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.


Sunday, July 13, 2014


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,  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


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. 

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

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


I was born in 1944. Yeah, old. The lines from a Dylan song are a constant ear-worm:

Come gather round people where ever you roam,
and admit that the waters around you have grown.
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone,
If your time to you is worth savin',
Than you better start swimming' or you'll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a-changin'!

Every generation sees great changes during their lifetimes. My generation is no different, and yet I somehow feel that the pace of change has been so much greater than before. 

Computer-information technology, for example, has progressed light years from my first computer, a Times-Sinclair box hooked to a cassette tape recorder and a black & white TV - in the late 1970's. Now we have the internet, on which people in every corner of the world can read this blog, and every word I enter on this blog will be harvested, aggregated and my profile will be sold to marketeers. 

Climate change. It is no longer a matter of when but a matter of how quickly and how severe. We humans have finally pushed the climate of our planet past a tipping point, and there is no going back. 

I also think that the chasm between the older and younger generations is wider than ever before. The Millennials are not a generation I completely understand. Unlike previous younger generations, they are not just about different clothing and hair length and rebelliousness. They understand things intuitively that we older folk have to struggle to understand just a little bit. It's not just that they can pick up and instantly use a remote control or smartphone, it's that the technology is part of who they are. Another way to say it is that what my generation tends to call gadgets are integral to young people's lives and personnas. 

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,
And don't criticize what you can't understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,
Your old road is rapidly agin',
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand,
For the times they are a-changin'.

When I look at the news every day, I see a struggle between these old and new generations that continues building towards a series of tipping points. The Congress of the United States is primarily old, white men and some newly elected younger but old-minded white men who are waging what to them must seem like a holy battle to save the old order of their generation. The battles are being fought on the holy battlegrounds of marriage, immigration, petroleum hydrocarbon energy, corporate profits, and free-market greed. The old guard will lose these battles, that much is clear. What the new order will be is anyone's guess. President Obama, in my view, stands in the middle between these generations. He is old enough to understand the old guard and young enough to understand that things are very different now. 

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call,
Don't stand in the doorway don't block up the hall.
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled,
There's a battle outside and it's raging',
It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'! 

The world is aflame with terrorism, something we older generation folks never saw much of in our lifetimes. These terrorists, mostly Islamic extremists, are a manifestation of the struggle between the old and the new. The jihadists want to keep, or go back to an extremely fundamental view of Islam in which their religion is the controlling force over every life. Those who don't agree are to be killed. End of conversation! What these old-minded extremists understand is that the world has changed, and they don't like it. 

The never-ending war between Israel and Hamas is another example of the struggle between the old and new. Hamas has a very clear goal: get rid of Israel (and all the Jews, too) and implement a fundamentalist Islamic state. Israel, faced with never-ending terror and missile attacks, maintains a strong defense-offense to periodically knock Hamas back to a tolerable nuisance. Many people on all sides (Israel, Gaza, West Bank) would prefer peace; however, the old men in charge of all sides can't get past the old hatreds, the old resentments, the old injuries to body and psyche and find a way to make peace. Imagine what it would be like if the young generations of Israelis and Palestinians lived side-by-side and were free of the conflict that keeps them from realizing their true potential. 

The young people who took to the streets during the Arab Spring revolts clearly know that they are trapped in the old world while the new world goes on without them. In most cases, the outcomes of these revolutions have been a retrenchment of the old order, with associated imprisonment, torture and death for the rebellious young generation. But the old order can't stay in power forever; they will die and hopefully be replaced by a new order sown by the seeds of revolt in the 2010's. 

We Americans are at a turning point, both internally and externally. We seem to have lost our way, our identity, our ability to be One Nation, united. We have become mean - to the old, the poor, the immigrant, women, and the "other." We are divided by a wide chasm of intolerance based on politicsgender, sexual orientation, race and religion. 

America's standing in the world has also taken a downturn. We remain the lone - and lonely - superpower, but that might not last. We are still looked up to, but our recent political history, at home and abroad, has dimmed the shiny patina of America, Land of the Free. The world is changing rapidly, but we seem not able to stay in step with those changes. 

The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast,
The slow one now will later be fast.
As the present now will later be past,
The order is rapidly fadin',
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'. 

To the generations that follow mine I can only say "good luck, we did our best and we know that we failed you in many ways." This is not glibness, it is actually said with an aching sadness. If only we had heeded the Prophet Dylan's words when he wrote them a half-century ago. 

The Times They Are A-Changin' words and music by Bob Dylan

Monday, July 07, 2014


Dear United States government:

The recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in the case brought by Hobby Lobby has important implications for all privately held corporations. In their decision, the SCOTUS ruled that a privately held corporation could decline to provide certain benefits to it's employees if said benefits violate the religious beliefs of the corporation owners.

I am the sole Director and owner of a privately held corporation. I have long believed that certain actions by the government of the United States violate my religious beliefs. I am an atheist. Religion has several definitions, including : A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance. I ascribe supreme importance to my pursuit and interest in atheism, and therefore atheism can be described as my religion. 

The government of the United States violates my religion in many ways. The money printed by the government includes the words "In God We Trust." The pledge of allegiance to the United States flag includes the words "One Nation, Under God." Elected officials, from the President down, end their speeches with the words "God Bless the United States of America." I find all of this insulting and a violation of my religious beliefs. 

Based on the recent Hobby Lobby ruling and the examples above, my corporation requests an exemption, on religious grounds, from having to pay taxes for it's employee (me). These taxes support a government that violates my religious, i.e. atheist beliefs, and therefore my corporation should not have to pay them. 

I want to thank the Supreme Court Justices, fine Republican-appointed men all, for establishing this important principle asserting the rights of corporations and the religious people who own them. You have greatly increased our privately-held profits.

American corporations thank you, Supreme Court Republicans of the Unites States (SCROTUS)!