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The editors on Gaza

Now featured at the website, the Commonweal editors on the events in Gaza:

With Israel again bombarding Gaza and gathering troops for another potentially devastating incursion into the Hamas-controlled Palestinian enclave, it is tempting to think that nothing really changes in the Middle East, and especially in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But to think that would be a mistakeespecially for friends of Israel.It is not clear what precipitated this latest confrontation. There is no question that rocket attacks from Gaza increased dramatically in recent months, or that some kind of Israeli response was inevitable. ...Knowledgeable observers think neither Hamas nor Israel wants to reenact the carnage of Operation Cast Lead four years ago. That wrenching assault resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Only thirteen Israelis were killed. If Hamas wants to avoid repeating such a calamity, why would it provoke Israel in this manner? One theory is that a show of military bravado would enhance its status across the new political landscape of the Arab world, especially in comparison with its more moderate Palestinian rival, Fatah. A demonstration of robust military capabilitysome rockets provided by Iran can now reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalemmight also reinvigorate support among Gazas beleaguered and disgruntled population. Hamas also counts on the fact that Israel has no interest in re-occupying Gaza with its 1.6 million Palestinians. Nor is it in Israels interest to repeat its brutal three-week 200809 siege. Operation Cast Lead was seen by many in the international community as disproportionate if not immoralsome claim Israel committed war crimesand contributed significantly to the growing isolation of the Jewish state.

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Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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Joseph Kennedy Sr feared the Jews were getting the US into WWII. He proposed getting them land in England to live to stop the march of Hitler. Now Richard Murdock claims the media is biased toward Israel. I was surprised at this. Fox News seems to be more pro Israel than anyone. Different situation but still a world wide conflict over the Jews. The Israeli leaders though share much of the blame today. The Jihad leaders are just as guilty. Kennedy Sr saw the situation then as a business solution which was far from the whole remedy. What is the remedy today? Would a Marshall plan for Palestine do it?

In elaboration of your statement that rocket attacks upon Israel from Gaza had risen, here are some figures: Approximately 200 rockets from Gaza struck Israel in 2010. Over 600 rockets struck in 2011. Over 800 rockets struck Israel in 2012 before Israel acted on November 14. In the 4 days before November 14, that is, from November 10-13, 121 rockets struck Israel from Gaza.According to the Israeli Defense Forces (the IDF), 1166 Palestinians were killed in Operation Cast Lead, of whom 709 were Hamas combatants and 295 were civilians. It said it was unable to determine the status of the remaining 162. An article in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, of November 9, 2010, quoting the Hamas Minister of Interior, Fathi Hamad, stated that "Hamas admitted last week that between 600 and 700 of its militants were killed during Operation Cast Lead -- a figure consistent with that reported by the Israeli Defense Forces." According to the article, Hamas' military wing had previously claimed that only 49 of its militants had been killed.As for peace talks, Gaza says it will never recognize Israel, whose destruction is its official long-term goal. So there can be no peace talks with Gaza. As for the West Bank, there is admittedly reason to be suspicious of Netanyahu's good faith, but there is equal reason to believe that Abbas will not or cannot agree to those things that the Palestinians must agree to for there to be peace, particularly relinquishing the "right of return." His tactic is to try to take steps through the U.N. to move torward the establishment of a state without making any of the concessions necessary for peace. Why doesn't he enter into negotiations, and if Netanyahu is in bad faith, that will become apparent to the whole world. Please consider the possibility that Abbas and the Palestinians are in bad faith. After all, at Camp David in 2000, the Israelis were in good faith and the Palestinians were in bad faith. Perhaps both governments, as currently constituted, are now in bad faith. The only way to find out is to enter into negotiations and see. Netanyahu is willing and Abbas is not.

The tone of the editorial struck me as tipped against Israel. How could it be any clearer that Hamas is the aggressor and Israel is, once again, the victim. Lobbing thousands of rockets into Israel is clearly an act of terrorism intended to frighten the civilian population. Hamas knows very well that Israel will eventually retaliate--as they have--and are ever ready to sacrifice the lives of their own women and children in the process. Photographers and journalists are always at the ready to report the "barbaric Israeli slaughter of innocents" with horrible photographs attached. Israel gave Gaza back to the Palestinians and have been paying for it ever since. There can be no two state solution as long as there are not partners willing to negotiate what is actually negotiable. Israel cannot negotiate itself off the face of the map but that is precisely the demand of Hamas. How much more of this before all reasonable people are convinced that there can be no solution that allows the Palestinians to own arms with which to continue to harrass Israel. The United Nations originally established two states in that region, a Jewish State called Israel, and a Palestinian State called Jordan. That was opposed by Arabs from the beginning which led them to make three efforts to militarily wipe Israel off the map--not counting the suicide bombings of more recent vintage. Those efforts were thwarted and Israel did what every war victor does and takes control of land to give it more defensible borders. I regard it as absolutely irrational that so many people keep condemning Israel. I don't accuse Commonweal's editors of that, but nor did they provide much of a defense.

