Sunday, October 30, 2011

And the Rockets Red Glare, the Bombs Bursting in Air

Once again, we have Israeli air force attacks in Gaza, targeting and killing members of the Islamic Jihad, bringing terror to ordinary citizens there. Once again we have rocket attacks on Israel, killing and harming innocent people, bringing terror to half the country.

Perhaps if we all sing, in harmony, the following song (to the following well-known tune), our leaders will heed our call... (well we can always hope, and singing it won't make things worse)

Oh say can you see
all the terror around
as we bomb and kill them
and they shoot rockets at us 

This is our daily life
it's a mess, yes it is
as we spend all our time
running quickly for cover

When the sky lights up so
we can't bask in its glow
for it heralds the call
for more killing and harming

Oh say our dear 'leaders'
why do you hate us sooooo?
help us live,
without these 'lights'
and the darkness
they bring 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My friend, who used to be from Gaza

My friend M, a journalist and human rights activist from Gaza, came to a conference in February of this year that I helped organize, entitled "Gaza-Sderot: Moving from Crisis to Sustainability." This conference, which called for exploring sustainable solutions to our impossible violent reality, was hosted by the Sapir College. This conference was the joint effort of organizations/institutes that do a lot of good and important work for peace and social justice: Other Voice, The Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development, Kollot baNegev, The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and the Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy 

M spoke at the opening ceremony, and over the three days he spoke to many of the 300 people - Israelis, Palestinians and internationals - who attended the conference. He was also interviewed by the Israeli press. VERY unfortunately, after he gave an interview to a major internet media source, they acted in a very irresponsible manner and ran a headline, stating, that according to M, the Hamas government could be toppled. (This is not what he said; he talked about the need to end the occupation and end the siege on Gaza, and about the lack of human rights, and his willingness and desire to speak to Israelis about this ...). This article reached the Palestinian press, causing this good man, and his family, great damage.

When M returned to Gaza after the conference, the Hamas police stopped him at the check- point and interrogated him. They continued to interrogate him many times, took away his documents, got him fired from his job, and openly threatened his life for being in touch with Israelis, for spending time in Israel, and for 'betraying' the Palestinian people.

His 'crime' was that he came to a peace conference in Israel, and talked to Israelis.

Life became impossible for M. He has been on the run, and finally managed to escape from Gaza.  He had to leave his wife and children behind, since he has no documents, no job, no money... He is now trying desperately to get his family out, and to perhaps get to another country where he has has a chance to find a job, and regain life. He and his family have been caught in an impossible bind for nearly 8 months.

I 'speak' to M two to three times a day on Facebook. I usually feel that my words are empty, because they are just that, only words, and because all I can offer is moral support. I managed to raise a few donations from generous and kind-hearted people (many of them from my family). He managed to get these funds to his family in Gaza, who are in a desperate situation. But words and an occasional donation are only stop gap measures, certainly not long time solutions.

My friend from Gaza needs our help. If you - who are now reading these words - are able to help this dedicted peace and human rights activist - by sending a donation, I will make sure that this money gets to him. Any size donation is welcome.

If you have other concrete ideas about how to help my friend from Gaza, please let me know so that I can get these ideas to him as well.

This may not be the proper use of a blog; some of you may be uncomfortable with this request, and decide to stop reading. Some of you may be saying: "I don't read this to get hit up for money."

In spite of the uncomfortable position I have put you in, and in spite of the chance I take that this will be the last time you visit this blog, I hope that you will keep this blog on your reading list and  even share the link with others. I also believe that those of you who can help, will do so.

We need to help M. He is a good man. He did nothing wrong. His family did nothing wrong. He is being punished for coming to Israel and speaking to Israelis.
If you can help, in any way, let me know, and I will make sure that your donations and/or your concrete ideas for help, reach my friend, who is in desperate need now for all of the support we can give.  

He is a good man.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy "Occupy"!

The Occupy Wall Street movement has taken over the world. Though the movement didn't begin in Manhattan, but rather in the Arab world, everyone now is adopting the slogan, as millions of people are demonstrating for social-economic-political justice in their own corners of the world.

Demonstrating for social-economic-political rights and justice is important, as is keeping a sense of humor. Here are some occupy photos that will hopefully keep both (the fight for justice and the humor) going.


                                              Occupy Tel-Aviv

                                                  Occupy Wall Street

                                              Occupy Sydney

                                              Occupy Madrid

                                                  Occupy Manila

                                                 Occupy Refrigerator

                                                Occupy Cookie Jars

                   In the Palestine case, probably need to rethink using slogan here ...

                                           Occupy Outer Space (in general)

                              Occupy Outer Space (more locally)

and now my personal favorite:

(If you stop getting messages from me about new blog posts, it may be because I was arrested by the Mazkir (mayor) of the Kibbutz for protesting for more justice here ... Please send letters of support and chocolate to my husband, and I will ask him to pass them on to me when he comes to visit...)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Back to the Academic Salt Mines

Our holidays are officially over, so it's back to the grind. Back to work, back to preparing for class, back to teaching, back to grading papers and writing exams, and then grading those, back to answering many, many student emails, back to faculty meetings, back to emails with administrators, back to office hours, back to work.

