Thursday, July 24, 2008

Caterpillar Fashion

Caterpillar fashion
By Gideon Levy
Ha'aretz -- Thursday - July 24, 2008

Israel might be able to go on claiming that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, but it cannot do the same regarding another weapon of mass destruction: the bulldozer. The claim that terror has adopted an original new weapon, a "new fashion" as the public security minister put it, once again shows how convenient it is for us to present a one-sided and distorted picture.

The bulldozer as a destructive and even lethal weapon was not invented by the Palestinians. They are merely imitating an Israeli "fashion" that is as old as the state, or at least as old as the occupation. Let us forget for a moment the 416 villages Israel wiped off the face of the earth in 1948 - that was before there were D9 bulldozers - and focus on a more modern fashion. In Israel's hands the bulldozer has become one of the most terrifying weapons in the territories. The only difference between the Palestinians' murderous bulldozer and the Israeli bulldozer is in color and size. As usual, ours is bigger, much bigger. There is no similarity between the small backhoe the Palestinian terrorist was driving and the fearsome D9 driven by Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

From the dawn of the occupation, Caterpillar has been a major arms supplier to Israel, no less than those who provide planes, cannons and tanks. Not for nothing are peace activists trying to call for a boycott of the manufacturer. Israel has sown almost unimaginable destruction using heavy equipment. Go to Rafah, stopping in Khan Yunis on the way, and see the results of the destruction scattered there to this day. Whole neighborhoods razed, the contents of houses - possessions and memories - crushed under the treads. Have you ever seen a street after being "stripped" by a bulldozer? Cars are crushed like tin cans and homes become piles of rubble, along with their contents. Any street in Rafah looks much worse than King David Street in Jerusalem this week.

In 2004, for example, 10,704 Palestinians were made homeless after the IDF destroyed 1,404 homes, mostly in Gaza, due to "operational needs." In the Jenin refugee camp, Israel destroyed 560 homes; the legendary bulldozer driver "Kurdi" told how he would swig whiskey as he "turned Jenin into a soccer field." In Operation Rainbow, another bulldozer operation, Israel destroyed 120 homes in one day in the Brazil camp in Rafah. Only someone who was in Rafah and Khan Yunis at the time can understand what our excellent bulldozers did.

Do not say that our bulldozers only destroy but do not kill. Who killed peace activist Rachel Corrie if not a bulldozer whose driver, according to witnesses, saw her before he crushed her to death? And what about the Shubi family in the Nablus casbah - a grandfather, two aunts, a mother and two children - crushed under bulldozers? And who killed Jamal Faid, a handicapped man from the Jenin camp, whose wheelchair only was found under the ruins of his house, with his body never recovered? Was that not bulldozer terror?

The Palestinians discovered the bulldozer quite late. What is good for us is good for them. And how do our security experts propose to fight the new fashion? By demolishing the houses of the terrorists. With bulldozers, of course.

Is Obama Missing Something?

What Obama missed in the Middle East
Barack Obama's visit to Israel and Palestine this week seemed designed to appease pro-Israel groups in the US

Ali Abunimah

Wednesday July 23, 2008
The Guardian (UK)

When I and other Palestinian-Americans first knew Barack Obama in Chicago in the 1990s, he grasped the oppression faced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation. He understood that an honest broker cannot simultaneously be the main cheerleader, financier and arms supplier for one side in a conflict. He often attended Palestinian-American community events and heard about the Palestinian experience from perspectives stifled in mainstream discussion.

In recent months, Obama has sought to allay persistent concerns from pro-Israel groups by recasting himself as a stalwart backer of Israel and tacking ever closer to positions espoused by the powerful, hard-line pro-Israel lobby Aipac. He distanced himself from mainstream advisers because pro-Israel groups objected to their calls for even-handedness.

Like his Republican rival, senator John McCain, Obama gave staunch backing to Israel's 2006 bombing of Lebanon, which killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and the blockade and bombardment of the Gaza Strip, calling them "self defence".

Every aspect of Obama's visit to Palestine-Israel this week has seemed designed to further appease pro-Israel groups. Typically for an American aspirant to high office, he visited the Israeli Holocaust memorial and the Western Wall. He met the full spectrum of Israeli Jewish (though not Israeli Arab) political leaders. He travelled to the Israeli Jewish town of Sderot, which until last month's ceasefire, frequently experienced rockets from the Gaza Strip. At every step, Obama warmly professed his support for Israel and condemned Palestinian violence.