A position contrary to John Feehily's from a rabbi:

What if the United Nations had decided that there should be a separate Jewish state within the confines of .... oh, say Texas? Or the wilds of Northern Canada? How about central Australia?The idea that ONCE Jews had communities in what was subsequently Palestine is far from a good basis to sieze territory owned by others and create a new state.Let's hope that never happens here in the US with the UN deciding to return the 48 lower states to the Native Americans.

Fr. Feehily, perhaps you might find helpful these thoughts on a sermon heard by a congregant of an orthodox synagogue last Saturday. The author is able to see more than one side of the story.Sunday, November 18, 2012How Two Jewish (and One Stoic) Ideas Helped Me Get Through Yesterday's Sermon in SynagogueBefore I left for synagogue in DC yesterday I resolved that I would not sit through a sermon that painted the Israelis as the innocent victims of murderous Hamas thugs. I expected that additional Psalms would be said for those in Israel, and I would say them with more kavvanah/intention than usual. (Some of my children and grandchildren have been in those shelters recently.) But I would try to insist that civilians on both sides be included in the Psalms.As it turned out, I would have gladly sat in my safe room in my apartment in Jerusalem -- or in a shelter in Sderot -- than have sat through the sermon I heard. The rabbi, who is a moderate, learned, and decent man, and often quite liberal and tolerant towards other religions, began by commenting on the intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. He then tied that to the weekly portion, which refers to the enmity between Jacob and Esau, already in the womb of Rebecca. Of course, he conceded that Esau was later interpreted by the rabbis not as Muslims but as Christians, and he also said that the prototypical Muslim was Ishmael and not Esau. But what can you's Torah portion was about Esau and Jacob and any typological enemy will do in the current storm.As the sermon went on, its message became clearer: There is no hope of peace with Muslims, because their values are simply different from those of us Jews. They believe that heaven is acquired through fighting and dying. They use firepower indiscriminately. They target civilians. We Jews live in a bad neighborhood, getting worse by the growth of fundamentalism (this from an orthodox rabbi, who had just used the Bible as a source for historical inevitability!) He ended with the hopeful comment that, as a rabbi, he has witnessed more and more Muslims converting to Judaism.As he started talking about Islam, I felt that I could take it no longer. My blood boiling, I weighed the option of walking out. Since I sit in the front row of a relatively small room, my protest would have been noticed by everybody, including the rabbi. I knew that this would cause a stir, and, who knows, maybe some good would come out of it. It would have been disrespectful to the rabbi, but our sages teach that "where this is desecration of God's name, one doesn't accord respect to rabbis." Or so I reasoned, in my anger.But then I remembered two important teachings of our sages:"Who is a hero? One who masters his passions." It's a passage I had learned with my students only the day before, and it smacks of Stoic influence. Maimonides writes that one should avoid anger, even when anger is appropriate. All right, I realize that some psychologists may disagree. But walking out in a huff is not a way to influence people. And disrespecting the mara de-asra, the local rabbinical authority, especially one whom I respect on many other matters, and who is a friend and colleague, because of a disagreement, is wrong. At any rate, it's not me. And I also thought, what right do I have to cause anybody discomfort, especially sinceAll us Israel-supporters, even rabbis, are tinokot she-nishbu "children who have been raised among the Idolators" (tinokot she-nishbu). This rabbinic phrase has come to mean somebody who have been raised in ignorance of the truth. How can I blame any of my fellow-Jews for their ignorance, since they have been indoctrinated since birth with Zionist myths and Israeli narratives. The mainstream media in this country is hopeless "captured" by the Israeli hasbara machine, whether liberal Zionist (NY Times, Washington Post) or chauvinist Zionism (Fox News, the Murdoch papers). Unless you read Haaretz, which now charges a hefty subscription free, you are entirely clueless as to what is going on, and Haaretz, God bless it, also reflects an Israeli perspective. After the services I talked with people who were not happy with the Gaza situation, who were not knee-jerk supporters of the Netanyahu government, but who, out of ignorance, spouted the same hasbara slogans that the Israeli spin machine puts out so well, and now on Twitter and Facebook. They receive links from the Jerusalem Post and Fox News? Can I blame them for their ignorance?The problem is not Hamas violence or Israeli violence; these are only symptoms of a much deeper mindset, or mentalite, which cannot be erased easily, if at all. Talking with my fellow Jews I felt as if I were talking with some doctrinaire Marxists, or evangelical Christians (or Muslims, Jews, or "Dawkinsians"), whose entire worldviews were the servant of some ideology.As is my own, I suppose, only in my case the ideology is the American liberalism with which I was raised.To be fair, my fellow-congregants have also been raised with a lot of that American liberalism. When one said to me, "Don't you think Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks." I said, "Not only a right, but an obligation." But when I countered, "Don't Palestinians have the right to defend themselves from Israeli attacks, including cross-border incursions and naval blockades?" I was met with a blank stare. If this had been Israel, my interlocutor would have said, "No, they don't." But for an American Jewish liberal, what I had said had completely thrown him off, at least for a few seconds.It doesn't occur to most American Jews I know, or for that matter, most people I know, that the Palestinians are the primary victims of the Zionist movement, that they were dispossessed by superior force, and that they are struggling for decades to enjoy the same life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in their land that the Israelis have enjoyed. Whether they are second-class citizens, or under occupation, or in the Palestinian diaspora, they refuse to admit total defeat, and they will never relinquish their claims. They are among the longest suffering peoples since World War I, and their suffering is compounded because some of those who supplanted them suffered terribly during World War II.

