New book by a Quaker Palestinian author about Palestine-Israel

From a review by Steve Chase in Friends Journal, February 2021, of two new books about Palestine-Israel, Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique by Sa’ed Atshan, and The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017, by Rashid Khalidi

Adding to the complexity of the current situation, Sa’ed Atshan’s book embraces a post-colonial vision of equality for all people in Israel–Palestine but explicitly includes attention to the rights of queer Palestinians. I remember hearing Atshan speak at Pendle Hill study center in Wallingford, Pa., several years ago. His personal story moved me. He shared his challenges of growing up Palestinian under Israeli military occupation and growing up gay in occupied Palestinian society. In his book, he tells his story in more detail and sheds light on how “social movements are able (or not) to balance struggles for liberation along more than one axis at a time.” As he says, “queer Palestinians face systems from all directions of marginalization, policing, and repression of both Zionism and homophobia.”

Atshan requests we support these two entwined struggles as a moral and strategic imperative. One of the most eye-opening observations in Atshan’s book is the complex way homophobia has been weaponized in the service of the oppressive, U.S.-backed Israeli system of apartheid. On the one hand, the existence of significant Palestinian homophobia has allowed Israeli security forces to entrap queer Palestinians for years and coerce them into being informants and collaborators against the Palestinian national liberation movement by threatening them with exposure. This has, in turn, hardened homophobic attitudes among some Palestinian rights activists, who have come to see LGBTQ Palestinians as traitors to the cause of freedom. On the other hand, the Israeli government has also made strategic use of “pinkwashing” in promoting some real advances on queer rights in Israel, as well as encouraging international LGBTQ tourism to Tel Aviv, in an ongoing effort to brand Israel as a modern and progressive society, while deflecting criticism of its settler colonial policies of dispossession, occupation, and discrimination against Palestinians.

The rise and growth of an organized Palestinian LGBTQ liberation movement in Israel–Palestine since 2002, which Atshan chronicles in this book, has courageously expanded “the spaces for joy, pleasure, and love” for queer Palestinians and holds the promise of disarming the two-pronged weaponization of homophobia the State of Israel uses to oppress all Palestinians. Yet Atshan also documents how the movement “reached a plateau in 2012” and “has neither grown nor retreated” since then. Several of the book’s chapters offer a deep dive into the many social forces, which he collectively calls “the empire of critique,” that have inhibited the movement’s growth and long-term impact by relentlessly “gauging, judging, and critiquing the words and intentions of queer Palestinians and their allies.” His nuanced analysis includes the Israeli state, its Zionist supporters, Palestinian political institutions like Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, religious prejudices and cultural mores, and even the hypercritical perspectives of some transnational solidarity movement activists and some radical academics.

The goal of Atshan’s sensitive “critique of critique” is fostering a “transforming activism with loving energy” that helps the Palestinian LGBTQ movement start to grow again and reach its full potential. His long-term hope is “that Israelis and Palestinians, straight and queer, can all live together as equals.” My hope is that all Friends will seek to find ways to help achieve this healing vision, especially Friends from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Recently, I came across a bold quote on the “Quakers engage to end racism” Facebook group; it had originally been posted by the Palestine Project’s page and then shared by Jewish Voice for Peace. The quote, from Yara Hawari of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, began, “It is time to stop lecturing Palestinians and to start listening.”

Having just read two new books by Palestinians, I agree. The first is The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine by Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University’s Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies. The second is Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique by Quaker author Sa’ed Atshan, assistant professor of peace and conflict studies at Swarthmore College. Read together, these books offer a compelling and complementary perspective of great value for Quakers trying to clarify their thinking (and action) on the human rights situation in Israel–Palestine.

I bought Khalidi’s book after his author talk in Washington, D.C., last February. There, he described the ongoing conflict as a colonial war initiated by the European Zionist movement in partnership with the British Empire from 1917 until 1948, and then continued by the newly established State of Israel, now backed by the United States. According to Khalidi, the U.S. government’s longstanding support for Israel’s policies of ethnic cleansing, military occupation, illegal settlements, and racist discrimination has been obscured by high-sounding rhetoric but is profoundly oppressive and destructive. This is a harsh reckoning, but the overall argument in his book is convincing. The historical research done by Khalidi is extensive and well-documented.

