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Tag Archives: Israel

Thinks I’ve Been Thinking #1

Thinks I’ve Been Thinking #1

A few months ago an unplanned project blossomed.  While lurking on Amazon, I decided I needed to read a new book about the Middle East.  (Regular readers may recall that I minored in Middle East Studies in college many moons ago and it’s an area that is of particular interest to me.)  I downloaded The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine by Ben Ehrenreich, who spent a significant amount of time in the West Bank a few years ago and wrote about his experiences there.

In the book’s introduction Ehrenreich makes it clear that his book will be viewed by many as pro-Palestinian.  His argument for this is that he set out to spend time in Palestinian villages and essentially report what he saw and heard.  As a result, the facts and the history and the stories he presented were those of the Palestinian people who live in those villages.  The primary focus of the story is a Palestinian village that for decades, if not centuries, had a spring just up the hill.  Until an Israeli settlement was developed nearby and they claimed the spring and the Israeli government declared the area a military zone.  The Palestinian villages then began a weekly protest.  Every Friday evening marching to the spring.  And all too frequently, those marches were met by Israeli soldiers with rubber bullets, live ammunition, and arrests.

As I finished The Way to the Spring, I decided I needed to read more.  And more importantly, read from different voices.  I purchased three more books and went from The Way to the Spring, with its clearly stated Palestinian tilt to Like Dreamers:  The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation by Yossi Klein Halevi.

Like Dreamers tells the story of seven or eight Israeli paratroopers who were part of the Israeli force that reunited Jerusalem during the 1967 war and brought all of the city under Israeli control.  This was a big deal to Israelis and Jews everywhere because the Western Wall, one of the faith’s most important holy sights, had until then been under Jordanian control.  The book follows these paratroopers from the 1960s forward through the decades of the Israeli-Palestinian that followed the 1967 war.  In some way each paratrooper profiled in Like Dreamers represents a different strain in Israeli politics.  One is a secular Zionist.  One is a religious Zionist.  One is very active in the settlement movement.  One travels to Syria to take up arms with Palestinians against the Israeli government.  One joins an underground Israeli terrorist organization with plans to blow up the Dome of the Rock and engages in a few attacks against Palestinian mayors and other Palestinian targets.  One becomes a business man who is instrumental in bringing capitalism to Israel.  There are a couple more I’ve forgotten since I read the book.

Like Dreamers is a fascinating journey through Israeli history as it follows the lives and actions of those disparate paratroopers.  However, as I read it, I began to have a kernel of an idea for something I wanted to write.  In The Way to the Spring, Ehrenreich covers some of the history between the two peoples and both books cover some of the same ground.  However, the different ways in which the stories of historical events are told can be stunning.  There was something very basic I was discovering.

I continued reading.  Next up was The Yellow Wind by David Grossman.  Published in 1988, shortly after I finished college and was still enmeshed in my young, idealistic interest in the conflict, The Yellow Wind is considered to be on some level a ground-breaking classic of its type.  A book that attempted to bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians and to put a human face on both sides.  Both of the other two books, The Way to the Spring and Like Dreamers, refer to Grossman’s efforts, which didn’t begin and end with The Yellow Wind.  He is considered one of Israel’s greatest writers and I believe he also had a significant role with Peace Now, an Israeli leftist group that gained significant popularity at one point and that was interested in ending the never-ending conflict.  (Peace Now is now, sadly, virtually non-existent in Israel.)

The Yellow Wind is a very literary, well-written look at the people of the West Bank.  Israeli settlers.  Palestinian villagers.  It is pretty balanced.  Until it isn’t.  Which I’ll get to below.

My reading odyssey ended with The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan.  In 1948, when Israeli announced its nationhood and the first war between Israelis and Arabs began, a young Palestinian and his family were driven from their home in their Palestinian village.  After the war was over, a Bulgarian Jewish refugee family arrived in Israeli and were given the Palestinian’s home.  Almost the entire village was emptied of Palestinians and replaced with Jewish refugees.  This happened in many places following the 1948 war.

