50 Years Is Enough

I know that dignity for all, abundant life for all, is God’s charge to us . . . .

Today, June 5, 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War which resulted in victory for Israel over the military forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria–and, importantly for subsequent events, the expansion of Israeli rule over all of Jerusalem, the West Bank (often called Judea and Samaria by many Israelis) and Gaza.

Yesterday, tens of thousands marched in New York City in the 53rd annual Celebrate Israel parade, officially deemed a celebration of the creation of the State of Israel, but given its date it seems a clear declaration of support for an Israel that includes territory from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Palestinians and their allies refer to Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza as The Occupation. There is little doubt that it is marked by oppressive military presence, that Palestinians are under military rule in the land of their birth. Such rule is never, by definition, kind and gentle nor does it evidence much respect for the elemental human rights of those under control. With the requirement of border passes for work inside Israel, checkpoints, random searches of individuals and homes, evictions, murder and mayhem by settlers not to mention the growing presence of Israeli settlers, Palestinians feel deep bitterness. Fifty years is enough, they say.

Robin with keffiyehI spent Sunday afternoon outside the White House, not to celebrate Greater Israel but to bear witness to the strength and endurance of the Palestinian people. No matter how many times their leaders have failed in negotiations with Israel (whose leaders failed just as much), no matter how much they have failed to build a vibrant society within the hated control of Israel (and how much Israel, from its position of economic and military dominance has made sure to cripple Palestinian institutions), I admire them for their fortitude and patience, for their attachment to the land of their fathers.

They deserve my respect and honor. They deserve that from all of us.

Sadly, it was a very small group at the White House, with little or not visible organization and leadership. According to the email invitation I received, it was to be a silent vigil, but mostly people just talked to each other. At one point, one of those present got some of us to sing a few protest songs, with lyrics he devised to focus on the Occupation and the need for liberation and peace. I left about 30 minutes before its scheduled conclusion, not sure it had ever begun.

I have wondered if this was an organizational fluke–the listed sponsors were four groups, Arab American Institute (AAI), Arab American Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), United Palestinian Appeal (UPA) and American Palestinian Women’s Association (APWA)–or if it reflects deeper disorganization within the Palestinian and Palestinian-American community. I hope it was a fluke. We need a strong Palestinian voice in the Middle East and here.

There was one presence at the White House that was clearly organized and in charge: The Secret Service. When I arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue–it is blocked for through traffic between 15th and 17th Streets and has become essentially a pedestrian mall adjacent to Lafayette Park (except for official vehicles going in and out of the White House)–just before 3 pm, there were hundreds of tourists taking pictures of themselves and their companions with the White House in the background. It was a good-humored gaggle of humanity speaking several languages, doing tourist-y things. I noted uniformed Secret Service agents moving through the crowd.

I found the one lone man with a pro-Palestinian sign and we chatted. Several others joined us. Eventually, our small group moved across the street, closer to the park and in the shade (it was a hot sun), waiting for some others we were told were on their way.

Here’s what it gets informative. When we all–no more than 25, maybe 30 including quite a few teenagers/college students, regrouped on the street directly in front of the White House, many of us with signs protesting the Occupation and other Israeli policies and practices, we were approached by two Secret Service agents. One asked what our purpose was. One of the men in the group who seemed to know more than others said, “We have a permit.” The agent nodded and repeated his question. I did not hear the answer but assume it was to say we were doing what our signs said, protesting the Occupation.

Secret Service agents in front of White HouseThe agents moved away and I, naive and trusting soul that I am, thought that was done . I was disturbed, however, by the question. The right of Americans to gather, the right of public assembly guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, is not dependent on the content raised by those gathering.

Fifteen or so minutes later, the agents moved in more authoritatively and begin telling everyone–tourists, our group and the few individual purveyors of amusement (including the man putting on a Donald Trump mask and getting his picture taken while in some sort of Trumpian pose, and a Christian evangelist–to move across the street. It was done quietly, but it was done efficiently.  Pretty soon we were all across the street behind yellow police line tape. The street was empty but for some Secret Service agents, several of whom held automatic weapons in their hands. Earlier, I had noticed holstered hand guns but not these more lethal weapons.

A few minutes later, one white SUV emerged from the driveway from the White House and drove down the street. I’d like to think that was why agents cleared the street, but there probably were easier ways than closing three blocks containing hundreds, probably more than one thousand, people. For one thing, a few honks and orders from an agent would easily have cleared a path.

We small band of Palestine supporters were the only organized group, the only group with signs who had been in the street. I realized after about 30 minutes of being held behind the yellow tape, and the the agents’ eyes mostly aimed in our direction, that we were the focus, the cause of the herding. I felt for the tourists who just wanted their picture taken as close as possible to the White House.

Then, just as quietly as before, an agent released the tape. It seems logical to me that after the agents watched our rather ragged attempt at singing protest songs–if someone said 10 of us sang I would be surprised (even with a portable speaker we made very little noise)–and seeing that our number did not grow, they decided the President was safe from marauding Palestinian freedom fighters (or terrorists as many would say).

Occupation demo at WH June 4 2017After re-grouping, several of us took a few pictures (I took picture on left of three of our group), and then I began the journey home. I had donned a black and white keffiyeh at the vigil and I wore it home on the Metro to Greenbelt. No one asked me why, on a hot day, I had a large scarf over my shirt, but if they had, I would have told them I was showing solidarity with, and honor to, strong, patient Palestinians who still seek the respect of the world, and most especially of Israel and my own country, the United States of America.

I’ll be back, at the White House or not, and I am sure our numbers will grow. It does not take a multitude to remind me of what is important, even as I know that many will not join until there is a multitude. So we have work to do.

And as Christian theologian, I know that dignity for all, abundant life for all, is God’s charge to us. And it does not matter whose God that is. God says it in every tradition, in every religion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whose Land Is It, Anyway? Part 5

Palestinian claims to this land are as legitimate as Israel’s.

