Tuesday, October 21, 2014

MEANWHILE, 44 YEARS LATER, HAS ANYTHING CHANGED?

I have two books of political cartoons by Ron Cobb published in 1970 that I probably bought within a couple of years of publication (my copies were 2nd printings in 1971).  Raw Sewage is about the environment (remember, the first Earth Day was in 1970). My Fellow Americans is about politics in this country at the time.  I took these books off the shelf a few days ago and paged through Ron's cartoons, truly a trip down memory lane. I expected to laugh again, the way I did 40 some years ago. I was dismayed, however, that it seems things have not changed very much in the past 44 years. And I didn't laugh this time around.

Below are a few of my favorites from these cartoon books, with some commentary.

from Raw Sewage
This was always one of my favorite ecology cartoons by Ron. The grin on the old man's face is perfect. I have to say that in many cities, such as Portland, OR, there has been a push to incorporate plants into the urban landscape. So perhaps there has been progress on this item over the past 44 years. 

from Raw Sewage
Does anything ring a bell here? I think more people know the word "ecology" now than in 1970. We also are very familiar with the term "climate change" because it is in the news media so much. But we are experiencing more severe storms and other major changes in climate patterns than we did then. Katrina and Sandy were not beautiful women but horrific storms that destroyed and killed. Where are the changes needed to slow down this human-induced process? So far, it looks like we will all be sitting on the roof of the car wondering why these things are happening. 

from My Fellow Americans
How true, and how sad. The Civil Rights Movement - the one fought for racial equality - forced numerous positive changes in our society. And yet, 44 years after this cartoon was inked, it seems that beatings and killings (and incarceration) of young men of color by police is more normal than ever. The numbers are chilling; the stories are mind-numbing. How is it that here, in America, racism has become more institutionalized than it was 44 years ago? Didn't we fix this already? Sadly, we didn't. 

from My Fellow Americans
How did Ron know? Thanks to Edgar Snowden and others, we now know so much more about the surveillance state in which we live. How many of us knew what NSA meant just a couple of years ago? We now have surveillance cameras proliferating everywhere, police departments have weapons and vehicles designed for the military (thanks to grants and gifts by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security). What Ron didn't know then was that we would all have smart phones that know where we are all the time, as well as Google, Facebook, email, Twitter and millions of other internet data collectors that the government can hack into (or simply demand from the providers). 

from My Fellow Americans
Do I even need to comment on this one? The most reliable numbers are that more than 30,000 Americans are killed by guns every year! This insanity is perpetuated by organizations like the National Rifle Association that have a strange stranglehold on our elected legislators. This is nuts! 

And so, sadly, I must conclude that many important issues in our society have not improved since 44 years ago. I continually ask myself what went wrong, why we haven't collectively improved these egregious facets of human community. Is this really the world we want to inhabit, and leave for our children? 

And I'm still not laughing. 

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Sources:
My Fellow Americans 1970. Ron Cobb. Price/Stern/Sloan Publishers, Inc. - Sawyer Press
Raw Sewage  1970. Ron Cobb. Price/Stern/Sloan Publishers, Inc. - Sawyer Press 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (EXCEPT THOSE WHO DON'T HAPPEN TO BE WHITE AND HAVE MONEY)

Many people in Europe, America, and Iran are upset and protesting over the jailing of a young woman in Iran for political activism. Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian law student in London, has been in jail for 100 days without trial, and she has started a hunger strike. Support for her cause is growing.

Meanwhile, right here in the U.S. of A., a large number of people are incarcerated and awaiting trial under circumstances that are beyond belief. Take the case of Kalief Browder, recently released from prison in New York after spending 3 years (yes, three) in jail without a trial for something he claimed he had not done. Kalief was stopped and arrested when he was 16 years old. Someone had identified him as a person who had stolen his backpack several weeks prior to Kalief's arrest. Because his family could not raise the $3,000 bail, he went to jail awaiting trial. The nightmare of his incarceration for three years without trial is detailed in an article in the New Yorker magazine, and it will make your blood boil. You should read the article; it is infuriating.

