As international attention on Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians—occupation and blockade—increases, our Israel-Palestine Working Group produced the following program at our annual five-day New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) Sessions:
Outdoor displays: photos from Gaza and a pin wheel display memorializing the recent dead in Gaza
Workshops: Building a Just Peace in Palestine-Israel with John Reuwer and Laurie Gagne, plus Moving our Meetings to Take Action on Israel-Palestine with Minga Claggett-Borne and Jonathan Vogel-Borne
Informal lunch chats
Photographic exhibition: Gaza Awaken by Skip Schiel
A special visit and presentation by a colleague from Gaza, Dr. Mustafa El-Hawi
(Click here for more info and here for photographs of Sessions)
However, we failed to bring our annual report to meeting for worship with the intention of business, a staple of this Yearly Meeting. Click Talking Points (Word)for our report’s talking points, with illustrations.
ONE CAN look at events in Gaza through the left or through the right eye. One can condemn them as inhuman, cruel and mistaken, or justify them as necessary and unavoidable.
But there is one adjective that is beyond question: They are stupid.
If the late Barbara Tuchman were still alive, she might be tempted to add another chapter to her groundbreaking opus “The March of Folly”: a chapter titled “Eyeless in Gaza”.
THE LATEST episode in this epic started a few months ago, when independent activists in the Gaza Strip called for a march to the Israeli border, which Hamas supported. It was called “The Great March of Return”, a symbolic gesture for the more than a million Arab residents who fled or were evicted from their homes in the land that became the State of Israel.
The Israeli authorities pretended to take this seriously. A frightening picture was painted for the Israeli public: 1.8 million Arabs, men, women and children, would throw themselves on the border fence, break through in many places, and storm Israel’s cities and villages. Terrifying.
Israeli sharpshooters were posted along the border and ordered to shoot anyone who looked like a “ringleader”. On several succeeding Fridays (the weekly Muslim holy day) more than 150 unarmed protesters, including many children, were shot dead, and many hundreds more severely wounded by gunfire, apart from those hurt by tear gas.
The Israeli argument was that the victims were shot while trying to “storm the fences”. Actually, not a single such attempt was photographed, though hundreds of photographers were posted on both sides of the fence.
Facing a world-wide protest, the army changed its orders and now only rarely kills unarmed protesters. The Palestinians also changed their tactics: the main effort now is to fly children’s kites with burning tails and set Israeli fields near the Strip on fire.
Since the wind almost always blows from the West to the East, that is an easy way to hurt Israel. Children can do it, and do. Now the Minister of Education demands that the air force bomb the children. The Chief of Staff refuses, arguing that this is “against the values of the Israeli army”.
At present, half of our newspapers and TV newscasts are concerned with Gaza. Everybody seems to agree that sooner or later a full-fledged war will break out there.
THE MAIN feature of this exercise is its utter stupidity.
Every military action must have a political aim. As the German military thinker, Carl von Clausewitz, famously said: “War is but a continuation of politics by other means.”
The Strip is 41 km long and 6 to 12 km wide. It is one of the most overcrowded places on earth. Nominally it belongs to the largely theoretical State of Palestine, like the West Bank, which is Israeli occupied. The Strip is in fact governed by the radical Muslim Hamas party.
In the past, masses of Palestinian workers from Gaza streamed into Israel every day. But since Hamas assumed power in the Strip, the Israeli government has imposed an almost total blockade on land and sea. The Egyptian dictatorship, a close ally of Israel and a deadly enemy of radical Islam, cooperates with Israel.
So what does Israel want? The preferred solution is to sink the entire strip and its population into the sea. Failing that, what can be done?
The last thing Israel wants is to annex the Strip with its huge population, which cannot be driven out. Also, Israel does not want to put up settlements in the Strip (the few which were set up were withdrawn by Ariel Sharon, who thought that it was not worthwhile to keep and defend them).
The real policy is to make life in Gaza so miserable, that the Gazans themselves will rise and throw the Hamas authorities out. With this in mind, the water supply is reduced to two hours a day, electricity the same. Employment hovers around 50%, wages beneath the minimum. It is a picture of total misery.
Since everything that reaches Gaza must come through Israel (or Egypt), supplies are often cut off completely for days as “punishment”.
Alas, history shows that such methods seldom succeed. They only deepen the enmity. So what can be done?
THE ANSWER is incredibly simple: sit down, talk and come to an agreement.
Yes, but how can you sit down with a mortal enemy, whose official ideology totally rejects a Jewish State?
