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Archive for the ‘Healing Israel/Palestine’ Category



Why A Ramah Counselor Spoke-Out About the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters Last Week

Nov17

by: Sylvie Rosen on November 17th, 2017 | 7 Comments »

Protest of the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters
Protest of the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters. Image courtesy of author.

Anyone who knows me knows that I grew up at Ramah. Without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Ramah is a holy community, a Kehilah Kedoshah, as we say. This summer, when a fire burned down our main building, people posted on Facebook, donated money, and reached out to me individually. I felt supported by the entire National Ramah movement.

But where is that same support, community, and strength in our conversations, actions, and education on Israel/Palestine? Although Ramah changes me and lifts me up in so many ways, it fails me every year in one way: by perpetuating lies about the Occupation.

Not once, in my combined ten years at Ramah in the Berkshires and Ramah in the Rockies, did anyone mention the Occupation. We don’t talk about it because we want to pretend it doesn’t exist every summer.

In my three summers on staff, none of our programming ever attempted to address the Occupation. Instead, on Yom Israel in 2016, staff instructed campers to build mock settlements as a fun competition that demonstrated how Jews built Israel from nothing. No one mentioned that people lived on that land before. In our dining tent, we have a map from The Nachshon Project showing where all the famous Biblical characters lived in Israel/Palestine — stealthily laying claim to the idea that only Jews have a historic right to the land. We have maps of Israel across the camp to emulate the Israel Trail, but not one of them outlines the Green Line. This past summer, during our staff training session on Israel, we talked about our feelings and relationship to Israel, but never about the Occupation. The unspoken agreement about the Occupation was: it’s complicated, difficult, and not appropriate for a summer camp.

This is an educational and moral disaster.

Rabbi Cohen responded in Haaretz to our campaign the day of the Speak-Out and Teach-In I participated in last week: “We [Ramah and IfNotNow] don’t differ on the importance of teaching our teens and staff about the difficulties of the occupation.”

But if that is true, then the attempts made have been at best inconsistent and inadequate. In the past I’ve made excuses for Ramah because I want it to be the leader in the American-Jewish community that it claims to be. I told myself that the rest of the work Ramah does outweighs these issues. I was scared to disagree with the place is so central to my identity.

But I can’t maintain this lie anymore, which is why I went to the Speak-Out and Teach-In outside the National Ramah Commission last Tuesday. I joined because I want to see systemic change, and I know our community can do better than individual private meetings that superficially deal with this issue. We have to hold Ramah accountable and we can’t do that in a private setting. We want change for this summer, and we need public support for that. This is why we have invited Rabbi Cohen, to a public forum to talk with alumni and members of the Jewish community.

When I return to Ramah this summer along with 11,000 other people, I want our work and community to truly be holy, Kedoshah, by truthfully and thoughtfully educating campers and staff about the realities of the occupation.

I also want to address how we should educate campers and staff on the Occupation this summer. We must acknowledge the reality that millions of Palestinians live under Israeli military rule. IfNotNow has compiled a list of some resources we can use to teach campers and staff how to think critically about Israel. But this is just a start, it shows that this kind of education is possible and that other Jewish educators are doing it.  We need to upend the idea that Israel education and all Jewish education cannot include discussions about the Occupation. For those at Ramah who are professional Jewish educators, addressing the Occupation is as part of their job as teaching campers how to lead shabbat services — and we must hold them responsible for that.

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Sylvie Rosen is an IfNotNow member and Ramah camp counselor.

“Complicated” isn’t good enough. It’s time for the Conservative movement to address the occupation.

Sep29

by: Naomi Heisler on September 29th, 2017 | Comments Off

When I spent the winter of 2009 with my Solomon Schechter Westchester classmates on a two month-long trip to Israel and Poland, we were told to keep a journal that would chronicle our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and would serve as a reminder of our trip and of what we were “fighting for.” This journal would remind us of our tears at Auschwitz, our delight at floating in the Dead Sea, and of squeezing our own letters into a sea of other hopes and prayers at the Western Wall. After our trip, we participated in a seminar led by the David Project, a right-wing Israel advocacy organization that armed us with talking points for defending Israel on our college campuses. The message was loud and clear: the state of Israel would shield us from the unspeakable horrors of another Holocaust, and yet it was under attack. Our role as newly-formed adults was to defend Israel against “delegitimization,” against the scourge of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, against professors who would only teach “one side,” and against our non-Jewish classmates.

