By Janet Weil and Rae Abileah

“As a Jew, an American and a mother, the invasion of Gaza filled me with unbearable sadness. While Hamas’ attacks on Israeli villages are deplorable, Israel’s disproportionate response is unconscionable… In loving memory of our ancestors and for the future of our—and Palestinian—children, more American Jews should speak out and reach out.”
~ Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK co-founder

The High Holy Days are a time to review the past year, to acknowledge our moral strengths and weaknesses, and to turn toward the New Year with a renewed commitment to living our values. One part of that process of “teshuvah ve tzedakah”, turning and returning, is to tell the stories that powerfully illustrate the Jewish values of devotion to life and justice. During this period of intense reflection, two courageous young Israeli women who refused to serve in the Israeli army will share their stories in a national tour called, “Why We Refuse: A National Tour of Israeli Young Women for Peace,” from September 11 to October 11.

Maya Wind and Netta Mishly, both 19, are part of a group of Israeli high school seniors called the Shministim (“twelfth-graders”) who went to prison for their principled refusal to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) upon graduation because of their opposition to Israel’s policies toward Palestine and occupation of its territories. About 100 Israeli youth, including Maya and Netta, have signed the 2008 Shministim letter articulating their reasons for refusal including “Israeli ‘defense’ methods: checkpoints, ‘targeted’ killing, roads for Jews only, sieges and more, which serve the land seizing policy, annex more occupied territories into Israel and trample on Palestinian human rights… It is impossible to harm and imprison in the name of freedom, and thus it is impossible to be moral and serve the occupation.”

Netta, at the age of sixteen, was an organizer for an alternative education project. It was in this project that the idea of the 2008 Shministim letter was born. In 2009 she was sent to jail for 20 days after refusing to serve in the Israeli army. Since her release, she has been involved in immigrant and refugee struggles as well as anti-occupation actions.

Maya works for Rabbis for Human Rights, and guides political tours in East Jerusalem and the West Bank for the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions. She also co-leads the Jerusalem dialogue youth group of New Profile, the feminist movement for the demilitarization of Israel.

“We believe it is important to spread information about the Israeli occupation and about and the movements that work against it,” said Maya, who grew up attending religious Jewish schools. She joined the Shministim in December 2008 and spent 40 days in prison before her release in March. “We feel it is important to expose the American people, specifically the Jewish community, to the role they play in maintaining the occupation. We hope to empower people our age to take responsibility by taking a more active role in the resistance movements.”

Many more American Jews have begun to question and speak out against the Israeli occupation since the January 09 assault on Gaza. According to a March 2009 poll of American Jews, 60 percent oppose the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and 72 percent favor America’s assuming an active role in the peace process, even if it means having the U.S. take tough positions such as publicly disagreeing with both the Israelis and Arabs or exerting pressure on both parties to make compromises. In the same poll, 59 percent of American Jews felt that Israel’s military action on Gaza had no effect on Israel’s security (41 percent) or made Israel less secure (18 percent), while only 41 percent felt it made Israel more secure. What these young conscientious objectors have to say about the occupation and the militarization in Israeli society is of critical importance for us.

Maya Wind and Netta Mishly refuse to rule over an occupied people. They refuse to contribute to a deadly cycle of violence with their neighbors. They refuse to confiscate land, to demolish homes, to detain Palestinians without charge. They refuse to guard checkpoints, to enforce a siege, to usher in a humanitarian disaster.

“Last year Jewish Voice for Peace sent over 40,000 letters of support to the Shministim as they were going to prison,” said Sydney Levy of Jewish Voice for Peace. “We must continue to let the world know that for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, Israel’s occupation must end, and that a new generation of young people is willing to go to jail to stand up and say NO.”

Whatever our position on the many issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have a unique opportunity to learn as we listen to Maya and Netta discuss their personal experiences of growing up in Israel and becoming conscientious objectors, and how Americans can become part of a movement away from constant conflict and insecurity, and toward a durable peace with justice.

For more info on the tour, organized by CODEPINK and Jewish Voice for Peace, please visit www.whywerefuse.org or email locals@codepinlalert.org.