The book opens with Khalidi sharing the 1899 correspondence between Khalidi’s great-great-great uncle, Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi, then the mayor of Jerusalem, and Theodor Herzl, a prominent European Zionist leader. In his letter, Yusuf Diya expresses his respect for Herzl’s literary work, his sympathy for the intense problem of antisemitism in Europe, and his recognition of the cultural affinity of Jews with historic Palestine. He goes on, however, to say that the creation of an ethno-nationalist Jewish State in Palestine that displaces and discriminates against Christian and Muslim Palestinians is not a just solution to the problem of European antisemitism. He closes with the plea, “in the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.”

Herzl wrote back reassuringly that Zionism only sought the immigration of a limited “number of Jews” from Europe and would not harm Palestinian lives, lands, and livelihoods, or seek to displace a single Palestinian. Unfortunately, reports Khalidi, Herzl lied. Four years before, he wrote in his diary about Zionists colonizing Palestine with Great Power support and needing to displace and dispossess Palestinians to create their envisioned “Jewish State.” Moreover, in the corporate charter Herzl co-wrote for the Jewish-Ottoman Land Company, he specifically included the goal of displacing Palestinians to “other provinces and territories of the Ottoman Empire.”

Other early Zionist leaders were more honest about their objectives, even naming one of the main organizations the Palestine Jewish Colonial Association. In addition, Russian Zionist leader, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, boldly stated in 1925 what Yusuf Diya suspected in 1899: “Zionism is a colonizing venture and, therefore, it stands or falls on the question of armed forces.” Why? As Jabotinsky explained:

Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised. That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of “Palestine” into the “Land of Israel.”

All this sounds very different from the common stories about Zionism and the birth of Israel that many of us have grown up with, but Khalidi notes that this is only because “once colonialism took on a bad odor in the post-World War II era of decolonization, the colonial origins and practice of Zionism and Israel were whitewashed and conveniently forgotten in Israel and the West.” His book restores this understanding and focuses on “six turning points” in the settler colonial war against Palestine, from the British government’s imperial Balfour Declaration in 1917 to the far-right military and diplomatic alliance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former U.S. President Donald Trump. It chronicles this multi-phased war of aggression and the Palestinian national liberation movement’s often confused mix of diplomacy, terrorism, armed struggle, and nonviolent civil resistance. I would hope Friends, as seekers of truth, would all be willing to at least consider Khalidi’s detailed historical narrative and concluding reflections on how to nonviolently dismantle “the supremacy of the colonizer in order to make possible a true reconciliation” offering full equality to all in Israel–Palestine.

Steve Chase is a member of Friends Meeting of Washington (D.C.) and the author of the Pendle Hill pamphlet Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions?: A Quaker Zionist Rethinks Palestinian Rights.

Original article in Friends Journal

Dr Sa’ed Atshan: ‘Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique‪’,‬ podcast by Oxford Society for International Development (October 2020)

Israel-Palestine Working Group of NEYM 2019-2020 Report

Join AFSC in memorializing the 521 Palestinian children killed in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge (2008-2009) while demanding change.

“Great openings” appear as this spring’s massive protests make visible the many connections among oppressed communities seeking justice. The Israel Palestine Working Group (IPWG)—activists nurturing comprehension of shifting realities—asks Friends during 2020 sessions to affirm that the Equality Testimony is universal. Let us embrace our awareness of unity among all who seek justice both nationally and globally.

Can we unite, now, when asked to accompany the oppressed? There was no discussion last year when Friends heard internationally renowned Palestinian Quaker lecturer and author Jean Zaru challenge NEYM to make a decision about whom we are accompanying—the oppressor or the oppressed?