[Part 5 of this series was preceded by the original post on February 4, 2016; Part 2 on February 8, 2016; Part 3 on March 3, 2016; and Part 4 on March 30, 2016.]

It’s been a long time since I visited this topic. The delay stems in part from too much else going on in my life, and from continuing to worry about the topic. Can I say what it seems I must say?

Based on what I have written in prior installments in this series, as well as ongoing research and reading, here is what I believe:

  • Palestinians deserve a true and secure homeland, and Israel must be safe
  • Israel can be safe and Palestine, too, if Israel, the United States and others will work with the Palestinian Authority (and even Hamas) to end the occupation of the West Bank and the isolation of Gaza
  • Rigid, rightist Zionists and their allies in the Netanyahu government must be stopped from their plan to obtain all the land they claim they have from God, often called Greater Israel (meaning in contemporary terms the current State of Israel plus the Palestinian territories), and at other times more expansively historical Israel (relying on biblical texts which extend the claim into other sovereign nations)
  • The United States should spend as much on helping the Palestinians develop their economy, government and social institutions as it does sustaining the Israeli military (Israel will be far safer with this nation-building than with more arms)

In other words, the land in the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories belongs to both people, and a way must be found for both to live there.

It seems clear to me that two forces are making this impossible. One is the ineffective leadership of the Palestinian Authority, called corrupt by many. This is not the focus of this series, but is an important element in the ongoing failure to bring peace and justice to the land. Of course, it is not simply corruption or ineptitude that bogs down the PA, it is also that in reality it exists at the sufferance of the Israeli government and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). Despite declarations by some bodies, one can hardly call Palestine a state because its government does not have typical governmental authority over its own territory.

Indeed, the question of land management reveals how the PA lacks what would be ordinary authority for any government–to issue building permits and enforce land management regulations duly adopted by the civil authority.

jewish-settlement-of-maale-adumin-east-of-jerusalem-sputniknews-com
Jewish settlement of Maale Adumin, east of Jerusalem sputniknews.com

Instead, what is happening in the West Bank–about 60% of which is under full Israeli control (Area C), 28% which is under joint PA/Israeli military control and PA civil control (Area B), and 11% of which is under PA control but subject to Israeli military incursions–seems to be the gradual settlement by Jewish persons in settlements designed to bring about a de facto control the land by Israel.

It is impossible for me to look at these facts and conclude that Israel is not an occupying power. Most of the rest of the world, including the United States and the United Nations, say it is so. Israel denies this. And many Jewish settlers and organizations that support existing and future settlements argue that Israel is not an occupying power but is instead the legitimate government by virtue of God’s grant of all the land of Judea and Samaria to Israel. It is, in the view of settlers, the Palestinians who are out of place, who are interlopers and invaders.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Yochi Damari, who heads a regional council representing Jewish settlements in the Hebron hills, claimed that those resisting demolition of the village of Susiya represent an insidious Palestinian encroachment onto lands the Jewish homesteaders believe were given to them by God.He called the residents of Susiya “invaders” and a “criminal tribe.”

save-susiya
jpost.com

This is in spite of the reality of generation upon generation of Palestinian families who have resided in that village, farmed and otherwise made their living on the land surrounding it. The effort by the government to push the inhabitants out of their village, and other villages, too, is one part of the process by which it appears that Israel seeks to displace as many Palestinians as possible–to create a modern-day, quiet but effective nakba (the Arabic term for the events of 1948, when many Palestinians were displaced from their homeland by the creation of the new state of Israel–either through military action by Israel and/or the Arab nations who invaded to stop the creation of Israel, or through flight brought about by fear after the massacre at Deir Yassin (see “Deir Yassin, Where Are you?”).

But forced removal–by governmental action or by settler intimidation and violence–is not the only way the local Palestinian population is seeing the land vanish before their eyes.

The other method, one that seems far more effective in the long run, is the establishment of Jewish settlements in various parts of the occupied West Bank territories. Another factor, not for discussion now, is the low, almost non-existent, rate of approval by Israeli authorities for Palestinian homes to be built.

I have noticed a common theme in conversations with many U.S. people who oppose BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) and groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (which supports BDS as a non-violent citizens movement centered in Palestine) and others who are critical of Israel. Most say, as they make judgments about the motives and intelligence and ethics of those who they see as anti-Israel (and some who claim anti-Semitic views as the cause), “Israel makes mistakes, of course; for example the settlements are wrong.”

But no one seems to have figured out a way to stop more of them, let alone what to do with existing ones–no one, except the settlers themselves, with the helping hand of the Netanyahu government.

If you doubt this, I invite you to read the New York Times article, “Israel Quietly Legalizes Pirate Outposts in the West Bank.  The Times is generally very uncritical of Israel, both in its reporting and on the editorial pages, so this report is important. The Israeli daily, Haaretz, also reports formal approval of more new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank (see “Israel Approves Hundreds of Homes in West Bank Settlements”). .

The Times article traces what happens when settlers move into an area without authorization and establish homes: eventually, the government recognizes realities and gives the settlers legal permission to be in their homes. What I learned during my visit to Israel and the West Bank in October, 2014 is that once a settler or settlers have a home set up, the IDF generally provide them protection, a de facto recognition of the legitimacy of unauthorized, or illegal, settlements.

israeli-flag-and-idf-soldiers
chinadaily.com.cn

Haaretz outlines how the Netanyahu government is trying to move forward with settlement construction without incurring the wrath of the U.S. government. So far, that government is doing quite well. U. S. protests seem to carry not penalty, the language feeling more like a plea to stop doing something rather than an action to stop it.

So, whose land is it, anyway? If possession is nine-tenths of the law, as I was taught in childhood, then increasingly it appears the land belongs to Israel. The Palestinians are losing ground, day by day.

Will this bring peace? No! Of course not–it will only bring more unrest.

Many say, with some accuracy in a legal way, that there never was a nation called Palestine. They say this means that Israel’s claim is paramount (not to mention the view of biblical literalists) and must carry the day.

