Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Book-ended by opening and closing plenary sessions, small-group discussions focused upon a myriad of topics relating to Israel and social change: multiculturalism and Israeli identity, religious pluralism, religious feminism, global climate change, environmental peacemaking, human rights and security, the status of migrant workers and non-Jewish refugees, Israeli-Ethiopian identity, multiculturalism in the Negev and the place of Israel in contemporary American-Jewish identity.
According to the keynoter, the former Knesset deputy speaker and Meretz MK Naomi Chazan, Israel has a per capita income of $33,000, exceeding that of Belgium. But as she also pointed out, Israel has recently surpassed the United States for the widest income gap between rich and poor in the developed world. Twenty percent of the population lives below the poverty line, as do one of every three Israeli children.
Dr. Chazan indicated that Israel began as the only underdeveloped country of the many that achieved independence after World War II that has become a fully industrialized society. She also noted that Israel, together with India, are virtually the only examples from among these newly independent states that have remained democratic. Having begun impoverished in the late 1940s and the ‘50s, Israel’s been an enormous success, but the social divides remain daunting — among rich and poor, secular and religious, Ashkenazi and Mizrachi and especially between Arab and Jew.
According to Prof. Chazan, nearly 90 percent of Israeli Arabs and Jews never socialize with each other and (perhaps more shocking) 80 percent of secular children don’t even know a fellow Israeli who wears a kippa. "Israel is a multicultural society and doesn’t know it," she declared, adding that it does not have a "multicultural ethic."
By this she meant that Israelis need to learn to respect their compatriots with different backgrounds, beliefs and values, rather than to necessarily regard them as wrong or unenlightened. Israelis don’t understand that "democracy is about the rules of the game for dealing with disagreement."
The day’s events returned frequently to this central concern of building an Israel with a citizenry as diverse as it is, that is more engaged with each other and society as a whole, to overcome apathy, distrust and alienation. This was discussed in the context of a "Jewish state," what is meant by this term and how this relates to American Jews. In this connection, Eliezer Yaari, executive director of the NIF in Israel, stated a preference for a factual description of Israel as being a "state of Jews" rather than the ideological construct of a Jewish state— but this thought was not fleshed out much, even after Yaari was challenged; my impression isn’t that Yaari was hiding anything but that it can be a genuinely difficult issue even for one to think through on one’s own. Click to continue
Monday, October 29, 2007
With Condoleezza Rice visiting the Middle East to consult with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on composing a joint declaration of principles before the Annapolis summit, currently scheduled for late November or December, Meretz-Yahad party chairman, Dr. Yossi Beilin, addressed Meretz USA on Thursday, October 18th.
Throughout his presentation, Dr. Beilin stressed the importance of the upcoming peace conference at Annapolis, arguing that time for a two-state solution is rapidly running out. As evidence he cited the fact that more and more people, including Israeli settlers, Palestinian extremists, and post-Zionist leftists are beginning to believe that some variant of a single state solution is the only way forward.
Although Dr. Beilin acknowledged that the Annapolis conference is emerging from bizarre circumstances – specifically, there are three weak 'protagonists' leading the 'show' – he argued that this might offer great potential. In the first place, each of the three leaders has legitimacy: some 70 MKs [a strong majority] – many from the opposition – would support a peace process led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; President Mahmoud Abbas was elected by 62% of Palestinians; and President George W. Bush remains, for now, the 'leader of the world.'
Additionally, both parties now know each others' "red lines." Many previous agreements [and failures] can provide guidelines for the negotiations, and the lead negotiators have a good deal of experience with the issues.
Despite these positive feelings, Dr. Beilin expressed disappointment that not all relevant parties had been invited to participate in the conference. In particular, he stressed the importance of Israel negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza, which will not accept being ignored while the Israelis deal solely with Abbas. If left out, Dr. Beilin said, "They will try to spoil the party." He also pointed out that the main opposition to negotiations with Hamas comes from Fatah, which wants to talk to Hamas eventually, but on its own terms.
