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Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine
by David Shulman
University of Chicago, 2007
by Bill Griffin, Catholic Worker
David Shulman is a professor in the department of comparative religion at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a member of Ta’ayush or the Arab Jewish Partnership. The Arabic word literally means “living together.” Founded in October, 2000, Ta’ayush activists have repeatedly and tirelessly engaged in small, concrete acts of nonviolent civil disobedience against the occupation of the West Bank by the Israeli military and encroaching Israeli civilians. The latter are creating settlements illegally, but are tolerated by the Israeli government. Numbering only several hundreds of students, academics, lawyers, writers and retirees, Ta’ayush volunteers have concentrated on the protection of Palestinian civil rights under the law and on the immediate relief of their physical suffering during emergencies. Their actions have included the delivery of massive supplies of food and blankets, voluntary manual labor to help with the harvesting of olives and grapes, and the provision of expert legal services.
Ta’ayush was started in response to and in solidarity with the broadly-based Palestinian uprisings against the Israeli occupation, collectively known by the Arabic term, intifada, which means “shaking off.” If some striking manifestations of the uprising have been horrifically violent, the Intifada is not predominantly of a violent nature according to David Shulman, who provides much evidence for that position which we do not often hear of in this country. He is viscerally and existentially aware of the terrible weight of terrorism and has suffered his own intense, personal losses but, he writes, this “cannot concern me here; my concern in these pages is with the darkness on my side.”
Furthermore, he asserts that “we should also bear in mind the vast disparity in power between the two sides. Israel has the power to change reality, to make peace. Were she genuinely to want to do this, and were her American backer and banker to want it, Israel could, I am certain, create the conditions for a breakthrough. Anyone who knows the Palestinian reality, in all its complexity, on the ground knows the powerful forces that are ready and eager to move toward peace.”
This book is presented in diary form. David Shulman’s entries run from January 2002 to September 2006. Five nonviolent campaigns which took place in different parts of Israel/Palestine make up the subject matter. Each section is introduced by an essay which clearly lays out the relevant political and historic context. Each diary entry is self-contained but linked to the others. Organizational and logistical details which are part of every civil disobedience action are mixed with vivid descriptions of marches and strategy meetings. Confrontations with the Israeli military and irate Israeli settlers, who consider the Jewish members of Ta’ayush traitors, are graphically pictured. The great harmonious beauties of the landscapes and skies of Israel/Palestine are contrasted with the tragic disharmony which reigns among the human beings who are the prisoners of clashing social roles. David Shulman is a poet. He also gives us numerous thumbnail sketches of salt-of-the-earth Palestinian, Israeli and international peace activists, such as Christian Peacemaker Teams members. These portraits are also meditations on what it means to believe in a philosophy of nonviolence.
Something more needs to be said about David Shulman’s background because his personal history makes this book much more than reportage. He was born in Iowa. His Jewish grandparents had immigrated there after the First World War from the Ukraine. He, himself, chose to emigrate to Israel in 1967 when he was eighteen years old. At the Hebrew University he studied Arabic and Islam but gravitated eventually to Indian studies and became deeply influenced by the writings of Mohandas Gandhi. He served as a medic in the Israeli army during its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and saw that war as, “at best an arrogant folly, at worst a crime.” David Shulman describes his own political evolution as “slow, cumulative and uneven.”
His choice of what is important to emphasize reveals a great deal about his beliefs in nonviolence. He is not drawn to any great heroics but rather to the small human gesture of kindness and to the sharply felt moments when a keen sense of community between Palestinians and Israelis is fleetingly achieved. In contrast, he can also write with great anger at the injustices which he sees are being inflicted collectively on the Palestinian people in order to drive them from their ancestral lands. Such injustices have nothing to do with real security concerns, as David Shulman illustrates.