Islam, which (like every religion) has an answer to everything, recognizes something called a “Hudna”, which is a lasting armistice. This can go on for many decades and is (religiously) kept.
For several years now, Hamas has been almost openly hinting that it is ready for a long Hudna. Egypt has volunteered to mediate. Our government has totally ignored the offer. A Hudna with the enemy? Out of the question! God forbid! Would be terribly unpopular politically!
But it would be the sensible thing to do. Stop all hostile acts from both sides, say for 50 years. Abolish the blockade. Build a real harbor in Gaza city. Allow free trade under some kind of military inspection. Same for an airport. Allow workers to find employment in Israel, instead of importing workers from China and Romania. Turn Gaza into a second Singapore. Allow free travel between Gaza and the West Bank by a bridge or an exterritorial highway. Help to restore unity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
WHY NOT? The very idea is rejected by an ordinary Israeli on sight.
A deal with Hamas? Impossible!!! Hamas wants to destroy Israel. Everybody knows that.
I hear this many times, and always wonder about the stupidity of people who repeat this.
How does a group of a few hundred thousand “destroy” one of the worlds most heavily armed states, a state that possesses nuclear bombs and submarines to deliver them? How? With kites?
Both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin pay us homage, the world’s fascist dictators and liberal presidents come to visit. How can Hamas pose a mortal danger?
Why doesn’t Hamas stop hostilities by itself? Hamas has competitors, which are even more radical. It does not dare to show any sign of weakness.
SOME DECADES ago the Arab world, on the initiative of Saudi Arabia, offered Israel peace under several conditions, all of them acceptable. Successive Israel governments have not only not accepted it, they have ignored it altogether.
There was some logic in this. The Israeli government wants to annex the West Bank. It wants to get the Arab population out, and replace them with Jewish settlers. It conducts this policy slowly, cautiously, but consistently.
It is a cruel policy, a detestable policy, yet it has some logic in it. If you really want to achieve this abominable aim, the methods may be adequate. But this does not apply to the Gaza Strip, which no one wants to annex. There, the methods are sheer folly.
THIS DOES not mean that the overall Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is any more wise. It is not.
Binyamin Netanyahu and his hand-picked stupid ministers have no policy. Or so it seems. In fact they do have an undeclared one: creeping annexation of the West Bank.
This is now going on at a quicker pace than before. The daily news gives the impression that the entire government machine is now concentrating on this project.
This will lead directly to an apartheid-style state, where a large Jewish minority will dominate an Arab majority.
For how long? One generation? Two? Three?
It has been said that a clever person is able to extricate himself from a trap into which a wise person would not have fallen in the first place.
Stupid people do not extricate themselves. They are not even aware of the trap.
A two-day workshop organized by the NEYM Working Group on Israel-Palestine (With reference to NEYM’s minute on Palestine-Israel passed last summer)
Building a Just Peace in Palestine-Israel
Tuesday, 3:30-5, Leavenworth
John Reuwer and Laurie Gagne (Burlington, VT, MM); Working Group on Israel-Palestine
John and Laurie will have just returned from a month in the West Bank where they deployed with Meta Peace Teams to advance MPT’s vision of seeking “a just world grounded in nonviolence and respect for the sacred interconnectedness of all life.” Their mission is “to pursue peace through active nonviolence” amidst the conflict in occupied Palestine, as part of a growing field of work known as Unarmed Civilian Protection, or Third Party Nonviolent Intervention. (Jeffords 213)
They will report on:
Current conditions of living for Palestinians and interactions with Israeli soldiers.
Prospects for improvements in the social and political situation from the local perspective, including that of Ramallah Friends.
How UCP and TPNI work in theory and in real life, and the potential it may hold for reducing militarism in human affairs.
Moving our Meetings to Take Action on Israel-Palestine
Wednesday, 3:30-5, Leavenworth
Minga Claggett-Borne and Jonathan Vogel-Borne (Cambridge, MA, MM); Working Group on Israel-Palestine
How do we talk to one another about the issue? How do we engage our meetings? Given the urgency of the situation, particularly for the people of Gaza, what do we need in order to take faithful and effective action? What do those actions look like? (Jeffords 213)
Is Zionism a failed ideology? This question will strike many people as absurd on its face. Israel, after all, is a nation with an advanced standard of living, a high-tech economy and one of the most formidable militaries on earth. In a little over half a century, it has taken in millions of people from far-flung corners of the globe, taught them a new language and incorporated them into a political culture that is nothing if not vigorous. If this is failure, there are a lot of countries wishing for their share of it.