Other than a cursory 45-minute visit to occupied Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians got little. According to an Abbas aide, Obama provided assurances that he would be "a constructive partner in the peace process." Some observers took comfort in his promise that he would get engaged "starting from the minute I'm sworn into office". Obama remained silent on the issue of Jerusalem, after boldly promising the "undivided" city to Israel as its capital in a speech to Aipac last month, and then appearing to backtrack amid a wave of outrage across the Arab world.

But Obama missed the opportunity to visit Palestinian refugee camps, schools and even shopping malls to witness first-hand the devastation caused by the Israeli army and settlers, or to see how Palestinians cope under what many call "apartheid". This year alone, almost 500 Palestinians, including over 70 children, have been killed by the Israeli army - exceeding the total for 2007 and dwarfing the two-dozen Israelis killed in conflict-related violence.

Obama said nothing about Israel's relentless expansion of colonies on occupied land. Nor did he follow the courageous lead of former President Jimmy Carter and meet with the democratically elected Hamas leaders, even though Israel negotiated a ceasefire with them. That such steps are inconceivable shows how off-balance is the US debate on Palestine.

Many people I talk to are resigned to the conventional wisdom that aspiring national politicians cannot afford to be seen as sympathetic to the concerns of Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims. They still hope that, if elected, Obama would display an even-handedness absent in the campaign.

Without entirely foreclosing the possibility of change in US policy, the reality is that the political pressures evident in a campaign do not magically disappear once the campaign is over. Nor is all change necessarily for the better.

One risk is that a President Obama or President McCain would just bring back the Clinton-era approach where the United States effectively acted as "Israel's lawyer", as Aaron David Miller, a 25-year veteran of the US state department's Middle East peace efforts, memorably put it. This led to a doubling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, an upsurge in violence and the failed 2000 Camp David summit where Clinton tried to pressure Arafat into accepting a bantustan. A depressing feature of Obama's visit was the prominent advisory role for Dennis Ross, the official in charge of the peace process under Clinton, and the founder of an Aipac-sponsored pro-Israel think-tank.

Whoever is elected will face a rapidly changing situation in Palestine-Israel. A number of shifts are taking place simultaneously. First, the consensus supporting the two-state solution is disintegrating as Israeli colonies have rendered it unachievable. Second, the traditional Palestinian national leadership is being eclipsed by new movements including Hamas. And, as western and Arab governments become more craven in the face of Israeli human rights violations, a Palestinian-led campaign modelled on the anti-apartheid strategy of boycott, divestment and sanctions is building global civil society support. Finally, the demographic shift in Palestine-Israel toward an absolute Palestinian majority in all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be complete in the next three to five years.

Making peace in this new reality will take leaders ready to listen and talk to all sides in the conflict and to consider alternatives to the moribund two-state solution, such as power-sharing, confederation or a single democratic state. It will require, above all, the courage, imagination and political will to challenge the status quo of Israeli domination and Palestinian dispossession that has led to ever more violence with each passing year.

Is Anyone Listening to This?

Op-Ed Columnist
Tough Love for Israel?
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Published: July 24, 2008
On his visit to the Middle East, Barack Obama gave ritual affirmations of his support for Israeli policy, but what Israel needs from America isn’t more love, but tougher love.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Nicholas D. Kristof

Particularly at a time when Israel seems to be contemplating military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites, the United States would be a better friend if it said: “That’s crazy” — while also insisting on a 100 percent freeze on settlements in the West Bank and greater Jerusalem.

Granted, not everybody sees things this way, and discussions of the Middle East usually involve each side offering up its strongest arguments to wrestle with the straw men of the other side. So let me try something different.

After I wrote a column last month from Hebron in the West Bank, my blog,, was flooded with counterarguments — and plenty of challenges to address them. In the interest of a civil dialogue on the Middle East, here are excerpts from some of the readers’ defenses of Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and my responses:

Jews lived in Hebron for 1,800 years continuously ... until their community was murdered in 1929 by their Arab neighbors. The Jews in Hebron today — those “settlers” — have reclaimed Jewish property. So I don’t see what makes them illegitimate or illegal. (Irving)

True, Jews have deep ties to Hebron, just as Christians do to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but none of these bonds confer any right to live in these places or even visit them. If Israel were to bar American Christians from Jerusalem, that would not be grounds for the United States to send in paratroopers and establish settlements. And if Israel insists on controlling the West Bank, then it needs to give citizenship to Palestinians there so that they can vote just like the settlers.

One side is a beautiful, literate, medically and scientifically and artistically an advanced society. The other side wants to throw bombs. Why shouldn’t there be a fence? (Mileway)

So, build a fence. But construct it on the 1967 borders, not Palestinian land — and especially not where it divides Palestinian farmers from their land.