However, these people, whom we have come to call Palestinians, are a people of the land. This land. They did not emigrate from Eastern or Western Europe or the United States or Latin America or Africa in order to create a homeland. They had a home, they had homes here for generations. Now their homeland is occupied.

palestinian-flag-with-lone-man-in-demo
news.yahoo.com

Their claim to this land is as legitimate as Israel. Some would say more. I might agree, except that we must work within the legal decisions by the League of Nations and the United Nations.

And Israel, as the occupying power, had best learn the lesson every occupying power in history (including the British whose mandate from the League of Nations to govern this land was a violent episode that drove them out)–namely that the local people will use whatever means is at hand to drive out the occupier.

It is time for settlers and others, including the government, to give up the dream of a  Jewish state within the borders of the current legal territory of Israel and the occupied West Bank–to give up the idea of Greater Israel without Palestinians–and to make peace with the reality on the ground.

God’s ground, the ground belonging to several groupings of God’s people.

 

 

 

Deir Yassin, Where Are You?

In October, 2014, I visited Jerusalem with my husband Jonathan.While he spent his days participating in the annual conference of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, I visited sites in Israel and Palestine. I went first to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It was appropriate to do so; it is like making confession before praying. To say it was a moving experience is to engage in gross understatement. Two elements were particularly moving to me (and I was touched everywhere I turned). First was the memorial to the children lost in the Holocaust. I could not stop weeping. Second, I went to the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto. At first, I had a hard time seeing it. I was standing in the middle of very large space that looked like a town square. But there was nothing there. Then I realized that was the memorial . . . there was no one left. The people were wiped out. Only the town square remains. More tears.

A few days later, I traveled to Kfar Shaul, a mental hospital a little ways further out from Jerusalem than Yad Vashem. A participant in Jonathan’s conference told me he had walked from Yad Vashem to Kfar Shaul in well less than an hour.

Why did I go to the site of a mental hospital? I went, as I went to Yad Vashem, to honor the dead and missing, this time those killed on April 9, 1948 and those who fled the killing from what was then a small Palestinian village, Deir Yassin. The attack on the village by Zionist paramilitary groups, the Irgun and Lehi, was part of the fierce fighting that was going on between local Arabs and Jews for control of land that was to become the State of Israel.

Reports of the killing of villagers in Deir Yassin spread quickly among many villages and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians began.

Kfar Shaul entrance
The entry gate to Kfar Shaul, with the buildings of Deir Yassin behind. Author’s picture

Today, instead of a marker for the lost village, or any other sign of what happened here 68 years ago today, now the village buildings comprise an Israeli mental hospital called Kfar Shaul. Of course, that facility is behind locked gates, and there is no public entry. There is here an echo of the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto–nobody remains.

I have written the poem below–and I continue to work on it, because it feels incomplete yet–to commemorate my visit in 2014, and to keep erasure of Deir Yassin before us. I will not forget. I ask that you not forget either.

Deir Yassin, Where Are You?

The distance between
Yad Vashem
and
Kfar Shaul
more than a stone can throw
less than a good morning walk
but the canyon
between
each
gapes wide and deep like yes and no
a wound buried in enough denial to be ignored

Deir Yassin, where are you?

I.
Yad Vashem
records the horrors of
Holocaust
the truth of inhumanity
shining the deepness of honesty on brutality
recounting the names and faces of victims
recalling the perpetrators of butchery
recording the names of the righteous among the nations who refused to lie in bed with evil

Tears flow
hearts ache
minds recoil
as we repeat
Never Again
Never Again
knowing
in the lurking memory of time
it is a promise
we may not keep

Yad Vashem.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

II.
Kfar Shaul
tells a different story
speaking in code known to those who want to forget
a moment of silence lasting lifetimes
a center for mental health
mental
health
resting on
the remains of a village
living in denial recording nothing of the souls buried beneath its glassy façade locking patients and remembrances of things past lives gone
behind security cameras and guard posts

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

III.
It was a day in what should have been another lifetime
but feels like only yesterday
the wounds buried
just deep enough in denial to be ignored
continuing the mournful fugue of historical futility
A
day
April
9
1948
righteous men believing in a vision to reclaim their ancient home
struck out at villagers in homes
these in the wrong place at the wrong time
on the wrong side
at least the losing side

Deir Yassin, where are you?

100 or 250 gone of 600 or 750 inhabitants
depending on the history we read,
one-sixth to one-third gone
whatever your source
reports of rape
men paraded through Jerusalem
to the cheers of other men
and then shot
others dispute all the horror
blaming it on Arab soldiers
whose single-fire guns sought to stave off
automatic weapons and mortars

Still

Deir Yassin,where are you?

IV.
The exodus
of villagers not just Deir Yassin
250,000 refugees in camps
symbol of the new order
creating fear among people without an army even a government
some said they did not even exist
living in a land without a people

Deir Yassin, where are you?

The conquerors
terrorized in other lands
hated and feared and maligned
survivors of the slaughtered
came
a people without a land
to call home
filling the homes of those who fled
becoming a people and a land as one
prosperous and strong
proud and feared
hated too

Deir Yassin, where are you?

V.
Are you under the wound
scabbed over now
by a place for
mental health
a place of screams and dreams
of loves and lives lost
remembered
repeating in flashing fits of confession and accusation
rambling humbled haunted tales of fear and illusion
even bouts of sometimes reality?
Yad Vashem.
Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

No word
about what lies buried
under

Deir Yassin, where are you?

No names on homes still standing as offices and cottages for the new village inmates
even as their walls and doors and windows and roofs hold the secrets of yesterday’s disappeared

VI.
A visitor
stands on the sidewalk
tearfully remembering the histories he has read and Holocaust stories he can almost recite word for word from memory
and the endless arguments about who killed how many in ‘48 and ‘67 and ‘73 and ‘14 and all the other years too
and why it had to be so
persist like a bad dream growing more weird
frightening
ugly

Yad Vashem.
Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

His mind reciting
repeating
mumbling
stumbling
Never Again
Never.
Again.
Knowing
knowing
knowing
it is a promise
we have yet to keep

Deir Yassin.
©Robin Gorsline 2016

Whose Land Is It Anyway?