I recently came across my old journal, and in between florid descriptions of hikes and play-by-play analyses of each interaction that my crush and I had were the seeds of uncertainty. How did the state of Israel play into my identity as an American Jew? What did it mean to advocate for Israel both inside and outside the bounds of The David Project? And how could I reconcile the way that Schechter took us to the site of the King David Hotel bombing and took us to meet with members of the settlement of Efrat, with Israel we were told was purely peace-seeking country? Was Schechter the school that mentored me as I co-founded the school’s first Young Democrats Club, and asked us to contribute dozens of service hours to our communities each year, or was it the school that couched decades of brutal occupation in the word “complicated,” limiting our role only to unquestioning defenders of Israel?

I grew up within the Conservative movement. I attended Ramah as a child, attended a Conservative shul every week, and spent my weekends as an active member of Hanefesh, my local USY region. My mother grew up within the movement as well, and my grandfather was a Conservative rabbi who served on the Committee of Jewish Laws and Standards. It was my parents who signed my tuition checks, who drove me up to USY conventions in the far reaches of Connecticut, and who walked with me to shul everySaturdaymorning. I did not shop schools or shuls, or decide how observant I would or would not be. As a teenager, I did not choose to be a member of the Conservative movement, though as an adult, I get to choose if I will stay. The teachings and institutions of the Conservative movement helped guide me during adolescence, but also taught me the steep price of dissent. Now, as an adult looking for meaningful Jewish life, but frustrated by the movement’s red lines around Israel-Palestine, I do not know whether or not I belong in this movement.

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Seeing Double: A Middle Eastern Comedy of Errors

May22

by: Henri Picciotto on May 22nd, 2017 | 1 Comment »

In the 1980′s, few Americans knew much about life in the territories Israel had occupied in 1967. Fewer still understood the PLO’s historic offer to settle for a state in less than half what had been Palestine. Yet in 1989, the San Francisco Mime Troupe produced Seeing Double, a mistaken-identity farce that argued for a two-state solution. The seeming unfitness of the genre for the topic proved the secret of the show’s success: laughter allows room for hope.

Twenty-eight years later, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is better understood, but no closer to resolution. Indeed, decades of US military and diplomatic support for Israel’s actions and its “facts on the ground”, have made a solution increasingly unlikely. Last summer, the writers of Seeing Double decided we would update the play, to fit today’s harsher realities and to address the U.S. role.


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Justice for Girls Trial to Commence

Mar16

by: Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish on March 16th, 2017 | Comments Off

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish will be in Jerusalem March 12 – April 3 to testify at the Israeli court concerning the loss of his beloved daughters and niece. The hearing will start March 15;  he is expected to testify March 15, 19, 29 and April 2.

All who can come and witness the civil trial at the court in Beersheba are encouraged to attend.

Information below comes from several press releases about this issue. The releases seek to increase awareness and promote the cause among politicians, human rights advocates, and people who care about justice and women and women’s education.


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Movement of the US Embassy to Jerusalem

Feb13

by: Maya Haber and Larry Lerner on February 13th, 2017 | 5 Comments »

MEMO TO PRESIDENT TRUMP AND PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU

THERE’S A REASON WHY EVERY PRESIDENT SINCE JOHN F. KENNEDY HAS NOT MOVED THE US EMBASSSY TO JERUSALEM AND EIGHTY FOUR COUNTRIES HAVE THEIR EMBASSIES IN TEL AVIV AND NONE ARE IN JERUSALEM

The facts of the matter:

The Fourth Geneva Convention (1948) prohibits countries from annexing territories conquered in war. The UN Security Councils there ruled that the annexation of East Jerusalem ws illegal under international law and are not recognized by the international community. This is in response to WWII where Germany conquered countries and made them part of greater Germany. Russia also wanted to make countries such as the Baltics and Crimea part of Russia.

The international community regards Jerusalem as a city whose final status willl be determined in direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.. Both sides want Jerusalem as their capitol.

Three main reasons to oppose moving the embassy to Jerusalem.


