Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Israel-Palestine: a tortured land. No other place on Earth has so much history and so many events and places important to so many people as this small slice of land. This place is home to both peace and strife, love and hatred, kindness and violence. There is no single truth here.

As visitors to Israel-Palestine, our group sought answers. What are the issues? What are the solutions? Who can move things forward? Why do things seem to be moving backwards? After 10 days on the ground we only have more questions.

One of the presenters to our group told us that the vast majority of problems in this country have no solutions, and people need to find ways to live with them. He suggested that as Americans, we can't accept this answer because, I suppose, we are solution-oriented. Perhaps he is correct. I find this difficult to accept, but I also find that the problems here have defied solutions for decades. And I also know that there are no simple answers; nothing here is black and white, everything here is a shade of grey.

The people we've met in Israel and the West Bank have to a person been friendly, gracious and appreciative of our interest in their lives and issues. At the same time that we've heard tales of anger, violence and fear, we've also heard stories of friendship, collaboration and kindness. Perhaps it is most telling that for every issue that divides Arabs and Jews, we find Arabs and Jews working together to find solutions.

I finish this journey with over 70 pages of hastily scribbled notes from at least 14 presentations and visits. During the next week of traveling through Israel on our own, I plan to comb through these notes to solidify thoughts and ideas, and post more to this blog. But I also plan to enjoy being here, visiting friends and relatives, taking in the visual beauty of the land, and enjoying the wonders of this troubled place.

Friday, October 27, 2006


What does Judaism say about war (or, is there such a thing as kosher casualties)? This was the topic of the talk given to our group by Matthew Wagner, the religion reporter for the Jerusalem Post. Matthew discussed with our group the morality and ethics of war from the perspective of interpretation of Jewish law (Halacha). He began with the following anecdote:

A man sitting on a hill in southern Lebanon observes, through binoculars, a peaceful scene at a farmhouse below, with a group of children playing near the house. A truck drives in and parks, and the driver goes inside the house. Soon after, a rocket is launched from the area of the farmhouse. The man on the hill is a miliary observer in the Israeli Defense Force whose job is to direct IDF fire to missle launch sites. But the man hesitates - if he calls for an artillary strike, the children will certainly be killed. After a few moments of deliberation, he decides not to call for the artillery strike in order not to harm the children.

This story was told to Matthew by an IDF soldier he was interviewing during the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah; the man telling the story was the observer on the hill. The story illustrates an ethical dilemma of war - should military personnel do everything they can to not harm non-combatants? What if such action puts one's own life at risk? This was a heated topic of discussion during the recent war, including opinions expressed by various rabbis in Israel. Some rabbis justified killing based on biblical content such as "he who stands to kill, kill him first" and "there is no guilt if you are following God's will." Civilian casualties are, after all, secondary to winning the war.

The issue of ethics in war, and the "purity of arms," was heightened during the recent war in Lebanon. The IDF knew that Hezbollah fighters and missles were hidden throughout civilian areas, essentially using the civilian population as "human shields." Was killing civilians necessary and acceptable (morally and ethically) in order to protect Israeli civilians who were the targets of Hezbollah missles?

Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish scholastic philosopher and rabbi, one of the major theologians of Judaism, wrote rules for war, including these: when laying siege, only array your forces on three sides of the target city; those who want can escape, those who want can make peace, and those who want to fight will be defeated. The IDF used a tactic similar to the rules of Maimonides in southern Lebanon by warning the civilian populations in specific areas, using radio, leaflets dropped from aircraft, and even phone calls, to evacuate because the areas would be bombed. Three major questions need to be asked prior to an action in which non-combatants could be harmed: 1) is the purpose of the action to protect Israeli civilians, 2) is there intelligence and proof that the action will save lives in Israel, and 3) is there an alternative that will cost fewer civilian lives?

War is not something to be taken lightly, and the killing of civilians raises moral and ethical questions that can be looked at from many angles. Jewish morality and ethics require the asking of these questions.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


This Journey is a lot more intellectual work than I think any of us imagined. Each day is packed with visits, lectures and discussions that tend to overload one's brain. But, that's why we're here.

In this short post I want to try to summarize some points about the issue of civil equality in Israel. As I wrote in the previous post, we visited and met with people at organizations that are working for civil equality - read that as civil rights for Arab Israelis.

We've learned some basic facts:
1. About 1.3 million Palestinians are Israeli citizens.
2. Palestinian Israelis live inside the borders of Israel; these are not the Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank.
3. Palestinian Israelis face discrimination in both personal and institutional ways.
4. There appears to be general agreement within the Jewish community of Israel that discrimination exists and it is an issue that will need to be dealt with.

We met with people from three different groups working on issues of civil equality. Givat Chavivah is a center that conducts educational programs, including face-to-face experiences for Jewish and Arab teens. Neve Shalom~Wahat Al Salam is a community of Arabs and Jews that live and work together, including a shared school where children are taught in both Hebrew and Arabic. Sikkuy, Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel, is an advocacy group that works at the government and business levels on institutional issues of discrimination.