Jerusalem City wall en.wikipedia.org
Jerusalem City wall
en.wikipedia.org

As readers of this space may know from prior postings, I am deeply concerned about the plight of Israel/Palestine, a territory divided by politics, history, and violence. Coupled with that is my fear that voices in this country, like voices there, are shouting across a cavernous divide rather than finding ways to speak more carefully and softly in hopes of shrinking the chasm between two injured, and injuring, people.

Sadly, it is difficult to speak softly, gently for very long, even if your intentions to do so are clear and well grounded–largely because someone will take issue with you and point to a fact that they believe utterly disproves, or undercuts morally, what you are saying. It is easy to point with alarm and view with fear in every moment, because there is enough history of pain and suffering and violence on all sides to sustain endless argumentation.

Yes, on all sides.

Old City, Western Wall trekearth.com
Old City, Western Wall
trekearth.com

I want to be clear about one key point. I love Israel; I have felt that way for a long, long time. I am just two years older than that nation and I do not remember a time when in my home we did not support the right, the need, of Jews for a recognized safe homeland in that ancient land.

My love for Palestine is no less, although it has a shorter history. For a long time, I never thought about Palestine or Palestinians. There were just the people, a small group I thought, who seemed to get in the way of Israel. More recently, as the result of considerable reading as well as a visit to Israel/Palestine in 2014 and long discussions with people whose wisdom I trust, I have come to see the Palestinians as a people who deserve, who need, a home, a safe home for themselves.

For some time, I more or less thought that somehow these two peoples would, with the help of my country, work things out.

But that is not happening. The chasm grows instead of shrinking.

Palestine countryside palestine-family.net
Palestine countryside
palestine-family.net

I am quite sure that whatever I say will make very little difference in the effort to change direction away from confrontation and violence and repression toward real conversation, deep truth telling and confession, and reconciliation. But I must break through my own fears and speak as authentically as I know how. If I do not, who will speak for me?

I am going to have to write many posts about this, because there is much to say. Today, I start with some perspective about me.

I consider myself a liberation theologian within Christianity, meaning that I view the world from the underside of history, that I see through the eyes of faith a God who stands, and calls us to stand, with “the least of these,” that I read the Bible as a record of how, in many different contexts and eras, God calls people to care for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the power-less.

In that worldview, I am formed by a tradition that first goes way back to Hebrew prophets (my parish priest for 20 years was a lover of the Hebrew Bible and all things Jewish and he showed me the power and beauty of Judaism), as well as Jesus (himself a Hebrew prophet in many ways). and more recently with people and theologians and religious leaders in Latin America, Asia and Africa who have done and are doing theological exploration in what are sometimes called “base communities” (created by the poor themselves as well as those policed and kept in check by the privileged authorities) as well as groups in more affluent places, including Black and Latino people in our own nation, feminists, LGBT and Queer, Native American, and differently-abled communities of interest and struggle.

Israeli countryside, road to Jerusalem ronnaliyah.blogspot.com
Israeli countryside, road to Jerusalem
ronnaliyah.blogspot.com

The reader may begin to understand that, given this orientation which developed long before I had any awareness of the depth of the pain in Israel/Palestine, I have some real sympathy toward the Palestinians–definitely the less powerful of the two peoples. In a liberative world view, power and power analysis is central to understanding where we discern God calls us to stand.

But of course, it is not so simple. I have real sympathy for the Israelis, too, for Jews generally, because anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviors–what is often called anti-Semitism (a misleading term in this context because Palestinians are Semitic peoples, too)–is still a major force of intolerance and violence in the world. Jews have been underdogs for far too long, and much of it due to people in my religion (I admit to being utterly baffled by why people who profess to love and follow Jesus hate his people so much).

The Wall walkerart.org
The Wall
walkerart.org

I started out today to write about some current events–Jewish efforts to get state legislatures to adopt bills against the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement, as well as new information about tourism in Jewish settlements in the West Bank (settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and others, and illegitimate by our own government).

But I realized along the way I need to address a deeper theological issue first: whose land is it? Or to put it another way, what can we learn about this dysfunctional situation by looking at history, both in that part of the world, and even in our own, when people contest with each other over territory?

I am not going to start that today, but I will be exploring that question in future blogs.

In the meantime, I invite you to sit quietly if you can, and contemplate peace, think peaceful thoughts, send out peaceful feelings any way you can–especially peace among Palestinians and Israelis. Perhaps you can even use one of the pictures on this blog post as a point of meditation for peace.

 

 

 

 

The Hard Truth of Beloved Community

Today is the day we celebrate the gifts of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. to our nation and world. 

Martin Luther King, JRThis is a time when many in our nation participate in some action that they believe helps us achieve Dr. King’s vision of “beloved community.” My intention is to continue to do that continually throughout the year, throughout my life, and my hope and prayer is that is true for others as well. 

Yesterday, I heard a fine sermon by Rev. Dwayne Johnson at Metropolitan Community Church in Washington, D.C. in which he focused on the active love of God working in and through us. He drew much inspiration from early writing of Dr. King, such as “An Experiment in Love,” which appeared in in 1958 in a magazine and also as a part of his early book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Circle.

In that article, Dr. King focuses on the Christian ethical concept of agape (a transliteration of the Greek word for love), often described as God’s love for humanity. This love is different from love songs and courtship. He wrote

Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. 

Community. There are so many forces, so many people, seeking today to disrupt, even destroy community. From politicians to terrorists to intolerant individuals and xenophobic groups, our life in community is under siege. Dr. King would be preaching, writing, marching, praying to turn that around.

Jonathan and Robin JVP Islamophobia actionSome of the worst right now is virulent negativity toward Muslims and Islam (of course, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere, as well as transgender people, differently-abled people, and LGB people continue to face this, too). 

