This could be good news:
If even Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the most right-wing member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, has reached the conclusion that the siege on the Gaza Strip should be lifted, we can only wonder: What is actually delaying Netanyahu? After all, lifting the siege would be an easy and wise move on the part of Israel.
In a Jan. 19 speech at the conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, Bennett harshly criticized Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and accused them of a “conceptual freeze.” Bennett presented the Gaza Strip as an example and said, “After all, you won’t suspect that I’m a lefty, God forbid, but are we doing the right thing in Gaza? Wouldn’t it be better to reconcile with reality and disengage from our responsibility for the Gazans, open new paths in their lives with proper security oversight?”
For those I'm not connected with on Facebook, here is the collection of most of the photos I took in Israel - Palestine. The captions are not quite as detailed as what was posted on Facebook but I hope you find these interesting.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Today found us in Tel Aviv where we visited The Yitzhak Rabin Center, a museum that commemorates the life of the assassinated prime minister of Israel. Rabin was killed by an ultra-Orthodox Jew upset over Rabin's efforts to forge a peace with the Palestinians. There have been no major movements towards peace in the twenty years since Rabin's death. Still, his life offers us hope. He was a military leader who came to understand that diplomacy could be a powerful weapon in protecting Israel and in giving the Palestinian people their own state and the human rights all deserve.
I still recall the peace rally where Rabin was shot and stayed up in the middle of the night to watch the memorial proceedings. Rabin has long been a hero of mine. President Clinton, then in office, came to deliver the eulogy. He said then:
Your prime minister was a martyr for peace, but he was a victim of hate. Surely, we must learn from his martyrdom that if people cannot let go of the hatred of their enemies, they risk sowing the seeds of hatred among themselves. I ask you, the people of Israel, on behalf of my nation that knows its own long litany of loss, from Abraham Lincoln to President Kennedy to Martin Luther King, do not let that happen to you. In the Knesset, in your homes, in your places of worship, stay the righteous course. As Moses said to the children of Israel when he knew he would not cross over into the promised land, "Be strong and of good courage. Fear not, for God will go with you. He will not fail you, He will not forsake you."
Ultimately, Israel turned away from Rabin's policies, during a time of increased terror attacks carried out by radical Palestinians as determined as the Jew who killed Rabin to derail the peace process, and the age of Benjamin Netanyahu was born.
Today brought us to the shores of the Sea of Galilee and the Mount of Beatitudes. This place holds special meaning in the Christian tradition. Jesus sought disciples, prayed and taught here according to the Christian New Testament. Here is where we come to know the collection of sayings that are called the "Sermon on The Mount." This sermon offers us the heart of Christian theology.
Our group from Chicago Theological Seminary sat atop of the Mount of Beatitudes, read the sermon and reflected on the words in the context of our trip to Israel - Palestine. How can we be peacemakers, we asked?
Dr. Ken Stone, CTS's academic dean, noted the passage "Blessed are the meek" and suggested that part of what we should take away from this trip is a sense of humility. The situation in Israel - Palestine does not lend itself to easy answers. Those that claim to know "the truth" or "the way" forward may cause more trouble and difficulty. That doesn't mean we stop seeking peace. We just engage that process recognizing the complexities and that as Americans we have the potential to offer both hope and to contribute to the chaos.
5When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Today - The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday in the United States - brought us to Aida, a Palestinian refugee camp. There is no question in my mind that Dr. King would weep at the way Palestinians are treated. Some will blame the failure of Palestinian leadership for the refugee crisis here - and there is truth in that their leadership has not always made wise decisions - but no group of people should live in the hopeless poverty we saw today. So what exactly are these camps? The United Nations explains:
Nearly one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
A Palestine refugee camp is defined as a plot of land placed at the disposal of UNRWA by the host government to accommodate Palestine refugees and set up facilities to cater to their needs. Areas not designated as such and are not recognized as camps. However, UNRWA also maintains schools, health centres and distribution centres in areas outside the recognized camps where Palestine refugees are concentrated, such as Yarmouk, near Damascus.
The plots of land on which the recognized camps were set up are either state land or, in most cases, land leased by the host government from local landowners. This means that the refugees in camps do not 'own' the land on which their shelters were built, but have the right to 'use' the land for a residence.
