Saturday, January 31, 2009

Franz Kafka and Judaism

I have recently started to correspond with a devout Muslim American. I'll give him a proper introduction soon but he made me think about religion so that is why I am writing this post today. Since I am writing about religion one would expect me to quote Scripture, but I will not today. For my birthday a few years ago, my grandma gave me "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations" and I enjoy reading wise, clever, and insightful quotations. Some of the most memorable quotations which I have read thus far are by Franz Kafka (1883-1924) who is the author of "Metamorphosis" (which I have read) and other fiction books. Two of the quotations by Kafka in "Bartlett's" describe certain Judaic principles or ideas. I don't know if they are unique to Judaism but I know that they greatly differ with Christian interpretation of messiach and Judgment. So here are the two quotations:

"The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last."
Parables. The Coming of the Messiah

"Only our concept of time makes it possible for us to speak of the Day of Judgment by that name; in reality it is a summary court in perpetual session."
The Great Wall of China. Reflections

I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of messiah. Even the Jewish interpretation of Messianic Age bothered me. But Kafka's interpretation describes something that I more or less believe in - an Age on Earth where all conflicts are resolved, when man no longer oppresses man, where world civilization finally learns from history. Do I think this will ever happen? Irrelevant. A world with no problems would make for very boring TV. How can you be creative in an Age where everybody is perfect? This is a dream which we can not understand.

You may have noticed that I haven't talked about God yet? It's a clue.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Managing the Situation

Aluf Benn of Haaretz reports that Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the right-wing think tank Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, "the most effective way to deal with the conflict is through a "controlled management" of the problem that includes the evacuation of isolated West Bank settlements."
His latest study, "The Rise and Fall of the 'Two States for Two Peoples' Paradigm," whose publication coincides with the new eras in Washington and Jerusalem, Inbar writes that the best solution would be to repartition the country, with Egypt resuming control of the Gaza Strip and Jordan controlling the West Bank. But since such an arrangement would take time to implement, for now focus should be placed on managing the conflict in its current state. Inbar also proposes "stopping terror, reducing the amount of suffering caused to Israeli and to Palestinian society and preventing escalation."

These views provoke interest because BESA, which was founded about 15 years ago, is traditionally known as a mainly right-wing institution that generally reflects pro-military views.

According to Inbar, Israel will have to evacuate additional isolated settlements to reduce the friction between Jews and Palestinians as well as showing restraint in the use of force. He said that beyond making changes to its education system and its media in order to create a more positive atmosphere, little can be expected from the Palestinian Authority. Inbar says that correct management of the conflict, which must be carefully coordinated with Washington, will help to isolate Hamas.

Inbar says that the two-state solution to which the international community is currently committed is "nonsense" in the light of Hamas' takeover in Gaza and the impotence of the PA in the West Bank. He believes that the expectation that the Palestinians will create a modern state, after the PA's failure, are unreasonable. At the same time, Inbar is aware of the difficulty involved in letting go of the two-state idea among both governments and people throughout the world.
Inbar is perhaps my favorite Israeli pundit on Al Jazeera English. I love it when they have Israelis on to argue but Inbar does it the best.

As difficult as it is to imagine a two-state solution any time soon, I still think it is the only solution. That status quo would and should not remain. I think maintaining the peace process through "gestures" would build up confidence among Israelis and Palestinians with the process. Dismanteling of settlements, even small settlements and "outposts", is a start and I believe would build confidence and relieve tensions. Perhaps if Israel show more cooperation with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians would see that life under the Palestinian Authority (PA) and peaceful negotiations is the path to their dreams. Perhaps another peaceful Palestinian player would rise?

Emmanuel Navon of JPost also talks about managing the situation.
If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be solved in the short term, it has to be managed. But how? The rationale of the disengagement strategy was that, since the conflict seems unsolvable and since the status quo is untenable, Israel might as well get the Palestinians off its back. If only. We left Gaza, but Gaza did not leave us.
He later says:
While we should continue to strive for a political solution, we have to understand that the more the Palestinians feel that we cannot do without such a solution, the less likely they will be to compromise. Managing the conflict, at this point, means making the status quo both bearable and changeable.
The day to day life of the Palestinians must be improved. While withdrawal from the West Bank, even those areas away from settlements or the border, is supported by all who supports the two state solution, it is "nonsense", as Inbar puts it, in the current situation. Palestinian media and political institutions must be developed. Perhaps a charity network independent of Palestinian armed groups would lead be a stepping stone for institutional developement. One thing is for sure, the current Palestinian political situation is a mess. There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the Gaza withdrawal, the 2006 Palestinian elections, the Hamas-Fatah infighting, and operation 'Cast Lead'.

Cash for Peace

Cash for Peace, I can't explain it better than they can so here it goes:
Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture The Simha Bahiri Annual Youth Essay Prize The Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ), Middle East Publications, declares the launching of the Simha Bahiri Annual Youth Essay Prize. The prize competition is open to all Israeli and Palestinian youths between the ages of 18 and 26. The topic of the 2009 essay is “The Day after the Gaza War: What Can Young People Do to Strengthen the Prospects for Peace?” The essay should be between l, 000 and l, 500 words and submitted typed and double-spaced in one of the three languages: English, Arabic or Hebrew. The deadline for submission is March l0, 2009. There will be one Israeli and one Palestinian winner who will receive a prize of $l,000 each. An award ceremony will be held on March 28th, 2009, the anniversary of the launching of the Arab Peace Initiative. Middle East Publications retains the exclusive copyright for reproducing the winning essays in a future issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal, the PIJ website, or any other medium as chosen by the PIJ Editorial Board. Essays not selected will not be returned to their authors. The PIJ was able to offer this prize thanks to the generous donation of the PIJ’s Editorial Board member, Dr. Simha Bahiri and his family. Questions can be directed to heidi.pij[at]
I was thinking of writing an essay, using my Assuming the Worse About the Other idea, but I no longer live in Israel and it's much easier to write about peace behind the safety of the US.

