Sumud Freedom Camp in the South Hebron Hills is a physical space dedicated to nonviolent activism. Photo by Gilli Getz

Sumud Freedom Camp: A vision of peace in the Hebron Hills?


There is something new under the unforgiving South Hebron sun.

A disparate group of Palestinians, Israelis and Diaspora Jews came together this spring to create Sumud (Steadfastness) Freedom Camp, an effort to show that a seemingly intractable conflict might yet be resolved through a grass-roots movement of people who refuse to be enemies.

Sumud campers from the Palestinian and Jewish worlds are making different political choices from many of their own community leaders. Sumud’s founding organizations include the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV), the Holy Land Trust (HLT), Youth Against Settlements (YAG), All That’s Left, Combatants for Peace, and the Popular Resistance Committee of the South Hebron Hills.

At the outset, two projects drive the mission: First, to exist as a “safe, nonviolent, unarmed space where all those who believe in a future founded on justice, freedom, and equality can come together to build a foundation that will sustain a just peace.” Second, to renovate housing at the site of Sarura, a village displaced by an Israeli military zone, hoping to return families to their homes.

The HLT, organized by Sami Awad in 1998, chooses to work with Israeli and Jewish activists in the context of extreme care taken by  Palestinian leaders to build any collaborations such that they do not normalize Israeli domination. While not a religious organization, HLT takes inspiration from the teachings of Jesus Christ as well as Mahatma Ghandi, embracing nonviolence as a guiding principle.

Awad calls Israel/Palestine a place of “many narratives.” Sumud includes people who regard 1948 as a miracle and others who see it as a naqba, a catastrophe. Rather than waiting for some magic day when everyone’s story collapses into a master narrative, Sumud campers are trying something new: creating a space where people can be together in their differences, joy, pride and pain to build relationships based on mutual respect.

Youth Against Settlements is a direct-action group committed to nonviolent civil disobedience, the right of each of its members to their own religious beliefs and women’s equality. A founder and leader of YAG, Issa Amro, who has led actions such as the creation of Cinema Hebron, a closed factory revitalized as a movie theater (which was shuttered by the Israeli military), faces prosecution in Israel for “assaulting a soldier” during a demonstration in which Amro was injured. He is accused of pushing and calling a soldier “stupid,” as though tactlessness could really be a crime in Israel.

Israeli authorities have ordered an August trial for Amro, who has been successful at turning young Palestinians away from violence and fundamentalism.

For its part, the Diaspora Jewish delegation, organized by CJNV, has gathered members of politically disparate organizations who do not always speak civilly, let alone work together at home, such as J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now.

The only agreements CJNV delegates had to commit to were the organization’s three guiding principles: opposition to the occupation, an unshakeable commitment to nonviolence and “belief in the shared humanity and full equality of Palestinians and Israelis alike.” This includes people who favor a one-state solution in Israel/Palestine, others who favor two states and people who don’t really believe there should be state power anywhere on earth.

The oldest Jewish camper, a man in his 80s, worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee fighting for African-American equality in the U.S. South. The youngest camper was 18. There were Jews of many colors, economic backgrounds and varieties of Judaism, from very observant to proudly atheist. Palestinian participants ranged from old to young, urban to rural, academic to working class, Muslim, Christian and none of the above.

Sumud Freedom Camp was created on the site of Sarura, a village located in Area C, the part of the occupied West Bank that is entirely under Israeli military control. Sarura and most Palestinian villages in Area C have been declared military zones, which means that whole communities live under constant threat of summary demolition. They are not allowed to file Master Plans with the Israeli authorities, but any construction made without a Master Plan is illegal. Hence, any improvement to a building, paved road, mosque, school, water tower or solar power plant can be, and often is, torn down — but not until its builders labor to its completion and are forced to watch the destruction.

The South Hebron Hills are a particularly challenging place to live when one is denied access to electrical power, filtered water and a sewage system — all of which are available to the Israeli settlements, including Sumud’s neighbor, Ma’on Settlement, which, in its founding, was illegal even under Israeli law.

Despite its beginnings, Ma’on enjoys water, power and green space sufficient to render it indistinguishable from a remote Southern California desert suburb. Its residents also, with impunity, engage in harassment of Sarura and other nearby villages. Even on Shabbat, settlers rode three-wheelers through the village close to the Sumud camp, scaring animals and taunting people.

Adjacent to prosperous (and younger) settlements, Har Hebron villages struggle to wrest a living based on herding and agriculture from the stingy, dusty soil. The residents live sustainably, micro-irrigating crops and allowing animals to roam free, which often results in confiscation by settler youth that goes uncompensated and unpunished.

Everything in the South Hebron Hills fights back: soil limned with sharp rocks and heavy stones, the scouring wind, the blazing heat of day, the frigid cold of night, even barbed and sticky weeds that compete with fragile crops for precious water. It is from this soil that the nonviolent youth movement, dedicated fiercely to education and self-improvement, is emerging.

Local Palestinians from neighboring villages such as Umm al-Khair and al-Tiwani have been supportive of Sumud, sheltering travelers on their way to the camp and spending the night themselves. Young men from the neighboring villages help renovate caves that have housed Palestinians for generations. The caves, naturally insulated from the heat and cold, are made livable by caulking the places where snakes and scorpions might hide, plastering the ground and installing doors and screens to make rooms.

Despite concerns that it might prove “triggering” for Palestinians to hear Jews praying in Hebrew, several Palestinians joined Shabbat celebrations, among them representatives from Roots/Shoreshim, a group founded by a self-defined “settler rabbi” and a Palestinian activist who had spent time in Israeli prison. Actual neighbors, they acknowledged that they had never spent time face-to-face with each other. They began to build friendships simply by introducing their children to one another and sharing personal histories.

During Kabbalat Shabbat, Shoreshim representatives shared their group’s vision of “a social and political reality that is founded on dignity, trust, and a mutual recognition and respect for both peoples’ historic belonging to the entire Land.”

The Israeli army continues to harass the Sumud camp, shoving people around and taking away tents, a generator, even a car. Most of the international campers have left, but the camp is being maintained by local Palestinian activists, Israeli Jews, and some Diaspora Jews who stayed.

Sumud Freedom Camp does not represent a retreat from politics. Rather, it is an experiment in building a political program from the grass roots up, based on real relationships and investments in one another’s well-being that cross national and religious divides.

Peace activists are often asked, “So where are all the nonviolent Palestinian activists?” Actually, they aren’t hard to find. A better question is, “Why isn’t the Israeli government acknowledging and trying to partner with such people instead of repressing them?”


Rabbi Robin Podolsky teaches Jewish Thought at Cal State Long Beach and serves as affiliated clergy at Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December, 2016

Israel and Azerbaijan: Celebrating 25 Years of Friendship


 

On April 8, 2017, Azerbaijan and Israel will celebrate 25 years of friendship. As it says in the Talmud, friendship is a “critical element to our lives as Jews and for all mankind.”

On December 25, 1991 Israel became one of the first countries in the world to formally recognize the newly independent Republic of Azerbaijan after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and on April 8, 1992, the two nations established formal diplomatic ties, which have only grown closer over the 25 years since. As an Azerbaijani Jew, I have an intimate knowledge of how important and inspiring this friendship is. As a leader of my community, who has traveled across the world to many Jewish communities, I know this anniversary has profound meaning for us all.  

Israel and Azerbaijan are both exceptional countries that share much in common. They are both leaders in finding innovations in technology, energy, emergency management and international security. They are both home to diverse communities, where Christians, Muslims and Jews live as one. Israel stands alone as a progressive democracy in a region deeply embroiled in conflict and strife, and Azerbaijan stands alone in an equally unstable region; the world’s only nation to border both Iran and Russia and the only secular majority-Muslim democracy of its kind in quite a turbulent part of the world.

Israel and Azerbaijan have worked together closely over the years to establish deep and lasting trade, and today, approximately 50 percent of Israelis’ cars drive around each day with Azerbaijani oil in their gas tanks. Azerbaijan enjoys a close cooperation with Israel in the fields of technology and expertise, especially when it comes to defense, national security, medicine, IT and agriculture. President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have both visited Azerbaijan several times, and on his most recent visit in late 2016, Prime Minister Netanyahu said of Azerbaijan that “Here is an example of what relations can be and should be between Muslims and Jews everywhere.”

The relationship goes beyond trade and mutual goals of safety and fighting extremism.  There is a tremendous understanding of mutual respect between the two nations. To demonstrate how far this goes, I remember when one of Azerbaijan’s lead imams stated that “There is nothing in Islamic law to prevent Jews from ascending the Temple Mount and the ones who claim otherwise are considered heretics in Islam.” I remember only 2 years ago, when the European World Games successfully took place in Baku, and the largest delegation of Israeli athletes in history had flown into Baku to participate in the games, and how the crowds cheered so beautifully as they graced the arena. And last year, Azerbaijan hosted the joint exhibit of Simon Wiesenthal Center and UNESCO, titled “The People, the Book, the Land”, which tells the story of us, the Jewish people, as we trace 3,500 years back to the land of Israel. It is no small statement for a majority-Muslim nation to make. It was the undoubtable act of friendship and respect.

When i was growing up in the Soviet Union, I never imagined that I would one day celebrate the 25th anniversary of Azerbaijan and Israel as diplomatic partners and allies. Such a notion to a Jew of this region was practically unimaginable. But like so many things in this life that are wonderful and inspiring, this friendship was a dream that came true.

As we come next week to Passover, I believe it is important to celebrate this anniversary and recognize that we are partners in peace across every continent. May the friendship shared between the Jewish state and the majority-Muslim ally of the Caucasus stand as a heroic model for the friendship that is possible between nations of any and every faith. My prayers and heart are looking forward to another 25 years of growing and fortunate friendship between Israel and Azerbaijan.

 

At the General Assembly: Abbas slams UN inaction, Netanyahu says UN ‘war against Israel’ is over


At the United Nations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would push for a resolution condemning West Bank settlements, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said ties between Israel and the rest of the world were improving and that “the war against Israel at the U.N. is over.”

Speaking to the crowd of international leaders in New York on Thursday, Abbas continually blasted Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, while also criticizing the U.N. Security Council for not coming down harder on the Jewish state’s settlement expansion.

In his speech, during which he kept emphasizing that the Palestinian Authority was “the sole representative of the Palestinian people,” Abbas said the P.A. will push for a resolution condemning Israeli settlements and that he hoped “no one will cast a veto against this draft resolution.”

“What the Israeli government is doing in its pursuit of its expansionist settlement plans will destroy whatever possibility and hopes are left of the two-state solution on the 1967 borders,” he said.

Abbas, who referred to Palestine as “a state under occupation,” also said Britain should apologize for signing the “infamous” Balfour Declaration, a 1917 letter that declared its support of Israel as the Jewish homeland.

The declaration, he said, “paved the road for the nakba,” an Arabic term referring to Israel’s victory in its war of independence and the displacement and dispersal of Palestinians that resulted.

The Palestinian leader also appealed to countries who had not yet recognized Palestine as a state to do so.

“Those who believe in the two-state solution should recognize both states, and not just one of them,” Abbas said.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the international leaders that their governments at home were changing their views of Israel for the better.

“The change will happen in this hall because back at home your governments are rapidly changing their attitudes toward Israel, and sooner or later that’s going to change the way you’re voting on Israel in the U.N.,” he said after blasting the international body’s past condemnations of Israeli policy.

The Israeli prime minister cited improved ties with African and Asian countries, but said relations with neighboring countries were the most significant change.

“The biggest change in attitudes towards Israel is taking place elsewhere, it’s taking place in the Arab world,” he said, calling peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan “anchors of stability” in the Middle East.

Netanyahu said he welcomed “the spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative,” a nod to Saudi Arabia, which initiated the peace proposal that has not been accepted by Israel.

