Israel/Palestine: ‘Come Let Us Weep Together’

uri-avneryAt nearly 90 years old, Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery wrote a powerful reflection last week on spending the eve of Israel’s “Memorial Day” with Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones in the ongoing violence.

Avnery is an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. He was a member of the Irgun, a Zionist paramilitary group as a teenager and a member of the Knesset from 1965–74 and 1979–81. His essay In Praise of Emotion, hints to me of the healing power of a the psalms as they are sung in lament, anger, confusion, and grief — especially when we sing them with our enemies. Here’s an excerpt:

Last Sunday, on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for the fallen in our wars, I was invited to an event organized by the activist group Combatants for Peace and the Forum of Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Parents.

The first surprise was that it took place at all. In the general atmosphere of discouragement of the Israeli peace camp after the recent elections, when almost no one dared even to mention the word peace, such an event was heartening.

The second surprise was its size. It took place in one of the biggest halls in the country, Hangar 10 in Tel-Aviv’s fair grounds. It holds more than 2000 seats. A quarter of an hour before the starting time, attendance was depressingly sparse. Half an hour later, it was choke full. (Whatever the many virtues of the peace camp, punctuality is not among them.)

The third surprise was the composition of the audience. There were quite a lot of white-haired old-timers, including myself, but the great majority was composed of young people, at least half of them young women. Energetic, matter-of-fact youngsters, very Israeli.

I felt as if I was in a relay race. My generation passing the baton on to the next. The race continues.

BUT THE outstanding feature of the event was, of course, its content. Israelis and Palestinians were mourning together for their dead sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, victims of the conflict and wars, occupation and resistance (a.k.a. terror.)

An Arab villager spoke quietly of his daughter, killed by a soldier on her way to school. A Jewish mother spoke of her soldier son, killed in one of the wars. All in a subdued voice. Without pathos. Some spoke Hebrew, some Arabic.

They spoke of their first reaction after their loss, the feelings of hatred, the thirst for revenge. And then the slow change of heart. The understanding that the parents on the other side, the Enemy, felt exactly like them, that their loss, their mourning, their bereavement was exactly as their own. …–Uri Avery

Read the rest here.

Bill McKibben: Climate Change Won’t Wait

I’ve been pondering climate change issues for awhile: praying, educating folks on what’s happening, shoring up my spiritual foundations by reading things like Hiebert’s The Yawhist’s Lanscape: Nature and Religion in Early Israel, strategizing, and just doing some serious thinking.

On the one hand, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). I trust completely in the abiding love of God here on earth and in the life to come. What happens is what happens when it comes to breaking God’s fundamental earth covenant and the cycles of human life.

On the other hand, the role of the prophets is to continually make plain to the people where they have broken covenant with God, what they need to do to turn around, and what is promised them when they do.

When it comes to addressing global climate change, both hands are in motion. I need to act with all risk and passion of the prophets and all the joyful confidence of one who strives to walk humbly with God.

On February 17, 2013, God’s people are called again to carry a message to President Obama: Take meaningful action to reverse climate change now.

Below is an excerpt from Bill McKibben’s most recent oped in the LA TImes: Climate Change Won’t Wait:

… With climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to physics’ timetable, it will be too late.

It’s not at all clear that President Obama understands this.

That’s why his administration is sometimes peeved when they don’t get the credit they think they deserve for tackling the issue in his first term in office. The measure they point to most often is the increase in average mileage for automobiles, which will slowly go into effect over the next decade.

That’s precisely the kind of gradual transformation that people — and politicians — like. But physics isn’t impressed. If we’re to slow the pace of climate change we need to cut emissions globally at a sensational rate, by something like 5% a year.

It’s not Obama’s fault that that’s not happening. He can’t force it to happen, especially with Congress so deeply in debt to the fossil fuel industry. But he should at least be doing absolutely everything he can on his own authority. That might include new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, for example. And he could refuse to grant the permit for the building of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. …

…The president must be pressed to do all he can — and more. But there’s another possibility we need to consider: Perhaps he’s simply not up to this task, and we’re going to have to do it for him, as best we can.