Anyway, God bless Dr. Simha Bahiri and his family. I'm going to check out this Palestine-Israel Journal.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Assuming the Worse About the Other

When I read articles and op-eds, I recognize phrases or sentences that tell a lot more about a subject or topic than a few words usually do. These phrases usually have global, psychological and philosophical implications which can be expanded a hundred different ways. They are good starting points for a sermon. But this isn't a sermon. I always think sermons have to mention a passage in the Bible and I'm not going to do that. Torah/Bible/Koran studies are sort of like group sermons where all the participants add to the overall message of the sermon and contributes to the collective Biblical/moral insight of the group.

So back on topic: assuming the worse about the other. In this JPost article about the new American Middle-East envoy Senator Mitchell and the idea of internationalizing the peace process, the author quotes the conclusion of Mitchell's May, 2001 report on how to re-ignite the peace process in the wake of the second intifada. The last sentence in the quote is "Amid rising anger, fear, and mistrust, each side assumed the worst about the other and acted accordingly." I think this sentence tells a lot about human conflicts in general, but let's focus on the only conflict we in the West and Arab world care about - the Israel- Palestinian one.

What do the respective parties assume about the other? I can't really tell you what the Palestinian/Arab really assumes about Israelis except what their political and religious leaders say to the press and in public. In this op-ed by Jeffrey Goldberg, published in the NYTimes, Goldberg explains why Israel can't make peace with Hamas. He provides many quotes from an interview he had with Nizar Rayyan who was an influential leader in the Hamas organization who was killed in the recent war in Gaza. I suggest my readers (if I have any) read Goldberg's piece. Any Westerner who isn't sympathetic to Hamas would understand what Israelis assume about the Arabs - that they are, at least indifferent, to antisemitism. Also, Israelis assume that as soon as the Palestinians get their state according to '67 borders, they will ask for more - as stated in the Hamas Charter. The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and other "host" countries don't care that much to be resettled in the West Bank or Gaza. They want to go back to where their grandparents once lived. Some of the more right-wing Israelis and Evangelical Christian Americans are either just racist and would never trust the Arabs no matter what.

In I wrote about a Christian woman I met on election day. Her world view of Biblical prophecy chiseled in stone would need many discussions with Israelis and Arabs to melt away.

On a recent program on Al Jazeera English, an Israeli and a Palestinian talk about the recent war in Gaza and international law. The Palestinian and the Arab mediator assume the worse about Israel - that Israel kills civilians in order to terrorize the population and to pressure on Hamas into submission. That's why the Arabs and the European lefties said from the get-go that the operation wouldn't work. They assumed that the goal of the operation was to terrorize and they tried to prove to the Israelis that they weren't scared. Hence the operation was doomed to failure.

Nine minutes into this other Al Jazeera program an Arab business man says exactly what I just said. He assumes that "anti-peace" Israelis want to terrorize the Palestinians in Gaza and it will fail because they are not afraid. At least he acknowledges that there is more than one view in Israel.

So where does that leave us; those that care about Israel, Palestine, and humanity? Try to recognize that you, too, have assumptions and prejudices. Confront and challenge those in your communities. And seek the 'other' to get understanding of his life and a feel for his shoes. At the end of the day, we all breath the same air and harbor the same germs.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

BSG-Palestinian parallel

I am a fan of the sci-fi TV series "Battlestar Galactica" (BSG). I'm not sure why I like this show. I discovered the show only at the beginning of season three. It's a drama ... in space. It is a Peabody Award winner and has excellent writing. Here is a synopsis from wiki to give you a little background:
Battlestar Galactica continues from the 2003 mini-series to chronicle the journey of the last surviving humans from the Twelve Colonies of Kobol after their nuclear annihilation by the Cylons. The survivors are led by President Laura Roslin and Commander William Adama in a ragtag fleet of ships with the Battlestar Galactica, an old but powerful warship, as its command ship. Pursued by Cylons intent on wiping out the remnants of the human race, the survivors travel across the galaxy looking for the fabled and long-lost thirteenth colony: Earth.
At the end of season 2 the fleet decides to settle on an in habitable planet called New Caprica. The Cylons eventually find them and take over the planet occupying the humans already living there. The humans' standard of living wasn't that great before the occupation but it got even worse during the military and brutal occupation by the Cylons. The humans' had a corrupt and ineffective leadership before and during the occupation. During the begining of season 3, those who were in the human military start leading a resistance. One time, they sent a suicide bomber to the human police graduation ceremony in order to kill the puppet governor for colaborating with the Cylons. Many humans (collaborators) died but the corrupt governor didn't. This led to a tighter crack down on the human population. The Cylons were contemplating whether to kill all the humans, try to come to a peaceful understanding, or just leave. After a succesful and daring rescue by the rest of the human fleet, the humans flee the occupation and the planet looking for a new future. The Cylons decided to stop pursuing them. During and after the escape some that led the resistance killed some humans believed to have collaborated with the Cylons. They held secret informal (illegal) tribunals to persecute and kill those who they believe to have collaborated. The new leader and President of the fleet Roslin decides to pardon all people except the puppet governor of the Cylons (though he is later acquitted of all charges).