He mocked Abbas’ call to  launch “a lawsuit against Britain” over the Balfour Declaration, saying it was as “absurd” as suing Abraham for buying land in Hebron in the Bible.

But Netanyahu also said he was open to dialogue, inviting Abbas to speak in the Knesset and saying he would be open to speaking to the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah.

In his speech, which came a day after he sat down with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu also emphasized the strong bond between Israel and the United States.

“We never forget that that our most cherished alliance, our deepest friendship, is with the United States of America, the most powerful and most generous nation in the world,” he said, adding that while “the U.N. denounces Israel, the U.S. supports Israel.”

 

When Palestinians kill


My current foray into Israeli-Palestinian coexistence efforts began a year and a half ago, in the summer of 2014, when a group of Israelis and Palestinians in Gush Etzion marked a joint day of fasting on the 17th of Tammuz, which fell that year during Ramadan. At the height of Operation Protective Edge, a month after the abduction and murder of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, and two weeks after the revenge killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, groups of Jews and Arabs cropped up around Israel with a simple but powerful message: Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.

It isn’t that I’d never tried to get to know Palestinians before. I tried to bridge the Israeli-Palestinian divide almost immediately after making aliyah in 1994. In contrast to many Orthodox Jews, and especially to many Orthodox Israelis, I’d been an early supporter of the Oslo process and was hopeful that the political process would create the conditions to make real interpersonal relationships possible. But my efforts had consistently dissipated — I quickly discovered that “dialogue” in this part of the world consisted of Palestinians blaming Israel for every ill known to man, and left-wing Israelis agreeing with them. 

In that atmosphere, and especially in light of the Palestinian explosion of September 2000, I shared the view of most Israelis:  Israel’s peace overtures had been met with little more than Palestinian terror, and Israel was left with little choice but to construct the West Bank security fence and to wait for Palestinians to get sick of living behind it. As Golda Meir said, when they decide they love their children more than they hate us, they’ll come around to make the sort of peace that doesn’t include blowing up Israeli buses. 

Back to 2014: Six months before Gilad, Naftali and Eyal were murdered, I’d interviewed Ali Abu Awwad for a story about Palestinian nonviolence. I’d walked away from our two-hour interview deeply inspired and hopeful; now, the sight of Palestinians praying together with Israelis for the boys’ safe return filled me again with hope. Once again, I began spending time with coexistence activists, this time in Gush Etzion, and allowed myself once again to hope that Jews and Palestinians were not doomed by some outside power to be enemies forever. 

Since then, I’ve met terrific people and made important friendships with both Israelis and Palestinians who believe that a different future is possible. Ali and I have become close friends, and his generous spirit and deep understanding have allowed me to open up to Palestinian emotions in a way that years of reporting from the Palestinian arena have not. Sami Awad, founder of the Bethlehem-based Holy Land Trust, has challenged me to consider new lenses for Zionism (sorry, Sami, I know this was not your intention!) and models for coexistence. Abdallah (a pseudonym for a senior Fatah activist who I’ve become friendly with, but who does not want to become known for “normalizing” with Judea and Samaria Israelis) has asked serious, probing questions about the nature of Judaism, Zionism and the Jewish relationship to the Land of Israel. There are many more, too many to name here, but all have opened windows into Palestinian society and forced me to connect with a deep sense of empathy within myself, even as I have not become sympathetic to traditional Palestinian arguments about the ongoing conflict with Israel. 

And yet, despite the presence of many inspiring individual Palestinians, the realization that there really is no Palestinian society with which Israel can make peace has been devastating. Whereas Palestinian Israelis work and shop freely in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Netanya, my visits to Bethlehem and Hebron must be shrouded in secrecy by removing my kippah and bearing in mind at all times not to lapse into Hebrew. Palestinians insist there is a sharp imbalance of power between Palestine and Israel, and here they are correct: When Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians in cold blood in 1994, Israeli society was rocked to the core by the horrible thought that such a depraved terrorist could emanate from our midst. Same for the killers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in 2004 and for the Dawabsheh family last summer. 

Palestinian society has no such reticence about killers that emerge from their families. Poll after poll confirms one of Israel’s greatest fears: that Palestinian society as whole remains deeply supportive of murdering Israeli civilians. In December, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research indicated that two-thirds of Palestinians support knife attacks against Israelis, a sharp rise from a 2011 poll that reported one-third of Palestinians said they approved of the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar. The simple fact is that our society is defined by the revulsion and deep sense of soul searching that has followed each incident. Theirs, simply, is not. 

That realization (or, more correctly, that re-realization) is a thousand times more painful this time around, specifically because I know so many Palestinians with deep moral convictions and close relationships with Israelis. But too many individuals and peace organizations — including Israeli-Palestinian organizations in which I am active — have remained silent. Last summer, we Israeli settlers prayed for the Dawabsheh family, but the response by the Palestinian peace community to the murders of Dafna Meir, Yaakov Don, Eitam and Na’ama Henkin and more than two dozen more innocent Israelis has been silence. I’m not sure where to go with all this. 

And so we continue. Ultimately, there is little choice but to forge ahead, if only in the hope, however forlorn, that our Israeli commitment to justice and peace for all residents of our tortured, holy land, will one day create the necessary conditions for Ali, Sami, Abdullah and so many others to sound their brave voices, and that one day their messages of peace and reconciliation will penetrate the values of their society.

Inshallah.


Andrew Friedman is a member of Shorashim/Judur, a grass-roots movement of local Israelis and Palestinians creating relationships and friendships in Judea and Samaria, as well as of the Interfaith Encounter Forum.

Goodbye, Ezra


I’m really not one to post long political Facebook statuses but something about the events of these past few months has made me feel the need to vocalize my thoughts.

As I checked my social media feeds this past Motzei Shabbat, two sides of the same story seemed to dominate. My news feed was filled with pictures and videos of the scene at Ben Gurion Airport. Thousands of people from all over the country had gathered there to say their goodbyes to Ezra Schwartz. Arm in arm, they sang ‘אחינו כל בית ישראל’ as they accompanied the body of their brother and friend to his flight home. Meanwhile in the U.S., hundreds of Jews from all across the country were boarding busses, traveling for hours in the middle of the night, to greet his body on the other side.

I can’t remember a time when one person’s death affected so many so strongly. Maybe it was the way people who knew him spoke about Ezra’s character. Maybe it was because he died doing exactly what so many of us were doing only a few years ago. For whatever reason, as I and those with me at the time checked Facebook that night, we were stunned with the sadness of what felt like a deep and personal loss. But with that sadness, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of immense pride and gratitude. I was grateful to belong to a nation who’s sense of communal responsibility knows no bounds. I was proud to be a part of a nation who celebrates, and mourns as one. I imagine that most people have felt that way at some point over the past few weeks. Tragedies, fortunately and unfortunately , have a way of unifying our spirit in a way little else can. But the question remains, what do tragedies like Ezra’s murder, and the thousands of other victims of terror mean for us, both as a people and as individuals?

Many have accused Israel of war crimes, hate crimes, and apartheid against Palestinians living in both the West Bank and Gaza. Some have even gone so far as to liken Gaza to Auschwitz. But those who have taken the time to study the realities of the situation know the truth. In a region where Palestinians have been kicked out by even their Arab brethren, Israel has been the only country not to do so. In a region that prides itself on denying religious and political freedom to minorities, Israel insists on freedom even for those who openly seek its destruction. We act with restraint towards those whom we know would not reciprocate if the situation were reversed. Given our history, we would expect nothing less of ourselves and of our government. We are a people that values freedom because we know what it means to be slaves. We are a people that values tolerance because we know what it means to be persecuted. We treat our enemies with a kindness not often expressed even to allies because we have not yet given up hope. We have hope that one day, true peace is possible.

But that hope must not be naive.

We must not kid ourselves into thinking that decades of conflict will end if we return enough land or release enough prisoners. The primary goal of Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and the current Iranian regime is not to peacefully coexist with the Jewish State. Their goal is to end the Jewish State, and the people that call it home. The culture in Gaza is one in which those who are imprisoned for raping Israeli women are welcomed home as heroes, and those who die murdering Jews are anointed as martyrs. Palestinian children are taught to have hatred so deeply engrained in them at such a young age. I do believe that peaceful coexistence is possible, and that the Palestinian people, like any other, deserve a land of their own. But I also believe that such a peace will only be possible when the Palestinian population undergoes a radical change in ideology. Peace will only be possible when they are truly willing to live side-by-side with the people they have aimed to annihilate for so long, and not one minute before. No other nation would be expected to tolerate such brutal and frequent attacks from within its own borders, and be asked to show restraint towards those that actively seek its destruction. Yet we act with restraint anyways, because we are called upon to be a beacon of kindness and morality unto the world. But the global community, and we ourselves, must not mistake that kindness for weakness.

The U.N. has singled out Israel in a way that would be almost comical if it weren’t so tragic. Universities and governments worldwide have opted to boycott Israeli goods as means of economic condemnation for what they believe to be human rights violations. Even the President of the United States himself had to be pressured by a nationwide petition before officially condemning the murder of an 18 year-old American citizen. The world not only turns a blind eye to the violence that the Israeli people face at the hand of their Palestinian neighbors, but has the audacity to accuse the Israeli government of countless crimes for its attempts to defend itself from such attacks. I often hear people asking how the world could be so blind. Being slighted by the nations of the world in our time of need is not a recent phenomenon in Jewish History. For us, it is a tale as old as time itself. It is an important motif in our history, and a vital part of what makes us who we are. We stand up against injustice and treat even our greatest enemies with mercy because we wish someone had done as much for us.

The world has urged us to give back land after land, freeze settlement after settlement in exchange for a promise of peace already so many times broken. They have urged us to act peacefully towards those who berate us with violence. We must not let ourselves be bullied into giving up on a dream 2000 years in the making. We must not let our leaders bend under the pressure.
I’ve heard many people ask how the world could be so blind, ask when the world will wake up. Maybe they will never wake up. So the question remains, what can we do in the meantime?

In the meantime, it is our duty and our responsibility, placed on our shoulders by the thousands of generations that have come before us, to not let anyone’s hatred of us allow us to hate each other. To not let anyone’s statements that our homeland is not ours cause us to believe it ourselves. We must show the world that in the face of tragedy and adversity, our love for our fellow Jew will only grow, more than we ever thought possible. And may that Ahavat Chinam allow us to merit the coming of the Mashiach and the ultimate redemption, במהרה בימינו.

Justine is a gradate of Hillel Hebrew academy and YULA and currently attends Stern college in NY

To be a Jew means ‘I love you’


On Thursday last week, a suicide bomber murdered forty three human beings in Beirut and injured two hundred and forty. On Friday last week, a suicide bomber murdered nineteen human beings in Bagdad and injured thirty three. In Paris, seven men murdered one hundred twenty three human beings, and injured four hundred thirty. On Tuesday and Wednesday, this past week, forty nine human beings were murdered and over two hundred injured in Yola and Kano, Nigeria. That is more than 1,140 human beings, murdered or injured. In Israel, as for the last couple of months, attacks have come almost daily. On Thursday, a terrorist attack in the West Bank killed five Jews, including an 18 year old American student. (239 lives, 903+)

It is so much. We have witnessed so much violence this week. I’m angry and sad, my heart hurts, I am filled with grief and fear.

This has caused some to lash out. This desperate response is fueled by one thing, and one thing only: Fear. It is fear that prevents us from thinking clearly, responding appropriately, and from feeling all of our naturally conflicting emotions, in being whole selves. It is ok to be afraid, I feel afraid. When we allow that fear to push away everything else, that is when there is a problem.

In one of my favorite books, Dune by Frank Herbert, he writes the following mantra for his character to remember.