IPWG’s major emphasis this year is AFSC’s No Way To Treat A Child campaign. Northwest Quarterly Meeting’s Minute 202038 asks Friends, at 2020 sessions, to support HR 2407: Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under the Israeli Military Occupation Act. This national effort invites us all to 1) Educate folks about Palestinian children incarcerated in Israeli military prisons and H.R. 2407; 2) Write an op-ed in support of H.R. 2407; 3) Lobby Congress on behalf of H.R. 2407, as an individual or group.

IPWG coordinated an endorsement of AFSC’s call for Israel to release all children from military prisons with the Racial Social Economic Justice Committee; together with RSEJ, we also asked Friends to work for the release of those most vulnerable to Covid-19 in U.S. prisons.

One of our 2019 lunchtime discussions focused on the paucity of Monthly Meeting and Yearly Meeting connections with AFSC’s efforts to achieve justice in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Another looked at Jewish Voice for Peace’s Deadly Exchange campaign to end Israeli military training of police across the United States. More HERE.

Theme-organized informal lunch conversations, this one about the Deadly Exchange campaign of Jewish Voice for Peace about Israel training US security officers, including police

In another 2019 business meeting, the presiding clerk asked Skip Schiel to speak about his 17 years of activism in Palestine: a witness that was visible in an exhibit of Skip’s photographs from his two-month journey last spring. He answered questions about “The Ongoing Nakba” during a dinner presentation.

IPWG makes available The Promised Land Exhibit, a set of traveling panels from The Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience. Monthly meetings find it to be helpful as they search for the meaning of antisemitism, colonization, Islamophobia, racism, and Zionism.

The Promised Land Exhibit by the Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience

In other developments this year: Cliff Bennett attended the Third Conference of Scientists for Palestine at MIT; Northeast Kingdom MM approved a travel minute for Scott and Susan Rhodewalt; and Palestine Museum in Woodbridge, Connecticut featured Skip Schiel’s The Ongoing Nakba photographic project exhibit.

Exhibit by Skip Schiel, The Ongoing Nakba, internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank

Our WEBSITE is a resource for Friends to discern who to accompany in seeking justice. Knowing that “an injury to one is an injury to all” we remember “there is no justice until there is justice for all.”

*George Fox used the phrase “Great Openings“ many times in his journal to refer to revelations and discoveries of the spirit, as in this passage, “great openings concerning the things written in the Revelations.”

Skip Schiel, Clerk
Scott Rhodewalt, Recording Clerk

NEYM 2020 sessions will be ONLINE. Our working group’s plans include two webinars, The Promised Land Exhibit with Steve Feldman, its founder, and Max Carter, former faculty member of Guilford College, and long time activist for Palestinian rights; and discussion of the annexation of major portions of the West Bank and Jordan Valley, possibly with four American Friends Service Committee staff, Dilit Baum, Sahar Vardi, and Mike Merryman-Lotz, Dawood Hammoudeh, and Jehad Abusalim.

Last summer’s Palestine-Israel program at sessions in Castleton Vermont

Israel-Palestine Working Group 2020 Annual Report

Photographs by Skip Schiel of New England Yearly Meeting sessions, 2019:

Quakers gather in New England

Provoke one another to love and to good works

Ramallah Friends School closes because of the Novel Coronavirus threat

Ramallah Friends School / Ramallah, Palestine - Jobs.ps

Message from the Ramallah Friends School Head of School Adrian Moody, March 26, 2020

As I write to you our campuses enter the third week of school closure. As Head of School I do live on campus and it has been too quiet lately as students and teachers are the soul of any school. And a school without its students and teachers is just a group of buildings.

 

Our seniors were taking their IB Mock exams when the closure was announced, and we had to think fast to decide what the next best steps would be for our community. Our leadership team, administrative and teaching staff never stopped working – each from their own home – to provide online materials and lessons to more than 1500 students in all grade levels (KG -11th) while our seniors continued their exams online.

 

Due to the dedication of our staff we were able to launch distance learning for the first time at RFS given limited resources. Our goal is not only to minimize the disruption of the learning process, but also to keep us connected to our students and their families at such challenging times when we all need each other.