One of the character's on the show is a former terrorist and prisoner who was released and then became Vice President (but as a political rival to the main characters) of the fleet's make-shift government. In the latest show (412 Disquiet Follows My Soul) he has this monologue about the latest crisis in the story arc which I think gives an insight on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
In prison, you start to confuse your hopes and dreams with reality. You start to believe that because you want something to happen ... for all the peel and red ... you start to believe that it will happen. You start to live on wishes ... the way things should be rather than the way they are ... all because you can't face reality. The leaders of this fleet are succumbing to wishful thinking because they can't face reality and the reality is that the Roslin/Adama Administration has led us nowhere. Earth was a mirage ... a fantasy they tangled in front of us for four long years in order to maintain power ... a fantasy the dreamed up as a way hold on and control the government over the democratic wishes of the population. So now ... what is the effectless and dispirited leadership is doing to solidify their position after failing us so miserably? ... Turning to the Cylons ... the Cylons, for help. Aren't the Cylons the reason we are out here in the first place? Aren't they the enemy? Or are they suddenly our friends if that keeps Roslin/Adama in power?
Later in the episode he says:
Every citizen has the right to protect themselves from oppression. Take whatever measure you think is necessary.
The parallel between the BSG and Palestinian story is remarkable. I don't know if the producers and writers of the show did this on purpose but I think they have great insight on human behavior like all great literature.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Eyal Press

I have previously spoken about the blog Ta-Nehisi Coates recently but now I want to introduce it as a recurring feature on this blog. On January 5th, 2009 the main writer of the blog (which I am aware of - just found this blog) introduces a new writer named Eyal Press to write about the war in Gaza.

Here's Eyal in his own words:
Growing up, I visited Israel every summer, often traveling through the country with my cousin and his friends in Hashomer Hatzair, a progressive Zionist youth group. My attachment to the country runs deep. But I'm also among the many progressive Jews who went to the college when the first Palestinian Intifada erupted and who have come to view the occupation as a calamity. I'm not a pacifist but I've seen enough wars go awry (Lebanon in '82 and 2006, Iraq...) to be deeply skeptical.

My grandfather was a socialist-Zionist who fled Bialystok for Palestine in the 1920s. Had he not done so, he almost certainly would have shared the fate of relatives who stayed behind and didn't survive World War II, which is one reason I don't run with the crowd on the left that views Zionism simply and solely as a colonialist movement, forgetting the part about Jews being murdered and persecuted relentlessly for centuries on end. (It had a colonial element, to be sure, but it was also a liberation struggle.)
Anyway, I find this guy interesting and I'll be talking/analyzing what he and other commentators on that blog have to say. They seem to have a healthy discussion over there, unlike, and even Digg.

Israel = Apartheid?

Many critics and protesters of Israel have been comparing Israel to South Africa's apartheid system in the 80's. I admit I don't know much but South Africa during the 80's but I got the gist of it. The only thing similar between Israel now and S. Africa then is that people are trying to lead a campaign to delegitimize and boycott Israel. This analogy does not hold. Israeli Arabs which make up about 20% of Israel's population can vote, form parties, and run for office just like all citizens of Israel.

Some say that Israel has created an apartheid system in the West Bank. As the 18th century English theologian Joseph Butler once said, "Every thing is what it is, and not another thing." It is occupation, not something else. Focus on the issue. By distorting the discussion, you are more interested in hurting Israel than helping the Palestinians.

Israeli political correctness

I found another interesting opinion online from the same page as my last post from Ta-Nehisi Coates which is a blog from The Atlantic.

Hey again. No, I definitely do not underestimate the discrimination against Arab-Israelis. Israelis are surprisingly forthright about their prejudices - they have virtually no culture of political correctness. Israelis have hastily assured me that it was an Arab who robbed my friend, and warned not to go out with a particular guy explicitly because he was Arab. The prejudice is definitely there.

But it's not Jim Crow. Nor is Arab prejudice against Jews (Arab states evicted most of their Jews in 48) really analogous to Jim Crow, which is specific to American history. Not in substance and certainly not in context. Whatever their entrenched ethnic prejudices, these populations have actually been physically fighting each other for 100 years. Huge proportions of the populations have personally seen combat. If you've ever heard Hungarians and Romanians talk about each other, you're getting close to the warm-and-fuzzy of Israeli-Palestinian feelings.

I never thought of it before - Israeli political correctness. I wasn't a political animal when I lived in Israel because I was too young so I didn't think of it back then. But now that I am aware of that concept in American politics, it adds a whole new dimension of comparison between Israeli democracy and American (and European) democracy. Israel is only 60 years old. It's new and old at the same time because of its Jewish character. It's in the middle of the Middle East, a regional minority, and faced or waged many wars. Many racist things have been said in the Knesset by the far right. Many offensive things have been said by the Arab MKs as well. Perhaps it is just a product of the Israeli political system with its many parties. Or perhaps it hasn't matured enough to the measure of American and European democracies. After all, it did take more than 60 years for the United States to end slavery.