“I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

The question becomes, what kind of person remains, how does that person respond? Who am I, when my fear is gone?

The way we must respond, the way the Tradition would have us respond, the way a Jew should respond, is with love. I’m still angry and I’m still deeply saddened. It is this tension that the Tradition guides us the way it does.

In Masechet Yoma, the tractate of the Talmud primarily focusing on Yom Kippur, transmits a Tradition that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed due to שינת חנם, through baseless hatred. Let’s break that down for a moment. God’s residence on Earth and among the Jewish people was destroyed because we hated each other for no reason. We kicked out God because we would not stand beside each other, because we did not try and understand each other, because we allowed ourselves to be drawn in by hate. Take a moment and think about that, because the Rabbis are telling us something truly profound.

Hate causes God to leave us.

It can be easy for us to place all of the terrorists into the tight little box and blame all Muslims for their actions. But this response is hypocritical. In Israel, the group Tag Machir, Price Tag, attacks Christian, Palestinian, and left-wing Israeli institutions. Do we blame all Jews for their acts? When settlers in the West Bank attack Palestinian farmers, are they a reflection of your beliefs?

Only a couple of weeks ago, a Jewish man attacked Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the Director of Rabbis for Human rights, for protecting those Palestinian farmers. Were we expected to denounce them on behalf of all Jews? No, we weren’t asked to do that. Why? Because, it is ludicrous to do so. Despite that, there were many statements decrying such terrorism from the Jewish community. Muslim leaders, scholars, and communities around the world decry the terrorism of Daesh regularly. To blame any whole population, much less a billion and a half individuals is simply racist and hateful.

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook was the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine in 1921 until his death in 1935. He teaches: “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to שינת חנם, baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with אהבת חנם, with unbounded love. Unbounded love is the way we respond to hate. It is the way we bring God close.

In Conservative/Masorti siddurim, you will see something special. In the morning blessings, we recite first, the blessing for our physical bodies. Praised are you God, who made us with bodies that have the ability to function. Following that, we recite the blessing for our souls. Without our souls, without the spirit that makes us all unique, we could not be here.

After this, there is the following line:
הריני מקבל עלי מצות הבורא: ואהבת לרעך כמוך.
Behold, I accept upon myself the commandment of the Creator: And you shall love your friend, neighbor, fellow human, as yourself.

We take it upon ourselves to fulfill God’s will, to place ourselves within the divine flow of the universe, when we love. ואהבת לרעך, and you shall love your neighbor, כמוך, who is just like you, who is you. This power is already within us, it is contained by us to see the other. The other who is like me.

What does it mean to be a part of the Jewish people? It means that I strive to bring forth God’s vision of love into the world devoid of fear and hate. We must live up to our potential, we must stand up and love.

It means that I don’t blame or hold responsible all Muslims for the acts of individuals. It means that I will not turn my eyes away from the refugees from Syria fleeing the violence of Daesh. It means that I will not stand idly by as presidential candidates, state governors, and our elected officials spout fear and hate. To be a Jew means that I love you. It means that I love Jews. It means that I love Muslims. It means that I love Republicans and Democrats, Europeans and Africans. It means that I love Palestinians and that I love Israelis.

You may have seen on the news, or through social media, an interview with a man and his son in Paris, themselves previously immigrants to France. His son, who is maybe five or six years old, is asked by the interviewer, “do you understand why those people did this?”

“They are bad guys and are not very nice” the boy explained, “and we must be very careful, otherwise we might have to move to a new home.” His father places his hand on his shoulder and says, “Don’t worry, we won’t have to move. France is our home.” His son looks up at him and says, “But there are bad guys here.” “Bad guys are everywhere,” his father tells him.

“They have guns and can shoot us because they are really nasty.” the boy responds. And here, the father says something really important. He says, “They might have guns, but we have flowers.” Our response to this statement might be just like his son’s, “Flowers don’t do anything.” His father points to the people placing flowers and lighting candles at the public memorial in Paris. “Look, everyone is leaving flowers. [The flowers] are to fight against the guns. And the candles are so we won’t forget the people who have gone.”

After a moment of watching the people, the boy turns to the interviewer and says, “The flowers and candles will protect us.”

This is not a naive response. What this young child understands, and what we need to remember, is that no amount of violence can take away our love of each other.

While, the heat of my anger still consumes me, and the cold of fear and sadness still comes to me at night, and the struggle to sleep remains. I refuse to let that bring me to hate. The only response for me, is to love. Even when it is hard, especially when it is hard.

Jeremy Markiz is a fifth year Ziegler student.

Israeli opposition chief to US Jewish leaders: ‘Open and frank partnership’ vital


Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog told a gathering of North American Jewish leaders that his vision of Israel includes a place where all Jews can pursue and practice Judaism the way they want.

Speaking Monday night at the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Washington, D.C., Herzog also said the partnership between Jews in Israel and in the United States, and between the governments of Israel and the United States, is a “cornerstone” of the Jewish state.

The leader of the Zionist Union party said his vision of Israel includes a state that is Jewish, democratic and seeks peace, and that the state must have all three elements.

He called for Jewish pluralism and Jewish democracy, and an “open and frank partnership” with American Jews based on shared and common values, eliciting applause from the audience.

“If there will not be a partnership, there will be a rift,” he said.

Herzog said American Jews must partner with Israelis to fight against “zealotry, extremism and hate. We need your voice and you need our voice.”

He referred to the news conference earlier between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that he hoped the strife between Israel and the United States over the Iran nuclear deal was “behind us,” and added that “we must return to intimate relations between the Oval Office and the Prime Minister’s Office.”

Herzog praised Netanyahu’s recommitting to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adding that he hoped that commitment would be translated both into Hebrew and into action. He added that the opposition would support and help the prime minister to achieve a peace breakthrough.

“When it comes to Israel’s security,” he said, “there is no opposition.”

Two-state solution, found


Earlier this month, a group of undergraduates from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University concluded a 10-day visit in Israel. During their trip they met with people from right and left, Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, religious and non-religious Jews, settlers and others and, as future journalists, were exposed to the complexities of covering Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Middle East.

One of the highlights of the program was a simulation of a peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. At the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya (IDC), the students, who turned out to be very knowledgeable about the conflict, assumed the roles of representatives of Israel, Palestine, the United States, the European Union and Iran, and played them with enthusiasm.

I watched this simulation with great interest. After all, from the days of the Oslo Accords process two decades ago, we have seen negotiations, summits, U.S. secretaries of state in endless shuttles and whatnot, and still we are deadlocked. Might it be that these American students could come up with something new that we, the locals, haven’t thought of already?

What happened there really stunned me. The “Israelis” and the “Palestinians” set to work right away. In separate meetings, the two delegations discussed among themselves the goal that they had wished to achieve at the end of the negotiations — a two-state solution, basically — and deliberated the tactics needed to accomplish that. Then they just met with each other, face to face, and started talking.

Who was left out of the picture? The United States of America! That the hypothetical Iran, the European Union and the Arab League were “dismissed” by the Israelis and the Palestinians as a nuisance and hindrance to peace was one thing. To snub the United States, however, was something else. Indeed, the “Americans,” like a bull in a china shop, arrived at the height of the bilateral talks, disrupting the process and chanting their Pax Americana slogans.

No one was impressed.

The Palestinians never thought much of the Americans as honest brokers in the first place, because they felt they had always sided with the Israelis. The latter, bitter because of the deal President Barack Obama had just cooked with Iran, felt that America had lost its sense of direction.

Anyway, the minute the loud Americans left, the direct talks resumed, and five minutes before deadline, in front of my wide-open eyes, the Israelis and the Palestinians reached an agreement. It was based on the Clinton Parameters stipulated at the summit held at Camp David in 2000 (which, by the way, were rejected by Yasser Arafat):

▪ Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side in peace and cooperation.

▪ The big Jewish settlement blocks remain, in exchange for a land swap.

▪ The settlers living in the small Jewish settlements either will have to leave or become loyal citizens of the Palestinian state.

▪ A certain number of Palestinian refugees will be allowed to return to Israel, while the rest will be resettled in Palestine.

▪ Negotiations about Jerusalem will commence after a period of 18 months of trust-building. Gaza was left aside for the same 18-month period, with the hope that eventually it will join.

As if this accomplishment wasn’t impressive enough, just before the signing, the Arab League delegates surprised us all with a remarkable offer: Why complicate things by resettling Palestinian refugees in Israel? Let the refugees settle in Palestine, and we will underwrite the costs. For this move, the students who played the Arab League won the award of the best team.

It is easy to dismiss this as an exercise in futility and attribute the success of the negotiations to the naiveté of the students, who are not bound by ideology, who don’t carry the burden of religion and are not scarred by the decades of bloody feud. Another explanation for the surprising success came from one of the male students (there were eight female and only two male students in the group): “Women’s voices are not as loud as those of the men. Therefore they have to listen to each other.”

Over in the real world, nothing is new. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just said that he was willing to go to Ramallah to negotiate. Was he serious? We can’t tell, because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas didn’t put him to the test: He just ignored the gesture and went to the United Nations instead.

The Medill School of Journalism is named after Joseph Medill, a journalist and onetime mayor of Chicago. When, in 1871, the great fire destroyed downtown Chicago, including Medill’s Tribune building, he published an editorial calling upon Chicagoans to “Cheer up,” predicting that the city “shall rise again.”

I hope that Israelis and Palestinians don’t wait until a great fire consumes them only to rise again later. I prefer the current Medill approach: The deal is on the table. Take it — you won’t get a better deal later.

Uri Dromi is director general of the Jerusalem Press Club. He served as spokesman of the Yitzak Rabin and Shimon Peres governments from 1992 to 1996, during the Oslo peace process.

Israeli, Palestinian economies to grow by billions with two-state solution


Israel’s economy would gain $120 billion and the Palestinian economy some $50 billion over the next decade in a two-state solution, a study has found.

A peace agreement could also see Palestinian income rise by 36 percent and Israeli by 5 percent, according to the Rand Corp. study released Monday, which also said the Israeli economy could lose some $250 billion in economic opportunities in the event of a return to violence.

The Rand Corp., a U.S.-based nonprofit research organization, said it interviewed 200 officials in the Middle East and elsewhere during more than two years of research into the costs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The study also found that a unilateral withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank would impose large economic costs on Israelis unless the international community shoulders a substantial portion of the costs of relocating settlers; intangible factors, such as Israeli and Palestinian security and sovereignty aspirations, are critical considerations in understanding and resolving the impasse; and taking advantage of the economic opportunities of a two-state solution would require substantial investments from the public and private sectors of the international community and from Israel and the Palestinians.

“A two-state solution produces by far the best economic outcomes for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Charles Ries, a co-leader of the study and a Rand vice president, said in a statement.

The study also considered the effects of a coordinated, unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank by Israel; uncoordinated withdrawal where Palestinians do not cooperate with Israeli unilateral moves; and nonviolent resistance by Palestinians.

The implications of a unilateral withdrawal by Israel of West Bank settlers would depend on the amount of coordination. If Israel were able to coordinate with both the Palestinians and international community, the overall impact on the Israeli economy would be negligible and the Palestinian economy would gain nearly $8 billion over a 10-year period. With no coordination, Israel would lose up to $20 billion, according to the study.

Under nonviolent resistance, Palestinians would call for international pressure including boycotts, divestment and sanctions, which could cost Israel $80 billion and Palestinians $12 billion.

Rand used its costs of conflict calculator to figure the economic costs and benefits to Israel and the Palestinians..

Vatican says Pope meant no offense calling Abbas ‘angel of peace’


Pope Francis meant no offense to Israel by referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as being “an angel of peace” and intended to encourage harmony between the two sides, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

Francis met Abbas at the Vatican on Saturday and used the words as he presented the Palestinian president with a large bronze medallion representing the angel of peace, one of his customary gifts to visiting presidents.

