Young, Jewish and Proud

If you haven’t yet seen the Young, Jewish and Proud declaration, you really should take a look. It was launched as counter-protest at the 2010 Jewish Federation General Assembly in New Orleans, where a number of phenomenal young activists disrupted Netanyahu’s speech to shout “The Occupation delegitimizes Israel”. There’s lots more information at their site, but the statement is truly inspirational.

It opens:

We exist. We are everywhere. We speak and love and dream in every language. We pray three times a day or only during the high holidays or when we feel like we really need to or not at all. We are punks and students and parents and janitors and Rabbis and freedom fighters. We are your children, your nieces and nephews, your grandchildren. We embrace diaspora, even when it causes us a great deal of pain. We are the rubble of tangled fear, the deliverance of values. We are human. We are born perfect. We assimilate, or we do not. We are not apathetic. We know and name persecution when we see it. Occupation has constricted our throats and fattened our tongues. We are feeding each other new words. We have family, we build family, we are family. We re-negotiate. We atone. We re-draw the map every single day. We travel between worlds. This is not our birthright, it is our necessity.

Bolds original. Check it out.

Demonstration 5 June 2010

SJJP marched in Edinburgh yesterday, protesting the siege on Gaza and the killing of activists who were taking humanitarian aid supplies to Gaza. The demonstration started at the foot of the Mound at 2 pm, and we marched along Princes Street to the US Consulate, and then to the First Minister’s house, where we stopped briefly for speeches. Then we marched back to the foot of the Mound for the rally. It was a fantastic turnout, and heartening to see so many groups out to show solidarity.

The BBC coverage of the demonstration is available here, and is reporting a turnout of 3,000, although on-the-day counts were nearer 5,000. There was also a demonstration in London yesterday, with attendance between 2,000 and 5,000, but we heard reports of 20,000. Both the Edinburgh and London marches were peaceful.

We handed out this leaflet (pdf) at the Edinburgh demonstration.


Waking up to the morning news today, I thought of a D’var Torah from a couple months back, written by Rabbi Michael Shire of Leo Baeck College for Parsha Vayikra:

How can we say anything in the face of daily outrages on all sides [in the regions of conflict around the world]? Why should we commit ourselves when our families are relatively safe? The world is so politically complicated – how can we know what is right or fair or just? As we feel more and more isolated, it is precisely the time to become more engaged not less. Regaining the prophetic message is to open the possibility of encounter and negotiation yet one more time. We have to be dedicated to our task of peacemaking in as strong a way as those who go to war.

…Mark Ellis, an American Jewish Activist reminded the Rabbinic conference last year that though Jews perform many good deeds in the world, the Jewish people will be judged on how we treat the Palestinians. This is our particular trial and we will be counted for it whether we like it or not. It must therefore be our prophetic task, especially as Liberal Jews to take the risk, reluctant though we may be to meet, dialogue and be ready to be challenged by those who have suffered at our hands and now seek justice. In the words of one of the great modern Jewish prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel, ‘in a free society, some are guilty but all are responsible.’ To do nothing is to abrogate our calling. For, as Heschel wrote in the 1960s, ‘the opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference’.

I’m not sure that I like all the vocabulary Rabbi Shire uses, but I think he’s right to emphasise that we all have a responsibility to work for justice, and that we have a particular responsibility for the welfare of Palestinians. And as complicated as some political situations may be, the basics are very simple: everyone is entitled to food, to shelter, to medical care. It is a communal responsibility to provide these, to stand up for those who provide them.

This isn’t about Israel’s right to defend itself, which I do not dispute. This is about the means by which Israel may legitimately defend itself. It is not legitimate for Israel to “defend” itself from humanitarian aid, and in such a violent way. It is not legitimate for Israel to claim that it has disengaged from Gaza while maintaining control of the supplies that enter Gaza, effectively cutting off food and medical supplies.

The BBC has extensive coverage:
A Q&A on the flotilla
UN urges inquiry
Conflicting accounts of the raid

Naomi Klein on boycott, divestment, and sanction

Via Julie at Modern Mitzvot, I learn of this article by Naomi Klein on boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS).