Let Hamas fail

I've heard this idea circulating recently: in order to defeat, or at least delegitimize Hamas to the Palestinian people, Israel must negotiate with it. If that process fails, Hamas would lose power just like Fatah did in the years following the failure of the Camp David peace talks.

It is fair to say that most Palestinians and Arabs (at least those that live in the West) don't agree with Hamas' ideology. But because of the lack of political maturation and self-criticism of the Palestinians, they don't have many options between the radical Islamic (and antisemitic) Hamas and the corrupt Fatah. That is one reason why Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. Many people, Jews, Israelis, or otherwise, some of whom I call "friends" on Digg and the real world, believe that the Palestinians have so demonized the Israelis (and Jews) to their children that the Palestinians can't be trusted now and probably for generations to come. This is something we have to accept, though it is easy for me to say that here from the safety of the United States. I'm sure that many, if not most, Arabs have negative perceptions of Jews and Israelis. We, in general, also have negative perceptions about Arabs.

I think Jews, especially in Israel, need to have more dialogue with the Arabs. Emotions need to be expressed and felt by both sides. We all cry, smile, and laugh the same way. Hopefully, through enough dialogue, we would be smiling together for it is contagious - or so I'm told. There is so much to be said by commoners like us that don't participate in negotiations or government decisions.

So why do I still hold reservations on whether Israel should talk to Hamas after expressing a need for dialogue between Israelis/Jews and Palestinians/Arabs? One reason is that Hamas is blatantly antisemitic. There are some lines you don't cross. This might be one of them. A second reason is that if Israel talks or even acknowledges Hamas as the representative of the Palestinians, it would create a dangerous precedent. As I said before, Hamas is an antisemitic organization. But also, the nature of Palestinian politics and the way their elections were held in 2006 gives Israel and the West a bad taste about 'democracy.' Political factions MUST disarm in order to run for elections. This won't resolve the first reason of why Israel can't talk to Hamas but at least it would mature Palestinian politics. Political factions in Iraq had to disarm and hopefully the nature of Iraqi politics would mature further but there hasn't been any alarming issue other than troop withdrawal and inability for them to spend money which is understandable.

Searching for opinions (on the internet)

I recently stumbled upon this post on a blog from The Atlantic. Nothing particular interesting about this particular post but I found one of the comments interesting.

One hard-earned lesson from the Northern Ireland conflict was that competitive screaming about who suffered more at the hands of the other side (it came to be called 'whataboutery') achieves nothing except a zero-sum game.

A second useful lesson is that the biggest historical injustices are the hardest ones to remedy. At some point, the victim simply has to accept amelioration of the symptoms, not a cure. God is on the side of the big battalions, unfair as it is. (What this says about God is a matter for a different discussion...) Time, however, has a way of changing the size of the battalions.

A third lesson is that subversives (or terrorists, or guerillas, call them what you want) win simply by not being defeated. The surprising corollary is that demilitarising a situation can take away their reason for being.

Let's not be naive: Hamas follows a loathsome doctrine of hatred, but they gained sway in Gaza by addressing crisis condition that Israel, as an occupying power, permitted to develop and even worsened. Israel will continue to be perceived - rightly or wrongly - as the wrongdoer unless and until the Palestinians have their own viable state and government to blame. And to get to that point, Israel will have to swallow hard and talk to the people who say they want to wipe it off the map.

These are some good insights. I'm starting to rethink my opinion on whether Israel should talk or even, chas vechalila, negotiate with Hamas.

More humor! We need it.

I stumbled upon this surfing the internet.

Here is what it says:

The Orthodox Jewish Guy Outside of the Supermarket

I went down to Pathmark Supermarket to buy whole wheat hamburger buns and some bottles of Snapple, that were on sale for fifty-nine cents each. In front of the entrance, was an Orthodox Jew handing out leaflets. He was wearing a yarmulke and tzitzit, a traditional fringed garment worn under the clothing. I’ve seen these guys before. Some ultra-religious Jews go around and try to get less religious Jews to pay more attention to the various rituals of Judaism. These men are not just being nice. Some of them believe that the spreading of their religious fervor will hasten the arrival of the Messiah.

Usually, these Jews only bug other Jews. They frequently ask passerbys, “Are you Jewish?” before they annoy the hell out of you. They aren’t being rude. They are just on a mission. The only time I’ve ever said that I WASN”T Jewish had nothing to do anti-Semitism or wanting to fit in with my Christian friends. I’ve only said “No, I’m not Jewish,” to avoid one of these ultra-religious guys pestering me on the street about lighting the Shabbos candles.

“Here, take some candles. Light them on Friday night. Do you belong to a temple? Come to our temple. We even will feed you!”

They will feed you. I know their trick. You go to their temple. They feed you some good chicken soup, and then they OWN YOU!

Let’s pray.

Let’s keep kosher.

Let’s not flirt with women on the internet.

Yeah, right.

What surprised me about this guy outside the supermarket was that he was not asking, “Are you Jewish?” to anyone. He was handing out his leaflets and talking to every passerby, whether they were black or white or Latino or Asian. Some of these shoppers quickly walked by, while others politely took one of his leaflets.

Was he trying to convert everyone to Judaism?