But consider the things Israel has not accomplished. In his 1896 manifesto The Jewish State, Zionism’s founding document, the Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl predicted that such a country would be at peace with its neighbors and would require no more than a small professional army. In fact, Zionist settlers have clashed repeatedly with the Arabs from nearly the moment they began arriving in significant numbers in the early twentieth century, a Hundred Years’ War that grows more dangerous by the month. Herzl envisioned a normal state no different from France or Germany. Yet with its peculiar ethno-religious policies elevating one group above all others, Israel is increasingly abnormal at a time when almost all other political democracies have been putting such distinctions behind them. Herzl envisioned a state that would draw Jews like a magnet, yet more than half a century after Israel’s birth, most Jews continue to vote with their feet to remain in the Diaspora, and an increasing number of Israelis prefer to live abroad. Israel was supposed to serve as a safe haven, yet it is in fact one of the more dangerous places on earth in which to be Jewish….
…Under normal conditions, Israeli secularists would forge alliances not only with like-minded Palestinians but with others farther afield. But Zionism interferes not only by plunging society into a permanent state of war but by imposing a kind of conceptual prison. If not forbidden, contacts across religious lines grow very complicated in a “faith-driven ethno-state.” “You don’t understand,” educated, secular Israelis say when European and American friends criticize the latest Israeli outrage. “You don’t know what it’s like to live in a society where a bomb could go off any minute. You don’t know.” But that is exactly the point. The purpose of Zionism, and of nationalism in general, is to impose a barrier between one group and another, to limit contact and impede understanding. By emphasizing one aspect of human experience, the ethno-religious in the case of Israel, at the expense of all others, it hobbles communication with those outside the fold. The personality is truncated, and political options are reduced. Instead of freely deciding what is to be done, people are forced to follow the logic imposed on them by the state. Hounded by rabbis, terrorized by suicide bombers, hemmed in by nationalism, Israelis see no alternative but to throw in their lot with a strongman like Sharon. The logic is irresistible but suicidal–unless someone can figure a way out of the ideological cage.
Americans are grappling with the incarceration of 10-year-olds and the concept of “tender age detention centers” while morally bankrupt politicians wring their bloodied hands. As courts begin to respond, many folks across the political spectrum are wondering, “What happens to the children caught in this catastrophe?” Interestingly, there is much we can learn from research in the US and from the Israeli experience with regard to children and prisons. The US and Israel both perceive themselves as enlightened “western democracies,” yet both have high incarceration rates, particularly for children of color, sometimes involving the same global prison industries. In both countries, these kinds of children are perceived as the “other,” the “enemy,” the “invading hordes ready to destroy America,” the “Muslim terrorists seeking to kill Israelis.” They are presented as less human and less deserving than white and/or Jewish children and less likely to evoke an empathic reaction….
….The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children should not be deprived of liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily and that arrest, detention, or imprisonment should only be used in extreme circumstances for the shortest period of time. Ironically, the US is the only country in the world that has not signed the treaty as reported by the ACLU.
But signing the treaty is clearly not enough. According to Defense of Children International-Palestine, last year an average of 310 Palestinian children were imprisoned for “security offenses” each month, with 60 children 12 to 15 years of age. An estimated 700 children are prosecuted each year in military courts with a 99+% conviction rate. The most common charge is stone throwing which can result in up to 20 years in prison. There have been multiple reports of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse during arrest and interrogation, with 74.5% of children reporting physical violence during arrest and 62% reporting verbal abuse, intimidation and humiliation. Solitary confinement during interrogation has been documented, with an average period of 12 days. The Israeli military courts also put children in administrative detention for months, basically imprisoning them without charges or trial.
To be absolutely clear on this, if a Jewish Israeli child was caught throwing stones at a PA security officer or a Palestinian farmer harvesting his olives, he would not end up in detention. Indeed, if he was from certain Jewish settlements, he would be celebrated as a hero. Such is the justice under military occupation. Jewish children live under civil law and of course are not viewed as the enemy….
Dear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman,
We, members of Other Voice — residents of the Western Negev who live close to the border with the Gaza Strip — are writing to you, yet again, in our call for a long-term political program to end the hostilities with Gaza.
