Friday, August 28, 2009

Rachel Corrie - A Trigger Event

In spite of being condemned by Amnesty International, International Red Cross, Save the Children, the International Court of Justice, it’s own B’Salam and such world leaders as Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu plus numerous Resolutions by the United Nations, Israel still does everything it can to make life miserable for the Palestinians: including bypass “For Jews Only” roads, checkpoints and closures, a separation wall, settlements, land and water confiscation, imprisonment, torture, home demolitions, brutality by military and settlers, and the theft of 77 percent of its lands, the issue of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is a taboo subject in the US. (Wow! What a sentence. It took up the whole paragraph. I just couldn’t find a place to put a period.)

We can talk about human rights violations in China or an out of control government in North Korea, but we can’t talk about Israel, either in the media, or Congress or from our pulpits.

People often ask, “What good does it do? You write your little blogs, show a heart wrenching video every chance you get and thank God for Jimmy Carter, but when you have done it all, nothing has changed.” I remember being asked that same question during the Viet Nam war. Yet, thousands of insignificant preachers in pulpits all across the US kept questioning the morality of continuing to sacrifice so many lives for such an uncertain cause. People, by the dozens would ask us, “What difference does all your preaching make?”

Then suddenly, a 1972 photograph appeared… just a picture of an absolutely terrified little girl, probably nine years old, completely naked, severely burned, and running from a napalm attack. That picture became a trigger event. Almost overnight, Americans turned against the war. But it wouldn’t have happened had not thousands upon thousands of ordinary people continued to declare their hopes for peace in spite of so many asking, “What good are you doing?”

Another example of “What good are you doing?” which sounds more like an accusation than a question, follows the multitude of white preachers and teachers who joined their black brothers and sisters in proclaiming the evils of segregation and discrimination. Then suddenly, Rosa Parks said, “I’m sorry, but I am tired and I am not going to move to the back of the bus.” Had it not been for those pulpits crying out for justice, she would have probably been simply arrested and the whole incident ignored by the media. However Rosa Parks became a trigger event following years of seemingly useless education.

Now, across the land, more and more ordinary people are beginning to speak up for the Palestinians. I had hopes that the story of Rachel Corrie would have become the trigger event to wake up America.

Rachel Corrie, a young human rights activist from Olympia, Washington dared to hope for a change. She went to Rafah in the Gaza Strip and joined a group dedicated to preventing the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli military. Early afternoon, March 16, 2003, wearing a fluorescent jacket, she went out to face a sixty ton bulldozer with a seven pound bullhorn, somewhat like the student in Tiananmen Square. Only, she faced a Zionist, “chosen by God.” to steal someone else’s land. After stopping and considering his options, the driver revved up his 410 horsepower machine of destruction and crushed her to death. Rachel Corrie was 23 years old.

In the meantime, home demolitions continue in the seized territories, not by the dozens or even by the hundreds, but by the thousands, usually at night without warning with little time for the owners to salvage their belongings.

A month before her death, Rachel Corrie emailed home:

No amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it and even then you are always well aware that your experience is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli army would face of they shot an unarmed US citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells and, of course, the fact that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown., I have a home. I am allowed to see the ocean…”[1]

Two weeks later, she wrote:

I really can’t believe that something like this can happen in the world without a bigger outcry about it. It really hurts me.[2]

So, Rachel Corrie became one more martyr for justice. The rest of us will keep on plugging away, asking others to join us while we wait for the trigger event that will change things in spite of those who keep asking, “What difference are you making?”

Thomas Are
August 28, 2009

[1] Huwaida Arraf, Rachel Corrie (1979-2003): An American Martyr for Palestine, Quoted in The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2003, p.13
[2] Ibid., p.12

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Last summer, I had an occasion to visit a synagogue. I had preached in protestant churches for forty-three years and had never attended a Jewish worship service. Well, that is not entirely true. When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, the local synagogue invited the public to a memorial service, so I went. As you might imagine, it was a moving experience. But, I had never participated in a regular Sabbath day service.

So, I invited myself to attend Friday night worship with a Jewish friend. My biggest surprise was encountering two armed guards at the door. When my host saw me staring, somewhat in shock, at loaded pistols worn by greeters at a house of worship, he apologized. I said nothing, but I was thinking that the apology needed to come from my side. The thought that in Atlanta, in 2008, his pre-school daughters had to walk through armed guards, with weapons showing, in order to be safe in worship made me aware that anti-Semitism was not yet dead. I was embarrassed and later sent the synagogue a small check to help pay for those guards.

