Israeli Erasure of Palestine’s Ottoman Past

November 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Israelis are Coming! The Israelis are Coming!”

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

San Francisco–July 28th–Before your narrator begins his tale, he would like to unequivocally state that he supports the now overwhelmingly Islamic Palestinian (sub-) nationality within their seized State.  Your reporter like the grand majority of the people there and most of us support a two-State solution, but time is ticking, and the ball is in Tel Aviv’ court.  The issue has gained an increasing pungency with the bid of the Palestinians for recognition of their statehood status at the United Nation (U.N.’s) headquarters in New York City this coming September.

J Street, who invited your scribe to this event, is pro-Israel with a progressive vision, but at the same time is strongly in favor of a two-State solution.  (Of course, our reasoning is different their “whys” rom ours, but they are not so far away from our aspirations that we could not negotiate with them towards a middle ground.)   J Street was the sponsor of this evening as part of their national (U.S.)tours targeted at their Jewish-American constituency of (retired) political officials, diplomats, and (that even included four) military generals, who disapprove of their current government’s out-of-hand rejection of the (U.S.) Obama’s Administration proposals to base future negotiations  between the two contentious  sides over the pre-1967 borders with agreed swaps.   In the sponsor’s words:  “…increased tensions in the region [which is] undergoing rapid transformation [i.e., the ‘Arab Spring’]…is a critical time” for Israel, too.

I am urging my colleague in the Southland (that’s what we call Southern California from the North to balance my reporting with hers dedicated to the Palestinian perspective) whose cause she has so fervently espoused! 

The (former) Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Ilan Baruch, resigned from his nation’s Foreign Service early from his post as the Ambassador there.  (Formerly, he was Tel Aviv’ representative in Manila.) His action was prompted because of his inability to argue his nation’s policies to an international audience with whom his homeland was becoming ever more isolated and looked down upon as a pariah entity.

Ambassador Baruch served in the Israeli Foreign Ministry for more than thirty years.  Besides his exalted duties as Israel’s (former) Ambassador to the Philippines and South Africa, he worked in their embassies in London, Copenhagen and Singapore.   He, also, led the Bureau for Middle Eastern Economic Affairs and was the Deputy Head of the Peace Process within the Middle East Department and founded and served as first Director of the Palestinian Autonomy Division within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which position he became acquainted and worked with the (now) President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.  They bounded as life-long friends.  They make regular personal contact over the phone, and Ilan recently visited him at his home (fifteen minutes away!).  Such integral relationships are central to resolution of the enmeshed friction between these two neighbors.

Baruck is one of most conspicuous of the high-ranking former members within previous Israeli Administrations who have come forward in opposition to the Netanyahu regime’s policies – especially in regards to the peace process.

His Excellency’s presentation, which was largely fielding questions, took part at a Synagogue within this Pacific-rim City.

J Streets’ Northwest’s Regional Director, Gordon Gladstone, began by stating that 57% of American Jews support the two-State resolution.  Strategic opinion holds to Obama’s proposals to negotiate along the lines of the pre-1967 boundaries with agreed land swaps are defensible (counter to their Prime Minister [PM’s] protests). 

Baruch noted that to be an Ambassador did not allow you to express your own opinion within hearing:  It is “…a total project” in and of itself.  His rather dramatic public resignation was made as a matter of principle.  Therefore, he emphasized that his words at the end of last month in no way represented the positions of his PM’s government.  His views are from the opposing side of the Israeli Establishment and their Society, but they represent a good deal of Civil Society’s unvoiced body political there opining.  

The contemporary Hebrew State is more complex than is apparent to its observers in the West. 

Baruch unequivocally uttered that “I am not with government [now], but have created governmental policy in the past.”  Unfortunately, the last several Israeli regimes “have been right-wing …[reflections] of their societies [electorates].”  The present, alas, does represent the will of the people, but often they merely have become e a voice for the Settlers at that. 

To a Jewish-American audience, he reiterates that so much of West Jerusalem’s security resides within their relationship with the United States.  Your relator’s audience would be pleased to hear that he believes much of this relationship is eroding away (because of his admin’s mismanagement).

The principle of “Land for Peace” means [succinctly]the end of…the Occupation…with Occupation we cannot achieve peace,” but Netanyahu disagrees.  Thus, there is no trust by the other side (us) to negotiate.  

The Netanyahu reign demands Israel remain as a Jewish State.  Also, the Palestinians look upon the West Bank and Gaza together as one (potential) State wherein Tel Aviv perceives them as separate.  This could become an issue with the current or similar-minded future Hebrew governments.     

In questioning, he fell into the standard Israeli (and American) position that the Gazans were at fault for the token scud attacks upon Israeli soil from the micro-“State’s” territory that led to Israel’s disproportionate reaction of Operation Cast Iron (December 2008-Januay 2009) when in fact it was instituted by non-State actors that Gaza City could not or would not control.  This refusal to acknowledge a popular uprising there and blame the State(s) instead (that they had set up as supposed puppets nonetheless) and punish their innocent citizens for the actions of others that their elected governments were not able to contain, must cease if there is ever to be peace.   He, then, asserted that the principle of “Land for Peace” cannot work without commitment, (but, conversely, commitment has been so poorly lacking by those series of Tel Aviv’ right-wing governments that he mentioned previously above).

It is sheer ideology that is driving Netanyahu.  The Prime Minister knows what the right thing to do is, but he does not possess the courage to do it!

The Ambassador believes that (Palestine)Statehood will be vetoed (by the American States, but that is only if it goes directly to the Security Council before the General Assembly [GA].  There are complicated legal questions if the Palestinian bid is accepted by the one and not the other.)  There is a long-standing legal differentiation between a “disputed” and an “occupied” territory that is being argued domestically within Israel herself at the moment.

Baruch pointed out that Kadima, a Centrist/Liberal (Party) within their Knesset (Parliament), towards whom he appears to lean, and who holds the largest block of seats there.  Yet they were forced from the present coalition – still, they have the greatest chance of forming a future Israeli government, deems that it is necessary to allow a neighboring State of Palestine to be formed as soon as possible.