That’s why Jonathan and I, with other members of the DC Metro Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, went yesterday to the Columbia Heights neighborhood in our nation’s capital to focus on Islamophobia and to encourage others to join in opposing this harmful attitude that seems to be affecting, infecting, so much of our public discourse. 

About 20 of us handed out flyers, talked to people on the street, and visited store managers and owners asking for permission to put posters in their windows. About 25 retailers accepted the posters and quite a few hung them immediately in their windows. We are shown with one poster, and the other is below. 

Many of us also wore small stickers in the shape of the yellow star Jews were forced to wear in the Holocaust with the word “Muslim” (and the Islamic crescent) super-imposed where the word Jude (German for Jew) was usually displayed. This was not without controversy for some, but the intention was to express solidarity with a people being marked for ugly treatment on the basis of their religion and heritage.

yellow star with Muslim and crescentI also know that expressing that solidarity right in the face of so much hatred is what so many should have done in Germany and elsewhere, including in the United States, when Jews by the millions, and many others (my own tribe, gay men, wore the pink triangle), were being forced to leave their homes and be slaughtered. Just think what might have happened, how different things might have been, if people–non-Jews all over–had stood up in 1935, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, etc.! Hitler and his minions did the deeds, just as others engage in genocide and racial profiling that leads to death and imprisonment for far too many today, but we all bear responsibility for whatever we did not, do not, do to stop it. 

Refugees are welcome here posterThis is what Dr. King meant when he often spoke of the silence of the “good people,” the ones who look the other way in the face of injustice. As Dr. King, and so many who marched with him, knew well, we are called on to speak truth to power when, as it so often is, it is on the side of oppression. And too often for some, perhaps many depending on the circumstances, the power that oppresses some actually sustains, even raises, the rest of us. It is not easy to stand up against our own group when it is wrong, but if we want beloved community, the community which is the whole of God’s people (all people are God’s people) to survive and thrive, we must do just that. 

The fate of community, beloved community, rests not only with others but also squarely with us. Thank you, Dr. King, for not letting us forget that truth. 

 

The Country Is Going Down the Slippery Slope Fast

Can anyone be unaware of how angry many Republicans, very conservative Republicans, ae? As I ponder many things I am reading these days, I think I can understand why, from their vantage point, the nation feels in grave danger.

  • vogue.com
    vogue.com

    I have been reading some blog posts about a movement called Free the Nipple–a campaign to change our laws and practices so that women can be bare-chested in public just like men. It seems fair and right to me. Why the double standard? And did you know that it was not until the 1930s that men in the United States could legally go around bare-chested in public (including at the beach)? But some on the Right say the growth of this movement surely is the result of the Supreme Court decision to legalize marriage between two women or two men. Slippery slope here we go!

  • ibtimes.co.uk
    ibtimes.co.uk

    I went to a rally last evening in the District of Columbia to protest the American Enterprise Institute giving Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu an award–and to protest Israeli policies that are causing such pain to Palestinians. The most moving speaker was a lawyer, a Palestinian himself admitted to the bars of Israel, Palestine and the United States, who spoke of the need for empathy. He said that is missing in the attitudes of many Israelis, including the Prime Minister and his government, towards Palestinians. But he also said empathy is needed for Jews who have suffered great trauma. The key difference he said is that Israelis have great power and Palestinians have very little. The second most moving speaker was a young Palestinian-American poet who read about visit to Palestine where he began to claim his Palestinian name, Amin, rather than going by his middle name, Drew. I encourage you to listen to the poem, “Amin,” read at a poetry slam, available here. Here too, you can see how things are unraveling. Israel is, many on the Right believe, our most

    Amin Drew Law vine.com
    Amin Drew Law
    vine.com

    important ally, needing and deserving rock solid U.S. support–whatever Israel wants, Israel gets–and the Prime Minister is right about everything (unlike our President, who is wrong on just about everything, including most of his Middle East policy, except for giving billions to Israel). . . .  but every where the voices of criticism are rising. This must be Obama’s fault. . . . everyone knows he is a Muslim in Christian drag and really hates Jews (and especially Netanyahu).

  • FILE - In this Friday, April 11, 2014, file photo, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe participates in a news conference in Rolla, Mo. Missouri football players announced Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, on Twitter that they will not participate in team activities until the university president is removed from office. The move aligns the team with campus groups who have been protesting the way Wolfe has dealt with issues of racial harassment during the school year. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
    University of Missouri System former President Tim Wolfe, who has resigned theblaze.com

    The President and Provost of the University of Missouri have resigned, succumbing to pressure from students and faculty angry at them and the university for a lack of sensitivity about white racism. There were other issues, but it seems anger about inadequate responses to racism that was the most persistent issue. Nobody says it for publication, but I keep hearing what feels like another slippery slope argument. . . .  elect a Black man as President of the United States and this is what you get: uppity students forcing a good white man out of office to appease Black militants. And this is the real kicker: the football team, supported by their coach, threatened not to play if the university president did not resign. The “real men” on the campus refusing to play . . . . America is really in trouble!

So, is President Obama really to blame for everything? Even the campaign for women’s embodied equality? Yes, even that it seems. If he had appointed justices like Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alito–those wonderful Bush II appointees (or even Justice Thomas, courtesy of Bush I), then the decision in the marriage case would have gone the other way. Obergefell v. Hodges would have left the sanctity of “traditional” marriage intact.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz bbc.com
Texas Senator Ted Cruz
bbc.com

So, folks are angry, and they show it by supporting people who want to evict 11 million people from our country, believe abortion is genocide as practiced by Planned Parenthood, and vow as public servants and leaders to disobey orders of courts with which they don’t agree to protect the rights of people to discriminate against some people based on their religious beliefs.

All this is but the surface. I did not mention guns or health care, for example. And there is so much more.