Socioeconomic conditions in the camps are generally poor, with high population density, cramped living conditions and inadequate basic infrastructure such as roads and sewers.
Israelis have built giant walls cutting off refugee camps from other communities. They are like prisons. It is difficult to travel in or out if you are Palestinian. Freedom of movement does not exist. Most of the resistance to these living conditions take the form on non-violent action but there have been periods where violence has erupted. It would seem a silly hope for violence and terror not to thrive in conditions such as these. Still, many people, like those we met today at the Alrowwad for Cultural Arts, are seeking means of non-violent creative resistance.
There are no easy answers to how to solve the Israeli - Palestinian question but there is no question these camps violate basic human rights.
I'm not able to post about all our different activities and visits with different people / groups but if you want more visit my Twitter account. You'll find links to some of the organizations we've heard from that I might not have blogged about. Check out the hashtag #CTSStudyTour for posts from others on the trip as well.
We've heard much about Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories since arriving - an issue always in the news - and today we visited such a place outside of Bethlehem. Thus far the Israeli Jews we have encountered have expressed great frustration with the current government here and both concern and compassion for the Palestinians. Several times it has been said that Israel will never be safe or truly free until the Palestinians are. How to get there and what does that look like - one state, two states, some other unknown option - is the question everyone has failed to answer.
The settler we talked with didn't express much concern for the Palestinians, a group he suggested was fictional. Although he also expressed pride in some social and medical services his settlement provides for Palestinians. This encounter was disheartening for me to say the least. His insistence that the settlement he resides in is in Israeli territory and not Palestinian - and that it was legal despite international which is clear such settlements are illegal - made for a frustrating and emotional meeting. A return to the 1967 borders - which President Obama has insisted on - would never be possible if this settler had his way and that is why such settlements are being built: to prevent peace. The policies of Benjamin Netanyahu put the future of both Palestine and Israel at risk.
President Obama has asked this of Israel:
“[M]y assessment, which is shared by a number of Israeli observers, I think, is there comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices. Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”
I did share with the settler there is one area of agreement I have with him: that the Palestinians lack effective leadership. We have heard this from Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Yet it is hard to build effective leadership when you are under siege.
Human Rights Watch has noted how difficult the situation is here even for children:
(Jerusalem) – Israeli security forces have used unnecessary force to arrest or detain Palestinian children as young as 11. Security forces have choked children, thrown stun grenades at them, beaten them in custody, threatened and interrogated them without the presence of parents or lawyers, and failed to let their parents know their whereabouts.
Human Rights Watch interviewed four boys, ages 11, 12, and 15, from different neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and a 14-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy from elsewhere in the West Bank, whom Israeli forces arrested or detained in separate incidents for allegedly throwing rocks from March to December 2014. They and their parents gave accounts of abuses during arrest and interrogation that caused the children pain, fear, and ongoing anxiety. Human Rights Watch has seen photos and marks on the body of one of the children, consistent with the accounts he and his parents had given; the children’s accounts were also consistent with each other.
Denying basic human rights to children isn't Jewish.
With each new settlement, the chances for peace diminish further.
And the news doesn't get much better politically:
Sometime very soon, the U.S. Senate will pass a bill that requires the government to treat the West Bank as part of Israel. Not only that, it will obligate the administration to pressure other countries to do the same. These provisions have provoked no serious opposition as the bill has worked its way through the congressional maze. Instead, Democratic lawmakers raise their hands to do the work of the GOP-Likud axis, in what may be a bizarre act of penance for their own courage in supporting the Iran deal last summer.
The bill's own language says it's aimed at fighting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In reality, it may actually encourage boycotts of Israel. The bill says it's meant to preserve the “sustainability of peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. In reality, it helps the efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a two-state agreement impossible.
J Street - the pro-Jewish, pro-peace organization, is asking President Obama to examine what executive actions he might be able to take to promote peace in this action alert:
In your final State of the Union you made it clear that you will "not let up" in advancing your priorities.
Achieving a two-state solution has been one of your priorities since day one. And though a final accord will likely not be reached during your last year in office, I am asking you to "not let up" on that goal. There are concrete steps you can take immediately to make life better for Israelis and Palestinians, and to preserve hopes for peace.