In summation, Palestinians – largely Islamic with a vibrant Christian minority therein – have common interest with liberal political elements within Israel herself as well with a majority in the American Jewish community and others over the West. 

The American government should be cultivating these elements within the  Israeli military and their Civil Society to pressure their Middle Eastern “ally” to accept President Barrack Hussein Obama’s Administration’s proposals for bi-lateral dialog towards peace.  Influential former members of past Tel Aviv governments support our hopes and aspirations for peace in our mutual Abrahamic homeland. 

Not all Israelis or Jews are our enemies.  We should, subsequently, embrace those whom we can as friends and allies, and ask how we can work together for our common good!

13-32

The General and the Lawyer

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Let us continue our discussion with The IDF (Israeli Defense Force’s) Retired General and their Ministry Of Justice Official

Last week (May 30th-June June 5th), the Yemeni unrest has broken out into a full-fledged civil war with tribal groups on one side opposing the government in Sana’s Army seriously wounding the nation’s President.  Today (124 Yemeni Army personal were reported as casualties of the battle while the NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) perceives the situation with alarm because of the large concentration of Al-Qaeda on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.  While in Libya the consternation still converges, with NATO’s overwhelming air forces backing the rebels in Benghazi a resolution to the clash looks far away.  The Arab “Spring” has degenerated into an ugly Middle Eastern / North African clash of wills.

Let us continue with the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) Retired General Sharoni and Ms. Taras Hassan of her nation’s Ministry of Justice Department reaction to (U.S.) President Obama’s speech of a fortnight ago on establishing a basis for negotiations between Israel and Palestine based on (U.S.) President Barrack Obama’s proposals for peace dialogues.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, who is domiciled here in Washington, is the Executive Director of J-Street joined the conversation by the miracles of the Internet.  Both the two influential progressive Israelis and a liberal Jewish-American thinker shared an alternative vision for Tel Aviv’ State which includes an independent Palestinian State on their borders: A vision that would guarantee their country as a majority Jewish entity, but with better integration into the Middle Eastern environment.  Such individuals are the only hope for that nation’s survival since their citizen’s are threatened by their government’s policy of “Eternal War” which cannot be kept up indefinitely without eventual disaster. A progressively political Israeli government could be trusted to confer trustfully and honestly with the opposing side.    

Your writer is always interested in the comments of a military man like the general.  If you remember this author wrote several pieces on these pages regarding the retired American Marine Corps General Anthony Zini.  Because he was no longer on active duty, he was free to criticize (his) President Bush’s morality and his Administration conduct of the Iraq War.  Sharoni is in the exact same position in respect to his (Israeli) Prime Minister (P.M’s) policy towards the suppression of the Palestinian’s rightful desire for nationhood.  After all, unlike the Judaic ultra-Orthodox, who are not required to serve because of their long curled hair; yet, they are among the most conservative within the Hebrew body politic. (Strange, because the Sikhs, who have a reputation for being among the best soldiers in the world — are required by their religion never to cut any of their body hair; nevertheless, they have consistently served honorably, and are considered among the best soldiers in the world.  Sometimes being “shoot at” will encourage one to settle social conflicts short of war if possible.)  General Sharoni had an honorable career as a man of arms often risking his own life throughout his career.

The two people, who were in Jerusalem — contrary to their Prime Minister, were advocates, along with (U.S.) President Barrack Obama, that the basis of negotiation should begin at the acceptance of the pre-1967 borders with certain mutually concurred land exchanges resolved between the two parties through bargaining amongst themselves.  This is necessary because of the pattern of the Settlements.

(The United States or any other third foreign delegation should not impose its own will upon the principal actors, but should be there to aid the two groups to find a middle ground between them.)

The upcoming U.N. (United Nations’) vote to decide upon Palestine independence is on the Israeli liberals “radar.”  Several progressive Israeli organizations support and have already made a public endorsements in favor of this vote in favor of the Palestinians. In fact, on the fourth, a major demonstration of 5,000 residents was held in Tel Aviv in favor of Obama’s peace proposals.

The retired Major-General Sharoni is of the opinion that the only way to keep the “democratic” Motherland for the Jews is the two-State solution.  (Your author, of course, is of a slightly different opinion.  I envision a multi-sectarian State upon the territory of the present-day Israel.  The ultra-conservative Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman proposal to genetically cleanse the Hebrew State – mainly of the Palestinian Arabs — is not a positive sign for the peace process to proceed nor is the P.M.’s rejection of the (U.S.’) proposition.  Your commentator would not object to non-coercive policies to keep Israel a Jewish Majority State, though.)  The General, differing, presumes it is of the utmost urgency that Israel must remain an ethnic nation-state for Jewry.  Therefore, to assure its Jadishness, he reasons this terrain on the Mediterranean should continue as a nation-state for the Jews, and the best way to ensure this is to create a homeland for the Palestinians on their borders.  Further, that this will be advantageous to the Arabs there, too.  (What he does not factor is that Palestine is a bi-sectarian body.  In pre-Partition Palestine, the Christians were the largest congregate.  Now, they represent a mere 7% of the population, and the Muslims overwhelmingly make up most of the remaining populace.  If, the right of return is recognized the percentage of Christians should go up, but Islam would still dominate the State.)

Ms. Abbas of the Justice department reasons that there is flexibility amongst the Israelis.  It must become a de-militarized – (especially its nuclear arsenal should be reduced to the threat that is present.)  On the other hand, she believes it will be hard for the Arab’s to be flexible, whatever.

We are coming to the end of the column inches dedicated to your contributor for this week, and the comments within this international phone conversation are very rich, indeed; therefore, your evaluator will continue with his evaluation of this encounter in future segments of this study.

