The Middle East: archetypical "dangerous subject"
Commentary and Analysis
The theory of a free press is that truth will emerge from free
discussion, not that it will be presented perfectly
and instantly in any one account.
-- Walter Lippman
As long as I've been alive, there has been "tension" (and outright
warfare) in the Middle East. Accusations and counter-accusations have
been flying back and forth since before I was old enough to understand
the content of a newscast. These days, the hard-line Zionist position
seems to be that any criticism of Israel is de facto anti-Semitic
-- which can make it
a bit difficult to conduct open debates.
It must be admitted that there are plenty of anti-Semites ready and eager to
greet the militaristic policies of an Israel dominated by Likud and led
by Sharon as a heaven-sent opportunity -- to clothe their traditional, pre-recorded
hate-speech in a thin veil of "sympathy for the Palestinians". Nor can
we pretend that there isn't anti-Semitic rhetoric and blanket hatred
being promulgated in Arab countries as well.
criticism of the Occupation as a policy -- and of the IDF's treatment of
the occupied population -- seems necessary and urgent. What to do?
For the goyish observer/commentator the whole topic is, appropriately
enough, a "conversational minefield." As far as I can tell, the best
effort a non-Jew can make is not to declaim and pass judgment on "Israel"
(the country? the government? the people?) from some putative "objective"
viewpoint -- but rather to help publicize the voices of dissident and
critical Israelis (and Jews of the Diaspora as well), people who do not
endorse the Occupation or Sharon's militaristic, heavy-handed tactics.
It bears remembering that Mr Sharon's pronouncements and policies don't
reflect the will of all Israeli Jews (or all Jews anywhere else) any more
than Mr Bush's policies reflect
the will of all Americans. Leaders always claim to be committing whatever
violence they're determined to commit this week "in the name of the people" --
but in Israel just as here in the US, there is a courageous minority who keep
insisting: "Not In My Name." Let's listen to them rather than make sweeping
This page is dedicated to the refuseniks and to the activists of Bat Shalom,
Yesh Gvul and Gush Shalom; and to all the other dissident Israelis who, despite
attacks and relentless sabre-rattling and drum-beating by their own government,
refuse to abandon their principles or their hopes for peace and justice. [This
page is always under construction; feel free to contribute more and better URLs!]
NOTE: Recently, two very important books have appeared to which I
direct the reader's attention. Wrestling with Zion (2003, Grove
Press) is an anthhology of essays, poems, and letters by Jewish-American
progressive writers, documenting their intellectual and personal struggles with
Zionism. This is a ground-breaking, readable volume with many distinguished
contributors: highly recommended. An excellent companion volume is
The Other Israel (2002, The New Press), an anthology of essays by
Israeli Jewish writers who oppose the Occupation and the Likudnik agenda.
We can hope that these two books open the window and let some fresh air
into what has become a stifled and stifling topic.
NOTE: lately there have been "hacker attacks" on websites and
individuals critical of the Occupation/Likud/Sharon/. Some are DoS (denial of
service) attacks which may overwhelm a server and render it unable to respond
to your browser. Vulnerable servers may even be sabotaged with redirect
URLs which cause your browser to be redirected to some other (often offensive)
site. Please be patient, and send mail to the webmasters letting them know
if you have serious problems accessing their pages.
Refuseniks, Israeli Peace Movement
Diaspora Jewish Peace Movement
Debate: United States
The Refuseniks and Israeli Peace Activists
"Why, I am trying to understand, are we Israelis so blind to this brutality? Where
are the expressions of revulsion by decent Israelis? Why don't the major newspapers report
these heart-wrenching stories (not just the liberal and much smaller-circulation Ha'aretz)?
Why didn't a single Jewish political party in the recent election criticize the government
for its policy of collective punishment?" Svirsky analyzes the factors that keep decent
people in a state of denial and suggests strategies for peace activists to overcome denial.
Ta'ayush is the Arabic word for Partnership. The organisation is a joint Jewish/Arab
partnership for social activism; it has organised peace marches, assisted with the
Palestinian olive harvest, formed food convoys to Palestinian villages closed by
the IDF, protested against "Sharon's Wall", etc. See also the
alternative Ta'ayush web page.