But for today, I guess, these three will be enough. Times really are tough.

dailymail.co.uk
dailymail.co.uk

You just know that pretty soon naked women will be parading on Capitol Hill demanding paid leave for child care. Israel will have to pull back the settlements of all those peace-loving good Jewish neighbors in the West Bank. And all the university presidents in the country will be Black (maybe a few of them women, too, but at least they probably won’t go topless).

Oy vey! We need to make America great again!

Not in God’s Name?

I will go to Shabbat this evening, sharing with my Jewish husband and many other good and faithful people in saying prayers and singing beautiful, haunting songs of God’s power, goodness, and mercy. We will say to each other, “Shabbat Shalom,” sabbath peace.

Mishkan TorahI have come to cherish this time, to be accepted as a member of the temple, even as I continue my worship and identity as a follower of Jesus. Both Congregation Or Ami, the Reform congregation in Richmond, and Congregation Mishkan Torah, the Conservative/Reconstructionist temple in Greenbelt, recognize our family (Or Ami did so before we were legally married, and I think it would have been the same at Mishkan Torah).

I learn much about faith and living from the wise and deeply spiritual rabbis who lead these two congregations and from other leaders and members, too. Judaism is a beautiful faith and these are beautiful people. I am blessed. I grow in spiritual depth by being fed at temple, and participating in the life of the congregation.

boycott_divestment_sanctions_560I also am troubled. During recent High Holy Days services, speakers told us about the importance of buying Israel Bonds. They also spoke of how wrong any efforts, such BDS (Boycott Divestment, Sanctions), to change Israeli policy through pressure from the world, were wrong, even evil. We were told that BDS seeks to destroy Israel. I have read and heard people say that Jews who support these efforts are self-hating Jews. Even the idea of selective boycotts–not buying products from selected companies who are part of maintaining control of Palestinians–are judged as anti-semitic. The implication is, for me, that I and other non-Jews who may support at least some of these efforts are anti-Semitic.

Int._Day_Against_Fascism_and_Antisemitism
en.wikipedia.org

Of course, it is hard to escape anti-Semitic attitudes–like white racism, homophobia, sexism, they are part of the air we breathe (even after the Holocaust and a desire for “never again”). But I have worked hard to overcome it, and am committed to opposing it every way I can.

Free Palestine and anti-semitism
http://www.thoughtsplural.com/ (of course, Jews are not the only Semitic people)

But that does not mean I accept everything done by the State of Israel as good, any more than I accept everything done by the United States of America as good. And it surely does not mean that I want to do to others what has been done to Jews.

Now comes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who claims it was a Muslim leader, Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who gave Hitler the idea, or if not the idea then the push, to burn all Jews. Historians universally scoff at the claim, as do many Israeli leaders, including some in the Netanyahu cabinet.

ibtimes.co.uk
Benjamin Netanyahu ibtimes.co.uk

The Prime Minister, admittedly never a favorite of mine going back to when he was the Israeli Ambassador to the UN in the 1980s, seems to be seeking to deflect any criticism of Israeli actions towards the Palestinians by suggesting that the current wave of violence, and by extension all the Palestinian anger and violence in prior years, is due to only one cause: an ancient animus of Muslims and Palestinians toward Jews.

It is true that the Grand Mufti was an odious anti-Semite. And it is true that many other Arab leaders, and people, have been so, and continue to be so. It is disappointing, to say the least, that the current President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has not condemned the violence and sought to stem it.

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas news.bbc.co.uk

At the same time, there seems to be ample evidence that Abbas and the authority are not inciting it either. Frankly, Abbas is a pretty weak figure, and that is in part due to how ineffective he and his government are seen by the people in changing the living conditions of Palestinians.

What Mr. Netanyahu may want to consider is the contribution his government, and prior Israeli administrations, make to this perception among Palestinians. Perhaps if they could find ways to lessen the Israeli control of Palestinian lives, to allow more movement not less, to stop what would be considered racial profiling in this country, to provide access to more water, to stop bulldozing Palestinian homes (those of the families of bombers as well as just ordinary people), or join the President of Israel in acknowledging some of the wrongs done to Palestinians over the decades–any one or more of these things or others–then perhaps there would be ways to stop or even slow the escalating cycle of violence.

As it is now, the cycle is picking up speed and intensity. Tighten the screws, and Palestinians will react more angrily. Tighten again in response, and more anger, more bombs, more cars used to run over people, etc. Tighten more, more reaction, etc. I for one cannot see that Israel is being made more safe by all this.

My friends who stand with Israel–with only muted criticism, if any–will say Israel can’t afford to be weak, that the Palestinians cannot be trusted not to take advantage of any kindness for their own gain. They have evidence to support the claim.

I acknowledge the risk.

But I also know this. People revolt against what they perceive to be unreasonable authority, people fight back against oppression. And they will not stop until it is over.

The forced marchof Cherokee westward voice.nationalgeographic.com
The forced marchof Cherokee westward voice.nationalgeographic.com

This is part of our national history here, too, as our nation overrode the anger of Native Americans to losing their land–by wiping most of them out, and put the rest on reservations. I do not want that for Palestinians.

And I take them at their word that the leaders of Israel do not either. But frankly the Prime Minister’s comments feel all too much like a set up for justifying actions I, and most others, would find odious. I do not say he wants that, but it is a slippery slope he is on. It is too easy to move from mass condemnation of a people to deciding they should be removed or massacred or otherwise overrun. Jews surely know this. The rest of us should know it, to our shame.

And here’s something to ponder: is the history of Islam one long effort to kill Jews? No. When Christians were on vengeful Crusades, it was often Islamic people, among others, who protected Jews.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks www.cbcew.org.uk
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
www.cbcew.org.uk

It is too easy to get inside your own “in group,” into dualisms, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, and decide that the other group is entirely to blame for whatever ails you (Rabbi Sacks writes of this in an excellent book, “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence”). We have to break that cycle in many places in the world, most certainly in Israel/Palestine.

Somehow, some way, these warring peoples have got to find ways to live together. Shalom. 

Or they shall die together, not in the dignity of old age but in every growing hostility and conflagration.

