Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Israel's Stench

When I think I have heard it all, then I read about Israel’s national stench policy. I am referring to Israel’s use since 2008 of “skunk juice” as a weapon to keep Palestinians under control.
Victims have no idea of its chemical make-up but if they are sprayed with it, it takes days of scrubbing to get rid of the stench. In a land where water is scarce, smelling like the sewer is a disheartening experience.

According to Ben Ehrenreich, Skunk trucks could show up at any time, especially during celebrations, such as weddings, birthday parties, funerals or times of worship. Someone yells “skunk,” and everyone runs.

There was that truck, the white one idling behind the jeeps, a clear liquid dripping from the cannon on its roof. The liquid it so violently emitted was called skunk water. No one knew what chemicals it contained or what effect exposure to it might bring, but everyone knew what it smelled like. It smelled like dead dogs in a dumpster in August. Mainly, it smelled like shit. And no matter how many times you scrubbed your hair and your clothes, the scent would linger for days, even weeks.[1]

Run home, lock your doors. You still can’t hide from it. Skunk trucks drive down neighborhoods and business districts spraying its putrid smell on everything within a hundred yards. Its odor may linger in clothing for five years.[2]

Skunk is powerful stuff. A reporter described its effect:

Imagine taking a chunk of rotting corpse from a stagnant sewer, placing it in a blender and spraying the filthy liquid in your face. Your gag reflex goes off the chart and you can’t escape, because the nauseating stench persist for days.[3]

Palestinians living under Israeli occupation do not have to imagine. They know:

The truck blasted Mohammad’s house next, the jet of fluid smashed the first-floor windows and knocked him from his feet. He had just come home, triumphant from his close escape. Shattered glass cut his face and chest. Skunk water saturated the carpets and couches.[4]

Forty percent of Palestinian males have spent time in Israeli jails. Said Tamimi was one of them. After serving twenty years, he came home to find his house saturated with skunk juice. Once this happens, carpets, upholstery and clothes never get rid of the stench and wind up being thrown away. Even at that, he was lucky. Others have been hospitalized, either from the effects of the skunk itself or having been injured in the stampede running away from it.

Israel needs a new flag, one to represent Israel today. It would be brown. The Star of David, the symbol of a proud and praiseworthy Jewish heritage is far, far above skunk juice.

Thomas Are
September 20, 2016

[1] Read Ben Enrenreich, The Way to the Spring, (Penguin Press, New York, 2016) p. 30. Even better; Google: Israeli Skunk Trucks and watch any of the numerous videos of Israel in action.
[2] Wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunk_(weapon)
[3] Wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunk_(weapon) Skunk has been condemned by Physicians for Human Rights, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, B’Selem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel..  
[4] Ben Enrenreich, The Way to the Spring, (Penguin Press, New York, 2016) p. 76.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Better Imagined

Israel wants more; more money and more protection from international criticism.

American journalist, Ben Ehrenreich, after traveling three years around the West Bank, writes that when the last “peace accords” broke down, the only people surprised were the Americans. Israel had entered into its discussions determined that nothing would come of it, and the Palestinians had been jerked around too many times to even hope.

He writes that all Israel wants is more:

What Israel experienced as relative calm, Palestinians lived out as a slow and steady exercise in annexation; more settlements, more prisoners, more evictions and home demolitions, more land lost to the path of the wall. The number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank had more than tripled since the first Oslo agreements was signed in 1993. Assaults on Palestinians by soldiers at check-points, or by settlers anywhere else, were so common that they rarely made the news.[1]

It adds up to four decades of humiliation, loss of freedom and natural resources, (water,) watching helplessly as your children are arrested, put in prison and tortured, being tried in Israeli military courts and convicted be “secret evidence,” which they nor their lawyer are allowed to see. The last year such records were kept, 99.74 percent of Palestinians tried in the military court system were convicted.[2]  The humiliation goes on and on.   When Israel is involved, there is always more.

At the same time Israel pleads for less. Less exposure. On April 1st,  this year, Israel even called off its infamous, erotic laced, birthright trips.  In an interview with Mondoweiss Birthright CEO Gidi Mark explained:

--- Given the rightward, and frankly racist, turn in Israel we could no longer conduct a trip that would present the country in the most flattering light. We determined that in order to build support for Israel, young people are best off leaving it to their imagination.
--- Time and time again we found participants were turned off by actually seeing the country.
--- As I watched the U.S. presidential debates, I kept thinking, “why can’t we show people the Israel these politicians seem to see?”
--- We finally figured it out, the best way to build support for Israel is to have as little contact with Israel as possible.

So, birthright trips now are to a camp in the U.S. where kids watch the movie Exodus.[3]

The less known about the real Israel… well, again, Israel seems far better imagined than realized.