Especially, while writing, this piece, a sizeable Palestinian demonstration was held at the Israeli–Syrian Hebrew border on the sixth a large group of Palestinian citizens marched to Syria’s border with Israel on the Golan Heights, but were driven back with deadly force leaving twenty-three dead Arabs dead.

13-24

Great American Patriots

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Glenn Greenwald, AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress, just as the U.S. President does each year.  Here is how the American Congress — especially the super-patriots of the American Right — reacted to their own President the last two times he addressed them (with frosty coolness and even passive-aggressive hostility):

And here is how the super-patriots of the American Right — largely joined by their Democratic colleagues — reacted to the speech given today by this foreign leader: with multiple standing ovations, including for ludicrous and absurd proclamations such as equating Hamas with Al Qaeda and claiming that Israel is “not a foreign occupier” in the West Bank:

Indeed, according to ABC News, Netanyahu received more standing ovations from the U.S. Congress (29) than the U.S. President did the last time he spoke (25); all of the ones Netanyahu received were from the super-patriots of the GOP caucus (and most from the Democratic caucus as well), whereas those right-wing patriots joined in only a small fraction of the ones received by their own country’s President.

What makes this more remarkable still is that this foreign leader whom they were cheering so boisterously and continuously just completed a public, ugly conflict with the American leader and has a long record of demonstrated indifference to American interests; yet the super-patriots of the American Right sided so brazenly and publicly with this foreign leader over their own country’s President.  Meanwhile, both political parties in Congress are in a frantic competition to see which one can lavish Netanyahu with more obsequious praise; this statement sent out in the name of Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey is typical of the entries.  For his part, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ran to AIPAC to undercut (and rebuke) his own President and the leader of his own party on Israel, something that — as Andrew Sullivan correctly observed –  would be inconceivable on any foreign policy issue other than Israel.

In sum, the same faction that spent the last decade demanding fealty to the Commander-in-Chief in a Time of War upon pain of being accused of a lack of patriotism (or worse) now openly sides with a foreign leader over their own President.  The U.S. Congress humiliates itself by expressing greater admiration for and loyalty to this foreign leader than their own country’s.  And because this is all about Israel, few will find this spectacle strange, or at least will be willing to say so.

13-23

M.K. Hanin Zoabi and The Israeli Knesset

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

San Francisco–April 19th–This past week the Libyan War raged without a conclusion in sight as the U.S. and allies try to find a third country that would give Colonel Khadafy if he would agreed to step down.  The European enforcement of a no-fly zone seems to be effective, but the government troops with their mercenaries still have the advantage on the land with their superior fire power and training.  At least, the French and the United Kingdom have taken the lead in the air, and the Obama Administration has shown some restraint.  Still, it is becoming more apparent that (Imperial) ground troops might be required to bolster the rebels, if they are to prevail, for they are out-gunned.  This would be a serious involvement in yet another Islamic country that should be avoided at any cost!

Your reporter has been avoiding Israel itself because of the drama around it.  Yet within it lies the fate of the Arab “Spring,” and its Palestinian citizens of all three Abrahamic religions might be able to exert the influence upon “their” government to react in a diplomatic manner rather than a hostile belligerent one.

Last Fall the Middle East Children’s Alliance brought Hanin Zoabi, a Palestinian (Arab) Israeli citizen, who represents the Balad  Party in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) to speak in the University town of Berkeley across the Bay for the purpose of demonstrating the feminine role in the Arab-Hebrew tussle for rights within the Levant.)

Although a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship and an elected official of that nation, the week before her arrival in America to speak, she had been wounded by a rubber bullet to her neck while demonstrating against the government for which she was a representative.

Zoabi grew up in a relocation camp in exile amongst 30,000 dislocated Palestinian people.  The young women there actually would play basketball, and even learned to dance!  They, further, began to wear Western-style shorts.  Yet they still faced the restrictions of their families, even though the “Disaster” (Nakba) in 1948 changed the lives of all women in the Holy Land greatly. 

Manny Mothers lost their children in the two infitadas (violent Palestinian grass- roots revolts against the Israeli Army in which the largely youthful rioters fought the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] with rocks against the latter’s live ammunition).  The women would lost hope in the midst of the political situation!

Her family lived in banishment from their land of their birth elsewhere in the Middle East, but her Father desired to die in his natal village on the Israeli side of the division of the Palestine Protectorate before the First Arab-Israeli War in the late 1940s.  He took his family with him to their native locale which had become to be ruled by Tel Aviv.

She worked with children for awhile (probably part of MECA’s interest in her words.)  M.K. Hanin Zoabi stated that, “I belong here,” a Palestinian on her ancestral home, but within the alien Zionist State.  “The Refugee Camp has become a bad memory!”  Further, “All Palestinians here [in the audience] should go back!” 

She advocated the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanction) Movement against Israel.  Under Zionist Law, any promoter of this position, who is an Israeli citizen, is liable for prosecution, and, if convicted of such sentiments, can be imprisoned.  Ms. Zoabi is a brave woman voicing her stance on the issue, and, further, for campaigning for action along these lines!

Hanin is in one of a handful of Palestinian representatives within a predominantly Jewish Parliament.  What she does within Israel itself is politically difficult, for she is attempting to dismantle the (Settler) Colonial State!

Zoabi presents herself as a normative Arab woman who comes from a political family in Nazareth.  As a source of personal empowerment, she traveled to Gaza itself to end, as she puts it, the silent siege.  “Gaza must not be a soundless victim, for Gaza [has become] the sign[ifier] of the [Arab] Palestinian struggle!”  The division between Gaza and the West Bank is an internal scuffle within the Palestinian “State“ itself.

The Palestinian political resistance within Israel itself is to insist upon a State for the primordial Arabs citizens there themselves!  Yet, the Israelis do no not treat all as equals!

The Center has two different polices within its territory:  One is to drive the Arabs out of Israel, denying the Palestinians their rights.  Settler Colonialism criminalizes the natives for insisting on their prerogative to confront the Occupation.       