Mr. McCrea and Ms. Steinfels: Each of you have raised the issue of whether the founding of the state of Israel was a wrong done to the Palestinians, Mr. McCrea in his entire post and Ms. Steinfels in the last paragraph of the sermon. Unlike some Zionists, who claim the issue is out of bounds -- that Israels legitimacy is no more to be questioned than any other countrys permit me to address the issue head on and make the case for Israel.It must be admitted, because it is true, that although Jews always maintained a presence in Palestine, as of 1880, they were a small percentage of the population. The modern wave of Zionist immigration began in the 1880s when Russian Jews began trekking to Palestine to escape czarist discrimination and persecution. Right up until the founding of Israel in 1948, the Jews who settled in Israel did not obtain the land they lived and worked on through theft or murder or other improper means. Instead, they obtained it the old fashioned way. They bought it from willing sellers in arms length transactions for prices that were at least fair and often exorbitant. They would have acquired even more land had they had the money. There was no lack of willing sellers.Even so, there were only 125,000 Jews in Israel as of 1930. During the next seven years, until at Arab insistence, Great Britain in 1937 banned almost all additional Jewish emigration, 250,000 additional Jews immigrated to Palestine. We all know why this flood of immigrants occurred. Jews were trying to get out of Europe. With the closing of the door to Palestine, the last refuge of escape disappeared. I need not dwell on the fate of those who were doomed to remain, but the leader of the Palestinians, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, spent the war years in Berlin, urging Hitler to kill the Jews even faster than he was.In 1937, the Peel commission recommended a two state solution to the issue of Jewish and Arab claims on the land. In it, the majority of the land was to go to the Arabs and the Jews were to get canton-like enclaves. Jerusalem was to become an international city. The Jews agreed to sit down with the Arabs and try to negotiate a solution. The Arabs refused, taking the position that there would never be any Jewish state of any extent in Palestine.In 1947, the U.N. voted by a two-thirds majority to recommend a two state solution. The Jews were to get more land than the Peel Commission recommended because Jewish numbers had swollen with Holocaust survivors and, admittedly, there was great sympathy for the Jews because of the Holocaust. Even so, if the Negev is excluded, the Arabs got somewhat more land than the Jews (or so it seems to me, eyeballing the map of the proposed division). Jerusalem was to remain under British mandate. The Jews accepted the U.N.s recommendation and the Arabs rejected it, again taking the position that there would never be any Jewish state established in any part of Palestine. The War for Independence began the next day, when Arab snipers began killing Jewish civilians on buses outside Tel Aviv. The rest is, as they say, history.Although Israel was established primarily by European Jews, it was founded to be a haven for any Jew in trouble. And as soon as Israel finished with the job of rescuing Holocaust survivors, it turned toward those Jews next most endangered the Jews of the Arab world and of Iran. Over 1,000 Jews in Arab countries were murdered in the late 1940s and the entire Jewish population, over 800,000 people, was at risk. Over the next 20 years, Israel rescued the Jewish population from these countries. There are probably not 25,000 Jews left in the Arab world today. Many of these Jews lost everything they had because they were not permitted to take valuables with them or to sell them before leaving. The price of exit was forfeiture. And no permanent U.N. commission was set up to pay them hundreds of millions of dollars each year. They had to make it on their own. And they did, too.But this is not the whole story. For a thousand years and more, these Jewish populations lived in the apartheid world of the Arabs. At most times and in most places they were officially second-class citizens, living under specific legal disabilities, having to pay special taxes and having to make the personal obeisances that accompany inferior status. Against this background of apartheid, there were times of relative leniency when the Jewish community could flourish, but these alternated with periods of real repression, including outbreaks of mass murder, forced conversion, expropriation of property and more. And when things went south, the Jews were powerless to prevent it. During Ottoman rule, things were better, but even here the record was very spotty. And the Arabs deeply resented any attempt by the Ottomans to elevate the Jews to equal status. As Ottoman power declined, the old ways began to reassert themselves. The 1800s and 1900s were not periods when things were getting better and better, but instead they were getting worse. You can find exceptions, but this was the general trend.It is not generally known, but these Middle Eastern Jews (or their children or grandchildren) constitute a large percentage of Israels Jewish population. I would estimate somewhere between 40-50 percent. For these Jews, and objectively, Israel is a liberation movement from Arab-on-Jew apartheid and prejudice. And these Jews, after all, were returning to their ancestral homeland. Where is it written that the only just solution to this conflict is for the Arabs to have 100% of the land in the Middle East and that for the Jews to have one-half of one percent of the land is a crime against the Arabs.In the spirit of Ms. Steinfels, who asks that we see more than one side of the story, I would ask you to incorporate this side into your thinking on the subject.