Dr. Beilin next turned to the question of what must happen for the conference to succeed. He suggested that rather than agreeing on a final-status framework, the negotiators should reach a definitive agreement in principle on a single core issue. This issue, he suggested, should be that of borders and what land must eventually be swapped across the Green Line. For the other issues, the Annapolis negotiators should make do with more general solutions.
Explaining what the Meretz party should do to further the peace process, Dr. Beilin said that it would support the Prime Minister in his negotiations with the Palestinians, as long as he shows sincere intentions to make progress. As for the United States, Dr. Beilin emphasized that the U.S. Administration should not merely facilitate negotiations – the Israeli and Palestinian governments already talk – but should, instead, create the dynamic the parties will make concessions to the United States which they might not want to make directly to the other.
Concluding, Dr. Beilin turned away from the peace conference to the environment, citing the decision to 'take the party green.' Historically, Meretz has been the Israeli party most concerned with the environment. But in the last few years, the issue has not been emphasized; no Meretz MK has devoted his/her time to it. Yet, in the meantime, the issue has become much more important globally — it is now an "existential question." In addition, the nascent Israeli Green party has, in the last few years, taken votes away from Meretz — but without receiving enough of its own votes to actually become part of the Knesset. Becoming green once again is, therefore, not only allows Meretz-Yahad to take on an extremely important issue but to also, hopefully, gain more seats and influence on the Israeli government.
Friday, October 26, 2007
They continually try to protect themselves from the charge of anti-Semitism by saying that lobbies are part of the democratic process and that they mean no ill for Israel, and then go on in detail to attack both the "Lobby" and Israel— accusing them wrongly of being a "necessary but insufficient" cause for the war in Iraq. This tends to get Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell off the hook. It also resembles anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the past that accused Jews of conspiring and manipulating great events to the detriment of non-Jews— although I don’t see this as their intent.
There is a case to be made against AIPAC and a few groups that run with it. There is also a case to be made against the neocons, but they are not the same thing as the amorphous "Lobby" that they identify. AIPAC can be rightly criticized for making Israeli-Arab peacemaking more difficult but had virtually nothing to do with Iraq. The neocons strongly favored attacking Iraq, but they were not the decision makers, and they are not the same thing as a lobby for Israel. To be sure, they like Israel, but they also like Britain. And the highest-ranking neocon personage during Bush's first term, Paul Wolfowitz, is likewise known for advocating rights for the Palestinians. In other words, M & W are often (usually in fact) off the mark.
In their book, they refer to Meretz USA twice. Once, as part of a list of dovish Jewish groups, including Americans for Peace Now (APN), that support a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. But the point here is really to assail even dovish parts of the "Lobby" for supposedly not conditioning US aid to Israel on an end to settlement expansion in the West Bank. Yet APN did, in fact, precisely support the withholding of US loan guarantees while settlements were being expanded, during the term of the senior President Bush. But of course, M & W had no idea, as they make the point that APN, Meretz USA, Ameinu, Israel Policy Forum and Brit Tzedek are really part of the Israel Lobby and therefore bad somehow.
Meretz USA did not exist during the senior Bush administration. Americans for Progressive Israel, a predecessor of Meretz USA, advocated a more complex point of view than APN: that because the loan guarantees were important to help settle the massive wave of about one million new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, this was but another reason for Israel to end expanding settlements in the occupied territories. API’s bottomline position was to oppose the settlements, arguing that their expansion endangered the loan guarantees.
M & W wrongly place the Jewish Voice for Peace in that list of dovish Jewish organizations that support a two-state solution because JVP is agnostic on two states and can be said to lean toward one state. Yet the JVP alone among those listed is praised by M & W for supporting the withholding of US aid to Israel as leverage against the settlements; they even suggest that JVP is, therefore, NOT part of the Lobby— high praise indeed in the eyes of M & W.
