return.

He ignored all essentials for peace, including “leav(ing) a decisive majority of West Bank territory in the hands of the Palestinians.” As a result, he’s “leading Israel and the Palestinians into a new round of violence, along with Israel’s isolation” at a time of Arab spring uprisings. “The time has come for….Israel(is) who seek peace to be heard. Israel deserves a different leader.”

Like America, in fact, most Israel parties differ little on core issues, including Likud, Kadima, Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Shas, endorsing hardline militancy and neoliberal toughness, offering no concessions for equity and peace.

On May 24, an Al Jazeera editorial said “leading Democrats and Republicans….support(ed) Netanyahu in his tricks to justify the continuation of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as well as his incitement against Arabs and Muslims.”

“His speech was a blueprint (on) how (to) defend Israel in refusing to end the occupation, oppression, and subjugation of the Palestinian people. The focus on the Jewishness of the Zionist state has been the new ploy to block any peaceful resolution.” Palestinians reject it as should everyone for equal rights and peace.

If anyone doubts “how Israeli leaders control the US government,” watch congressional and other pro-Israeli groups’ fealty to Israel, subverting any chance for justice.

Haaretz writer Gideon Levy headlined, “Netanyahu’s speech to Congress shows America will buy anything,” saying:

“It was an address with no destination, filled with lies on top of lies and illusions heaped on illusions.” Rarely do foreign leaders address Congress. Perhaps none ever presented “such a pile of propaganda and prevarication, such hypocrisy and sanctimony” as Netanyahu to repeated standing ovations, a bipartisan hallelujah chorus loving it. If most Americans did also, “we’re in big trouble,” said Levy.

Imagine, Netanyahu praises Israeli democracy when he’s hammered it with mortal blows. His coalition Knesset partners passed racist, fascist laws, vilifying anyone not Jewish, denying their basic rights, including treating Israeli Arabs as existential threats when, in fact, they’re citizens like all Jews.

Palestinian Authority (PA) spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said:

“What Netanyahu said does not lead to peace. Peace for us means a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. We will not accept any Israeli presence inside the Palestinian state, particularly on the River Jordan. (P)eace should be based on international resolutions and negotiations, and not by putting preconditions and more obstacles in the way of the peace process.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said his speech “makes the continuation of negotiations with the Zionist entity….wrong and pointless.”

The Israeli peace bloc Gush Shalom also reacted critically, saying:

His speech was “composed of dozens of gimmicks and empty cliches, talk of peace which he does not intend to conclude and of a fictional Palestinian state which he has no intention of seeing become reality. (Instead, he intends) to continue occupation rule over millions of people by (brute) force, against their will,” perpetuating decades-long harshness.

Praise from Hardline Israeli-Firsters

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) “praised (Netanyahu) for making clear to the US Congress and the world (about) Hamas’ call for the worldwide murder of every Jew and his reiteration that Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian Authority (PA)/Hamas unity government nor return to the perilous 1949 armistice lines.”

Its statement echoed Netanyahu’s lies and racist condemnation of an entire people for their faith and ethnicity.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also applauded Netanyahu’s “commitment to negotiating a lasting peace with the Palestinians,” adding:

“He made a powerful case for Israel’s unique relationship with the US as the only democracy and stable American ally in a turbulent region,” as well as highlighting “Israel’s need for security.”

Commentary magazine’s Jonathan Tobin called his speech “a triumph….eloquent and brilliant (laying) out Israel’s desire for peace,” when, in fact, it spurned it since 1948.

A Final Comment

Instead of embracing peace, Netanyahu spurns it. In his book, “The End of the Peace Process,” Edward Said said:

“(N)o negotiations are better than endless concessions that simply prolong the Israeli occupation. Israel is certainly pleased that it can take the credit for having made peace, and at the same time continue the occupation with Palestinian consent.”

Peace, in fact, depends on evenhanded give and take, resolving divergent issues equitably for both sides. It can’t solely be on Israeli terms, demanding capitulation, leaving Palestinians isolated in a wasteland of destruction and human misery, enduring appalling indignities for their faith, ethnicity and presence.

As a result, their liberating struggle continues for:

— ending occupation;

— a government of their own choosing;

— sovereign independence within 1967 borders, 22% of historic Palestine with mutually agreed on land swaps to assure it;

— Jerusalem as its capital;

— the inviolable right of return; and

— full recognition as a UN member state with all rights and privileges.

On November 15, 1988, the Palestine National Council (PNC) proclaimed an independent Palestinian state. According to the 1925 Palestine Citizenship Order in Council, Palestinians, their children and grandchildren are automatically citizens, including refugees.

Provisionally, Washington recognizes Palestinian independence. Under UN Charter Article 80(1), its position can’t be reversed by vetoing SC resolutions, calling for its UN admission. Doing so is illegal, subject to SC action under the Charter’s Chapter VI, despite Obama telling AIPAC that no UN vote “will ever create an independent Palestinian state.”

The Security Council, in fact, recommends admissions. The General Assembly affirms them by a two-thirds majority. In December 1988, it did so, granting Palestine all member rights except to vote. PA leaders will seek it in September. Washington and Israel object, spurning peace, reconciliation, and potential challenges to their dominance. No longer can that agenda be tolerated.

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