Three years ago, I wrote a post advocating Jews trying to convert other religions. I was being a little tongue in cheek. At the time, I felt that if other religions are always trying to convert you, why not return the favor. In reality, conversion is a dirty word for most Jews because it brings up a sad history of forced conversion, mostly at the hands of Christians. Even though I wrote that post, I don’t really feel comfortable with anyone trying to convert another person.

I wondered if this zealot outside my Queens supermarket felt safe trying to convert others to Judaism because we were in Queens, and there were many Jews in the neighborhood. Maybe he felt safe in numbers, despite the fact that there was a mosque right across the street.

This made me angry. If I were a Jew in a Christian neighborhood, I would hate having someone try to convert me outside my local supermarket. I would feel as if I was being pressured to be “one of the majority.” I’m not a hypocrite. Why should a Jew try to convert others in our neighborhood? Surely, the religions of others — whether it be Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism — is as worthy a religion. This smug Jewish guy, passing out leaflets, was arrogant. It didn’t matter if he was “part of my tribe.”

I walked into the supermarket, using a side door, just to avoid him.

After I finished my shopping, I looked through the store window, and saw my Jewish friend deep in conversation with a black mother and her son. The mother took the flier, nodding in agreement. Did he just sucker in another victim to leave her own religion behind? My face grew red. This idiot was giving the Jewish people a bad name.

I walked outside, waiting for him to hand me a flier and engage me in conversation. I walked by and he completely ignored me. What was up with that?! Did he see that I was angry and was worried about a conflict? Or could he tell that I was already Jewish so he didn’t need to convert me? And how did he know I was Jewish? Was he judging me on my Jewish nose like a racist would do? Was this Jewish man stereotyping a fellow Jew?

Hell, I wanted him to try to convert me! I wanted him to hand me one of those leaflets, so I can shove it back in his face and tell him that this is not the ways Jews should behave. That it is a shame for him to stand there in his yarmulke and tzitzit and show such disregard for other cultures and other religions.

I did a 360 and entered the supermarket again, just so I could exit a second time and get one of those leaflets. I quickly re-walked my steps, leaving the market as I did before, not even waiting for the electric door to fully open. I walked past the ultra-religious Jewish guy, who was eagerly handing out his leaflets — and the asshole ignored me again.

That was enough for me. Like Abraham, who would sacrifice Isaac, his son, because of God’s word, I knew that it was my moral obligation to confront my Jewish nemesis. I stepped in front of him.

“May I have one of those leaflets.”

“Sure,” he said reluctantly.

He handed me one. I held it tightly in my hand, ready to start my diatribe against religious hypocrisy. And then I read the piece of paper:

“Looking to sell your condo? Call ***-555-1212.”

When I arrived home, I looked at myself in the mirror. My hair had gotten long again. I was unshaven. I was wearing an old t-shirt. Apparently, I was stereotyped by this guy as someone who can’t afford to own a condo.

One of the commenters noted this about Judaism, "we’re like a business that’s no longer taking applications."

Just had to put it here

Jewish View on When Life Begins:

There is a big controversy these days concerning when life begins. In Jewish tradition the fetus is not considered a viable human being until after graduation from medical school.

Amazing experience

On Sunday my family and I went to a special service/event at my synagogue.

Sunday? Michael, isn't the Jewish Sabbath on Shabbat (sunset Friday till sunset Saturday)?

Yes it is. Let me explain. A year or two ago, a Free Will Baptist Church (a predominantly African American Church) burned down in Baltimore. That church was looking for a place to worship so what better House of Worship is there for an already large congregation than one that isn't being used on Sunday?

A synagogue!

So for the last year or two that Christian congregation has been a guest at my shul. Yesterday was MLK weekend so we had an exchange of services. Some members of each congregation visit the other and each clergy (Rabbi and Bishop) gave a sermon to the other congregation. I didn't go Friday night to the Jewish service so I can't tell you much about that. I really wished to hear the Bishop's sermon. My parents who went to the Friday evening service said that the Bishop's sermon was about the importance of dreaming.

Anyway, I went to shul on Sunday. The parking lot was packed and probably most of the Christian congregation parks else where and gets to the synagogue by shuttle (because of the Sunday school). I was really excited. Trying new things and observing different cultures. I had a similar feeling at the Christmas dinner in college. I never been around a significant amount of Christians before during the Christmas season. The college cafateria decorated in red and green, and they hired a one man band to play Christmas songs while people eat. It was interesting to observe. This time, I appreciated being a minority. It gives you an opprotunity to step back and observe society. It doesn't mean you can't participate in the joy. You have your own holidays and joys but you can also feel joy by observing the joy in others. That's what the Holiday Season in America is all about. But as a minority in America, you are more aware of other cultures and minorities. In highschool, my class participated in a program called BLUES (blacks and Jews) where a class of black students (a class from a Baltimore city school which is majority African American) and a class from my Jewish highschool learn about each other and their culture.

Where am I going? I hardly described the service.

The Sunday service was lead and run by the Christian Bishop and choir working together with the Jewish choir, Rabbi and Cantor. They had a drum set and keyboard/organ on the bima, (def?). With two choirs and two sets of clergies the bima was packed. The whole sanctuary was packed.