After the Second Infitada, Israel’s policies began to change:  The Palestinian issue of the Right of Return arose.  Jewish law allowed for the immigration of any of their landzman to immigrate into Israel, but, if an Israeli Arab citizen chooses to marry a Palestinian, they must emigrate from their ancestral land.  This guarantees a Jewish majority there in perpetuity.   

Figures show the results of Zionist mini-Imperialism:  83% of pre-Partition Palestinian property within the Israel itself has been confiscated from the original inhabitants.  That has created an impoverishment of 50% for their Arabic citizens.

Hanin Zoabi declaimed that “Women must lead the Arab political opposition within Palestine.”  Although this makes sense to Western Feminism, the truth is all elements of society must be part of directing the course of confrontation against oppression.  Feminists are often class defined in relation to their education (which denotes wealth and/or class) plus connection (Ms. Zoabi herself is a niece to a former Mayor of her native city on the West Bank).  All must be willing to take on an organizational role for a revolt to be successful as has been seen in the surrounding Arab world — this includes the feminine but not exclusively.  It must come out of grass-roots movement that includes all classes and genders et al., as in Tunisia and Egypt recently, for a rebellion to succeed.

She continued that “We are battling for [our] national rights.  We must not deny our history.  We cannot be ordered to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish State!  We don’t need Jewish immigrants to teach us our history!

The Israelis are denying our history.  We are flailing for our democracy.  In the end, “There must be no division between Muslim and Jew.  Citizenship doesn’t begin at nativity!” 

This Member of her Parliament claimed that the Israeli State has twenty basic prejudicial laws that deny the Palestinians parity.  “In order to achieve equality we require an independent [national] State” for ourselves.

It is the Israeli political parties — not the State — who are inclined to criminalize the Palestinian society.  “To be a Jewish State is to be a racist State!”  (Your author world change the word “racist” to “sectarian” which is different, but just as evil.)      Despite Israel’s secular obsession, there is a new reality after the second Infitada.  “The Palestinian Israelis must become part of the solution!”  (Further, your reporter summarizes that Israel itself is central to the success or failure of the Arab Spring!)

13-17

Of God and Country

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Kassem Zaid has had a connection to the Zionist Hashomer Hatzair movement for decades, but has meanwhile become a devout Muslim. How does he reconcile such contrasting elements in his personality?

By Alit Karp, Ha’aretz

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Zaid: ‘There is no room for extremism.’

Photo by: Yaron Kaminsky

We met 35 years ago. At the time Kassem Zaid was a correspondent for Al Hamishmar, the newspaper affiliated with the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. He was also teaching Arabic at educational institutions affiliated with the movement on its kibbutzim (I attended one such school ) and he had close ties with Israeli leftist circles. He wore jeans and checkered shirts and spoke a poetic Hebrew. A short while before Al Hamishmar closed its doors permanently, in early 1995, Zaid lost his job. Subsequently he made the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and became a devout Muslim.

Before we met about a month ago, I was expecting to see my 74-year-old former teacher bearded and dressed in a galabiya. But he arrived for the interview dressed in a suit and tie, and was clean-shaven. “Islam is a moderate, forgiving religion and it has no ritual clothing,” he explained in Hebrew.

Umm al-Fahm, the city of some 45,000, one of the country’s largest Arab towns, southeast of Haifa, has no sidewalks. Pedestrians, most of whom are youngsters (who wear Western attire, although girls do cover their hair ), walk down the city’s alleys where dumpsters overflow with refuse. Here and there one can see a stream of sewage. Any efforts at gardening are the result of private initiatives by local residents, and can only be seen tucked away in people’s yards.

“Relatively speaking, our situation is not bad,” my host, Zaid, told me, “because [municipal] taxes are collected here. The situation in other communities is much more difficult.” He pointed out that there are many fine Arab physicians and talented high-tech personnel in Israel. “Actually, the lack of equality,” he said, “forces us to excel, but that is a real shame. Discrimination is bad for the country; the human landscape here will never be complete without the Arabs.”

Aren’t some Israeli Jews afraid the Arabs will outnumber them and will drive them out by democratic means?

Zaid: “The Jews have a lot of unjustified fears. As someone who believes in coexistence, I cannot understand this fear. For 63 years, and in five wars, Israeli Arabs displayed loyalty at the highest level. I would like to allay the Jews’ fears: The birth rate among the Arabs has plummeted and there is no apparent danger that the Jews will be outnumbered. That fear would be justified only if the Jews do not return the territories. Then there would be a binational state here and Kassem Zaid would be prime minister.”

What is worrisome is the possibility that Muslim fundamentalists, like Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, will come to power.

“That will never happen. Even in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood has declared that it will not field any candidate for the premiership or presidency. They are not interested in ruling the country. There is not the slightest chance that an Arab, whether he is Sheikh Ra’ad Salah or Kassem Zaid, will ever be prime minister. That is not at the top of the list of our priorities.”

So what is at the top of the list?

“We want equality. We want the Jews to look us straight in the eye, not look down on us. What is happening here now never happened even in South Africa. [Foreign Minister] Avigdor Lieberman has pushed for a ‘citizenship loyalty’ law, but how can any of us know what another person is thinking or feeling? Even before Lieberman, we were unhappy. We were accused of being responsible for all the ills of Israeli society. There are even some expressions, like ‘Arab work,’ that articulate this feeling of contempt.

“I want Israel to be a ‘state of all its citizens,’” declares Zaid. “Although I also do not like to open up old wounds, I will state here that my family’s lands are located in the place where Moshav Hayogev was established [northeast of Umm al-Fahm]. I am not arguing that the kibbutzim and moshavim founded on those lands should be torn down, but nonetheless, we should receive compensation.”
Don’t you feel you belong in the State of Israel? In the kibbutz dining hall years ago, you looked as if you did.

“I still belong, but the country does not give me that feeling. I belong, despite all those who want to deny me the right to have that feeling. My sense of belonging is a result of my ability to cope with our situation.”

