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.

Nevertheless, 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 generalisations.

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 suicide bomber 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: International
Debate: United States

The Refuseniks and Israeli Peace Activists
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 force.
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 Avnery
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
"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
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: International
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
" 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 military checkpoints.
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 Occupation.
Dissent, Debate, Dilemma: American Jewish Community
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.
De Clarke