Eyal Weizman's 'Politics of Verticality'
Sorbonne-educated Israeli architect Eyal Weizman won an important architectural
contest to respresent Israel at an international conference. But the invitation
was cancelled when authorities discovered that his work criticised the illegal
settlements in the West Bank. (see Interview with Eyal Weizman). Weizman's "Politics of
Verticality" photoessay and text brings the complexity and intimacy of the Occupation
vivdly to life; Weizman and his partner Rafi Segal intended their presentation
to explain the realities of the Occupation to ordinary Israelis.
The Other Israel
"In 1982 and 1983, the horrors of the Lebanon War divided Israeli society and
turned the attention of the world to the explosive situation in the Middle East.
It was during this time that the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
(ICIPP) decided to
broaden the impact of its activities by establishing an English-language newsletter,
The Other Israel."
Diaspora Jewish Peace Groups/Projects
- The Courage to Refuse
- Also available in Hebrew, this
is the web side of the refuseniks. "We, combat officers and soldiers who have
served the State of Israel for long weeks every year, in spite of the dear cost
to our personal lives, have been on reserve duty all over the Occupied Territories,
and were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of
our country, and that had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the
Palestinian people . . . hereby declare that we shall not continue to fight this
War of the Settlements . . ."
- Refuseniks in the News
- What Have I Done?
- For those who are not sure what it is the Refuseniks are refusing, this article
gives some idea of the mental and spiritual cost of being part of the IDF occupational
- Yesh Gvul Home Page
- Yesh Gvul is an Israeli peace group that supports refusenik Israeli soldiers. The
name means "There is a Limit."
"Yesh Gvul was founded in response to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, as growing numbers of soldiers realized that the campaign, with its bloodshed and havoc, was an act of naked and futile aggression in which they wanted no part. Acting on their convictions, 168 servicemen were jailed, some repeatedly, for refusing to serve in the campaign: the actual number of refusals was far greater, but their rising numbers deterred the military authorities from prosecuting most of the refuseniks. "
- Gush Shalom Home Page
- The name means "the Peace Bloc". "The Gush was founded by
Mr. Uri Avnery and others in 1993, when it became apparent that all the older peace groups in Israel were either unable or unwilling to oppose the repressive measures introduced by the new Labor party government headed by Yitzhak Rabin . . ."
See article by founder Uri
- Bat Shalom
- An Israeli women's peace group.
"Bat Shalom is a feminist peace organization of Israeli women. We work toward a just peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors that includes recognition of a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel and Jerusalem as the capital of both. Within Israel, Bat Shalom works toward a more just and democratic society shaped equally by men and women."
- Rabbis for Human Rights
- "RHR was founded in 1988, in response to serious abuses of human rights by the Israeli
military authorities in the suppression of the Intifada . . .
Both the religious and the non-religious sectors of the public need to be reminded that
Judaism has another face. Human rights abuses are not compatible with the age-old Jewish
tradition of humaneness and moral responsibility or the Biblical concern for
The stranger in your midst. -- even in the face of the danger to public order
and safety which the uprising represented . . . RHR has helped numerous individuals,
publicized causes, engaged in civil disobedience, lobbied the Knesset and participated
in a landmark high court case limiting the scope of the army to abuse human rights under
the guise of security . . ."
- Coalition of Women For Peace
- "We Jewish and Palestinian women, citizens of Israel representatives of various womens organizations and individuals have agreed to coordinate and organize joint activities in order to work together for a just peace . . ."
- The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
- Email from Gila Svirsky, October 2002
- "The women's peace movement in Israel is absolutely breathtaking: It is alive with new
ideas, indefatigable as women have always been, and at the vanguard of creative thinking
about how to get to peace..."
- The Great Wall of Denial article by Gila Svirsky, March 2003
Dissent, Debate, Dilemma: International
- Not in My Name
- "Not In My Name is a Jewish peace group that was formed in November 2000 to work for
a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We believe that the first
step toward attaining peace must be for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank,
Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem."
- Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI)
- Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jews for a Just Peace)
- There are several groups called "Jews for a Just Peace (J4JP)" worldwide. See the
Australian chapter for example.
- Women In Black
- "WIB vigils were started in Israel in 1988 by women protesting against Israel's Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, demanding peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Italian women supporters of the Israeli women took the idea back to Italy, where WIB mobilizations have occurred in many cities . . ." WIB is like Critical Mass; there is no formal organisation, and
WIB groups spring up spontaneously worldwide. See also the
Coalition of Women for a Just Peace.
Although WIB is a spontaneous decentralized movement and "belongs" to no particular
creed, ethnicity, or nation, the WIB concept was created by Israeli dissident women.
- Peace in the Middle East: an open letter
- "In particular, we want to contest the "official" Jewish organizations' right to
speak in the name of all American Jews concerning the Middle East, and we want to
break politicians' fear of an allegedly monolithic 'Jewish voting bloc' that uncritically
supports anything that any Israeli government does."
This is the official web site for Dr Alan Sokal's "open letter to the US government"
project. The letter was published in the New York Times on June 7th, 2002 with
450 signatures; again on July 17th with 930 signatures; by the
end of July it had more than 2300 signatures; by October 4th, 3600 signatures.
The signatories are American Jews who agree on some
basic principles: "Israeli and Palestinian lives are equally precious. The Israeli
and Palestinian peoples have equal rights to national self-determination and to
live in peace and security. The Israeli and Palestinian peoples have equal rights
to a fair share of the land and resources of historic Palestine . . . "
- Jews Against the Occupation
- " Jews Against the Occupation is an organization of progressive, secular and religious Jews of all ages throughout the New York City area advocating peace through justice for Palestine and Israel . . ."
- Jewish Peace Fellowship
- "Jewish Peace Fellowship is a Jewish voice in the peace community and a peace voice in the Jewish community. We are a nondenominational Jewish organization committed to active nonviolence as a means of resolving conflict, drawing on Jewish traditional sources within the Torah, the Talmud and contemporary peacemaking sages like Martin Buber, Judah Magnes and Abraham Joshua Heschel . . . JPF was founded by in 1941 to support Jewish conscientious objectors to the military, to help educate local draft boards --accustomed only to the Christian roots of conscientious objection--of the theological basis of the Jewish position on conscientious objection, grounded in Torah, Talmud, and other sacred and religious texts."
- A Jewish Voice for Peace
- "A Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is a San Francisco Bay Area grassroots organization dedicated to the human, civil and economic rights of Jews, Palestinians, and all peoples in the Middle East. Beyond our focus on the Middle East, JVP aims to build a community of activists working together on issues of social and economic justice . . ." This organisation supports a mailing list, "Jewish Peace News,"
which distributes daily news and information to members.
Dissent, Debate, Dilemma: American Jewish Community
- Israel as an Extension of American Empire
- "As an Israeli (and an immigrant to the country to boot), I write all this with sadness and concern. For all the violence and injustice that accompanied its birth, this was not the country it was intended to be. The slogan of the Israeli peace movement, 'occupation corrupts,' has proven to be true with a vengeance. Israel has become a Sparta, an aggressive country with no moral brakes..." Halper explores the deep contradictions in Israeli culture and history, between socialist/secular European-Jewish values and rightwing/authoritarian tendencies now predominating.
- Occupational Hazard
- "www.OccupationalHazard.org is an effort to confront the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict honestly and constructively, towards the goal
of replacing conflict with coexistence. We commit ourselves to presenting
an accurate, balanced and current account of the conflict. We include in
our account positive developments, on both sides of the conflict, that
mainstream news media tend not to report." Many Jewish writers contribute
to this international site.
- Collective Self-Deception
- Gilad Atzmon, Israeli-born and ex-IDF, writes from voluntary exile in Europe to
enumerate the "self-deceptions" of conventional Israeli ideology. A bold, angry,
and challenging essay.
