Monday, December 5, 2016

Remembering Gaza

Funny thing about the human brain; it has a tendency to put out of mind those things that make us uncomfortable. But, to do so is a little like saying that “your end of the boat is sinking.” Who wants to remember such things as our slaughter of native Americans, slavery or our invasion of Iraq.  But, as it has been said, those who dismiss the past are prone to repeat it. And sooner or later, our conscience begins to disturb our peace.

The “sins” of the past are done and there is no way to un-ring that bell. However, our sin against Gaza is ongoing and we must not put it out of mind.

Gaza – that little strip of land in which almost two million people try desperately to scratch out a living. Gaza is completely surrounded and totally controlled by Israel which is dedicated to never allowing its situation to improve. Last year, the United Nations reported that Gaza “could be uninhabitable by 2020.”

Ninety-five percent of its water is unsafe to drink. Repeated bombing of its sewage treatment plants causes rampant water-borne diseases and bombing power plants leaves Gaza unable to produce electricity. Seventy-two percent of Gazan households suffer from food insecurity. All imports are controlled by Israel. The Israeli Defense Ministry has established mathematical formulas for how many calories each man, woman and child will be permitted to consume to keep them just at the level of survival, saying, “The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die”. Gaza has endured three major military invasions leaving nearly 90,000 people displaced and living in rubble. Gaza is closed in by barrier walls manned with automated gun towers. Overhead warplanes constantly shatter the night with the deafening breaking of the sound barrier and the day by the constant buzzing of military drones.[1]

If Israel were treated in any way like Israel treats the people of Gaza, its leaders would be screaming to high heaven. But, Israel is safe. Few governments, including its victims, are so calloused and cold hearted as its Ashkenazi leadership to commit such crimes against its fellow human beings. Only by convincing yourself that you are “God’s chosen,” and interpret that chosenness as being for privilege and not for responsibility, by implying that all others are less deserving, less worthy and less human can you trick the mind into believing that what you are doing to other people is civilized.

Sooner or later, even the mind of Israel will run out of tricks and when it does, remembering Gaza, will destroy its hope for peace.   

Thomas Are
December 5, 2016




[1] Gleaned from, Countdown to the Next Chernobyl – Gaza, By Jeffery Abood, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August, 2016, p. 13-14

Friday, November 11, 2016

Aid to Israel

So, we give 38 billion more to Israel.  We know most of that goes to policies that we do not support but most Americans feel that as long as it’s "no skin off my back", there are other issues that deserve our attention.

But, what if we all realized that our income tax payments have gone up by $300 to support our give away to Israel. According to Gideon Levy:

One hundred and fifty dollars or $300 for each U.S. taxpayer for the next ten years. Not toward America’s considerable social needs, not to assist truly needy countries – imagine what $38 billion would do for Africa – but to provide weapons for an army that is already one of the most powerfully armed in the world.[1]

Levy goes on to say, “The last thing Israel needs is more arms, which will push it toward more acts of violence… some of the money will go for defense systems, but another part will go for maintaining the occupation and especially to fund violent showy actions in Gaza and Lebanon.”

There is no way to deny it, every settlement built on Palestinian land is financed by the U.S. and every child killed by Israel is paid for by our $300 per tax payer with our having no say in it.

And what do we get for it in return? Nothing! Except the contempt of every lover of justice on the globe. Levy asks, who can be proud of making war against the barefoot, hungry and broken people of Gaza?

So, we say, “Sorry” to the homeless mother and her children sleeping under a bridge in winter time. There is no affordable housing for her, but you see, we have to send billions of dollars a  year so Israel can continue to subsidize its Jewish only housing in the occupied West Bank.

And we say, “Sorry” to the parents of a sick child, we would love to help but you see, Israel wants universal health care.

We say, I wish your $300 tax increase would be used for such things as education, health care, affordable housing, our infrastructure, addressing the effects of climate change, caring for our veterans or simply going to pay down our national debt among other desperate needs across the United States, but, you see, keeping the people of Gaza imprisoned is expensive.  

I wish we could put your $300 extra tax burden to better use.

I bet you do, too.

Thomas Are
November 11, 2016




[1] Gideon Levy, With New Israel Aid Deal, Obama is Patron of the Occupation. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November, 2016, p. 14.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Painting over Atrocity

Israel is painting its fighter jets pink. When I read that I immediately thought, “how appropriate.” In my day, pink was known as a feminine color. If we saw a man dressed in pink, we immediately thought “sissy.”  So, painting Israeli jets pink seems like a confession. Israel seldom uses its jets to attack anyone who can fight back. Palestinians in Gaza come to mind.

Then, I read that Israel is painting its jets pink to show “sympathy with victims of breast cancer.”  How flagrant can one be in its hypocrisy?  Gaza is suffering a gross lack of painkillers, surgical equipment and critical drugs because of the Israeli blockade.

