Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Grew Up Guilty

I grew up guilty. It was not that I just felt guilty, I was guilty. In my little home town in South Carolina, there lived a whole community of black people with whom I seldom, if ever, had a conversation, shared a meal or knew much about the life they lived. But, in spite of attending a segregated school, a segregated church, and listening to talk about how important it was to keep things segregated, I knew. Deep down, I knew that the people on my side of town benefitted from the exploitation of those African Americans who lived on the other side of town. Few people ever talked about it but I knew. And to this day, I still carry the remnants of that guilt.

I grew up hearing that “they” were lazy, not as smart as white people, and always smelled bad. While I took baths in hot water, it never occurred to me that they did not have indoor plumbing and were forced to wash outside, even in winter. I seldom connected the dots that my privilege was connected to their suppression. Oh, there were some, a few, black people who “made it.” Johnny owned and operated a dry cleaning business and someone ran a little grocery store down by the school, but by and large, most black people were dependent upon the economic handout from the white community. But, there were times, when I would think about it, I had to confess, at least to myself, that I lived a privileged life simply because of the accident of birth. I even thanked God that I had not been born black.

My parents never told me that black people were inferior, but the entire system in which I lived said they were. I went to the new high school while they attended class in the old fire trap on the poor side of town. I wore clean clothes, washed by our black maid, while their shirts were wrinkled and often torn. I had no trouble in accepting things as they were and, along with all my friends, accepted it as something for which God was responsible. Yet, down deep. I knew better, and I felt guilty. I still do.

I feel sorry for Mitt Romney. There is going to come the day, when like George Wallace who, broken in heart and spirit, rolled down to the front of the African American church in Montgomery, Alabama and said, “I was wrong and I am sorry.” Mitt Romney is so caught up in doing anything he can right now to gain money and votes until anything goes to out-do Obama in proving his loyalty to Israel. He shows no concern for the illegal policies for Israel’s Zionist government, no matter how extreme. To heck with UN resolutions, international law and human decency. He spoke to a wealthy Jewish audience in Israel and according to The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, said:

That Israel’s GDP per capita was $21,000 while that of the Palestinians was $10,000. Romney showed “a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality.” The actual figures are $31,400 for Israel and less than $3,000 for the Palestinians – but that is not because, as he said later, “culture makes all the difference,” but because of occupation, discrimination and oppression.(1)

Then to put icing on the cake, he declared Jerusalem to be the forever capital of Israel. He brags about his close personal friendship with Benyamin Netanyahu and totally ignores the plight of the Palestinian. Not unlike my days in high school, he just did not see across the hill to the poverty and squalor in which those living under Israel’s military rule are forced to live.

Maybe he really does not see. Maybe his understanding is distorted by the sheltered and privileged life he has always lived. The rules of life, including his economic success have been so rigged that he is blinded by his own advantage and wealth. Maybe he does not know that Israel’s economy is built upon handouts and theft. It may be years before he will allow himself to see what he has become a part of, whether he does or does not win this election next month.

But, I have to believe, the average Jew living in Israel knows, whether he will admit it or not. He knows that his country was started by confiscating the land and homes of more than 700,000 innocent people who were expelled from 78 percent of their historic Palestine, not unlike the land on which I live was taken from the Cherokee Indians. He knows when he is taking a hot shower, the water is diverted from the Palestinian West Bank. He also knows that the modern highway on which he rides was built by the cheap labor of those forced to work in Israel. He knows that his economy grew at an amazing rate because of the control on the production of Palestinian banks and production. He knows about the settlements, the wall, checkpoints and the uprooting of olive trees. He knows that his privilege is paid for by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are living in refugee camps. He knows. And deep within himself, he feels guilty. For that reason, he will not allow himself to engage in a conversation with, or even about, the plight of the Palestinians and will gladly sell his conscience to a shyster like Mitt Romney. He is trapped. To admit what he knows produces more guilt than he can handle and he knows it.

I once heard a Palestinian say, “I thank God that I was not born a Jew.” I immediately thought of that as anti-Semitic, and rejected him, But, the more I listened to him I realized that he had no dislike for the Jews. He earnestly felt compassion, even pity. The Jew, he declared, cannot enjoy his privilege because deep down he knows that it was stolen from another people and he will live with that guilt forever.