At the same time, I think the state of Israel, created as an answer to anti-Semitism, has become the cause and source of anti-Semitism’s revival. That insight is not original nor limited to me. Twenty years ago, Yehoshafat Harkabi, former Israeli Chief of Military Intelligence referring to Israel’s treatment of non-Jews, wrote:

Israel threatens not only Israel but Jews throughout the world. These actions weaken the Jew’s ability to defend themselves against anti-Semitism. It would be a tragic irony if the Jewish State, which was intended to solve the problem of anti-Semitism, was to become a factor in the rise of anti-Semitism. Israelis must be aware that the price of their misconduct is paid not only by them but also by Jews throughout the world. In the struggle against anti-Semitism, the front line begins in Israel.[1]

Just last month, Alan Hart, referring to Ariel Sharon’s harsh treatment of the Palestinians in an effort to break their will and crush their hope, referenced Harkabi’s fears, and wrote:

What Harkabi had feared could happen was happening. Israel’s “misconduct” was awakening the sleeping giant of anti-Semitism…The possibility of a new and virulent wave of anti-Semitism being provoked by Israel’s behaviour at some point in a foreseeable future was a real one.[2]

It’s time to admit that Zionism is a failure. Zionism was built upon the proposition that there was no place on earth where Jews could live in security. Thus, they needed their own theocratic state… in Palestine. The truth of the matter is that Jews then and now have lived all over the world in peace and security. Today about 16 million Jews have chosen to live outside Israel, compared to the six million now living in Israel and in illegal settlements. There has never been a time when there were not more Jews choosing to live in America than in Israel, including now.[3] (And I am glad. One of my favorite doctors is Jewish.)

And why have Jews not chosen to live in Israel? Two reasons, I think. First is that Israel is a Zionist state, not a Jewish state. Zionism violates the moral and ethical values which make up the heart of Judaism.

Also, Zionism fans the flames of anti-Semitism which has plagued Jews throughout their entire history.

I belong to a group called the North Georgia Progressives. (Some people think the name itself is an oxymoron.) Next month, we are having a speaker from the Anti- Defamation League of B’nai B’rith who is to speak to us about anti-Semitism. I will be very respectful. After all, I will be introducing him and praying for his effectiveness. Anti-Semitism is a sick and sinful evil and should be put to death. But, if he equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, I will caution him that he might be waking up the sleeping giant which should be left to die in its sleep.

Thomas Are
August 22, 2009

[1] Yehoshafat Harkabi, Israel’s Fateful Hour, (Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1988.) p. 220.
[2] Alan Hart, Zionism, The Real Enemy of the Jews, Volume One (Clarity International,, Atlanta, 2009) p. 40.
[3] According to the American Jewish Yearbook, Vol. 50, by the end of 1949, there were a million Jews living in Israel compared to five million living in the US.

Friday, August 7, 2009

History (Part 3) - Partition and War

Modern Zionism was born around 1900. Theodore Herzl in his book, The Jewish State, claimed that Jews could have no safe place in which to live other than in their own state. Of course, millions were safely living in the United States, but he wanted Palestine. He promoted the slogan, “A people without a land for a land without a people.” Neither side of it was true. Jews were living all over the world with security and dignity and were not a people without a land. Neither was the other side of it true. Herzl’s personal delegation to Palestine reported back to him, “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.”[1] Palestine was occupied.

I ask myself, how I would feel in a similar situation. I can’t imagine it but it would be as if suddenly, without knocking, a government official came into my house and announced, “The United Nations has decided to give Georgia back to the Indians.” He then said, “The government has provided for your safety by establishing a refugee camp in Texas. No, you will not have time to gather your things or get in touch with relatives. A bus will be leaving at 3 o’clock today. Your house, land and business now belong to the Cherokees.” When I start to argue, he holds up his submachine gun and says, “Get on the bus. It’s for your own good.”

And what if that same officer announced that France thinks this whole program is a good idea and will donate, in the interest of democracy, huge sums of money to help the Native Americans landscape this backward territory into the garden they always dreamed it could be?

That’s pretty much the way it happened to the Palestinians and many of those refugees are still living in camps behind barbed wire fences and cement barrels. They wait for the world community to recognize the injustice of it.

Other than a self-serving interpretation of the Bible, there seems to be little rationale and even less justice in giving 56 percent of Palestine to the State of Israel. When I imagine myself in a similar situation, I become outraged by the thought of being dispossessed. I may be forced to yield to such a fate, but I would never accept it, even if the rest of the world looks away in indifference.