Here at SJJP we’re of mixed opinion as regards BDS, and many of our membership do support and participate in the BDS campaign against Israel. Others are uneasy about it, or oppose it. Klein’s article addresses major objections to the BDS campaign and provides counterarguments to each. It’s well worth a read, whatever your position on BDS.

There are opposing views of course. Including Martha Nussbaum’s article on boycotts. Never let it be said that we do not encourage wholehearted debate here at SJJP.

Having read Klein, I’m now off to ponder it.

Wolf prize money donated to Birzeit University

The algebraic geometer David Mumford, one of the three winners of the Wolf prize this year, is donating his share of the prize money to Birzeit University — a Palestinian university, and Gisha — an organisation that promotes Palestinian freedom of movement. From the Haaretz article:

“I decided to donate my share of the Wolf Prize to enable the academic community in occupied Palestine to survive and thrive,” Mumford told Haaretz. “I am very grateful for the prize, but I believe that Palestinian students should have an opportunity to go elsewhere to acquire an education. Students in the West Bank and Gaza today do not have an opportunity to do that.”


“The achievements I accomplished in mathematics were made possible thanks to my being able to move freely and exchange ideas with other scholars,” he said. “It would not have been possible without an international consensus on an exchange of ideas. Mathematics works best when people can move and get together. That’s its elixir of life. But the people of occupied Palestine don’t have an opportunity to do that. The school system is fighting for its life, and mobility is very limited.”

Action on Gaza blockade

Here’s some armchair activism for you, in protest of the Gaza blockade.

For everyone: sign a petition urging an end to the blockade and a free flow of supplies:

To the United Nations, the European Union, the Quartet, the Arab League & Israel: We demand that you end the blockade and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, ensure the free flow of supplies by land, sea or air, and help to broker the ceasefire which civilians on both sides desperately need.

For Scots: there is currently a motion before the Scottish Parliament condeming the fuel blockade:

S3M-1188 Bashir Ahmad (Glasgow) (SNP) : Gaza Strip Blackout– That the Parliament condemns the Israeli fuel blockade of the Gaza Strip; believes that both Israel and Palestine have a right to defend their citizens from aggression within international law; agrees with both UN and EU officials that the fuel blockade, which has led to the shutting down of the Gaza Strip’s power stations, equates to collective punishment; expresses grave concern that hospitals are being adversely affected which will undoubtedly result in the loss of further innocent life, and calls on the state of Israel to resume fuel supplies to Gaza immediately.

Find out if your MSP supports the motion by following the link, or write to your MSP asking them to support the motion.

US and Israel to boycott UN meet on Gaza blockade, while Gazans rush to Egypt

Border crossings into the Gaza Strip have been closed for a week, stopping shipments of all imports except “emergency supplies”, resulting in shortages of fuel, food, and medicines.

A section of the fence at the Rafah crossing was toppled early this morning, and some 200,000 Gazans crossed into Egypt to get supplies.

From the NYTimes article:

Aid officials had warned earlier this week that Gaza, gripped by fuel and electricity shortages, was two or three days from a health and food crisis.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides assistance to Palestinian refugees and their descendants, announced Monday that it would have to suspend its food aid to 860,000 Gaza residents by Wednesday or Thursday if the crossings from Israel into Gaza were not reopened, because the group was running out of the nylon bags it uses to measure and distribute staples, like flour.

Fuel shortages in Gaza will quickly precipitate a health crisis, since electricity is relied upon for pumping water — power cuts mean disruption in clean water supply. At present, 40% of Gazans lack running water.

In the meantime, the US and Israel are expected to boycott a special meeting of the UN Human Rights Council on the Gaza blockade. I’m not sure how Israel expects to maintain any moral credibility when claiming it has no partner for a negotiation dialogue when they themselves cut off Palestinian supplies and then refuse to engage in a dialogue regarding the humanitarian situation that the blockade precipitates.