Their second mention of Meretz USA is in recounting how it was refused membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American-Jewish Organizations; this had to do with Meretz USA’s dovish leanings. There is also a mention of the Union of Progressive Zionists being attacked by the Zionist Organization of America for sponsoring a tour of "Breaking the Silence," former IDF soldiers protesting the occupation and that the UPZ was supported to remain in the coalition for on-campus Israel advocacy. This victory for the UPZ over the ZOA does not seem to have impacted their line of argument, however.
The fact that the UPZ was founded and supported by Meretz USA and Ameinu is not noted. That Jewish and even Zionist organizations consider themselves to support Israel’s well being but don’t automatically support Israeli government policies goes unexamined because it complicates M & W’s simplistic thesis.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Prepared by Ron Skolnik, Assistant Director, and the Staff of Meretz USA
During an address on the Middle East on July 16, US President George Bush issued a call for, “an international meeting … of representatives from nations that support a two-state solution” between
In the face of such an information overload, the following “Guide to the Perplexed” was conceived as a way of zeroing in on the key players and central questions pertinent to the upcoming conference, which is scheduled to take place later this fall. Cutting through the public posturing, disinformation and diplomatic fog that are part and parcel of any Middle Eastern negotiation, this “Guide” will help distinguish between what we know for sure and the various rumors that are circulating in both the press and blogosphere.
Click here to read the analysis in full.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Still, Podhoretz’s concern about the looming danger of a nuclear-armed theocratic regime in Iran is reasonable. Unfortunately, I see no viable military option for either the US or Israel (especially not for Israel, which even Podhoretz knows, lacks the military capability) to destroy the hardened Iranian nuclear facilities — let alone to bear the costs of Iran’s inevitable acts of retaliation, directly and by proxy terrorists (e.g., Hezbollah and Hamas) and economic means (i.e., oil).
But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (although not the ‘supreme leader’ under Iran's theocratic system) is, unlike Podhoretz, a head of state; and supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini has made at least one creepy recent speech proclaiming that every square meter of Israel is reachable by Iran's missiles. Ahmadinejad did not simply make some idle, abstract statement that Israel should "pass into history," as my frequent e-mail debater, David McReynolds (the retired head of the War Resisters League and a leader of what’s left of the Socialist Party), has indicated by way of excuse.
The source of legitimate concern about Iran's intentions comes from the frightening confluence of a number of things. It is not enough to dismiss these separately as idle ravings; taken together, they are evidence of a grave potential threat:
1) Ahmadinejad's official backing for Holocaust denial
2) His official sponsorship for "a world without Zionism," as an international gathering in Tehran put it
3) His repeated statements that Israel should "disappear"
4) His insistence upon the development of nuclear energy without allowing adequate access to international inspectors to guarantee only peaceful applications
5) Iran's possession and development of missiles with the capability of hitting Israel with nuclear weapons
6) Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas and its supply of missiles to Hezbollah
7) His statements (and/or those of some others associated with the regime) that Iran could survive a nuclear exchange but that Israel could not, because of how small it is
8) Evidence that Ahmadinejad's religious convictions include a doomsday scenario, a Muslim version of the extreme Christian theology of Armeggedon, with the "Mahdi" returning to rule the earth rather than Christ.
Again, I do not believe that either the US or Israel has a viable military option. Some artful combination of diplomatic overtures and economic threats seems to be the wisest course. Israel’s best bet is to rigorously pursue peace with Syria and the Palestinians.
A great benefit of peace with Syria would be to interrupt the flow of missiles and other support to Hezbollah and to disentangle Syria from its close alliance with Iran. An additional benefit of peace with the Palestinians would be to get Iran off Israel’s back, as even Ahmadinejad is quoted as saying that if the Palestinians are satisfied with an agreement with Israel, Iran would go along with it. This, of course, still leaves open the possibility that if Hamas or others close to Iran reject an Israeli-Palestinian peace, that Iran would continue to pose a danger.