Mahatma Gandhi said,

What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct…A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. As it is, they (the Jews) are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them.[2]

Post World War II brought a migration explosion. Meanwhile, political leaders searched for a painless way to make it up to the survivors of the holocaust. Zionism had a plan…a homeland for Jews. They had even picked the place: Palestine. Everyone seemed eager to compensate Jews. What did not enter into the guilt mix was what to do with the Palestinians already living in Palestine. Zionist chose to claim, and the non-Arab world chose to believe, that there were no “non-Jewish populations” in Palestine of any significance.

In February 1947, the British Government referred its Palestine problem to the U.N. One year later, the U.N. announced a plan to partition Palestine. Israel accepted the plan. The Palestinians rejected it, claiming that the Holocaust was not their doing. Why should Arabs be forced to suffer for Hitler’s crimes? Why should Arabs have to give up 56 percent of their land, including nearly all of the best agricultural and citrus lands, 80 percent of the cereal areas, 40 percent of all Arab industry, and all the sea shore to some 560,000 Jews who actually owned less than 6 percent of the land, while only 43 percent would remain for the 1,320,000 Palestinians?

Until this day, that question has not been addressed. In fact, it is not even discussed in the United States. Yet, that question is the heart and cause of all the present day Arab/ Israeli conflicts.

On May 15, 1948, the State of Israel was established on land partitioned by the United Nations. (Of course, the UN did not own it nor were Palestinians invited to the vote.) They were up-rooted from their homes forever, given no compensation and many were separated from their families, including parents who never again saw their children.

Israel called it the War of Independence and it is celebrated all over Israel and the United States as a great day to remember. Palestinians called it Al Nakba which means, The Catastrophe.

Within a few days, Israel had 60,000 troops in uniform and armed to the teeth. All the Arab resistance forces added up together were only about 25,000. Palestinian villages were reduced from 550 to 121. The Palestinian population was reduced from 700,000 to 125,000. Many of those who survived are still there, looking across the hills at the homes that used to be theirs, now occupied by Jews.[3]

Arnold Toynbee said of it:

The treatment of the Palestinian Arabs in 1947 and 1948 was as morally indefensible as the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis...though not comparable in quantity to the crimes of the Nazis, it was comparable in quality.[4]

And, Golda Meir could say:

It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine...and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.[5]

Just a bit of history, easily ignored by most Americans including many of our friends and neighbors.

Thomas Are
August 7, 2009

[1] Avi Shliam, The Iron Wall, Israel and the Arab World, (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2001) p.3.
[2] The Origin of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, Published by Jews for Justice in the Middle East, P.O. Box 14561, Berkeley, CA. 94712, p.7.
[3] Exact figures are hard to obtain. However, I have been conservative in my numbers which are based on the history cited by Fred J. Khouri, The Arab Israel Dilemma, Third Edition, (Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse University Press, 1985), p.77. and Paul Findley, Deliberate Deceptions, (Lawrence Hill Books, Chicago, Illinois, 1993.) p. 13.
[4] Na’im Ateek, Justice and Only Justice, Orbis Press, Maryknoll, New York, 1989.) p.32.
[5] Na’im Ateek, Justice and Only Justice, Orbis Press, Maryknoll, New York, 1989.) p.36

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

History (Part 2) - The Balfour Declaration

Israel’s second claim to the land of Palestine is based on the Balfour Declaration of 1917. What an unbelievable document of contradiction. In order to appear interested in protecting the Palestinians against injustice, the Balfour Declaration stated:

It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,

That’s impossible! The rational mind knew that conflict between these two nations of people would have been unavoidable even if Balfour had been serious in his commitment to equally share the land of Palestinian. But there is little evidence that he or “his Majesty’s Government” had any intentions of creating anything but a Jewish-dominant country. The Balfour Declaration started with commitment to Zionism:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood……

How in heaven’s name did anyone think that they could plop one nation down on top of another without violating the “civil and religious rights” of the indigenous population? How could the Jews be given a homeland on top of the 700,000 Palestinians already living in the land without prejudicing their rights? History shows that Britain never intended to protect the rights of anyone but the Jews. According to Balfour’s own words, he had no desire to be fair. In 1919, in a memorandum to the British cabinet, he wrote:

In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. So far as Palestine is concerned, we have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong and no declaration of policy which at least in the letter we have not always intended to violate.[1]

The Balfour agreement referred to the Jewish community by name. The Arabs who had been living there for thousands of years and owned over 90 percent of the land were merely referred to as the “non-Jewish sections.” In one brief statement, Lord Balfour, a dedicated Zionist, disenfranchised a whole nation of people and thirteen centuries of history.