I shouldn't complain. I HAVE a job. I HAVE a paycheck. I HAVE money going into a pension plan and I HAVE health insurance. I have what many many people yearn for - even more. My job has a lot of autonomy; I can decide (more or less) what to include in each lesson, what to stress and what to leave out. I don't punch a time clock, I don't work in unhealthy conditions. I have time to work on research and attend interesting conferences and seminars, and meet with people from here, from Palestine, and from around the world. In the summer months, I don't have to teach, so I have even more time to travel, and to spend on my own research and writing. In many ways, I have the dream job.

So I have decided not to complain, for my grind is really far from, especially when compared to the millions/billions of people around the world who really have a grind, if they are lucky (for this gives them some money to survive), while millions more don't even have that.

I have privilege. And so often, I take it for granted. Probably not as much as many people who also have privilege, but I am not immune to this weakness and blindness.

It is so very easy to get used to privilege, and to want more and more. This is part of human nature, and really not a bad part actually. We get used to what we have, and yearn for more, and this motivates us to dream more, and develop more, and create more. It only gets bad when we forget to be thankful for what we have, and forget that we could use some of this privilige to help those who don't have the privilege that we do. Not necessarily by charity (though that isn't bad either), but more by dedicating part of our time to developing mechanisms that enhance social and economic justice for all, that radically change the system.

There is no good reason why I, or others, should have privilege where others do not. There is no good reason why I, or others, should be the only ones to have good health care, access to good education, money and time off for holidays and travel, autonomy to be creative in jobs that we choose, while others are forced into jobs that they did not choose, but that they take, so that they can somehow, barely eek out an existence.

It's quite amazing how far a little dedication to the good of humankind can go. It is quite amazing that such dedication does not demand grand measures, even small steps, undertaken by a critical mass, can have important impacts.

Now that our holidays are over, I go back to the academic grind, knowing that it really is not so, especially when compared to the lives of so many people around this world. I go back to the academic schedule and the classes and the meetings and the office hours and the reading and writing and grading, and emails and phone calls, thankful that I have all of these obligations that bring me, and my family by extension, privilege.

Hopefully the job that I will do this year will get a few of my students to think in critical ways about privilege and the system, and about ways that they can work toward the good of humankind. Hopefully I will get my students to challenge some of the taken-for-granted ways of the world. I want my students to better understand Freud's theory of personality, as well as the sampling procedures used in qualitative research. These are important concepts. However, I hope that these aren't the only things I accomplish in these next two semesters, for if this is all I manage to do, I will have failed in my job.

Can't have that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And they shall study war no more

Today Gilad came home, after 1940 days in captivity.
Today he saw light, after 5 years and 4 months of darkness
He spoke to people, in Hebrew, his native tongue, after being kept in solitary confinement, for years in prison, somewhere in Gaza.
He hugged his parents and brother and sister and grandfather, and felt the touch of their love, once again
He felt the love of the Israeli people

Today we welcome home a hero, who survived 5 years and 4 months in captivity by the Hamas.
Today we are honored with the presence of a very, very, very courageous young man, who can teach us all about inner strength.

Today, the Israeli and Hamas governments carried out a deal, that was based on years of shadow diplomacy and intense negotiations.
Today we showed the world, but more importantly ourselves, that we can reach agreements, and bring home loved ones, even though we do not agree on so many things
Today we have concrete evidence, that we can create here a different path, if we are determined to do so.

I am not religious, but today the words of Isaiah, capture my feelings and appear to be possible (first sung here by Mahlia Jackson, followed by some of the verse):

. And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
.  And many peoples shall go and say: 'Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
  O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD...
 Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures...
Our people are our gold and silver; there is no end to our treasures. The Hamas and Israeli governments reached an agreement on prisoner exchange, and today, both peoples enjoyed the fruits of this agreement. If we reached this agreement, we can reach another. And another. Today we proved to others, but more importantly to ourselves, that where there is a will, there is a way. If we will it, it will come.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How Much is a Person Worth?

This is the question that has been asked since the Gilad Shalit exchange deal was announced almost a week ago. In order to bring Gilad home, Israel had to agree to the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom have quite a bit of blood on their hands , and who have been sentenced to a numer of consecutive life sentences (see detailed information here )

In many ways, this is a terrible deal, one that makes one heart and mind shudder. In order to bring Gilad home, we have to agree to let murderers go free - killers who planned and undertook cold blooded murder of innocent people, while eating at a restaurant or celebrating the Pesach seder. In many ways, one can't help but wonder if such an action on the government's part is one that we can live with. In many ways, one can't help but wonder how many of these murderers will go back to a life of killing, or help train others to kill. In many ways, it seems like a very big mistake.