On the night of May 14, 1948, when Israeli independence was declared, you were 11 years old. What do you remember from that period?

“Nothing much happened that night because Israel received the ‘Triangle’ area of Arab villages after the country’s establishment, in accordance with the Rhodes Agreement. Before that agreement, we were Jordanian subjects. The agreement led us to feel that King Abdullah [I of Jordan] had betrayed us. After we came under Israeli administration, the Jews announced, using loudspeakers, that all those who had weapons in their possession must hand them over to the mukhtar [village headman]; the Jews also asked us to ensure that law and order be maintained in our communities.

“People were afraid of change. Obviously, I would have preferred seeing a Palestinian state established; however, people made peace with the new situation and, besides, there are a lot of advantages to living in Israel. On the personal level, Arab individuals can lead their lives in dignity, there is a senior citizens allowance, there is a guaranteed income allowance and no one suffers from abject hunger. My personal dignity is not trampled upon. But man does not live by bread alone. I am concerned about the relationship between Jews and Arabs in this country. Prior to the 1990s, that relationship was better than it is today. It is steadily deteriorating now.”

Who is responsible for this?

“In this struggle, the Jews fired both the first shot and the last one. Although there are some Arabs who undermine Arab-Jewish coexistence in this country, the Jews are the majority and they are the ones who run the government.”

To what extent will recent events in the Middle East have an influence on Israeli Arabs?

“They will have no influence whatsoever. I want to state here categorically that these events will not produce extremism among Israeli Arabs. All of you can relax: These events stem not from pan-Arabism or Islamization, but rather from the fact that the public in those states is fed up with their leaders’ corruption. Muslim circles in the Middle East have no ambitions with regard to seizing control. They want to field candidates in general elections [for parliament], but not for positions of leadership. Even if they had such ambitions, it should be recalled here that those who generated the revolution in Egypt are secular Muslims who use Facebook and Google. They will not allow any party with a religious character to take control of the country in which they live. It is important that leaders in the Middle East remember that people are interested first of all in having their dignity respected and that only afterward are they interested in bread.”

For years, you embraced the State of Israel and maintained close ties with Hashomer Hatzair’s kibbutzim. You were a communist and now you have become someone else, someone who prays five times a day. What happened?

“I was not a communist. I did not turn into someone else and I am still close to Hashomer Hatzair’s kibbutzim.”

The alarm clock rang, reminding Zaid that it was time for prayer, but he rejected our suggestion that we join him in the mosque. “Previously, I observed three of Islam’s commandments,” he explains, referring to accepting the faith of Islam, fasting during Ramadan and giving alms to the needy. “Then I added the commandments of prayer and the hajj.”

How do you resolve the paradox between religion and the aspiration for national equality?

“Islam is a religion that preaches equality between men and women, and God sent the Prophet Muhammad (s) to all humanity. If there is a reason why Islam sees itself as a religion that is preferable to other faiths, it is because Muhammad (s) was the last of the prophets. God sent him in order to complete what is missing in the other religions, not to invalidate them.”

And what about jihad?

“Jihad is not one of Islam’s basic principles. Jihad is the struggle that each person wages against himself or herself, in the metaphoric sense; it is not necessarily an actual war against some external enemy. The great jihad that Muhammad (s) refers to is an ongoing, daily war, not a war against infidels per se. However, even if we agree that jihad is holy war, all the peace agreements that Arab states have signed with Israel are being honored, and if the Palestinians receive their rights, there will no war in this land. The future depends on the intellectuals, not the religious leaders.”

There was a case here of an intellectual who headed an Israeli political party and who, when accused of collaboration with Hezbollah, fled the country in order not to stand trial.

“Azmi Bishara [of the Balad, or National Democratic Alliance, party] is a very intelligent person, but I do not agree with him and his approach. There is no room for extremism and if he did help Hezbollah, I reject him totally. I also call upon [Hezbollah chief] Hassan Nasrallah, who is trying to recruit collaborators among Israeli Arabs, to leave us alone. We have more important tasks to pursue, concerning our citizenship in the State of Israel. Despite the discrimination, I am against the idea of anyone committing treason against this country. We feel that this is a state of all its citizens and that we are among those citizens.”

The term “a state of all its citizens” arouses considerable anxiety in the hearts of many Israeli Jews.

“I am not saying this to irritate the Jews, but this is a fact: Two nations live in this land and I want to be a citizen here with equal rights.”

Did this feeling lead you to seek refuge in Islam?

“I do not consider Islam a refuge. After all, I am a member of one of the oldest Muslim families in the world. My family belongs to the Prophet Muhammad (s)’s dynasty.”

But what happened when you suddenly became a devout Muslim?

“There is no such thing as an atheist Muslim. Anyone who refuses to recognize the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad (s) is simply not a Muslim, but a person who does not observe one of Islam’s commandments is not necessarily severing ties with Islam.”

When did you start praying daily?

“It did not happen on any specific date. I had planned this for a long time. Perhaps I did not have the time to do it, or perhaps I was just lazy, but 20 years ago, I began to pray five times a day. If I have the time, I go to a mosque; if I do not, I pray at home. The prayer lasts less than five minutes and a Muslim can pray anywhere.”

In 2004, Zaid performed the Muslim commandment of the hajj, along with his wife Salwa. As he circled the Kaaba – the most sacred site in Islam, in Mecca – he was deeply moved.
“When I saw millions of people all wearing the same attire, beggars alongside princes and tycoons, all wearing the same robe and praying to the same God, I had a feeling that was simply indescribable. There, and only there,” he said, “I felt that everyone was truly equal.”

Born again

Sociologist Prof. Aziz Haidar is a senior researcher at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, says Kassem Zaid is not a unique case, in terms of his acquired religious identity.