Kalief missed his last two years of high school. He missed his prom and being graduated from high school. He missed developing skills for life as a teen because he spent three years behind bars, a major percentage of the time in solitary confinement. The court system in New York has a process for speedy trial if one is requested. Once the request is made to a judge, the trial must take place within 6 weeks. There is a major catch, however, which is played to the hilt by the public prosecutors: if the prosecution asks for a delay (typically because they "aren't ready"), the judge will usually grant a delay of a couple of days. The courts are so overloaded, however, that the new date is usually 6, 8 or more weeks out. But because the judge granted let's say a 2-day delay, the time until the new date is only counted as 2 days towards the 6-week limit. By doing this repeatedly, Kalief spent 3 years of his teenage years behind bars, in very poor, and dangerous, living conditions. 

Kalief was offered plea deals during the three years. If he plead guilty, he would only get something like a 3 to 5 years sentence and his time already spent in jail would count against it. If he didn't take the plea, he was advised that he might lose at trial and get 15 years. Kalief insisted on his innocence, and refused the plea bargain deals. 

Kalief was finally released after a new judge on his case pressed the prosecution when they asked for yet another delay. The reason for this delay was that the accuser had gone back to Mexico and they could not find him. The judge finally said "enough" and dismissed the case against Kalief; he was released.

The life of this young man has been irrevocably changed. He suffers from depression and has contemplated suicide. He has few friends, is awkward socially, is fearful of crowded places (like prison, where people were often beaten, by inmates and guards, or stabbed), and has trouble finding work. He now has an attorney and is suing the City of New York and the New York Police Department.

The case of Kalief Browder is beyond sad, and one has to wonder how this could happen in America. But his case is symptomatic of a common trend in the justice system in this country.  The studies and statistics are chilling; people who are not black or Hispanic and have money generally do not have these experiences. And once in the legal system, it is often difficult to get out or, as in Kalief's case, even get a trial. The plea deals offered to inmates waiting for a trial are too attractive, compared to languishing in jail for an uncertain outcome. "In 2011, in the Bronx, only a hundred and sixty-five felony cases went to trial; in 3,991 cases, the defendant pleaded guilty." I don't know about New York, but in many states a conviction for a felony (i.e. guilty plea) results in the felon not having the right to vote, cannot get public housing, often cannot find a job and faces other social and financial restrictions. Keep in mind, many people take a guilty plea deal even if they are innocent, just to get out of jail and back to some semblance of normalcy.

Racism in America is institutionalized. It is inherent in policing, in the justice system, in the financial system and many other areas of our society. It is often hard to get a grasp on racism and hold it up for scrutiny because many individual acts are not on their face intentionally racist. But taken as a whole, too many parts of our democracy have inherent bias against poor and minority people. 

We need to shine a bright light on the cases like Kalief Browder. There need to be severe consequences for people in the system who perpetrate these outrages. There need to be major changes in how the machinery of "democracy" works in order to guarantee justice for all. 

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Monday, September 01, 2014

WASHINGTON D.C. FOOTBALL TEAM OWNER ANNOUNCES NAME CHANGE FROM "REDSKINS"

The owner of the Washington Redskins football team, Dan Snider, has announced a name change for the NFL team. Snider's statement referred to the controversy surrounding the name, for which one poll found that 9 percent of Native Americans polled found the name offensive (90 percent did not).

Snider was very circumspect when he announced that the new name of the football team will be the Washington Foreskins. He remarked that the name change is very sensitive to non-majority populations. Polling and focus groups found a 50:50 split about whether the new name is offensive or pride-inducing among Jewish people, particularly men.

The Foreskins management is proud about the way the team rose to the occasion, explaining that it was a hard decision.

The new team mascot is still shrouded in secrecy; however, an announcement is expected soon. Insiders, speaking anonymously, have identified several possibilities being considered, including a mohel, kalamari, or four people wearing SCUBA gear.*

With this name-changing decision, team management is hopeful that the public will focus on the team's dismal record rather than their dismal name.

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* It is well known that the method of circumcising a whale involves four skin divers.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

TIME FOR SOME MOVIE REVIEWS: "LUCY" and "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY"

OK kids, this is a new feature for readmyopinion, a movie review! I will warn you when there is a potential spoiler.

Lucy had the potential to be interesting science fiction, but I will say up front - don't waste your time and money. I don't love LucyLucy is a predictable how-many-guns-can-we-shoot, how-many-cars-can we-crash overly loud so-called action film with a pseudo-intellectual premise, and a handful of big stars to try to recoup the cost of making it. They could have saved a lot of money, and saved the audience by throwing the script in the trash bin.