Salem Abdul Aziz is a Palestinian parent witnessing the slow death of his cancer stricken daughter. After receiving a referral from the Palestinian ministry of health to treat his daughter in Jerusalem, Salam was unable to take her due to Israeli authorities prolonging procedures, which meant he could not get through the Erez crossing into Jerusalem.[1]

According to NPR (December 2015), “In Gaza, Kids With Cancer Have ‘Virtually No Care.’ They must have a permit from the Israeli army to leave Gaza and then, on the rare occasions when permission is granted, children cannot be accompanied by anyone under the age of 55 which restricts parent from being with their child during a frightening and often painful experience.  Hopefully some of these children have a grandmother strong enough to go.

Umaimah Zamalat was worried. The doctors had told her that her cancer was “very sensitive” to delays. She had reason to be concerned. With all of her permits in order, she was stopped at the border by Israeli soldiers and simply told that going to Jerusalem was no longer allowed.[2]

John Pilger, award-winning journalist, reports of, “an Israeli sniper putting the cross-hairs of his rifle directly on an old lady with a cane trying to get into a hospital for her chemotherapy treatment. She was shot dead.”[3]  Israel can paint its planes any color it wants to, but shooting an old lady with cancer is nothing short of state terrorism. Such acts do not raise awareness for those who are sick but it does show Israel’s true colors. 

And if that is not enough, according to UNRWA, reporting on Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014:

By Saturday, August 2, the Israeli military had attacked a full third of Gaza’s hospitals, along with fourteen primary healthcare clinics and twenty-nine ambulances. “It was insane, we were waiting and the hospital was begging the Israelis to delay and give us some time to evacuate and get the wounded out. The whole time, ambulances were rushing to the hospital with large numbers of injured people… Every floor was covered with wounded patients. We were treating the injured in dental chairs, doing surgery on the ground, doing anything we could to save people.”[4]

It will take a lot of pink paint to cover up Israel’s atrocious abuse of the Palestinians.

Thomas Are
November 5, 2016




[1] Mondoweiss, Israel Paints Fighter Jet pink to raise Breast Cancer Awareness while Preventing cancer patients in Gaza from REceivig Treatment. Mondoweiss, October, 28, 2016
[2][2] Electronic Intifada, Gaza Patients Battle Cancer and Israeli Siege, February, 2016
[3] DVD Documentary, Palestine is Still the Issue, Produced by Carlton International Media, 2004, available from Bullfrog Films.
[4] Max Blumenthal, The 51 Day War, (Nation Books, 2015) p. 104-5

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fractures in the Family

I have a friend, or at least I wish he were my friend but he hesitates to talk with me because he heard that I was critical of Israel. “Ted” is Jewish. Even though he admits to not practicing any of the rituals of Judaism, such as attending a synagogue or changing his activity on the Sabbath, he is adamant in his defense of Israel. Like many older American Jews, supporting Israel is for him a substitute for being religious and a new way of being Jewish. 

There was a time when he would have represented almost the total Jewish community. There was a time when I was cautious in talking about Israel for fear of a certain rejection by anyone Jewish. Thank God, that time is no more. Ted’s tribe is shrinking. He doesn’t want to admit it but there is a huge fracture in the American Jewish family.

Many American Jews break with Israel over the killing of Americans:

Israel has directly killed and injured Americans, from the crew of the USS Liberty in 1967 – 34 Americans killed, 171 wounded, in international waters; to 23 year-old nonviolent activist Rachel Corrie, killed 13 years ago, days before we invaded Iraq; and 18 year-old Furkan Dogan, a passenger on the humanitarian vessel Mavi Marmara, who was killed six years ago. The U.N. Human Rights Council described his killing as, I quote, “summary execution,” by Israeli commandos who boarded the unarmed ship, also in international waters.[1]

Others are distancing themselves over Israeli killings, period.  According to Mondoweisss, Israel has killed at least 235 Palestinians in the past year.[2]

But for whatever reason, according to Dov Waxman, “a historic change has been taking place in the American Jewish relationship with Israel.

The era of uncritical American Jewish support for Israel – of “Israel, right or wrong” – is now long past… American Jews, especially younger ones, are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Israel’s policies with the Palestinians and are skeptical of its governments’ proclaimed desire for peace.

Waxman continues:

Surveys among American Jews show that only a minority – around 30 percent or so – feel very strongly attached to Israel, while a similar number feel distant. The rest are just moderately attached to Israel.[3]

Israel is not the idealistic, peace loving country that most older Americans believe because they read Leon Uris’s Exodus. The conflict between Israel’s policies and Jewish ethics is enormous. 

The world owes much to Judaism, not just for its commitment to monotheism but especially for having created a welfare system and ministry of justice and compassion through its synagogues at a time when Jews were a minority in a world surrounded by violence power and greed.

I would love to be able to talk to Ted about the Jewishness for which he could be proud but I fear his Jewishness only extends to Israel.

