Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

It’s been a while since I’ve had enough clarity of thought to “think aloud” here regarding Israel.   Preparations for Passover, and especially the effort to sort out an effective “reform” of my family’s Haggadah, stalled me somewhat.   My inclusion of alternative passages suggested separately by Rabbis Arthur Waskow (Shalom Center) and Michael Lerner (Tikkun Magazine) prompted some very interesting conversations at table, but left me looking for something different.

It wasn’t long before I crossed paths with Carol Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, published in response to Israel’s recent offensive in Gaza.  My encounter with Churchill’ remarkable piece has given me much to work with, and numerous projects are now underway, in various stages of research and progress, and which will find their way here eventually.   They have occupied me nearly entirely, with news of Israel’s internal difficulties and elections the backdrop for work.

It’s often difficult to know how, as a Reform  Jew, a Diaspora Jew, to respond to Israel’s internal affairs.   Obtaining reliable information and sound opinions is usually my first and principal response, and for these I always begin with the Magnes Zionist.  Lately Shamai Leibowitz’s blog,  Pursuing Justice has also inspired me – a human rights lawyer, Leibowitz’s most recent efforts to publicize the case of Ezra Nawi, jailed Iraqi Jewish human rights activist under prosecution for his opposition to the demolition of Palestinian homes.

So I’ve been stewing, and wondering what to say (again).  And then I stumbled on the work of limbo (blog and on flickr).  I think he’s from Tel Aviv.  I wish I knew more.  I’m speechless in the face of his work on the separation wall.

This Rains Smells of Memory:

in continuation of this storyline, or any storyline for that matter, we turn to become vulnerable to the times. these are the anytimes. the end of the world comes and goes, it seems, on a regular basis.

that said, this chapter, or episode functions as the embodiment of the signs of things to come- a telegram or bottle rocket from elsewhere, that in clumsy dialect is telling us that we must overcome.

the times are happening in real time.

the naturally inevitable dynamics of every fear, hope or premonition we could ever have.

and as we feel the times rising upwards like a flood, were standing here knee-deep with our fingers crossed while we hope-fully plea, “we’ll be after everything someday”.

this rain smells of memory. memories creating themselves in real time.

and so its written in the usual but eerily accurate headlines, its written all over our weary faces.

tattooed on our eyelids so when we sleep we are speaking dreams of elsewhere, and subtly and secretly confessing our desperate love for our busted surroundings, and anything or anyone inhabiting them;

and so in that same clumsy, but very eager dialect, we speak a born-again stutter, “the times wont save you, your embracing of them will.”

this exhibition holds nothing but a reflection of where we are now, and offers us nothing but the suggestion of adaptation and (re)adjustment to the current tides.

this is a binding burden, and we’re all in this together.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised:  a minor proof of human existence on a wall bearing so much of it

This is for the Heavy Hearts Knee-Deep in Worries:  “haven been overcome by toungue-tied times, minor orchestras mend together the tune and in a clumsy accent play: ‘please believe'”)

Impatient Barricades

I believe.  I hope.


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It cannot be possible for any Jew to say he does not know what housing demolition looks like.  It cannot be possible for any Jew to say she does not know what intolerance and injustice in Israel looks like.  It cannot be possible.

More information here.

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Israel’s use of white phosphorus on Gazan civilians is thoroughly documented.  It is beyond question.  It is nauseating.  So now it’s time to process the facts.  It’s time for unequivocal and undiluted public criticism.

I’m turning to Henry Siegman (director of the US Middle East Project in New York, currently a visiting research professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America) and two of his recent essays:

  1. Israel’s Lies (London Review of Books, January 2009), and
  2. The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam (London Review of Books, August 2007)

If a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine is to be achieved, it can only follow from universal acknowledgment of the truth of the awful tragedy of Gaza and the realities of official Israeli policies regarding Palestinian autonomy.  The last time I checked, American Jews were still part of the universe.  We simply cannot publicly claim to want peace but support Israel’s avoidance of it.  It’s time to put up or shut up.

Until then, how dare we sing “Lo yissa goy” in a place of worship, or anywhere else for that matter.

If you aren’t sickened by the evidence, you should be. If you aren’t ashamed, you should be.  If you haven’t spoken out, then speak out!

Then sing for peace.

Lo yissa goy el goy cherev, Lo yilm’du od milchama
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

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“Why is the war so beautiful? Why can’t I take my eyes off it? These fireworks! It’s so entralling mama, I’m kneeling, wide awake, at the wide open window, enraptured by the horror! Oh, it’s so hard to keep my eyes closed!”
Nelly in Wajdi Mouawad’s Wedding Day at the Cro-Magnons

Studying war

Yesterday morning, after weeks of violence in Gaza, I attended a Torah study session that included (finally!) discussion about Israel’s war in Gaza.  The biblical narrative was Parshah Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1),  the origin of communal displacement and subjugation of a tribe, since the memory of the leader Joseph – so cherished by Israelites and Egyptians alike – has faded beyond all recall in Egypt.  The business of memory and tribalism set me thinking.

The rabbi offered a two-pronged approach … first, a set of readings addressing “How Palestinians and Jews see each other”:  excerpts from the Hamas Charter (calling for perpetual Jihad against Israel and the Islamification of Palestine) and from the Greater Israel Movement‘s expansionist doctrine, the autobiography of Abba Eban (remarking that Jews in Israel cannot be accepted by Arabs without a transformation of Arab conceptions of mid-east reality), as well as recent reports from Egyptian officials of internal disagreement within the ranks of Hamas, and that the Syria-based leadership has taken a harder line on ceasefire than the Gazan-based leaders (International Herald Tribune, 1.16.09).  And so we were led through a discussion of the challenge of extremism on both sides, the challenge of overcoming Arab world-views, and the challenge of diaspora – of judging the situation from outside it (whether the distant vantagepoint be occupied by Hamas leaders in Syria, or a small bunch of Jews in Philadelphia).