Let's start with those damned car chase scenes, shall we. There is really only one question that needs to be asked - why? The car chase scene has absolutely nothing to do with the story (to be fair, these gratuitous scenes of car derby destruction almost always have no relationship to the story). Where is it written that every movie has to have a car chase scene where hundreds of people are likely injured or killed, cars go flying through the air - usually the cars of the hapless police (see below) - and the heroes walk away unscratched. This scene in Lucy was totally absurd and a major distasteful distraction from the tiny shred of story line.

Oh yes, there was a story line, posed as a scientific theory lectured about by renowned Professor Morgan Freeman: what would happen if humans used more than the 10 percent of their brains that is actually used (and this number, by the way, is not scientific fact)?

Another very bothersome device used by these film makers is stereotyping. The police are hapless. They never seem to be around when people are being killed. When they are called to protect the university building where Professor Freeman and company are located, they walk right by and don't notice a fleet of big black SUVs across the street with a mob of Asian thugs dressed in all black unloading enough assault rifles and bazookas to fight a war! And of course, the army of thugs walks right in to the building and starts killing people. Oy.

Want some violence? Want some blood - lots and lots of blood? Blood squirting all over peoples faces who happen to be too close to the butchering? Random and senseless shootings, stabbings, and other truly gruesome forms of death? Lucy has a lot of it, go for it! We truly don't know why so many people are simply murdered in such seemingly casual ways. The bad guys are really bad guys, and to prove it, each one must have a quota of senseless murders to pull off per hour. The story thread involving the horrifically terrible bad-ass killer gang lord has nothing much to do with the plot of the film, except as a device in the beginning that creates the Lucy character. The rest of that thread is nothing more than gratuitous blood and guts violence for the sake of showing a lot of blood and guts violence. Meh!  

And then there are the scientists. Professor Freeman is dressed in university tweed. His lecture to a university audience (we have to assume) is one of the high points of the film; it is actually educational as well as entertaining, with terrific slide-show graphics and animations and simply beautiful nature video. The group of colleagues he gathers to meet Lucy (Scarlett Johansson)  are all in long white laboratory coats (and dark-rimmed glasses?). Why? They all look like Gene Barry's Dr. Clayton Forrester in the 1953 War of the Worlds! They are just there to talk to someone named Lucy. They stand in a group, in their white lab coats, and simply look incredulous as Lucy performs a bunch of magic tricks for them. "Ooh," "Aah," "What is she doing?" they say in science-geek unison. Ridiculous!

This movie actually goes nowhere in the 89 minutes of ridiculousness the audience has to endure. [POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT] The ending is a poor copy of the ending in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968 Stanley Kubrick), and made me want to yell out to director Luc Besson, in as much pain as I could, the immortal words of the HAL 9000 computer:  I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Luc. Luc, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a... fraid.

I guess if I need to say at least one positive thing, it would be that Ms. Johansson does a good job with her character, and she is, of course, pleasant to look at. 


OK, so the supposed sci-fi film wasn't worth the time and money (we were in beautiful downtown Burbank, where matinee movies were very expensive compared to my small town of Portland - and no senior discount!). But a few nights ago I walked down the street with a grandson and my favorite granddaughter to the Bagdad Theater, got some pizza and beer (they had pizza without beer), and settled in for Guardians of the Galaxy

First, you have to understand that this is a Marvel comic book movie. You have to say this to yourself before you walk in; it's a movie based on a comic book. If you don't like comic books, well, I suggest you go anyway.

I LOVE THIS MOVIE! I will see it again at least once. I laughed my ass off, loudly and frequently. The writing is brilliant, the characters are sublime, the actors, including those doing voice-overs, nail their roles spot on. A lot of the actors looked and sounded familiar, but I'm sure most of you readers know them better than I. Chris Pratt, as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, brings it with perfect comic timing. That's correct, he brings the "comic" to the "comic book." Quill is instantly lovable due to his preference in music - a 1980's mix tape; however, his boy-as-man manner, complete with puppy dog eyes when needed, his rapid quips, his seeming nonchalance with a hair-trigger violence switch all add up to one very likable character indeed. 

