Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A boy who needs to see the doctor - Catch 22

Ahmed (a pseudonym) , a teenager from Gaza who suffers from a genetic, potentially life-threatening disease, is trying to get a permit to come into Israel for a doctor's appointment. The medical facilities in Gaza are not equipped to help him. The doctors at the Israeli hospital, experts in diagnosis and treatment of the disease, are willing to see him and hope to help him.

His cousin, who would accompany him (she is the only one in their family who knows English, feels comfortable and knowledgable in crossing over from Gaza, taking him to the hospital, navigating the hospital, and getting the information from the Israeli doctors to take back to Ahmed's parents), has been trying for weeks to get them the permits for the appointment scheduled for the end of July.

So far, she has met with frustration, run-arounds, much bureaucratic red tape, but no permits.
She has tried getting support from the PNA, but they couldn't/wouldn't help.
She tried getting help from some Israeli NGOs, but they did not return her calls.
She tried going through the channels that she usually uses (she has another cousin with the same disease who has been treated at the Israeli hospital for over a year), but was not given permission for this second case in her family.
Each organization sends her back to start the process over again, to get more documents, to try elsewhere.

She has a large (and growing) pile of official documents - medical and financial - that prove that there is a real need, for a real boy, who has a family with a real ability to pay for the trip and the medical fees, IF they can ONLY get to the hospital, to have the diagnosis, to begin getting the treatment...

We at Other Voice (www.othervoice.org ) have been trying to help her and Inshalla, our letter of support and our personal requests to Physicians for Human Rights (www.phr.org.il ) , will help this teen get the help he needs.

Help he needs to live.

Ahmed is a teenager. His whole life should be ahead of him.
His cousin/family should not need to meet endless red tape to get him the medical help he needs, and that is available here.

This is but ONE example of why the siege is morally wrong, and is mainly harming people who have nothing to do with terror attacks, with Gilad Shalit's capture, with the Hamas government. This is but one personal story of a boy and his cousin who are trying to get to the doctor. To a doctor and a medical staff that are willing and hopeful about helping him.

The siege is collectively punishing innocent people. The siege is making it very difficult, if not impossible for Ahmed to get help. To live.


Ahmed - hang in there; we hope that help is coming...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Peacetalkers, religious leaders, or conflict sowers?

Once upon a time, peace talkers spoke and acted peacefully and religious leaders spoke and acted morally (or so I am told...). Today things seem to be different.

On Facebook there is a group called Peacetalkers. Somehow I became a member of this group (not sure if I joined or if some friend signed me up...I wish they wouldn't do that and leave the choice to me).

One of the members of this group uses as image of an Israeli flag with a swastika as her photo.

Yes, you read this correctly: This is apparently a new way to symbolize peace talkers. When did I miss this change? [For once, I am speechless... ]

And another 'bright' light in today's news - this one about 'religious leaders' - you know - those men and women who are supposed to be the epitome of moral standards who help us all find the light and act in accordance with God's wishes.

Rabbi Dov Lior - the chief rabbi in Kiriyat Arba - was called in for police questionning today after refusing to come for a year (!). As the Ha'aretz report notes (see the article for the fully story - http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/right-wing-activists-try-to-block-jerusalem-entrance-in-protest-of-rabbi-s-arrest-1.369903 ):

 "...Lior was arrested, questioned, and released on Monday after refusing to appear for an inquiry for his endorsement of the controversial book, “Torat Hamelech,” which justifies killing non-Jews...
The police arrested Rabbi Lior on Monday afternoon, who has said in the past that the Torah is above the law, and that it is unacceptable for a rabbi to be investigated for publishing Torah-related work."

Apparently Rabbi Lior does not understand what all the fuss is about. Supporting and endorsing a book that calls for the murder of non-Jews does not seem to be a solid reason for being called in for questioning by the police. Apparently his thousands of followers do not understand what the problem is either, since they went out and created spontaneous mass demonstrations, shutting down the main entrance and exit to and from Jerusalem in the early evening, and shouting: "Nothing is above the Torah."

Oh come now - being called in for endorsing murder of people who come from a different religion/people than your own? Really, what is the fuss all about? Don't the lawmakers and law keepers have anything better to do with their time?

On days like today I carefully re-consider wanting to be a 'peace talker' or a 'spiritual and moral Jew' if the standards that I am being asked/told to follow include swatiskas and support of killing.

On days like today, I wonder how peace talkers adapt the swastika for an Israeli flag, seeing it as a symbol of extending a hand for peace, and how spiritual leaders became dons who support killing of those 'outside the tribe.'

Are these REALLY the ways that peacetalkers and religious followers believe we will find peace, justice, morality, goodness, and be inscribed in the Book of Life?

There must be another way

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sarah Silverman, Shimon Peres and Peace

Israel has fallen in love with a JAC (Jewish American Comedian), and she may be our ticket to peace.

After 63 years of war, 44 years of Occupation, 11 years of Qassam (and other) rocket attacks from Gaza, 4 years of Hamas rule in Gaza, 121 settlements and over 100 outposts in the West Bank, approximately 700 checkpoints of various size and kind in the West Bank and at the borders, 6450 Palestinians and over 1000 Israelis killed as a result of the conflict since 29 Sept 2000, we may have finally found our answer to solution of the conflict:

Sarah Silverman


For some unclear reason, Shimon Peres, our President, listens to her, she is quoted by our media and received front and center stage at Peres' Presidential Conference held last week in Jerusalem.

Don't get me wrong; I think she is REALLY funny (though not quite sure why she strikes my funny bone so).  And if one - Peres - is going to hold such a big-name international conference, why not invite someone like Silverman (well I guess there really isn't anyone quite like her, except for perhaps Chris Rock, except that he's a guy, and he's African-American and not Jewish...) to bring even more attention to his event. 