But then we remember Gilad, the 19 year old that we, Israel, drafted to compulsory army service, and who was defending us on the border when we was captured. Then we remember that Gilad could be my son, or yours, or yours, and that it was only the Shalits' awful luck that made it their son, and not mine, or yours, or yours. Then we remember that Gilad is still alive, and that we have the chance here to get him out of captivity, so that he can rejoin his family, and  rejoin life. We remember that he was sent to do our - Israeli -  bidding (though I don't agree with so much of this bidding...) and that if we conscripted him, and sent him to the front line, we have to bring him back. We remember that he could just as easily been my son, or yours, or yours.

Gilad is alive, and it took 5 years and 4 months to arrive at the formula for bringing him back, as hard and awful and terrible that solution is. We cannot leave him in Gaza in captivity, for if we do, we are most likely signing his death warrant. We cannot do this to one of our sons.

How much is a person worth? This seems like an impossible question to answer, but it really is easy.

A person is worth everything.

If this was the lesson that we Israelis were teaching our children (and if this was the lesson that the Hamas was also teaching their children), we could sleep much better at night, knowing that the chances of there being another Gilad Shalit were very very slim. If we taught our children in Israel, in the West Bank, in Gaza, everywhere, to cherish life and liberty, cherish rights, cherish equality, cherish the diversity that the world has to offer, cherish freedom, then our reality would be full of the most amazing creations, and much more joy.

A person is worth everything, and that is why we must make sure that the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal is carried out, without any hitches. Gilad must come home. One thousand and twenty-seven Palestinian prisoners need to be released. 

We cannot know now if, in the end, this deal will ultimately  lead to more injury and deaths of innocent people. This is the chance we take. However, if we use this prison exchange agreement to continue our dialogue with our neighbors - even those in the Hamas - and if we commit to valuing life and freedom, we will be leaving much less to chance and death. In doing so, we will strengthen the odds that there will be much less blood on hands, as we wash away the violence with kindness, respect, and dignity.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Drs. Nusseibeh and Avineri - Why I Think You Both Have it Wrong

On the 30th of September this year, Sari Nusseibeh, a professor and the President of Al Quds University wrote an article entitled: Why Israeli can't be a Jewish State. (See Prof. Nusseibeh's article here)

On the 12th of October, Shlomo Avineri, one of Israel's most famous intellectuals, a professor of political science, wrote an article in response to Nusseibeh's article, entitled: We are a People: A response to Sari Nusseibeh. (See Prof. Avineri's article here )

Perhaps we will see round two of this intellectual match that includes recounting and interpretation of historical 'facts', detailed formulation of 'logical arguments', and a further expression of the intractable characteristic of our conflict, albeit a verbal, as opposed to physically violent, one.

These two men, no doubt, are THE symbols of Palestinian and Israeli academia. They've written many books and articles and given many, many lectures to distinguished audiences throughout the world. It's hard to argue with them; it's rather hard for me to argue with them, as I pretty much stand in awe of their knowledge, as well as their excellent abilities to express themselves both orally and in writing.

But I will stick my neck out, as I think that, this time, they have approached this whole issue in the wrong way. I will explain:

Both professors refer to ancient historical events (drawing also on the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Holy Books), as well as more modern ones, to substantiate their claims. Nusseibeh says the Jews did this and that, Avineri says the Palestinians did this and that. Each claim made by Nusseibeh is met with a counter-claim by Avineri, and my feeling is that they could go on and on and on like this for a very long time. This is behavior that mirrors what we Jews and Palestinians have been doing to one another for what seems like time ad nauseum.

There are points where Nusseibeh is right and Avineri is right.
There are other points where Nusseibeh is wrong and Avineri is wrong.
But none of this really matters. Well, it does matter, but for a different reason.

Of course, of course, it is important to know the history (I have a middling to good knowledge of this) and know the holy books (I really don't have good knowledge of these) and understand that both history and holy books play a central role in our current (usually opposite) understandings and perspectives. But at this point, this continual referral re-referral and interpretration and re-re-interpretation of the past events and holy texts, is what is holding us - Israelis and Palestinians - from moving forward to the peace agreement and the life after the war and Occupation - that we all so desperately need.

It is time to really simplify this, after decades of learning and exposing the 'facts', reading interpretation after interpretration, hearing every argument that could possibly be put forward to substantiate the Palestinian claims or the Jewish/Israeli ones.

Here is my proposal for solving this conflict
To begin with, we need to accept points 1, 2 and 3 as axioms:

1. Each people - Palestinians and Jews - have the right to self-definition. It is the Palestinians' rights to define themselves as a people and it is the Jews' rights to define themselves as a people. No one has the right to define who the "Other" is.

2. Both peoples are entitled to equal human rights (see the rights here )

3. Both peoples are deeply connected to the land, and see it as their home

Then we move on to the next critical stage:

4.It is time to SOLVE THE PROBLEM.