“The phenomenon of the newly observant in the Israeli Arab community is a trend that began back in the 1970s, in the wake of the [Arab] defeat in the 1967 war, and due to disillusionment with pan-Arabism. The trend became more prominent in the 1980s and 1990s. One of the factors that contributed to it was the possibility that was provided in the early 1980s for making the hajj to Mecca. Two other factors were the collapse of communism and disenchantment with the Palestinian national movement.

“A prominent aspect of the phenomenon in the ’90s,” Haidar continues, “was the fact that it was not connected to religious extremism. Quite the contrary. And the vast majority of newly observant Muslims today are people with moderate views. In the ’70s, on the other hand, the first wave of newly observant Muslims was characterized by such extremism. Today these pious Muslims accept the ‘other’ and do not necessarily use external symbols such as attire in order to draw attention to their religiosity. It is hard to pick them out in a crowd − and I am referring here to those who have performed the commandment of making the pilgrimage to Mecca: They enjoy the good life, take vacations and engage in sports.

“Most young Muslim women who cover their heads dress like their secular counterparts and sometimes even provocatively. Even women who dress according to the Muslim religious code generally choose colorful attire, rather than the drab shades that one sees in other countries. Some of these young women do not even cover their heads. A relatively new trend is the phenomenon of women praying in the mosques. Prior to the ’90s, Muslim women in Israel did not pray in mosques, but today they do so during the month of Ramadan and on Fridays. There are even those who pray daily. This is modern, or postmodern, Islam, which is quite unlike what was observed in the past.

“One of the results of the national and democratic awakening in Arab states today may be the weakening of the Islamic movements, and even perhaps … newly observant Muslims…   Ha`aretz

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Life in Gaza… and the Peace Process

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

New York City–August 12th–It is hard for the Muslim to realize that Jews are not the enemy for the atrocities within our mutual Holy Land, rather the perverted doctrine of Zionism is the culprit.

I was fortunate to be on a conference call with Mitchell Plitnick, the Director of the U.S. Office of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.  This independent Israeli Information Center documents abuses under their law, and has been able to make a difference legally and in the sight of public opinion.

This call was sponsored by Churches for Middle East Peace to examine the conditions on the ground especially in Gaza and how it impacts the larger peace prospects.

Mitchell Plitnick, the Director of the American Office of B’Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories–is a highly respected analyst.  He was born into an Orthodox Jewish family here in New York, and was educated in a Yeshiva (much like an Islamic Madrassa).   Strangely, he had grown up in an extremist Jewish environment, and during his earlier career supported the Settler Movement until he began to question the status quo.
Plitnick’s B’Tselem attempts to guarantee rights within the Occupied Teritories. 

Yet Gaza itself, which is no longer under law “an Occupied Territory” although Israel still holds responsibility for it under International law due to its brutal blockade — has not changed since the War.  Historically, the Strip has been a dependent district for centuries – Turks, Egyptians, British Israelis et al.  At the moment it is legally beholden to Tel Aviv for supplies which responsibility the IDF (Israel Defense Force) has been ignoring.

There has been no post-War reconstruction of Gaza City and its hinterlands due to the blockade.  Besides, little food or medicine is permitted by the Egyptian and Israeli Commands.

This blockade cannot be justified for Israeli security.  “Gazan human rights cannot be bargained away for Israeli security!” The conditions are desperate!  It is in Israel not Hamas’ hands while the United States has not moved forward along the lines of our new Executive‘s rhetoric.  The situation in Gaza has remained static since Hamas’ 2006 election.  Israel’s raison d’être for the Blockade was to force the Palestinian Arabs to suffer and to overthrow Hamas.  Well, “Collective punishment is illegal!”  Plitnick, further, stated that “The condition on the ground can’t be argued morally or legally.  The International community should add the suffering of the people” into the equation!

On the other side of the struggle, “Most [Israelis] thought Operation Cast Lead [the Gaza War] was not a success… [for its] objectives were not met.”  Most of the post-conflict coverage center on how the War was conducted.  Gaza’s economy has been decimated by the Operation.  The anger in Gaza, of course, is not against their government, but the Jews and Egyptians.  There is a good chance that Hamas could carry the upcoming elections, too, on the West Bank.

The Egyptians are, further, fearful of the Hamas government because of their close relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the second largest party in Cairo’s Parliament.  Furthermore, Alexandria does not wish to see refugees overflowing from the Rafah boundaries where there was a revolt of a sub-sect two weeks ago who wished to spread an even more stringent form of Islam over the whole of Palestine than the Islamist Hamas.  Although, at the same time, Egyptian businessmen feel they may be able to wrench the wretched electrical blockage away from the Israelis and to supply the Gazans to Egypt’s economic advantage. 

WHO (the World Health Organization) et al. has declared that medical supplies are grossly inadequate.  The Israeli Branch of Physicians for Human Rights has been able to provide the bulk of medical relief in Gaza itself and, also, to much of the Occupied Territories.  

To a question, Mr. Plitnick replied that Hamas would have a hard time to deny elections now although their relations are still confrontational with Fatah.  Hamas is in firm control of their miniscule republic although the human rights situation is less than optimal (human rights can only arise and thrive in situations where there is political stability with no outside threat bearing down on the “commonwealth”).  Yet their citizens overwhelmingly support their administration.  Still, on the other hand, Gaza City is desperately attempting to discover an open door to the Obama Presidency.

The issue of the Israeli Cabinent’s demand for the one missing Israeli soldier is a question of one to thousands of Palestinian prisoners.  The Palestinians on the West Bank are desirous for change, too, while back in Gaza, none of President Obama’s promises have come to fruition.  In both areas, there has only been the ebb and flow of violence:  In Occupation this is a constant! 

Plitinck acknowledged that Iran was a major International supplier to Hamas for the Farsis own propagandistic purposes –  to demonstrate their unwavering support of Palestine to the Islamic world, but Hamas itself is not an extension of Tehran’s foreign policy agenda.  If Persia and Gaza’s ties were severed, the modern Philistines could and would find alternative aid and support.  The regime in Gaza City is a Palestinian National Movement!