Mona Halaby teaches conflict resolution at Ramallah Friends School

Ramallah Friends School | bonnie and dave | Flickr

Teachers, administrators, principals, students and parents are all working hard together and that is how our community will survive. The school like Palestine itself has held steadfast. We hold true to our mission and we have hope for the future. At these uncertain times, we are unsure of what is coming and we have not been able to ensure our financial budgets for the next academic year.

Thank you for helping us maintain the school’s sustainability, so we can, together, make sure that RFS can continue offering Quaker education to Palestinian youth for another 150 years.

Wishing you and your loved ones wellness and peace and good health,

Sincerely,
Electronic Signature
Adrian Moody
Head of School
Ramallah Friends School

 

Adrian Moody

Quakers in Israel & PalestineTime Line

(with resources)

Friends Fiduciary Corporation divests from companies working in Israel

Old news but worth repeating so many know. From The Times of Israel (October 2012)

JTA – A Quaker group has removed a French and an American company from its financial portfolio due to what it calls the companies’ involvement in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

Friends Fiduciary Corporation will drop the French multinational corporation Veolia Environment and the US-based Hewlett-Packard from its portfolio following requests from Quakers concerned about the companies’ involvement in the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands.

FFC has investments of more than $250,000 in HP and more than $140,000 in Veolia, according to the We Divest Campaign. The money is part of an overall $200 million in assets and investments for more than 250 Quaker meetings, schools, organizations, trusts and endowments around the US.

The Quaker group does not issue public announcements about such moves, but did send a letter confirming the information, according to Anna Baltzer, a spokesperson for the We Divest Campaign.

“It’s not private; it’s public information and they’ve written a letter to the Friends Meeting in Ann Arbor, Mich. that raised the issue,” she said. The Ann Arbor group did not return JTA’s call for this article.

However, Jeffrey W. Perkins, the FFC’s executive director, said in a press release issued by We Divest that HP provides information technology consulting services to the Israeli Navy, and Veolia Environment is involved in “environmental and social concerns” with the Israeli military,

This decision comes a few months after the FFC dropped shares in Caterpillar Inc. because Caterpillar “would neither confirm nor deny the extent or type of modifications to equipment sold to the Israeli military,” according to the release.

READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE

 

 

 

Friends Fiduciary Trust investment screen

 

 

 

American Friends Service Committee investment screen

In The Jewish Times:

Quakers will not profit from the occupation of Palestine (in Britain)

Quakers in Britain has today become the first church in the UK to announce it will not invest any of its centrally-held funds in companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine. (November 19, 2018)

sunset through coils of barbed wire
Sunset in Hebron. (Photo: Quakers in Britain)

The decision, made by the church’s trustees in consultation with Meeting for Sufferings – the national representative body of Quakers – fits into a long Quaker history of pursuing ethical investments. It follows decisions not to invest funds in, among others, the fossil fuel industry, arms companies, Apartheid South Africa, and – going even further back – the transatlantic slave trade.

Paul Parker, recording clerk for Quakers in Britain, said:

“Our long history of working for a just peace in Palestine and Israel has opened our eyes to the many injustices and violations of international law arising from the military occupation of Palestine by the Israeli government.

“With the occupation now in its 51styear, and with no end in near sight, we believe we have a moral duty to state publicly that we will not invest in any company profiting from the occupation.

“We know this decision will be hard for some to hear. We hope they will understand that our beliefs compel us to speak out about injustices wherever we see them in the world, and not to shy away from difficult conversations.

“As Quakers, we seek to live out our faith through everyday actions, including the choices we make about where to put our money.

“We believe strongly in the power of legitimate, nonviolent, democratic tools such as morally responsible investment to realise positive change in the world. We want to make sure our money and energies are instead put into places which support our commitments to peace, equality and justice.

“We hope that by announcing our refusal to profit from these companies it will encourage others to think about their own investments, and help challenge the legality and practices of the ongoing military occupation.

Ingrid Greenhow, clerk of Quakers in Britain trustees, said:

“While we do not believe we currently hold investments in any company profiting from the occupation, we will now amend our investment policy to ensure this remains the case in future.

