Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Armed with Crayons

Question? What do ginger, jam, vinegar, nutmeg, chocolate, preserves, seeds, nuts, biscuits and sweets, potato chips,  gas for soft drinks, dried meat, plaster, wood, cement, salt, plastic, glass/metal containers, margarine, tarpaulin sheets, fabric, fishing rods, nets, buoys, rope, nylon nets, tractor parts, heaters, musical instruments,  paper, pens and pencils, note books, newspapers, toys, sewing machines, heaters, horses, donkeys, goats, cattle and chicks  have in common?

Answer: These are just some of the items listed as a threat to Israel and banned “for security reasons” from entrance into Gaza. The fact that these kind of things are necessary for any meaningful life is simply considered by Israel as a bonus.

When I shared this list with a friend, he said, “You can’t be serious.”  Whether I am serious or not is of little consequence, but believe it, Israel is serious.

When concerned people of conscience tried to bring such items as these into Gaza by boat, the flagship of the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, was boarded by Israeli commandos in international waters who stormed the ship firing live ammunition, killing nine unarmed peace activist. Netanyahu explained, “Our soldiers had to defend themselves.” 

Jeremy Hammond quotes Sargent S., who shot six of the nine, “They were without doubt terrorists. I could see the murderous rage in their eyes.”       

When asked why the Obama administration hadn’t condemned Israel for killing nine peace activist, including an American citizen, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs replied, “Nothing can bring them back now.” Eric Cantor, a leading Republican  in the House of Representatives:

Called on the Obama administration “to veto any biased UN resolutions reining in Israel’s right to defend itself.” He didn’t bother to explain how an attack on an unarmed ship on a humanitarian mission in international waters that resulted in the killing of nine civilians could possibly constitute an act of self-defense.”[1]

Thomas Friedman summed it up by explaining that the victims wanted to die and had practically begged the commandos to execute them as part of a plot to make Israel “look bad.”[2] No one bothered to ask him for the source of his information.

Besides that, who could blame Israel? Those terrorists were armed with coloring books and crayons.

Thomas Are
December 17, 2016

[1] Cited in Jeremy Hammond, Obstacle to Peace, US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, (Worldview Publications, 2016) p.214.
[2] Jeremy Hammond, Obstacle to Peace, US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, (Worldview Publications, 2016) p.221.

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.
[3] 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] 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.
[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, 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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Israel Laughs

As a kid, I loved the circus. It was a full show of nonstop excitement; high wire walkers, trapeze flyers flipping from one bar to another, and most of all, clowns. Nothing fascinated a small child as much as clowns under the big top; dressed in ridiculous costumes, floppy shoes ten times too big, hats and capes and baggy pants that kept falling down revealing poker dot underwear. I could laugh for hours.

Today, as an adult, I no longer find clowns quite as amusing, especially when the clown is my own country.

And who is laughing at America today? Not the world. Most countries around the globe find our circus act frightening.  The one laughing is Israel.

We keep talking about a two state solution. Both “presumptive” presidential candidates applaud the two-state solution, knowing full well such is a fantasy. One state is a dominating power of privilege and the other is a prison.

Last year, when Sweden decided to recognize a Palestinian state, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a fit, “The decision of the Swedish government to recognize a Palestinian state is a deplorable decision… relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA.”[1]

After years of US media and politicians singing the tune of a two-state solution, Israel has come clean and admitted this was not going to happen and it has never been seriously considered.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter:

"Netanyahu does not now and has never sincerely believed in a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine", and accused him of deciding early on to adopt a one-state solution, but without giving them [the Palestinians] equal rights.[2]

I laughed when the clown leaned over, stepped on his own necktie and struggled to stand back up. It is funny when the clown acts like a fool. It’s another thing when we are the clown.  While demanding a two-state solution, we, the US, has been financing the settlements and Jewish only roads in the occupied territory which Israel now says makes a two-state solution impossible.  If it were in the circus, it would be funny, but when it means the loss of land, water, lively hood, health care, life and dignity for millions of Palestinians, and we are responsible by our gift of billions of dollars every year and veto cover at the United Nations, it is not funny.

Netanyahu openly declares that he is not concerned about the American conscience saying that America can easily be manipulated:

They asked me before the election if I would honor the Oslo Accords. I said I would, but I’m going to interpret the Accords in such a way that will allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the ’67  borders.

            How do we do it?

Nobody said what “defined military zones” were. Defined military zones are security zones. As far as I’m concerned, the entire Jordan Valley is a defined military zone.[3]

When asked about American concern for justice and fair play, Netanyahu says:

I know what America is. America is a thing you can moved very easily.

If there is any question about his image of Americans, just remember his address to the US Congress in March of 2015. By-passing the White House, he chose to accept the invitation of the opposing party to address our Congress. It was a Netanyahu pep rally. “Congress interrupted to applaud 39 times. 23 of these were standing ovations.” More than one-fourth of his speaking time was listening to applause and standing ovations. Like a circus full of “Jacks in a Box,” members of our legislative branch jumped up and down every minute or so to flatter a foreign head of state as he undercut our president’s efforts to avoid a military confrontation with Iran.

I repeat, while declaring that settlements are an obstacle to peace, we send billions of dollars to support the building of settlements.  Israel laughs.

Such is laughable, but when it comes to the murder of American citizens by Israel, it is no longer funny.

I think of 23 year old Rachel Corrie crushed to death, while seeking to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in 2003. And Israel’s deliberate attack on the USS Liberty, killing 34 US sailors in 1967. And in 2010, the nineteen-year old American high school student on board the Mavi Marmara, seeking to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza in 2010, and the US Government has done NOTHING in protest

The biggest joke under the big top is that we still speak of Israel as a democracy. Israel has no constitution to protect its own citizens.  Democracies have a government of the people with a military. On the other hand, Israel has a military with a government to do its bidding. Even more painful is the fact that Israel has never declared the boundaries over which its “democracy” rules, which means that no one is safe from its goals of expansion. The will of the people, which is the hallmark of democracy, has no say in how they are governed. I don’t know what to call that, but it is not a democracy. 

Israel shows little respect for International law, makes a mockery of the Geneva Convention of which it is a signatory and daily violates the common rules of human decency.  Nevertheless, strike up the band and America dances like a clown. Just like Netanyaho said we would.

Thomas Are
June 8, 2016

[1] Lieberman: Sweden’s Decision to Recognize a Palestinian State is “Deplorable.” Middle East Monitor, October 10, 2014.
[2] Carter: Zero Chance for Two-state Solution,, August 13, 2015
[3] Media Education Foundation documentary, The Occupation of the American Mind.  2016