Thomas Are
September 12, 2016

[1]  Ben Ehrenreich, The Way to the Spring, (Penguin Press, New York, 2016) p.8.
[2] Ben Ehrenreich, The Way to the Spring, (Penguin Press, New York, 2016) p.20.
[3] Mondoweiss.net 2016/04,  Birthright Ends Trips to Israel – “American Jews are better off Imagining Israel than Seeing It.” 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

She was Pregnant

She was pregnant, for crying out loud.

I have never, in forty three years of ministry, known the mother of an unborn baby to put that baby in jeopardy for any reason, much less to make a political statement. Yet, Israeli soldiers shot to death Sara Haddoush Trayra from the town of Bani Neim near Hebron claiming that they were under attack. The crime she committed which brought about her execution was that she approached the mosque. She wanted to pray. She was 27 years old. 

Eyewitnesses said a female soldier ordered the woman to accompany her to a room in order to search her, and that the soldier sprayed the woman with pepper spray, an issue that pushed her to run away from the soldier before other soldiers shot and killed her. They added that the army had no cause or justification to shoot the young pregnant woman, and could have easily subdued her, without resorting to lethal fire.[1]

It is amazing how little it takes to threaten Israel’s security.  Yet, to make matters worse, the soldiers who shot her prevented Palestinian medics from helping her. Her baby died as she lay there bleeding to death.

I am lost for words. When fully armed soldiers have to shoot a pregnant woman who was running away from being pepper sprayed to protect her unborn child – if this is what it takes to “keep Israel secure,” - then Israel needs to find soldiers a little less trigger happy and a little more compassionate.

That is not an impossible task. I have met Israeli soldiers, who risk being ostracized and even put in jail for treating Palestinians with fairness. Hundreds, including officers, have declared themselves “refusenics,” meaning that they refuse to fight beyond the 1967 borders to dominate, starve and humiliate an occupied people.

There is a chance that Israel might become legitimate among the family of nations and even respected, but killing a pregnant woman seeking to pray for the well-being of her child is one post in a long fence that needs mending.    

Thomas Are
September 1, 2016

[1] IMEMC News, Israeli Soldiers Kill a Pregnant Woman in Hebron, July 1, 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Look at Yesterday

British historian, F. W. Maitland wrote:

We study the day before yesterday in order that yesterday may not paralyze today, and that today may not paralyze tomorrow.

Which is a fancy way of saying, what really happened does matter.[1]  In a similar vein, John Dominic Crossan said something like, if we get yesterday right, we have a chance of getting today better.  So, let’s look at yesterday.

Back in 1956, David Ben-Gurion, possibly struggling with his conscience, confessed:

If I were an Arab leader, I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural, we have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We came from Israel, it’s true, but that was two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? [2]

“God promised it to us”?

Not so fast. More and more scholars, Jewish and humanist, are questioning the exodus story and that “promise”.  Rabbi David Wolpe raised just that provocative question before his congregation of 2,200 at Sinai Temple in Westwood, California back in 2001, saying:

After a century of excavations trying to prove the ancient accounts true, archeologists say there is no conclusive evidence that the Israelites were ever in Egypt, were ever enslaved, ever wandered in the Sinai wilderness for 40 years or ever conquered the land of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership.[3]

Teresa Watanbe continues:

The modern archeological consensus over the Exodus is just beginning to reach the public. In 1999, an Israeli archeologist, Ze’ev Herzog of Tel Aviv University set off a furor in Israel by writing in a popular magazine that stories of the patriarchs were myths and that neither the Exodus nor Joshua’s conquest ever occurred.[4]
Think about that. Outside of the Jewish Bible, there is not one shred of evidence that Israel was ever in Egypt to be rescued by God in the first place.  Even in the Bible, the Pharaoh is not named, nor is the context identified.  There is no record in Egyptian history of two million people suddenly making an exodus nor of a labor shortage when a third of its workforce disappeared almost overnight. Disregarding the sociopathic image it makes of God sending plague after plague upon innocent Egyptian families who had no power to do what Moses demanded and discounting the fact that rivers just don’t suddenly part to allow people to walk across, there has never been one piece of pottery, (the archeologist best friend) found in the Sinai to indicate that a couple of million Jews roamed around there for forty years. Nor is there any   record in Canaan that suddenly an invading army came and conquered them with or without God’s blessings. In other words, it was made up hundreds of years after it was supposed to have happened to justify Israel’s presence and occupation of Canaanite land.

To be fair, I am not just doubting Jewish traditions.

I don’t believe stars ever roamed across the sky no matter how many times we sing Star of Wonder, Star of Night in our Christmas carols. Nor do I believe that virgins have babies or that dead people suddenly rise up out of their graves in mass as described in Matthew 27:52-53.  In more than forty years of preaching, I have never preached on that text, nor have I been asked to.

