While speaking at a church about Afghanistan and the the lead-up to the Iraq war, one attendee asked us if we thought there was anything anyone could do to stop the war. I replied “I think that train has already left the station.” Later, when thinking about that answer, it struck me that we could have done a lot more than street protests, letters to the editor, phone calls to Congress, and faxes to the president. More of us could have, and should have, laid our bodies down on that track.
Sister Megan Rice, 84, was sentenced on February 18th to 35 months in prison for breaking into a nuclear facility, in her nonviolent act of civil disobedience, putting her body on the tracks, to bring an end to nuclear weapons.
It is almost laughable. The organized Jewish community, which claims to be worried about young Jews defecting in droves, just cannot help itself from doing things that drive Jews (not just young ones) away. Between supporting Netanyahu, advocating for war with Iran and maintaining the occupation, and keeping silent as Israel evolves into a theocracy, it also is in the business of preventing debate on all these things and more.
The latest is this. Phil Weiss reports that the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York has banned an appearance by New Republic journalist, John Judis, who has written a book challenging the conventional wisdom about why President Truman recognized Israel. The book argues that Truman recognized Israel in 1948 not because he was a fervent Zionist but because it was May of an election year, he was trailing in the polls and he was heavily lobbied by Zionists to do so. Shocking, right. Who would think that politics would enter into a decision like that?
Like readers of Tikkun I am passionate about peace in Israel-Palestine as well as in the wider Middle East. Being a theologian/writer with a background in Jewish-Christian dialogue, I have mainly sought to speak to peaceseeking Christians—and others—who are willing to look beyond the polarity of being either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli towards envisioning a solution for both communities and building on the prophetic traditions of each other.
I believe—like Gandhi—that you have to look truth in the face, and take the courage to tell it.
When we think of the casualties of war, we think of the physical death of human beings. We think of the physical, psychological and moral injury warriors suffer. We think of the collateral damage of non-combatants killed, thus making the idea of a just war an impossibility. We may sometimes stretch our imaginations to include an injured earth, a wounded natural world where animals die. In the movie “The Monuments Men”, directed by and starring George Clooney, we see other casualties of war – fine art. We see a dedicated quest for a particular piece of art, the Bruges Madonna and Child, a representation of the feminine divine.
The movie is based on the real-life Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Task Force, a group of trained art historians, architects and designers whose purpose was to protect important monuments, buildings, and fine art if possible. They were to also locate and seek to return art stolen by the Nazis. The central question of the movie is whether or not a piece of art is worth a human life. Commanders in the field are loathe to risk the lives of their men over a work of art. If the decision comes down to bombing an important building considered a monument worth protecting and winning the battle, the battle takes priority.
The Allied forces destroyed many monuments during bombing campaigns, even when they were told of their artistic value. This story along with the story of the real-life Monuments Men are told in an excellent documentary “The Rape of Europa.” We see the astonishing number of works of art, religious objects, and everyday household furnishings that were stolen by the Nazis. However, one object becomes supremely important in “The Monuments Men” – The Bruges Madonna and Child.
This work of art depicting the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus was the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. Toward the beginning of the movie, we hear Clooney’s character – George Stout – tell his men not to risk their lives for a piece of art. However, as the movie unfolds, we see the Monuments Men willing to put their lives at risk for the sake of art.
Two years ago, on February 11th 2012, Whitney Houston passed into Eternity. Two years after her passing, and a sorrow that never seems to quite quit, I can candidly say the gratitude I feel for this human being, and totally human she was, is finally outshadowing my awareness of her loss. That statement doesn’t come easy.
Perhaps some of us do not know what to make of a country that remains entrenched in the glorification of militarism and soldiery, as ours so clearly is, even in a time when reports of the men, women and children starving to death in Syria – eating grass and stray cats to stay alive – have been documented in the major news outlets. Perhaps some of our brethren think they’re too sophisticated, too streetwise, too savvy – too something – to “fall” for such reports of the starving, dying people of Syria. Perhaps some think nothing we do will amount to a hill of beans anyway.
Tikkun magazine and Tikkun Daily are different from the secular media. Here, in this space, we are freely allowed to profess our faith in the Almighty Creator. We are allowed to express our sorrow, and plead to God to intervene in these human crises that shake our hearts and rattle our consciences.
I am shocked by the way this country has turned its back on the innocent, the gassed, the tortured, the butchered, and the starving civilians of Syria. But I am ever grateful to God for giving us a divine voice, delivered by a beautiful and heart-filled/heartbroken lady who died two years ago today, to help carry us through this time, when we know some of our fellow human beings, at this moment, are eating grass to stay alive. Whitney’s voice increases my faith and gives me strength in the midst of this unfolding crime against humanity, and I hope her voice will increase yours as well, whatever your religion. Whatever your politics, I hope her voice will encourage you to turn back from despair.
Here is a clip of Whitney signing “This Day” in Spain in 1991. Lord, we need your love…this day.
Hamza Ali Al-Katheeb. Tortured, mutilated and killed by the Assad regime at age 13. Credit: Wikipedia
Two weeks ago, during the absurd multi-lateral Geneva peace talks with the Assad regime , I posted an image of Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old Syrian boy who was tortured, mutilated and murdered by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Some folks asked for more information about Hamza, so I provided a link to a Wikipedia page devoted to his memory.