But to invite Sarah Silverman in order to bring peace to the Middle East - now that is genius.

Yes I know that everyone thought that she was brought to add some comedy and laughter to the prestigious event. To strengthen the ties between American Jewry to Israel. But it seems that there was something else at play here, something a bit devious, something a bit daring.

Peres actually invited her to bring peace to our weary region.
Now I know that he will not admit this (another sign of the genius behind the move), but that has to be the real reason why she was invited.

She was invited to make us think about the absurdity of things
To think about alternative ways of viewing reality, and not accept things that we are told we must
To get us laughing at ourselves, to not take ourselves so seriously
To show us that you can be Jewish, support Obama, and be outrageous, and support Israel

Sarah Silverman, in her own crass and very funny way has shown us that we do not need to approach our life here only with sorrow and fear and anger and pain, but with life and laughter . She has reminded us that we can dare to say things out loud that have been hushed for too long

Peace with our neighbors
End to the war
End to the siege
End to the Occupation

Dear Mr. President - Please invite us to say some of these outrageous things on your stage next year at the Presidential Conference. We may not be as funny as Sarah Silverman, but we will do our best to make the audience - at the theatre and at home, across the nation - listen to our important message


Saturday, June 25, 2011

All (not) quiet on the Western Negev front

Today marks 5 years since Gilad Shalit was captured by the Hamas.
For 5 years his whereabouts have been unknown and neither the Red Cross nor his family have been able to have contact with him.

Things are relatively quiet here now.
Just a few, random rockets every now and then
Just a few, random helicopters going overhead into Gaza, every now and then
Just a very few Gazans allowed to cross the Erez checkpoint every now and then

Things are quiet for the Shalit family
No sound from their son Gilad.
No sound from their government that they are doing something concrete to bring him home

Things are too quiet for the Shalit family
and so they know no quiet

Today, 5 years after Gilad's capture, there will be demonstrations at the place where he was captured - Kerem Shalom, visits to the Shalit tent in Jerusalem (across from the Prime Minister's home), a demonstration at Nativ Ha'asara, the moshav closest to Gaza (a concrete wall borders the moshav)

Today the quiet will be disturbed as we call for Gilad's release, for allowing the Red Cross to visit him, for his family to send him a letter, to receive a letter from him

Today, June 25th, 2011, we in the Western Negev and in Gaza know a bit of quiet
But none of us know peace
None of us know security
None of us are truly able to breathe deeply the beautiful air that surrounds our home

Noam, Aviva and the Shalit family know no quiet
Gilad knows no quiet
And we will know no quiet until we bring him home, and undertake alternative non-violent ways of  living in this region with our neighbors.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why should we take away more rights? (We shouldn't)

One day, Inshalla, B'ezrat Ha Shem, God Willing, we will bring about an end to the conflict, to the Occupation and to the Siege. One day, Inshalla, B'ezrat HaShem, God Willing, we will learn to legitimate one another's claim to this place, and respect one another as people. One day, Inshalla, B'ezrat HaShem, God Willing, we will all know what it feels like to enjoy full civil and human rights.

It is our responsibility to work toward that day. And to make that day last a long, long, long, long time - Inshalla, B'ezrat HaShem, God Willing, forever.

These are some things that we (Israelis and Palestinians) do NOT need to do:
Take away the rights that the Palestinian political prisoners have in our jails.

Keep the Red Cross from visiting Gilad Shalit, and keep him from the few rights he is entitled to while in captivity

Make continued threats to one another

Continue to blame the other for the mess we are in

Amal elSana Alh'jooj, who was this year's co-recipient of the Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East, said in her acceptance speech: "When I point a finger at you, and blame you for my troubles, then I disregard the three fingers that remain pointed back at me; I ignore my responsibility for bringing about a real change."

There are so many better things to do with fingers and hands...

We can:
shake hands
intertwine fingers
wave (and smile)
stretch with them for the sky

There is no need to take away rights from people. It causes them pain. There is no need to point fingers. It not only cramps our hand, but keeps us from opening ourselves up to the possibility that the other, "the enemy" can help lift us up out of the needless violence and pain to a much better place for all.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mathematics - Bring Gilad Shalit Home, Restore Rights to our Region

Gilad Shalit has been in captivity for over 1824 days.
The number of days, hours, minutes, and seconds Gilad has spent in captivity, as of today, June 23rd at 8:23:26 in the morning is 1824, 2, 44, 18 (no 19, no 20, no 21, no 22...)

The Red Cross has never been allowed to visit him.
He has never been allowed to receive letters, phone calls, or be in contact with his family.
His place of imprisonment is only known to his captors
He may feel that he is forgotten, but he is not. He is in our hearts.

9065 days have passed since Gilad Shalit was born on 28/8/1986

1824 days of captivity/9065 days of life = 20% of Gilad's life
80% life in freedom, 20% without freedom
One quarter of life in captivity.
1824 days of captivity = 4.99 years of wasted life

1824 days of captivity = 1824 days of sleepless nights for Gilad's family
1824 days of captivity = countless tears for Gilad's family

The  number of days between today,Thursday, 23-6-2011 and Sunday, 28-8-2011- Gilad's upcoming birthday = 66 days2 months, 5 days1584 hours = 95, 040 minutes =  5,702,400 seconds. 

Will he need to spend these 66 days or 2 months, 5 days or 1584 hours or 95, 040 minutes or 5,702,400 seconds in further captivity (or perhaps more)?

For 5 years, the Hamas has called for the release of 1000 political prisoners, for return of Gilad. Israeli leaders continue to refuse to pay this price for 1 soldier, who they sent to fight for our country.