Friday, October 19, 2007
In American- Jewish lore, the shtetl (small town) evokes much nostalgia. Whether it’s the writings of Sholom Aleichem [or] family reminiscences, ... the shtetl symbolized a place of joy and delight. The reality was considerably different. ...
My shtetl was Keidan, in Lithuania. Its total pre-World War II population was about 9,000 — of whom 6,000 were Jews. After the war started, many of the Jews fled eastward. When the Germans conquered Lithuania, they found 2,700 Jews in Keidan. All were slaughtered one night by the indigenous population and are now buried in a common grave not far from the old Jewish cemetery. Some of the murderers were my schoolmates in gymnasium (high school). ...
Most Eastern European Jews lived in shtetls. They came in different sizes. The larger ones had their own educational system, and while most were secular, it was traditional to have a rabbi. Jews living in nearby villages saw themselves as part of the shtetl community. Usually these towns or villages were surrounded by farms owned by non-Jews who outnumbered the Jews and had very little contact with [them].
Characteristically ubiquitous in the shtetl were the poverty and the miserable living conditions of most inhabitants and the constant anti-Semitism, usually bred by clergy in the churches.
A small proportion of the Jewish population were merchants and professionals. By the standards of those days, they were middle class. Many more were working people trying to eke out a living, not too successfully. Most lived in decrepit buildings, without any sanitary facilities. ...
During winter, it snowed incessantly. There was no snow removal and the accumulation turned into ice, sometimes five or six feet high. The lucky ones wore snowshoes made of felt that kept the feet warm, a luxury not everybody could afford. In the spring, the ice melted and the roads turned into rivers of mud. The trek to school was not pleasant.
Although the Orthodox maintained an old-fashioned kheder in our town, our school was a Tarbut school. This meant that it was secular, run in Hebrew with a "modern" curriculum. School consisted of four elementary grades and another four years of middle school. Anybody who wanted to pursue an academic career had a choice of trying to get into the town gymnasium (pronounced with a hard g), which had a heavy Catholic bent or, means permitting, to continue in one of the two Tarbut high schools located in the larger city, 40 miles away.
Our community was highly organized, mostly Zionist. While the synagogues were full during the holidays, they were used more as community centers than religious institutions. They also served as welfare centers for those who needed help.
Among the bright spots were the youth movements, mostly Zionist. ... The dominant youth organization in my town was Hashomer Hatzair, the socialist-Zionist "Young Guard" movement. We had our own moadon (club house), with a library of several thousand books in Hebrew and Yiddish.
Hashomer Hatzair was heavily infused with the scouting tradition. ... During the summer there was camp, organized at a nearby farm. ... The hay shed served as the place to sleep. A narrow circular trench, about a foot and a half wide, served as both table and chairs, with campers sitting on one bank with their food resting on the other. A nearby "stove" consisted of a pit with poles suspending pots over firewood.
Even as I write these lines I realize how difficult it is to convey the complexity of life in the shtetl and what drove so many to leave it. I can also understand why, in spite of all the hardships, it generated so much nostalgia.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Speaking after a preview screening at the Manhattan JCC, Tovah Feldshuh, who portrays Golda Meir yet again, indicated that "O Jerusalem" had a severe budgetary problem. She related that the director Elie Chouraqui "made it work" through the liberal use of stock documentary footage and spare editing. Two of her scenes were cut entirely. She even mentioned that the filming wasn't entirely completed.
With all due respect to Ms. Feldshuh, the acting met a very low standard. Aside from Feldshuh, the only well-known members of the cast are Ian Holm as Ben-Gurion, played spot-on physically but completely without depth, and Tom Conti, unrecognizable to me in little more than a cameo as the British commanding general. The actors are imprisoned by their script, which makes them speechify rather than talk to each other.
Most of the characters are so badly drawn that looking at a cast listing afterwards, I didn't remember most of them. And I didn't much care what happened to them, even though several die. To call this 'melodrama' would be a step up, as melodramas often succeed in affecting our emotions.