Receiving Abbas at the papal apartments, the Argentine pontiff, speaking in Italian, said the medallion was an appropriate gift because “you are a bit an angel of peace”, according to a reporter representing several news agencies at the meeting.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said he had not heard the remarks himself and had nothing to add to the words attributed to the pope by the pool reporter.

“It is clear that there was no intention to offend anyone,” Lombardi told Reuters.

Early reports had conflicted as to whether the pope urged Abbas to be an “angel of peace” or if he had described him as such.

The pope met Abbas a few days after the Vatican formalized its recognition of the Palestinian state, a move which riled Israel's government.

The Vatican said after Saturday's meeting that the two had expressed hope that talks between the two sides could resume after breaking down a year ago.

Francis and Abbas, who met last year with former Israeli president Shimon Peres in an unprecedented inter-religious event at the Vatican, had a “very colloquial” exchange as they exchanged gifts, Lombardi said in a statement.

“In any case, the sense of encouraging a commitment to peace was very clear and I believe that the very gift of the symbol of an angel of peace was made by the pope with this intention as well as previous presentations of the same gift to presidents, not only to Abbas.”

Lombardi said the pope explains the significance of the medal to heads of state who receive it, and that the word “angel” in this context means “messenger”.

Abbas also attended a canonization ceremony on Sunday at which Francis made saints of two Palestinian nuns.

Why I continue to support peace


With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office — in the wake of a campaign where he firmly rejected a two-state solution — and peace efforts in the Israel as well as the Palestinian struggle in shambles, why do I still support efforts to reach a two-state solution?

Because I believe there is no other long-range answer.

It will not be “peace now” or even tomorrow, but it will come someday because there is no rational option.

If there is no peace, imagine Israel in 10 or 20 years. With the natural growth of the Palestinian and Israeli Arab population, and Israel’s de facto annexing some of the West Bank and contemplating formally annexing much of the remainder — an Israeli minority might then be ruling an ever more restive Palestinian majority. Whether the world views this as “apartheid” or chooses some other word, this will mean the end of Israel as a democracy. To preserve the character as a Jewish state will require strong Israeli military control, a shrinking of democratic practices, unconcealed discrimination and a tense, fearful Israeli society. Israel will become a nation characterized not by tolerance, but by racism.

This picture is complicated by the ever-broadening, worldwide condemnation of Israel’s West Bank settlement policies — now leading to increasing boycotts of settlement-produced products, with the threat of these boycotts expanding to include all Israeli products, with crippling economic results — a signal that all of us who care about Israel cannot ignore.

For years, polls among Israeli and Palestinians have shown strong support, usually a majority, favoring a two-state answer. Will the people on each side of this struggle ever find leadership with the courage to move this peace process forward? Someday they must.

As Moshe Dayan once said, “You do not make peace with your friends. You make peace with your enemies.” Israeli and Palestinian leaders should take these words to heart.

You don’t have to love each other to start to set mutually acceptable borders and let time and trade develop mutually beneficial interactions.

I believe all who care about Israel and its future must keep alive this vision for a two state-solution, and with this vision, work in whatever way possible toward this goal. This means supporting those courageous activists on the ground in Israel, like Shalom Achshav and its sister organization in the U.S., Peace Now. These organizations and a few others in Israel and the U.S. are keeping alive the hope and possibility for a two-state solution and pressing their own politicians to get on board and support policies that are genuinely in Israel’s best interest and not the anti-democratic, ultra-conservative and often religiously motivated extremists who seem to value land over enriching human life.

This is a long road, with many ups and downs. But it is imperative to keep this vision alive, and that is why I continue to support Peace Now. 

Los Angeles philanthropist Richard S. Gunther is a board member of Americans for Peace Now and New Israel Fund.

Synagogue Slaughter Aforethought


Last Tuesday morning: five Jewish men head to synagogue in Har Nof—to pray for peace. Same morning: two Palestinians head to same synagogue—to murder them. It has been only one week since the tragic day. In fewer than 48 hours, supporters of the Har Nof community rallied online and raised over $65,000 for the families who lost loved ones in the attack. Personally, this day still haunts my thoughts and perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To me, it represents an blatant indication that the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long-surpassed politics. This is not about being soldiers or occupiers. This is about the mere existence of the Jewish people and our prayers for a peaceful coexistance. According to the Times of Israel, “Yaakov Amos had just finished calling silently on God to grant peace everywhere, goodness and blessing; grace, loving kindness and mercy.” These peaceful prayers were met with a blood bath when the Palestinians entered the synagogue with a pistol, knives, and axes, shooting and stabbing the worshipers. Amos witnessed the terrorists shooting the victims, clad in prayer shawls, at point blank range into their heads. Among those killed were one British and three American citizens as well as a Druze Israeli.

As the State of Israel mourned the five dead and others wounded, Hamas called for additional “revenge” attacks, claiming on Al-Aksa TV that the attack was “a reaction to the crimes of the occupation.” Less than two weeks prior, a Palestinian Authority official, Mahmoud Habbash, also called for Jihad against every Israeli as a civil duty for “any Muslim from America to Japan.” On the day of this synagogue rampage, PA's Facebook page extolled the murderers for their “blessed operation.”

A good friend of mine who used to live a couple doors down from this attack wrote me an email last week, lamenting, “The terrorism is painful, heartbreaking, and frightening. But the truth is, there is something far more painful, heartbreaking, and frightening out there than these senseless acts of murder. That thing is not floating about here in Israel, but where you are, out in the rest of the world. While our people are fighting for their lives and desperately trying to protect their people, the rest of the world looks down on us and blames us for this war. There is far too much hate and ignorance thrown at us, and all we are doing is trying to save our own lives. We are being bombed, run over by vans like bowling pins, and murdered in cold blood. Age makes no difference to them, they've taken our children and even recently a small infant. And what is our crime? Do we not do what any other sensible person or nation would do? Stand up to those who are harming us. […] The world around us skews the media and this is more terrifying than any of this terrorism I am living with.”

The headlines? CNN reported “4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians killed in attack in Jerusalem synagogue;” “Deadly attack on Jerusalem Mosque;” and “Police shot, killed 2 Palestinians.” Al Jazeera reported “clashes after attack on Jerusalem synagogue.” On the day of the attack, the Emory (University) Wheel posted an article by Anusha Ravi and Ben Crais arguing that many fewer Israelis have died in this summer's conflict compared to Palestinians, insinuating that this smaller number affirms Israeli immorality. Clearly, for Ravi and Crais, the murder of more Jews in the name of the conflict merely evens the score. Their article makes no mention of the attack that occurred that very day. Also omitted is any reference to the Palestinians’ documented use of human shields to raise their death toll, exploiting the IDF’s morality to malign Israel. They make no attempt to dispel the inference that terrorist slaughter of innocent civilians is morally equivalent to self-defense. And neither does the mainstream media. 

Every such incident breaks our collective Jewish heart. Yet there still exists some hope that it may be THIS attack, THIS innocent life that was taken so that the world will finally wake up and realize that this is not a political fight. This was not an attack on an IDF soldier. This was not even an attack on a resident of a settlement. This was an attack on holy men who were praying for peace. The men killed were never in the army. The never killed a Palestinian. They were simply Jewish individuals practicing their Judaism in the Jewish State. And to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations, that was their crime, punishable by death in the name of Jihad.

While the fundraising campaign for the mourning families is over and the pro-Israel community has refocused its energy on Iran, let us never forget last week’s attack.

A 100-year cease-fire


The Arab-Israeli conflict seems to be without end. All the “big powers” have tried to resolve it without much success and no party is willing to change its mind. The majority of Arabs would like Israel to cease to exist, and most Jews, whether they live in Israel or not, see Israel’s existence as existential. What can be done?

Inventing the future has been part of what I have been doing for the past 40 years, since I was a student of architecture. I call it “pragmatic idealism.” I shoot for the feasible best and work its development with a pencil in one hand and an eraser in the other. My approach to a solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict follows the same principle. The discovery unfolds. While navigating toward an objective, ideas arise that would not have developed without movement toward the goal. To do that, one needs time. In this case, given the present level of distrust, mutual grievances and hatred between the parties, it will take at least three generations.

The Agreement

Consider a 100-year ceasefire as a framework. It is critical to establish a number of goals to be worked out within it based on performance. Without that, effective negotiations are impossible. The agreement would be based on a reward-punishment method to be monitored and policed by a neutral third party, possibly composed of Supreme Court judges. For every year of effective ceasefire, the total of 100 years would be reduced by one year. For any year of ceasefire violation, the contract would be extended by one year. In other words, the agreement would be as short as 50 years and as long as 200 years, based on performance.

The territorial resolution would be regional and based on the concept of a condominium: a unit of common interest—water, security, and access—and individual sovereignties. The boundaries of such a condominium (perhaps called “Eastern Mediterranean Union”) would include present-day Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, and Lebanon. 

For the condominium model to succeed, it must be based on an agreed-upon “Education Charter” and a “Master Plan of Construction and Economic Development” to be adjusted periodically, taking into consideration changes in science and technology.

Education

The Education Charter would be mandatory for all members, separated from political, ideological and religious dogma, and geared toward scientific, technological, and artistic development. Distinctive cultural education, Arab and Jewish, would be inclusive of mutual knowledge and based on respect and tolerance of differences. 

Construction

Construction can be divided into three categories: 1. Interdependent, which shall include the use and development of water, energy, mobility, and industrial production, 2. Joint work on common-goal projects, and 3. International redevelopment, which may include a bullet train around the Mediterranean Sea, freeways linking Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Eastern Europe through the region, and the development of artificial islands accommodating millions of residents and inclusive of deep-water ports and international airports.

Two Precedents

One-hundred-year agreements are not common, but two precedents have been successful: the Panama Canal and Hong Kong. In 1904 the United States took over the canal project from France and it officially opened in 1914. The U.S. continued to control the Panama Canal Zone until 1977. After a period of joint American–Panamanian control, the canal was taken over by the Panamanian government in 1999.         

The transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China took place in July 1997. It marked the expiration of British rule in Hong Kong at the termination of a 99-year lease agreed upon in 1898. The negotiation was long and complicated, but the agreement was executed.

Summary

Any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to address cultural, territorial, and economic differences. The road to real peace can go through a 100-year ceasefire marked by benchmarks of achievements that are rewarded or by violations that are punished. Ultimately, human interaction between former enemies can become the real glue of social, cultural, and economic development.         

Rick Meghiddo is a realtor on the Westside. He practiced architecture and urban design for four decades and produced over 30 architecture documentaries. In 1998 he headed the Technion’s delegation to the first (and only) urban design workshop for Israeli, Palestinian, and Italian architects in Palermo, Sicily. Born in Argentina, he lived in Rome for seven years and has divided most of his life between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. 

Bill and Hillary disagree on Netanyahu? Not so much


Politico and Haaretz have seized on C-Span video from Iowa that they claim suggests Bill and Hillary Clinton diverge on how ready Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is for peace.

Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to be stumping for an as yet unannounced presidential bid in the first caucus state, and the video shows Bill Clinton working a line on Sunday.

Clinton twice agrees with a man who says that “If we don’t force [Netanyahu] to have peace, we won’t have peace” and that Netanyahu is “not the guy” to make peace.

The newspapers contrast Bill’s seeming agreement with his interlocutor that Netanyahu needs to be “forced” to make peace with Hillary’s praise for Netanyahu in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.

But there is really no disagreement; Politico omits and Haaretz buries Bill Clinton’s broader point: The Palestinians reaped what they sowed with Netanyahu:

From the Haaretz transcript of the video:

PRO-PALESTINIAN ACTIVIST: “If we don’t force him to have peace, we won’t have peace.”