The Gaza Strip has been under near total siege for 1471 days
1471 days = 4.03 years
4.03 years of wasted freedom for 1.5 million people - women, men, children - living in Gaza

1.5 million people are paying the price for the Hamas capture of 1 Israeli soldier - Gilad Shalit.

 7,746,000 Israeli citizens are paying the price of the ongoing war.
5,260,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip are paying the price of the ongoing war.

We can continue to calculate figures, do the math, or we can do the right thing:

We can make the deal and bring Gilad home

We can end his suffering, his family's suffering, and our collective pain over this sad period in our nation's life

We can end the siege on Gaza, and restore some basic human rights to the people there
We can end some of their suffering, and some of their collective pain

We can enter into good-faith negotiations with the Palestinian leaders and end the suffering and pain of the 13,006,000 Israelis and Palestinians living in the region

Gilad Shalit is but 1 Israeli soldier, but his ongoing captivity signifies much more. We can continue to do the math, or we can bring Gilad home, end the siege and end the conflict.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One small step for Peace-kind

The Peace Tent (Al Sa'adah) located in Rahat - the largest Bedouin city in Israel - was especially festive yesterday.

Colorful flags and flowers all around, tables filled with food and drinks. Hundreds of people from around the country, members of the international diplomatic corps, guests from the United States. All came to celebrate together with Vivian Silver and Amal Elsana Alh'jooj - for their joint receipt of the Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East, given out in conjunction with the IIE (International Institute of Education - http://www.iie.org/ )

Vivian and Amal are co-directors of NISPED - the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development  (www.nisped.org.il ) - an NGO that has worked for over a decade on joint programs that advocate for equality between Arabs and Jews within Israel - most notably between the Bedouin citizens of the State with Jewish-Israelis in the Negev region - and between Israelis and Palestinians. NISPED's programs are ground-breaking; Amal and Vivian's high energy levels, dedication, and long-term commitment are more than admirable. They are inspiring.

I worked for NISPED for three years in different capacities - in resource development and as a program director and organizer for Israeli-Palestinian peace projects. My experiences there, in that NGO, were different from any others that I had/have experienced. This is truly a joint Jewish-Arab organization in which one hears much more Arabic in the corridors and officies than Hebrew (another reason for me to be embarrased about my low level of Arabic knowledge, given that I had many opportuntities to practice...).

Everything is not always rosy at NISPED. During times of escalation of the conflict - for example during Operation Cast Lead/the Gaza War - tensions were very high and outbursts of anger and tears were not uncommon. However, the strength of NISPED is in their ability to face the issues, face the problems, face the conflict in a direct, yet facilitating manner. During the height of the war, Amal and Vivian called for a staff meeting, in order to bring us all together, to give us all the chance to say what was on our hearts, and to plan together how to move forward as a stronger, more commited organization.

Their plan worked. NISPED came out of that trauma stronger, more dedicated, more invested in not only continuing to deepen the interpersonal relationships between the Arabs and Jews who work there, but more importantly to further the social justice and peace work.

Yesterday, all of us who attended the wonderful celebration felt that we ALL had won the prize. That we ALL had gained recognition for our daily work. That we ALL had a reason to feel proud of what we do, and that what we do does not always go unnoticed or belittled.

Amal and Vivian received the Goldberg prize for peace, and there certainly are not two more deserving people than they. But all of us who came to share in their joy to that beautiful tent under a beautiful sky felt that it went beyond these two amazing women, and carried over to thousands of people working on the ground for a better day.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Can't Tell the Players without the Cards - Our Teu'dot Zehut

Yesterday's Haaretz reported another bright moment in Israel's quest for equality: Interior Minister Eli Yishai is planning to reinstate the nationality section to te'udot zehut - identification cards. Since 2002, the place for le'um - nationality - has appeared only with a line of asterisks.

Up until 2002, all cards, for Israeli citizens, issued by the Ministry of Interior carried one's nationality (e.g. Jewish, Arab), but the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee canceled the nationality clause after the High Court ordered the Ministry to also classify Reform and Conservative Jews as Jewish. Yishai, an ultra Orthodox Jew, who was the minister of the department at the time, announced he would not comply with the ruling and a compromise was reached - to leave it blank.

There are two main reasons that have been given for reinstatement of the nationality on the card: (1) many people still have their nationality listed in their IDs, since they have not renewed them since 2002. And, according to the Ministry of Interior, many people - including Holocaust survivors - do not want to renew since it is important for them that their Jewish nationality be stamped in the card; (2) in general, "it  is important for people's sense of belonging and part of their national identity."

As the newspaper reports, it will not be easy to reinstate the nationality clause; the Justice Department is opposing the move, and the Reform movement is threatening to go to the High Court. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who heads the Reform movement, has come out against the change, seeing it as a ploy to prevent recognition of Reform and Conservative Jews. As he stated: "The transparent...use of Holocaust survivors as an excuse for the plan only shows how low Yishai is ready to stoop in his struggle with the Reform communities ... We call on the prime minister to stop Yishai from spreading fire… and not to create unnecessary rifts and disagreements among the Jewish people."

The fight over the notation of nationality - le'um - is taking place among Jews. Those who hold the blue te'udot zehut as citizens of the country (important to note that Palestinian and other Israeli citizens also have these blue cards). And it is an important fight, for it highlights the ongoing conflict between the religious/political leaders who cannot comprehend separating being Jewish from the State, and it shows that we continue to make internal - and unnecessary and dangerous - divisions, with some people belonging more and others belonging less. Therefore, it's good that this issue is out in the open so that we can (try to) keep the asterisks...  