Thomas Are
October 27, 2016




[1] Huwaida Arraf, Holding Israel Accountable for the Gaza Flotilla Raid,  Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2016, p.57.
[2] Two More Shootings in Occupation Bring Number of Palestinians dead to 235 since October, 2015. Mondoweiss, Oct. 23, 2016
[3] Dov Waxman, Trouble in the Tribe, The American Jewish Conflict over Israel, (Princeton University Press, 2016) p. 4, and 22.   By the way, I played off of his title for the title of this blog. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Israel's Gaza

I learned a new word this week. Dystopia:

Dystopia, noun: an imaginary place where people are unhappy and usually afraid because they are not treated fairly; an unpleasant future where people are often dehumanized; a nightmare world characterized by human misery, squalor, oppression, disease and overcrowding… Dystopian societies give us glimpses into distorted societies where justice and freedom are suppressed; where deprivation is a way of life; and lives are dispensable. They ask us to imagine a society where people are pushed to the limits of what they can endure – and often killed if they can’t.[1]

Well, we don’t have to imagine. Just think of Israel’s Gaza.

The biggest strain on Israel’s legacy, image and conscience is Gaza. More than two million people now live in Gaza, that little sliver of land squeezed between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, barely 25 miles long and no more than seven miles across at its widest point. According to the United Nations, the territory could be unlivable by 2020 and Israel totally controls Gaza, as 70 percent of Gazans subsist on less than a dollar a day and 60 percent have no daily access to water.[2]

Decades of siege and three major bombardments in six years has left Gaza in a state of perpetual crisis. “We aren’t human. Our life is hell. We are living like animals,” says 54 year old Maeen Neim Maqbel, whose home was destroyed by Israel, twice.[3]  Add to that; leaking sewage systems, and electricity for barely half the day and totally dependent upon charity handouts from the United Nations to keep his family alive and you have a glimpse of dystopia in Gaza.

Unemployment in Gaza stands at 40 percent, however for those between 15 and 29 years of age, the unemployment rate is 60 percent. Poverty has increased with almost 80 percent of Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid to survive… In 2000 the U.N. was feeding 80,000 people in Gaza; today it feed over 830,000 people.[4]

The most painful part of this whole scenario for me is not the almost total indifference of  most Americans to this suffering and the eagerness of my government to support it, but the unwillingness of my church to address it.

Thomas Are
October 19, 2016




[1] Huffington Post, Gaza: The Makings of a Modern Day Dystopia, September 22, 2014.
[2] Rochelle Marshall: Has Obama Made a Devil’s Bargain with Israel.  Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December  2009.
[3] Mondoweiss, Living in the Aftermath: Palestinians in Gaza Struggle under the Siege to Rebuild, December 3, 2014
[4] Sara Roy, Deprivation in Gaza. July 19, 2014.  Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Presbyterian State

I’ve got an idea! Let’s turn America into a Presbyterian State.

Of course, we might have to fight a few wars to make it happen, but it could be done. We start by telling stories that solicit sympathy for all Presbyterians. Publish a few books and make a movie that tells of how brave and deserving Presbyterians are. Then, we start lifting up Presbyterian symbols.  We raise a Presbyterian flag.  I don’t know if there is such a thing but we could easily divert the many Presbyterian emblems into flags, banners, letterheads, and erect road signs and billboards that show anything Presbyterian.

Then we have to pass a few laws that favor Presbyterians and outlaw such things as Baptist Church sign, deny Catholics the right to do charities and question the motives of all non-Presbyterians. (Non-Ps; the unchosen)  One necessary law to make all this work would be one that allowed only Presbyterians to carry guns.  Anyone else armed would be identified as a terrorist

These beginning steps will be followed by discrimination in such things as jobs, educational opportunities, health care and the right to travel from one place to another.  We could even build “Presbyterian only” roads and erect checkpoints to make life more difficult for Non-Ps. If we treat those “others” as sub-human, they might even leave our Presbyterian country which would also leave Presbyterians even more in control.

If those who were not Presbyterian bothered us because there were too many of them to make us comfortable, Presbyterians could invite all Presbyterians from around the world to come live in a Presbyterian state designed exclusively for them.  There are a lot of Presbyterians in Korea.  Of course, they are not equal to us American Ps, but better off than those Unitarians who think they have a right to live in peace without being oppressed.  In fact, anyone who objects to this new “miracle” state… well, we have a program of demolishing their homes, or expelling them to Canada which might give them a second thought before speaking out.

It’s essential to know that Russia likes this development and is prepared to donate billions and billions in dollars and weapons to protect Presbyterians from any rebellion against the new and vulnerable Presbyterian State.

The only thing left that is needed to pull all this off is the Presbyterian State will need to develop a theology that makes it all look innocent. Presbyterians could point out that the government of the United States, built upon city, county, state and national entities is patterned after the Presbyterian form of government which builds up from Session, Presbyteries, Synods and the General Assembly.  Since the Presbyterian system was formed first, it must mean the Presbyterians were here first, therefore this is Presbyterian historical homeland simply being rightfully reclaimed.  Besides all that, everybody knows that Presbyterians are God’s chosen people, because Presbyterians said so. Our Jewish friends might object but what can they do about it?

Presbyterians will call this new state a democracy, which it will be for all who are Presbyterians. For everyone else, it will just be a Presbyterian State.

Oh, did I mention, I am a Presbyterian.

Thomas Are
October 5, 2016


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.