“This includes companies – whichever country they are based in – involved for example in the illegal exploitation of natural resources in occupied Palestine, and the construction and servicing of the separation barrier and Israeli settlements.

“We look forward to the publication of the UN Business and Human Rights Database which will list companies involved in settlement-related activities in occupied Palestine. We recognise the help this – and others including the Investigate database compiled by the American Friends Service Committee – will give our investment managers in implementing this new policy.”

In their minute, the trustees said, “We hope this policy might be useful to [Quaker] area meetings interested in adopting a similar approach”.

In their minute, Meeting for Sufferings reaffirmed their 2011 decision to boycott goods produced in Israeli settlements built in occupied Palestine “until such time as the Israeli occupation of Palestine is ended.”

Meeting for Sufferings added that, “[W]e continually pray for both Israelis and Palestinians, keeping them together in our hearts, and looking forward to a future of loving and generous co-operation.”

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Britain Yearly Meeting minute of 2014 in response to the violence in Gaza

“What does justice look like? Moving towards a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel,” a conference Dec. 14 to 16, 2018

From Mike Merryman Lotz of the AFSC

The Old City of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Join the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker Palestine Israel Network, and Pendle Hill for a weekend of exploring what it will take to realize a just and lasting peace in Palestine and Israel.

From Dec.14 to 16, we’re holding a conference titled “What does justice look like? Moving towards a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel.” We invite you to join us for this exciting opportunity to learn more about Israel and Palestine and what you can do to bring change.

Find more details and register on the Pendle Hill website. Scholarships are available to offset costs.

AFSC and Quakers have engaged in Palestine for over a century and worked for peace with justice since 1948. After decades without change, we want to open up a conversation about what’s needed for a just future.

It has been 70 years since the 1948 war, when more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced and the State of Israel was born. It has been over 50 years since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, gaining control of all of historic Palestine. And it has been 25 years since Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn at the start of the Oslo Peace Process.

But 25 years after the start of what was intended to be a five-year peace process, we must question that framework. Why hasn’t peace yet been achieved? What paradigm shifts are needed to bring change? What are the historic injustices that need to be righted, and what might it look like to address these issues today? What actions can people outside of the conflict take to promote change?

Join us for an interactive weekend of panels and workshops to:

  • Find out what is needed to support change in Israel and Palestine.
  • Gain skills for taking action and building intersectional work toward change.
  • Connect with others interested in building toward a different future.
  • Give and receive support as you continue to work toward change after the conference.

Register for the conference today.

I hope that you can join us at Pendle Hill.

In peace,

Mike Merryman-Lotze
Middle East Program Director

Minute of Concern for Palestinians in Gaza

UPDATED CASUALTY FIGURES (MARCH 30-AUGUST 9, 2018):
KILLED: PALESTINIANS, 172; ISRAELIS, 1
INJURED: PALESTINIANS, 15,504; ISRAELIS, 20
HOSPITALIZED: PALESTINIANS, 8,598; ISRAELIS, UNKNOWN

(Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, August 9, 2018)

FROM BURLINGTON FRIENDS MEETING, BURLINGTON, VERMONT, JUNE 10, 2018

Friends’ concern for the sufferings of all peoples leads us to oppose the recent escalation of violence by the Israeli political establishment against the Palestinians of Gaza. How should we as Quakers respond to this tragedy still taking place along the border of the Gaza Strip? [which began in late March, 2018, and continues thru this posting, July 4, 2018]

Gaza contains nearly 2 million residents in an area of 141 sq. miles. Israel imposes an economic cordon sanitaire around the region with the result that its economy is nearly destroyed and 80 percent of residents rely on international assistance. Travel in and out is sharply restricted by Israel and Egypt.

Since March 30, 2018, thousands of residents of Gaza, more than 80 percent of whom are refugees or the descendants of those displaced during the establishment of Israel in 1947, began marching toward the barriers that keep them from work, travel, foreign markets, and their ancestral lands. While still within Gaza, they were met by Israeli snipers who shot into Gaza from embankments across the line. On May 14 alone, 58 demonstrators were shot dead and 1,360 wounded with fragmentation rounds that often lead to amputations and permanent crippling. The dead include 6 children.