One of the more surreal campaigns of nonviolent resistance organized by Ta’ayush occurred in the remote South Hebron Hills. There, the organization undertook the defense of the homes of several thousand Palestinian peasants who inhabited a network of caves. They had lived there for hundreds of years tending their flocks of sheep. However, a newly-founded, very small, nearby settlement of Israelis invoked security fears and persuaded the Israeli army to seal up the caves of the Palestinians. Ta’ayush volunteers came for days at a time to manually excavate the caves laboriously by hand. In his poignant fashion, David Shulman asks, “How can a soldier bury a home? Did it mean nothing to him to run a bulldozer up to the entrance, to gouge out chunks of earth and rock and pour them over it, sealing it for years…? How could he bury a family’s entire memory under the ground?”
Another of the intense questions haunting Israeli society today has to do with the refusal by some of its soldiers to perform their military service in the West Bank. David Shulman goes into this burning issue in his chapter entitled, “Saying No.” There, he describes a raucous conference held at the Hebrew University in which the “refuseniks,” as they are known, were given a platform from which to explain their position. Shulman quotes from the speech given by the philosopher David Enoch, who is a “refusenik” himself. Here is part of what that thinker said:
It would be easy to go on, analyzing argument after argument, but what we must bear in mind is something else. Think about the occupation and what it means—the continuous repression, the large-scale seizure of land, the humiliation, killings, dispossessions, the impoverishment of millions. Think about arrogance and domination, about arbitrary injustice, about the planned route of the Separation Wall. Think about the abysmal disregard for human rights, the cynical contempt for other human beings. Think about the lies we have been told and continue to tell ourselves—as if all this were really related to the war on terror (terror, in itself, is an abomination). Were the war on terror truly the goal, the means would certainly be very different.
David Shulman struggles often with feelings of despair in the pages of his diary. The dire crisis in Israel/Palestine seems insoluble. He personally believes in a two-state solution but has no grand scheme to propose in order to achieve this goal. His emphasis is always on the personal sufferings he sees all around him. He writes that he always wants to be aware of them because he has “dogged convictions about what it means to remain human.” And, mysteriously, he is given, again and again, the hope and energy to return to the fray.
Here is a final example of his inspiring writing. These reflections came to him after the civil disobedience action at the Palestinian village of Bil’in when Ta’ayush activists joined with the group led by Abdallah Abu Rahmeh, the “Palestinian Gandhi.” Their aim was to block construction of the Separation Wall. Many were arrested and Shulman is returning to the village center in search of his comrades:
I am walking with Asaf who I remember from Silwan and other actions. We greet each of the villagers we meet, and they answer graciously with the melodious blessings of the host. As we reach the main street a group of men sitting on a balcony high above us call down to us. ‘We thank you. We honor you for coming here.’ It is the happiest moment of the day, this simple obviously genuine statement of welcome, bonding, thanks. It was all worth it—there is no doubt. For them and for us. We faced it together. And suddenly I am aware of a feeling that has been slowly building up in me throughout the day but that only now becomes fully explicit—a breathtaking experience of freedom, perhaps more complete and more satisfying than at any other point in my life. Later I will wonder what such freedom consists of and why I felt it this way. Clearly it has little to do with armies, policemen, jails. It is not, however, disconnected from external things, despite what people (especially those of a romantic temper) sometimes say. Above all, this sense of being free must be linked to a mode of being with—Ta’ayush—of acting, of caring, or caring enough, of overcoming fear, not looking away. It is not so easy not to look away…
This story originally appeared in the March-April edition of the Catholic Worker, an organ of the Catholic Worker Movement, 36 East First St. New York, NY 10003
CONSCIENCE UNDER OCCUPATION
by Matt Vogel, Catholic Worker
World War 4 Report, December 2004
From our Daily Report:
West Bank: Israeli forces again attack anti-wall protest
WW4 Report, June 8, 2008
Israeli army seizes non-violent activist —in front of UN and Amnesty officials
WW4 Report, Dec. 9, 2006
Settler tree-theft from Palestinian cave-dwellers
WW4 Report, Feb. 23, 2006
Israel represses non-violent protest in occupied West Bank
WW4 Report, Sept. 9, 2005
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, July 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution
by Bill Weinberg, Israel e-News
John McCain’s decision to reject the endorsement of Rev. John Hagee is a glimmer of hope, though it is disturbing that he sought his support in the first place. It is more disturbing still that he continues to maintain some Beltway credibility. David Brog, director of Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI), spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington June 4. (Hagee himself spoke to the 2007 AIPAC meet.) Sen. Joe Lieberman, while saying Hagee’s comments on the Holocaust were “hurtful,” also told Fox News after the controversy: “He represents a lot of people in this country, particularly Christians who care about the state of Israel.”