I understand. I still struggle with mine.

Thomas Are
September 20, 2012

[1]  John Lee, Romney on the Palestinians: It’s not the “Culture,” It’s the Occupation,  Washington Report in Middle East Affairs,  October 2012., p.16.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

More Than One Way

There are many ways that we can approach the problem of seeking justice for the Palestinians.

One, is a head on confrontation with Israel. You hear those who hold this view saying such things as: Israel will never voluntarily give up power or give up claiming Palestinian land for its own use. Therefore the only solution is force. The Palestinians need a sponsor, they say, some Arab nation willing to risk suicide to send an army up against the state of Israel which has the fourth strongest military on the globe. Or, they say, “The Palestinians need a PAC. They need to organize enough financial resources to bribe US politicians into taking up their cause.” Those in this camp are pessimistic about anything of this caliber ever happening. Therefore, they say such things as, “It’s sad, but the Palestinians are a lost people.

This position leads some to justify Israel’s brutal control over the Palestinians and assault on its neighbors by declaring, “Israel lives with a siege mentality. They know if they let down for one moment, the Arabs will push them into the sea. Israel is forced to operate under a no tolerance policy against any threat, real or imagined.” Thus, Israel kills 1400 citizens in Gaza in the winter of 2008 because some renegade fired homemade rockets into Israel. “Israel can only survive by pouncing upon anyone who appears to be gaining power in the region.” Besides,” they say, “Nothing is going to be gained by criticizing Israel, especially in an election season.”

There is another camp of opinions which advocates, “allowing the two parties involved to work it out between themselves. Those who take this position say such things as, “Until both sides want peace enough to compromise, it’s not going to happen.” This seems to be the position of Hillary Clinton who says, we won’t do anything to help the Palestinians until they come back to the negotiating table.

This proposal sounds noble, but it’s a little like telling the slaves in 1830 to just work it out with the overseer. The problem is, only one side has power. Only one side has an army The weak side lives behind an apartheid wall and is controlled by the stronger.

Then, there are those who seek peace by bringing hearts together.. This group brings Jews and Arabs together to work and study toward accomplishing some goal beyond just talking about how to get along. The results of this effort, (I want to say ministry) is that individuals get to know each other. They hear one another’s narrative. By the end of their time together, they have developed a relationship of respect and affection.

This works. I have seen it in the youth camps run by Roscoe Possidenti where Jews and Palestinians hug and weep on the others shoulders. Elias Chacour, a Melkite priest in the West Bank village of Ibillin built a school in which the faculty is half Jewish and half Arab. The student body is also equally divided. The goal is education, but the result is united hearts. Jim Crupi brings together business and community leaders for training. The participants in his seminars include those of ethnic and religious backgrounds from numerous Middle Eastern nations. In the long run, this may be the best solution to bringing about harmony among some very hostile nations and people.

However, all these approaches to peace are too slow. Before Israel comes to any just agreement, or the Palestinians find a big brother, or enough hearts are changed, there will be no Palestine. Israel will have very well claimed the total of Palestinian land and natural resources, including water, except for a few Bantustans here and there. .

There is another possibility. What I think will happen and what is happening, which will result in peace and citizenship for the Palestinians, is that Israel will not be controlled from the outside but will crumble from within.

The conscience of the world, including many young Jews, both in the US and in Israel, are rejecting the brutality of the right wing Zionist regime. Today’s younger Jews are not as emotionally tied to the holocaust, or to the state of Israel, as are their parents. Non-Jews simply find it hard to stomach the stories of cruelty coming out about the actions of Israel. And Israel is being trapped by its own Jewish theology. The story of Naboth’s vineyard found in the Book of First Kings, and such texts as Amos, “Let justice role down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream,” cannot be reconciled with the bombing of civilians, building of settlements, check points, restrictions on travel, demolition of homes, the assassination of neighboring scientists and treating a whole people as subhuman. This “God gave your land to me" theology, just does not fit with historical Judaism’s mandate for justice.

I honor those who chip away at the hard line Zionist agenda. I teach classes, lead discussions, donate money, give away books, show documentaries and put a bumper sticker on my car in an effort to support the “chippers”. I believe their method of seeking justice is the only hope for peace for Palestine and Israel and I believe it is working.

Thomas Are
September 2, 2012