After all, at least formally, all the carriers of blue te'udot zehut are entitled to equal rights as citizens of the country. Let's not chip away at the equalities any more than we already have.  

In spite of the fact that blue reigns, we have some other colors as well. 

For example, East Jerusalemites (read Palestinians) have blue identity cards similar to our Israeli ones, but they follow a different number series and they list no nationality. In the past, Palestinians in the West Bank had orange ID cards. After the Oslo Agreements, when the Palestinian Authority was formed, the orange card was replaced by a green Palestinian Identity Card. Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, however, who wish to work in Israel, also have to obtain Israeli magnetic IDs - not an easy process.

And Jewish settlers who were removed from the Gush Katif area in Gaza also made their own orange teudat toshav (resident document), which had stamped on it "Greater Israel"

The quest for better identity cards knows few bounds. In 2005 the Israeli Civil Administration in the occupied territories began issuing Palestinians with a new type of magnetic card that contains biometric identification techniques - face-prints, handprints, eye-prints and fingerprints. People who manage to obtain such cards, only need to swipe the card when they go through the checkpoints. This cuts down the need for physical contact between the green/orange Palestinians and the blue Israelis.

So what do we have here: two similar but different blues, with or without list of nationality, one old Palestinian orange, one old Jewish-Gush Katif orange, a newer Palestinian green card and fancy shmancy super duper magnetic cards with all kinds of biometric information for our (lucky) Palestinian neighbors...

While we are on a color roll, I suggest implementing the following:
RED = stop the color coding which divides the area into those who belong and those who don't
YELLOW = caution for our divisive actions, which tend to disregard human and civil rights
GREEN = for going toward more equality
RAINBOW = for accepting all peoples of the region - Jews like this or that, Palestinians like this or that... etc... 

and trying to build a colorful society that does not see red when green Palestiniana and blue Israelis speak out against discrimination and oppression.   

Monday, June 20, 2011

No need to threaten - just end the siege

In today's - June 20th - Haaretz, the following appears:

Israel's navy is going ahead with preparations to stymie a planned flotilla slated to attempt to break the blockade on Gaza in two weeks, despite the fact that the Turkish group IHH has pulled out of the effort.

Israeli security experts believe that flotilla participants could violently oppose the navy's effort to stop the ships and plan to bring photographers with them to document any resistance they face.

There is a way to prevent this possible injury and loss of life:
We can end the siege.
Yes we can

* We can make the decision on our own

* We can make (further) arrangements to safeguard the checkpoints and passage ways, without collectively punishing everyone in the Gaza Strip

* We can finally publicly admit that the siege did not end Hamas rule, did not bring back Gilad Shalit, did not stop the rocket attacks

Ending the siege does NOT mean accepting Hamas' non-acceptance of our State. It does mean that we end taking out our anger and need for revenge against ordinary people who are not responsible for the rocket attacks, or for the continued holding of Gilad Shalit

We all desperately want to see the rocket attacks end completely
We all desperately want to see Gilad Shalit home with his family
We all desperately want a normal life here in the Negev

Continuing the siege on Gaza deepens the problem, does not solve it in any way.

End the siege so that the Freedom Flotilla 2 will have NO reason to try to make its way to the Gazan shores

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Love thy Neighbor as Thyself? On a Cab Ride to Eilat

Over the last academic year I have taught three courses each semester at the Ben Gurion Campus in Eilat: two in the Masters Program for Conflict Management and one research course in the Social Work department for undergraduates. Every Thursday, for 28 weeks I traveled by a cab sent by the university, back and forth, leaving home around 8:00 am and getting back around 22:00. Six hours of teaching, between 7 - 8 hours of travel time.

This is a lot of time to spend in taxi cabs, getting to know the cab drivers that work for the university and bring the lecturers back and forth to that southern campus. (The picture is of a yellow cab, but ours are white)

I've had many conversations with the drivers - Dudu, Shlomo, Ovadia, Amnon 1 and Amnon 2, Ya'acov, Alon, Chanan, and Rami. We often talk about what is new at the Eilat campus, gossiping a bit about the staff. Every now and then, when I am emotionally up for an argument, and I am not too nervous that a vocal argument will put us in danger as we drive quickly on very turny and twisty roads to Eilat, we talk about my joint Israeli-Palestinian work and other political issues, such as the siege on Gaza.

Last week, during the first leg of the trip, I told Dudu about a friend of mine who is depressed about the stalemate in our Gaza-Negev region, her fear that the siege will continue, harming so many innocent people there, that the rockets will then resume, harming innocent people here, and that we won't find our way out of this constant conflict situation.

Dudu began quietly, but quickly got worked up: "I've been driving you for a year and you only talk about the Palestinians and their suffering. Why don't you ever talk about our suffering? About our rights? I know that you are left-wing, and I don't have a problem with that, but why don't you ever say anything about how they harm us? About their terror attacks against us? It sounds like you only care about them, but don't care about us. If you want to convince me that you are right, that we should end the siege, you have to say something about us, not only them. They have everything they need; they aren't suffering, but we will if we lift the blockade. Why don't I hear that you love your country and your people?"

It was hard for me to get in a word edgewise; Dudu was on a roll and he wanted to get his point across; he was much less interested in hearing my response. It seemed to me that Dudu missed the points that I made about non-acceptance of any violence - not from our side, not from their side. He seemed to never hear my sharp criticism and anger when the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, or another splinter group in Gaza shot Qassam or longer range rockets into Israel. He seemed to miss my emotional speech about the Hamas targeting of an Israeli school bus a few months ago, a few kilometers from my home, a cowardly terror act that was carried out against a school bus (thankfully the bus driver had left off the children a few minutes before the attack, but one young teen who remained on the bus was killed by the direct hit).