Worse still, evidenced by their own publicity, the producers don't even know what they purport to be doing. "O Jerusalem" is based upon the 1970s popular historical account of the same name, co-authored by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. But a postcard publicizing the movie erroneously calls the book, a "novel."
Lilly Rivlin, the immediate past president of Meretz USA and a filmmaker in her own right, had been a researcher for the book. She attended this screening and was very disappointed; she was nonplused when I showed her the postcard.
Although what has been written of these events since may supercede the authority of the work by Collins and Lapierre, it was an honest and powerful attempt to depict history. This movie muddies history entirely.
For example, the uninformed viewer would have no notion that the Arab Legion of Transjordan captured the Old City of Jerusalem. Its Jewish defenders are bloodied but still standing at the end of the battle and the combatants on both sides literally embrace each other, illustrating the film's saccharin point of view that there are few bad guys here: There are hotheads and terrorists on both sides, with the Irgun and the Stern Gang the only ones explicitly named as such. Unseen forces have pushed Arabs and Jews into killing each other.
In the broadest sense, the conflict did make regular people (as opposed to monsters) fight each other, but this is generally the case with war. This movie is neither true to the book nor to history.
Monday, October 15, 2007
The various reactions to Professors Mearsheimer and Walt on the "Israel Lobby," which Levy helpfully links us to, remind me of the proverbial committee of the blind examining an elephant. Although Levy admits that M & W overdraw the extent of "Israel Lobby" influence on Iraq policy, his focus is on how the Lobby inhibits a more assertive and positive role for the US in Israel-Arab peacemaking. A must-read at the Americans for Peace Now website is a closely reasoned analysis by stalwart peace advocate Leonard Fein who ably and forcefully refutes the M & W thesis on the Lobby's impact on Iraq. (I found the review by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Republic emotionally satisfying, but Goldberg did not get into the fine points with the detail that made Fein’s critique so effective.)
Levy's not wrong on the facts, but I feel he's politically misguided. We have a right as Jews and Zionists to feel threatened and insulted by M & W's work. I want to say, "Where’s the outrage?" Levy expresses outrage for the Lobby but not M & W. Leonard Fein, with the same political values and outlook as Levy and therefore just as skeptical a view of the Lobby, is outraged by M & W. While I understand where Levy is coming from (he feels engaged in a political struggle–in Israel and in the US–against many of the same people assaulted by M & W), I personally lean toward Fein.
This links to Levy’s blog posting and to his book review in Haaretz.
Friday, October 12, 2007
... Mearsheimer and Walt are not anti-Semites, and The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy does not portray Israel as uniquely evil or "singularly pernicious." But just because a book is not bigoted does not mean it is good, and the one that Mearsheimer and Walt have written suffers from significant methodological deficiencies, which is a polite way of saying it's a mess. In expanding their 13,000-word article into a 500-page book (with more than 100 pages of notes!), they have succeeded mainly in exacerbating the flaws of their original argument. They seem to know little about how American government works, how lobbyists function or how the United States interacts with the world at large. They are blind to history and tone-deaf to ideology. Because they blame America's Middle Eastern rampage on a knot of wily Zionist agents, they seem to think that the US role in the region would turn benign if those agents were removed.
The result is, bizarrely enough, an exculpatory portrait of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and the rest of the "Vulcans," whom Mearsheimer and Walt depict as naïve but fundamentally well intentioned. The American people should not blame them if they've made a mess of things in Iraq. It's not their fault, you see. Foreigners made them do it– or, if not foreigners, then Americans loyal to foreign interests.
Mearsheimer and Walt are a classic example of pundits hatching a thesis and then hacking away at the facts to make them fit. This is not to deny that their argument possesses a certain superficial plausibility. Clearly, Israel's influence in Washington is enormous. ...