The music! Oh the music! Don't get me started on the music. The choirs and music players were terrific. Everybody in the building (my syangogue is big with many rooms) could hear the music and everybody in the sanctuary was in to it. It went beyond all of my expectations. It was truely a happy place. My dad and I went up to the balconey (mom is in the choir) and he said that the guy in front of us had tourrets. He was really into the service. He reminded of Hasidic story.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Jewish and Palestinian Americans speak on the situation in Gaza

Ali Damah (Jordanian) from the organization, MidEastYouth, posted these videos of Jewish-, Palestinian-, and other Americans speaking about the situation in Gaza, on a local Fox affiliate in Florida. Considering that this is a "low-status TV station," the quality of the discussion was excellent; more content, less propaganda. The Palestinian woman on this show is intelligent and very open in the discussion. She doesn't place all the blame for the situation on Israel, but blames Hamas as well, while still expressing the Arab anger over the Israeli incursion into Gaza. She has a clear and thorough understanding of the situation in Gaza, in particular, as well as the general Middle East.

Another person who spoke on the show (via telephone) was a Christian missionary working in Gaza. She said that Hamas is hiding in their basements and civilian buildings. She said, "they are hiding in the people ... if they loved the people they would get away from the people." She also said that Hamas is supplying aid/food with families in exchange for young recruits. Don't forget Hamas raided UN aid trucks intended for the Gaza families. This is what Israel has been saying all along and now you have an on-the-scene, independent observer saying the same. It's tragic.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I want to see "Waltz With Bashir"

I am impatient for "Waltz With Bashir" to be released on DVD. I love Israeli films. They are usually sad, depressing, and hope.

In one sentence, this is an anti-war film surrounding the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila. One of the reasons that I am proud of Israel is because it is a country that challenges itself constantly at the same time that its neighbors and the world challenge it.

Here is an interesting article from HaAretz on the film, which just won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film.

What I think should happen

I don't approve of Israel sending in ground forces. I think it exposes the soldiers to much. I think that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) as well as the Shin Bet (Israeli Intelligence) has done an amazing job (especially on the first day) by all military standards. I think Israel should extend the 3-hour daily humanitarian truce to 24 hours every other day. If Hamas keeps firing rockets during one of the quiet days, tell the world, "If you aren't going to stop them, we will." Then, perhaps, send in ground forces, though I am very uncomfortable with that idea. There have already been several friendly fire cases in Gaza and the mortar fire near the UN school should not be repeated. I think the ground forces know what they are doing but these unfortunate occurrences aren't worth it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

I'm not surprised by the world's negative reaction on Israel's war on Gaza. To them, it is only a crisis when Israel shoots back. The anti-Jewish chants by Hamas sympathizers and those at anti-Israel rallies in the past two weeks only solidifies the Zionist position. When the Jews are organized, armed, and protect themselves, it is considered a war crime. When Jews are suppressed and forced into bunkers everyday, it is business as usual.

A friend of mine has suggested that, if feasible and circumstances allow it, the IDF should unilaterally cease fire for an unannounced period, at the end of which, bring in soundtrucks and use helicopters with loudspeakers and broadcast several minutes of the sound of Shofars blowing, to give all of Gaza and the world something they can hear and think about.

If you don't know what a Shofar is, here it is a clip from YouTube:

I think it is utterly brilliant.

Arab media blames Israel for humanitarian crisis

I just watched this video from AlJazeera English about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. AlJazeera, being AlJazeera, blamed Israel, in its usual tone.

I also read this article from The Jerusalem Post, about how Hamas recently raided UN humanitarian aide trucks, stole the cargo and auctioned off the contents. I await UN comment on this.

The article also states that

Israel is considering establishing a field hospital in the Gaza Strip to treat Palestinian civilians wounded in fighting between the IDF and Hamas.

The plan would be to establish the field hospital outside the Gaza Strip, but the IDF is also considering the possibility of erecting the hospital inside the Palestinian territory so it will be more accessible to the Palestinian population. It would be run by the IDF Medical Corps.

Of course this may be impossible, because it would be very difficult to protect Israeli medics from suicide bombers. Even if Hamas did send a suicide bomber to an Israeli field hospital, the world and the Arab media wouldn't care. I would like to be proven wrong.

Disarray in Labour

Haaretz reports that Labour's Central Elections Committee (CEC) representative, Eitan Cabel, has voted in favor of banning the Arab parties Balad and United Arab List even though Senior Labour Party figures disapproved.
"[MK] Shelly Yachimovich and I thought we must object to the move to ban the Arab lists for reasons of freedom of expression," said Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog. "The minority's right to be heard must be preserved," he said.

MK Ophir Pines (Labour) said from overseas that he strongly objected to Labour's stance in the vote and that it was not the position that had been agreed on.

Labour chairman Ehud Barak, however, did not comment on the vote and his aides said he would not deal with political issues these days.

Cabel tried to explain his support of the ban, despite Labour's decision to vote against it.

"It's true we said we wouldn't ban, but [Balad leader MK (Member of Knesset) Jamal] Zahalka's statement that he was in touch with Bishara led me to think that we must draw the line somewhere," he said. "I'm making no apologies because I fight more than most in the Knesset for equal rights for Arabs. I know it won't stand up in the Supreme Court, and rightly so, because there is no evidentiary basis for the [committee's] decision."

Members of the the new Meretz alignment reacted angrily to the decision.
This looks like a heat in the moment thing for Labour and some of the others who voted in favor of the petition. It is reported that the Arab MKs have said some things that angered some of the Jewish MKs. Some MKs think that the Arab MKs don't care about Israel's southern population. I hope that the Israeli Supreme Court overturns this Committee decision and returns everything to normal.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Oy Vey: What is Israel doing?