I wondered:
How could he have missed so many obvious points that I made over the year?
What in our discussions led him to perceive me as someone who supported terror attacks against Israeli citizens?
What led him to the impression that I cared more for my neighbors, the Palestinians, then I did for 'my people' - the Jewish-Israelis?

I cannot put the full blame for this misunderstanding on Dudu's (and others') inability/ unwillingness to hear the nuances of my talk. I cannot fault Dudu for his feeling that we Jewish-Israelis need to stick together. If he did not hear my statements of repulsion and non-acceptance of all violence, from the Palestinian side as well, then I should work on clarifying my stance when speaking to others, especially those who do not agree with me.

But I cannot take the full blame for Dudu's (and others) inability/unwillingness to hear what I am saying. And this is because the mere mention of Palestinians having rights immediately blocks his (and others') ability to hear the complexity of the story, the rest of the argument. As we have learned over the decades, many Jewish-Israelis can only hear about their suffering and victimhood. Mention of the other's (that is Palestinian) suffering immediately becomes translated into the simplistic mantra: "You love them more than you love us..."

In order to clarify, let me state:

In order to be clear, let me reiterate:

In order to be clear, let me say:

Just in case the above message still remains unclear, I will turn to Rabbi Hillel, whose words of insight and eloquence have guided Jewish thought through the ages:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am 'I'? And if not now, when? 

Hillel also remined us:
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn 

It is not a matter of loving 'them' more than 'us.'

It is a matter of caring for one another, in Gaza, in Israel, in the West Bank, in a taxi cab to and from Eilat, wherever...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Distinguishing Historical Facts from Historical Narratives - When/ How/ Does it Matter?

In yesterday's Haaretz Shlomo Avineri wrote an op-ed piece on historical truths and narratives ( see http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/the-truth-should-be-taught-about-the-1948-war-1.368167 for the full article):

...On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. That is truth, not narrative. On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked and destroyed the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. That is truth, not narrative... In recent debates about the Palestinian "Nakba," the claim has been made that there are two "narratives," an Israeli one and a Palestinian one, and we should pay attention to both of them. That, of course, is true: Alongside the Israeli-Zionist claims regarding the Jewish people's connection to its historic homeland and the Jews' miserable situation, there are Palestinian claims that regard the Jews as a religious group only and Zionism as an imperialist movement.  But above and beyond these claims is the simple fact...not a "narrative" - that in 1947, the Zionist movement accepted the United Nations partition plan, whereas the Arab side rejected it and went to war against it.

A decision to go to war has consequences....The importance of this distinction becomes clear upon perusing the op-ed [from] Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas...in The New York Times. Abbas mentioned the partition decision in his article, but said not one single word about the facts - who accepted it and who rejected it. He merely wrote that "Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs."

..nobody, even in German schools, would dream of teaching the German "narrative" regarding World War II, the 1948 war should also not be taught as a battle between narratives ...there is a historical truth. And without ignoring the suffering of the other, that is how such sensitive issues must be taught.

I have mixed feelings about Avineri's op-ed. I'll begin with my positive reaction:

As Avineri notes, historical facts relate to the objective event that happened (for example, in the German-Nazi case, they undertook a program of persecution and extermination of the Jewish peoples, even meticulously documenting their own actions), whereas historical narratives relate to the subjective-cultural meaning held by different societies/nations/peoples concerning the historical events.

So for example, Israelis and Palestinians agree that, factually, the First Intifada begain in early December 1987. But they/we have different narratives about the reasons that led to the triggering of the uprising and to memories of that uprising. (The Palestinians claim that an Israeli truck purposely ran into and killed Palestinian youths from the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza, and that after years of Israeli Occupation, this was the straw that broke the camel's back, leading to a non-violent uprising, while the Israelis claim that this was a car accident and the Palestinians used it as an excuse to begin violent terror attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians without just cause ).

The distinction that Avineri makes is similar to a distinction that we biographical/ narrative researchers make in our work. We look at the facts of a person's life (born in 1933, got married in 1950.) calling this the life history. And we also look at the meaning or significance that these life events appear to have for the individual (e.g. She believes the reason for getting married in 1950 was because she was pregnant and didn't want to be a single mother) , and term this the life story.

Biographcial researchers believe that we cannot deeply understand the person without knowing his/her life history, the life experiences that s/he had, and we cannot deeply know the person without understanding his/her life story - the significance that these lived experiences had for the indvidual.

Life histories and life stories are inherently intertwined, because we are meaning-making beings. We cannot process "facts" without "meaning;" the lines between the two are easily blurred. And these facts and meanings are a part of our overall emotional-social-political-cultural perspective on life.

And now to my criticism of Avineri's piece in Haaretz:

Avineri tells the Palestinians to be truthful about their part in the 1948 war which led to the Naqba. However, he makes no mention about the need for us Israelis to be equally truthful about our actions in the 1948 war, that, at the very least, exacerbated the Palestinian refugee problem. He makes no mention, for example, of the fact that Israeli military admistrative rule (1948 - 1966) restricted the movement of Palestinian citizens of the State, nor does he write about the enactment of the absentee property Israeli legislation that prevented displaced Palestinians from later returning to their properties to reclaim their homes.

So, to sum up this criticism, facts are indeed important and need to be distinguished from narrative, but if we demand truth from others, then we need to be truthful as well.

And a final word (for now) about 1948 and 2011
1948 happened 63 years ago. We - Palestinians and Israelis - cannot turn back the clock. We cannot undo the many wrongs, killings, harm and destruction that were committed by the different parties (Jewish-Israelis, Palestinians, Arab states) to that war.