The script is replete with one-liners that almost made me pee my pants from laughter, they are that good. One reason I need to go again is to catch all of these sometimes obtuse historic lines and references to previous movies. Usually when the film makers mix a bunch of beings from different places in the universe into one crew, we ignore not only that they all speak English, but that they all understand everything each is saying. Not so in Guardians. Star Lord Quill uses a lot of Earth colloquialisms, which cause various other characters to stop and ask the obvious question. When Quill mentions that someone has a stick up his ass, Gamora (beautifully played by Zoe Saldana) stops, and asks with a puzzled look: "who put a stick up his ass, and why?"  

The Guardians is a group of sketchy characters who are thrown together despite their desires to kill each other. They are an interesting crew; an Earthling, a blue-skinned warrior lady, a kind-of tattood hulk of a humanoid, a raccoonish animal named Rocket (not Rocky), and a very talented tree named Groot that has a 3-word vocabulary. It turns out that, in spite of all the dislike between them, they actually work well together when they need to.

Yes, there are chase scenes in this movie, using spacecraft instead of cars. But the chases fit the story perfectly, good guys running from bad guys for a reason. 

The five Guardians have a knack for getting into and out of a lot of tricky situations, and gradually grow to respect and trust each other. And maybe that's the big take-away of this movie. We see each character learning some lesson about him- or herself, and also about the value of having comrades you can rely on. It actually gets a bit sappy (no, not dripping from the tree creature) at the end, but in a good way. How great is it that you can watch, and be sucked into, a comic book movie with absolutely terrific action sequences, dialogue, character development, cinematography and special effects, and walk out thinking about the lessons the characters learned? Lessons that we Earthlings better learn ourselves, and soon! 

The setups in this movie for sequels and prequels are obvious, and I can't wait, if they are as well done as this one.

All thumbs up for Guardians of the Galaxy. We are Groot! 

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LET'S MAKE IRAQ THE 51ST STATE IN THE UNION

The United States has shipped gobs of money, people, equipment, and building materials to Iraq. And we've lost way too many people fighting a prolonged war there. We pulled out a couple of years ago, but are now being drawn back in to fight an even more barbaric enemy than before, if such a thing is possible. What should we do?

I propose that we make Iraq the 51st state of the United States of America. Here are 10 good reasons:

  1. We won't continue to spend money and resources and lives in another country; it will all be spent at home; and it can be in the form of federal payments to the state for health care, education, other so-called entitlements, transportation, environmental regulation, agriculture, natural resource development and management, and defense in the form of National Guard;
  2. Iraqis who want to fight other people can join the Armed Forces of the United States and find their dream career firing guns, throwing grenades and launching rockets all over the world;
  3. The domestic production of oil in the United States will increase to a level at which we will no longer need to import the stuff, and we can even spurn the environmentally unfriendly tar sand oil from Canada;
  4. The President of Iraq will become the Governor of the State of Iraq;
  5. The President of Iraq, Mr. Maliki, will be a perfect candidate for the US Congress: he is experienced in crony capitalism, is fiercely loyal to his tribe (aka political party), and can get Absolutely Nothing accomplished as well as or better than the best of our people in Congress;
  6. Candidates in federal elections will spend more time in the State of Iraq than in other states because the turnout in their last election was greater than 60 percent, compared to less than 60 percent in the USA for the 2012 elections;
  7. The Tea Party can open field offices in Iraq to help focus Iraqi voters on which government they should hate;
  8. The National Rifle Association will move their headquarters to Baghdad, where they will be so much more appreciated;
  9. American vacationers will have a new domestic vacation destination, and tourism will boost the State of Iraq economy;
  10. The US President can appoint Sarah Palin to a special State of Iraq post in the mountains near the far-eastern Iraqi town of Penjwen, where she can keep an eye on the Iranian Supreme Leader from her kitchen window.
I'm going to start a petition campaign, please sign on. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

THE ISRAEL-GAZA WAR, PHASE 2 (following the script)

OK, so here we are in Phase 2 of the Israel-Gaza War, as usual. Phase 1 was when Israel got tired, again, of  having hundreds of rockets and missiles lobbed into it's territory by the Gazan extremists and started lobbing bombs and missiles the other way. And guess what happened? People in Gaza were being wounded or killed, and property was being destroyed.