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Amona is the Brazen Face of the Occupation

Feb7

by: Maya Haber on February 7th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

The Israeli police have finally moved to evict the forty families residing in the illegal Amona outpost. Anticipating the police operation, some rabbis called on the public to converge on Amona and resist. As a result, police arrived to face hundreds of mostly teenage settlers. A real battle erupted as the young settlers fortified their positions, poured oil on the main settlement road, burned tires, hurled rocks, shoved and cursed police, and barricaded themselves in houses. The police had to forcibly drag settlers from their homes, kicking and screaming while several Knesset members offered the settlers support. The entire melee was broadcast live on Israeli television. Settler teenagers have wounded over 60 police officers with stones and acid.

The occupation creates a topsy-turvy system where settlers have the power to invert legal hierarchies. Religious zealots commit violence, dispossess innocents and subvert the democratic state since they, not the state, exercise authority.

Palestinians, on the other hand, are not just thrust into a separate legal system administered by the IDF. This system places Palestinians into a juridical labyrinth that reinforces subservience not simply through punishment but also via procedural dysphoria.


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The Holocaust, Israel, and Trump’s Jewish Myopia

Feb6

by: Matt Sienkiewicz on February 6th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Sean Spicer standing behind a White House podium.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

After a weekend of controversy, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was no doubt well-prepared on Monday to explain why the President had removed any mention of anti-Semitism in his statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Spicer began by reiterating the counter-intuitive notion that by ignoring the near annihilation of European Jewry, President Trump’s team, likely lead by Steve Bannon, was somehow being inclusive. The logic behind this idea is impenetrable, unless one assumes that Presidential statements have 140 character limits, making it impossible to affirm the centrality of anti-Semitism to the Nazi worldview while also acknowledging the broad range of people targeted by their hate. Just as bad, however, was Spicer’s pivot. American Jews, he suggested, have no right to be offended by the Holocaust statement for a simple, single, and seemingly unrelated reason: Israel.

Trump, Spicer articulated, is a perfect friend to both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the state he represents. That being the (much debatable) case, how could Jews possibly interpret anti-Semitism in anything Trump does? Aren’t Jews and Israelis always of the same mind? The answer, of course, is that not all Jewish people care singularly, or even primarily, about Israel. Furthermore, there’s plenty of room in contemporary white nationalism, with its fundamental commitment to racial separation, to support a nation way over yonder in which Jews wear their funny hats, eat their funny food, and mind their own business. And if this all comes at the expense of a bunch of Muslims, well, even better. It’s an ugly, unfair view of Israel, but it’s one that the alt-right can easily get behind.

Trump’s team, via Spicer, was offering American Jews a deal: Give up that part of your identity that’s so concerned with the Holocaust and accept one in which Israeli strength, just or unjust, defines what it means to be who you are. Some Jews, of course, tend to agree. Perhaps, they argue, Jewish fascination with victimization is past its expiration date. This would be true, were it not for the obvious fact that many Jews in America and beyond understand the Holocaust not merely as a defining trauma, but also as a call to action. Holocaust remembrance motivates Jews to care about the long-term security of the Jewish people, certainly. It also, however, causes Jews throughout the world to identify Jewishness with the ability to look beyond their own tribe and towards mankind. It convinces millions of Jews to donate to Jewish charities that offer their services to all in need, regardless of religion. It makes Senator Chuck Schumer, a man whose great-grandmother was murdered for being Jewish, cry when he thinks about Iraqi refugees being turned away at JFK. It helps Jews understand that a strong identity need not preclude a commitment to mankind.

The people who prepped Spicer’s response are not terribly interested in mankind or, for that matter, Jews. Sure, they can find a way to make use of them. If the Jewish people can be reduced to an ethnic clan locked in a bitter, eternal struggle with Arabs and Islam, then they fit right in. If their commitment to Israel’s Jewishness makes claims of America’s Christian Soul more plausible, that’s great. If their need to understand and accept Israeli security measures makes building a Mexican border wall appear more morally palatable then, by all means, be as Jewish as you want. But if being Jewish means looking back at events such as the Holocaust and using them as inspiration to protest the wall, fight the ban, and #resist, then they’d just as soon see that line deleted.

In a multicultural democracy, minority groups make compromises. It’s simple math. Politicians, seeking their majorities, never take the time to really understand what makes a subculture tick. Filmmakers and TV producers, aiming for a wider audience, boil their representations down, simplifying the complexity of minority life and, at times, drifting into stereotypes. This reality is unfortunate, but if it comes with a sense of progress towards respect and security, the price may be worth paying.