Fast forward to 1967 and the aftermath of that war.  The Palestinian child is now 25 years old and for the first time he can return to the village of his family home and land.  Only weeks after the war is over he does so and there he meets a young woman who was only a year old when her family arrived and moved into this home they both now claim.  The two become friends and over the next decades their friendship continues.  The Palestinian at times is arrested and accused of being a terrorist, of being a part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.  At one point he is deported and spends several years in exile.

The two individuals – the Palestinian activist and the young Israeli woman – however, hatch a plan after her parents die.  They will turn the home into a center for Israelis and Palestinians to come together.  They will educate children there.  And the woman makes sure it happens.

Those are the four books.  And here’s the basic thing I learned from them.  As much as the two sides should have a shared history and narrative, they do not.  They each have their own history.  Their own facts.  Their own narrative.

In The Yellow Wind, David Grossman ends with an outrage over the murder of a couple of Israelis by Palestinians.  It is murder to him and he finds himself unable to get past that.  Unfortunately, he never feels the same way about the Palestinians who are killed by Israelis during the time the book covered.

In The Way to the Spring, there is reference to the arrest of the central figure in the book.  There is reference to the fact that it is related to the death of a couple of Israeli teenagers.  And there is not much else.  In Like Dreamers, there is significantly more detail about what he is alleged to have done.  Several years ago, two Israeli teenagers disappeared.  Their burned bodies were eventually found.  But immediately after their disappearance, the Israeli government accused Hamas of the abduction and arrested dozens if not hundreds of Palestinians.  One of them is the central figure in The Way to the Spring.  He is held for weeks or months.  What you don’t read about in Like Dreamers is the duration of his detention or that he was eventually released or that he was likely tortured while he was in jail.  You will, however, read all of those details in The Way to the Spring.

At one point, Palestinians held in administrative detention — where they are held without charges for weeks and months — staged a hunger strike.  In the Israeli versions of this event, there is little discussion.  A paragraph that mentions it happened.  And then it ended.  In the Palestinian version of the event, there is more detail.  That thousands of prisoners participated in the hunger strike.  That at one point the Israeli government decided to force feed the hunger strikers and a number of them died because of the incompetence of the prison officials in inserting the feeding tubes.

In “pro” Palestinian narratives you will hear about Deir Yassin, a pre-independence terrorist attack on a Palestinian village led by Menachem Begin – who would eventually become Prime Minster of Israel.  You will read about the details of Lydda – a Palestinian village that was emptied of its Palestinian residents during the 1948 war and where hundreds of Palestinians were massacred by the Israelis.  In “pro” Israeli narratives, the tens of thousands of Palestinians who fled their villages during the 1948 war did so simply because they wanted to and it had nothing to do with Israeli atrocities or crimes.

In “pro” Palestinian narratives you will also read details that suggest that virtually every Israeli leader was a terrorist before 1948, launching strikes not just on British military targets, but Palestinian targets as well.  You will also read how Israeli leaders have spoken for decades about their designs on Greater Israel – which includes the country of Jordan.

In “pro” Israeli narratives you will read none of that.  Instead you will read how their leaders were freedom fighters and great military heroes.  You will read of the horrible terrorist attacks on innocent Israelis.  And there will be little, if any, discussion about those terrorist attacks in the “pro” Palestinian narratives.

And that’s the interesting and challenging thing to me.  Each side has their history.  For Israeli Jews their history is thousands of years old.  But there is this huge gap in their history that ignores anything that occurred before 1948.  Their narrative says that what is now Israel was an unoccupied land before they set their sights on it for their nation.  In other words, ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lived and farmed and loved their land there.  And Palestinians ignore the historical history and connection Jewish people have to the lands, and the horror their terror attacks have brought to Israelis.

Until these two incredible groups are able to acknowledge each other’s history, there will never be peace in that land.  But that seems to be the one thing neither side can do.  It’s a shame.  In reading these four books, one thing struck me.  How much all of them are nothing more than human beings trying to survive and thrive and maintain their connection to their land and their history.  But they simply cannot and will not give an inch on the fundamental divide.

If you have any interest in this subject, I recommend any of the books discussed here.  But don’t read just one.  You’ll never get a real and honest presentation of the big picture in just one book on this particular topic.