Those of us in the growing grass-roots climate movement are moving as fast and hard as we know how (though not, I fear, as fast as physics demands). Thousands of us will descend on Washington on Presidents Day weekend for the largest environmental demonstration in years. And young people from 190 nations will gather in Istanbul, Turkey, in June in an effort to shame the United Nations into action.

We also need you. Maybe if we move fast enough, even this all-too-patient president will get caught up in the draft. But we’re not waiting for him. We can’t.

Rose Marie Berger: Israel Judge Rules Rachel Corrie’s Death an ‘Accident’

In the spring of 2003 I made myself a T-shirt. It said: ‘We Are All Rachel Corrie.’ I wore it as a constant reminder of the cost demanded of those who are peacemakers.

On March 16, 2003, 23-year-old Rachel Corrie, a member of the International Solidarity Movement stood with others to defend a Palestinian home from demolition by Israeli Defense Forces. The photos of Rachel, in her bright red ISM jacket, confronting the Goliath earth mover were some of the first indications Americans had of how the IDF was using bulldozers as weapons of war. Though Rachel was plainly visible to the driver he continued to move forward, using his machine to crush her to death.

On August 28, 2012, Israeli judge Oded Gorshen ll invoked the “combatant activities” exception, noting that IDP forces had been attacked nearby and ruled Corrie’s death an “accident.”

Corrie was one of a group of around eight international activists acting as human shields against the demolitions. According to witness statements made at the time and evidence given in court, she clambered on top of a mound of earth in the path of an advancing Caterpillar bulldozer.

“She was standing on top of a pile of earth,” fellow activist and eyewitness Richard Purssell, from Brighton, said at the time. “The driver cannot have failed to see her. As the blade pushed the pile, the earth rose up. Rachel slid down the pile. It looks as if her foot got caught. The driver didn’t slow down; he just ran over her. Then he reversed the bulldozer back over her again.”

Tom Dale, an 18-year-old from Lichfield in Staffordshire, said: “The bulldozer went towards her very slowly, she was fully in clear view, straight in front of them. Unfortunately she couldn’t keep her grip there and she started to slip down. You could see she was in serious trouble, there was panic in her face as she was turning around. All the activists there were screaming, running towards the bulldozer, trying to get them to stop. But they just kept on going.”

In response to the ruling by the Haifa court, the American ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, restated a position that the U.S. government has long held: “Israel’s investigation into the death of American activist Rachel Corrie was not satisfactory, and wasn’t as thorough, credible or transparent as it should have been.”

“The lawsuit is just a small step in our family’s nearly decade-long search for truth and justice,” said Craig Corrie, Rachel’s father, in a press statement. “The mounting evidence presented before the court underscores a broken system of accountability – tolerated by the United States in spite of its conclusions that Israel’s military investigation was not ‘thorough, credible, or transparent.’”

Oral testimony in the case began March 10, 2010. There have been 15 court hearings since with 23 witnesses testifying. The trial has exposed serious chain-of-command failures in relation to civilian killings and indiscriminate destruction of civilian property at the hands of the Israeli military in southern Gaza.

“This trial is an attempt to hold accountable not only those who failed to protect Rachel’s life but also the flawed system of military investigations which is neither impartial nor thorough,” said Hussein abu Hussein, the family’s attorney. “Under international law, Israel is obligated to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians from the dangers of military operations. The Israeli military flagrantly violated this principle in the killing of Rachel Corrie and it must be held accountable.”

Rachel Corrie’s courageous witness – only one story among thousands of Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals who demand justice for Palestinians and peace for Israel – didn’t stop with her death. American churches initiated a boycott of Caterpillar, the supplier of bull dozers to the IDF. Rachel’s parents have spoken at thousands of venues, continued the civil and criminal court cases, and started the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice. Many, like me, include Rachel Corrie on our “martyrs roll,” remembering her as one who died in service of others defending justice and peace.

Rose Marie Berger, author of Who Killed Donte Manning? is a Catholic peace activist and a Sojourners associate editor. She blogs at rosemarieberger.com.

World-Renowned Peacemaker, Art Gish, Dies in Tractor Accident

Art and Peggy Gish by Dinty W. Moore

Art and Peggy Gish (above) are career peace, civil rights and human rights activists who embody the motto of their primary affiliation, Christian Peacemaker Teams: “Getting in the way.”