Jeff asks,Where is it written that the only just solution to this conflict is for the Arabs to have 100% of the land in the Middle East and that for the Jews to have one-half of one percent of the land is a crime against the Arabs[?].Apparently it is written in the DNA of Ms. Steinfels...

Jeff,Thanks for this brief history. A while ago I looked all this stuff up myself and I was especially interested to read about Haj Amin al-Husseini and his association with Hitler during WWII. Wikipedia has a helpful page - History of the IsraeliPalestinian conflict

Jeff: You step outside the arena of fair comment in suggesting that "Each of you have raised the issue of whether the founding of the state of Israel was a wrong done to the Palestinians, Mr. McCrea in his entire post and Ms. Steinfels in the last paragraph of the sermon."Quoting "Mr. Haber's" reaction to a sermon does not mean I agree with it. Fr. Feehily, to whom I addressed my comment, seems to have a hard time summoning the possibility that his views are the only possible ones. Haber's reaction to the sermon he heard tells us that many people have complicated views on this question.In your own lengthy history, I don't see mention of Great Britain's role as the mandate power in Palestine. That too is a complicated issue as is their precipitous departure, which increased the likelihood of war between the Israelis and Palestinians. Who has suffered more? That is an unanswerable question. Everyone has suffered and continues to suffer in one way or another. The suffering will continue; that is the tragedy.

Margaret: Please excuse my transgression. I guess I just assumed you were endorsing what he said. I did not mean to attribute to you a view that is not your own. And I am glad that it is not your view.As for Great Britain, the Peel Commission that I mentioned was a British endeavor. Great Britain had the mandate pursuant to the League of Nations from approximately 1922 until the U.N., at Great Britain's request, relieved it of responsibility as of midnight of May 14, 1948. That same day, the provisional government of Israel declared the establishment of the State of Israel. The next day, Arab armies invaded to kill the baby in her crib. But the war with the Palestinians, as mentioned in my previous post, had begun in 1947, the day after the U.N. voted to recommend a two state solution. It raged even as the mandate continued.It was Great Britain that closed the gate of Jewish immigration in 1937, but it was done at the insistence of the Arabs, as I stated in my post. Great Britain's action is one reason why Irgun and the Stern Gang went after it with acts of terrorism, and why Great Britain then hunted their members down and when they could killed them in gun battles or arrested, tried, and hung them by their necks until they were dead.I agree that there has been and continues to be great suffering on both sides.I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving.

Anderson Cooper did some fine reporting from Gaza this week about how things are on the ground. You might have seen the clip of him dodging a shell. Today, back in Israel, he was questioned by Wolf Blitzer about it, Fascinating, but extremely grim. Moving from Gaza back into Israel is an unbelievable experience. How do those people live like that? Catch it later if you can. I'm sure it will be repeated.

Crystal Watson: I have been reading with interest the extensive article at Wikipedia on al-Husseini, and learning much. Thanks for the post.

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