Today, the office of the U.N. Secretary General issued a report, to be presented next week to the U.N. Security Council, documenting widespread abuses and torture of children in Syria. While the report suggests that opposition forces, including the Free Syrian Army, have recruited child soldiers, primarily teenagers, the brunt of the report appears directed squarely at the Assad regime. From the New York Times:
In 2011 and 2012, the report said, children as young as 11 were held in government detention centers with adults and, according to witnesses, subjected to torture in order to coerce relatives to surrender or confess.
Credit: Creative Commons
“Ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture reportedly included beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shocks, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives,” the report said.
Investigators said they had documented reports of sexual violence against children in government detention, “perpetrated mostly by members of the Syrian intelligence services and the Syrian armed forces” against those who were suspected of being affiliated with the opposition.
From my standpoint, the question that ought to be asked by those of us who read this information could not be more plain: What is our responsibility to the children, and all the victims, who are living, dying and being tortured under the Assad regime?
Ten years ago, the first genocide of the 21st century started in Darfur. It was another in the long list of 46 genocides since the Holocaust, when the world first promised “Never Again!” Despite that promise, we’ve heard a deafening silence from the world as each of these genocides unfolded.
Tea: Miada and her mother share solar-cooked tea in the Iridimi Darfuri refugee camp in Chad. Credit: Barbara Grover.
During Rosh Hashanah in 2004, Rabbi Harold Schulweis challenged the Valley Beth Shalom Congregation in Encino to not stand idly by as another genocide happened in front of our eyes; he asked that we found Jewish World Watch, through which we could bring the lessons of Torah to bear on the horror being inflicted on humankind by perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities.
The Valley Beth Shalom community responded en masse, calling upon Southern California synagogues to unify and raise their collective voices in outrage over the events in Darfur. Over the last ten years, more than 70 synagogues have answered that call; together we have marched, rallied, and advocated – locally, nationally and internationally. We sent delegations to travel to the regions we work in to bear witness and bring survivors the message that they are not alone.
A person angry at Israel, now angry at Starbucks too. Credit: Creative Commons
Back in 1995, while studying abroad in Jerusalem, an American Jewish friend and myself were invited by a Palestinian friend to go to a pop music concert at Bethlehem University in its outdoor arena. The female Arab singer was fabulously talented and charismatic, and of course she sang all the songs in Arabic. At one point, she led a song with her fist high in the air, repeating a rhythmic chant, with the impassioned audience repeating the chant, fists high in the air. Again, all in Arabic. Because it was so rhythmic, my Jewish friend and I joined in. When there was a break in the music, I turned to a Palestinian next to me who spoke English and said to him, “That was really great! Oh, and by the way, what were we chanting that whole time?”
He said, “Kick the Jews out!” Of course, that meant all of the land, not only the 67′ lines.
Memories of that Bethlehem episode came flooding back after reading Omar Barghouti’s op-ed in The New York Times today titled, “Why Israel Fears the Boycott.” It seems that at least some of those who reject Israel as a Jewish state for the Jewish people – a people who have endured milennia of persecution that culminated in the Holocaust – have finally seen the limited public relations range of fist-pumping exhortations of ethnic cleansing, and have instead gone all Madison Avenue on us. In fact, tobacco companies still holding out hope that they can get 5th graders addicted to cigarettes through all manner of subliminal messaging ought to read Barghouti’s op-ed. They could use some new pointers.
It didn’t take much. Just the power of the presidency, the State Of The Union, and the whole country watching.
Plus the president’s will.
And AIPAC’s entire campaign to destroy America’s chance to reach an agreement with Iran crumbled. Within hours, three senators announced they were no longer cosponsoring AIPAC’s bill to kill the Iran negotiations (Gillibrand, Coons and Manchin), and AIPAC’s hopes to override Obama’s veto ended with a whimper, AIPAC’s whimper.
Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Credit: Creative Commons
Three days ago, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power used a word that has been, for the most part, absent in the U.S. discourse surrounding the Syrian civil war: evil. Granted, the word “evil” is actually quite difficult to inject into a sentence structure that also includes phrases like “the two sides need to meet face to face at the negotiating table.”
Ever since George W. Bush’s infamous 2002 State of the Union speech in which he called Iraq, Iran and North Korea the “Axis of Evil,” the word “evil” seems to have left on a jet plane and hasn’t come back again. It seems that for most of the citizenry, from the influential power-brokers in Washington, to the town gossips on Main Street, to anonymous commenters on blogs, the word “evil” is best avoided if one wishes to persuade others.
Before she was even sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Power gave the faux sophisticates of the “no-such-thing-as-evil” crowd a major boost to their cause: her Senate confirmation hearing to be America’s next ambassador to the international body was simply brimming with all manner of denial of the U.S. government’s past atrocities. As mentioned in this article from last July, Power’s confirmation hearing was punctuated in particular with the repeated statement “I will not apologize for America.” Another notable standout from the hearing was her statement to senators that “America is the light of the world.” Needless to say, her confirmation vote passed the Senate with flying colors.
Yet it is precisely that kind of denial, both of history and present reality, that not only leads to foreign cynicism about the intentions of U.S. leaders, but effectively delivers a Betty Crocker cake to those inside the U.S. who would prefer to ignore the evil that Ambassador Power is so devoted to fighting.