They advance a dualistic view that has the US national interest in one corner and the Israel lobby in the other, with the latter consistently riding roughshod over the former. This entirely artificial distinction leads to some remarkable conclusions, the most astounding of which is that the invasion of Iraq did not originate in a breakdown or crisis in American politics but rather was imposed on a reluctant Bush Administration from without: "There is abundant evidence that Israel and the lobby played crucial roles in making that war happen.... Had the circumstances been different, they would not have been able to get the United States to go to war. But without their efforts, America would probably not be in Iraq today."
The same goes for US policy regarding Syria and Iran. According to Mearsheimer and Walt, the lobby has pushed Bush "to take a more confrontational line toward Syria than he would probably have adopted on his own," while "Israel and the lobby...are the central forces today behind all the talk in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill about using military force to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities." If it wasn't for the lobby, they add, "the United States would almost certainly have a different and more effective Iran policy," which is to say, one that relied more on persuasion than military force.
The United States as inherently diplomatic and nonconfrontational? Few people, on either the right or left, would take such a notion seriously. Mearsheimer and Walt assume a degree of pliability on America's part that is astonishing given the record of American belligerence during the postwar period and especially since 9/11, when the United States has gone into imperial overdrive.
Nowhere is this upside-down Weltanschauung more apparent than in the authors' contention that oil was not a factor in the invasion of Iraq .... The entire article is at The Nation Website.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
In their presentation, they tried very hard to argue that even when they were damning this so-called Israel lobby, they weren't saying that it was doing anything unAmerican or inherently wrong. Even in "controlling" US Middle East policy, these pro-Israel forces and activists were in their rights as citizens to lobby. They state that the Jews/ Zionists/ Neocons/ Israel– they sloppily interchange these terms– have too much power while also covering themselves from the charge of antisemitism by seeming to say (like Seinfeld in an episode on being mistaken for gay) "not that there's anything wrong with that."
For example, they take pains (and had even in their original paper) to correctly point out that poll data consistently show that American Jews as a whole have been more opposed to the war in Iraq than almost any other ethnic group in the US. Abraham Foxman (national director of the Anti-Defamation League) unfortunately misses this point that M & W have made when he presents his well-intentioned book, "The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control," published to refute M & W.
What is pernicious about their thesis is the notion that Israel and the "Israel Lobby" (viewing them, wrongly, as a seamless entity) were a major factor ("necessary but insufficient" as they now carefully put it) in motivating the US invasion of Iraq. They constantly conflate the neocons with Jewish organizations and the "Israel Lobby" (and sometimes the State of Israel, for good measure). Again, I recall Mearsheimer covering himself by saying, ‘look, not all neocons are Jews’; they also make a point about the so-called Christian Zionists as an important part of the "Lobby." (I am using an upper case ‘L’ and placing this term in quotes when referring to M & W’s muddled conception of the "Lobby.")
But their claim that the "Lobby" worked throughout the '90s to overthrow Saddam is confusing the neocons with Jewish and Zionist organizations big time. This doesn't mean that Jewish and Zionist organizations didn't want Saddam to be overthrown (even I wanted to see this happen, more for humanitarian than strategic reasons), but they surely didn't expend political capital to push for this. Yet this was an important neocon objective and it's a conceptual error to see the neocons and the "Lobby" as one and the same.
Monday, October 08, 2007
"Our parents [or grandparents] are not murderers," declare the protestors. Yet others – both a couple of WW II Wehrmacht veterans and Germans of post-war generations – are shown to explain that the Wehrmacht was indeed guilty.
In one case, it is explained by guides to the exhibit that there was a range of reactions when field commanders were ordered to murder civilians: a specific incident of one regiment indicates that one battalion commander refused the order as illegal under the Wehrmacht’s legal code, another complied without protest, while a third argued but then obeyed. It is also explained that there was no documented case of punitive measures taken against soldiers who refused such orders.