And here's the plan:

5. We no longer look to what is written in the Torah, the Bible, the New Testament, the Koran, etc etc in terms of bringing about a true end to this bloody conflict. We accept the fact that we are here today, in 2011, 123 years after the first Jewish Zionist immigrants landed on the shores of the Holy Land, with the understanding that we - Palestinians/Jews - will Never, that's right, NEVER, agree on many of these core issues, understandings, interpretrations, and religious beliefs. In other (harsh) words, it does NOT matter whether Yossi's family lived in Hebron before 1929 or Yusef lived in Majdal before 1948 and now neither live in these cities anymore, due to past events of violence, terrorism, war, eviction, when looking for a solution to the conflict. Both Yusef and Yossi (and all of their peoples) are right in feeling the deep indignation, pain and loss of their home, and neither will be able to reclaim them.

6. When looking to solve the conflict, we let all of these personal and cultural/societal beliefs go, fully knowing and accepting that each person has the right to hold their own perspectives, ethnicities, religions. We fully know and accept that while these different understandings and beliefs may cause us pain at times, this is part of what it means to be human. Change and growth are also part of being human.

7. This new perspective frees us to address the problems facing us today. For example, we can now draw the borders between the two states, or draw the borders of the one state, depending on the agreements made by the sides during the negoatiations. That is, our elected leaders who sit down to negotiate a binding agreement, will decide whether or not we peoples wish to live in one state or in two. We address issues of health, education, housing, freedom of movement, employment, ecology, quality of life (etc. etc). We do not forget issues connected to remembrance, reparations for lost homes and lost loved ones injured or killed. Together we establish mechanisms for remembering the past, honoring those who gave their lives for our two peoples, in order to focus on making life much much much better for us and our children, today in the present, and for our descendants yet to come, in the future.

8. That's it, we're done. Here is the recap: We accept that both peoples are entitled to equal rights, we leave the past in order to move into the present, to solve the problems of the present and hopefully prevent bad problems in the future, and we live in peace.

Dear Profs. Nusseibeh and Avineri - You are two of the most respected men and scholars in our societies. Help us move forward to solving our conflict by using your knowledge, intellect, connections, your good souls.

The past will always remain part of who we are, but we cannot let it continue to bind us to pain, or blind us to possibilities of healthy change.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Price tag" - Sale! Sale! Sale! (on violence)

The words price tag - תג מחיר - have taken on a whole new meaning here in Israel.

A price tag is usually just a bit of information that helps us decide whether or not to buy the dress or the purse or the computer. It's a universal symbol that means: "If you pay this amount of money, you get this thing".  Sometimes the price tag has an amount that seems like an extremely good deal, sometimes it seems fair enough, and other times we can't help but yell out "They can't be serious!"

So while the price tag may be within or outside our ability (or desire) to pay, it still seems innocent enough.

These days, in Israel and in the Occupied Territories, when you see the words 'price tag' - you know that it isn't good.

The new price tag means that if someone(s) do something(s) that the religious ultra-nationalistic Jewish settlers do not like, then they will take revenge. That is, the 'price' of doing something that goes against these extremists' values, carries with it a heavy punishment - violence and vandalism being the punishments of choice.

For example, Palestinians want to go pick their olives from their trees, that are near a Jewish-Israeli settlement - price tag! They can expect trees to be chopped down, terrorized, beaten up. Or, the Israeli government decides to negotiate with the Hamas and reach an agreement in order for Gilad Shalit to be brought home - price tag! A young man desecrates the Rabin memorial in Tel Aviv and calls for Yigal Amir's (Rabin's assassin) pardon (see the story here).

These price-taggers are not monsters or animals. They are human beings that have gone terribly terribly astray, led by hate and vengeance. They are people who have forgotten what compassion, understanding, acceptance, non-violence can bring. Many of them have themselves suffered traumas in their lives. For example, Shvuel Schijveschuurder, the man who desecrated Rabin's memorial, had his parents and his two sisters and brother  murdered in the Sbarro terror attack in Jerusalem 10 years ago. His reason for this 'price tag' - the terrorist who murdered his family is on the list of prisoners to be released in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

It is impossible to imagine what life has been like for Shvuel, since that tragic day. There is no doubt that he did not receive the support, help and love that he needed, and that we, as a society, further let him down, after his family was murdered.

We can set new price tags, non-violent ones, ones that cost no money, but bring wonderful rewards:
1. By loving our children, we can raise loving adults.
2. By being kind to one another, we can all own a kinder world.
3. By sharing, we can all have more.
4. By understanding the pain of others, are hearts can grow larger.
5. By helping one another, we can get more than we give.

These price tags are not 100% full-proof, but they are pretty close. My heart goes out to Shvuel, who lost his family 10 years ago, when they went to a restaurant for lunch. However, his deeds of today will not bring back his family, only deepen the pain. These price tags will not always bring us what we want, indeed need, but they will be a much, much better deal than the ones we have been paying lately.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Tears of joy when hearing this amazing news
He has been in captivity for 1934 days - 5 years and 4 months
and finally he will be freed

Our army drafted him, as it drafts all of our sons and daughters
Our country, our army, sent him to the border to protect us, and after his capture, it became our - Israeli government's - duty to do everything it could to bring him home. It is painful that it took so long, but it is wonderful that it finally is happening.

