If even Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the most right-wing member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, has reached the conclusion that the siege on the Gaza Strip should be lifted, we can only wonder: What is actually delaying Netanyahu? After all, lifting the siege would be an easy and wise move on the part of Israel.
In a Jan. 19 speech at the conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, Bennett harshly criticized Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and accused them of a “conceptual freeze.” Bennett presented the Gaza Strip as an example and said, “After all, you won’t suspect that I’m a lefty, God forbid, but are we doing the right thing in Gaza? Wouldn’t it be better to reconcile with reality and disengage from our responsibility for the Gazans, open new paths in their lives with proper security oversight?”
For those I'm not connected with on Facebook, here is the collection of most of the photos I took in Israel - Palestine. The captions are not quite as detailed as what was posted on Facebook but I hope you find these interesting.
Today found us in Tel Aviv where we visited The Yitzhak Rabin Center, a museum that commemorates the life of the assassinated prime minister of Israel. Rabin was killed by an ultra-Orthodox Jew upset over Rabin's efforts to forge a peace with the Palestinians. There have been no major movements towards peace in the twenty years since Rabin's death. Still, his life offers us hope. He was a military leader who came to understand that diplomacy could be a powerful weapon in protecting Israel and in giving the Palestinian people their own state and the human rights all deserve.
I still recall the peace rally where Rabin was shot and stayed up in the middle of the night to watch the memorial proceedings. Rabin has long been a hero of mine. President Clinton, then in office, came to deliver the eulogy. He said then:
Your prime minister was a martyr for peace, but he was a victim of hate. Surely, we must learn from his martyrdom that if people cannot let go of the hatred of their enemies, they risk sowing the seeds of hatred among themselves. I ask you, the people of Israel, on behalf of my nation that knows its own long litany of loss, from Abraham Lincoln to President Kennedy to Martin Luther King, do not let that happen to you. In the Knesset, in your homes, in your places of worship, stay the righteous course. As Moses said to the children of Israel when he knew he would not cross over into the promised land, "Be strong and of good courage. Fear not, for God will go with you. He will not fail you, He will not forsake you."
Ultimately, Israel turned away from Rabin's policies, during a time of increased terror attacks carried out by radical Palestinians as determined as the Jew who killed Rabin to derail the peace process, and the age of Benjamin Netanyahu was born.
Today brought us to the shores of the Sea of Galilee and the Mount of Beatitudes. This place holds special meaning in the Christian tradition. Jesus sought disciples, prayed and taught here according to the Christian New Testament. Here is where we come to know the collection of sayings that are called the "Sermon on The Mount." This sermon offers us the heart of Christian theology.
Our group from Chicago Theological Seminary sat atop of the Mount of Beatitudes, read the sermon and reflected on the words in the context of our trip to Israel - Palestine. How can we be peacemakers, we asked?
Dr. Ken Stone, CTS's academic dean, noted the passage "Blessed are the meek" and suggested that part of what we should take away from this trip is a sense of humility. The situation in Israel - Palestine does not lend itself to easy answers. Those that claim to know "the truth" or "the way" forward may cause more trouble and difficulty. That doesn't mean we stop seeking peace. We just engage that process recognizing the complexities and that as Americans we have the potential to offer both hope and to contribute to the chaos.
5When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Today - The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday in the United States - brought us to Aida, a Palestinian refugee camp. There is no question in my mind that Dr. King would weep at the way Palestinians are treated. Some will blame the failure of Palestinian leadership for the refugee crisis here - and there is truth in that their leadership has not always made wise decisions - but no group of people should live in the hopeless poverty we saw today. So what exactly are these camps? The United Nations explains:
Nearly one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
A Palestine refugee camp is defined as a plot of land placed at the disposal of UNRWA by the host government to accommodate Palestine refugees and set up facilities to cater to their needs. Areas not designated as such and are not recognized as camps. However, UNRWA also maintains schools, health centres and distribution centres in areas outside the recognized camps where Palestine refugees are concentrated, such as Yarmouk, near Damascus.
The plots of land on which the recognized camps were set up are either state land or, in most cases, land leased by the host government from local landowners. This means that the refugees in camps do not 'own' the land on which their shelters were built, but have the right to 'use' the land for a residence.
Socioeconomic conditions in the camps are generally poor, with high population density, cramped living conditions and inadequate basic infrastructure such as roads and sewers.
Israelis have built giant walls cutting off refugee camps from other communities. They are like prisons. It is difficult to travel in or out if you are Palestinian. Freedom of movement does not exist. Most of the resistance to these living conditions take the form on non-violent action but there have been periods where violence has erupted. It would seem a silly hope for violence and terror not to thrive in conditions such as these. Still, many people, like those we met today at the Alrowwad for Cultural Arts, are seeking means of non-violent creative resistance.
There are no easy answers to how to solve the Israeli - Palestinian question but there is no question these camps violate basic human rights.
I'm not able to post about all our different activities and visits with different people / groups but if you want more visit my Twitter account. You'll find links to some of the organizations we've heard from that I might not have blogged about. Check out the hashtag #CTSStudyTour for posts from others on the trip as well.
We've heard much about Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories since arriving - an issue always in the news - and today we visited such a place outside of Bethlehem. Thus far the Israeli Jews we have encountered have expressed great frustration with the current government here and both concern and compassion for the Palestinians. Several times it has been said that Israel will never be safe or truly free until the Palestinians are. How to get there and what does that look like - one state, two states, some other unknown option - is the question everyone has failed to answer.