Art died this morning in a tractor accident on the organic farm where he and Peggy live near Athens, Ohio. He was 70.  (See Athens County peace activist killed in farming accident.)

Art Gish has been part of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron since 1995, getting in the way of Israeli military and settler violence against Palestinian civilians. Peggy was in Iraq as peace advocate and witness before, during and following the invasion of Iraq.

Art Gish stares down Israeli tank.

Both of them have been mentors to generations of Christian pacifists and peace activists – as well as bringing a deep love and peaceableness to places of violent injustice around the world, including Hebron and Iraq.

The last time I saw Art was when I was leading a nonviolence training in preparation for risking arrest at the White House as part of the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq on March 16, 2007. To lead a nonviolence training with Art Gish in the room was humbling. And talking to him afterward was a deep spiritual blessing.

Art is loved by many and will be mourned by more. I hold him up to the Light. He is an witness to the model of an honorable man who literally lived “‘neath his vine and fig tree in peace and unafraid” while always standing with those whose vines and fig trees were uprooted by men with guns and for whom peace and safety were fleeting ideals

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”  Thank you, brother.

Art Gish on his organic farm in Athens, Ohio.

To read books about and by Art and Peggy Gish, check out these:

Iraq: A Journey of Hope and Peace by Peggy Faw Gish

As Resident Aliens: Christian Peacemaker Teams in the West Bank, by CPTer Kathleen Kern

and find more at Christian Peacemaker Teams.

News Flash:Palestinians Allowed to Travel to Jerusalem for Easter

Freedom march from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, 27.03.2010The Israeli Embassy has confirmed this afternoon with Sojourners that travel restrictions preventing Palestinian Christians from entering Jerusalem for Holy Week and Easter have been lifted.

[UPDATE since this story was first posted at 5pm 3/31/2010 : According to representatives from Holy Land Trust, two staff members of which are still in prison after a nonviolent demonstration against such restrictions: By “lifting” travel restrictions from the West Bank to Jerusalem, Israeli officials are merely referring to ending a total curfew imposed a few days ago on access even to people previously granted selective permission to get into Jerusalem. This does not mean that all Palestinian Christians are now allowed entry into Jerusalem to freely celebrate Easter. This only means that Christians who applied for a permission (not all did or could) and who got one (not all did or could) can now take advantage of the permission (if they got it) that “allows” them to enter from one occupied territory into another through the long and humiliating process of going through the checkpoints. Even then, restrictions have already been put in place on access to the Old City for the Holy Fire service on Holy Saturday, which is the most important ceremony for the Greek Orthodox and the Eastern rite communities. Israeli army radio reported 10,000 permits were granted this year; not even a quarter of the Christians in the West Bank. ]

This afternoon, Rev. Michael Kinnamon, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, received a telephone call from Dr. Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, stating that travel restrictions that prevented Palestinian Christians from visiting Christian sacred sites in Jerusalem were at least temporarily lifted.

“I received a call from (Oren) indicating he had been in touch with Israeli officials,” said Kinnamon in a press release, “and that they have now assured him that travel restrictions on Palestinian Christians from the West Bank have been lifted for Easter — and that we should notify him directly if there are reports from check points that these orders are not being followed.”

NCC press secretary Philip Jenks told Sojourners that Rev. Kinnamon had sent a letter to the Middle East Council of Churches notifying them of the phone call. The letter stated:

“The National Council of Churches in the USA has been deeply disturbed with reports of travel restrictions on Christians from the West Bank who may try to reach Jerusalem for Easter-related events and services. In that regard we enlisted the help of Jewish leaders in the United States, and they urged the Israeli government to rethink this policy.

On Wednesday morning I received a call from Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, indicating that he had been in touch with Israeli officials and that they have now assured him that travel restrictions on Palestinian Christians from the West Bank have been lifted for Easter — and that we should notify him directly if there are reports from check points that these new orders are not being followed.”

Joshua Silverberg, press secretary for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., confirmed that the facts of this announcement were true and consistent with what the Ambassador had conveyed. Sojourners has not yet been able to confirm with Palestinian Christians or the Ecumenical Accompaniment Teams if the checkpoints are open.–by Rose Marie Berger

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She’s the author of the forthcoming book Who Killed Donte Manning?: The Story of an American Neighborhood (Apprentice House, April 2010).