God weeps at the prospect.

Jerusalem Journal #3: Letting Go of Who Did What to Whom and Who Did It First

Jerusalem YMCA
YMCA, headquarters for the IAPSP Conference (author photo)

[Note: In October, 2014, I accompanied Jonathan on a trip to Jerusalem. He was going to the annual meeting of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology (IAPSP). He spent much time in meetings while I was free to travel, visiting sites within Jerusalem and beyond. I have posted two times already about this trip; you can see those postings by clicking on these dates: October 31, 2014 and January 5, 2015. I also posted on a related topic, namely an important book, The Lemon Tree. Click on the title to see that post.]

I had intended to write much more about my impressions from last October’s trip to Jerusalem, as well as to continue reflecting on this bedeviled conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Partly, preparations for moving, and the move, from Richmond, VA to Greenbelt, MD got in the way.

12184_565702306776905_1535647524_n
nikkikubanminton.com

But more, I think, was my growing realization at how I despair over two things that must happen: that Israel will shift its mindset and strategy and the Palestinians will respond productively. Someone has to change, significantly, if this perpetual, and seemingly self-perpetuating, crisis is to shift from a deadening into a life-giving mode. I believe it is incumbent on Israel to engage in a major shift. I say that because it is my belief that it is usually, if not always, the more powerful party in any dispute–certainly one in which both parties have legitimate concerns and interests, as is true here–that has to move the most.

Just as disempowering as my despair was my fear that many of my Jewish friends in the United States–not to mention those Israeli (and other) Jews I met at the conference whom I admire greatly–would become angry at me, perhaps even cutting off our friendship, if they understood that and other points I feel compelled to make (I will reflect another time on my continuing struggle to stop being governed by my fears of what others will, or do, think).

Faults
hrringleader.com

But let me be clear. This is not a one-sided conflict. Both parties, all parties (certainly including the government of my country, and thus me), bear responsibility for the mess that now exists. There is more than enough blame to go around. Somehow, we have to get beyond the blame game.

This was brought home to me with great power during one part of the international conference. Prior to the formal sessions, I joined Jonathan and other conferees and spouses on a trip to Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab city, situated 15 Kilometers southeast of Tel-Aviv, near Ben-Gurion International Airport. According to the conference organizers, Lud, “despite the enormous potential of this ancient-contemporary city . . . has been plagued by a poor image for decades: its population of 75,000 people is constantly struggling with social, economical, multi-cultural and ethnic problems that make the city an example of the painful term – ‘social periphery.'” 

NY Times
NY Times

Indeed, the session was billed as “Self Psychology and Weakened Populations: A Tour of Lod.”  Weakened populations, as I understand the organizers, are places where all of us, not just the subject peoples, bear responsibility for deterioration. They are communities where empathy is required, but empathy that helps create concrete action for change. This action involves more than just the weakened group; it must include those who have been party to the weakening. To my way of thinking, this is the situation in the United States among white people, as we need to make concrete changes to lift our social boot off the backs of the still-weakened African American, and Native American, populations.

It is appropriate that IAPSP is involved in this new understanding, because at the heart of self psychology is empathy. The IAPSP tour organizers wanted us to see what will become the new headquarters of the Israel Association for self Psychology and the Study of Subjectivity (the Israeli affiliate organization which hosted the conference), and they also wanted us to hear from a diverse group of local people about the efforts to build a new society in Lod.

Houses in Lod www.haaretz.com
Houses in Lod www.haaretz.com

Included in the local people were the leader of a local program to teach agriculture to students, both Palestinian and Israeli, and a teacher in the program. Part of the goal is to teach the students how to share the land, how to treasure it together for the benefit of all.

Both educators were amazing in their ability to convey, despite language difficulties, a deep desire to create a truly multi-cultural community in Lod, and to help this ancient area recover from serious decline over the past several decades. The teacher, a woman, was the most articulate. During question time, I asked her, a Palestinian whose family lived for generations in that area, how she felt about the participation of Jewish people in this work, given that her family had been displaced by the Israelis more than once. She said, “We will never move forward until we choose to let go of who did what to whom and who did it first.”

I cry right now as I write about that moment–empathy at work in her, breathtaking in its simplicity and power.

seeing with the eyes of another
quotesgram.com

So often, people who speak in or about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict pronounce from one box or the other, talking past the people in the other box. Wisdom comes in refusing to be put in one box and learning what to believe and say from your own space (which contains parts of many boxes), and at the same time hear the other, with empathy and a desire to understand.

But it is not enough to speak and listen with care, vital though that is. That we must act on what we know seems clear, even as our actions must be laced with empathy and a desire to understand others.

My training, and engagement, in Christian liberation theologies, feminism, and political theory, as well as my understanding of Judaism, lead me to act based not only on ethical perspectives but also to engage in power analysis to aid in promoting productive action. In future posts, I shall explore more of this trip, as well as reflect on new learnings, with the goal of contributing to a dialogue for peaceful, life-enhancing change in the haunted land of Israel and Palestine.

For now, let us remember empathy, indeed, let us be empathic.

Time for More Grown Ups

The debate about the Iran deal reveals a fundamental divide in our politics.

Here is how I frame the two points of view–and you will have no doubt of where I stand.

gunslingerAre we forever consigned to be macho tough guys, enforcing what we think is right no matter what anyone else thinks?

Or can we take a chance on working with others–in this case Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany–to do something that just might avoid war as well as avoid further nuclear proliferation?

The former is the Netanyahu way, and I must say often the John McCain way, and certainly the way of the current crop of Republican presidential contenders.

President Obama took office, and has held office, during a time of international shifting currents. We are no longer the sole super power, even though we have more military prowess than anyone else. Even so, he has wisely tried to minimize our military George W. Bushengagement around the world, while being unafraid to use our force when it could do something significant. I actually think President George Bush was moving in this direction as well, after the disaster of Iraq and even Afghanistan.