As Americans, these dicsussions were meaningful at several levels. Our understanding of Israel in regards to the issues of Arab citizens has been heightened. But we have also thought and talked about issues in the United States regarding discrimination against our fellow citizens.

From the information we've received on this issue, it appears that a variety of organizations are working to improve the situation for Palestinian Israelis in education, employment, and greater inclusion in society. I see this as more than a civil equality issue. I see direct connections to national security, international relations, and Israel's strength as a nation.

Like everything in the Middle East, the issue of Palestinian Israelis' status in Israel is complex and not easily resolved. One need only look at the United States, where civil rights issues took center stage several decades ago, and yet today there is much progress to be made in the area of civil rights for ethnic groups within our society.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


(Note: this post is one of a series about our experiences on "A Journey of Peace to Israel and Palestine" - a group of people from Portland, Oregon USA. The 22 people on the trip are Jews and Christians, the trip leaders are Rabbi Joshua Stampfer and Rev. Dr. Rodney Page who first organized and led a similar trip 20 years ago. I will post as often as possible summaries of our travels and experiences (not the tourist activities), things learned and questions raised.

The first two days of the trip (October 22 and 23) focused on Jewish and Arab Israeli relations and history, and efforts to build bridges between the two groups within Israel. On October 22 we spent the day at, and touring with the staff of, Givat Haviva Institute, which "educates and acts to promote the values of equality and human dignity." Givat Haviva was founded in 1949 as a national education center of the Kibbutz Artzi Movement, a federation of 83 kibbutzim throughout Israel. On October 23 we visited Neve Shalom~Wahat al-Salam (NSWAS), a village of Jews and Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship founded in the early 1970's. NSWAS residents/members are "demonstrating the possibility of coexistence between Jews and Palestinians by developing a community based on mutual acceptance, respect and cooperation."

It was helpful for us to understand that about 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs (between 1.2 and 1.3 million people), and that among those, about 84% are Muslim, 10% Christian and 6% Druse. These people live primarily in Arab villages in Israel, with most of the villages in the northern area. About 150,000 Arabs remained in Israel following the war of independence in 1948 that resulted in the State of Israel. These people chose to remain in Israel, as citizens, rather than give up their homes and live as refugees. Two Palestinian speakers each told how their parents or grandparents were criticized and considered traitors by those Palestinians who left Israel because they chose to remain and become citizens of Israel.

The "facts" of history depend on who writes the history, but it is clear that conflicts between Arab Palestinaians and Jews grew in the early decades of the 20th century as increasing numbers of Jews immigrated to Palestine, many as part of the Zionist movement. Serious violence erupted between Arabs and Jews during the period 1936 - 1939 while Palestine was under British rule. During the mid- to late 1940's, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel each declared independence from the British; the Israeli declaration of independence initiated a war between Israel and the neighboring Arab states. The armistice agreement of 1949 between Israel and it's neighbors established the Green Line demarcating the boundaries between Israel and adjacent nations, including Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Following the 6-Day War in 1967, Israel occupied the areas of the West Bank and Gaza.

Against this backdrop of a very complex history, we heard from speakers at Givat Haviva and NSWAS about the status of Arab Israeli's and the programs and efforts of these institutions and communities to bring people together. The focus of these efforts is education, face-to-face experiences, community building and cooperation. Givat Haviva programs include the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, within which are the Departments of Educaton, Community Involvement, Women and Gender Studies, Regional Cooperation, Teacher training, Institute for Arabic Studies, and Institute for Peace Research. Givat Haviva also has a Peace Library, Holocaust Study Center, Arts Center and International Department. A few of the many things we learned about the programs of Givat Haviva: 3,000 to 5,000 Jewish and Arab high school students participate in a "Face to Face" program every year; they operate the best school for teaching Arab spoken language ("language is a barrier or a gate"), they have published the story of the Holocaust in Arabic, and house the largest library in the world of Palestinian Israeli information.

The community of Neveh Shalom~Wahat al-Salam began with one family in 1979, had 8 families in 1984, and today consists of 50 families - half Jewish and half Arab. The village is governed democratically by community members, and has a small group of elected members who run the administrative aspects of the community. The community school is the only one in Israel where children are taught equally in Hebrew and Arabic, and learn about and participate in both cultures, while following the standard school curriculum of Israel. NSWAS is unlike towns in Israel where both Jews and Arabs live - NSWAS is a community where Jews and Arabs purposefully build community together in order to break down the barriers between people.

In a future post I will discuss some of the issues presented to us concerning Palestinian Israelis.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Sherry and I begin our travels with a small group from Portland on the "Journey of Peace" to Israel and Palestine. The trip itinerary is shown below. Our goal is to post as often as possible with summaries and thoughts from our visits, meetings and discussions. The posts will be titled: "Jouney of Peace" and dated.


Oct 21, Saturday: arrive in Tel Aviv, travel to Givat Chaviva
Givat Chavivah is an institute that provides education to promote human dignity and equality
between Jews and Arabs living in Israel. We will tour the region of Wadi Ara and the Arab village of Barta’a.