Gilad, could have just as easily been my son, or your son, or yours...
Gilad was 19 at the time of his capture, still a child (for sure, in a mother's eyes)
Five years and four months of precious life that were taken from him.
Thank heavens that his punishment stops now, stops here

Gilad is coming home, to his family, to his community, to his friends, to his country.
Gilad is coming home after having lived through horrific experiences, that most of us cannot imagine, express in words. He will need all of our ongoing support and love, not just for the first few days, but for many, many, many days to come.

To Gilad, Aviva and Noam, to the family: Tears of joy at your wonderful news

this news gives us hope that this new year CAN be different
this news gives us hope that when the Prime Minister and his government choose to act differently, they can do it
this news gives us hope that mercy and caring and love can overcome feelings of vengeance and retribution

Dear Gilad - welcome home. ברוך שובך הביתה

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Said Dr. Dr. - Mr. MD

Here is one of the best songs from the 60s (not only), Good Lovin' by the Rascals - first the lyrics, followed by the video clip

(Good lovin' . . .)
(Good lovin' . . .)
(Good lovin' . . .)

I was feelin' . . . so bad,
I asked my family doctor just what I had,
I said, "Doctor, . . .
(Doctor . . .)
Mr. M.D., . . .
(Doctor . . .)
Now can you tell
me, tell me, tell me,
What's ailin' me?"
(Doctor . . .)

He said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
Yes, indeed, all you really need . . .
(Is good lovin')
Gimme that good, good lovin . . .
(Good lovin')
All I need is lovin' . . .
(Good lovin')
Good lovin', baby.

Baby please, squeeze me tight . . . (Squeeze me tight)
Now don't you want your baby to feel alright? (Feel alright)
I said Baby . . . (Baby) . . . now it's for sure . . . (it's for sure)
I got the fever, Baby, Baby, but you've got the cure
(You've got the cure)

I said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
Yes, indeed, all I really need . . .
(Is good lovin')
Gimme that good, good lovin . . .
(Good lovin')
All I need is lovin' . . .
(Good lovin')
Good lovin', baby.


Unfortunately, we can't really sing this song anymore here in Israel. This is because the medical interns are on strike, and hundreds of them have resigned and left their posts, with hundreds more planning to resign in the next few days. They've done so, since after over 6 months of strikes, and an almost total collapse of the public health system, the government continues to avoid negotiating with them in good faith.

The hospitals and clinics have been left to the specialists, most of whom have not been on-call or had to work medical resident hours, including long shifts, for 10 - 20 years. And given that there aren't enough specialists in the public health system to begin with, and that the hospitals are way overcrowded and understaffed in general, the problem becomes even clearer. To make things worse, the medical students throughout the country are also threatening to strike (university academic years begins in 2 weeks), in support of the interns. So no doctors in the present, and a fair chance that there won't be in the future either.

What we have is a very sick system...

The government does not seem to be capable of finding a way to end this strike and stop their ongoing disregard of doctors, and their disregard of the hundreds of thousands (millions) of citizens, who live in the social-geographic periphery, who do not get the health care they need, because of lack of medical staff, lack of facilities, etc. .

This disregard and inability is also evident in the  government's ability to act justly in other arenas as well. See, for example, the latest on Netanyahu's bid to legalize Jewish Israeli outposts, in the West Bank, their are built on private Palestinian land (see story here )

No wonder our society is so sick:
No doctors

Moves to legalize illegal settlements  in the West Bank (they are ALL illegal, but these outposts are really the worst of worst) while saying we want to negotiate with the Palestinians in good faith 

Disregard for human dignity, human rights, human life

Surprise, surprise that we are all so feeling so healthy

What was that new year's wish for a healthy new year...? Yeah, right.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Racism continues to raise its ugly head

Sometime during our holy days, a group of Jewish-Israelis smashed at least 5 graves and spray painted at least 20 others with Hebrew racist graffiti in Yafo (part of Tel Aviv). The graffiti called for 'Death to Arabs' and 'Price Tag' – a slogan used by militant Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and their supporters. Another group of Jewish 'religious' extremists vandalized a mosque in the Israeli town of Tuba Zangaria. In the city of Bat Yam (just south of Tel Aviv), racist graffiti was sprayed also calling for "Death to the Arabs" and "Kahana was Right" - against Palestinian players on the Haifa Maccabi team.

                                police officer investigating the racist graffiti

The "price-taggers" have become very active in the last year, and have vowed to avenge any move by Israel to uproot West Bank settlement outposts that have been built without Israeli government permission. Their work includes violence against innocent Palestinians, and also against peace and social activists who go to support Palestinians in their villages (by helping guard them as they try to harvest their olives, go to school, etc.)

                                 Burned Qurans in the mosque in Tuba Zangaria. Oct. 2011

                                    Nazi book burning in Berlin, 1933

Nearly 200 years ago, Heinrich Heine made the statement that has become famous throughout the world: Where they have burned books  they will end in burning human beings - Heinrich Heine (1821). This is the quote that also adorns the powerful Holocaust memorial located in the square where the books were burned

I have provided an array of disturbing photos. Unfortunately, I could have provided many, many more, taken just from these last few days. Racism seems to be all around us, in every corner. Not only in the West Bank and at the checkpoints, but also within our cities, from the North to the South. Many politicians have cried out against this racism. The mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Ran Huldai, said that the vandals "should have their hands chopped off."