Where is Israel’s Pressure Point?: The Ethics and Morality of Boycotting Israel

On March 5, 2010, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia appeared on Democracy Now! with Palestinian human rights activist Omar Barghouti at U.C. Berkeley to discuss the whether the “Boycott, Divest and Sanction” campaign against Israel is the most effective way to bring justice and peace to Israel, Palestine, and the neighboring Arab countries.

It’s a fantastic discussion between two passionate, nonviolent grassroots activists, who are both pro-Palestinian, and who state clearly their different points of view.

Rabbi Waskow also discussed these issues in Sojourners back in 2005 in an article titled A Question of Tactics where he said, “My own assessment is that the way in which much of the divestment campaign has been conducted bespeaks an exercise in quasi-private purity rather than a serious effort to change public policy.”

Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

OMAR BARGHOUTI: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, campaign is a call by Palestinian civil society. It’s supported by almost the entire Palestinian civil society, political forces, NGOs, women’s organizations, unions, and so on.

It’s calling upon people of conscience around the world to boycott Israel and institutions that are complicit with Israel, including companies and so on, because of its three-tiered system of oppression against the Palestinian people: its occupation, 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and that includes East Jerusalem; as well as its system of racial discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens, the Palestinian citizens of Israel; and the third and foremost is its denial of the right of return for the refugees, Palestinian refugees, in accordance with UN Resolution 194. So these three forms of injustices are exactly what we’re targeting. We’re targeting Israel because we want to end its impunity, and we want to end complicity of the world in this system of injustice.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Rabbi Arthur Waskow, could you explain to us why you think this is a wrong approach to the problem?

RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW: So, first let me say shalom and salaam and peace to you, Amy and Juan, and to Mr. Barghouti, and to say, to begin with, that in a sense I think the question, yes or no on BDS, is the wrong question. The right question is, how do we bring about an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the blockade of Gaza, and of East Jerusalem? And it seems to me that when you put the question that way, BDS really becomes an ineffective and, in some ways, unethical way of going about it, that the major change that needs to happen is a profound change in the actions of the United States government, and that there were hints of that, more than hints, in the rhetoric of President Obama, but a total failure to carry through in policy on the rhetoric of the Cairo speech and some work since then.

The real question is, can the United States—will the United States—it can, for sure—will the United States use its enormous influence and power to end the occupation, to end the state of war between Israel and the entire Arab world except for Egypt and Jordan? Can the United States bring about a full-fledged peace treaty between a new state of Palestine, the state of Israel, and the Arab states. The Arab states have, in fact, proposed this. The Israeli government and the last US government, the Bush administration, totally ignored the proposal. There are hints that that’s what the Obama administration wants to bring about.

But it won’t happen unless there is a public movement in American society to demand that. It won’t happen otherwise. And when I ask the question, so what’s the most effective way of bringing that about, it seems to me an alliance of the three groups of people in America who care passionately about the peoples of the Middle East—Muslims, serious Christians and serious Jews—an alliance of those in those three camps who are committed to peace is now possible. In the Jewish community, there are now organizations and commitments and human beings ready to act on this, even though the classic, formal, institutional structure of the established Jewish institutional system doesn’t. But the Jews do, and among Muslims and among most Protestant and Catholic Christians—not some of the right-wing fundamentalist Christians, but the rest of the Christian community. But they have not come together in any way to make this happen. And that’s what needs to happen.

Is Sheol in Preston Hollow, Texas?

Whilst reading in the prophet Isaiah, I popped down to the grocery store to buy orange juice for Sojourners’ Mardi Gras pancake breakfast tomorrow. With the prophet’s searing poetry still curdling inside me, my eyes fell on that this week’s edition of that fish-wrap, scandal rag The Globe trumpeting:

globecoverbushorig1Just weeks after leaving the White House, depressed and paranoid George Bush is suicidal, insiders fear. In a blockbuster world exclusive, sources tell GLOBE the ex-President is boozing up a storm – and reveal why he is terrified of Barack Obama and his own wife Laura. Don’t miss a single word!