CLINTON: First of all, I agree with that. But in 2000, [then Prime Minister] Ehud Barak, I got him to agree to something I’m not sure I would have gotten Rabin to agree to, and Rabin was murdered for giving land to the Palestinians.

ACTIVIST: I agree. But Netanyahu is not the guy.

CLINTON: I agree with that, but they [the Palestinians] would have gotten 96 percent of the West Bank, land swaps in Gaza, appropriate water rights and East Jerusalem, something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office. And by the way, don’t forget, both [former Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas later said they would take it “we changed our minds, we’ll take it now” but by then the Israeli government wouldn’t give it to them.

Now compare that to what Hillary Clinton told Goldberg: She makes the same point as her husband, that the Palestinians missed opportunities and that Netanyahu has shifted position, contextualizes it in U.S. brokered talks.

HRC: Let’s step back. First of all, Yitzhak Rabin was prepared to do so much and he was murdered for that belief. And then [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Barak offered everything you could imagine being given under any realistic scenario to the Palestinians for their state, and Arafat walked away. I don’t care about the revisionist history. I know that Arafat walked away, okay? Everybody says, “American needs to say something.” Well, we said it, it was the Clinton parameters, we put it out there, and Bill Clinton is adored in Israel, as you know. He got Netanyahu to give up territory, which Netanyahu believes lost him the prime ministership [in his first term], but he moved in that direction, as hard as it was.

I had the last face-to-face negotiations between Abbas and Netanyahu. [Secretary of State John] Kerry never got there. I had them in the room three times with [former Middle East negotiator] George Mitchell and me, and that was it. And I saw Netanyahu move from being against the two-state solution to announcing his support for it, to considering all kinds of Barak-like options, way far from what he is, and what he is comfortable with.

So Hillary Clinton says that Bill Clinton “got” Netanyahu to give up territory in the late 1990s and that he was “way far” from the two-state solution when he embraced it during her stint as secretary of state, and that he was not comfortable it.

That’s not quite “forcing” Netanyahu, but then that was the word Bill Clinton’s interlocutor chose — and his agreement with it is not inconsistent with Hillary Clinton’s version.

West Bank land grab undermines two-state advocacy


The dust has barely settled from this summer’s disastrous outbreak of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and already the Israeli government has announced the expropriation of nearly 4,000 dunams (approximately 1,000 acres) of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

Israel is set to clear five Palestinian villages on the land west of Bethlehem in hopes of creating continuity in the area between the settlements of the Gush Etzion bloc and Jerusalem. By illegally building on occupied land and destroying the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state, Israel severely undermines the opportunity to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict and ensure its own future security and stability. 

As a Palestinian-American who wishes to see a peaceful resolution to this interminable conflict, my confidence in the peace process has been rocked many times — but rarely more than after this announcement. It is clear to me that both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to self-determination in their own states. That is why I ardently support a two-state solution. But this new settlement sends the message — to me, fellow Americans, fellow Palestinians, and fellow students — that Israel’s government does not take that solution seriously. 

This latest action seems deliberately designed to perpetuate a military occupation that has already lasted 47 years. According to the Israeli peace group Peace Now, this seizure represents one of the largest Israeli land grabs in the West Bank in more than 30 years. Less than two months ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel could never relinquish security control of the West Bank. Netanyahu is not mincing words when he promises unending occupation, and he continues to follow through with settlement expansion and land expropriation. Far from seeking a lasting solution to the root causes of this summer’s horrible violence, it appears that the current Israeli government is moving even further away from compromise and peace.  

Defenders of the settlements (who outside of Israel grow fewer every day) often argue that the land they are building on is expected, under most existing peace plans, to be included as part of Israel in a future two-state agreement. But that argument is irrelevant while the current Israeli government shows no interest in actually reaching a two-state solution and ending the occupation anytime soon. Regardless of exact location, every new construction announcement over the Green Line further undermines the credibility and popularity of pro-peace Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas — and empowers the increasingly-popular Hamas. A poll this month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey showed support for Fatah falling relative to Hamas, a damning indictment of Israel’s strategy. 

The time has come for the United States, Israel’s closest friend, to declare clearly that the settlements are “illegal” — something that it previously did in the first few decades of the occupation. This would send a strong message to the Netanyahu government that its current course is unacceptable even to its greatest strategic ally. It would open the door for the Obama administration to reassess how it implements its settlement policy, and to potentially take stronger steps if Israeli actions show no sign of changing.

Encouragingly, the United States has already called for the Israeli government to reverse the decision, arguing that, “the announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve, and construction tender they issue, is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.” This is a good step — but the US has made similar statements in the past, to little effect. To be a true friend to Israel, the Obama administration needs to be firm and decisive in making clear that the path of its current government is disastrous for American policy and for Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state — not to mention unacceptable for Palestinians, who have a right to live free from occupation. 

Inaction discredits and lets down Americans like myself who doggedly advocate a negotiated resolution to the conflict. It fuels the understandable frustration of those — like some of my friends and family — who view the current “peace process” as simply a “piece-by-piece” process, in which Israel slowly gobbles up more and more Palestinian land while the world sits by. If the US government won’t stand behind its own policies, how can we take the American role as a peacemaker seriously?

In the wake of a war that seemed to only strengthen advocates of violence on both sides, it has never been more clear that Israel’s leaders cannot achieve peace and security through military means. Israel’s ever-growing foothold in Palestinian territory doesn’t just threaten the viability of an independent Palestinian state — it also sends Israel deeper into diplomatic isolation, thereby threatening Israel’s long-term security, prosperity and international legitimacy. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and all Americans committed to safety and security for both Israelis and Palestinians must do more than offer empty words of condemnation to actions that seriously undermine both. The millions on both sides who want an end to conflict, destruction and oppression deserve better. Will we let them down?

About Yasmeen: Yasmeen Serhan is a Palestinian-American student and J Street U leader studying international relations at the University of Southern California.

British Jews, Muslims issue joint statement for peace and tolerance


Jewish and Muslim leaders in the United Kingdom issued a joint statement, calling for peace in the Middle East and “constructive dialogue” between the two groups in Britain.

“In spite of the situation in the Middle East, we must continue to work hard for good community relations in the UK. We must not import conflict. We must export peace instead,” read the statement issued Wednesday by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain.

Called “unprecedented” by the London-based Jewish Chronicle, the statement also contends that  “the targeting of civilians is completely unacceptable and against our religious traditions.”

The statement condemned “any expression of Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or any form of racism,” including during rallies and on social media.

It also called for a redoubling of efforts “to work together and get to know one another.”

“We need constructive dialogue to limit our disagreements and identify the widest possible range of areas for cooperation. There are more issues that unite us than divide us,” the message concluded.

Meanwhile, a rally to demand zero tolerance against anti-Semitism in London and throughout the United Kingdom is scheduled to be held Sunday outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism announced Thursday.

The rally comes after four synagogues in Britain were vandalized in the past month, Jews were attacked on the street, and a Jewish graveyard and Holocaust memorials were vandalized, also all in the last month. An uptick in anti-Semitic acts occurred during Israel’s recent military operation in Gaza.

“British Jews are afraid. Citizens are looking to the police and government to enforce the law with zero tolerance against anti-Semites, as they do in other cases of racism. It is only through zero tolerance that the tide of anti-Semitism can be turned,” Jonathan Sacerdoti of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said in a statement.

 

From Israel, a Holocaust survivor worries about her Gazan daughter


In her living room in the Israeli town of Ramle, Sarah says she wants a peaceful life. At 79, she deserves one.

A Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, Sarah was sent to a Nazi concentration camp in Serbia as a child, arriving in Israel at age 17. Her entire family perished in the Holocaust.

Now she watches from her armchair as her family is threatened once again. Sarah — not her real name — is now a Muslim, and her daughter lives in Gaza City.

“The whole city is in ruins,” Sarah says. “Everyone is just trying to find a piece of bread.”

Sarah arrived in Israel in 1950, one of the tens of thousands of Jewish survivors who found refuge in the young Jewish state. From there, her story departs from the conventional narrative.

In 1962, she married an Arab Israeli and, with no surviving family of her own, converted to Islam to join his. Neither of them were particularly religious.

“In my time it wasn’t Arab or Jew,” said Sarah, who speaks Hebrew with a slight European accent. “We knew there was no problem between Jews and Israeli Arabs. I’m very liberal; my husband was the same. We felt no discrimination.”

Light-haired and soft-spoken, Sarah has lived for decades in the same Ramle apartment, which she now shares with her daughter, Nora. Both women leave their hair uncovered, and Nora said not to worry as she set out tea and cookies on the last day of Ramadan. She wasn’t fasting.

Sarah’s other daughter, also an Israeli citizen, moved to Gaza in 1984 after she married. On Sunday, Sarah and Nora waited by the phone as the Arabic news network Al Jazeera played on the television.

In the first days of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, Sarah’s daughter took her six children and one grandchild and fled their home in the Zeitoun district of Gaza City for a calmer area in the southern Gaza Strip. The day they left, their four-story home was destroyed, most likely by an Israeli airstrike. Since then, the family has survived on dry goods and whatever they can scrounge up during brief cease-fires.

Along with food, electricity is scarce in Gaza, so Sarah has a hard time getting in touch with her daughter. She learned the house was destroyed only when another relative posted on Facebook a picture of the rubble. She hopes for the rare phone call when her daughter manages to charge her phone. But sometimes, no call at all is better.

“With every phone call, we pray that she’s charged so we can reach them, talk to them, see how they are,” said Nora. “Every call jolts us, that we won’t hear bad news.”

Neither women would agree to be photographed or give many personal details out of fear of retribution from Israeli authorities or Hamas, the reigning power in Gaza. Only Nora would give her first name.

Though they have lived through such conflicts before — Protective Edge is the third such campaign in Gaza in six years — Sarah says this round has been harder than previous ones. Anti-Muslim discrimination flared up during previous conflicts, but Sarah said the antagonism seems stronger this time.

“I go to day centers [for the elderly], and they don’t talk to me,” Sarah said. “Behind my back, they curse me. I hear it. I hear ‘Their name should be erased. They should die.’”

Sarah and Nora used to enjoy driving to Gaza City to visit Sarah’s daughter. But Nora hasn’t been allowed to visit since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Sarah was allowed only once, for a five-day visit several years ago.

Will the family return to Zeitoun to rebuild its home? When will Sarah’s daughter be allowed to visit the family in Ramle? Will Sarah ever be able to visit her grandchildren and great-grandchild in Gaza?

They don’t know.

Is there still hope for peace? At that question, Nora shakes her head.

“Honestly, no. I don’t think the situation will get better after this war,” Nora said. “There’s tension between me and my Jewish friends. They want to justify themselves and this war. I never encounter a person that says, ‘Enough spilled blood’ or ‘Poor civilians.’ I haven’t heard that.”

Like most Israelis, Nora has coped with the sirens that warn of incoming missiles for a month now. She opposes Hamas, she says, and understands that Israel needs to protect its citizens, though she wishes the government would scale back its operation and pursue diplomacy more aggressively. Her family in Gaza, she said, is not affiliated with any movement — not Hamas, not Fatah, not any other.

“Israel has the full right to self-defense,” Nora said. “The missiles don’t differentiate between Jew and Arab. We don’t need to see houses destroyed, women crying, dead soldiers. A soldier is the son of a mother. Anywhere in the world, the pain of a mother is the same pain.”

Both Sarah and Nora say they support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both wish their Gaza family could visit Israel to eat Bamba and Bissli, the classic Israeli snack foods they love. Both wish they could hop into a cab and drive to Gaza City to eat fish on the coast.