I do not subscribe to Huldai's 'solution.' This too is a solution rooted in more violence, in vengeance, and does NOTHING to solve the problem.

Look at these little guys

This is how the racists began their lives. As sweet, adorable children who did not know what racism and hatred was. They began their lives as we did - full of wonderment and curiosity, full of interest in the world, in discovery, in yearning for love and belonging.

How did some of them/us become hate-filled and violent?

We are responsible for helping these little guys retain their curiosity and goodness and sweetness. We are responsible for showing these little guys, as they get older and older, that racism and violence can have no part in our lives.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Will it be same old, same old or will we have the courage to change?

Okay, we've done it. We had the new year and we had Yom Kippur, and now all we have left of the Tishrei holidays are Succot and Simchat Torah. I certainly don't mean to belittle these holidays; they are full of tradition and we feel their presence throughout the country. We also still have a lot of vacation time, due to these holidays. But at this point we are no longer wishing one another a good and sweet new year, but have rather moved into the new year, and begin taking it for granted.

                                       a really modern and nice Sukka - סוכה

So this means that we have to actually DO some of things we said we were aiming for: like trying to be a better person, like working at not causing harm to others, and like trying to really bring about the health and the peace we said we wanted to see.

Okay, that's a bit harder than just wishing for it, or saying the nice platitudes to your family, friends and colleagues. The words come easily enough, but the actions...? That's another story.

In social psychology there is a concept known as diffusion of responsibility. Many people like this, because it gets them off the hook. Diffusion of responsibility means that when there is a group of people, and someone needs help (for instance, you are in your apartment and you hear a woman screaming for help), no one helps, since everyone assumes that someone else will come to the rescue. 

If we continue with the example of the woman in desparate need of help, since your apartment is just one of many in a high rise building, you assume that someone else will help, and so you do nothing. And that's the problem; EVERYONE is doing the same - that is nothing - since everyone is sure that someone else will call for help. The often tragic end result is that the woman is found injured, or worse, later on.

People don't shirk responsibility because they are inherently cruel or evil (at least most people aren't), but because of at least 4 reasons: (1) it's hard to get involved - it takes time and energy; (2) it's not always clear if there is a real need for help, or if it will pass; (3) aiding someone else may cause us to  fear for our own safety, and we instinctively first take care of ourselves; (4) in individualistic societies (thank heavens not all societies are so individualistic and there are collectivistic societies where people really do care more for one another), we are taught to mind our own business. And so we do just that, even if means that someone else is being harmed.

Diffusion of responsibility doesn't mesh well with all of those great new years blessings and wishes for peace and social justice and a year of significance and goodness if you don't care for one another, and if you don't help one another. It's hard to work for peace and social justice and goodness if you ignore cries for help, continue to be blind to oppression and suffering, and assume that someone else (Obama? The Quartet? The UN?) will step in and do what needs to be done.

We can continue with the same same old, same old, or we can have the courage to change, to take responsibility, and to worry less about how much time/money/energy it will cost (it will cost us something), if the one who cries for help is really in danger (they are), if it may put us in some danger (it might) and if we should mind our own business (we shouldn't).

The same old same old has proven to be toxic. It takes some courage to change, but there is hope that if we do dare to change, our new year may really bring us - all of us - some more health and goodness.

Thank goodness for that.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Forgiveness, past, present, future

Yom Kippur will be here in just a few hours, and everything will become very, very quiet. The radio and television stations will go off the air until tomorrow evening. Everything will be closed. If you forgot your milk, the grocery store at the gas station that is open all day long, every day of the year, will be closed (so much for truth in advertising ...)

There will be little to no traffic. (A few years ago, when I took my walk on Yom Kippur morning, I stood in the middle of the road, for a few minutes, arms stretched out, and there was not one car in sight, nor sound of a car in the distance. Last year, unfortunately, two cars did pass, and disturbed this absoluted quiet that I was really looking forward to).

People who fast and who go to pray in the synagogue of their choice will have what to do to fill up their evening (when the holy day begins) and their day tomorrow. Those of us who do not fast or go to pray will need to think up other ways to pass this time. This is one of the downsides of being secular. Some will watch DVDs and/or play on the computer. Some will read the book they've been meaning to read for the last year. Others will sleep. Many, at least in the Tel Aviv area, will ride their bikes or roller blade on the completely quiet streets, and even walk with their babies in strollers on the Ayalon expressway.

This imposed silence, and shut down of the entire country has its strong points.
(1) It forces you to not buy anything for one day; therefore putting the tiniest of tiniest holes in capitalism (which of course might backfire since people might buy more than double the next day, after having had one day of withdrawal symptoms)
(2) For those of us who are secular, you have to figure out what to do on this day - kind of retrospection by force, which can also lead to interesting and creative ideas
(3) you DO get to actually READ that book you've wanted to for the last year, and see that film that you didn't find time for before
(4) the quiet is really nice.