As a response to this unarmed, non-violent civilian protest, these premeditated and systematic shootings are a clear violation of international norms which forbid targeting noncombatants and require proportionality in the use of force, even in wartime. Clearly marked members of the press and the Red Crescent have been among the victims.

The United States is deeply complicit in these events. Since 1946, the U.S. has given Israel $134.7 billion in military and missile defense aid, $3.775 billion in 2017 alone. The weapons purchased are used to kill Palestinians. On April 6, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution supporting the right of Palestinians to “demonstrate peacefully” and endorsing Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for an independent investigation into these events.

On the day when 58 Gaza residents were shot dead by Israeli snipers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was welcoming U.S. Middle East Advisor Jared Kushner, his wife Ivanka Trump, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and four U.S. Senators on the occasion of the symbolic opening of a planned United States Embassy in Jerusalem. The embassy will be on land declared neutral in the 1949 armistice agreement and considered by the United Nations to be in occupied Palestine.

Friends are witnesses to these horrific events. Unless we speak out forcefully in protest, we will also be complicit. Removal of people from their land, their confinement in what amounts to a concentration camp, denying them sanitation, adequate health services, and employment, and then systematically killing them when their despair boils over into nonviolent protests all work against the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth. Quakers must protest this occupation by demanding that the U.S. government end all military aid to Israel and support international efforts to immediately end the illegal blockade of Gaza. We urge each Monthly Meeting to address this crisis through internal discernment and public activism.

Palestinians stage a protest within the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations near Israel-Gaza border in Gaza City, Gaza. Getty Images

The plea of refugees in Gaza to return to their ancestral villages now in Israel is the central focus of the Great March to Return . It began on April 2, 2018, was planned to end on May 15, but currently (August 15, 2018) is ongoing. These dates mark two important historical events, Land Day when 6 Palestinians were killed as they attempted to return to their villages in 1976, and Nakba Day marking the beginning of The Catastrophe, or the Grand Dispossession in 1948. The violence of this effort—as of August 9, 2018, Israeli army snipers have killed 172 mostly unarmed Palestinians, with 17,504 wounded (more than 1000 of them children), many with life-threatening injuries, overwhelming the already stressed medical system—led to this minute.

We attempted to bring this minute to New England Yearly Meeting (Quaker) Sessions this summer (2018) but because of our working group’s slip up and a packed business agenda,  we failed. However, Burlington Monthly Meeting may bring it to its Quarter, “seasoning” it for next year’s NEYM Sessions. We’re also working on a revision  (Minute inspired by Burlington Friends’ minute), not yet official from us.

Two programs about anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and privilege, Saturday, April 14, 2018

Image by Katherine Eckenfels

JOURNEYS TO ENGAGEMENT: a panel discussion organized by the NEYM Israel-Palestine Working Group, “Living into NEYM’s Israel/Palestine Minute: Understanding the Interplay of Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Racism.” Our interactive panel—Steve Chase (author of Pendle Hill Pamphlet #445 BDS? A Quaker Zionist Rethinks Palestinian Rights); Salaam Odeh (mother raised in Jordan, with family in Nablus, Occupied Palestinian West Bank),  and her daughter, Samah Deek; and Steve and Barbara Low (active members of Jewish Voice for Peace, much traveled to Palestine Israel, founder and directors of the GRALTA Foundation)—will examine how anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and privilege affect our understanding of Israel/Palestine today. By sharing their insights & experiences the panel will 1) address ways to overcome feeling the fear, which exists among Quakers, about having this conversation; and 2) suggest how Friends can imagine living more boldly into last summer’s NEYM minute on Israel and Palestine.

Martha Yager, Salaam Odeh, Samah Deek, Barbara Low, Steve Low, Steve Chase (L to R)

Our Israel­Palestine Working Group of New England Yearly Meeting has been meeting since 2015. Each year during NEYM we have organized and facilitated programs including slideshows and movies about the region, workshops, speakers, a Gaza pinwheel display from American Friends Service Committee, photographic displays, and informal lunch sessions. Most recently we have concentrated on helping write and distribute minutes from monthly and quarterly meetings. We are a small, self-­appointed interest group from different sections of New England. Most of us have visited Palestine and Israel numerous times and have been active on related issues for more than one decade. Our website is neym­ip.org. You will find quite a bit of background information and links on the site.