But Sarah says that because of Hamas, because of the war, because of the antagonism born of decades of separation between Israelis and Palestinians, a hopeful future seems less likely than ever. She scoffed at the occasional peace negotiations.

“It’s all nonsense,” she said, then in Yiddish: “Bubbe meises.”

 

A prayer for peace


As an American visiting Jerusalem for a month, the Tuesday night of the first air raid siren in the city was a new experience for me. Rationality told me that I was safe. Under the protection of the Iron Dome, the probability of one of Hamas’ rockets reaching the ground was slim, and the likeliness of them causing serious damage was even slighter. Still, as I listened from the darkness of my apartment's safe room to the echoing sound of distant blasts, I couldn't help but endure a sensation of utter dread: a sudden awareness of my vulnerability to the rockets soaring overhead.

A few days later, I found myself in the basement of a community center in my neighborhood for Friday night Shabbat services. The service began with Shalom Aleichem. Time seemed to freeze as the union of voices sang, slowly and passionately, for peace. This was the most genuine experience of Shabbat I'd experienced in a long while, encountering a moment that stood independently of all else surrounding it: a sense of peace amongst chaos, hope amidst despair.

But this experience of Shabbat was a privilege. The serenity was a result of the protective measures taken to ensure my safety. I can only imagine that the fear I experienced in the bomb shelter–the defenselessness in the midst of explosives hurtling from the sky, collapsing buildings and pillars of smoke–was a mere fraction of what the Gazans were experiencing with no Iron Dome or bomb shelters to protect them. Do they, living just sixty miles away, have the same opportunity to gather, to pray for peace amidst the bloodshed?

What role do we play, as people who are able to secure ourselves from the violence? The reaction thus far has been uniform: offering statistics to argue which side has suffered more, disclosing details that preserve the image of one while attributing full blame to the other.

What do these responses achieve? If anything, they ensure the perpetuation of a conflict that thrives off of the absolute separation from the other–identifying the differences between a family in Gaza and a family in Sderot instead of drawing them closer, unifying them under a single category of human: people whose lives have been affected by this awful, relentless conflict. 

The struggle for ethical superiority distracts from the pursuit of a solution to the violence. The fight is not for the moral high ground. It’s for peace.

Unfortunately, no ceasefire on its own will produce a lasting peace; this round of violence is rooted in years of accumulated tension. Peace and security are only possible if we acknowledge the underlying context in this situation: the ongoing occupation. In Gaza, millions of people’s basic human needs are not met on a daily basis. In the West Bank, settlement construction continues. They inflict added tension to the region and fuel hatred on both sides, and we cannot hope to take any steps towards reconciliation while this continues. Each day these conditions persist is a day we move further from any prospect of peace. As American Jews, by failing to explicitly condemn the occupation, we share responsibility for undercutting the prospects of achieving a two-state solution. Jewish community leaders such as Adam Bronfman and Eric Yoffie have recently, even in the midst of the ongoing operation, called for an end to settlement construction. Will the rest of the community join them? 

The latest round of peace talks have collapsed. Currently, Hamas is the only Palestinian entity to which Israel seems to respond in a serious way. What if the Palestinian people witnessed an equally wholehearted reaction from Israeli leaders towards its more moderate authorities who pursue an end to the conflict through diplomatic means? Only through these nonviolent methods can we achieve a lasting end to this violence, and only after that can Israel celebrate true, sustainable security.

We, who are able to come together to pray for peace in this time of war, must ask ourselves: when we pray for peace, do we really mean it? Are we demanding unrealistic requirements to achieve it, focusing our attention on arguments that can only be held from the safety of the Iron Dome? Or are we willing to concede some dignity, and make the compromises necessary to attain a real, sustainable peace?

Nothing is going to end the ever-heightening escalation of violence other than a peace agreement; there is no other viable long-term solution. What are we going to do to make that a reality?

ARIEL ROSE BRENNER is a student at UC Berkeley studying architecture and involved in J Street

We will defend Israel


I remember it like yesterday. Blissfully ignorant of the horror that had been unfolding, I happily sent my kids off to school in Los Angeles, California that fateful morning of September 11, 2001. Within the hour, all children returned to the nestled safety of their homes, as we adults sat transfixed to our TVs and watched unimaginable terror. I also remember like yesterday the feeling that Israel, from this moment forward, is no longer alone. Now America understands what Israel goes through every day. Now America understands Israel’s pain. America and Israel – blood brothers- so to speak. Ah ha!! Now America truly knows what it’s like to kiss your kids goodbye for the day only to never return.

A few years later in the late summer of 2005, I am once again glued to my American TV set as I watch through flowing tears the last residents of Gush Katif leave their home. For those of us accused of usually seeing the world through rose colored glasses, there was hope behind the pain. Now the world will see how committed we are to peace. What a precious gift we have just handed the Palestinians and in such good faith. Ah ha! Now the world will insist that they do likewise.

Today, in the midst of Operation Protective Edge, I sit glued to the TV. This time, however, I can proudly say that I’m watching my Israeli broadcasts from my home in Modiin, Israel. I am pleasantly shocked to hear UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon say the following.

“The United Nation’s position is clear. We condemn the rocket attacks. These must stop immediately. We condemn the use of civilian sites, schools and hospitals and civilian facilities for military purposes. No country would accept rockets raining down on its territory.”

 Ah ha! Finally!! Yahoo!!! The UN gets it!! 

Fast forward almost 13 years from that first Ah ha! moment and I’m disheartened to say there was no moment nor do I believe there will ever be a moment.  Quotes from the American administration like, “We would like to see both sides show restraint” only try to equate us with terrorists. We are not equal. One side exists in order to kill and destroy the lives of innocent civilians; the other side defends and protects its people while specifically trying not to kill or injure innocent civilians. Would Americans equate themselves with Al-Qaida?

The Palestinians were handed Gaza on a silver platter and have instead used every shred of energy towards the destruction of Israel at the expense of their own population. We have provided them with water, electricity and cement and we see that they have built tunnels for terror. Seeing the beautiful “before” pictures of Gush Katif makes me queasy. While rockets are still sailing through our skies, the United Nations has just established a council to investigate Israeli war crimes in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. The world has simply gone mad. To quote Minister of Israel Naftali Bennet, “What, are you kidding me???”

The only Ah ha moment I have now is that this amazing little country is home for every Jew. We will continue to defend it with power, strength and unity regardless of world opinion. 

Sherrill Kaye is a fitness instructor who moved from Los Angeles to Israel six years ago with her husband and 6 kids. 

How the Syrian-Muslim and American-Jew became best friends


I’m sitting at a pub my first night in Cyprus with a group of strangers. Peering around at potential friends I begin to talk to this hilarious guy. Syria, he tells me, that’s where I am from. He giggles as he sees the shock in my eyes. “I am not going to bomb you, I promise.” He then stuck out his hand for me to shake and smiled. We shook hands and jokingly made a “world peace” promise to each other. The rest was history. The Syrian-Muslim and the American-Jew were best friends.

This was my first encounter with anyone from anywhere I was taught to hate.

The rest of my trip to Cyprus was impacted most by these situations. Coming home I found myself so torn between my pre trip and post trip views on the conflict in the Middle East. Growing up as a Jew in America I was taught that Israel was my homeland, that all the Palestinians were wrong and that the Middle East was a scary and dangerous place that hated Americans and wanted all Jews dead. It has been a month since I have been home now and my views have become so different.

I am not writing this because I think it will change the world.  I don’t have statistics to share or a photo of a bomb going off in a helpless city. I am writing this because I do not feel as though I can sit back and do nothing as my best friend fears rockets while taking the bus in Beersheba and my Palestinian friends are threatened in the west bank daily. I am writing this because after being to Israel three times I believe I have the right to state my own unbiased opinions.

I am writing this because with my arrival date in Tel Aviv less than two months away; I am afraid.

Facebook is the worst. I sign on and scroll down my feed looking for a distraction. Suddenly I could use a distraction.  My news feed feels like a battlefield. People throwing out opinions, facts, and pictures of burnt children. Middle aged adults yelling back and forth through comments in a computer screen. Warped videos, misleading news articles and subjective opinions plague the once peaceful feed. But something is different. The colors of the flags in the articles are different; they are the “enemies”. For the first time since I installed my Facebook I have Muslim and Palestinian friends. There becomes no escape from the war. I am not just talking about the actual war. I am talking about the verbal war against brothers.

One of my most memorable moments during my semester abroad was a project I did for my Middle Eastern politics class. I was told to research the Sharia law and report back to the class with what I learned.  I neglected to find the answers on Wikipedia and instead decided to discover the answers from first hand sources. I gathered a group of Muslim students together and went around interviewing them on their views of the law and on being Muslim in general. We sat for a good half hour talking deeply about their interpretations and how it affected their personal lives. Before I knew it more Muslim students were gathering around.  In a matter of moments we were no longer strangers from conflicting countries; now we were friends laughing together and educating each other. Getting of topic, we instead discussed our similarities; the similarities between our two seemingly opposite religions.

Really made me wonder how two groups of people who don’t eat pork can’t seem to get along…

We had just spent an afternoon hiking in the rain through uncharted territory. Exhausted, we spend most the car ride home silent. He then broke the quietness with a question I was not expecting. “What religion are you?” He asked sweetly. This Muslim, body builder and I had been creating a solid friendship for the last few weeks after meeting at a soccer game. I had always assumed he knew I was Jewish so I was a little put off when he asked. Hesitantly, I responded. He then looked me in the eye, smiled, and told me, “We are cousins”.

These three short words had me reevaluating all my past beliefs. The people in these supposedly Jew hating countries didn’t hate me at all, in fact; they wanted to be friends.

It is my second week and I am Couch surfing in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. My pay-as- you go phone does not work on this side of the tiny island and I have never Couch surfed before, so you can believe my anxiety when two girlfriends and I planned a trip to stay at a Palestinians house for a couple days in the middle of nowhere.

Flash forward a few hours and, relaxed, my host and I walk around an ancient castle ahead of the rest of the group. Before I know it the conversation takes a turn and we begin talking about the conflict in Israel. He had left his Palestinian home months ago because he could not stand being in a country with so much hate. He told me that he did miss his family but did not know if he would go back because there was so much pain there. Sadly, he began to tell me that one of the main reasons he left was because his fiancé was killed by an Israeli soldier during a rally. He kisses me and thanks me for listening.

This conversation began to put things in perspective.

Before I knew it all my Palestinian friends were telling me horror stories from their own personal experiences in the country. Suddenly the country I was taught to love my whole life didn’t seem so innocent. And yet I couldn’t help but still feel the need to defend it.

 

We are not perfect people. There are evil people out there. There are people out there whose sole mission in life is to kill my people. But that does not make it my mission to do the same to them. Vengeance is not the answer. Nor is the answer to stand by and let innocent people die. There is no answer.

I am writing this because soon I will be living on a religious kibbutz in Israel. I am writing this because all my Palestinian friends want me to visit them while I am there and now I don’t know if I will be able to. I am writing this because having such dear friends on both sides makes me feel like I need to stand up for everyone. However, I am primarily writing this because I am sick of seeing so much hate comes out of the people I love.

There will never be peace without acceptance.

We can post our predisposed opinions all over the internet. We can shoot our guns and kidnap our children. We can shield our eyes to the harm. We can turn our heads and flip our T.V channels. We can hate each other and scream it. But what will it all do? There is no one completely in the right. And there will never be peace until we can speak to one another respectfully. There is terrorism on both sides. But there is also so much more. There is also love.

We can turn against our fellow man as long as we live. But then where will we be if not extinct? There are no easy answers, no automatic solutions. There are no mediated agreements or fair resolutions. We might not be able to fix the problems, stop the rockets or bring back the murdered but we can put down our weapons and instead discuss our similarities. There are so many to be learned.

All it takes is that first handshake.   