So far as I can tell, not a single Congressional Republican is supporting the Iran treaty deal. Two Senators, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine, were considered undecided. Senator Flake gave in to pressure and announced his No vote. That still leaves Senator Collins. She gets in trouble fairly often for voting her own way, but she may be the only one.

Senator Susan Collins
Senator Susan Collins

There are not many Democrats opposing it, but there are some, including Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the presumed next Majority Leader after the next election. He is a big deal in his caucus, and no one is calling him names, at least in public. But I think it safe to say that any Republican in Congress supporting the treaty will get called a lot of ugly names.

This is distressing. It really has become a partisan struggle.

Actually, I think it has become, once again for some, about President Obama. Too many just can’t stand the idea that he might do some really good, and big, things. They are automatic votes against anything significant that he proposes. That is not, of course, true for all of them, or even for most. But they do comprise a significant body of Republican legislators.

However, that is small potatoes. The bigger issue is how the United States chooses to live with others in the world.

Donald Trump wants to make America great again. He defines that as being Number One–having more marbles than anyone else, having the toughest military, and basically standing astride the world.

His fellow contenders basically agree, except for Senator Paul of Kentucky. But even he is soft-peddling his aversion to intervention in the world.

William McKinleyThis harking back to Reagan, or Eisenhower, or McKinley (and Theodore Roosevelt) to be honest, no longer works. The world is very different. China’s economy can unsettle all the rest of us. Asia as a whole is the new world (again, I suppose we should say). Britain and France need us, but not like they used to, and Germany has shown she will go it alone if necessary.

We cannot bully our way around the globe. We must learn to play well with others.

Ultimately, that will be the way to stop ISIL and the religio/politico fanatics in Teheran and actually save their hated neighbors in Tel Aviv (who too often act like fanatics themselves). As long as we keep insisting on bombing and sending in troops as the way to No Bullying symbolsolve everything, falsely self-identified Islamic extremists will continue to win the recruiting campaign, and the violence will continue recycling.

Grown ups are needed. I thank God every day that we have one in the White House (albeit he can be petulant and distant at times). It seems Merkel of Germany is one, too, and perhaps Hollande of France.

I pray for more, right here in the United States, as well as around the globe.

Loving What Gets in the Way

More than one million people marched in Paris, in solidarity with the victims of the violence perpetrated by some thugs masquerading as devoted followers of Allah and the Prophet Mohammed. They also marched in support of free speech for all.

Of course, such speech does not, and cannot, include violence. It must be peaceful speech, albeit often passionate and unsettling and irritating and even enraging to those who disagree.

The perpetrators cited what they called “blasphemy” against the Prophet in a cartoon in an irreverent publication. That was their alleged reason to kill twelve people, and terrorize many more, attempting to terrorize a nation, indeed the world.

Muhammed giving a sermon, Medieval manuscriptNever mind that the Quran does not speak of blasphemy. The medieval image (right) of Mohammed preaching is from “Depicting the Prophet Mohammed” on a blog by Clouddragon (click here to read and see more).  Images of the Prophet are common in the history of Islam (although not in mosques and other holy places, to guard against idol worship). According to Fareed Zakaria, “On several occasions, Muhammad treated people who ridiculed him and his teachings with understanding and kindness.” (you can read more from Zakaria here).

fareed_zakaria_
Fareed Zakaria (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

We are having a hard time with dialogue these days. Our national leaders seem unable to engage in meaningful conversation across the political party divide. Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and so many of their people, have so little regard for, or trust of, the other that it seems most doubt their shared humanity.

How can we change this? It seems clear to me that these leaders–and others around the globe–cannot be trusted to do it. It is up to people, ordinary people, people like you and me.

It starts with living our own lives as peacefully as possible. That means setting our intention to be peaceful. And loving. Caring. Trusting. Inviting trust by being trustworthy ourselves.

That means loving our enemies as we love ourselves, loving our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, and Matthew 19:19, Mark 12:33, and Luke 10:27).

Neighbors are important in this. It is not enough for us to be loving in ourselves; the seriousness of these times require that we band together with others to practice love more fully and actively, relying on each other to encourage us in difficult times and to hold us accountable for our shortcomings.

Orest Bedrij
Orest Bedrij (source: Yonhap News)

We need a new peace movement, from the ground up. We must, I believe, learn to be more God-like. I don’t mean to be God, but live grounded in the family inheritance of godliness, to live as the children of God we are.

The poet Mark Nepo quotes Orest Bedrij, scientist, businessman and author (Seeing God Face to Face), as saying, “To know God without being God-like is like trying to swim without entering water.”

Pollyanna? Maybe. But what else is there?

Jonathan and I have joined a small group, Richmonders for Peace in Israel and Palestine (RPIP), to help educate citizens here about the issues in that conflict and to work together to create peace. Yes, create peace.

Peace is created out of the chaos and anger and animosities and conflicts and poverty and wealth and hope and joy of life as it is lived every day. It takes work, more work than war, which is why we have so much war and so little real peace.

RPIP is committed to showing films and hosting discussions about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. We want people to have more information, not less. And we want the information to be less filtered than what we so often receive through our mainstream media. There is not one of us in RPIP who wants Israel to die, indeed a safe and thriving Israel is our goal, side by side with a safe and thriving Palestine, but we also recognize that, like our own country, Israel has made many mistakes and bears significant responsibility (though far from all responsibility) for the rise of an angry Palestinian/Islamist movement.

Book of AwakeningThis is not to let the hoodlums in Paris off the hook, not at all, but it is to say that if all we–whatever we are–do is engage violence with more violence, no matter how righteous–or even just have a march–then they will keep on killing. And the killing will get worse and worse.

Mark Nepo offers a startling thought: “the best chance to be whole is to love whatever gets in the way, until it ceases to be an obstacle.” (The Book of Awakening, p. 13)

Who do I need to learn to love today? And you? And how do we show the love? How do we stay with it and nurture it even in the face of hate?

No answers here today, but a heart that yearns for peace. Join me, I hope.