The usual anti-Israelis trotted out their tired arguments that Israel was killing too many people and it was a lopsided fight. Right, it is. There is no way Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any of the other criminally crazy extremists in Gaza (let's call them Hamas and Company) are going to beat Israel in a fight; they are totally outgunned, and they have always known it.  And so they try to protect themselves and their weapons with human shields, and do you know why they do this? Because they know very well that the Israeli forces will try as much as they can to avoid civilian casualties. They know that the Israeli forces try to warn people that a specific building is going to be blown up, and they should get out. The only logical conclusions during Phase 1 are that: 1) Hamas and Company will start a fight they can't possibly win, and 2) Hamas and Company know that many of their own innocent civilians will be killed, which they want because it builds global hatred for Israel, and Jews.

And now Phase 2. The war has gone on for more than a few days, Israel has invaded Gaza on the ground, and hundreds of Gazans are dead, compared to "only" dozens of Israelis. Well meaning people who decry war start posting photos and articles about all the children who have been killed. Propagandists post these items, too, as well as outright lies and misinformation about Israeli actions. And the Jew Haters world-wide swing into action. Jews are attacked on the streets of France and Germany. Jewish buildings and sites are bombed, vandalized, desecrated. Suddenly Israelis and Jews are guilty of genocide and are labeled worse than Hitler himself! What Holocaust? The Jews are bringing a holocaust down on the Gazans! And oh yes, not wanting to be left out, the United Nations members start piling on Israel, too. (I have to say that it took a lot longer this time around for the U.N. to get to the condemnations of Israel; they were actually very critical of Hamas from the beginning of this go-around.)

In Phase 1, many Jews (and I'm thinking of Americans) start to feel guilty as the body count increases. "But Israel has a right to defend itself, doesn't it?" they say to their friends. In Phase 2, Jews start to feel less defensive and start to take the offense, calling bullshit bullshit every time they see it. This is because Jews understand that anti-semitism is alive and well in the world, including in the good old U. S. of A.

Look, when the USA invaded Iraq and killed probably more than 100,000 Iraqis, were there anti-Christian riots in the streets of Europe and the Arab countries? The US is, after all, a Christian country. No, the riots were anti-USA. But every time the Israel-Gaza War gets to Phase 2, the anti Jew riots start.

Do you want to talk about disproportionality? How about the fact that I have never heard about any demonstrations or riots,  and I have never seen a word on Facebook from those who weep bitterly over dead children in Gaza about the thousands and thousands of innocent Muslim civilians - women, men and children - being indiscriminantly killed by....Muslims, in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and others.

What is happening in Gaza is horrible, and very few Jews anywhere, including or especially in Israel, are dancing in the streets over the bodies of dead children. This just doesn't happen, except maybe for a very small minority of sick, crazy Jewish extremists. This is war, and war is neither a party nor pretty.  It is horrible, on all sides. And yes, it is, and has been for many years, horrible for children in Israel who have never known a time when normal wasn't having to run for shelter many times a day or week when the air raid sirens wail.

The behavior of Israel during war, and this is war, has to be considered differently than the behavior of Israel during peace (a relative term). I defend the right of ANY country to defend itself when attacked. And yes, I guess that means any country whether I consider it "good" or "bad." That's how the animal world works.

I have a different view of Israels behavior during more peaceful times. Israel has negotiated with Palestinians a number of times over the years trying to find a peace agreement. This has never been successful, and yes, the blame game goes both ways. The more moderate Palestinians have sat down with Israelis at these negotiations; the extremists like Hamas and Company want no part of it (and to be fair, the Israelis won't negotiate with terrorists anyway).

I remain very critical of Israel during the more peaceful interludes of the war. While I don't expect Hamas and Company to change their mission of destroying Israel, killing all the Jews, and installing an Islamic Caliphate across all of Israel-Palestine, I do expect Israel to be capable of changing their tactics. Instead of fighting Hamas and Company every day at a low level, and every few years in an outright huge battle, they should instead use diplomacy and politics to work with the moderate Palestinians to marginalize Hamas and Company and get Hamas out of power in Gaza. Instead, what I have seen is Israel purposefully blow off or sabotage these opportunities, while continuing to do the things that fan the flames of Palestinian resentment, namely settlement building, check points, mass incarcerations, racism towards Israeli Arabs, and other institutionalized actions.