Israel's Election committee disqualified Arab parties Balad and United Arab List (UAL) after a petition was filed by Israeli ultra-nationalist parties Ichud Leumi (National Union) and Israel Beitenu and Itay Furman, formerly of Shinui.
The petitions claimed that Balad's political platform aimed to undermine Israel's existence as a Jewish, democratic state and that the party was supporting armed struggle against Israel. Israel Beiteinu filed a petition against UAL for the same reasons.
The last time an Israeli party was banned was Rabbi Kahane's Kach party, which called for the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel.
Zahalka said that the procedure in the Elections Committee was an attempt to demonize Balad.

"Israeli democracy, not Balad, is being put to the test today," he said. "We are not Zionists and we will never be, under any circumstances," Zahalka said.

"Balad is a democratic and progressive party and we believe in the basic principle of equality for all people. We would never accept, politically or emotionally, claims that someone else is superior to us just because we're Arabs," Zahalka said. "All we demand is democracy! What are you afraid of when we ask for equality? We are the sons of this country, we were born here and we are willing to treat you with equality, so why don't you? We offer to live together. [Israel Beitenu chairman Avigdor] Lieberman offers to die together."

"We say, any vote given to Kadima is a bullet in the chest of a Palestinian child in Gaza," Tibi told the committee prior to the vote. "Israel's problem is not Balad, not UAL, but the Kadima Party and [Defense Minister and Labor chairman Ehud] Barak. These people started a war as an election campaign. The State of Israel is democratic for Jews and Jewish for its Arab citizens. We never said that we don't recognize the State of Israel. We are part of it, but we will never accept Zionism, which is an ideology that aspires to banish us from our homes."

Before Tibi's harsh words, UAL had not been expected to be disqualified from running. Despite the fact that there had been no plan to bar the party, Tibi's comments managed to upset Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel.

Cabel voted to bar Balad, saying that although he knew the High Court of Justice would reverse the committee's decision, Zahalka had offended him and the Israeli public.

In 2003, the committee approved a similar request to disqualify Balad from Knesset elections, a decision that the High Court of Justice later reversed.

Rivlin quoted the High Court's 2003 ruling, saying the decision had mandated that there be substantial evidence that a given party supported an enemy's armed fight against Israel in order to disqualify that party from running for the Knesset, not just random and sporadic hostile sentiments expressed by its members.

Attorney Dana Briskman, speaking on behalf of Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, told the committee prior to the vote that the attorney-general had not found sufficient evidence to disqualify Balad or UAL.

Lieberman, whose party led the move to have these Arab parties disqualified from the elections, responded to the committee's decision by saying, "The next step is to declare Balad illegal because it's a terror organization that seeks to hurt Israel."

Attorney Yoav Manni, who represented Israel Beitenu in the discussion, said that former Balad head Azmi Bishara, who fled the country under suspicion of spying for Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War, was still consulted regularly by current party members.

Tibi said he would appeal the committee's decision to the High Court of Justice which is expected to reverse the decision by Friday. Zahalka predicted that this decision would lead to a deeper crisis between the country's Jewish and Arab citizens.

Later Monday, the Elections Committee rejected petitions that sought to disqualify haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism from the Knesset elections on the grounds that they ran separate school systems that operated in an undemocratic way and would undermine democracy in the country.

Everybody, even those that filed the petitions expects the Israeli Supreme Court to overturn this. I think this is a sad note in Israeli politics and I hope Supreme Court will deal with this as quickly as possible. If the Attorney General had evidence to prosecute these Arab parties, he would have done so. I hope this political hogwash ends. I think that the ultra-nationalist MKs (Members of Knesset) are just using this petition to show to the Arab MKs how disgusted they are with their rhetoric and opposition to the Gaza operation.

I think that the ultra-nationalists scare me more than the Arab parties because of two reasons. One, their numbers. Two, their platform is against the core basics of my liberal Jewish-American ideals. A representative of one of these ultra-nationalist parties spoke to my class in Jerusalem a few years ago. Their idea of "tough love" should be marginalized and has no place in a free society.

Was Hamas democratically elected?

AlJazeera English has recently broadcast a discussion Sir David between a Hamas spokesperson and a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, about the current situation in Gaza. The ambassador makes a good rebuttal to the claim that Hamas was democratically elected. In Iraq and Kosovo, parties had to disarm before running in elections. Hamas (and Hezbollah as well) did not disarm before running in elections and still maintain their armed forces. Can you imagine the Democrats and Republicans each with an armed militia? Instead of filibusters they would have skirmishes. It's chaotic and a democratic society can't operate this way.

When I watch these AlJazeera videos there are many times that I want the moderator or an Israeli spokespersons to ask the Arabs certain question or tell the audience to think about something. For once, my thoughts were answered. The Israeli ambassador told the audience to look at Hamas' charter online.

In, the second part of the program (Frost Over the World), Sir David has a Palestinian and a Jew familiar with Israeli politics in the studio, on the same sofa. I think Israelis and Palestinians need more discussion around coffee tables. Here are a few notes:

1. The Palestinian said that a Hamas official told him that Hamas' infrastructure hadn't been dented. I was thinking, "Is he crazy? This is the kind of delusional thinking that brought the Palestinians nowhere."