Speaking on the politics of his own country, Mitchell Plitnick stated that the sectarian (Foreign Minister) Lieberman, who is now under investigation for corruption, is one of the worst disasters to overtake his nation’s body politic.  Although our human rights NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Director stated that he (Lieberman) was not listened to within the Cabinet, he represented a severe tilt towards the right in Tel Aviv, and that is why U.S. pressure must be applied to the government there.  American Jews are much more liberal than Israeli officialdom as a whole, he argued; and, thus must let their voices be heard in American-Israeli debates while taking into account Israel’s legitimate security concerns.  (One of the problems in Israel’s Commonweal is that they over accentuate their security requirements over what is reasonable.) 

For instance, building materials should be permitted into Gaza; so, the Strip can be reconstructed!  

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Israel Attacks Humanitarian Ship, Hijacks Crew

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

Editor’s note:  This event occurred in 2009.  If you are looking for the attack that occurred in June of 2010, please look at the following posts:

http://muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=6280 (Erdogan’s Speech to Turkish Parliament)

http://muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=6279 (Paintballs to pistols, Israel admits ship blunders)

http://muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=6278 (Turkey calls for punishment of Israel for killings)

http://muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=6277 (Egypt Opens Gaza Border After Israel Clash)

While sailing from Cyprus to Gaza on a humanitarian mission as part of the Free Gaza Movement, the SS Spirit of Humanity, an unarmed vessel with only civilians aboard, was attacked and boarded by Israeli Naval forces and its passengers and crew kidnapped. Prior to this the Humanity had been surrounded by ships of the Israeli Navy. The Israelis had jammed the ship’s navigation system, its GPS, and its radar. This took place in international waters, and the initial hostile action from Israel put the ship and its passengers and crew in grave danger.

Early Monday morning (June 29, 7:30 am local time) , the SS Spirit of Humanity left the Cyprus port of Lenarca to sail to the beleaguered nation of Gaza. Aboard are 21 human rights activists from 14 countries. The ship also carries three tons of medical supplies, crayons and coloring books for the children of Gaza and reconstruction kits for 20 homes to be rebuilt in Gaza.

Former Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, a vocal proponent of the rights of the people of Gaza, is aboard. Ms McKinney attempted to make the trip in December 2008, a trip that was interdicted by an attack from the Israeli Navy. Also aboard are Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro, a husband and wife team who founded the International Solidarity Movement and Mairead Maguire, a Nobel Prize winner.

The destruction in Gaza inflicted by the Israelis during Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009) resulted in the loss of over 2400 family dwelling places, educational and medical centers, cement factories and charitable establishments.

The Humanity is carrying kits which attempt to compensate in arenas of need destroyed by Israel and that have, thus far, been closed off to aid from outside forces. These arenas include, but are by no means limited to: agriculture, education, electricity, water and sanitation. While billions in aid was pledged by other nations, only a trickle of money has come to Gaza, none of it for the acutely needed rebuilding efforts.

This past Thursday the Humanity and its sister ship, the SS Free Gaza, were both poised to depart for Gaza. They were unable to leave Cyprus  when they were denied departure credentials by Limasol, the Cyprus Port Authority. The activists learned from a source in the government of Cyprus that the Israelis applied pressure to prevent the departure. Strangely, the letter of refusal was dated two days before the actual inspection was made.

The Free Gaza Movement was created to break the siege of Gaza by sailing ships into its port via Gaza’s Mediterranean border. In August 2008, two ships, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty accomplished this and became the first ships to enter Gaza by sea in 41 years. This current voyage is the eighth attempt. Two attempts were thwarted by the Israelis. One ship, the SS Dignity, left Cyprus in December 2008 and was rammed by the Israeli Navy. But for the ability of the captain and crew, it would have sunk with the probable loss of life of all aboard. In January 2009, subsequent to the Israeli invasion of Gaza, the SS Spirit of Humanity attempted to make the journey was forcibly turned back by the Israeli Navy.

The SS Free Gaza, one of the ships that made the first voyage, and the SS Spirit of Humanity had between them 36 passengers and crew from 16 nations and were carrying 15 tons of cement,  three tons of medical supplies and crayons and books for children. Gaza desperately needs cement for rebuilding, but Israel has denied it to them. The cement being carried by the activists is but a token, a small percentage of what is needed. Crayons and books are also forbidden to the people of Gaza by the Israelis.

The organizers of this trip include Greta Berlin, an internationally known human rights activist and a veteran participant in the International Solidarity Movement; Huwaida Arraf , Mary Hughes Thompson, another veteran of humanitarian activity in Gaza, and Ramzi Kysia, an American of Lebanese descent.

Past voyages have seen the activists tour hospitals, in critical condition even prior to the Israeli invasion. They have watched patients fight for their lives when necessary electronic equipment could not function as Israel did not permit a constant supply of electricity. They have accompanied fishermen into the Mediterranean beyond the limit permitted by Israel so that they could pursue their livelihood. They have helped farmers plant olive trees. They have brought hope and friendship to the world’s largest outdoor prison.

Two recent incidents have highlighted the danger posed to the brave people of the Free Gaza movement. Free Gaza activist, Hedy Epstein, an 84 year old Holocaust survivor was brutally attacked in St Louis on her way home. She required a hospital visit for her injuries. Ms Epstein has been an active supporter of the rights of Gaza and has been the recipient of numerous telephone and email threats.

Recently the SS Dignity suffered damage during a storm and sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean while in port in Cyprus. Shortly before this happened, two men made a threat regarding the boat. It has still not been determined whether the force of the storm resulted in its destruction or whether the storm provided a convenient cover.

The travelers have made promises to the people of Gaza. They promised to return, they promised to exit with residents of Gaza who yearned to be re united with family and residents of Gaza who had secured acceptance in colleges outside of Gaza but whom Israel would not permit to leave. And, they promised to carry to the rest of the world the story of Gaza under siege.