Is there a hope for peace in Israel and the Palestinian Territories? I don't think so, unless there is a radical paradigm shift in Israeli politics, and the chance of this is greatly diminished with every major outbreak of the Israel-Gaza War. A paradigm shift on the Palestinian side would also go a great way towards making peace, but I think this is even less likely. The outlook is grim. Fewer Israelis and Palestinians know each other than was the case a decade ago, and this also dehumanizes attitudes on both sides.

I don't have the right to tell the government of Israel what to do; I'm not an Israeli citizen. Although I have a connection to Israel, I don't consider it my country. There are very smart Palestinians and Israelis, and if both sides wanted to make peace, had the will to do so, and most importantly had the leadership to do so, it could happen.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

MY ISSUES WITH THE ANTI-ISRAEL CROWD

A few statements before I start:

  1. This post is, as usual, my opinion, and mine alone. My family and friends might not agree with me, but that's how I roll.
  2. This post is NOT simply a defense of Israel; I have been publicly very critical of the Israel government on numerous posts here and elsewhere.
  3. It is NOT my intent to insult or anger anyone, and I will not get into on-line arguments about this topic. I would, however, gladly have an objective discussion about this topic, preferably in person rather than on-line. 
  4. This post is NOT faith-based. Yes, I am Jewish. I am also an atheist and what I call a progressive realist. The faith issues in the Middle East, and the world, are very real, but I prefer not to be part of any discussions labeled as "inter-faith" because I prefer to leave these labels outside the door, and, well, that's not how I roll.
Every time there is an inflammation of violence in Israel-Palestine (more precisely Israel and Gaza) many people start posting about how horrible Israel is to be bombing and killing the Palestinian population in Gaza. There are demonstrations, such as the one here in Portland yesterday, in support of the Palestinians and calling for Israel to end the occupation, end the violence, stop killing innocent women and children, and etc. Muslim, Christian and even some Jewish friends post these things and go to these demonstrations. 

I also see posts (Facebook) by family and friends who are very protective of Israel, and try to convey information in support of the right of Israel, like any other country, to defend itself. 

All of the above actions are OK; this is what we call democracy. 

I am greatly bothered by the extremes on both sides, even by what I know to be well-meaning people. My greatest issue is with the pro-Palestinian side, and this is what I'll mostly talk about here.

To put it simply, I think the anti-Israel posts and demonstrations feed hatred for Jews, whether intentional or not. There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism world-wide, including here in the USA. This is a fact, supported by data of hate-motivated attacks on Jews and Jewish sites. The anti-Israel movements, such as the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, and the recent decision by the Presbyterians to divest of stocks in companies doing business in or with Israel, all feed this hatred. 

Read this short piece in the New York Times today about one of the hate sites on the internet, Stormfront.org.  It is interesting and chilling. The author's analysis of the site users concludes that 75 percent of the site users are younger than 30. The group most often mentioned as hated is Jews, at 39%, followed by Blacks 33%, Hispanics 13%, Muslims 11%. Surprised? Gee, certainly racists hate Blacks or Hispanics or Muslims more than they hate Jews, right? A lot of Jew-hatred is based on the misperception that we Jews are behind all the societal changes these folks hate because we are so powerful and clever. We control everything. 

There is, and for some reason always has been a hatred of the Jewish people in the world; this has been true throughout the history of the Jews. When I see anti-Israel stuff, it is very easy for me to find that it is not very far from outright anti-Semitism, or a gateway to hatred of Jews. This is certainly true for many people in the Middle East, where many maps used in schools don't even show Israel, and that country is called things like "the Zionist Entity," and children's cartoons on TV show devil-looking Jews eating babies and drinking the blood of children for rituals. If you don't believe me, spend 2 minutes on google. 

So what about the fact that in this present conflict, as in the past battles between Gaza and Israel, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed, and zero Jews have died? Doesn't that prove that Israel is evil and the Palestinians are simply innocent victims? Well, no it does not. The numbers are real, but the facts behind the numbers are the real story.

The elected government of Gaza is Hamas. Hamas is a Sunni Islamist militant organization, and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, a source I think is objective, "Hamas combines Palestinian nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism. Its founding charter commits the group to the destruction of Israel, the replacement of the PA [Palestinian Authority] with an Islamist state on the West Bank and Gaza, and to raising "the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine."" 