While I do condemn this type of violence, it pales in contrast to Palestinian suicide bombers, rockets and other acts of terror against Jews. (Jay)

B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, reports that a total of 123 Israeli minors have been killed by Palestinians since the second intifada began in 2000, compared with 951 Palestinian minors killed by Israeli security forces.

To withdraw from the West Bank without a partner on the Palestinian side will find Israel in the same fix it has once it withdrew from Gaza: a rain of daily rockets. Yes, the security barrier causes hardship, but terrorist attacks have almost disappeared. That means my kids can ride the bus, go to unguarded restaurants and not worry about being blown up on their way to school. Find another way to keep my kids safe, and I’ll happily tear down the barrier. (Laura)

This is the argument that I have the most trouble countering. Laura has a point: The barrier and checkpoints have reduced terrorism. But as presently implemented, they — and the settlements — also reduce the prospect of a long-term peace agreement that is the best hope for Laura’s children.

If Israel were to stop the settlements, ease the checkpoints, allow people in and out more freely, and negotiate more enthusiastically with Syria over the Golan Heights and with the Arab countries on the basis of the Saudi peace proposal, then peace might still elude the region. But Israel would at least be doing everything possible to secure its long-term future, rather than bolstering Hamas.

If there is no two-state solution, there will be a one-state solution — and given demographic trends, that will mean either the end of Israeli democracy or the end of the Jewish state. Zionists should be absolutely clamoring for a Palestinian state.

Laura is right about the need for a sensible Palestinian partner, and the failures of Palestinian leadership have been legion. At the moment, though, Israel has its most reasonable partner ever — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — and it is undermining him with its checkpoints and new settlement construction.

Peace-making invariably involves exasperating and intransigent antagonists and unequal steps, just as it did in the decades in which Britain struggled to end terrorism emanating from Northern Ireland. But London never ordered air strikes on Sinn Fein or walled in Catholic neighborhoods. Over time, Britain’s extraordinary restraint slowly changed attitudes so as to make the eventual peace possible.

I hope Mr. Obama, as a candidate or as a president, will be a true enough friend of Israel to say all this, warmly but firmly.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog,, and join me on Facebook at

Monday, July 21, 2008

Is There a Significant Saudi Religious Attitude Change?

I've abbreviated a lengthy report from Rabbi Michael Lerner (TIKKUN)who was part of an Interfaith Conference in Madrid, Spain recently. It was too long for our readers, but I'm publishing an abridged version. Should you wish to read the whole thing, go to TIKKUN's website.
The part I've omitted has to do with his extended conversation with King Abdullah's cabinet and is more specifically about the Israeli/Palestinian situation. There was not enough "new" there for my readers; but it is interesting enough.
What is needed most definitely is a change in religious attitudes by Jews, Muslim and Christians, to live up to the highest traditions of our religions: tolerance, "love" for the stranger, nonviolence, and a willingness to genuinely listen to each other's "faith" journeys with an openness to learn. JRK

My Talk with the Saudis, and What I Learned from Them

By Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor,TIKKUN

I had expected the World Conference on Dialogue convened by the King of Saudi Arabia July 16-18 [2008] in Madrid, [Spain] to be little more than a photo op for the King, a cheap way to buy good public relations for a regime that has refused to increase production of oil as a way to reduce the current surge in the price, provided haven and support for the Wahabist stream of Islam that has fostered extremists like Saudi-born and raised Osama bin Laden and many other, and has done far too little with its wealth to alleviate the poverty and suffering of many in the Middle East.

For that reason, when the Embassy called me to invite me I at first declined the invitation, and only changed my mind a few days before the event when it became clear that many establishment Jewish leaders were planning to attend, so my presence there would not be giving legitimacy that these other leaders had not already given.

Imagine my surprise, then, to hear the Saudi King not only affirm the centrality of tolerance and dialogue, but speak in a language that, as one Muslim observer pointed out to me, sounded more like the New Bottom Line of the Network of Spiritual Progressives than it did like a speech of a self-absorbed monarch. [He is certainly also that, and my praise for his actions in starting what may be a process of Glasnost and Perestroika is the Muslim world does not mitigate against the strong ethical revulsion I have at a society that does not allow the practice of any other religion besides Islam, for decades prevented Jews from even entering the country, even when they were members of the US Armed Services, systematically subordinates and oppresses women, and beheads people for "crimes" like adultery].

King Abdullah started with a strong affirmation of the goal of a new kind of tolerance between religions. Religions have not caused wars, said the King, but rather extremists who have misused religion in a hurtful and harmful way. A truly religious person would not resort to war, the King reminded us. But why do people respond to the extremists? Because there is a deep spiritual crisis in the world, and it is that crisis which creates the conditions in which exploitation, crime, drugs, family breakdown and extremism flourish.