Bannon, Trump, et al., however, are asking for far too much and giving far too little in return. By deleting Auschwitz and offering Israeli settlements, they are asking Jews to give up the messy history and psychology that is so central to contemporary Jewish identity. Particularly in America, Jews often live in a state of constant contradiction, striving to be both tribal and universal, feeling both empowered and in a state of potential victimhood. In exchange for this difficult but very meaningful struggle, the President is asking Jews to embrace a static, one note, identity-based ethno-religious fervor for Israel. It’s a bad, bad deal. I hope we turn them down.

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Matt Sienkiewicz is a Modern Orthodox Jewish American who researches and teaches global media at Boston College. His documentary Live From Bethlehem is available from the Media Education Foundation and he can be followed on Twitter.

From Trump to Umm Al-Hiran

Jan19

by: Shaiya Rothberg on January 19th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, co-founder of Haqel, holding up a picture of 100 year old Umm Al-Hiran resident Musa Hussein Abu Al Qian.

Photo courtesy of Haqel. Rabbi Arik Ascherman, co-founder of Haqel, holding up a picture of 100 year old Umm Al-Hiran resident Musa Hussein Abu Al Qian.

As President-elect Trump consummates the victory of his racist and demagogic campaign, Israel’s discriminatory demolition of homes in Umm Al-Hiran yesterday signified another step away from democracy and towards Jewish ethnic domination. Human identity – the sense people have that they are Homo sapiens and morally responsible for other Homo sapiens – recedes before our eyes in both Israel and America. Trump and Netanyahu make clear in speech and policy that too often they do not see human beings as human beings but only as particular identities, such as Jews or Arabs, Americans or Mexicans, Christians or Muslims.

According to some theories, this receding of humanity is a temporary setback in the consistent (and possibly inevitable) ascension of human identity rather than more particularistic ones. Essentially, the logic goes, since human civilization (environment, communications, politics, law, economy) is now global and thus species-wide, the species-based human identity will prevail. But for those whose homes were bulldozed yesterday in Umm al-Hiran, and for the families of the two people killed during the conflict there, anticipating a more human future is little consolation.


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Can a Two-State Solution Survive?

Jan18

by: Joel Beinin on January 18th, 2017 | Comments Off

French foreign minister in front of officerFrench Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault hosted the foreign ministers of some 70 countries on January 15 at a Paris conference to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “re-launch” the peace process. Mr. Ayrault hoped that the meeting would “reaffirm the necessity of having two states.” France supports “a viable and democratic independent Palestinian State, living in peace and security alongside Israel.” Jerusalem would be the capital of both states. The border between them would be based on the ceasefire lines prior to the Arab-Israeli War of June 1967, with mutually agreed modifications and equivalent land swaps.

Since the 1980 Venice Declaration of the European Union (then called the European Economic Community), international opinion has gradually reached near unanimity that something like this is the only viable resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But the French initiative, like many other well-intentioned efforts, produced no concrete results. Indeed, there was no reason to expect it would.

On April 18, 2013, as Secretary of State John Kerry was launching his effort to restart Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that, “the window for a two-state solution is shutting…I think we have some period of time – a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it’s over.” If Secretary Kerry’s words have any meaning, the two-state solution has been clinically dead for nearly two years. Nonetheless, international diplomatic activity aimed at keeping it on life support continues zealously.


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Neither Jewish nor Democratic

Jan17

by: Shaiya Rothberg on January 17th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

It’s game over for the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in Israel’s Negev region. Government bulldozers may begin crushing the homes of the roughly 500 residents at any time. On the rubble will be built a new town called Hiran, complete with a synagogue and Jewish ritual bath. A group of religious Jews are living nearby, ready to move in.

The violent fate of Umm al-Hiran is a fitting end to 60 years of neglect and discrimination. The village was established in its present location by an official order of the IDF military governor in 1956.  Even though settled in this spot by the state, they were still “unrecognized” and thus denied the basic services necessary for dignified life, such as electricity, water, roads, and sewage. They were also denied building permits so that their homes are “illegal.” The Jews who will replace them will live in “legal” homes with all the necessary services.


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