“This new generation of young Israeli kids is standing up to the government – they call ‘em ‘Shministim.’ … They believe in a better, more peaceful future for themselves and for Israelis and Palestinians, and they are refusing to join the Israeli army. They’re in jail, holding strong against immense pressure from family, friends and the Israeli government.” – Ed Asner, “The Shministim” from Huffington Post

You are being invited to buy into the image of Tel Aviv as the “Mediterranean capital of Gay tourism,” tempted by “[t]he people, the bars, the parties, the restaurants, the white sandy beaches, the sense of absolute freedom – these are the components that justify this image.” But this is just an image, an image they are “working non stop to build”, as letter writer, Yaniv Waizman (Tel-Aviv City Council Member and Chairman of the tourism committee), himself notes. Before you book your ticket or tell your friends how fun Tel Aviv is (and yes, it is fun) I want to take a moment to invite you not just to celebrate the freedom bestowed upon some in that city, but also the freedom denied to others by the very same politicians, the same political discourse. Especially in days and weeks after the attack on the Agudah in Tel Aviv, the rights of some are being celebrated in direct conjunction to the denial of rights of others, and it is becoming more and more clear that those embraced in the communal “we” is a select group—Jewish citizens of the state, especially gender conforming, especially Ashkenazi, especially upper class, especially men. So instead of allowing the Israeli ministry of tourism to sell you an image, here are some thoughts about what it means to me to be an Israeli queer, an invitation to building solidarity with Israeli queers in our own struggles to make this land a more just place for all.

Israel is so proud to represent itself as a liberal state, and recently has touted Tel Aviv’s gay-friendliness in particular. Contrary to this representation, I do not experience being queer in Israel as a privilege bestowed upon me by the state (though as a Jewish citizen of course I have considerable rights denied others). Instead, queer visibility in Israel is about undermining the dictates of the state and resisting the policing of bodies and lives – ours and others. Queer resistance goes hand in hand with resisting the oppression of other minorities and refusing complacency and collaboration.

This attack, all appear to agree, was not perpetrated on what we call in Israel the “national background,” meaning it did not have nationalistic motivation, but it is still part of that background. This homophobic attack is linked to the occupation by the discourse of “terrorism” (and the material reality of it) as well as the discourse of “rights” (and the way they are denied so many). When Israeli media and politicians talk about supporting equal rights for gay people, they elide the more fundamental issue of basic human rights systematically denied to so many by this state.

This irony is suppressed in the general discourse following the attack, as well as during the vigils taking place afterward as well. Nisreen Mazzawi of Aswat Group – Palestinian gay women, reported that neither a representative from Aswat, nor former member of Knesset Issam Machool, were allowed to speak.

Angry queers take to the streets daily, refusing condolences and consolation from those same politicians who are responsible for so many Israeli violations of human rights, and the protest of this attack is immediately understood in the larger context of what we need to resist here (and in fact just after the attack a group of activists, many of whom were queer, faced police violence and arrest as they protested home-demolitions in East Jerusalem).

I understand this attack, and to a certain extent the discourse following it (celebrating freedom for some, continuously ignoring and denying rights of others), as directed against the possibility of queer existence, against our already limited (if not futile) acts of resistance against a system in which patriarchy, heteronormativity, militarism and occupation are completely intertwined.

No matter how much officials speak out against the attack or try to paint it as an exception in an otherwise liberal and accepting state, the attack is not an exception. It is an extension of the violence perpetrated by the state against so many in this land, and it is further proof that there can be no double standard, with rights for Israeli Jews (especially white, Ashkenazi, middle-class, and straight), and the oppression of so many others others (non-Jews, undocumented workers, Palestinians to name a few). Violence against some people can never make other people safe. My freedom cannot come at the expense of someone else’s freedom. I vehemently refuse to allow Israel to exploit me as an example of its supposed progressiveness. I refuse to be used for propaganda. I think we all must refuse to be used to justify the silencing of others. And as always we must refuse to allow our dissent to be silenced.

So if you choose Tel Aviv as “your next holiday destination,” please keep in mind those folks you won’t see on the beach, those under siege in the occupied territories, those hiding from immigration police, those whose gender non-conformity makes them unsafe. We want Tel Aviv to be safe, we need it to be safe, but the recent attack is a reminder that it still isn’t safe. It is not time to come and celebrate yet.

crossposted from Mondoweiss

Lamia Khatib, wife of detained organizer Mohammed Khatib, of the Popular Committee Against the Wall And Settlements in the village of Bil’in, has an essay up on Huffington Post recounting the arrest of her husband. The article includes a description from her husband of life in the village lately:

As I write these words, it’s almost midnight and we are sitting on the roof of my house, on the look-out for the Israeli army. It’s been two months since the most recent wave of night raids began, with the army now employing a new strategy of arresting every villager who attends the demonstrations, in an attempt to crush our campaign of nonviolent resistance. Up until now eleven people have been arrested, but the list of those wanted is much, much longer. So in Bi’lin, no one goes to sleep before four or five in the morning. We stay awake all night, observing the movements of the Israeli military, fearing that we may be the next person to be kidnapped and thrown in jail. Our nights have become our days, and our days have become our nights. For some it is more difficult than others because of work commitments, but we have no choice.