The King went on to explain that it should be the task of the various religious communities of the world to work together to overcome that spiritual crisis. But that will require religious cooperation which must begin with mutual respect and tolerance. We need to emphasize what all religions have in common--the ethical message that permeates every major religion. That message is that hatred can be overcome through love. We in the religious world need to choose love to overcome hatred, justice over oppression, peace over wars, universal brotherhood over racism.

To me, this didn't sound like the King I had come to expect from Western media. This was obviously a new direction being articulated by the King of Saudi Arabia. Moreover, it was not just being articulated for a Western audience. The King had convened a similar meeting of Islamic scholars and thinkers in Saudi Arabia six weeks before, and there had championed this new approach for Islam as the one most authentically rooted in traditional Islam (an argument made previously by many Western Islamists-but when they were making that argument, the Saudis seemed to be aligned with the other side, the more reactionary and anti-tolerance forces). . . .

It remains to be seen whether the King can impose his new tolerance over a Saudi society which has not done much yet to embrace this new tolerance. But if the Saudis do in fact allow other religions to teach their ideas and practice their religions in Saudi Arabia, and if they can make other changes in law that embody a new spirit of respect for human rights, that could have a huge impact throughout the Islamic world. Moreover, even if none of this happens very soon, we should understand that in changing ideologies, statements of a new worldview are themselves acts of importance-sometimes writing or saying things (e.g. writing the Declaration of Independence or giving a speech about the failure of Stalinism or writing a book about the way that Israelis kicked Palestinian non-combatants out of their homes and into refugee camps) can be just as important an action as any other. . . .

The Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others who were
in attendance here were props for this discussion, but what the King of Saudi Arabia was doing was nevertheless of historic significance. In a previous meeting in Mecca with Islamic religious leaders, he faced considerable opposition to his proposal for an interfaith conference around dialogue and mutual understanding. He had used his power and authority as the Guardian of the Sacred Mosques of Mecca and Medina to override opposition and go forward with this conference. Precisely because Saudi forms of Islam are perceived as the most conservative, taking this step is certain to reverberate for decades through the Islamic world and to be an historical marker in the process of modernization in Islam. For Islam, this gathering and the one before it in Saudi Arabia were roughly equivalent in significance to that of Gorbachev announcing the beginning of a new openness and tolerance toward the West that was the first step toward the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

And there is also another dimension. The Saudis are implicitly taking religious leadership in the struggle with a reactionary version of Islam that has emerged in Iran. Though Iran was never mentioned, this gathering, plus the actions of the Prince of Jordan in calling for an Islam that works in cooperation with the Western world and with other religious communities, renouncing the "conflict of civilizations," appears to be a major challenge to the growing appeal of Iranian forms of Islam among young Muslims who are filled with righteous indignation against the West in light of the devastation brought to Iraq by the US and the UK. . . .

I am not an advocate for the Saudi regime, but I now see that there are elements in it with a true and deep humanity. I see the fundamental decency of some who are engaged in an effort to "reform from within," and am reminded once again of how ridiculous it is to talk about a whole society as though it represented a single perspective or shared a single worldview. I also see now the need to work with the most progressive elements, and the need to avoid "Othering the Other. . . .”

Another point about the media: this conference is a front page story in most of the world, but is being largely ignored in the US media who were notably absent from the hundreds of media covering this event. This is a willed ignorance about the world fostered by the US media establishment.

What was also clear to me in this conversation was that these very enlightened Saudis had NEVER met or been in a conversation with Jews who held progressive values and took those values seriously. For them, it was an exciting revelation that there were Jews who were both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, who could hold both narratives as having elements of truth and elements of goodness, just as it was exciting to them to learn about the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives. They too had fallen for the media distortions and for believing that the American elites with whom they have had contact represent the democratic will of the American people, so they were happy to be disabused of that notion.

I came away from this direct time with the Saudis with the distinct impression that I had helped foster more positive notions about who Americans are, who Jews are, and what Israelis are about. I believe that this happened in many other conversations that took place in the hallways between the 20 or so Jews at the conference and the hundreds of Muslims and Christians. While some of those Jews probably conveyed the same stuckness and stubbornness that Israel and the American Jewish establishment always conveys, there were fresh thinkers like Rabbi Michael Paley, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, Rabbi Phyllis Berman, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Marc Gopin, Rabbi Scott Sperling and Rabbi David Rosen who each have creative and exciting ideas on how to continue this dialogue. For that, as for many other aspects of this set of conversations, I give thanks to God for the opportunity that I have had to serve the causes of peace and reconciliation!