I join J Street in calling on you to conduct a review of potential executive actions available to you including (but not limited to): giving force to US opposition to settlements; putting forth US parameters to guide future negotiations; promoting economic development and coexistence programming that move the conflict closer to eventual resolution, working from the ground up.
I signed the letter and invite you to do the same.
Ambassador (ret.) Ilan Baruch is currently the policy advisor for MK Zehava Galon, Chairperson of MERETZ and a peace activist. He resigned from the MFA on grounds of principle, after 36 years of diplomatic career. It included overseas postings in Asia, Europe and Africa. Head-quarter postings: founder/director of the Palestinian Autonomy department, head - coordination of the Multilateral Peace Process and head - Middle East division for economic cooperation. Baruch was a team member of the Israeli delegation to the Oslo Peace negotiations, and participated in various negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt on economic agreements. His last posting was Ambassador of Israel to South Africa, as well as Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Since his early retirement, Baruch is devoting his time and experience to projects in public diplomacy, is running a weekly program in the "All for Peace" radio, and contributes political analysis in different media outlets.
...I am concerned with the far left, as seen in universities within the European Union who have called for the divestment from Israel. This is similar to the movement that was taken by many universities calling for divestment from South Africa. This serves to feed the "citadel Israel" mentality which leads to isolationism. This is not good for us, this is not good for the Palestinians and it is not good for anyone interested in the peace process...
The intensity of our trip kicked up a notch with a Friday morning visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum here in Jerusalem. So striking was the historical memory of how Jews fleeing persecution were turned away and how the world then watched in silence - with knowledge - as the Holocaust began. It took years for the United States and other powers to intervene. Can we not see the parallels in the cries of refugee voices from Syria fleeing ISIL and the civil war there? Donald Trump is our modern Father Charles Coughlin - or perhaps worse.
On Thursday, we heard from Rabbi Arik Ascherman with Rabbis for Human Rights about the Jewish imperative to fight for human rights not just for Jews but for Muslims and Christians, along with all others. Yet the state of Israel is not protecting the human rights of Palestinians. Many Israelis disagree with current policy toward Palestinians, of course, but the situation here is untenable.
We also visited the national cemetery of Israel on Thursday where, among other, Yitzhak Rabin is buried. Prime Minister Rabin, while seeking to implement a new peace accord with the Palestinians, was killed by an ultra-Orthodox Jew. Israel has never been the same. Both the Israelis and Palestinians lack leadership with popular support that can compromise and seek peace. This is a terrible period. You hear over and over from people on different sides of the conflict a high level of fear and yet amazingly there are still people who have hope in the future. We felt a spirit of hope during a Shabbat service at Kol Haneshama Congregation on Friday night and again at a Shabbat dinner organized by Jewish friends of Chicago Theological Seminary living here in Jerusalem.
Tonight we'll have a discussion about the BDS movement - a movement I have voiced my concerns over.
Then we'll move into the Palestinian Authority for a few days. That will include discussions with Israeli settlers and Palestinian refugees. The intensity of our trip can only climb from here.
Chicago Theological Seminary students are posting reflections of our trip to Israel - Palestine on the CTS Journeys Blog. Read them here.
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Our CTS study group visited with the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem yesterday and heard a powerful presentation on interfaith peacebuilding. Peace - despite all the evidence - can be a reality in Israel - Palestine.
Leaving Bethlehem, our bus ran into a cloud of tear gas. We didn't know what precipitated the use of the gas until this morning when we learned a 21-year old Palestinian was killed in a clash with Israeli police close to where we had been meeting. A protest against the occupation of Palestine had erupted and the man killed is said to have been throwing rocks. How that could become a capital offense is a question I cannot answer.
Most of yesterday and a good bit of today was again spent visiting different ruins (we heard an interesting talk about the politics of archeology in this area) and had the chance to swim in the Dead Sea today. Floating in the water was odd. Learning about the environmental dangers facing the Dead Sea, along with other issues concerning the environment and water rights, was dishearting. A visit and dinner tonight to The Auja Eco-Center, located in a small Palestinian village outside of Jerusalem, offered a lot of insight into the problems faced by the region - problems that aren't just related to the environment but also human rights as many Palestinians are denied access to water.
Like the visit to the Holy Land Trust, however, the visit to the Auja Eco-Center offered hope for people of different faith traditions and nationalities coming together to solve common problems and search for peace.
