Peace in our Time?

March 29, 2008

Lies, Damn Lies, and Supreme Court briefs

Filed under: Annapolis, Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 9:19 pm

March 23, 2008 by Gershom Gorenberg

The Israeli Supreme Court recently issued a temporary ruling on a petition brought by residents of six Palestinian villages who have been barred from using Highway 443. The highway is an Israeli-built road running from the Modi’in area near Tel Aviv, through the West Bank to the northern side of Jerusalem (actually, the north end of annexed East Jerusalem).

The petitioners, represented by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), asked the court to “repeal the IDF’s complete restriction on Palestinian movement on Route 443,” according to ACRI. Instead, the court gave the state six months to report on its efforts to built an alternative road for Palestinians only. Though this isn’t the final ruling, it looks like court approval for separate roads in the West Bank, segregated roads, for Israelis and Palestinians. The alternative road, by the way, has the Orwellian name, “Mirkam Haim” – “Fabric of Life Road” – meaning that Israel is protecting the fabric of normal life by building it.

As ACRI points out, Route 443 has a long history with the Supreme Court:

Parts of the road were built on land expropriated by the Israeli Military Commander in the 1980s. In response to a petition submitted at the time by local residents against the expropriation, the Supreme Court accepted the State’s claim that the road was intended primarily for the benefit of the local Palestinian population – the same population which is today prohibited from using the road.

One might conclude – the state would like us to conclude – that the contradiction is ex post facto. Originally the road was primarily for local Palestinians, but Israelis also used it. And it just happened to become a major thoroughfare from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So when the second intifada began and Palestinians shot at Israeli cars several times on the road, the state responded by closing the road to all Palestinians and eventually decided to build a second road.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I’ve found clear historical evidence that the state was lying to the Court in the 1980s when it claimed that the road was primarily for local Palestinians.

Rather, the road was planned in the mid-70s as part of a wider plan for Israeli settlement around Jerusalem. In turn, that plan reflected the original Allon Plan, drawn up by the-Labor Minister Yigal Allon in July 1967, immediately after the Six-Day War. The road’s purpose was to serve settlements and the eventual annexation of West Bank land to Israel. Everything else was purely a cover story

The Supreme Court depends on affadavits submitted to it; it does not conduct its own evidence hearings. And though it has occasionally, rarely, overthrown government actions in occupied territories, it has been all too ready to accept the government at its word on the purposes of its actions.

Here’s some of the evidence the court should have seen:

In one of the files of the-defense minister Shimon Peres, a document from the spring of 1976 lays out settlement plans. It includes a “new access road to Jerusalem, from the Lod area, via the Beit Sira junction, to Givon junction and Jerusalem…” The road will help link new settlement blocs, including one which is in the area of present day Givat Ze’ev. (continued below image)

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Another document in the same file, from June 29, 1976, from the office of the government coordinator of activities in the territories, reports on a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Settlement. The committee was informed of a decision by a parallel ministerial committee that dealt specifically with settlements intended to “widen Jerusalem.” The latter committee had approved the road that would become Route 443. (continued below image)

 image-2.jpg

 Both documents serve to back up the version of events in Asor Shel Shikul Da’at by Yehiel Admoni (Yad Tabenkin, 1992), pp. 155-57. Admoni was the No. 2 man in the Jewish Agency’s Settlement Department during the crucial first decade of settlement after the Six-Day War. Admoni reports a meeting as early as July 1975, with Peres and settlement committee chairman Yisrael Galili participating, in which it was agreed to build the road in order to “widen Jerusalem” with settlements.

It’s not an accident that this plan was born during the years that Labor was in power. It fits Yigal Allon’s original proposal for how Israel should redraw its borders following the June 1967 conquests. I found Allon’s proposal to the cabinet in prime minister Eshkol’s files in the State Archives. The proposal states that west of Ramallah, the border should be drawn so that “the Latrun-Beit Horon-Jerusalem road will be in Israel’s hands.” (Route 443 roughly follows the route of the road that existed in those days.) Allon’s goal was to widen the corridor that linked Jerusalem with coastal Israel. When the plan to build the new road was approved in the 1970s, it was a means to “create facts” to ensure that the territory specified by Allon would remain under Israeli rule.

When the state told the court that the new road was for use of local Palestinians, it was counting on the court’s unwillingness to challenge the factual basis of the governmet’s position. When the court ruled this month to leave the road for Israeli-only use, it was again rubber-stamping the annexationist policy.