The situation in our region and in the Gaza Strip is unthinkable, unbearable and unacceptable. The deep hostility, the never-ending rounds of violence, the mortar and rocket attacks, the tunnels, the kites — all of these have made our lives a living hell. And on the other side of the border, the people live with 3-4 hours of electricity a day; they have no potable water; the sewage runs in the streets and into the sea; their health system is collapsing and they have soaring numbers of unemployment. Two million people are living without hope that they will have a sustainable future.
The government is trying to persuade us — the Israeli public, and mainly the residents of the region surrounding Gaza — that the Gazans are our enemies. We see them, however, not as our enemies, but as our neighbors.
The Hamas regime is tyrannical and has caused great harm, mainly to its own people. We neither justify nor legitimate its behaviors and its decisions. Nevertheless, it is the authority in Gaza — whether we like it or not — and so we have to find a way to speak to its members.
We call upon you to change direction. Instead of more rounds of violence, instead of another war, we need to reach a long-term ceasefire. We need to put into place a political program that will promise the people in Gaza electricity for 24 hours a day, potable water, employment, freedom of movement, air to breathe and removal of the blockade.
Israel is the strong side in this equation. We have the power and the ability to reverse this unacceptable and unbearable situation, and to create a situation in which life and hope blossom on both sides of the border. The disaster that has been going on for too long is not a natural — it is human-made. We created it and we can change it. We want to live in peace with our neighbors in Gaza. We need to live in peace with them.
Members of Other Voice
An Open Letter to Hamas’ Leadership
Dear Yahya Sanwar and Ismail Haniyeh,
We are your neighbors to the east; we live in Israeli communities that share the border with the Gaza Strip. Our peoples have been at war for decades, and as the years go by, the hostilities and hatred have deepened — on both sides. This state is toxic both for your people and for ours.
We have been, and remain, enemies. But this can, and must, change. We are also neighbors — we live just a few kilometers away from one another. This tragedy that has befallen both of our peoples is not a natural disaster — it is a human-made one. We created it and we can change it.
Enough hatred. Enough revenge. Enough showing strength through rockets, mortars, tunnels and arson kites.
We have written Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin – the leaders on the Israeli side. We have written them what we have written you. Our message to them is that it is time to reach a long-term ceasefire, make and implement a political plan, end the blockade, help rehabilitate the Gaza Strip, help make sure that every person in Gaza has full access to electricity, clean water, enough medicine, air to breath and freedom of movement and rights.
We do not know if you will read this letter, or toss it into the waste basket. We are writing in hopes that you will read it and think about what an opportunity this is — to completely change what has been, and to bring hope to your people. Hope and a good life for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip also means hope and a good life for Israelis, on our side of the border.
We are not your enemies. We are your neighbors. We want to live as neighbors, at the very least, in co-existence.
We know that we can do this. We can make this happen. You have the power to make a huge difference on your side. We have also demanded from our leaders to do the same here.
We are not your enemies. We are your neighbors, and we want a life of dignity and peace for all people – in the Gaza Strip and in the Western Negev.
On March 30th, 2018 tens of thousands of Palestinians marched peacefully in Gaza in the Great Return March, beginning a six-week tent city protest along the Gaza/Israel border from Land Day, March 30th, to Nakba Day, May 15th.
The Nakba (“Catastrophe” in Arabic) refers to the forced displacement of approximately 750,000 Palestinians that began with Israel’s establishment in 1948, and that continues to this day.
The #GreatReturnMarch, organized by civil society and grassroots activists, called for an end to the siege of Gaza and the right of return for Palestinian refugees according to international law.
On the first day of the march, the Israeli military killed 19 Palestinians and wounded over 1,400. No Israeli soldiers were harmed. Videos show Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed Palestinians as they ran away from the gunfire and even as they prayed.
No one should be killed for taking part in a peaceful protest, and Jewish Voice for Peace and our members will not sit quietly while the Israeli military kills Palestinians for demanding their rights.
Here’s what you need to know about the what happened in Gaza during the #GreatReturnMarch and how you can support Palestinian protesters.
The Great Return March is an ongoing mobilization and we will be updating this page as the demonstrations in Gaza continue. Update, June 14th, 2018: Since March 30th, the Israeli military has killed at least 135 Palestinians and wounded more than 14,600 others.
It is estimated that as many as 250,000 Palestinians in Gaza have participated in the Great Return March since the nonviolent border protest launched March 30. Many are from a new generations of Palestinian refugees who are rediscovering the spirit of resistance manifested during the first and second intifadas. One of them was Abed El-Fattah Abed Elnaby, 18. He was my second cousin.