Peace Peace: A Prayer During War


Rachel is crying for her children


She refuses to be comforted


From beyond the grave she cries


Through the centuries


Her tears flow


Hagar cries too


From beyond the grave
  

Their tears intermingle


The tears of the mothers


Grieving over dead sons and daughters


Weeping over war


They try to shake us


Wake us


They see our promise


They prophesy our hope


From the place of eternity


Our mothers whisper 


Peace Peace

Shalom Salaam

Can you hear it?


Rabbi Naomi Levy is the founder and spiritual leader of the outreach congregation Nashuva and the author of To Begin Again (Knopf), Talking to God (Knopf) and Hope Will Find You (Harmony). 

Oslo Accords pioneer Ron Pundak dies


Ron Pundak, an Israeli historian who helped engineer the Oslo Accords, has died.

Pundak, who died Friday of cancer at the age of 59, was an expert on Jordanian and Palestinian history who, through his contacts, began talks with Palestinian leaders in 1992 with the permission of Yossi Beilin, who was deputy foreign minister at the time.

The talks led to the signing in 1993 of the Oslo Accords, which provided the first formal framework for the still ongoing talks with the Palestinians

Pundak headed the Peres Center for Peace from 2001 to 2012.

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister now leading negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, said in a statement Friday that Pundak was “a Zionist who believed in peace and strived for it to his last day, and who sought to engage and contribute to peace without being deterred by radicals, cynics and the despairing.”

Painting love over hate on vandalized Workmen’s Circle mural


An organization that fosters Jewish identity has attempted to turn a recent act of vandalism into an opportunity for bridge-building between Jews and Muslims. 

Last weekend, the SoCal Arbeter Ring/Workmen’s Circle added the Arabic word “Salaam” — and its Hebrew and English equivalents, “Shalom” and “Peace,” to a vandalized mural that covers its home in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. 

The organization’s addition to its 1998 mural is a response to incidents that took place on Feb. 6. That’s when vandals spray-painted the words “Free Palestine!!!!” onto the mural. Hours later, another set of vandals responded, in turn, by turning the word “Free” into an expletive

The graffiti remained until its recent removal by the City of Los Angeles Board of Public Works Office. An ongoing investigation by police has not identified any suspects. 

[Related: Graffiti at Workmen’s Circle]

In the wake of the incidents, Workmen’s Circle denounced the vandals in a public statement. Its district committee voted to make the addition to the mural out of the belief that the best way to respond to acts of hate is with compassion.

Eric Gordon, a district committee member, said, “It often does take an extreme act, a catastrophe, an accident, to awaken you to needs you didn’t think you had before. … What are we going to do? Respond to an act of hate by saying “F— Palestine” on the mural? So, we’re trying to be responsive.

“We agree with ‘Free Palestine.’ It’s not the best way to express it. We are sorry and angry that they chose that way to express it, but they do have a point,” he said.

The wall-sized mural itself — titled “A shenere un besere velt” (a Yiddish phrase meaning “A more beautiful and better world”) — depicts cultural, biblical and historical imagery. The imagery includes a menorah, Israelites wandering in the desert, a young girl waving Israeli and American flags, and more.


SoCal Arbeter Ring/Workmen's Circle summoned muralist Eliseo Silva (below) to make an addition to its mural. Photo by Ryan Torok.

For the addition, the group summoned the mural’s original artist, Eliseo Silva. A non-Jewish, Filipino muralist and Los Angeles resident, Silva worked all weekend long on the mural, painting the new words onto three leaves. He also painted an olive tree.

It’s a minor addition to a mural extending the length of a 60-foot wall, but Gordon said the images send a message to the community that the only sensible way to respond to incitement is by being open to dialogue. 

It also represents a reunion between Silva and Gordon, who conceived of the mural when he took over the organization in 1995. 

“It doesn’t seem like a long time ago,” Silva said of when Gordon first commissioned him to work on the mural 16 years ago.

On March 15, wearing an apron and gesturing with fingertips covered in paint, Silva said he’s changed more than the mural. 

“I think I’ve probably gained 70 pounds,” he said. “Eric looks the same. He hasn’t changed.”

Netanyahu wants ‘durable peace’ with Palestinians soon


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to work for a “durable peace” with the Palestinians in the coming weeks and reiterated his refusal to accept a deal with Iran that included any uranium enrichment capacity.

Netanyahu in his speech Tuesday morning to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference, embraced an optimistic vision of peace with the Palestinians as the key to broader regional stability.

“I’m prepared to make a historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors,” Netanyahu said.

“Peace would be good for us, peace would be good for the Palestinians, but peace would open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and leading countries in the Arab world,” he said. “Peace with the Palestinians would turn our relations with them and with many Arab countries into open and thriving relationships.”

Netanyahu repeated a number of his demands of a peace agreement, including Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a long-term Israeli military presence on the Jordan-West Bank border, but he suggested that a deal could come soon.

“As we work in the coming days, in the coming weeks, to forge a durable peace, I hope that the Palestinian leadership will stand with Israel and the United States on the right side of the moral divide, the side of peace, reconciliation and hope,” he said.

He paused, waiting for the AIPAC supporters to applaud this vision, and when they did not, he explicitly solicited their applause.

“You can clap — you want to encourage them to do that!” he said.

Netanyahu’s message came a day after meetings he held with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Obama, before meeting Netanyahu, had told Bloomberg News that he would impress upon him the need to embrace the framework agreement Kerry hopes to unveil soon, and in Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech, he appeared to do so.

The two leaders also discussed the nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers, and in this area, Netanyahu did not appear to budge from his insistence than any deal include a total dismantling of Iran’s nuclear capability, including an end to enrichment.

“The leading powers of the world are talking about leaving Iran with the capability to enrich uranium,” he said. “That would be a grave error.”

Obama and officials in his administration have indicated that leaving Iran with a limited enrichment capability is the likeliest outcome of the talks.

Netanyahu said that Israel could not accept such a status.

“We will never be brought to the brink of extinction again,” he said. ”As prime minister of Israel, I will do whatever I must do to defend the Jewish state of Israel.”

Netanyahu also repeated his call for enhanced sanctions on Iran, something that Obama has rejected, saying they could scuttle the talks.

“You know how you get that agreement with Iran?” Netanyahu said. “Not by relieving pressure, but by adding pressure!”

A focus of Netanyahu’s speech was the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel, which he described as anti-Semitic.

“Those who wear the BDS label should be treated as we treat any anti-Semite and bigot — they should be exposed and condemned,” he said. “The boycotters should be boycotted!”

In Washington, Netanyahu brings sunny peace vision, dark Iran warning


Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington determined to hold the line on Iran, but he also brought something new: an expansive vision of Middle East peace.

The Israeli prime minister remained firm, after meeting with President Obama on Monday, in insisting that any nuclear deal must remove Iran’s uranium enrichment program — an outcome U.S. officials say is unlikely — and vowed that Israel would defend its interests.

On Israeli-Palestinian peace, though, Netanyahu aimed to please his American hosts: He joined Secretary of State John Kerry for the first time in expressing hope that there would be a breakthrough soon and articulating an optimistic vision of the benefits peace will bring, one that not so long ago he might have ridiculed.

“I’m prepared to make a historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors, a peace that would end a century of conflict and bloodshed,” Netanyahu said in his speech Tuesday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. “Peace would be good for us. Peace would be good for the Palestinians. But peace would also open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and leading countries in the Arab world.”

Netanyahu’s rhetorical flourishes on peace came after he landed in a political environment marked in recent weeks by tensions between the Obama administration and Israel and its American defenders over how to deal with Iran.

Netanyahu’s remarks also came on the heels of an interview published Sunday in which President Obama bluntly warned that Israel could face international isolation if an agreement with the Palestinians is not reached and urged Netanyahu to show leadership in advancing peace.

The particulars of the peace vision that Netanyahu articulated in his AIPAC address included cooperating with Israel’s Arab neighbors on sharing water, developing medical cures and launching business startups. It’s a vision similar to the “New Middle East” Shimon Peres predicted in the 1990s and that Netanyahu mercilessly mocked in the 1996 election in which he defeated Peres.

Netanyahu added his usual caveats: The Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and Israel must maintain a military presence along the West Bank-Jordan border. But for the first time since talks were renewed last July at Kerry’s behest, Netanyahu suggested that a breakthrough was possible.

“So as we work in the coming days, in the coming weeks, to forge a durable peace, I hope that the Palestinian leadership will stand with Israel and the United States on the right side of the moral divide, the side of peace, reconciliation and hope,” he said.

Netanyahu had to remind the AIPAC crowd to applaud: “You can clap — you want to encourage them to do that!”

The optimistic tone stood in contrast to Netanyahu’s posture in the Oval Office with President Obama before their meeting. After Obama’s opening remarks, Netanyahu shifted in his seat, leaned forward and let out an audible sigh.

He thanked and praised Obama, ran through his Iran demands and then got to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“We’ve learned from our history — Jewish history, but I think from general history — that the best way to guarantee peace is to be strong,” Netanyahu said. “And that’s what the people of Israel expect me to do –- to stand strong against criticism, against pressure, stand strong to secure the future of the one and only Jewish state.”

That clearly was a reference to an interview Obama had given Bloomberg News that was published the day before the leaders met. Obama insisted that Israel urgently needed to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and suggested that Netanyahu needed to rise to the occasion.

“I believe that Bibi is strong enough that if he decided this was the right thing to do for Israel, that he could do it,” Obama said. “If he does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. And as I said before, it’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.”

Netanyahu may have felt the need to defend himself in the Oval Office, but in fact, according to sources in the pro-Israel community, it was his intention to embrace aspects of the framework peace agreement Kerry hopes to unveil in coming weeks.

Indeed, Netanyahu and AIPAC officials consistently praised Kerry throughout the conference for his thorough approach to developing a framework proposal. In his speech to AIPAC, Netanyahu called Kerry “indomitable.”

Israel especially has appreciated Kerry for his sequencing: He has first thoroughly vetted his proposals, including on Jerusalem and on securing the West Bank, with Israel and is only now in close consultations with Palestinians. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is due to meet Obama on March 17.

Embracing Kerry’s initiative gives Netanyahu some room to hold fast to his positions on the Iran talks. The Obama administration has beaten back for now demands spearheaded by Netanyahu and AIPAC that the United States upgrade existing sanctions on Iran.

But Netanyahu’s bottom line did not change in the wake of his meeting with Obama: He continued to reserve Israel’s right to act as it sees fit unless the talks eliminate entirely Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium. Obama and other U.S. officials have suggested that Iran will likely emerge from a final agreement with a limited enrichment capacity.

“Unfortunately, the leading powers of the world are talking about leaving Iran with the capability to enrich uranium,” he told AIPAC. “I hope they don’t do that because that would be a grave error. It would leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power.”

He explained the danger, as he has in the past, by invoking the Holocaust.

“Letting the worst terrorist regime on the planet get atomic bombs would endanger everyone, and it certainly would endanger Israel since Iran openly calls for our destruction,” he said. “Seventy years ago, our people, the Jewish people, were left for dead. We came back to life. We will never be brought to the brink of extinction again. As prime minister of Israel, I will do whatever I must do to defend the Jewish state of Israel.”

A transformative journey through the West Bank


It took a bus with Palestinian plates, a Palestinian driver and about 60 minutes to begin our transformative journey to the West Bank. Aside from the traffic on the way to the border crossing, our group of 10 Reform rabbis (on a trip sponsored by the Central Conference of American Rabbis) barely knew we had left the outskirts of Jerusalem. As we wound our way to our first destination, we viewed a myriad of brand-new multi-story buildings, showing us that the West Bank’s national bird is the same as Israel’s — the construction crane.