Other religious denominations have devoted substantial time and resources to deepening their understanding of Israel/Palestine, the role of the United States in that dynamic, and in discerning what, if anything, they feel called to contribute to the situation. Many have asked why Quakers are not engaged in these discussions, as our voice as a traditional “peace church” is often looked to for guidance.

Samah Deek

At Sessions last August we passed a minute that ended a long period of paralysis and began to engage us in these issues. We have begun to talk. We are facing our fears. And the minute did something more ­ though it barely mentions Israel/Palestine, it does spotlight the problem of US arms trade and foreign policy in the region as something perhaps we can focus on. Also, it commits us to growing in understanding of anti­Semitism and Islamophobia. This actually gives us quite a bit of space to work in.

We engage in this work with a few assumptions that we want to put on the table. Perhaps the most important is that there is no one Jewish voice or narrative. And there is no one Palestinian voice or narrative. People enter this story from a variety of experiences and histories. A younger generation of Israelis, American Jews and Palestinians and Palestinian diaspora has a different lived experience and they are beginning to shape the dialogue in new ways. We want for people at NEYM to listen deeply to this variety of voices and experiences.

Steve Chase

The other assumption we should name is that we draw from our own experiences challenging our own government ­ we hold that governments are something different from a people. Many of us are fierce critics of US government policies and practices, but many of us also will say that we do so out of love. And that criticizing our government does not necessarily mean criticizing all people who call themselves US citizens. Israel makes criticizing the government more complex by insisting that it is a Jewish state, but we believe that as with any government, its policies are something that can be discussed without impugning all Jews or such criticism being anti­Semitic.

We come to this day asking you to engage in deep listening not political debate. We have five panelists: Steve Chase, who will talk about his journey to overcome the perspectives he had been taught as he listened to new voices and educated himself more; Steve and Barbara Low, both members of Jewish Voice for Peace who likewise have had an evolution in their thinking; and Salaam Odeh and her daughter, Palestinian American activists.

QUESTIONS FOR THE PANELISTS
(from the organizers)

  • What has been your journey in coming to understand Israel/Palestine—both the dream and the reality?
  • What has been your journey in coming to understand the intersections of anti­Semitism, Islamophobia, and racism?
  • How do you differentiate between anti­Semitism and anti­Zionism?
  • What have you had to do to find your voice within your core community?
  • What do people who are most directly impacted by these issues want or need from us as allies?

As we enter this discussion, we ask you to think about the words of a British peace activist as she engaged with the Irish man who murdered her father:

In that moment of empathy, there is nothing to forgive, just understanding. We are all born into sides, into different narratives, into communities with their own stories but when we hear each other’s stories then we are connected through our shared humanity.

Let us listen deeply, with empathy for the hearts holding other stories, other sides, that we may grow in understanding and wisdom, and find our own voices, individually and collectively, for a just peace.

QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE
(overflowing, some one-third of all those attending the retreat, a good sign of interest; we passed out cards and didn’t have time to answer more than a few questions; we anticipate answering and encourage readers of this post to send in their own answers, using the reply panel at the bottom of this page.)