2. The Palestinian said that Arafat accepted the two state solution. "Oh really?"

3. The Palestinian is correct that Israel's settlement policy harms the peace process. But I think that Israel is having an internal discussion on what kind of state it wants to be. The Palestinians have to start thinking about what sort of state they want to have in the future. I don't think that this internal discussion is premature because it will help Israel, mediators, and the international community garner support for their respective peace camps if the Palestinians express that they want a secular and peaceful state. Unfortunately, the Palestinians overwhelmingly "voted" for a radical Islamist and antisemitic organization. This told all Jewish Israelis that Hamas and this new "face" of the Palestinian cause isn't about peace and improving the lives of Palestinians (just as Hitler did by involving Germany in a war), but is about the destruction of the Jews.

4. The British Jew is being very polite. I think that being face-to-face with one's counterpart softens us up, helps communication and the peace process. Maybe it's because he's British and not Israeli. Israelis aren't afraid to say what they think even if it harms someone's feelings.

I wish the Brit told the Palestinian, "What did you expect when your people elected an antisemitic terrorist group right next to a Jewish state?"

5. The Palestinian says that he can't accept Israel because they stole his land (i.e., 1948). He says he can accept a 15-year "hudna" (which means "cease-fire" but can also mean "calm"). Most observers see a hudna as just a time-out, in which for Hamas will rearm; such a cease fire would never last.

6. The Palestinian says that he can drop the gun but can't "abandon the dream". The problem is that the Palestinians still haven't found a way to follow the dream without arms. I wanted to ask him, "Okay, you dropped the gun. Now what? Tell me how you and the rest of the Palestinian peace camp will move forward so the Israeli peace camp can talk to you and support you."

7. The Palestinian also says that the first step must be Israel recognizing Palestinian "victimhood" caused by the creation of the State of Israel. I think Israeli historians such as Benny Morris and also Israelis in the media have recognized this tragedy, but Israel as a nation is unwilling to just pull back and compensate Palestinians, because it doesn't believe they will really drop the gun and pick up the hammer to build up their new state. Israel's withdrawl from Gaza and Hamas' rise is an example of that.

8. "When you shout at someone and say that there is no dispute, there is obviously a dispute" is the response the British Jew makes to the Palestinians' statement on the Palestinian narrative of 1948.

Israeli Consensus on the War

Here is a very good article from the New York Times website, which explains why so many Israelis support the current war in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead). Arab pundits claim that Israel's war on Gaza is making Hamas and its armed resistance more popular, but it is Hamas' rise to power and its rockets falling on civilian targets which gave Israel's leaders the consensus to go on with the attack. It made the hawks more popular. It hardened Israel's heart.

From the article:

Boaz Gaon, a playwright and peace activist, said he found it deeply depressing how the Israeli public had embraced the military’s arguments in explaining the deaths of civilians. But he was livid at Hamas, both for what it had done to its own people and civilians in the south, and for its impact on the Israeli left.

"Hamas has pushed Israeli thinking back 30 years,” he said. “It has killed the peace camp.”

Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak was known as a dove. He is now managing the IDF and its operations in Gaza. I'm not sure if he was for or against the ground invasion but I really wish that they hadn't send in ground forces.

Here is a video from AlJazeera English, which explains why I and many Israelis don't want to send in ground forces. I believe it will expose the IDF to too much danger.

My return to the blog

It is time for me to return. I have been following Ha'Aretz, Jerusalem Post, and AlJazeera (English language) report on the current war in Gaza, "Operation Cast Lead." I have somewhat withdrawn from the internet lately. I needed some peace of mind. Many people in Israel and Gaza are praying for some peace of mind as well, not to mention actual peace also.

I'm sure all people who don't live in caves know something about what is happening in Gaza right, now so I won't repeat the details. There is one item in particular that I want to point out: , a debate on AlJazeera from December 25 a couple days before the war in Gaza began. Here are some things I want to point out:

1. The Israeli pundit in the video expresses the general feelings of Jewish Israelis. The Israeli public approves of the air-strikes but far fewer approve a ground operation. The Israeli expresses that feeling.

2. I saw this war coming from a mile away.

3. Is the Palestinian pundit a member of Fatah or Hamas? He isn't so much defending the Hamas regime as he is the Palestinian cause of "Resistance," which I believe has harmed the Palestinians more than it has the Israelis. It's interesting that Palestinians seem to be afraid to condemn other Palestinians in the media. It reminds me of a passage in "From Beirut to Jerusalem" by Thomas Friedman, where a Palestinian faction broke away from the PLO because they thought that Arafat and his cronies were ineffective but were quickly crushed because of two reasons. The first is that they received support from Syria, which delegitimized this faction. The second is that they criticized the current official "face" of the Palestinians, which was Arafat. Fatah is going to disappear unless they vehemently blame Israel instead of Hamas. This is largely because, for the moment, Hamas and the bleeding and dying people of Gaza are the faces of the Palestinian cause. In my opinion, Palestinian self-criticism is non-existent and would continue to derail the Palestinian cause, which has been hijacked by radical Islamists. Arafat the Corrupt was the first face of Palestine. Hamas the Terrorist is new face.

4. Egyptian support, at least at the official level, is unprecedented and somewhat embarrassing. Israel is finding allies in the Middle East because of a common enemy - radical Islamist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Jordan remains silent, as it always has been but Egypt has been vocal in placing the blame on Hamas. It's worth pointing out that the main opposition to the government in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood. And guess who is a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. That's right - Hamas.