More on double standards

An op-ed by Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz raises the question of whether the Isreali government actually wants peace at all. One may or may not agree with his conclusion, but he highlights some important examples of the Isreali government’s double standards and convenient excuses regarding negotiation.

Terror, used as the ultimate excuse for Israeli refusal, only helps Olmert keep reciting, ad nauseum, “If they [the Palestinians] don’t change, don’t fight terror and don’t adhere to any of their obligations, then they will never extract themselves from their unending chaos.” As though the Palestinians haven’t taken measures against terrorism, as though Israel is the one to determine what their obligations are, as though Israel isn’t to blame for the unending chaos Palestinians suffer under the occupation.

Israel makes a point of setting prerequisites and believes it has an exclusive right to do so. But, time and time again, Israel avoids the most basic prerequisite for any just peace – an end to the occupation.

Thoughts on the demands made to Hamas

The Palestinian government is constantly being told that it must renounce violence and recognise the state of Israel.

Here’s the thing: Hamas has no incentive to renounce violence as long as Israelis aren’t being told to do the same.

And what does it mean to recognise the state of Israel? It doesn’t mean “acknowledge Israel” because no one is denying Israel exists. What the “hawks” keep claiming is that Hamas/Palestinians/Arabs/insert-term-of-choice-here want to “chase Jews into the sea” and “wipe Israel off the map”.

So “recognise Israel probably means something like “accept that Israelis are here to stay, and that Israel isn’t going to disappear”. In which case, why is no one demanding that the Israeli government “recognise” Palestine? Where are the demands for the Israeli government to accept that Palestinians have a legitimate claim to the places they live in or grew up in, and have a right of return? Where are the demands for the Israeli occupation forces withdraw from the occupied (not “disputed”) territories?

It’s deeply foolish and, dare I say it, naive to place demands on the Palestinian government and expect them to comply, when no parallel demands are being made to the Israeli government.

Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, and all that stuff

So I’ve been putting off posting this, because I couldn’t figure out what to say about it. My first reaction was a sigh, “it goes on.” At some point, I almost stop being surprised. Almost.

I cannot grasp what anyone thinks they have to gain from this. All explanations of the Middle Eastern conflict stop making sense. There is no explanation that I can see anymore.

Shortages in Gaza continue, a ceasefire collapses, a soldier is kidnapped, dozens if not hundreds of Gazan civilians will die for that, a Hezbollah raid, IDF forces in Lebanon…where did it begin? Where will it end?

This didn’t begin with a soldier being kidnapped. This didn’t begin with a crisis in Gaza. This didn’t begin with Hamas being elected, or the intifada, or the collapse of the Camp David agreement, or with 1967. We can go back and back and back and talk about provokations and responses and never get anywhere.

What I will say is that this game of “capture a soldier, and we’ll starve 1.4 million civilians” is grossly mismatched. This game of “illegally occupy a land and a people for 40 years and expect them to be on good behaviour” is stupid. And goodness only knows what Hamas thinks it can stand to gain by blowing stuff up.

And the rest of the world…well, doesn’t really care. We carry on with our lives. We worry instead about oil prices, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll stop to think for a minute about why on earth the BBC is calling it an Israel crisis. I mean, the Isrealis aren’t the ones starving. No media bias there, of course.

There is the expected statement from Washington saying nothing much, just before the US pulled out their veto on regard for human rights a UN resolution condemning Israel’s Gaza incursion (Can’t link to the article because the Haaretz page is down).

Now Israel is “back” in Gaza. The scare quotes are because they were never really “out”. Unsurprising, given the support they get.

So call me a pessimist, but I don’t see an end. It just goes on.

More by Johann Hari, columnist for the Independent.
There’s a Parliamantary Early Day Motion (EDM 2568) that calls for a cessation of violence in the Middle East:

‘That this House expresses grave concern about the escalating crisis in the Middle East that has now spread to Lebanon; notes that Israel’s disproportionate military actions in Gaza and Lebanon, including an air and sea blockade of Lebanon, attacks on the airport in Beirut on 13th July and the killing of at least 35 Lebanese civilians within the first 24 hours, risk provoking further regional conflict by seriously jeopardising the fragile political landscape in Lebanon; condemns Hizballah’s rocket attacks on Israel and the abduction of Israeli soldiers; urges the British Government to call for an immediate cessation of violence from all parties and to condemn the killing of all civilians on all sides; and calls on all sides to respect the other’s sovereignty and international law and to release all prisoners held illegally without trial as a means to end the current crisis.’