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What I’ve Learned This Week

Cable news is pretty useless.

There are few things I watch on the boob tube these days.  News being one of them.  Because of my job, I’ve been involved in a number of issues that have showed up in the press.  I’ve learned that reporters frequently get just as much wrong as they get right.  As a result, I have no interest in wasting too much time watching the news.

Because of a couple of reasons I’ve spent more time watching CNN over the last couple of weeks than I have in a long time.  First, there’s the confluence of events that are riveting, at least to me — Ukraine, Israel-Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Ebola.  It’s all fascinating and could change any day, at any moment.  Second, my foot injury.

For a number of years, my morning routine has been to get up, read the paper, check email and spend a few minutes surfing the internet.  A couple of weeks ago when the Gaza Strip exploded I started turning CNN on as well while I sit in my recliner and go through the morning ritual.  ,

Because of my foot injury, which has more or less kept me relatively immobile for a week now (but it is getting better, most definitely getting better), I have spent a lot more time in my recliner, fixated on what is going on in the rest of the world.

So, I’ve watched a lot of CNN.  And here’s what I’ve learned.

It’s crap.  Hours can go by without any new information, without anything that resembles real reporting.  Just a bunch of spokespeople for both sides ranting their propaganda and not a whole lot of depth.

Here’s an issue I want to know about and I saw pretty much nothing that even approached this issue today.  Last night, a 72-hour ceasefire was announced.  This morning I woke to the news that the ceasefire lasted no more than 90 minutes because Hamas attached Israeli troops who were in the process of destroying a tunnel.  Two Israeli soldiers dead, one potentially captured.

What are the problems with this?  Well, for hours, in all of the breathless reporting, nothing new was reported.  They just kept cycling through the same set of facts and getting people’s reactions.  And then, there’s the fact that CNN anchors and reporters kept referring to the soldier has having been kidnapped.  No, that’s wrong.  Israel and Hamas are at war, when a soldier is taken by the enemy in a war, he has been captured and he is a prisoner of war.  He is not a hostage.  He has not been kidnapped.  This is just one subtle way in which the mainstream media plays into the propaganda machine that supports Israel’s position in all of this.

And, here’s the larger piece of this that supports the propaganda machine.  Apparently, the incident that blew apart the ceasefire was in or near Rafah.  This is a town that is on the Egypt-Gaza border about 4-5 miles from the Israel-Gaza border.  Israel claims that it is seeking to destroy the tunnels that pose a risk to its people.  The tunnels that allow Hamas militants to get into Israel.

Here’s the deal.  There is a whole network of tunnels in Gaza.  Most of them are used for smuggling goods across the Egypt-Gaza border.  There are actually people in Gaza who invest in “owning” a tunnel so they can make money on the goods transferred through their tunnel.  This is what the tunnel complex in Rafah is — a smuggling network, for goods and materials coming across the Egypt border.  Since Israel has a blockade around the Gaza Strip.  Do weapons make their way through these tunnels?  Most likely.  But, these are not tunnels that are used to attack Israel.

Why?  How can I be so sure?  Because, again, Rafah is at least four miles from the border with Israel.  The tunnels built to attack Israel are smack dab on the border.  Why would Hamas build a four or five mile long tunnel to get into Israel when it has a border with Israel that would allow it to build multiple tunnels of only one or two miles, or less, to get into Israel?

So, the question is this.  What is Israel doing in Rafah destroying a tunnel that has nothing to do with potential attacks into Israrel?  And the problem is this.  Nowhere in any of CNN’s reporting on this was this issue ever raised.  They seem to accept without question Israel’s right to destroy any tunnel in Gaza, no matter its purpose.  No matter its location. 

This isn’t real journalism.  It isn’t real reporting.  It’s breathless and now, but it’s useless.  It’s a disservice to anybody who wants a real presentation of what is going on there or anywhere else in the world.