Then, a set of readings on the ethics of war; and discussion … on the ways in which Torah and Talmud address the use of violence:  That Judaism authorizes killing in self-defense (“If he comes to kill you, arise and kill him,” Sanhedrin 72a); that war may thus be waged so long as one offers peace before attack (“When approaching a town to attack it, first offer them peace,” Deuteronomy 20:10), and even so, all violence undertaken will have to be accounted for to God (“Whoever sheds the blood of a human being by a human being shall his blood be shed, for in the divine image did God make humanity,” Genesis 9:6).

And the “discussion”?  Little more than excuses for Israel’s decision to initiate war in Gaza …. rockets fired on Israeli civilians nearby, Israel’s efforts to warn Gazan civilians to leave areas under attack (I’m still dumbfounded that this was uttered in my presence), and lame confirmation that just war is tallied fairly.  A safe, generalized, benign apologetics for war –  rather than confronting the realities of the particular warfare Israel has been waging or an exploration of strategies for achieving peace.

No one was able to explain how Israel’s phosphorus shelling  of congested urban areas is remotely “justified” under the texts in hand.  No one replied to my local analogy – the destruction of an entire city block following the firebombing of a single nuisance home – MOVE house in West Philadelphia.  No one could explain how Israel’s use of white phosphorus  – whether as smokescreens or illumination for targeted assaults  (as claimed) can – in light of the anticipated injuries to all civilians in the vicinity – be compared to anything other than Napalm strafing in Vietnam, and any other chemical warfare abhorrent to civilized men and women.


Chemiluminescence (sometimes “chemoluminescence”) is the emission of light with limited emission of heat (luminescence), as the result of a chemical reaction (source).

So I want to know more about white phosphorus. How is it that even my unschooled imagination is alarmed by even the vaguest descriptions of the stuff, yet most of my fellow congregregants – and the rabbi – remained sanguine.

I’ve googled, read news accounts and UN reports.  What do I know?  Well, it looks harmless enough – like a piece of white fudge, or a bar of oatmeal soap (source; and information about white phosphorus as weapon).  Glows in the dark … (like Moses’ face after receiving The Law?) .

Anyone can read about it’s general chemical properties, but seeing the stuff subjected to simple experiment is a much more effective way to understand UN criticism of Israel’s use of white phosphorus in Gaza.

And when white phosphorus takes to the airspace over Gaza’s congested cities … what does that look like?  Like this – captured in still images, or  in motion.

Looks like billowing smoke, kite tails, Chinese streamers in the air … but when it falls unspent to the ground – or worse, on anyone nearby ...

Illuminating Thinking Cap

So what about those readings the rabbi provided to us for study?  Unfortunately, the issue is not whether Israel is justified in defending itself, but whether the particular means it uses are legitimate.  How it defends itself is the question.

The International Committee of the Red Cross urged Israel to exercise “extreme caution” in using “incendiary agents”) to illuminate targets at night or create a smoke screen for day attacks.  According to the Red Cross, phosphorus devices should be treated as chemical weapons because they cause severe chemical burns.  111 nations, including most NATO allies, have signed a treaty banning the stockpiling and use of white phosphorus devices; neither the US nor Israel agreed to sign the document.  Although cluster bombs and similar devices (like white phosporus munitions) are not explicitly forbidden by the Geneva Law, the rules of war prohibit the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons or weapons that are incapable of being used in a manner that complies with the obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants. Those who use them in civilian areas (including Israeli Jews) therefore open themselves to charges of war crimes.

Well, I’ve devised another kippah for The Minyan, to be used as a thinking cap during reflection.  A beautiful kippah, covered with billowing white and silver bursts of white phosphorus.

Try it on and see how it feels.  It won’t hurt; it’s not Hercules’ cloak.  It’s luminous.  Would that it illuminated the difference between right and wrong.  Without contrived apologetics for Israel’s outrageous abuse of its right of self-defense, and without contrived excuses for our inexcusable denial of the humanity of those Gazans, who – scorched beyond recognition by munitions launched by Israeli Jews – also reflect my idea of the image of the divine.

1.22.09 Update:

It’s always  a challenge to know where to find reliable information, in order to judge the conflicting claims (Israel denies using white phosphorus innappropriately in Gaza) and reports.  Additional information about evidence of Israel’s use of white phosphorus in Gaza can be found at Res ipsa loquitur (”The thing itself speaks”) legal blog, here, here and here.

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Start by praying for peace.

Then do something about it.

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If Israel’s security is on the top of your agenda, what do you need to know make an informed choice in the upcoming presidential election?

Wouldn’t knowing something about the views of some of Israel’s most respected military and intelligence experts about the impact of the Bush/McCain foreign policy on Israel, the need for the United States to engage directly with Iran, and Senator Barack Obama help?

Well, thanks to the Jewish Council for Education and Research, we all have the chance to hear what some Retired Generals of the Israeli Defense Forces and high-ranking Mossad officials on Barack Obama have to say about who will be Israel’s best partner in the White House and why (or here also).

It might also be helpful to review Barack Obama’s speech at AIPAC.

Shouldn’t we help Israeli military and security experts get the diplomatic change they want?

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Rather than speculate about what’s good for Israel, I wonder if we American Jews could let Israelis speak for themselves.

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