He was among the first martyrs—a number that since has grown to 49. One of nine shot and killed by Israeli snipers that first day, Abed El-Fattah achieved a kind of posthumous fame when what has now become an iconic photograph, taken moments before he was shot by Gaza photographer Mahmoud Abu Salama—appeared on the front page of the Washington Post. Here is the story behind that photo:
Abed El-Fattah was both the tallest and the youngest among the four sons in the family. (He also had five sisters!) He was known as a joker, but was a quick learner in school with a special aptitude for math. However, the boy left school when he was just 16 to help support his family. He trained as a plumber and put in additional hours at a baker, helping to pay one of his sister’s university tuition. Abed El-Fattah even bought his own clothes with his earnings.
Why did he decide to risk his life, meager as it was, to not only participate in the protest but approach the front lines? His family members tell me Abed El-Fattah yearned to see his family’s original village of Simsim (سمسم), located just 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) northeast of Gaza. On May 12, 1948, pre-state Israeli forces ran the villagers out of their town. The concept of a daily march to the border to call for Palestinians’ right to return to their ancestral homes captured his imagination, and he had been listening to the news every day.
On March 30, Abed El-Fattah woke up at 8 a.m. and worked at his brother’s falafel restaurant until around 2.p.m. Then he went home for his mother’s lunch, but didn’t eat much. Instead, he began preparing himself for the march, putting on new clothes he had purchased the day before. It was as if he wanted to look like a gentleman for what would become the day of his death. Dressed, he left home in a taxi. His friends next door (Zyed Abu Oukar and Yousef Masoud) and his brother Muhammad, with whom he was very close, followed shortly after.
Many of the protesters carried tires, which had become a symbol of the first and second intifadas. Tires were used at that time to block the vans driven by Zionist soldiers. But this time, many among the thousands gathered along the border began burning the tires to obscure the view of the Israeli snipers, who were targeting them with live ammunition.
According to Muhammad, Abed El-Fattah did not join them. However, when snipers began shooting at a younger boy carrying a tire close to the border fence, he darted toward and grabbed it from him so the teen could run faster. Both were running back toward the crowd of demonstrators when the Israeli snipers shot five bullets: One hit Muhammad, who was close by; he was spared only because the bullet was deflected by the mobile phone in his front shirt pocket. Another hit Abed El-Fattah in the head. He was rushed to a hospital, but he could not be saved.
“My soul was taken from me,” his father says.
How do you begin to describe such a loss? I could write about his grieving family and friends, who are haunted by his memory. Or I could describe the community mosque and his sister’s house he had helped build. Or I could interview Fadwa, an elderly woman in the neighborhood who can’t walk so is confined to a wheelchair. Abed El-Fattah knew she had no children to look after her, so became her surrogate son, bringing her food and helping her with chores almost every day. Now, she moans about how deeply she misses him.
“He is still with us, though, because he is in our hearts,” says his mother with tears in her eyes.
And despite their bottomless grief, his brothers continue to participate in the march with their father, in the hope that change will come, and that maybe, just maybe, they can see Simsim.
The strategy of The Great March of Return, Palestinians in Gaza demanding their right of return to their villages and towns, curiously parallels the nonviolent resistance methods taught by Mubarak Awad before Israel exiled him in 1988. (Posted two days before Memorial Day in the United States, a day dedicated to participants in violence, honorable people no doubt but perhaps misguided.)
Here’s part of an interview conducted in 2000:
An old man came to me whose land the Israelis had taken. He wanted it back. So I told him to get 300 or 400 people from his village—children, young people, old people—anybody who wanted to come.
The settlers had put a fence around the land. We could take the fence down and just sit there and if the Israeli military wanted to kill us, let them kill us. I told him, on one condition: Not a single person should throw a stone.
If we are all going to be massacred, let it be. And we did that; we took the land back from the settlers. That created an echo with a lot of Palestinians, who started coming to me at the Center instead of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Taking fear away from people and replacing it with courage is the essence of nonviolence.
Mubarak Awad is the founder of Nonviolence International. Meir Amor, an Israeli peace activist living in Canada, interviewed him.
In May 1988, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir ordered Awad arrested and expelled. Officials charged that Awad broke Israeli law by inciting “civil uprising” and helping to write leaflets that advocated civil disobedience that were distributed by the leadership of the First Intifada. No evidence was provided to support the charge and Awad appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The court ruled that he had forfeited his right to residence status in Israel when he became a U.S. citizen and he was deported in June 1988. (Wikipedia)