- A Failed Israeli Society Collapses . . .
- Avraham Burg, Israeli Labour Party MK, mourns the passing of democracy
and justice in Israeli society and calls passionately for a return to
traditional Jewish virtues: "The Jewish
people did not survive for two millennia in order to
pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs or
anti-missile missiles. We were supposed to be a light
unto the nations. In this we have failed."
- A challenging essay by ex-Knesset member Shulamith Aloni.
"Palestinians, after all,
use the terrible weapon of suicide; while on
our side, everything is aesthetic and elegant:
Bombs fall out of the sky and the pilot goes
home safely; the tanks fire flechettes; and our
skilled snipers always hit their target. Of
course, nobody ever asks which target."
- Kibbutzniks Offer Land to Palestinians
- The people of Kibbutz Metser protest "The Wall" currently being built to separate
Israelis and Palestinians.
- Despite Violent Attack, Kibbutz Mezer Keeps the Peace
- Despite an armed attack in which several community members were shot, Kibbutz
Mezer continues to protest the confiscation of Palestinian land.
- UK Jews Renounce Right of Return
- A group of prominent British Jews writes ""We wish to express our solidarity with all those who are working for a time when Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip can be lived in by people without any restrictions based on so-called racial, cultural, or ethnic origins."
- Right of Return by Conversion?
- How did ninety Peruvian Indios become settlers in the West Bank? Excerpted
from Ha'aretz, a story of conversion and immigration.
- Jews at Home in the World (backup link here, as the original has serious html issues)
- "For many years, the State of Israel and the adherents of Zionism in other countries have maintained the position that Israel is the Jewish homeland, that Jews outside of Israel are in exile, and that a full Jewish life can be lived only in the Jewish state . . ." But Larry Tye in his recent book Home Lands: Portraits of the New Jewish Diaspora, challenges this doctrine. Here Allan C Brownfeld reviews Tye's book for the American Council for Judaism website.
- It's Gone Beyond Hostility
- Suzanne Goldenberg reports from Israel on the painful rift between Israeli hawks
and doves, and on the undermining of traditional social values: "Where racist remarks
were once confined to a close circle of friends - whose views were known and presumably similar - the old inhibitions have slipped away . . ."
- Bat Shalom: We Will Talk, We Will Not Shoot
- An interview with Terry Greenblatt, director of Bat Shalom.
- Israeli Women Monitor the IDF
- "With her steely blue-grey eyes drilling him from under the brim of her sun hat, Yehudit Elkana approaches the armed Israeli border policeman at the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem . . ." Israel's Women for Human Rights group actively monitors IDF behaviour at
- Interview with an Israeli Feminist and Peace Activist: Gila Svirsky
- An American radical feminist journal (off our backs) interviews Gila Svirsky about
Women in Black and other Israeli women's peace groups.
- Grieving Israeli Father Blames Occupation for Son's Death
- "My beloved son Arik, my own flesh and blood, was murdered by Palestinians. My tall, blue-eyed, golden-haired son who was always smiling with the innocence of a child and the understanding of an adult. My son. If to hit his killers, innocent Palestinian children and other civilians would have to be killed, I would ask the security forces to wait for another opportunity . . ." See also Lakshmi Chaudry's interview with Yitzkak Frankenthal.
- An old Warsaw Ghetto Partisan Expresses Sympathy
- "He wrote in a spirit of solidarity from a fellow resistance fighter, as a former leader of a Jewish uprising not dissimilar in desperation to the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories . . ."
- Drunk with Power and Out of Shame
- Israeli dissident Irit Katriel remonstrates strongly with Moshe Ya'alon's
description of the Palestinian threat as "like cancer" and the IDF's actions in the
occupied territories as "chemotherapy" (interview in Ha'aretz Aug 30 2002).
- Oznik.Com: alternative news
- Oz Shelach, expatriate dissident Israeli, is hard to classify. In his own
words, "I don't usually describe myself as Jewish, I find the definitions problematic.