And not to leave the Muslims out, I don’t believe that a huge rock called out to a Muslim warrior saying “There is a Jew hiding behind me, kill him,” as is recorded in the Hadith. Or that Mohammed heard about Jinns (angels) from a tree, that Adam was ninety feet tall or that roosters crow and donkeys bray because they see Satan.

What I DO believe is that there is a call for peace and justice in all three Abrahamic religions.  If we took seriously the compassion mandate that we all share, if we accepted the responsibility to feed the hungry, bring water to the thirsty and justice for the oppressed, there would be little energy left to fight over our imagined traditions.

Thomas Are
August 19, 2016

[1] Alfred M. Lilienthal, What Price Israel, (Infinity Publishing, Haverford, PA. 2003) p. xv.
[2] This quote is documented in numerous sources. I refer to the book by Don Wagner and Walt Davis, Zionism and the Quest for Justice in the Holy Land. (Pickwick Publications, 2014)  p.21. And Chas W. Freeman, Jr. America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East, (Just Word Books, 2016) p.48.
[3] Teresa Watanabe, Doubting the Story of Exodus, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2001
[4] Teresa Watanabe, Doubting the Story of Exodus, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2001

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

He Dares to Speak Out

About 30 years ago, Paul Findley, Congressman from Illinois for twenty-two years, published a book, They Dare to Speak Out, in which he tells his own story of being labeled untrustworthy by the Israeli lobby.  In spite of having a near perfect record of supporting everything Israel had asked for, he began to feel uncomfortable with Israel’s brutal policies toward the Palestinians.  Without threatening to diminish his commitment to Israel, he felt conscience bound to simply speak with Yasser Arafat. Immediately AIPAC, The Anti-Defamation League and The American Jewish Committee pounced, “Paul, Paul, he must go. He supports the PLO,”[1] and poured money into his political defeat.   

Fast forward three decades and I fear the same for my Congressman, Hank Johnson. He is being criticized for speaking up for justice.  Mondoweiss reports:

Representative Johnson offered insightful comments on the diminishing prospects for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, citing Israel’s ongoing settlement activity – which violates international law and US policy going back decades – on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, a point consistently made by both the Obama and Bush administrations. He analogized this settlement to that of termites hollowing out and undermining a structure, noting that settlement expansion has made the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the occupied territories all but impossible.[2]

Zionist scream, how dare he use Israel’s gobbling up Palestinian land and resources and destroying people’s lives in the same sentence with “termites”? They found his analogy offensive, too close to the facts on the ground. 

Note, for what it’s worth, he did NOT call settlers termites.

Of course, It was no big deal when Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Chief of Staff of the IDF, said in the early 1970s, “We have no solution…You  (Palestinians) shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave.” Or Rafel Eitan, a decade later also Chief of Staff of the IDF, said, “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged roaches in a bottle.”[3]  

I can only imagine what the Zionist would be screaming had Hank Johnson said anything like that.

Hank Johnson is not reckless. He would not take an unpopular position without checking it out for himself.  That is why he and several other congress people went on a fact finding trip to Palestine to see what is happening there first hand. It is quite obvious that he is courageous and puts truth above popularity. He speaks out of a heart committed to oppressed people. And he is willing to commit his life and career to correcting the injustice causing so much pain to so many people, none of whom, I might add, can vote for him.  That is what leadership does. I am proud that he is my Representative.

When it comes to re-election time, Hank Johnson will get my vote and a few dollars. I hope he will also have your support. May his tribe and influence increase.

Thomas Are
August 3, 2016  

[1] Paul Finley,  They Dare to Speak Out.  (Lawrence Hill Publishers, 1985) p. 17. In this powerful book, Finley documents the influence of AIPAC on US government, military, college campus and Christian Theology.
[2] Mondoweiss, Support for Rep. Hank Johnson Following mischaracterization of his remarks on Settlements. Mondoweiss.net/2016/07.
[3] Mondoweiss, The Palestinians, in Israeli Officials’ Own Words. May 3, 1983
[4] This quote is documented in numerous sources. I refer to the book by Don Wagner and Walt Davis, Zionism and the Quest for Justice in the Holy Land. (Pickwick Publications, 2014)  p.21. And Chas W. Freeman, Jr. America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East, (Just Word Books, 2016) p.48.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Well, Israel, you have finally done it. You have not only turned the world against you, you have brought the US down with you.  I hate that, but you are not totally to blame. You had a lot of help from our misguided politicians, the media and millions of right wing fundamentalist who call themselves Christian Zionists.

When I think of our invasion of Iraq, sanctions against Iran causing the death of half a million children, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding and the indifference to Palestinian suffering, I ask myself, what happened to the America in which I grew up?