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Remarks by Barack Obama: ‘A More Perfect Union’

Filed under: Annapolis, Barack Obama, Blogroll, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 9:16 pm
http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0319/p25s01-uspo.html
Delivered Tuesday March 18, 2008, at Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters.And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame aboutmemories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know – what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

January 16, 2008

Citizenship, Zionism and Separation of Religion from the State

Filed under: Annapolis, Blogroll, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 9:51 pm

By Michael [“Mikado”] Warschawsky 

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It is customary to say that Haaretz is a progressive newspaper. However, its progressive character is generally no where to be seen when Israel initiates a war against one of its neighbors—its opposition to the previous two wars came only after the newspaper provided support to the policies of the government and the military—or abuses against the Palestinian people. However, when dealing with matters of religion, and particularly hatred of the religious, the progressiveness of Haaretz, its editors and community of readers, is endless. In the op-ed from 27 December, the writers rail against the “ultra-orthodox blockade” that prevents the conversion of hundreds of thousands of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union: “the ultra-orthodox rabbis are pressuring and threatening the government, and causing intentional difficulties for the rabbinical courts, which are acting under state authority. The ultra-orthodox are truly not interested in additional members joining the chosen people.”  This criticism represents a common opinion amongst what is dubbed “the progressive liberal camp” in Israel. 

Truly liberal? And indeed progressive?

This same camp accepts the assumption that in a Jewish state, full and real citizenship is possible only for a Jew. And not just for any Jew, but a Jew according to the definition of the religious establishment. It is difficult to perceive in such a definition, any sign of progress or enlightenment. This definition is based on the legitimization of an ethnic state, in contrast to a civil one, as the defining criteria for residency and connection to the land.

Indeed, the religious perception does not always suit national interests, including the need, in a Zionist state, to increase as much as possible the number of non-Arabs in the population registry. This contradiction, between the reliance on religion for the definition of citizenship, and the national need to increase the number of residents defined as Jews, compels the liberals to become analysts and reformers of religion. Members of Knesset who desecrate Shabbat in public, and non-religious newspapers, rely on structures of the religious canon to bolster their ideology and national interests! This is unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of religion, generally characteristic of totalitarian regimes that bend religion to their needs. This has absolutely nothing to do with progress and liberalism.

Of course, there exists another way: to preserve the autonomy of religion through a separation between religion and the needs of the state. This path prevents the interference of religion in state affairs, but also ensures that the state does not interfere in religious affairs. It protects the citizen from interference of religion in her/his private life, and further preserves the possibility that believers can live their lives as they see fit. This is the meaning of the concept of “secularism,” which is one of the foundational characteristics of modern democracy.

The editors of Haaretz and their friends from the liberal camp, however, are not secular at all. The majority loathe religious people with a racist hatred, but do not raise the idea of separating the state from religion, for religion provides them with justification for the claim to exclusive ownership over the territory, in addition to the definition of citizenship that removes the Palestinian from the whole and leaves them, in best case, in the position of second-class citizens.

In order for Israel to be transformed into a democratic state, it must, amongst other things, become a secular state. That is to say, religion needs to be made the private affair of each citizen, with no attempt to determine what is a “reasonable religion,” a “progressive religion” or a “modern religion.” This is the democratic right of each citizen, to live according to her/his religion. In a secular state, religion does not determine who a citizen is and what the rights of each citizen are, and the state does not determine who has the right to belong to one religious group or another. In a democratic state, the religious community is a private and exclusive club, only the members of which have the right to determine who belongs and who does not.

The attempt to “convince” rabbis to convert hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union is not only a racist act against Palestinians, but also gross injury to religious autonomy and a transformation of religion into a tool in the service of foreign political goals.

December 9, 2007

NOWHERE LEFT TO GO – Forced Displacement of Bedouin

Filed under: Annapolis, Bedouin, Blogroll, Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 8:28 pm

Read NOWHERE LEFT TO GO about Jahalin Bedouin forced displacement: http://www.icahd.org/eng/articles.asp?menu=6&submenu=2&article=411

JERUSALEM DISPOSSESSED PHOTO EXHIBITION

Filed under: Annapolis, Bedouin, Blogroll, Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 8:23 pm

See ActiveStills/ICAHD exhibition JERUSALEM DISPOSSESSED:
http://www.activestills.org/jerusalem/jerusalem.html

See JERUSALEM DISPOSSESSED catalogue: http://www.icahd.org/eng/images/uploaded_admin_content/books/Jerusalem_Dispossessed_Booklet.pdf

November 9, 2007

Coming to terms with the right of return

Filed under: Annapolis, Bedouin, Blogroll, Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 8:57 pm

by Tom Pessah

Damn it, those neighbors!