Write to your MPs and urge them to support EDM 2568.
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British Jews on Gaza

Jews for Justice for Palestinians published a full-page advert in the Times on Thursday, in a statement titled “What is Israel doing?”, expresses opposition to the Israeli response to the capture of Gilad Shalit, and which calls for opposition to the blockade. The statement was signed by 300 Jews in Britain, and you can view the formateed statement with a full list of signatories at their webpage. Here is the text of the statement.

See also Gideon Levy’s Haaretz op-ed piece, and the BBC article.

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More on collective punishment

The Gaza blockade continues. The UN warns that the Isrealis are will be worsening a humanitarian crisis if they do not restore the fuel and electricity supplies to Gaza that have been suspended for the last four days, depleting emergency supplies. Electricity and fuel are necessary to power water pumps, so failure to restore them will result in thirst and disease due to lack of clean drinking water. The Red Cross is negotiating with Israel to pursuade Israel to allow humanitarian aid, especially medicines and food into Gaza.

‘Under international law, Israel has the obligation to allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza. It also has the duty to ensure that the vital supplies for the population, including food and medicine, are adequate’

Yesterday, Israeli troops seized a third of the Palestinian cabinet and a further 23 legislators, (democratically elected, remember) all of whom are members of Hamas. The Israelis claim that this is the response to a captured Isreali soldier and Hamas’s declaration of the end of a ceasefire.

Why don’t the Israelis and the international community see how disproportional and unjustified this response is? The blockade has created a situation where Gazans access to food, drinking water, medicine, electricity, and their salaries, has been cut without justification, as collective punishment for the election of Hamas. As predicted, the crisis that the Israelis caused did not result in “security”, but in a Hamas response to the occupation.

To put the Hamas response in perspective, the raid that the Isrealis are citing as cause for this latest closure of Gaza resulted in the death of one soldier and the capture of another. Compare this to the number of people who have died and will die as a result of malnutrition and illness that are directly caused by the blockade. For all that the Israelis cry “security reasons”, they are killing far more civilians than Hamas is, and all as part of illegal collective punishment.

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Natfhe and the academic boycott

The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) has put forward a motion to boycott Israeli academic institutions, that is to be voted on at the NATFHE conference this weekend. Via Engage, here is the letter that was published in today’s Guardian in opposition to the academic boycot, which explicitely condemns the occupation:

‘We call on Natfhe to reject the motion that “invites” academics to blacklist Israeli “institutions and individuals” that do not “publicly dissociate themselves” from “Israeli apartheid policies”. The purpose of the apartheid analogy is not to shed light on the conflict but to mobilise an emotional vote for a blacklist. We oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the daily violence that is necessary to sustain it, as we oppose campaigns to kill Israelis. We are for peace and mutual recognition between Israel and Palestine. But this boycott proposal would do more harm than good, if the aim is to bolster the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements.’

Those who live in glass houses…

…should not threaten to sue Ahmadinejad.

‘A group of Israeli diplomats wants to sue Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide.

Lawyers are preparing to send a file on Mr Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, to the International Court of Justice.

… The UN convention defines genocide as the intent or actual destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.’

Incitement to genocide? Look, anti-semitism, like any other form of racism, is never ok. That said, Israeli dioplomats should check out the activities of their government and the IDF. If you represent a government that routinely and systematically ennacts anti-Arab policies and violence, is “incitement to genocide” something you should be so eager to cry?

‘In 2004 the court ruled that parts of Israel’s West Bank “security barrier” that ran through Palestinian land were illegal.’