I am an Israeli citizen, and that's my only citizenship, that's where I lived the first
thirty years of my life (that is, until four years ago), and I do enjoy the legal and
de facto privileges enjoyed by citizens whose legal status in Israel is Jewish..."
His web site offers peacenik and refusenik news in both Hebrew and English.
See also Neve Gordon's review
of Oz's new book of short stories: Picnic Grounds.
- Letter from Israel
- Ran Ha-Cohen, who teaches at Tel Aviv University, periodically writes a 'Letter
from Israel' in which he expresses his criticisms of Israeli militarism and of the
- On the Future of Judaism and Jewish Life
- Marc H. Ellis is a Profressor of American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University.
In this essay he speculates on the effect of "Constantinian Judaism," that is, Judaism
as the official State religion of a militarised state, on Jewish community and culture.
See also Ellis's presentation On the Rabbis and the Future of Jewish
Life given at the Rabbinic Conference of the Union of Liberal and Progressive
Synagogues, in the summer of 2001.
- Living with the Holocaust
- Harvard professor Sara Roy is a leading scholar in the study of economic effects
of the Occupation. In this recent paper she writes more personally, and with deep
feeling: "The Holocaust has been the defining feature of my life . . . As a child
of Holocaust survivors I always wanted to be able in some way to experience and
feel some aspect of what my parents endured, which, of course, was impossible . . .
It was not until I lived with Palestinians under occupation that I found at least
part of the answers to some of these questions. "
- Whose Country Is It Anyway?
- "It's mine. We can put the question to rest. Israel belongs to me. Or so I was raised to believe. I've been planting trees there since I can remember . . ."
Andrea Dworkin (American Jewish radical feminist) talks about the Zionism
that shaped her childhood, and the Israel she visited as an adult in the 1990's.
- In Bed with the Christian Right?
- Some American Jews are feeling nervous about the strengthening coalition between
conservative Zionist organisations and the US Christian Far Right.
- Professors Want Own Names put on Mideast Blacklist
- "The Web site lists 'dossiers' for the eight university professors and teachers, including a graduate student instructor from UC Berkeley, and portrays them as preaching dangerous rhetoric to students. The site also calls them 'hostile' to America . . ."
- Ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionists
- It comes as a surprise to most non-Jewish Americans that some of the most
conservative, fundamentalist Jewish congregations are opposed to Zionism. This
statement summarizes the core of this thread in traditionalist Jewish thought.
See also the web site "Jews Not
Zionists" for a fuller explanation.
- Seven Pillars of Jewish Denial
- Kim Chernin (for Tikkun): "I am thinking about American Jews, wondering why so many of us have trouble being critical of Israel . . ."
- Zionism's Bad Conscience
- In the same issue of Tikkun, Joel Kovel reminisces: "Jews were supposed to know better, to be better. Suffering persecution and being eternally on the margins of Europe were supposed to have made Jews more morally developed. I speak from first-hand experience, having been made to feel as a boy that I had inherited a two-fold superiority, by belonging to a people both cleverer and more highly moral than the non-Jews who surrounded us. We Jews were history's exceptions . . ."
- Loving the Jewish Community Means Supporting Justice
- Tikkun again: Starhawk muses: "Criticizing Israel comes at a huge emotional cost for all of us who were raised to love her. And when we do, we meet a wall of denial, hostility, and rage. Yet if we truly love Israel and the Jewish people, we must speak and act against the policies of the Israeli government . . ."
- Joining the Expanding Middle
- "I heard the usual responses: from the pro-Israel side accusations that I was a self-hating traitor who understood nothing of history or the Arabs' uncivilized mind; from the pro-Palestinian side explanations justifying comparing Israel to Nazi Germany or minimizing the importance of anti-Semitism. What soon struck me was the similarity on both sides: Even if your criticism is valid, they instructed equally, don't make it public. Our side is in danger . . ." Rounding out Tikkun's special issue on Denial, American and Jewish Style, Dennis Fox writes of the difficulties experienced by those who cannot simply take sides.
- The Great Denial in America and in Israel
- Rabbi Michael Lerner reflects on the failure of common humanity and the ways
we distract ourselves from it.