Yom Kippur also gives us the chance to think about forgiveness, and being kind to others, and taking stock of the new year and the kind of person I want to be. It gives me the chance to think about what I would like to accomplish in the coming year; not what I want to own, but what I want to create and explore, how I want my relationships with others to develop.

On Yom Kippur, as well as the other holy days that we celebrate, I also think about my Palestinian neighbors, in the West Bank, but mostly nearby in Gaza, and think about how we can only celebrate our holy days when we have them locked up. Of course, this takes away from the essence of the day, and throws a rather very dark cloud over such concepts as forgiveness and atonement and goodness and new beginnings...

I am not a religious person, but I find it very, very, very hard to believe that God intended for us Jews to celebrate our holidays and keep to our traditions, while trampling the rights of others. No way...

To my Palestinian neighbors and friends, under closure and siege, who might read this:
I ask forgiveness for my country's immoral behavior concerning your right to rights
I ask forgiveness for my 'leaders' acts of cruelty, who are too frightened to give up control, power and land for peace and justice
I ask forgiveness for our constant turning a blind eye to your suffering of occupation and  oppression, for which we are responsible, and which we could end, if only we chose to do so

To my Jewish and Israeli friends who might read this:
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life
May we join together during this coming year to be a bit more responsible for all who live in this region, working harder to ensure rights for all
If you fast, may it be an easy and cleansing fast, that gives you strength to carry on

May we all know a much better year, that will bring fewer reasons for our need to atone for sins...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What if cleaning up your conscience was as easy as cleaning up the yard?

I have been spending a number of hours in the last week cleaning up the garden and the yard. Got rid of lots of weeds, pulled errant unwanted grass from pots of plants, raked up leaves, disturbed nests of ants, watered plants that looked like they were gasping their last breath from the dryness. The garden and the yard aren't yet quite at the place where I would like them to be, but they look MUCH better than they did a week ago, when we got back from our month away.

                             Shachar eating some grass outside our home, when he was still a baby

This got me thinking about the connection between cleaning up the yard and cleaning up my conscience - thoughts that actually go together given that we just entered the New Jewish Year - a time for cleaning, bringing in the new, starting afresh - and are just 2 days away from Yom Kippur (see information about holy day here).

On Yom Kippur, many Jews fast. Many Jews, who do nothing else religious throughout the entire year, go to services in the synagogue, and fast on this day, because it really is THE day in the Jewish calendar that is perceived as being really, really important to connect to one's people, religion and God. The fast begins right before sunset (all of our holidays begin in the evenings) and goes through to after sunset the next day.

I don't attend services and I don't fast, not because I couldn't skip the meals and water (for sure I would get hunger pangs around 11:00 in the morning, but I believe that I could hang on for 7.5 more hours), but because I wasn't brought up in a religious home, and it - services and fasting - never became part of our traditions. When I was living in America for short periods as an adult (during my post-docs and teaching experiences), I attended different services in different synagogues - reform, reconstructionist, conservative. Sorry... none of them spoke to me, and I decided that the religious aspect of Judaism was just not for me.

But I do connect to Yom Kippur, to the essence of the holy day. Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we have 10 days to make things right with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, whom we might have wronged. We have this time to contact them - by phone, by email, in person - and apologize for causing them harm, for treating them in a disrespectful way, for insulting them, for being violent toward them. We do this to re-join the brother/sisterhood of the world, to make things right for the new year, to cleanse onself, in a manner of speaking. If we atone for our sins, and really try to do right in this world, we are inscribed for another year in the Book of Life - a good book indeed...

But you really have to mean it.
And do it.

So back to the garden and yard

I am not a great gardener, but I love working in the garden and yard and keeping things tidy, green, aesthetic. It relaxes me, and it makes the place look better. At times when I begin pruning, I come close to destroying what I was just trying to cut back, but miraculously - at least up to now - everything works out in the end and the very very cut-back plant eventually thrives and gets better. All of my neighbors have seen me many times with a broom and rake and wagon for carting away the prunings and leaves, and I have received MANY invitations to come over to their yards as well.  

Not many people - at least those who have known me as an adult - have seen me become REALLY angry, and treat people in an unkind manner. It's not that I don't get angry, I do, but it usually passes really quickly, I almost never hold a grudge, and I have become so much better at putting life into perspective and saving my anger for the really really big awful things (like acts of racism). But every now and then I do slip, and I get angry and defiant and so sure that my point of view is the ONLY point of view and obstinate and convinced, more and more, that my request/action is the right one and the other's is stupid, uncaring, off mark...

This happens to me about once a year. And it happened to me last (Jewish) year as well. So, I use this time of atonment and introspection to try to make amends, to put out my hand in friendship and kindness, and ask forgiveness for becoming so wrapped up in my perspective, that I forgot (at least a bit), that there was another person on the other side, who also had a perspective, and a right to his/her take on the issue that divided us.  