However we CAN, indeed MUST, do everything that we can to bring an end to the Palestinian and Israeli non-acceptance of the other, and to the Israeli Occupation and the siege on Gaza that are still going on today. It is our joint responsibility to find the common ground that will make it possible for us to live side by side one another in dignity.

1948 is gone, 2011 is half gone. If we remain rooted in 1948, our two peoples' dreams of rights and security will never be realized for these dreams will be doomed to becoming a footnote in dusty historical tomes debating facts and narratives.

Friday, June 17, 2011

First the Cottage Cheese Revolution - Then the White Cheese Revolution. Coming Soon - The Peace Revolution

Israel has joined the (Arab) world and has begun it's own revolution:
The Cottage Cheese Revolution

As has been reported in the media, Facebook-inspired protests finally reached the Holy Land. On Wednesday, a container of cottage cheese was slammed on Netanyahu's desk in the Knesset by opposition lawmakers who joined the call to "boycott cottage," due to sharp increases in prices.

Tzipi Livni, who heads the opposition told Bibi:"The cottage cheese boycott is a protest against injustice, against the social gaps that have flourished under your watch."

The call to boycott cottage - the Hebrew word for the cheese - began on Facebook after manufacturers announced that a 250 gram tub would cost 8 NIS ($2.35; euro 1.65.) This is a price rise to be taken seriously, given that Israel's residents really like cottage cheese, consuming anually about 600 million shekels ($176 million; 122 million euros) worth of the cheese.

After the call went out on Facebook, one follower wrote: "I love cottage, but not at any price." The protest quickly made front page headlines in Yediot Aharonot. - Israel's largest newspaper. In response, Israel's largest supermarket chain took out a full-page ad offering a 1 + 1 free cottage deal.

After the issue reached the Knesset, Finance Minister Steinitz announced that he would consider allowing dairy product imports in an attempt to boost competition and help reduce prices. And late last night, the word went out that the cheese revolution had just begun, with white soft cheese - gvina livana - next on the revolutionary agenda

I like cottage cheese, a bit more than I like white cheese (but both are good - Israel knows how to make delicious cheeses).

However, I like peace even more.

Perhaps if the cottage cheese revolution succeeds soon (and it's looking good), and the white cheese revolution follows quickly in its footsteps, we will be able to finally get to the peace revolution.

I know - it's a long shot - but imagine ordinary people and opposition leaders being swept along by the revolutionary atmosphere, taking out ads in newspapers, converging on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and Zion Square  in Jerusalem, and slamming a peace manifesto on Bibi's desk:

We've saved cottage
          We've saved gvina levana
                    Now let's save ourselves - give peace a chance




Thursday, June 16, 2011

Freedom flotilla 2 to Gaza

The second Freedom Flotilla to Gaza is expected to set sail at the end of June. This time the flotilla will have 15 ships, with passengers and ships coming from many European countries. Their publicized aim is to bring humanitarian aid - materials for schools and for medical clinics -  as well as materials for construction.

Most Israelis see this flotilla as an attempted terror attack on Israel. They believe that the passengers are not coming for humanitarian reasons, but rather to challenge Israel's legitimacy, at the least, or cause us physical harm, at the worst.

I know some of the people who will be joining the flotilla, and they are not terrorists - they are kind people who cannot sit quietly by and let the 4 year siege on Gaza continue. They cannot sit quiety by without protesting the collective punishment that does harm to too many innocent people.

I do not know all of the people planning to come, nor do I know for sure that there will be no weapons on board any of the ships, or what plans some of the passengers may indeed have.

Therefore, I cannot advocate support of this flotilla. However, I AM coming out in support  of ENDING THE SIEGE ON GAZA.

Chalas - Dai - Enough

We don't need 15 ships from elsewhere to tell us that the siege is wrong
We don't need 1500 passengers from around the world to tell us that the siege is wrong
We know that collectively punishing an entire population is an immoral act, one that has not brought the end of the Hamas, has not ended the conflict, has not brought back Gilad Shalit

Let us start our own - Israeli - freedom call to end the siege, to rebuild our relations with our Gazan neighbors and to let us all live in peace and dignity. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sapir College and freedom of political dissent

Lately Sapir College, where I have taught since 2006, has come under attack by certain circles as being "anti-Israeli", as producing "anti-Israeli" materials and films, and as employing faculty who are "left extremists".
Im Tirzu - a right wing organization that has taken it upon itself to decide what should or should not be taught in Israeli colleges and universities (according to them, if it's Zionist it should be taught, if it looks critically at Israeli society and history it should be not) - is examing course syllabi to check their "Zionist kashrut" and lodging complaints when they decide that a syllabus is 'anti-Israeli'. They recently lodged a complaint against one of the lecturers for having a syllabus that contains - to their mind - too many 'anti-Zionist' readings.
The latest round of criticism from the right, which seems to be afraid of any dissension lodged against Israeli governmental decisions and actions, was raised during the annual film festival organized by the Dept. of Cinema Communication at the college and held at the Cinemateque in Sderot (http://www.sderot-cin.org.il/info/about/about-003.htm)
This year's festival was kicked off with the film "Testimony" (Shlomi Elkabetz - director) in which 24 Israeli actors present monologues - personal stories that no (Jewish-Israelis ) want to hear - of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. The Minister of Culture, Limor Livnat, who was invited to give opening remarks at the film festival, walked out in anger before the film was screened, expressing her criticism of its "one-sideness", before she saw it...
In response to the massive criticism that was received by the college about the film, Simon Tamir, the head of Sapir's public relations, stated: "...there's a debate and the film and that is fine, but to present us as a college that produces anti-Israeli material is a lie...Sapir College advocates absolute freedom of expression, both left and right. There is freedom of opinion here..."
In February of this year, I was one of the main organizers of a 3 day conference held at Sapir entitled "Gaza-Sderot: Moving from Crisis to Sustainability" (http://www.gazasderot.org/). This conference brought together over 300 people from academia and civil society - from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza (14 Gazans received permits to attend this conference - an unheard number of permits, given the ongoing near total blockade/siege of the Gaza Strip), and internationals. We looked at the crises facing our region, in the realms of community development, health, environment, employment, economics etc.
Before the conference began, we, the organizers (and the college), were attacked for holding such an 'anti-Israeli' event, (I have sadly come to realize that for many, opening up dialogue, or even talking about opening up dialogue with Palestinians, is anti-patriotic). The college stood firm and came out in full support for the conference, for freedom of expression, for academic freedom.
Sapir College, like all other academic universities in Israel, has its better points and its areas where it can be improved. But when it comes to allowing academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of opinion, it is a beautiful light in a darkening Israeli society.
At our college, located in the Negev, just a few kilometres from the Gaza Strip, the left and the right are free to express their opinions, to disagree, to publicly try to sway the other. At times our disagreements are far from quiet, but we are not afraid of making our voices heard. This makes our pastoral college, located in the 'periphery', a true Israeli treausre.
This little light of ours, we're going to let it shine...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Friendship Across Borders