Soon we arrived at ZAMN, a comfortable coffee shop in Ramallah. Again we could barely tell the difference from Israel’s Aroma Café except for the names of a few cheeses and an amazing apple tart that I haven’t seen on Aroma’s menu. We relaxed on comfortable couches as we awaited a visit from senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath. Shaath spoke openly about his views, some of which we agreed with more than others. While he said he doesn’t believe Israel should be a Jewish state, he explained that the Palestinians are focusing on economic growth rather than violence to improve their situation and status in the world.

Then Huda el Jack, a partner in ZAMN, picked up on the theme of economics in the West Bank. El Jack  dispelled my preconceived notion that every woman in the West Bank wears religious garb — as if the same thing happens in Jerusalem. Instead, el Jack was dressed in casual clothes similar to any American businesswoman. She spoke eloquently about the need for economic development in the West Bank, emphasizing that young people are extremely frustrated because they cannot get jobs. El Jack, who has an MBA from Kellogg School of Management, even pointed out that the cooks at her coffee shop make more money than new lawyers.

We then headed to the new city of Rawabi, so eye-openingly modern that visitors can tour the entire town from the information center by viewing a mini-city with videos showing activities ranging from life at home to shopping and eating at restaurants. Again the people and activities looked just like those occurring in Jerusalem or Los Angeles. The actual city, built on a series of hills, has units ranging in price from $65,000 to $125,000. Again I noted my “surprise” as our tour guide entered the bus. She was a casually dressed young woman engineer whose head also was uncovered. Women visitors to the Rawabi information center were dressed in a variety of ways. As I waited for the rest of my group at one point, more of my preconceived notions fell away as I watched the office staff work together. They chatted and joked just like all co-workers. Furthermore, they kindly offered me a refreshing drink.

Eventually, we had to return to Jerusalem. We drove through older areas of the West Bank where the streets were narrow and the stores were small, again not much different from those in older parts of Jerusalem. We passed a square guarded by statues of lions that has been the scene of protests and violence in the past. But now it is calm and a place for pedestrian and car traffic. Only six hours after our journey began we again sailed across the border. But this time our hearts and minds were filled with a transformed perspective of the West Bank and its people. We carried with us new hope for continued understanding and communication, and hopes for shalom.

Israel frees Palestinian prisoners, pushes settlement plan


Israel set free 26 Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday as part of U.S.-brokered peace efforts, after pledging to press ahead with plans to build more homes in Jewish settlements.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose shuttle diplomacy led to a resumption of the negotiations in July after a three-year break, was due to return on Thursday to seek a framework agreement in talks that have shown few signs of progress.

Israel agreed to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners – the latest group is the third of four to go free – as part of the U.S.-led efforts that coaxed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiations after a three-year break.

In tandem with the prisoner releases in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has announced new construction in settlements in the West Bank.

Most of the 26 inmates going free were convicted of killing Israelis and almost all were jailed before the first Israeli-Palestinian interim peace deals were signed 20 years ago.

Palestinians have jubilantly welcomed the return home of brethren they regard as national heroes. The families of Israelis they killed or injured have voiced anger and mounted unsuccessful court challenges against their release.

Last week, an Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government – which includes pro-settlement parties – would announce plans after the latest release to build 1,400 more homes for settlers in the West Bank.

Palestinians see the settlements, which most countries regard as illegal, as an obstacle to achieving a viable state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Middle East war and pulled out of the Gaza Strip, now ruled by Hamas Islamists opposed to the U.S. peace efforts, in 2005.

Palestinian officials have cautioned the settlement push could kill chances for a peace deal. Israel says the housing projects are in areas it intends to keep in any future agreement.

In another move that drew Palestinian anger, an Israeli ministerial committee on Sunday endorsed proposed legislation to annex an area of the West Bank likely to be the eastern border of a future Palestinian state.

The step, promoted by far-right members of Netanyahu's Likud party, could weigh on the peace negotiations. But centrist Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator, said she would use her powers to block the legislation from being voted on in Parliament.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer

Will Santa bring Obama peace for Christmas?


It is too early to tell what will emerge from talks among the new diplomatic triumvirate composed of the United States, Russia and Iran. But one thing is for certain: Even the worst of all agreements is far superior to the current situation. 

Certainly, I understand the problems with Iran. I also know that the benefits, even if only the remote possibility of benefits, are better than the current conflict. Rapprochement, even just a little, between the United States and Iran, just enough to lift the U.S.-imposed sanctions against Iran, is a lot. It would be a positive move, a move in the right direction. It would break the stalemate that has handcuffed the world and dominated foreign policy for too long.

The world will be able to let out a collective breath of relief. The Iranians, the people, the citizens, will realize real relief in the form of an improved lifestyle and improved living conditions. If the only result is a happier Iranian population, it is worth it all. 

The aggressive behavior, both diplomatically and politically, that has emanated from Iran, and which has resulted in their indignant and ferocious race to attain nuclear weapons, has been a response to the isolation that Iran has been feeling these past few years. Once Iran begins talking to the United States and Russia together, the signal will go out that it is all right to deal with them, that it is OK to publicly interact with them in the international community. And once Iran is received by the international community, the immediate nuclear threat will diminish. Iran will no longer fight the conditions that have already been set down for them — they will allow spot inspections and they will limit their uranium enrichment.

None of this means that Iran has already become or is on the road to becoming a peaceful nation, but rather, that their nuclear program and their weapons issues are no longer on their own front burner.

Not everyone will be happy, not every country will be satisfied by the agreement that will be forged by the United States, Russia and Iran no matter what that agreement is. The main bone of contention, for example, between Israel and the United States on the Iranian issue is that Israel wants sanctions to remain in place until the Iranians follow through and stop their enrichment. Israel asserts that if sanctions are lifted now, reinstituting them at a later time and Israel believes that that time will come can take years. Rescinding sanctions takes only a few seconds. 

There have been whispers and there is speculation. We are being led to believe that the United States wants a plan in place by the end of December. That’s soon. A name has even been already assigned to the plan. They are calling it a “Christmas plan.”

The essence of the plan, as far as we who are not actually at the negotiating table drafting the plan can determine, would allow Iran to preserve their civilian nuclear development facilities. It permits the Iranians to enrich uranium up to 5 percent. It halts all 20 percent enrichment. It will halt all activity at the plutonium reactor in Arak. And it will transform the Fordo plant into a scientific and medical experimental facility.

That plan seems to have been agreed upon by all parties involved — the United States, which devised it; Russia, which agrees with it; and, most crucially, the Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. 

Israel wants one more condition attached to the plan. Israel wants all underground plants brought above ground. As Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, there is no reason for a peaceful plant to be underground. Only a secret military arms plant needs to be hidden. Netanyahu is correct.

Personally, I am more troubled by another issue. Iran is suddenly becoming a different kind of world player.

Suddenly, post agreement, the Iranians will hold much more power than they did before talks began. Then, they held us all in fear, but their actual power was limited. Of course it is still possible that the entire project may fall apart. Iran has its own agenda and objectives that have not changed one iota. Iran wants sanctions lifted at all costs. Iran wants to hold the reins over the entire Muslim world. But since meeting with the United States and Russia, Iran sees the possibility of having it all.

To turn a phrase, now that Iran has been sanctioned by both Russia and the United States, now that it has been given credibility by the great powers of the Western world, it is well on the road to achieving all its goals. If those goals are more important to Iran than the threat of sanctions and its own nuclear desires, the region will be a safer place to live. 

Whatever emerges, it will be for the good. 


Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World Through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).

Obama at U.N.: America’s Mideast focus is on Iran, peace talks


President Obama in an address to the United Nations said U.S. focus in the Middle East will be keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The two issues “have been a major source of instability for far too long,” Obama said Monday at the world body’s General Assembly in New York.

He expressed openness to engaging with Iran in the wake of such calls by its newly elected president, Hassan Rohani, but also emphasized in unusually explicit terms that the United States was ready to use military force to defend its interests and allies in the Middle East.

“The United States of America is willing to use all elements of our power, including the use of military force, to ensure our foreign interests in the region,” he said.

“When it is necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attacks, we will take direct action,” Obama said. “We will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. ”

Obama said Israelis had a right to live peacefully in the region and with the recognition of member U.N. states, including Arab nations, but cautioned that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank was corrosive.

“There’s growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state,” he said.

Israel should not release prisoners for peace


Releasing Palestinian prisoners as a political gesture erodes Israel’s democratic fabric and challenges the country’s core sense of justice. Ironically, it is the dissemination of justice and the people of Israel’s faith in that justice that has kept their society together. 

The citizens of a democratic country expect and believe that evil will be punished and that good will prevail. They believe that the government they elected protects them and ensures that those who murder do not go free. The exception to that expectation occurs only when the murderer is exonerated or pardoned. And when pardons do come, society takes notice and asks if the person really did the heinous act. The pardon is the safety valve that corrects the mistakes of justice.

Israel, like all democracies, relies on a series of check and balances. 

The prime minister of Israel and his cabinet are legally responsible for foreign affairs and for the safety and security of the state. About that there is no question. That ruling, just issued by the Israeli Supreme Court, paved the way for convicted Palestinian terrorists to be transferred to Gaza and to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The court ruled against the challenge of releasing the prisoners. They said that the prime minister had absolute authority in the matter. 

[PRO: Israel should release prisoners for peace]

Here is the problem: These were neither military prisoners nor security prisoners. The released prisoners and their fellow cell and soul mates awaiting imminent release were tried and convicted in civilian courts. And even if terror and nationalistic agendas were part of their collective diabolical mindset, all of these prisoners, each and every one, was tried for and convicted of murder and/or attempted murder.

Not one of these prisoners was pardoned. Not one was granted amnesty. They were all simply released in a political deal.

[Related: Who Israel released]

Justice, judgment and punishment were shoved aside. Checks and balances were thrown out. The political side trampled on the judicial branch. Had these prisoners been under military jurisdiction, I would not have liked the decision, but I would understand it. The military convicts and frees according to different standards. If these were high-security prisoners, I could understand that, too. But they are not.

Look at crimes perpetrated by some of these 26 released murderers, 14 of whom are now at home in Gaza, the others released to roam the West Bank: 

• Abu Moussa Salam Ali Atiya had been jailed since 1994 for the murder of Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg. His victim was born in Poland in 1927, and most of his family was deported to and murdered in Sobibor. Rotenberg and his brother were sent to a labor camp. He survived the Nazis. And then, on March 29, 1994, as Rothberg knelt down to lay a floor he was axed to death by two Arab laborers. One of them was Ali Atiya. 

• Kor Mattawa Hamad Faiz had been in jail since 1985 for the murder of Menahem Dadon and attempted murder of Salomon Abukasis. 

• Sha’at Azat Shaban Ata was convicted of helping murder a 51-year-old woman named Simcha Levi. Levi made her living transporting Palestinian day laborers from the Gaza Strip to work in Jewish settlements. In March 1993, she picked up three men disguised as women. They were her murderers; they beat and stabbed Levi to death.

• Salah Ibrahim Ahmad Mughdad was jailed since 1993 for the murder of Israel Tenenbaum. Tenenbaum was born in Poland in 1921, survived the Holocaust, and came to Israel in 1957 and bought a farm. After a life of work in agriculture, he retired and became a night watchman at a small hotel in the seaside city Netanya. Tenenbaum was murdered on the job.

Many of the victims were older and Holocaust survivors. Their murderers are now free. Twelve of the victims were Arab. Their murderers, too, are now free. In the coming days and weeks, more murderers will be set free. The sides have just begun talking. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PA, has already achieved victory. 

Now we wait to see what emerges at the negotiating table. We wait to see if anything emerges at the negotiating table. It might; it might not. Whatever the outcome, these released murderers will not be returning to an Israeli prison.


Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson, 2007).

+