Not all in Israel are happy about this kind of support. Colette Avital, commenting on the Hagee affair for the daily Haaretz, wrote: “Do we still need to point out that Jesus can return only after Armageddon, and to this end it is best if Israel continues to be at war?”
But most disturbing—especially in the event McCain gains the Oval Office—is how Hagee closely mirrors the leader of Iran that he and candidate McCain both profligately condemn. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to office in 2005 declaring his intention to “hasten the emergence” of the Mahdi—the Twelfth Imam, or successor to the Prophet Muhammed, who the Shi’ite faithful believe will return from a millennium of “occultation” to redeem the world. The New York Times reported May 20 that Ahmadinejad said in a nationally broadcast speech that the Mahdi “supported the day-to-day workings of his government and was helping him in the face of international pressure.” He has even established a “well-financed foundation” to prepare his nation for the imam’s return.
When Ahmadinejad came under criticism from some clerics for too closely mingling religion and politics, he defended himself at a news conference: “To deny the help of the imam is very bad It is very bad to say that the imam will not emerge for another few hundred years; who are you to say that?”
Hagee’s book Jerusalem Countdown similarly calls for speeding along worldly events to prepare for the End Times—and (now notoriously) says the Holocaust was God’s retribution on the Jews for rebelling against Him, as well as His way of driving them to re-establish the state of Israel, a prerequisite for Armageddon.
Hagee has also got his own “well-funded foundation” to prepare for Christ’s return, CUFI. Its website warns: “There is a new Hitler in the Middle East—President Ahmadinejad of Iran.”
We can only be encouraged by any falling-out between Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs—even if it is a case of real zealots and ideologues breaking with what they see as cynical political exploitation of the apocalyptic faith.
But there needs to be a clear-cut break between Washington power and apocalyptic evangelicalism in the United States. A US-Iran confrontation fueled on both sides by eschatological fervor is a threat which will persist.
Iraq could be a likely flashpoint. In the profusion of Shi’ite militias in the Iraq conflict, one, known as the Jund al-Samaa—”Soldiers of Heaven”—took up arms in Najaf last year with the apparent intention of hastening the return of the Mahdi. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army also hopes for an imminent return of the Twelfth Imam. Iran’s links to these factions is unclear, and possibly overstated by the White House. But the nightmarish violence in Iraq will continue to fuel such movements.
Hagee’s counterparts in Israel are also gaining ground, and are a growing presence at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, site of the last Jewish temple—which today houses the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and al-Aksa Mosque, or Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third holiest site.
The Jewish fundamentalist group “Ateret Cohanim” and the Muslim Waqf that administers the Haram al-Sharif accuse each other of carrying out illegal excavations at the Temple Mount. At issue is the long-lost Ark of the Covenant, whose re-emergence is held by the Jewish fundamentalists as signaling the coming of the messiah. One fundamentalist group, the Temple Mount Faithful, openly seeks to build a new Jewish temple at the site—which would, of course, mean demolishing the Dome of the Rock, adding to fears about the Israeli-approved excavations.