Participants on the trip have been invited to offer morning reflections. My turn came today and I spoke from the top of Masada. What I focused on was a common theme we've heard from Jewish, Christian and Muslim peace activists: the power of hope.
In the background, you can hear Israeli fighter jets flying overhead.
No blog post today - which is a shame because so many interesting things occurred / were seen...said - but I'm too tired to write anything coherent. Not that being incoherent has ever stopped me from writing before. I did post pictures on my personal Facebook page. I have a morning reflection to share with our group that I'll post tomorrow AM.
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"Narrative" was the word for today.
Even beginning the process of a blog post seems like an impossible task on this first full day of our Israel - Palestine tour with the Center for Jewish, Christian and Islamic Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary.
Most of us began the day at the Mt. of Olives where we walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane. On the Mt. of Olives are the ancient and still in use Jewish burial grounds. Across a small valley, you can see the Muslim burial grounds and not far from there are Christian burial grounds. The Mt. of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane had such strong connections to Jesus' hopes and concerns for humanity. Being there was a powerful experience.
More powerful for me was visiting the Ophel excavations where the Jewish temple stood during the time of Jesus and which Scripture records his visiting.
The Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, was another powerful moment. There I joined those in our group and hundreds of others in offering prayers. It is not often that I experience moments where my emotions overcome me, but praying at the Western Wall was one of those times. I felt a spiritual sense of connectedness to both my Christian faith and the Jewish tradition from which it comes in a way that was unexpectedly moving.
What was remarkably obvious as you watched different tour groups wander around the city was that each was being told a different story - a different narrative - about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. Some of the stories dealt with theology. Some of these stories dealt with history. How one heard and understood those stories shape understandings about God and people. These different narratives are what make war and hatred possible. At the same time, these stories have helped move people toward peace and that possibility exists still.
You feel this sense of duality here. Christians are a small part of the population of Israel, but Jews and Muslims live side by side in a land that has changed hands countless times over the course of history. Today, of course, Jews control the country. Arab citizens have second class status, as evidenced just today in an Israeli newspaper editorial, and Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank face even worse conditions. There will be more to discuss about that tomorrow and over the next two weeks.
Let me close on the surreal note that not long ago the radio station where we were eating dinner switched programming and began a David Bowie marathon. Some voices really do cross cultural and language barraiers.
Our group arrived safely if not exhausted in Tel Aviv this afternoon from Chicago and then made our way to Jerusalem where the plan had been to watch the sunset from the Haas-Sherover Promenade.
This is said to be the place where Abraham first saw Mount Moriah. However, delayed planes and buses meant we arrived after sunset. Still, the view was spectacular.
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away.
We'll save a discussion of the historicity of this passage from Genesis for another time.
From here we could see the lights of East Jerusalem and the Old City. From below you could hear a beautiful symphony of voices as the Muslim call to prayer came from Mosques across Jerusalem. I had heard the call to prayer before in Southern India but it was nothing like this. The sung call rang out in all directions. In the United States, efforts by Muslims to allow the call to prayer to be offered publically have often been met with hostility - even threats of violence and outcries from Christian fundamentalists at places in Duke University in North Carolina.
It was a beautiful and meaningful start to our trip. After 20 hours of travel, we went to our hotel for dinner, conversation about the days ahead, and - for me at least - bed.
Flying now over the Atlantic and saw this action alert via J Street on Twitter, the pro-Jewish, pro-peace organization based in DC:
@jstreetdotorg: In @theprospect, @GershomG challenges US Congress on legislation that defends settlements https://t.co/hsOkcEgCib https://t.co/89nHFMKFjx
After a weeklong manhunt, the man suspected of fatally shooting three Israelis in Tel Aviv was killed Friday by special police forces that surrounded his hiding place in the Wadi Ara area in northern Israel, authorities say.And what does a teen from New Jersey have to do with the conflict in Israel - Palestine? She was called into the principle's office after tweeting that "Israel is a terrorist force." This certainly seems like an overreaction on the part of the school which has suggested she has engaged in "bullying." The tweeter in question is an "Israeli Jew," according to The Washington Post.