To carry out their goal of the destruction of Israel, Hamas, as well as other extremist groups such as Islamic Jihad, has waged a campaign of terror against Israel and its citizens, including suicide bombings, attacking Israeli civilians, including busloads of children, and launching thousands of rockets and missiles from Gaza into Israel over the course of many years. 

I have asked a simple question numerous times in Facebook posts: What would you expect, or demand that your government do if a neighboring community was launching explosives into your neighborhood, and after how many such bombs would you demand action? I have never received an answer to this simple question from any one of my Facebook friends. My answer is simple: go find them after the very first missile is launched and stop them, even if it means killing them! Can anyone say that this is unreasonable? Can anyone say that Israel has not tolerated thousands of rockets before responding at a scale designed to eliminate the threat?

Let's get back to those numbers of people killed. The reason for the disparity is simple: Israel protects its citizens; Hamas purposely puts its citizens in danger. Israel carefully selects its targets and uses extraordinary measures to avoid and minimize civilian casualties. Hamas does not seem to select targets, they launch rockets in the hope that they will kill Israelis - Jews. Hamas (and the other militant groups) stores their weapons and sets up their rocket launchers in heavily populated areas, knowing full well that once they provoke Israel to attack, many non-combatants will be injured and killed, giving their cause a terrific PR boost. 

OK, you say, Israel needs to end The Occupation and everything will be fine; peace will break out. I strongly agree that Israel needs to end the illegal occupation of the West Bank, and the isolation of Gaza. But I don't agree that this will solve the problem. Remember, the goal of Hamas is not to end the occupation, it is the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic state. Does anyone really believe that if Israel ends the occupation, removes the West Bank settlements and tears down the separation barrier that the extremist Islamists will dismantle their missiles and bombs, lay down their arms, and accept Israel with open arms? Yeah, right. 

 I am also very bothered by the fact that so many well-meaning liberal friends are quick to post about how awful Israel is when Palestinians are being killed, but are silent on all the other atrocities in the world. Where are all the posts and demonstrations about the thousands of civilians, mostly Muslim, killed by the Syrian regime? How about the hundreds of school girls kidnapped by the Islamic group Boko Haram in Nigeria? And where are the bleeding hearts about the thousands of civilians murdered in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries - Muslims killed by Muslims? From my perspective, it's only when Jews kill Palestinians that we see such an outpouring of concern - and hatred. When Muslims kill Jews I don't see any comments by non-Jewish Facebook friends. I do see reports of people in Muslim countries dancing in the streets and hailing their martyrs. When Jews kill Muslims that seems to be all anyone talks about. And I never see Jews dancing in the street to celebrate the killing of innocent people.  Am I missing something here? I'd like to know if I am.

I'll end this by saying a bit about the extremists on the other side of the coin. I sometimes see posts defending Israel that at their core are hate-based. Some of these repeat ridiculous statements, such as that there is no such thing as a "Palestinian," or that every Arab or Muslim wants only one thing, to destroy Israel and kill every Jew. To these people the entirety of what is now Israel, Gaza and the West Bank is part of ancient Israel, and the Arabs have no legitimate claim to any of it. These are people who are in or support the settlement movement that is rapidly converting Arab-owned lands into Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The existence of these hundreds of settlements is an impediment to any peace process, and has fragmented the West Bank into a jig-saw puzzle that will make any future two-state agreement very difficult.    

Israel is a country that exists within the legal framework of every other recognized nation on the planet. The history of the formation of Israel is not very different than the history of many other countries. We Americans, especially, should not be too quick to criticize the actions of Israel without thinking about the very often horrendous history of our nation. Israel has been forced by its neighbors to become a very highly militarized nation, knowing full well that the day after they become weaker militarily than their Arab and Persian neighbors will be the day Israel ceases to exist. Israel has been condemned more often by the United Nations than any other nation. Israel is condemned by the international community whenever it defends itself. It is no wonder that the government of Israel does what it thinks it needs to do to defend itself in spite of the international criticism and scorn it knows it will get. Israel has a very well equipped and modern military, with all the latest technologies developed by their own and the military industries of the United States and some other western nations. And they use their military when they are attacked. 

I would rather see Israel make peace than war. I fault the Israel government for not doing everything possible to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority and yes, even Hamas. Yes, I know, they have tried, in their own way, without success. But they have not set a goal of making peace even if it means giving up certain concessions to the other side. They have not tried to think outside the box of the same old worn out positions both sides have bolted their boots to. 