The NPD neo-Nazi political party is revealed in the film as very prominently involved in mass demonstrations against the exhibit. Although the NPD recently lost its foothold in the national parliament, sociologist Werner Cohn examines the strength of this movement in his online analysis — a strength especially manifest in the legislatures of two states in the former East Germany.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Assessing the Upcoming Conference with MK Abu Vilan
MK Vilan began by explaining that the Israeli government intends to put together, before the November peace summit, a document of principles that will envision a final status agreement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He remarked that this step will not be as difficult as determining the time frame for reaching final status or how to get there.
MK Vilan also addressed the ways in which an agreement could affect Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's governing coalition. He noted that Olmert fears that if he gives up too much to the Palestinians, the coalition may fall apart as Shas, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic party, and Yisrael Beiteinu, the right-wing party led by Avigdor Lieberman, threaten to leave the government. But MK Vilan explained that he believes neither party would follow through. Shas has too much to lose by leaving; and, by participating in the government, Lieberman is showing his eagerness to appear more mainstream.
Focusing on the rivalry between Fatah and Hamas, MK Vilan explained that Hamas will likely try to derail the peace process to prevent Fatah from reaping the rewards of such a success. As a result, the Egyptians and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) are pushing Israel to be tougher on Hamas. ... To read the full summary, click here.
"Promises": Part of Meretz USA Film Series
On Monday, September 24th, 2007, Meretz USA screened "Promises," the story of seven Israeli and Palestinian children from a Palestinian refugee camp, from an Israeli settlement, and from Jerusalem. The documentary – the creation of directors B.Z. Goldberg, Justine Shapiro and Carlos Bolado – follows these children's lives over several years in the late 1990s, a time when the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace were better, and reveals both their feelings about "the other" and about the conflict. Although each child expresses wariness over meeting their Israeli or Palestinian counterparts, several of them are eventually caught up by their curiosity. Two Israeli twins, Yarko and Daniel, end up traveling to the Jenin Refugee Camp, where they laugh and play with their new Palestinian friends.
Despite this "promising" scene, the film ends on a down note. ... To read the full summary, click here.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Whereas the PP&J [Birthright] program had looked at different facets of Israeli society and activities within Israel itself, the Youth Symposium focused on the hardships of Palestinian life in the West Bank and the efforts of Israeli activists to alleviate them.
This tour was premised on the desire of young progressive American Jews to travel to the Palestinian territories and the lack of opportunities to do so with organizations not antagonistic to Israel. Although the trip revealed many injustices, it also highlighted a face of Israel deeply committed to social equality and peace. The tour guides included Israelis from the Geneva Initiative, Rabbis for Human Rights, Machsom Watch, Breaking the Silence, and Taayush. They stressed the importance of showing the Palestinians – who typically encounter only Israelis who are soldiers or settlers – to Israelis and Jews concerned for their well being. Much of the trip painted a harsh reality, but it also showed the best of Israeli society.
The first day of the Youth Symposium was spent in East Jerusalem, learning about the separation barrier from the Geneva Initiative organization, a joint Israeli-Palestinian effort that provides a detailed model peace agreement. And we learned about the demolition of Palestinian homes from Rabbis for Human Rights, Israeli rabbis who promote social justice in Israel from a Jewish religious perspective.
Most strikingly, we visited the Arab town of Abu Dis, which is cut right down the middle by the separation barrier, as well as a family whose home had been demolished that morning. In Abu Dis, the separation barrier takes the form of a wall, which severely disrupts the lives of its residents. For instance, children who have school in the other section of town must travel a long distance for their education. Meanwhile, the demolished house was a particularly difficult sight.
Our second day was spent in with Yehuda Shaul of the progressive activist group, Breaking the Silence. The contested area of Hebron is essentially a ghost town – entirely segregated. Palestinians cannot drive in 60 percent of the city and they cannot walk on certain streets.