 

It’s Rather Simple Actually

Both on Facebook and here, I have been in an undeclared war against people who take a short view of the current Israel-Gaza clash.  These people include FB friends, much of the political class in this country, most mainstream media, and … my family.  According to these people, Israel’s actions are justified because Hamas started it when three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and then Hamas started lobbing bombs into Israel.  Never mind that there is no evidence that Hamas actually was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of those teenagers and the Israeli government knows that.  Never mind that, even with that lack of evidence, Israel used the kidnapping and murder as a pretext to go after Hamas again, arresting hundreds of Hamas members who were recently released in an agreed-upon prisoner exchange.  And never mind that Israel has … well read what is below.  It’s from a reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog and it encapsulates what I would like to say better than I could.  I have been trying to come up with how and what I really want to say about this whole thing.  I don’t need to.  The quote  Anybody who thinks that Israel’s actions are completely justified in this current clash has absolutely no clue of the history of the occupied territories over the past 47 years or what Israel has done to make it almost impossible for the Palestinians to have any belief in a country of their own, to live a life of their own, to realize the most basic and fundamental of human rights.

 

“A moderate-minded Palestinian who watches Israel expand its settlements on lands that most of the world believes should fall within the borders of a future Palestinian state might legitimately come to doubt Israel’s intentions.” (Goldblog, theatlantic.com)

 

This is really the whole Israeli-Palestinian problem in a nutshell. For 47 of my 56 years, Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza. (Yes, Israel “withdrew” from Gaza some time ago, but it is still very much Israel’s captive.) In modern times, there is no single other example of a nation that supposedly shares “western” values sustaining such a long occupation of another people. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself. Yes, Israel has every right to question whether it has a partner to make peace. Of course I don’t trust Hamas. Of course the rockets merit a vigorous no nonsense response. But one question sticks in my mind about the position of Israel: If Israel really wanted peace, why does it keep building those darn settlements?

 

Every answer I’ve ever heard – the irrelevant “there never really was a Palestinian state on this land”, the hopeless “even if Israel did that what makes you think they’d suddenly change their stripes?”, or the more limited “construction is for the most part only expansion of existing settlements anyway”, whatever – all of them only go so far as to try to justify why Israel should be permitted to continue to build. It doesn’t explain why it is a good idea for Israel to continue to build.

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. And in that sense, there is no justification I have ever heard for the settlements that one can reconcile with trying to make the two state solution a reality, or indeed even with leaving it open as a possibility. Just the opposite. Until there is an answer to that question, in my mind, Israel cannot and will not be guilt free. Maybe if those of us who love Israel but think it has lost its way focused on that one simple question until it is answered, we might get somewhere.

What the World Needs Now

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No, not just for some but for everyone

As it says over on the right side of my blog …
 
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
 
Put it differently …
 
Astronauts, when they first see the Earth from space, tend to share a complicated, but common, reaction: a sense of wonder. Mixed with a sense of peace. Mixed with a sense of appreciation of all that we share by virtue of sharing a planet.
 
That quote is from a piece that appeared at theatlantic.com.  The piece includes a photo taken from the International Space Station as it orbited above Israel and the Gaza Strip.  The astronauts can see flashes of light signifying the explosions.  The astronaut who took the picture described it as “the saddest picture yet.”  Maybe what the world needs is a different perspective.
 
What the world needs is a Martin Luther King, Jr., moment.  What the Middle East needs is somebody who can and will rise above the hate and the history and stop pointing fingers and preach the value of love.  Of forgiveness.  It seems to have been lost in so many ways in the conflicts raging throughout the Middle East.  Problem is there doesn’t appear to be any capacity for such a figure to rise.

The Root of the Problem

The failure to recognize this … “Israel aspires to exploit its military dominance to create irreversible facts on the ground in the West Bank and Jerusalem, heedless of Palestinian rights.” … is why I have such a problem with what passes as debate and discussion about what is going on in the Middle East. Hamas started it. Hamas is a terrorist group. They are targeting civilians and using their own as human shields. As long as people are unwilling to acknowledge Israel‘s role in the dispute, a role that has developed over the course of decades, one simply isn’t willing to consider how to resolve the situation. That statement above, and the article linked to here, written by a friend of Israel, states as succinctly as possible the nature of the problem … the player with the power is using that power solely to press its advantage, rather than using its power to reach a resolution.

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