Chas Freeman warns:

For a long time, we have enabled Israel’s self-injurious behavior. This has made it possible for Israel to choose land over peace, to corrupt its democracy, to deviate from the core values of its official religion as understood by Jews abroad, to empower racism and bigotry among its Jewish majority, and most recently, to humiliate the president of the United States while extracting twenty-nine kowtows from Congress.

No one now harbors any real hope that America can either deliver peace or help Israelis, Palestinians, and those with whom they share their region to achieve it.[1]

I don’t care how many times Hillary Clinton calls for bilateral negotiations between the two parties, she knows that no fair solution can come from such grossly unequal parties unless some outside party is willing to redress the imbalance of power. Israel also knows that if her support were to suddenly compromise her ambitions for power and wealth, she would drop them as quickly as she dropped her embrace of Yasser Arafat when she decided to run for the Senate in New York.

Israel today is being more and more ostracized and boycotted by people of conscience all over the world because of its racism, arrogance and violence against the Palestinians. I say, “Thank goodness. It’s about time.” But I hate to see the US being dragged down with it.

It seems that Arab leaders are finally learning that they cannot count on the US to control international blowback to Israel’s dysfunctional and unpopular relations with its neighbors.  Other than the US, Israel does not have a friend in the world.  With years of failed “peace talks,” financing settlement building, while objecting to them, and standing by paralyzed while Israel bombards Gaza over and over, who is going to respect anything the US has to say about seeking peace in the Middle East?

In 2002, the Arab League offered a revolutionary peace proposal including recognition and normal relations with Israel in exchange for a return to the ‘67 borders and peace with the Palestinians. Israel nor the US ever responded. To this day, Israel has never offered a “peace plan” for living side by side with the Palestinians.

Today, we still can’t get the words "occupation” or “illegal settlements” in the party platform of either presidential candidate for fear of losing large pro-Israel donors.  The occupation has gone on for 50 years. When are we going to admit that we can’t claim to be progressive and remain silent on the incredible misery and unbelievable suffering meted out against the Palestinians?

Thomas Are
July 15, 2016

[1] Chas W. Freeman, America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East. (Just Word Books, 2016.) p.107.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Like an Animal

With the headlines reporting that a Palestinian kid killed a thirteen year old girl in an Israeli settlement last week, and with the killing of four Israeli citizens in Tel Aviv, it is easy to lose the context of this conflict. While no one interested in peace condones terror attacks, and let’s be clear, terror is what these actions were about, we must, in the interest of fairness seek to understand why such acts of violence are taking place in the first place.

The per capita income of an Israeli is $18,000 and the average for a Palestinian is $1,100. While Israel has the highest economy in the region, Palestinians are homeless, without adequate drinking water, health care, education or protection from air and sea bombardments. Pleas for justice from Israel are met with “Death to Arabs.”  After decades of occupation, abuse and indignities and watching every week as more land, labor and resources are stolen from what’s left of Palestine, little concern is raised by the world’s media. When the most powerful nation on the globe denies their rights as human beings, acts of frustration are bound to overflow even if they are called “terrorism.” Such acts may not be beneficial, but they are understandable.

The Mayor of Tel Aviv understands:

We might be the only country in the world where another nation is under occupation without civil rights… You can’t hold people in a situation of occupation and hope they’ll reach the conclusion everything is alright.[1]

While Netanyahu tries to focus attention on the murder of a 13 year old child, complete with pictures of her bloody bed, teddy bear and grieving parents, Israel attacks Palestinian children by the hundreds.  According to The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs:

Each year, the Israeli military arrests and prosecutes some 700 Palestinian children. Like adults, Palestinian children in the West Bank are subject to arrest, prosecution and imprisonment under an Israeli military detention system that denies them basic rights. Israeli Jews living in illegal West Bank settlements are subject to Israeli civilian laws, and afforded all the protections one would expect in a democracy. This constitutes “separate and unequal” policies.

Defense for Children International found that during and after an arrest, 75 percent of Palestinian children were subjected to physical violence, with 97 percent denied access to legal council, and had no parent with them during interrogation.

UNICEF reports that ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli detention system is “wide-spread, systematic, and institutionalized.”[2]

I can’t believe that Americans don’t care when such abuse of children is carried on in our name and with our tax dollars. But, I can believe that Americans are ignorant. The media, church and politicians operate out of agendas to keep us ignorant.

I ask myself; How would I feel if I were a Palestinian living under Israel’s boot? And what would I do?  Can I picture myself picking up a gun and killing four occupiers in Tel Aviv?  I hope not. But, I honestly cannot answer that question because I do not know.  Put me in a cage, treat me like an animal, and who knows, I may just act like an animal.

Thomas Are
July 4, 2016

[1] Common Dreams.org/news, With Latest Denial of Rights, Israel Maybe Guilty of “Collective Punishment’ UN, Army Radio, June 10, 2016.
[2] Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Post card to Political leaders. June/July 2016, facing page 26.