There are so many ways to create the present, and the future that we desire and deserve.

One way is FAB - Friendship across borders - a group that I joined over a year ago.

We are a group of Israelis, Palestinians and Germans - adult mentors and university students - who have joined together to work for reconciliation. We believe that it is our responsibility to work together for a non-violent, peaceful, and just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our shared history/ies are filled with destruction, death and harm. Our shared future need not be.

We meet in East Jerusalem and in Beit Jala, at Sapir College near Sderot, in Heidelberg and Wurzburg. We speak for hours together, tour together, study together, eat together, laugh and cry together, dance together, plan together, support one another, during the hardest times of the conflict. We protest the Occupation, the settlement-land grab and violence in Silwan and Ras el Amud, the rocket attacks on Sderot and the region, and the harming of innocent people.

We do not always agree, in fact we often disagree with one another. We often get emotional, sometimes angry, sometimes wondering how the "other" cannot understand... But we talk about our lives and our understandings, we stay in constant contact, we keep the dialogue and joint work going.

We are dedicated to making our co-existence work, to fighting the oppression. Even when it's hard going. Especially when it's hard going...

Today's blog post is in honor of the opening of our group on Facebook (look for us there, join us there, spread the word)

And for those who wish to learn more about us, visit our website: http://www.friendshipacrossborders.com/

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dress, distancing, democracy, differences

A few years ago our college, Sapir, made headlines in Israel. A woman professor confronted one of the Muslim women students in her class, who was wearing a veil. The professor told the student that she would have to leave the class, if she did not remove the veil since it created a barrier, preventing the two from having a real "teacher-student" relationship.
Later on, the professor stated that she had acted out of feminist ideology. She believed that the student (and indeed all Muslim women who wear the niqab) do so because she was forced to by her male-dominated society, and not out of any real choice of her own.
Two years ago, on the first day of school, when I walked into my class of Introduction to Psychology, a women student came up to me and said hello. I am ashamed to say, that I jumped a bit, for she too was covered from head to foot in black, and I could only see her eyes. She greeted me with "Boker tov (Good Morning) Dr. Julia" and I mumbled boker tov back, but was definitely a bit shaken.
Why did the professor find it so hard to accept one of her students who was wearing a veil and why did I find it so unsettling in my class? While I did not tell this student that she had to remove the veil if she wanted to remain in my class, it troubled me on a number of levels - on the visual/emotional (I could only see a body completely covered in black, and it looked frightening), on the cognitive level (I had no signs or clues that I could read to understand who I was speaking to), and on the social (since I did not have experience in how to create a social relation with someone whose face and body I could not see).
A few days later this student saw me at the bookstore and also wished me well. I hope that I jumped less.
I did not see the student again, for she dropped out of the program. OR rather, perhaps she stopped wearing the veil and I did not recognize her (since there were 120 students in the class and I did not know any of their names the first week, either explanation is a possibility).
Not seeing her again - or not knowing if I did indeed see her again, but did not recognize her - helped me understand why on the cognitive level I could logically explain why I was disturbed by the veil. If I could not visually identify my students, then I would not be able to know, for example, who was taking the exam (perhaps someone else came in her/their place, since I would have no way of knowing who was underneath the clothes). Since such body covering could lead to academic dishonesty, I had every right to demand that I be able to see the face of my students.
But is this so? Or is such logic-making, just a way for me/us to reduce our sense of cognitive dissonance.
I also have blind students who do not see me, or their fellow students. Does this preclude them from enrolling in school, taking exams and writing papers and having discussions with me and with their peers? Can we make a rule that I - the professor - have to be able to see them but they do not have to see me? Somehow, this seems like discrimination.
And what if I were to have severe eyesight problems and no longer be able to see my students? Would this preclude me from continuing my academic work? If I were fired for such a reason, wouldn't this be discrimination?
Choosing to cover up, choosing not to look, choosing not to see, choosing not to try to understand, not being able to see - these are things we all do. All of us choose at different times of our lives what to wear, to whom we want to expose different parts of ourselves, what we want to see, what we want to understand, and what we prefer to ignore. It is easier to ignore some people than others - for example, it is easier for non-Muslims to ignore/not see Muslims, especially those who choose to wear the hijab or the niqab. It is easier for secular Jews to not see religious Jews, for they make us uncomfortable. It is easier for Orthodox Jews not to see secular Jews, for we make them uncomfortable.
And the list goes on.
I have not yet decided if I am okay with Muslim women students coming to class covered completely, except for their eyes. I am still struggling with this issue. But I do know that if my resistance comes from my stereotypes or prejudices, then I need to overcome these. And that whatever the institutional decision about this might be, in my classrooms, I have to be aware that prejudice and discrimination may not only be expressed by my students, but also by me. Inshalla/b'ezrat ha Shem/God willing, I will be able to be honest with myself about this and work toward looking inward, and not judging the outward.
And a great interview on the topic...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Thinking about Cyprus, thinking about Israel-Palestine