“Temple Movements” sacrificed goats at the site before Israel’s courts issued a ruling barring the ritual. But the self-proclaimed “New Sanhedrin Council”—conceived by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz as a revival of the ancient Hebrew supreme religious body, the Sanhedrin Court—refuse to recognize Israel’s secular courts. In February 2007, six children were shot and wounded in a Hebron protest against the Jewish archeological work at the Temple Mount. Tisha b’Av, the Jewish holiday commemorating the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, generally falling in August, always sees security beefed up at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
Ironically, the Jewish fundamentalists arguably have more of an ear in Washington’s corridors of power than Tel Aviv’s. The mutual enmity between Hagee and Ahmadinejad reflects their fundamental unity. A clear repudiation of such politics in post-Bush America would go a long way towards staving off unparalleled disaster. Unfortunately, that still hasn’t quite happened.
Bill Weinberg is the editor of World War 4 Report.
This story first appeared June 20 on Israel e-News.
After McCain Ditches Hagee, He Gets a Warm Reception at AIPAC
The American Prospect, via Israel e-News, June 12, 2008
CUFI: They only appear to be supporters
by Colette Avital, Ha’aretz, via Israel e-News, June 4, 2008
Lieberman defends radical McCain ally John Hagee
Israel e-News, May 21, 2008
Christians United for Israel
JOHN McCAIN’S PASTORS
Nuclear War, Ethnic Cleansing and Media Double Standards
by Michael I. Niman
World War 4 Report, April 2008
BEHIND THE “SOLDIERS OF HEAVEN”
The Shi’ite “Cult” Militia and Iraq’s Apocalypse
by Sarkis Pogossian
World War 4 Report, February 2007
From our Daily Report:
John Hagee and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: fearful symmetry
WW4 Report, May 22, 2008
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, July 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution
by Nikolas Kozloff, NACLA News
For a candidate who talks the talk on human rights, Barack Obama has little to say about the infamous School of the Americas (SOA). Originally established in the Panama Canal Zone in 1946, the school later moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1984. Since its inception, the institution has instructed more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers in military and law-enforcement tactics.
The Pentagon itself has acknowledged that in the past the School of the Americas utilized training manuals advocating coercive interrogation techniques and extrajudicial executions. After receiving their training at the institution, officers went on to commit countless human rights atrocities in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia.
Activists long lobbied Congress to shut down the school, and in the waning days of the Clinton presidency they nearly achieved their goal. In July 1999, the House passed an amendment that cut funding for the military institution, but the Senate decided to pass its own version of the bill that included funding. Compromise legislation between the House and Senate deleted the funding cut, effectively restoring public support for the school. Shortly afterwards Congress renamed the school Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) and revised the institution’s structure and curriculum.
Now fast forward to the 2006 mid-term Congressional election: hoping to make use of their newfound majority on Capitol Hill, some Democrats sought to eliminate WHINSEC’s funding once and for all. Shortly after their victory in November they nearly succeeded with 203 legislators voting against ongoing public support of the school and 214 in favor. The closeness of the vote suggested that if the Democrats were able to increase their legislative majority in 2008, then the WHINSEC might indeed be history.
Outside the halls of Congress a number of prominent organizations joined calls to shut WHINSEC including the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the United Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the NAACP, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, and over 100 US Catholic Bishops.
Still, the Democratic presidential candidates refused to take a stand against WHINSEC. In fact, the only two Democrats who expressed opposition to the institution were long shots Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich (on the Republican side, Ron Paul said he too would shutter WHINSEC).
In the early stages of the presidential race, Kucinich pledged to close the school if he were elected. A longtime foe of WHINSEC who had voted repeatedly to close the institution while serving in Congress, Kucinich even attended a political protest held at the gates of the school in late 2007.
But now that Kucinich and the other Democratic contenders have bowed out of the race the question is: where does Obama stand? On International Human Rights Day last year the Senator remarked, “We in the United States enjoy tremendous freedoms, but we also carry a special responsibility—the responsibility of being the country so many people in the world look to…for human rights leadership.”
Obama then added that Bush had undermined human rights: “We were told that waterboarding was effective. We were assured that shipping men off to countries that tortured was good for national security. We were led to believe that our military and civilian courts were inadequate, and so we established a network of unaccountable prisons.” He continued, “We have not only vacated the perch of moral leader; we have also compounded the threat we face, spurring more people to take up arms against us.”