Oct 22, Sunday: Givat Chaviva

Oct 23, Monday:
• visit Neve Shalom, the only joint Jewish-Arab community in Israel;
• visit Mini Israel;

Oct 24, Tuesday:
• meeting with representative of Sikkuy, Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel;
• visit Mt. Zion (David’s Tomb, Last Supper Room)
• go to old city
• Western Wall
. Temple Steps
. Davidson Center

Oct 25, Wednesday: organized by Yesha, settler's organization in West Bank
• separation wall in Mt. Gilo
• Gush Etzion settlements
• Yeshiva Har Etzion
• Kfar Etzion
• discussion in Judaica Center
Jerusalem: lecture by Dr. Ephraim Inbar

Oct 26, Thursday:
• Bethleham: Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem Bible College
• Jerusalem:Jerusalem Post meeting with Mati Wagner, correspondent
• meeting with Elias Zananiri, Palestinian journalist

Oct 27, Friday:
• Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial
• Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery
• Shrine of the Book
• Mea Shearim

Oct 28, Saturday:
• Jerusalem: Chaiphas House; Mount of olives; Church of the Ascension; Christian Quarter of the old city:
Pool of Bethesda, St. Anna Church, Lithostrothos at the Ecce Hommo Arch, Holy Sepulchre Church
• Garden Tomb

Oct 29, Sunday:
• joined by representatives of Kol Hashalom radio station
• Hand in Hand School
• meet with Peace Now members at hotel

Oct 30, Monday: organized by Rabbis for Human Rights
• meet with Seri Nuseiba, moderate Palestinian
• Wall Excavations

Oct 31, Tuesday:
• Tantur Ecumenical Institute: visit and meetings with Israelis, Palestinian Muslim, Palestinian Christian

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


About 4+ years ago, when we moved into our new home, we bought all new coffee gear: electric drip coffee maker, espresso machine, burr-type coffee bean grinder, and some accessories, all Starbucks brand from the corner store. (This became a shrine to Starbucks on a small counter in our kitchen.)

Every morning when I grind coffee beans for that fresh cuppa, I marvel and curse at the ground beans as they come leaping out of the little plastic drawer in the grinder when I pull it open. These fresh grounds are charged with static electricity and do their very best to get away from each other - and all over everything within a 6 to 8 inch radius. They stick to the metal measuring spoon, they stick to the grinder, they stick to the nearby espresso machine. Arghhhh!

Recently, a Peet's Coffee store opened across the street from our local Starbucks. We've been using Peet's roasted beans for a couple of weeks and, mystery of mysteries, the ground Peet's beans don't leap out of the grinder - they just sit there in an un-charged state waiting to be put into one of the machines that will douse them with boiling water.

This is truly one of the Great Mysteries of Life and, quite honestly, has me completely stumped. Any and all theories to explain the coffee grounds mystery will be gladly accepted.

And now, the pot is ready and I need that cuppa....

Monday, October 02, 2006


This is not my America!

My America stands for freedom, democracy, human rights, and justice.

My America doesn’t hold people prisoner for years without due process. My America doesn’t run secret prisons all over the world. My America doesn’t torture people, and outsource torture of prisoners. My America doesn’t have a President who pushes for laws that allow torture, abuse, secrecy, and violation of international conventions.

My America doesn’t stifle free speech, labeling those who speak out, those who question, those who criticize as “traitors” or “offering comfort to the enemy.” My America doesn’t ignore the law and spy on its own citizens without due process. My America doesn’t have an administration that considers itself above the law. My America doesn’t have a President who signs a large number of bills into law with a “yes, but” statement that allows him to ignore the law.

My America doesn’t build huge fences to keep people out, symbolically placing a blindfold on the Statue of Liberty. My America doesn’t hate diversity of color, dress and language. My America doesn’t hate people of the same sex who love each other.

My America doesn’t give big tax breaks to the wealthy while cutting funding for education, health care, social services and public infrastructure. My America doesn’t ignore public safety, let poor people fend for themselves and die in a natural disaster, and then break promises to assist with recovery.

My America doesn’t ignore and subvert science, particularly when the environment of the planet is at risk. My America is a leader in science and technology, not an ostrich with its head in the sand. My America doesn’t have a President who fiddles while the Earth burns.

And my America doesn’t invade and occupy other nations, using false pretenses, lies and selected information to pose an enemy. My America doesn’t declare “mission accomplished” while the killing continues unabated under a failed strategy (or no strategy at all). My America doesn’t claim success in a “war on terror” at the same time it has created conditions for even greater terror.

What is my America? I dream of an America where freedom, democracy, human rights and justice are the foundations upon which we help build a better world. Poverty, disease, hate and ignorance are swept away by my America. The people of my America have honest dialogue about who we are in the world, and where we are heading. We use our freedoms, our creativity, our wealth and our amazing spirit of “can do” to work cooperatively with all people of the world, building towards the true fulfillment of human potential.

Unfortunately, the present America is not my America, or yours. And we all should say “Enough!”