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THE PAIN OF PALESTINE March 11, 2008

Posted by wmmbb in Middle East.
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The problem in commenting on the recent events in Palestine is the trap of endorsing one side or the other in their acts of inhumanity. This point is made clearly by a report in The Sydney Morning Herald last Saturday:

One of the oldest and most prestigious of Israel’s many seminaries, Mercaz Harav predates Israel itself. Founded in 1925 by Rabbi Avraham Kook, perhaps the 20th century’s most revered Jewish theologian, the school has produced a stream of prominent religious, political and military leaders. It was at the forefront in supporting Jewish settlements.

. . . The scene outside the yeshiva became a rallying point for right-wing activists, many of whom expressed anger not only at the Palestinians but also at the Government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the US-sponsored peace negotiations.

Intermittent chants started up, including “Olmert should go to prison” and “The blood of Jews is not worthless.” One man simply shouted: “Revenge!”

One of the chant leaders was Eitamar Ben-Gvir, a prominent right-wing activist from Hebron.

“The Government doesn’t care about us. They take out Jews from their homes and give them to Arabs,” he said. “America is helping the Arabs kill Jews. If America wasn’t pressuring us to be gentle, we would kill them all.”

We hear of Islamic extremists, but what of opinions such as this one? Let us not be gentle, but be strong, and then go out and murder people, and when we have killed many we will have satisfied our thirst for revenge. The violence escalates until when?

Meanwhile the settlements go on being built. Eric Silver in The Independent wrote:

Israel approved plans yesterday to build 330 new homes in a suburban West Bank settlement north of Jerusalem. The move was denounced by the Palestinian Authority as “a slap in the face of the peace process” and called on the Quartet of the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia to “act to get Israel to revoke the decision”.

Saeb Erakat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, said: “This is a provocative action by Israel that demonstrates its intention of further strengthening illegal occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territory.”

. . . The Givat Ze’ev initiative is unlikely to appease the settlers, still seething after the attack on their flagship Mercaz Harav yeshiva. Many are threatening to establish eight unauthorised West Bank outposts as a “suitable Zionist response” to the killing of the students.

. . . A leading settler rabbi, Shlomo Aviner, wrote yest-erday: “The entire Jewish nation must rise as one person with one heart to take vengeance for the murder of any Jew so that other murderers will see and be afraid and plot no more.”

Chris Hedges writing for Truthdig observes:

War creates a world without empathy. Those who have empathy cannot, as did Palestinian gunman Alaa Hisham Abu Dheim, coldly murder students in a Jerusalem library. Those who have empathy cannot drop tons of iron fragmentation bombs on crowded Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza, killing more than 120 Palestinians in a week, of whom one in five were children and more than half were civilians. Those who have empathy do not, as Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai did, thunder at the Palestinians that they face a shoah, meaning catastrophe or holocaust. Those with empathy are unable to rejoice, as many leaders of Hamas did, over slaughter, as if the murder of the other’s innocents is justified by the murder of your innocents.

We live in a world, at home and in the Middle East, hardened and distorted by hate. We communicate in the language of fear and violence. Human beings are no longer viewed as human beings. They are no longer endowed in our eyes, or the eyes of those who oppose us, with human qualities. They do no love, grieve, suffer, laugh or weep. They represent cold abstractions of evil. The death-for-death means we communicate by producing corpses. And we are all guilty, Americans, Palestinians, Iraqis and Israelis. But we are not all guilty equally.

Israel and the United States bear the responsibility for a world that has unleashed twisted killers such as Abu Dheim. It is the decades of repression in Gaza, as well as the callous occupation in Iraq, that has bequeathed to us a new generation of jihadists and gunmen who walk into yeshivas and spray automatic fire at people bent over books. For as the poet W.H. Auden pointed out:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Juan Cole comments:

I found the steady, clear-eyed and wise voice of Rabbi Michael Lerner on this cesspool of a war to lend some spiritual comfort.

Rabbi Lerner is an interesting person. He gained a Ph.D in philosophy and then decided to get a Ph.D in psychology. Among other comments he writes:

We at Tikkun feel equally grieving for the people killed by vicious and immoral terrorists at the Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav (the ultra-nationalist religious center that developed the ideology which inspired religious Zionists to believe that they had a God-given right to settle and hold on to the territories without regard to the consequences for the Palestinian people already living there) as we do for the victims of Israeli terror (which in the past week killed 120 people, many of them children, many of them sitting in their homes when Israeli troops randomly fire-bombed and murdered them, as documented by the same international human rights organizations that today condemned the attack in Jerusalem by terrorists). We understand that these killings can only be understood in the context of the 60 year old struggle between these two communities, and that nothing short of a full peace accord that will require a new open-heartedness on both sides can possibly break this horrible cycle of violence.

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