  • How do we initiate conversations with our Jewish Friends? Some have family in Israel; others are Holocaust survivors
  • Talk about the future – what will this Middle East area look like in ten years? Paint the future, please!
  • What use is NEYM making of AFSC’s programs and initiatives with regard to Israel-Palestine?
  • What is the benefit of looking at how racism affects both Jewish people and Palestinians in Israel? Especially with regard to Ethiopian Jews and other Jews of color? (police brutality, sterilization, socioeconomic marginalization) Does invoking this intersectionality help complicate the suggestion that criticizing the Netanyahu administration/neoliberalism/settler colonialism in Israel is inherently antisemitic?
  • The word “Holocaust” I was cautioned should not be used after I came home from AFSC-sponsored study tour to Guatemala/Central America in 1985. I was struck that I had spent days walking in an occupied land in front of Uzi guns and Reagan was visiting the Bitburg Cemetery – so many connections. I was surprised and appalled when I saw photos of the “settlements” – in my mind, I was imagining a refugee camp w/ tents vs high-rise apartments – these visuals I think would help raise the questions we need to be asking to gain understanding.
  • (NB – Bitburg was a cemetery for German military war dead; he had visited Bergen-Belsen earlier “in an effort to honor all victims of World War II, including German soldiers.” (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/reagan-visits-concentration-camp-and-war-cemetery)
  • Tell us more about “Jews for Peace” (presumably JVP – Jewish Voice for Peace? unless this person meant Americans for Peace Now? – but I suspect it is JVP)
  • What are the most reliable news sources on Israel-Palestine? al Jazeera? Other?
  • Where is the prophetic voice today? What Jewish prophets are talking to Palestinians? What Palestinian prophets are talking (kvetching) with Jews?
  • How much do the victim stories of the Jews who survived Nazism (and who now live in Israel) impact Israel’s policies?
  • Talk about the perspective that Israelis have that they “won” the land from Palestinian land during the Intifada (sic) – (NOTE – some historical confusion in this question; can’t tell if they mean 1948 or 1967; but neither way do the Intifadas seem to apply to the question)
  • Why do you say a two-state solution is not possible? Is it more possible to have a one state solution that provides for equity and equal justice and equal opportunity
  • What do you think will happen with the confrontations at the Gaza border?
  • I’d like to know the experience of typical middle-aged Palestinian Arabs. Have their families lost their homes, their lands? How do they feel about occupation by Israelis and about checkpoints?

QUAKERS AND ANTI-SEMITISM:a workshop organized by Jonathan Vogel-Borne and Allan Korhman

Part of NEYM’s 2017 minute on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (#2017-46), states that we “call upon all individuals and communities to examine how anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and privilege affect our understanding of the conflict.” In this interactive workshop we will explore our stories and perhaps find more understanding about where and how we participate in the personal and systemic evil of antisemitism. We will look at how antisemitism has operated in our Quaker heritage and especially how it affects us today as we struggle to address our nation’s complicity in the continued suffering. Jonathan Vogel-Borne and Allan Kohrman have been engaged in conversation on the topic of Israel-Palestine, Quakers and Jews, for almost 30 years. While not fully agreeing with all of Allan’s position—but because he felt Allan’s voice needed to be heard—Jonathan helped to edited Allan’s pamphlet, “Quakers and Jews” (2004).

ADDITIONAL REPORT BY MINGA CLAGGETT-BORNE

BACKGROUND ON LIVING FAITH

WHAT: Living into New England Yearly Meeting’s Israel/Palestine Minute/statement: Understanding Interplay of Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Racism (as part of an all day gathering, Living Faith

WHEN: April 14, Saturday; the panel is from 10:45 to 11:45 with the option of informal conversations during lunch, and attendance at a related afternoon workshop.

WHERE: Portland Maine, Cheverus High School, 267 Ocean Ave, 04103

“LIVING FAITH”—WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?

Living Faith is a day-long gathering of Friends from throughout New England. The event is a chance for Friends to worship together, get to know each other, share the different ways we experience and live our faith, and build community.

MORE INFO:

The Challenges We Face and Community We Forge: An interview with Sa’ed Atshan

Sa’ed Atshan at Ramallah Meeting in Palestine. Photo courtesy of Sa’ed Atshan.

In February 2017 Friends Central High School in Philadelphia had fired two teacher-advisors to a student group which had invited a Palestinian Quaker, Sa’ed Atshan, to discuss the situation in Palestine-Israel. In this interview, after a long discernment, Sa’ed speaks about what happened and how he approaches what some feel is censorship by a quaker school.

READ THE ARTICLE HERE Continue reading “The Challenges We Face and Community We Forge: An interview with Sa’ed Atshan”