On a separate note, JVP informs me that the “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2006” (HR 4681) passed the US House of Representatives and is now headed for the Senate. The bill would stop all funds that go to Palestinians, but as the PA has not directly received US funds for some years, the funds being stopped are not funds that would go to Hamas anyway — they’re funds that would go towards humanitarian aid for Palestinians. Cutting funds for humanitarian aid will on worsen the shortages in Gaza and the West Bank.

Quick roundup.

  1. The Israeli Supreme Court has upheld a racist law that prevents Palestinian Arabs from living with Israeli Arab spouses or family.
  2. The Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has said that the ceasefire will be extended if the Israelis withdraw to the 1967 borders.
  3. A White House official is quoted as saying that Israel would “be willing to go bilateral” if Abbas dismantles terrorist organisations. However, Israel knows full-well that Abbas is in no position to do this because he does not control Hamas or Islamic Jihad; which casts doubt on the sincerity of the offer. Ehud Olmert was quoted on the radio as saying he was “willing to devote six to nine months to find a Palestinian partner” before going ahead with his unilateral plan for a withdrawal in the West Bank, thus making it clear that he is not engaging in a genuine negotiation with the Palestinian government.

The effects of cutting off foreign aid

As Gideon Levy points out yet again, not only has it caused a humanitarian crisis for which the Israeli government and the Quartet are responsible, but because it ultimately attracts support for Hamas and involves the Quartet in a diplomatic farce which it has now lost:

‘Two or three months and the “boycott” party of the Palestinian Authority ended. It was also an especially stupid masked ball: Hamas can now brandish a real achievement. Israel and the world have surrendered unconditionally, and the flow of money to the territories is being renewed.

The problem is that some of the masks have remained, and the foolishness continues: Israel and the world will not transfer monies “directly” to the Hamas government, but rather by means of a special “Hamas bypass” mechanism. This unnecessary mask will also be removed quickly.

What has Israel gained from this game? Nothing. It has only lost. The pictures of shortages and distress have been chalked up, and rightly so, to Israel. …

It is necessary to go back to the two eternal verities: First of all, the Palestinian people elected Hamas in democratic elections, which were held at the initiative of the United States and with Israel’s agreement; secondly, the state of Israel bears the responsibility for the fate of the population in the occupied territories. You wanted elections? Hamas was elected. You wanted to topple the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization? Here are the results. You want occupation? You have to pay the price. There is no way of escaping this.’

Collective punishment of the Palestinians is downright morally appalling, and we’ve seen that it doesn’t work.

The policies of the Israeli government and the Quartet have only served to strengthen support for Hamas. The more the Israeli government continues in its current policies of starving 3.5 million Palestinians, most of whom are living in what is essentially a prison (the occupied territories have no sea port or airport or free movemtn even within the occupied territories), the more Palestinians will turn to the extremism that seems to be fighting back.

There is one positive thing here, however: the blockade and the shortages it caused are finally being chalked up to Israel, instead of Palestinians suffering because of those policies.

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Not just Gaza

Cutting off aid to the Hamas-controlled PA is having a severe impact on Palestinians. The West Bank economy has been dependent on foreign aid since before the election, and the lack of aid now means that public-sector employees are not receiving wages, crushing the already fragile economy:

‘The World Bank estimates that only 12 per cent of the PA’s economic activity was ever internally generated. The rest came from outside, either through Palestinians earning wages in Israel or foreign donor support. When Yasser Arafat, then the Palestinian leader, launched the armed intifada in late 2000, Israel closed the checkpoints to the occupied territories, reducing the income from foreign earnings to a trickle. By the time Hamas won power in January’s general election, the PA was in debt to the tune of £451 million.’

Border closures that prevent Palestinians living in the West Bank from getting to their jobs in Jerusalem are also taking their toll, and have now sparked protest from the UN Relief and Works Agency:

‘Anders Fange, director of operations in the West Bank of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East … said: “I do understand the Israeli security considerations but the government of Israel should also live up to its obligations under international law to allow freedom of movement for U.N. personnel. This recent development impedes our work capacity at a time of increased need.”‘