Nicosia without northern - Turkish region
Map of Nicosia - including north and south

It's true, I was only in Cyprus, more specifically Nicosia, for only three days last week. To claim to be any kind of expert would be more than chutzpa. But the little that I learned about the conflict on the island (beyond what I had learned before I had ever visited), got me thinking about our conflict here, between Israelis and Palestinians. Each conflict is different, of course: different history/ies, different background, different cultures, different peoples, different languages. However, the conflicts also share commonalities: past rule by the Ottomans and the British, both in the Mediterranean region, refusal to legitimate the other side, intransigence in negotiating points, refugees - with people living in the others' homes, use of terminology ('settlers' - from Turkey, from Israel), a green line...
Though I was only on that island for a few days, I could not help but think about our conflict here, an easy one hour plane ride away.
In Cyprus, they have co-created a negative peace. There is no violence, the two countries (can that word be used in this case?) live side by side and life is more or less, "normal." The Greek-Cypriots live their lives in the south and the Turkish-Cypriots live theirs in the north. In Nicosia, one can cross the border easily enough - you bring your passport and fill out a quarter page white piece of paper - visa -? - that asks for your name, passport number and nationality. One stamp going in, one stamp goiong out. No searches, no questions, length of lines depending on time of day and number of visitors. Each side of the city has its treasures and beauty, each side worth exploring.
We - a group of Palestinian, Israeli and American researchers who met in Nicosia to discuss joint research with Cypriot colleagues - were given a short tour of the city. We were told about its history and current day life. We were shown the maps of Nicosia - one published by the Greek side, that includes only the southern part of the city, and one by the Turkish (that includes the entire area). (See photos at the top)
There is a cold co-existence, and no killing or harm. It would sound good, if it were not so sad. Thirty-five years of a negative peace. No killing, this is true. Yet no talk, no acknowledgment, no partnerships, no sharing. Division, de-legitimation, and the firmest belief, on each side, that THE truth lies with their side.
Then there's our Israeli-Palestinian conflict: lots of violence, lots of fear, lots of hatred, and yet we talk to one another. We may do our best to harm one another, yet we talk. Most Israelis say the name "Palestine" and most Palestinians say "Israel." We believe that our (each side's historical claims) are THE right ones, are the facts, yet we are able (if we are willing to take the time), to learn the history of the other. We speak different languages, yet many of us know at least a few words of the other's. Our religions are different, but they come from the same source. And our cultures are sometimes very different, yet at other times, very close and familiar.
Do I prefere a negative peace or a violent war? The answer is simple: a negative peace is head and shoulders above war. However, negative peaces are temporary, and can too easily transform into violence, because the fear, hatred and illegitimacy foments from below, since the sources are left to fester. If the two sides do not talk to one another, do not co-create endeavors that benefit all peoples, do not deal with the past in a way that makes it possible to move together to a joint future, it is only a matter of time before the negative peace erodes again into war.
There most likely are people who believe that our first steps here should be geared toward achieving a negative peace. But my experiences and work and life here in Israel have taught me that we need to work toward the positive peace to really make a long-lasting difference. On many levels, achieving a negative peace is easier than working for a positive peace, but what might be gained in the short term, can easily be lost over time.
There is a lot of hatred and non-acceptance on both sides. This is what we first need to combat. Examples of this hatred can be found in the two following documents (I am a bit wary of publicizing them here, but knowing what people/organizations/movements say publicly is important knowledge). The first is the Hamas charter, which leaves no space for peaceful resolution of the conflict:
http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/www.thejerusalemfund.org/carryover/documents/charter.html and the second is the website of Im Tizru (If you will it) which believes that (Greater) Israel is only for the Jews, and no place for the Palestinians - http://www.imti.org.il/en/
We cannot let the sowers of hate and fear deter us from our work of positive peace. Not in Israel-Palestine, not in Cyprus, not anywhere. Instead of being negative - and doing without - we can join together to be positive - doing with one another, and gaining so much not only in the outcome, but in the process as well.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Other Voice - Rejoining Neighbors in Israel and Gaza

Please visit our group's - Other Voice - website
Our Gazan neighbors are just that - neighbors.
We have all tired of the reciprocal attacks - rockets and sniper attacks from Gaza onto Israel and Israeli bombing and siege of Gaza.
Our lives = their lives.
Their lives = our lives.
Together we aim to build a more sustainable and just environment for all of us.
The work will be easier if more join in. And the joy in building and creating, instead of destroying, is there for all of us to share.

Joint ventures for Peace - Women to Women

Dolls of peace hand made by the Palestinian artisan Majda and the Israeli artist Gaia. If you want to order their beautiful ceramic products and jewelery, visit Gaia's website -


Buying their products not only promotes peace, but promotes the women as well

Let's try for peace instead of war
Let's work for justice, dignity, compassion and non-violence
Let's do it together.
It's a better way to be in the world. And we can all do it. All we need to do - is act.
Here is a small step for today. Pass on the statement given by Bassem Tamimi in court. It his speech of dignity, justice, non-violence and determination to help end the Occupation.
Pass it on to others, so they too can share in the dignity and peace.