I do this for me, so that I can live in peace with myself.
Of course I am always glad when the other person accepts my apology, and reaches out in kindness back to me, but that doesn't always happen, and that's okay. This is about me trying to make my life good and beautiful and aesthetic and a pleasure. It is about me being able to look at myself in the mirror and feel that I am trying to live the values that I hold, which is really the only thing we can do (I think...)

Working in the garden, raking the leaves, pulling the weeds, seeing a flower bloom every now and then, not killing all of your plants, is really wonderful. Being able to tell someone that you are deeply sorry for hurting them, and that you wish to rebuild the relationship, is also wonderful. Both are cleansing, both bring calm.

May you all have the chance to experience nice gardens and yards, the opportunity to try to make things right. May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I Don't Want to Write About...

I don't want to write about:
the violence of the settlers and the police against the peace activists who went to help out Palestinian famers in Anatot - read story and see video of violence here

Nor do I wish to bring up:
the vandalism of the mosque in Tuba (see Mossawa Center's website for more information about discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel - )

On Sunday, October 2nd 2011... in the Arab village of Tuba in northern Israel,...extremists burned a mosque and damaged it with graffiti... The Mossawa Center holds the government’s legal advisor and the religious extremists who continue to incite the Arab population through acts of racism, such as the Rabbis from Tzfat college, responsible for the attack on the Tuba mosque. The lack of accountability for racist attacks against the Arab minority ultimately gives legitimacy to racists and their hate crimes... It is unacceptable that the police employ mass forces to suppress peaceful political protests organized by the Arab community but refuse to act similarly in clear cases of racial persecution. 

I have no desire to share here reports of:
The US cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority, only because they 'dared' to go to the UN seeking recognition of their independent state (read Ha'aretz article about this here)

These are not topics that make for the start of a new year.

Unfortunately, whether I WANT to or not, life in our region goes on, continuing to bring with it events of hatred, violence, discrimination.

What a waste:
of life
of being in this world
of time
when we forget to rejoice in what the world has to offer

How utterly sad that:
we let the hate overtake us
we destroy more than we try to build
we let the hate-mongers set our social-political agenda

To a good new year, may you be inscribed in the Book of Life (that is, all who cherish life, and who do what they can to diminish the hatred and violence in our world)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I'm Back

Whoever came up with the idea of holiday/vacation, was brilliant.
Kol hakavod - good for him/her!

Our holiday in Peru and Chile was amazing, not only because of the fascinating people, cultures, landscapes and natural wonders that we saw, but because it gave us a break for a month from the stress, worry, and frustration that characterizes our social-political-economic 'reality'.

                              Here I am at the Tatio Geysers in Northern Chile, Sept. 2011

For one month, I was immersed in volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, geysers, llamas, alpacas and vicunas, in peoples from the Andes, Incan architecture, Amazon rainforest, snakes, parrots, condors, capybaras and pisco sours. Every day brought new, exciting adventures and experiences. David and I climbed up many many hillsides and mountainsides, experiencing lots of mud, high altitudes (4800 meters above sea level was our highest point, in the Colca canyon region). We walked through 80 km per hour winds to see a waterfall in Torres del Paine and got soaked to the bone (really, literally) in the 'dry season' in the Amazon rainforest. We went to sleep lulled by the sounds of the animals in the jungle (our room had one open wall, into the rainforest) and to the sights of the ice that had broken off from the glacier at Lago Grey (and I didn't even mention Machu Picchu...).

                                      one of our neighbors in the rainforest adventure

                     the view from our hotel in Lago Grey, Torres del Paine National Park in Chile

But, as we know, all holidays eventually come to an end, and then it is back to 'real life.'

Hmm... what can I say...?

I saw that 'real life' is much, much more than the 'real life' that we experience in our everyday lives.

While I was overwhelmed with the wonders that we saw, I also saw that many peoples in Peru and Chile live very, very hard lives, steeped in poverty, with little to no opportunity to break this cycle, exploited by huge companies and global markets.

I am not jealous of the lives that many of these people live, and would not want to have to survive picking brazil nuts and transporting them (on my back) for many kilometers through the jungle, for $2. I would not want to work in the copper mines in Chile. I am glad, and very, very thankful, that I have options that are so much better.

But I do miss the calm and the deep relaxation and the deep feeling that I had during this month of holiday, that 'reality' need not be filled with violence and hatred and war.

We have the ability to change our reality, if we take the time to take in the glaciers and volcanoes and geysers and waterfalls and parrots and flamingoes, and woven colorful hats, and music, and pisco sours, and the myriad of natural and human-made wonders that we have in our Holy Land as well. We can change our reality if we take the time to enjoy the treasures that we have, instead of trying to claim them for one group or another, impose our will on the other, negate the other.

Holiday/vacation is a wonderful concept. I suggest that we adopt this concept for the 'real world', even as we go about our everyday routines of work, family, obligations.

Shanna tova, may this be a meaningful, just, peaceful, good new year for all of us. May we make this a year in which we become more aware of all of the natural and human-made wonders that surround us.