The Zionists purpose is not and never has been merely to exploit the Palestinians. Classical imperial movements during the 19th and 20th centuries colonized weaker nations in order to capitalize on cheap labor and extract natural resources. Zionism, on the other hand, wanted to dispossess the Palestinians altogether; its goal was to substitute one people on the land for another. They went to Palestine, not to seek a haven within an existing society, but to replace that society.

In spite of Zionist propaganda that Balfour sought a reasonable solution to the Jewish predicament, history shows it as a hoax, and a justification for a one sided massacre of a weak and innocent nation.

Thomas Are
August 5, 2009

[1] Elias Chacour, Blood Brothers, (Fleming H. Revell, Chosen Books, Old Tappan, NJ., 1984)
p. 118.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

History (Part 1) A Gift from Yahweh

Israel’s claim to Palestine is based on three “historical” events. The first has nothing to do with history, the second was a hoax, and the third was an effort to legalize the longest lasting illegal occupation in modern history. First is “God’s” promise to Abraham, second is the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and third is the U.N. Partitioning of Palestine which set up a sixty-two year continuous crime against some of the most vulnerable people on earth. So, let me make my case.

We read in the Jewish Scriptures that Yahweh, the God of the Jews, promised to give Abraham land. In fact, in my lexicon, I find the word “land” listed 686 times in the Pentateuch alone. Take the word land out of the Hebrew Bible and there seems to be little left for God or Israel to be interested in. One example is:

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes. And look from the place where you are, northward and southward, eastward and westward, for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants forever. (Genesis 13:14-15)

This promise, repeated over and over in Genesis, made by Yahweh to a wondering shepherd 4000 years ago and not recorded until 800 years later, cannot stand up to history. In the 6000 years of recorded history, the area which has become known as the Holy Land has been under the sovereign control of Israel less than 500 of those years, from the time of David, approximately around the year 1000 BCE to the year 587 when Israel was carried off into captivity. All the rest of the time, until 62 years ago, Palestine was under the sovereign control of the Canaanites, Jebusites, the Philistines, Egyptians, Syrians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Turks and British. Any one of these nations could make a similar claim to the land. Yet, Israeli prime ministers and Christian Right preachers still piously shout, “God gave the land to the Jews,” as though God himself stepped down from heaven with a suitcase full of virgin territory and made a divine donation to one tribe of people.

Although Israel unashamedly declares itself to be a secular nation, its leaders still quote from the Jewish Bible to justify its claim on the occupied territories. “This country exists as a result of a promise made by God Himself.,” declared Golda Meir.[1] Yitzhak Shamir insisted on calling the captured territories of the West Bank, "Samaria and Judea," hoping to confuse American fundamentalist Christians into believing that there is a connection between Biblical Israel and the modern state.

Ha’aretz, one of the leading newspapers of Israel quoted a Rabbi, of captain rank, justifying the 1982 invasion and massacre of Lebanon:

We must not overlook the Biblical sources which justify this war and our presence here. We are fulfilling our religious duty as Jews by being here.[2]

Not only has the promise of “Land forever” made by Yahweh never been fulfilled, Arabs will point out that the promise was made to the descendents of Abraham of whom Ishmael was the first born. In fact, when the covenant promise of land was originally made with Abraham, it was Ishmael who was circumcised. Isaac had not been born.

There are some scholars (and a part of me), who say that the Biblical accounts of God’s giving land to Israel are made up by the ancient Hebrews to justify their brutal occupation of the land. It’s ironic that this tactic is still being used today. The Zionists claim of ownership of Palestine is based on a very selective and self-serving reading of the Old Testament. When we hear Christians say, “But, God gave the land to Israel.,” at least we should know that it is not that simple. It’s a religious tradition with no more claim to history than a dozen other religious traditions. Jews may believe it to be their unique history but that’s all it is…a religious tradition. On the other hand, the religious mandate, “Do unto others…” found in every religious tradition forbids the international community from acting upon “But, God gave it to the Jews.”

The second claim of Israel to the land is based on the Balfour Declaration which, if anything is not so solid. It will be the subject of my next blog.

Thomas Are
August 2, 2009

[1] Thomas L. Are, Israeli Peace/Palestinian Justice, (Clarity International, Regina, Canada) p.85.
[2] Ha’aretz, July 5, 1982.