It’s a hot and humid August in Tel Aviv, and I have no wish to my old room in my parents’ house. During two years of studying in the States I had forgotten just how unpleasant August was here. Crossing the road would be an expedition that would require an extensive shower when I got back.

But I can’t stay, either. There is a horrible clanging going on upstairs, people are drilling into walls and making the whole house shake.

Over breakfast my dad wonders if this isn’t the third time that apartment has been renovated in the past couple of years. What for? Why did they buy the place if they didn’t like the way it looks? Is there nothing we can do?

He supposes not, it is their apartment, after all.

The apartment is, but not the house, my mom explains. We all lease the land on which the house was built.

Who do we lease it from?

From the Jewish National Fund. Everyone does either from them or from the State. Almost no one in Israel owns the land their houses are built on. “And where did the Jewish National Fund get it from?” I ask myself. My parents have moved on to more comfortable topics. But I can guess the answer: I know the houses of a Palestinian village, Sumeil, were just a few blocks south of my parents’ house, until 1948. And while I always liked to tell myself that “that’s where the village was”, in fact that’s just were the houses were. The villagers had land. All the land in the country was divided, none of it was empty. And this land, that my parents’ house is built on, must have belonged to them.

I grew up in Israel thinking I was left-wing. I went to all the right demonstrations against the occupation. The Ministry of Defense is located conveniently in the middle of Tel Aviv, just a few stops away on the bus.

You can just go and demonstrate, and then go out to a café. So we turned out and chanted all the right slogans: “ahat, shtaim, shalosh, arba’, teforak Kiryat Arba’ ” “One, two, three, four, dismantle Kiryat Arba” (one of the most famous settlements, near Hebron/al-Khalil).

Settling on other people’s land is wrong, I thought, so all we need to do is move the settlers back into Israel and then we’ll have peace. And we went on chanting these slogans at the same place, through the first intifada, during the Oslo years, after the shock of Rabin’s murder and the ascent of Netanyahu, until the second intifada. It was around then I met with some students from Nablus. The meeting between Israeli and Palestinian college students was organized by Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salaam, a community that tries to promote coexistence between Jews and Arabs. Unlike other groups, their idea wasn’t to help us find friends, to realize the “Other” wasn’t so bad, to create a shared belief in some kind of vague peace, tame and apolitical. It was quite the opposite: they tried to push us to confront some of the hardest issues, without guaranteeing any agreement would be found.

I had been getting along quite well with the Palestinian students, showing off my well-rehearsed tolerance, distancing myself from settlers, from the other Israelis in the group, from Israelis in general–I thought I was simply too open to be like them. And I understood some spoken Arabic, so I could listen a little to the Palestinians’ stories, about the checkpoints they avoided and the beatings they took just in order to come and meet us.

The organizers asked us to split into groups to discuss some of the biggest issues. I wanted to be on the group discussing the right of return. We Israelis came up with an especially tolerant proposal: we would allow a hundred thousand Palestinians to return! This was much to the left of the Israeli consensus and we felt very generous.

To our surprise, the Palestinians weren’t taken aback by our liberality.

They even seemed offended by our discussing the issue in terms of allowing them to enter our country! But how else could it be discussed, I wondered?

What is their solution? Could they really want to live among us? But how is that possible? Israel is a Jewish state, after all. What would happen to us Jews? Would we become a minority?

Five years have passed since then. I learned a lot, and I was lucky enough to study at UC Berkeley. As a famous Israeli song goes, things that you see from here, you don’t see from there. It seems much simpler to me now:

Palestine/Israel isn’t mine to give; Palestinians have as much of a right to it as I do. The former inhabitants of Sumeil don’t need my big-hearted generosity: they need my recognition of the injustice committed towards them when they were expelled from their homes in 1948. They need me to remind people that most of Israel is built upon land that belonged to Palestinians.

They need me to invite them and their children to come and live with us.

In Berkeley, I live a couple of blocks from some of my closest Palestinian friends. That could happen in Tel Aviv too. Inshallah.

Tom Pessah is a graduate student of Sociology at UC Berkeley.

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