The Pacific University Center for Peace and Spirituality brought The Abraham Fund to Oregon this past fall to learn how Israeli Jews and Arabs (Muslim and Christian) could live in peace. The Abraham Fund develops relationship building projects within Israel. After all, it is harder to hate and kill those you learn and attend social occasions with. Breaking down barriers between individuals is a key to peace-making.
So this story caught my eye on the eve of my trip to Israel and Palestine:
JERUSALEM – How have Tel Aviv’s young liberals responded to a decision by Israel’s conservative, right-wing education minister to ban from the official reading list a novel about forbidden love between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim?
They've made a video of Israelis and Palestinians kissing each other...
The provocative clip was made in response to an Israeli Education Ministry decision to disqualify Dorit Rabinyan’s book “Borderline” from a list of recommended reading for an advanced high school literature course. Yet to be released in English, "Borderline" is the story of an Israeli Jewish woman and a Palestinian Muslim man who meet in New York, fall in love and then part ways. She returns to Tel Aviv and he to Ramallah.
The Education Ministry said it banned the book from its literature list to maintain the “identity and heritage of students in every sector.” Ministry officials were worried that the “intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity,” reported Israeli daily Haaretz, which broke the story a week ago.
Liberal Jewish lawmakers in Israel are among those protesting the book ban, reports The Washington Post.
Taking care of last minute details. Responding to emails. Packing. Such has been my day. Early Friday morning I leave to Chicago and from there on to Israel and Palestine.
PBS Frontline offered something of a gift for my pre-trip viewing in the form of a documentary on Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel whose terms of office have crossed over with the presidencies of Clinton, Bush and Obama (with an absence from office caused by one of many scandals).
For those that want to see peace between Israel and Palestine, Netanyahu is the great villain. He has, without questioned, undermined peace efforts undertaken not just by Clinton and Obama but also by George W. Bush. Unfortunately, during his tenure, the Palestinian government has remained weak (in part because of Israeli policies but also because of a lack of strong leadership within the Palestinian Authority that could take on Hamas, the Iranian-backed terrorist group).
His efforts to derail the Iran Deal between the Iranian government and the world community - keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon - crossed many lines. Along with other U.S. religious leaders, I was briefed by the White House on that deal and believe firmly that it provides a path away from direct war with Iran and a period of extended safety for Israel and Iran's other neighbors.
Netanyahu thought otherwise and whereas support for Israel had always been bi-partisan, Netanyahu used his ties with the GOP in America to make Israel a partisan issue. That is unhealthy for both our nations and the Palestinian people.
You can now watch the entire Frontline episode - Netanyahu At War - online for free.
It will be of great interest to me to hear directly from Israeli citizens their views on Netanyahu today, months after a highly contested and ugly election.
In January, I'll be joining a group of students, faculty and clergy associated with Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) on an interfaith study tour of Israel and Palestine. The tour is sponsored by CTS's Center for Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Studies. My participation is being sponsored by the Pacific University Center for Peace and Spirituality, which I direct, the Office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Pacific University, and a generous financial gift to Pacific. Some of you reading will know that I earned by Doctor of Ministry degree at CTS. It will be nice to reunite with colleagues and friends from Chicago for this trip. The outcome professionally will be a new course proposal on Israel-Palestine to be taught at Pacific.
My intention will be to blog about the trip here.
Among the books I've been reading in preparation for the trip are:
Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War (Susan Thistlethwaite, ed.) is among a list of other recommended books and journals.
Where will we travel? The trip itinerary is packed with visits, tours, lectures and community building opportunities across Israel and Palestine.
For me, the goal is to learn and build new relationships. The conflict in Israel - Palestine is complex and the human rights situation a crisis. It worries me that these complexities are turned into black and white issues. As I have stated before, I believe strongly that the two-state solution remains the only viable possibility for peace - a point President Obama restated this week - and I reject the notion that Israel is an "Apartheid" state or that Palestine is simply a terrorist haven that is ungovernable.
As I have written before, I believe that interfaith peacemaking can make a difference - I'll lift up the work of The Abraham Fund as one example (a group we brought to Pacific this fall) - in building relationships that help create peace:
As we prepare for this trip, I invite your prayers and good wishes for a safe and productive January. It will be a time to have assumptions challenged, I'm certain, and I look forward to meeting and learning from Jews, Muslims, and Christians across Israel and Palestine.