I would prefer that concerned people work to achieve peace in Israel-Palestine by waging peace on both sides of the conflict. If you feel that you need to criticize the way Israel responds, please also criticize the Palestinians who constantly attack Israel with bombs and missiles and put their own people at risk. Pay attention to anti-Semitism here at home and abroad (it might surprise you to see in the NY Times article that Oregon has one of the highest levels of users of the internet hate site I discussed earlier). Let your elected representatives, including the President, know how you feel about US support of Israel, but keep in mind that if Israel did not have modern weapons of war, millions of innocent people in that country would have been slaughtered years ago by neighboring countries. 

This is an extremely complex issue, and "truth" and "fact" are hard to find. Each side has a narrative, and every narrative is valid and should be learned and understood by the other sides. But one basic fact remains: every nation has a right to defend itself when attacked, even the tiny nation of Israel. The US was attacked by three airplanes and responded by going to war with two countries for over 10 years. The illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States probably killed more than 100,000 people in that country, yet only a small minority of Americans protested that invasion. 

Let's continue to express our opinions, but let's be careful what we say.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

A lot of what I want to say is in the post from 2012, the last time the Israel-Gaza War flared up. Here's the link.

So rather than repeat myself, I want to share an excerpt from an important book by a Palestinian scholar we have sat and talked with a couple of times in Jerusalem, Sari Nusseibeh. The book is titled "What is a Palestinian State Worth?" and is a philosophical look at the conflict, it's roots, and the workings of the human mind. In a chapter titled "How can we move the World?",  Professor Nusseibeh discusses the example of Gandhi changing the way of thinking about freedom and violence.

Ghandi here clearly refers to India and its civilization not as race or religion but primarily as a system of moral values or a humane order.  Patriotism is not racial chauvinism or self-love and self-adulation, but "the welfare of the whole people."  Thus if Palestinians were to take their cue from Gandhi, they would cease looking upon their own patriotism as a religious or national cul-de-sac, and begin viewing it instead as an overarching affinity with the land and its multifaceted racial as well as religious history.  They would have to transform their vision of a free Palestine from that of a princedom to be ruled by Arab Palestinian "princes" to that of a land of a free people living by moral values.  In such a land, an Israeli could be just as patriotic a Palestinian as could an Arab Palestinian!  Indeed, to adopt such a perspective on patriotism is to see the political landscape in a radically new light.  The chasm in that landscape is suddenly no longer between "us" and "them"; rather, it is between "us" in the currently prevailing system of values and "us" in the new one.  More particularly, in this light, a philosophy of renouncing the use of force means more than simply restoring to nonviolent action: more significantly, it means renouncing our underlying assumptions of what the conflict is about, and replacing them with new assumptions which will henceforth guide our pursuit of a moral order.  

This is what is missing in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank and the surrounding region. The existing conflict, part of which I consider to be war between the governments of Gaza and Israel, the only accepted course of action is violence against violence. This has not worked now for 66 years, and will never work as a solution unless one side completely obliterates the other (spawning different endless cycles of violence, of course). 

I would also add my own view of the religious bases for this conflict. The stated struggle for The Land is not really about land, it is about the location of the religious myths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Every piece of dirt has some religious, i.e. mythical importance as the place where so-and-so walked, slept, died, was buried, rose up, ate lunch, took a nap and etc. and etc. Really? All this killing over mythologies? Even if some of these mythical persons existed at some distant time in history, so what? What is so important that people kill each other to defend it? 

So yes, as our Cousin-neice Erin said so eloquently on her blog, there are two (I would say at least two) narratives operative in Israel-Palestine, and each has validity that needs to be recognized by the other(s). There are options different than war, there have to be. Human history is not just made by war, it is made by people to people interactions, mostly positive and peaceful. And it is often, in fact it probably has to be driven forward by new and different ideas that break societies out of endless cycles of business-as-usual. 

Let us hope for a quick end to the bloodshed in Gaza and Israel. Let us also hope, and work for a different way of conflict resolution that moves towards a new moral order. I think the majority of people in the world would be happier with that. 

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What is a Palestinian State Worth? Sari Nusseibeh. 2011. Harvard University Press. (also available on Kindle) [I highly recommend it.]

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