A Gaza volunteer gave a poignant account of her experiences in Gaza where brave and resilient people struggle to obtain the basics of existence. “I’ve done work in prison” she said “This is worse than being in prison.”

The public is urgently asked to contact the following groups:

Israeli Ministry of Justice; tel  +972 2646 6666 or +972 2646 6340; fax +972 2646 6357.

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs;      tel +972 2530 3111; fax +972 2530 3367

Red Cross Israel; tel +972 3524 5286;      fax +972 3527 0370.

Also readers and members of the public should contact the White House and their Senators and Congresspersons.

Free Gaza may be accessed at: www.freegaza.org.

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Poll: Most Israelis Could Live with a Nuclear Iran

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Haaretz

“Pretty soon . . . you will have nine weapons states and probably another 10 or 20 virtual weapons states.”–Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Only one in five Israeli Jews believes a nuclear-armed Iran would try to destroy Israel and most see life continuing as normal should the Islamic Republic get the bomb, an opinion poll published on Sunday found.

The survey, commissioned by a Tel Aviv University think-tank, appeared to challenge the argument of successive Israeli governments that Iran must be denied the means to make atomic weapons lest it threaten Israel’s existence.

Asked how a nuclear-armed Iran would affect their lives, 80 percent of respondents said they expected no change. Eleven percent said they would consider emigrating and 9 percent said they would consider relocating inside Israel.

Twenty-one percent of Israelis believe Iran “would attack Israel with nuclear weapons with the objective of destroying it,” the Institute for National Security Studies, which commissioned the poll, said in a statement.

The survey had 616 Jewish respondents and a margin of error of 3.5 percent, INSS research director Yehuda Ben Meir said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like his predecessors, has hinted that Israel could attack Iran pre-emptively should Western diplomacy fail to curb its uranium enrichment.

The INSS survey found 59 percent of Israeli Jews would support such strikes, while 41 percent would not back the military option. A separate survey, commissioned by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found 52 percent support for pre-emptive Israeli attacks on Iran, with 35 percent of respondents opposed.

Israeli Arabs, who make up some 20 percent of the population and are generally less likely to see themselves as targets of Israel’s enemies, were not included for budgetary reasons, he said.

Israel, the United States and other western nations say Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at manufacturing nuclear weapons. Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil producer, insists its uranium enrichment program is for civilian needs only.

But Iranian leaders’ anti-Israel rhetoric and support for the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah have stirred fears of a regional war.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is expected to devote a more significant part of a major foreign policy speech to the Iranian threat, officials close to the premier said, in the wake of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s electoral win Saturday.

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“Sailing to Byzantium”

November 20, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

2008-11-07T182600Z_01_CYP03_RTRMDNP_3_GAZA-POLITICIANS

International activists depart for Gaza from Larnaca November 7, 2008. Eleven European politicians sailed to Gaza from Cyprus on Friday after saying attempts to get into the impoverished enclave via Egypt failed. 

REUTERS/ Andreas Manolis

Paul Laudree’s Report on running the Israeli Blockade into Gaza with Relief Packets.

Sunnyvale, California–November 13th–The UN had to end its food distribution due to the lack of security since Hamas (Gaza’s ruling Party) broke their fragile cease-fire with Tel Aviv by shooting their longest-range missiles towards the far Jewish Settlements.  The New York/Geneva Organization found it impossible to ensue with their impossible assignment delivering their humanitarian duty under such anarchistic conditions.  As I wind down my Gazan story on Monday night, the missiles are still raining on Israeli territory (17th) while the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) respond with precision strikes against the Palestinian Republic with the most technically advanced American fighter-plane technology!

Given that I had told the story of a small town on the West Bank last week, I intended to hold this piece for at least a week, but circumstances have overtaken this journalist!

I usually do not follow a strict interview format within my articles, but I had an opportunity to do so with Laudree.  Initially, I asked him about the current crisis, and how it may resolve itself.  He replied that when the Israelis blockade Gaza by land, they typically back down over a realistic period of time, and he expects this will be the case over this confrontation.  It is happening now because “Israel desires to utilize collective punishment” — an action that violates the Geneva Conventions.  Dr. Laudree continued that “The Israelis fail[ed] to weaken Hamas.  [What they have accomplished] is to marginalize the Palestinians [there], and to make them wretched.”

“The Question becomes what shall We do about it?”

He felt that his project (of relief boats) had little practical affect, but produced an enormous sociological re-enforcement to the citizens of the enclave, or in Paul Laudree own words, “It was more symbolic than substantive, but we intend to extend [our efforts more into practicable significant assistance.]…” The Doctor Laudree did berate the traditional assistance agencies for their failure to offer respite to the inhabitants (that gets us back to the U.N.’s recent decision).

In his venture in which he was one of the primary founders and strategists, he was able to put together good-sized ships that sailed from Cyprus to dock at the very difficult man-made harbor in Gaza that was primarily created for fishing ships.  Paul’s three crafts — plus now one leased vessel (i.e., four in all at the moment) – are the size of large trawlers.  The pilot has to make careful maneuvers into the harbor to docket it.  The depth of the harbor is three and one half to four meters, but it can be dredged to a full eight meters.  During the first voyage two boats were able to make it through to landing!  Subsequently, two more aid voyages of one liner each were able to race Israel’s Navy to provide much sought for supplies to this beleaguered enslaved nation!

Laudree clarified that Israel “threaten to stop – not sink – their cruisers.”  Yet, leaders within the endeavor personally received anonymous intimidation.  Paul Laudee himself received a publicly pronounced threat by a pseudo-blog-scribe.

“We need to change the lives of the Palestinian public – especially in transport!  Palestinians have the right to move about their own land, and to travel abroad which is enshrined in the U.N. Charter!” Yet, “Israel not only controls their own borders, but those of the Palestinians as well!”  Gaza is different because it borders both Egypt and Israel.  “We wish to take advantage of that fact.”  So far Tel Aviv has permitted us to employ the sea lanes since the commodities we deliver are not perceived as a security threat.

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