It seems that life in the Bushes’ new home in Preston Hollow, a wealthy Dallas suburb, is not all he expected it would be. It struck me that the prophet Isaiah is much better at explicating the daily headlines than I am and in words much franker and bolder than I usually give myself permission to use. Isaiah 14:6-10 says:

You persecuted the people with unceasing blows of rage and held the nations in your angry grip. Your tyranny was unrestrained. But at last the land is at rest and is quiet. Finally it can sing again! Even the trees of the forest–the cypress trees and the cedars of Lebanon – sing out this joyous song: `Your power is broken! No one will come to cut us down now!’ In the place of the impotent there is excitement over your arrival. World leaders and mighty kings long dead are there to see you. With one voice they all cry out, `Now you are as weak as we are!

In fact, Isaiah describes Yahweh’s specific instructions to Israel to taunt the deposed leader of an empire, saying, “When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon”  (Isaiah 14:3-4).

Theologian Walter Brueggemann, in his explication of Isaiah 1-39, makes the argument for why this taunting is important, saying that when the people are free from their oppression then “one of the important opportunities, in such freedom, is to engage in a mocking song against the tyrant.”

Brueggemann goes on to describe the toppled ruler’s arrival in Sheol:

“Sheol” is not a place of punishment, but it is where the dead are kept in their impotence. As the deposed oppressor arrives in Sheol, now completely removed from authority and utterly impotent—a suitable resident for Sheol—all the others who used to be active authorities and great powers in the earth (now become impotent) present themselves as a welcoming committee for the new arrival in Sheol. They gather around the new arrival and recognize him as one of their own, formerly powerful, now completely powerless.

In high irony, the poet [Isaiah] has them welcome the new member of the powerless to their company—“You are like us”—powerless, no longer a force to be reckoned with. … The speech “rubs it in,” so that this now feeble has-been should be recognized for what he is, completely broken and irrelevant, warranting no attention at all. (Isaiah 1-39 by Walter Brueggemann, 1998, p. 127-128)

elliottsorig-crop1In light of Isaiah’s description, it seems entirely appropriate that Kyle Walters, president of Elliott’s hardware store in Dallas should offer George Bush a job as a store greeter, saying, “Like you, many of our greeters are retired from the corporate world, so we’re sure you’ll have no trouble making new friends.”

How many American retirees have had to do just this in order to make their Social Security checks stretch farther and cover their medical expenses?

And, the LA Times reports, that while the former first lady is working on a book, “the former president has yet to interest a publisher in his memoirs. In fact, several have advised him to wait a few years until his reputation is less, well, in need of a good hardware polishing.”

Of course, having compassion for George W. Bush, the man, the husband, the father, is part of the Christian calling, as is extending him the hand of mercy when he repents of his sins.

But for President Bush who sought the status of emperor and who claimed divine right in his exploits; who tortured strangers in secret prisons; who opened the nation’s treasuries to privateers; who unleashed the dogs of war on civilians for the purpose of working out old vengeances and hoarding resources, I have a few good taunts left in me.

In fact, I imagine that, right now, Sheol may have taken up an address in Preston Hollow, Texas.

“Some Songs Required” a poem

I wrote this strange little poem a few years ago. It wasn’t prompted by anything happening in the Middle East, but as I revisit it now, there is some element of lament that resonates with my current lament for the people in Gaza and Israel.

Some Songs Required
Psalm 137

by Rose Marie Berger

Down the river from Babylon
there was a city of Dales,

not quite like Zion. In Nutdale,
Elmdale, and Oakdale people sat

two by two in boxes neatly stacked
where they wept without knowing why.

Upriver, Babylon heard only their singing
in a special language of clicks and snaps;

not in the stringed language of the lyre,
that riffled and flowed over the feet

of the Stored Ones. True too that the Dale-dwellers
babbled in a tongue fewer and fewer of them

could understand. Instead they stared:
at each other, at the river, pointing out the little

heads of children, afloat like golden boats
on the current. While Babylon, teeth sharp

from gnawing on its platinum
bedpost at night, reached down its

right hand to touch the flag hanging
limp between its legs. A single gold tear

slipped away to tell the others.