Obama lamented that the Bush administration had destroyed the moral credibility of the United States worldwide. In Darfur, Burma, Zimbabwe, Russia, and Pakistan, human rights violations were on the rise. Unfortunately, Washington no longer enjoyed any international respect and could not speak with authority on human rights.
Poignantly, Obama closed by stating, “The very depth of the anti-Americanism felt around the world today is a testament not to hatred but to disappointment, acute disappointment. The global public expects more from America. They expect our government to embody what they have seen in our people: industriousness, humanity, generosity, and a commitment to equality. We can become that country again.”
Obama likes to employ soaring rhetoric when discussing human rights. But late last year, he failed to take a strong position opposing WHINSEC. When pressed, the candidate praised Congress’ revision of the school’s curriculum but said that he wanted to continue to evaluate the institution.
What more information could Obama possibly need to reach a final decision on the matter? An Obama spokesman said the senator “has not committed to closing down the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, but he will take a hard look at the program and the progress it has made once he is elected.” The spokesman reiterated Obama was pleased with the institution’s inclusion of human rights courses.
To put this in all in perspective then, on this issue Obama has staked out a position to the right of Ron Paul, many members of Congress, and mainstream labor and Church organizations.
Given widespread public disgust towards torture and the like, Obama’s meekness on WHINSEC is perplexing. In the wake of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal and revelations about so-called waterboarding, many US citizens have soured on the War on Terror. Meanwhile, the prisoner detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has become an international eyesore. Even President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have publicly said they’d prefer to close the facility.
Obama also supports closing Guantánamo, which makes his statements on WHINSEC all the more befuddling. In the present political climate, what does the Senator have to lose by coming out against the former School of the Americas? Perhaps he fears the GOP might accuse him of being weak on defense. But Republican nominee John McCain is not likely to use torture as ammunition during the campaign—it hardly seems a winning electoral issue for the Arizona Senator. What’s more, many voters are oblivious to WHINSEC and have little knowledge of, or interest in, US policy towards Latin America.
No, it’s not fear of GOP retaliation on the campaign trail that keeps Obama quiet on WHINSEC. What the Senator is really concerned about is offending the movers and shakers within the military-industrial complex. Closing WHINSEC would demonstrate that the United States has no interest in dominating the peoples of Latin America by military means. Obama, however, is reluctant to make a clean break from the United States’ imperialist past.
On the other hand, try as he might to skirt the issue, Obama will soon be obliged to take a clearer stand on WHINSEC. That’s because the House recently approved the McGovern-Sestak-Bishop amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2009. The amendment obliges WHINSEC to publicly release the names, rank, country of origin, courses, and dates of attendance of the school’s graduates and instructors.
Legislators pressed for the measure because in recent years WHINSEC has withheld vital information that would have helped to identify the perpetrators of massacres, targeted assassinations, and human rights abuses committed in Latin America. In a resounding defeat for the Pentagon, the measure was approved by a vote of 220 to 189. The amendment now heads to the Senate where all eyes will be on Obama.
The vote, however, will not resolve the larger question of whether WHINSEC should be shuttered once and for all. If it chose to, the media could prod the candidates to address US military policy towards Latin America during the fall campaign. So far however reporters and pundits have ignored the topic, preferring instead to ask Obama about his flag pin.
McCain has suggested the two candidates participate in town-hall style debates, potentially allowing more direct engagement with voters. The U.S. public would surely welcome this departure from the relentless and insipid questioning featured in previous debates. It would certainly be refreshing to see Obama questioned on issues of real substance such as the historic U.S. role in Latin America, military policy, and human rights.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008).
This story first appeared June 24 on NACLA News.
School of the Americas Watch
From our Daily Report:
McCain, Obama: both pro-nuke
WW4 Report, June 24, 2008
Obama pledges new direction on Latin America
WW4 Report, May 25, 2008
SOA graduates implicated in Bogotá “false attacks”
WW4 Report, Jan. 24, 2008
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, July 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution
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