But it’s not only the adults who stay awake. Our children can’t sleep either, afraid that the army will burst into his or her room in the middle of the night. They don’t knock on the door during the night raids. So imagine the horror for a child to wake up to find a stranger with a painted face pointing his gun in their face. We don’t stay up so much to avoid arrest, but to avoid facing this terrible moment.

Mohammed begins his story recounting a nightmare his son Khaled had where he imagined being shot by an Israeli soldier. The photo at the top of this post is from a delegation to Israel/Palestine that I co-led in 2007 when I worked at the American Friends Service Committee. The boy in the photo had been collecting bullet shells and tear gas canisters that the IDF had shot at unarmed protesters during the weekly protests in Bil’in. The boy himself had already been shot three times by rubber coated bullets. Still, he attended the protests against the Wall.

Khaled’s nightmare was unfortunately not the product of an excited imagination, but from seeing his friends and family invaded, harrassed and at times killed by an occupying army that operates with impunity. When will the world say “enough”?

(Thanks to Ethan Heitner for passing this article along.)

Adam Serwer over at The Root has a great new post called “The Self-Hate Hustle.”

Serwer draws a parallel between divisions in Jewish communities over Israel and divisions in (U.S.) Black communities “about loyalty and authenticity.” Describing Netanyahu’s characterization of David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel as “self-hating Jews” based on their support of a settlement freeze, Serwer writes,

What makes this kind of argument particularly interesting, however, is how much it resembles intraracial arguments between black folks about loyalty and authenticity. In the eyes of those who support all of Israel’s actions uncritically, the “Juicebox Mafia” are “House Jews”: Jews whose positions on Israel are motivated by their internalizing long-standing anti-Semitic myths and identifying with those who seek to oppress the Jewish people. These Jewish conservatives are, ironically enough, embracing the same kind of bare-knuckle identity politics as the blacks they love to hate.

More »

North Carolina is not known as hotbed of Jewish political activism, or Jewish anything for that matter. It’s no Berkeley, and it’s certainly not Brookline, but things are growing. This year the NC Havurah will be hosting a wonderful Yom Kippur retreat at The Stone House. So if you live in the area (or you’re willing to travel), come join us in building a spiritual and radical religious community at a two day Yom Kippur retreat full of study, singing, fasting, and prayer.

We plan to create a spiritually uplifting, emotionally engaging, introspective, and welcoming space. In addition to focusing on our personal atonement we will be talking and reflecting critically about the teaching/meaning of Yom Kippur in the context of the ongoing occupation of Palestine and Palestinian people. We welcome people who identify in a diversity of ways. This will be an antizionist, nonzionist, diasporist, queer and trans positive space.

We will spend Sunday day in a variety of workshops, studying and discussing the themes, prayers, practices, and meaning of Yom Kippur. This will include private and paired engagement in teshuva (a return/change/repentance/transformation/healing process) to help us reflect on where we have been in the previous year and where we aim to be in the year to come. Sunday evening and Monday we will observe Yom Kippur together through prayer, singing, fasting, and reflection. On Monday evening we will break fast together.

Services, study, and discussion will be led by Rabbinical student and activist Ari Lev Fornari, and others.

This spiritual radical retreat will be held at The Stone House in Mebane, N.C.

SUNDAY:
Workshops 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Festive Meal to Start the Fast 5 p.m.
Kol Nidre Services 6:30 p.m.

MONDAY:
Yom Kippur Retreat 10 a.m. – Sunset
Break Fast 6:30 p.m.

Festive Meal and Break Fast are potluck. Drinks will be provided.

In order to offset the costs associated with the retreat, we ask that you make a financial contribution that meets your budget anywhere in the range of $25-$150. No one turned away for lack of funds!
In order to plan properly, we ask you to pre-register by emailing temaokun@earthlink.net. Let us know whether you will be attending Sunday and/or Monday and/or both and indicate whatever contribution you feel you can make (if you can).

LGBT Vigil in Jerusalem August 2, 2009

9 Aug 2009 In: Israel, LGBTQ

Check out Michelle Goldberg’s new web-only piece, “Same As It Ever Was?” up at The American Prospect. Her tagline, or more likely her editor’s tagline, for the article wonders if the “pro-Israel lobby, long seen as an immutable part of American politics, may be headed toward obsolescence.” I’m not sure if I buy that, since I feel like many of my peers consider AIPAC already irrelevant at best and destructive at worst; obsolescence seems like the wrong characterization.

Nonetheless, it cracks me up to read that Charles Bronfman, of all people, is

worried that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is hurting the country’s relationship with young Jews in the Diaspora.