Our third and fourth days were spent visiting checkpoints, the South Mount Hebron area and the olive groves near the Palestinian village of Qaryot. Hanna Barag, an activist with Machsom Watch, took us to the Etzion District Coordinating Office (DCO) that regulates the flow of Palestinians from Bethlehem who wish to work in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. There we learned how difficult it is to get a permit – particularly for anyone under the age of 27 (because the Israelis have found that most suicide bombers are young people).
Visiting the South Mount Hebron area was particularly illuminating. Its residents are primarily Palestinian farmers and herders, who have lived in caves and shacks for generations. These are the "invisible people" – neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Israeli government looks out for their well-being – and, in the area we visited, they are being moved to the town of Yatta as settlers come in and take their land.
Each of these events broadened the insight of the trip's participants into the nuances of the occupation. Although terrorism is a legitimate and constant concern, the reality of Palestinian life is particularly bleak. Significantly, the trip also demonstrated the remarkable vision and commitment of the Israelis working for justice and the fulfillment of the Zionist ideal.
As was the case with PP&J, there are other groups that run tours in the West Bank. There's the International Solidarity Movement, which does aid work in the West Bank, and there are trips like Birthright Unplugged, which specifically presents itself as the "anti-Birthright." These tours address important issues but promote a partisan pro- Palestinian perspective.
The Meretz USA Youth Symposium gave these young Jews a chance to view the occupation from a different political perspective. It did not espouse nor cultivate anti-Zionist or anti-Israel perspectives in its participants. As we explored the suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people by the occupation, we gave our trip an important additional dimension, highlighting in particular the sector of Israeli society that is working to change the reality of life in the West Bank and to end the occupation — those working to better and strengthen Israeli society by helping the Palestinians.
AMY K is director of programs and communications for Meretz USA. She graduated from Swarthmore College in June 2006. The Union of Progressive Zionists will be partnering with the New Israel Fund to run another Taglit-Birthright trip this winter.
Monday, October 01, 2007
BIRTHRIGHT AND POST BIRTHRIGHT by Amy K
From May 31st through June 14th of this year, I had the opportunity to take part in two unique and important programs in Israel. The first, co-sponsored by the Union of Progressive Zionists (UPZ), was funded under the auspices of Taglit-Birthright Israel. "Birthright" (as it is generally known) is the free tour of Israel underwritten by Jewish donors for young American Jews, 18 to 26. My 10-day trip with 38 other Jews my age was called "Discover Israel: Peace, Pluralism, and Social Justice."
I coordinated the second trip, the Meretz USA Youth Symposium, with Ido Gidon, who works for Israel's Meretz party. For four days, my group of about 20 young American Jews explored various parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Showing that you can love Israel but hate the occupation, these tours sharply differed from the usual Jewish-organized youth trips in the region.
The Peace, Pluralism, and Social Justice trip – PP&J, as we called it – had things in common with "typical" Birthright trips: we climbed Masada, visited the Golan Heights and Tsfat, and explored the Old City of Jerusalem. But other experiences were different: We went on a socio-economic tour of Haifa and learned about some of the problems facing the city, and, on our third day, we stopped off to learn about the "urban kibbutz movement" with a Habonim kvutza [Zionist youth living communally] in the town of Hadera.
Furthermore, all of our activities had a uniquely progressive cast. We discussed what Zionism means to us, how many of us feel that the mainstream Jewish organizations in American do not represent us, and what the peace movements are doing in both Israel and the United States. We met those hurt by the conflict on both sides, encountered activists from organizations like Givat Haviva, and had enlightening and sometimes difficult conversations with the Israeli soldiers who joined us for five days. Rather than turning us off to Israel, the complex picture painted made us feel more engaged and more connected.
This is the third year that UPZ has co-sponsored a PP&J Birthright tour. These reach out to a constituency of young American Jews who feel at odds with the "mainstream" Jewish community. A different Birthright trip might have turned them off to Israel, but the PP&J trip surprised them. I had discussions time and time again with participants who were incredibly pleased with the trip and felt that it had truly made them fall in love with Israel, flaws and all.
To be continued.