The settler we talked with didn't express much concern for the Palestinians, a group he suggested was fictional. Although he also expressed pride in some social and medical services his settlement provides for Palestinians. This encounter was disheartening for me to say the least. His insistence that the settlement he resides in is in Israeli territory and not Palestinian - and that it was legal despite international which is clear such settlements are illegal - made for a frustrating and emotional meeting. A return to the 1967 borders - which President Obama has insisted on - would never be possible if this settler had his way and that is why such settlements are being built: to prevent peace. The policies of Benjamin Netanyahu put the future of both Palestine and Israel at risk.
President Obama has asked this of Israel:
“[M]y assessment, which is shared by a number of Israeli observers, I think, is there comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices. Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”
I did share with the settler there is one area of agreement I have with him: that the Palestinians lack effective leadership. We have heard this from Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Yet it is hard to build effective leadership when you are under siege.
(Jerusalem) – Israeli security forces have used unnecessary force to arrest or detain Palestinian children as young as 11. Security forces have choked children, thrown stun grenades at them, beaten them in custody, threatened and interrogated them without the presence of parents or lawyers, and failed to let their parents know their whereabouts.
Human Rights Watch interviewed four boys, ages 11, 12, and 15, from different neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and a 14-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy from elsewhere in the West Bank, whom Israeli forces arrested or detained in separate incidents for allegedly throwing rocks from March to December 2014. They and their parents gave accounts of abuses during arrest and interrogation that caused the children pain, fear, and ongoing anxiety. Human Rights Watch has seen photos and marks on the body of one of the children, consistent with the accounts he and his parents had given; the children’s accounts were also consistent with each other.
Denying basic human rights to children isn't Jewish.
With each new settlement, the chances for peace diminish further.
Sometime very soon, the U.S. Senate will pass a bill that requires the government to treat the West Bank as part of Israel. Not only that, it will obligate the administration to pressure other countries to do the same. These provisions have provoked no serious opposition as the bill has worked its way through the congressional maze. Instead, Democratic lawmakers raise their hands to do the work of the GOP-Likud axis, in what may be a bizarre act of penance for their own courage in supporting the Iran deal last summer.
The bill's own language says it's aimed at fighting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In reality, it may actually encourage boycotts of Israel. The bill says it's meant to preserve the “sustainability of peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. In reality, it helps the efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a two-state agreement impossible.
In your final State of the Union you made it clear that you will "not let up" in advancing your priorities.
Achieving a two-state solution has been one of your priorities since day one. And though a final accord will likely not be reached during your last year in office, I am asking you to "not let up" on that goal. There are concrete steps you can take immediately to make life better for Israelis and Palestinians, and to preserve hopes for peace.
I join J Street in calling on you to conduct a review of potential executive actions available to you including (but not limited to): giving force to US opposition to settlements; putting forth US parameters to guide future negotiations; promoting economic development and coexistence programming that move the conflict closer to eventual resolution, working from the ground up.
Tonight we heard from former Israeli Ambassador Ilan Baruch on the BDS Movement. Baruch resigned his position with the Foreign Ministry over currently policy toward the Palestinians. For context, here is his bio:
Ambassador (ret.) Ilan Baruch is currently the policy advisor for MK Zehava Galon, Chairperson of MERETZ and a peace activist. He resigned from the MFA on grounds of principle, after 36 years of diplomatic career. It included overseas postings in Asia, Europe and Africa. Head-quarter postings: founder/director of the Palestinian Autonomy department, head - coordination of the Multilateral Peace Process and head - Middle East division for economic cooperation. Baruch was a team member of the Israeli delegation to the Oslo Peace negotiations, and participated in various negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt on economic agreements. His last posting was Ambassador of Israel to South Africa, as well as Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Since his early retirement, Baruch is devoting his time and experience to projects in public diplomacy, is running a weekly program in the "All for Peace" radio, and contributes political analysis in different media outlets.
...I am concerned with the far left, as seen in universities within the European Union who have called for the divestment from Israel. This is similar to the movement that was taken by many universities calling for divestment from South Africa. This serves to feed the "citadel Israel" mentality which leads to isolationism. This is not good for us, this is not good for the Palestinians and it is not good for anyone interested in the peace process...
Ambassador Baruch did speak strongly for international pressure to bring the current Israeli government to the peace table and urged, as we have heard from many here, that additional grassroots programs be developed to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. Personal relationships and not politics are the key to peace, he said.
The intensity of our trip kicked up a notch with a Friday morning visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum here in Jerusalem. So striking was the historical memory of how Jews fleeing persecution were turned away and how the world then watched in silence - with knowledge - as the Holocaust began. It took years for the United States and other powers to intervene. Can we not see the parallels in the cries of refugee voices from Syria fleeing ISIL and the civil war there? Donald Trump is our modern Father Charles Coughlin - or perhaps worse.
On Thursday, we heard from Rabbi Arik Ascherman with Rabbis for Human Rights about the Jewish imperative to fight for human rights not just for Jews but for Muslims and Christians, along with all others. Yet the state of Israel is not protecting the human rights of Palestinians. Many Israelis disagree with current policy toward Palestinians, of course, but the situation here is untenable.
We also visited the national cemetery of Israel on Thursday where, among other, Yitzhak Rabin is buried. Prime Minister Rabin, while seeking to implement a new peace accord with the Palestinians, was killed by an ultra-Orthodox Jew. Israel has never been the same. Both the Israelis and Palestinians lack leadership with popular support that can compromise and seek peace. This is a terrible period. You hear over and over from people on different sides of the conflict a high level of fear and yet amazingly there are still people who have hope in the future. We felt a spirit of hope during a Shabbat service at Kol Haneshama Congregation on Friday night and again at a Shabbat dinner organized by Jewish friends of Chicago Theological Seminary living here in Jerusalem.
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