That’s right, Bronfman’s considering tweaking his position on Israel because might just be getting in the way of the only thing more important to him than Zionism – Jewish survival!

“We turned from David to Goliath in 1982, with the invasion into Lebanon, and the Arabs became David,” he told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz last week. “Now everybody’s worried about the Palestinians. Now we’re occupiers, oppressors, who live by the sword. That’s what you see in the media, and it festers and has effects on the general population and on Jews as well.”

Goldberg takes Bronfman’s seeming reconsideration of his position on Israeli politics as a sign that the Establishment is finally “younger Jews are more ambivalent about their ostensible birthright than their parents are [and] don’t share past generations’ automatic support for Israeli policies.” She seems to take J Street as representative of the positions of these elusive “young Jews,” which is an improvement – I suppose – but doesn’t begin to show the diversity of critiques of Zionism and of Israeli policy that exist among Jews (not all of us young, either.)

I would have liked to see Goldberg look at more grassroots, localized engagement by young Jews (since they/we seem to be her object of study) with Israeli policies and politics, and with their relationship to Zionism as a philosophy and a movement. J Street and other lobbying groups may be a useful counterweight to the efforts of AIPAC & co. in Washington, but they don’t represent the extent of the discussion, and can’t alone be the basis for political or communal change.

I should stop turning my cell phone off when I go to sleep at night. In the past, I thought it was a good idea so that wrong numbers and drunk calls would not wake me in the middle of the night. Now I think I need to leave my phone on. Too much happens late at night and early in the mornings that I don’t want to leave off until I turn my phone on in the mornings. Two things happened that I found out about only after I turned my phone back on.

Saturday night, there was a shooting at the Tel Aviv GLBT community center. Two people were killed and 15 more were injured when a masked gunman walked in and opened fire with his M-16 on a group of teenagers at their support group. I am shocked and saddened.

The next morning, two Palestinian families living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem were forcibly evicted from their homes.

In the past two weeks I’ve spent a good deal of time with these families, in their homes, hearing their stories. One night last week I slept at one of their houses to try and prevent their eviction. The Israeli police arrived early this morning, they broke windows and arrested 21 people (3 Israeli and the rest international) who were sleeping at the houses to possibly deter, and if not, document the state’s actions. After the Police forcibly removed the two Palestinian families from their homes, they escorted a group of settlers into the homes. Internationally, a large and broad consensus has denounced these evictions as a case of a politically ideological group exploiting the legal system to obtain unjust and immoral results.

I see these two events, which happened hours apart, as being connected. Both events impacted marginalized communities; communities fighting for full and equal rights. GLBT Israelis face high levels of homophobia and discrimination, while Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are systematically denied full rights because of their status as “residents,” and not citizens. Additionally, the timing of the first seems to be acting as an opportune distraction and cover for the second. The media, both Israeli and international, is focusing coverage on the Tel Aviv shooting. They should. It is an important story and deserves coverage. But the time of the eviction appears to have been chosen for a moment when Israelis and the world would be distracted.

All of this is to say, I woke up at 7:30 this morning. When I finally turned my phone on at 8:15, I learned about the shooting from last night, and the eviction from early this morning. I’m not sure what knowing sooner would have gotten me, but still, I needed to know. From now on, I’m sleeping with my phone on.

Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem

3 Aug 2009 In: Israeli Occupation

crossposted from ibn Ezra

East Jerusalem is heating up. Israeli forces removed families in Sheikh Jarrah this morning. Jewish settlers moved in shortly after. International, Israeli, and Palestinian protesters have been demonstrating throughout the day. I will be posting a proper video from the scene tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, please see this report from Al Jazeera about the mornings events, as well as my video report from two weeks ago about the situation.

1.
It feels like the night of Rabin’s assassination.
A sharp slap in the face – the shock is so much greater than the pain.
A point of no return.

Since the hitter is probably motivated by his own fears and self hatred and fed off a petri dish of ill beliefs – the mission and responsibility to be smart about it is back on us who believe in love, freedom and respect – to teach, protect, act with dignity and pride. and accept.
A big heavy weight to bear right now.

2.
The Israeli collective defense mechanism includes false notions of pluralism, democracy and multi-culturalism.
These illusions serve as a smoke screen, smudging its internal reality- a complex reality of a small place in the desert where indigenous, ethnic and other minorities are denied their basic rights.
The shooting Saturday exposed one susceptible group.

Dana International, Miki Buganim and Nora Greenberg live their lives authentically, refusing the smoke screen and choose to generate change.

3.
My heart goes out to the young people for whom their shelter became a trap.
To their families and friends, to those they loved and will love.


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