Tag Archives: Israel

On Breaking the Cycle of Hate in Gaza and Israel

5 Aug

Gaza rubble

Dangerous are the men and women with nothing to lose. Count the people of Gaza among them.

 

They will have the world burn and themselves with it. They are accustomed to death, to being trapped and hunted, and will die just to make a point.

 

Gaza is a place often described as an open-air prison. The people can’t leave. They are caged. What goes in and out is controlled. Not even a fish can be taken from the sea. The view of that sea can ease the claustrophobia, but only if one ignores the war ships on the horizon.

 

Mohammed Suliman, a Palestinian human rights worker in Gaza, compares the plight of his people to the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. In the Huffington Post he writes:

 

“The besieged Jews of the Warsaw ghetto had a motto ‘to live and die in dignity.’ As I sit in my own besieged ghetto, I think how Palestinians have honored this universal value. We live in dignity and we die in dignity, refusing to accept subjugation.”

 

There is nothing unnatural in what the Gazans do. In their situation, most of us would do the same. We don’t realize that, and won’t admit to that, only because we can’t see ourselves living such a life, can’t even imagine that such a life exists.

 

If the Palestinians in Gaza were docile, their conditions would be better.

Gaza map2The blockade of Gaza is justified as way to combat Palestinian terrorism. And so in striking out at those who created the blockade, Gaza must face its own terror.

 

Israel says it will make Gaza pay an “intolerable price,” which it can. Hamas says it will destroy Israel, which it cannot.

 

Hamas, which rules Gaza, sends men into Israel with guns and bombs. It sends in barrages of largely ineffective missiles. In return, Israel destroys Gaza neighborhoods with jet fighters and missiles, effective ones.

 

The death toll is lopsided. In Gaza, schools, hospitals, homes and places of refuge are bombed. So-called “human shields” die rather than shield. Maternity hospitals become morgues.

 

What Israel sees as Palestinian terrorism, the Palestinians see as resistance. There is no common ground for negotiations. This lack of understanding is ironic, since the Hamas approach was used by Jewish freedom fighters in their battle for independence with Britain.

 

What both sides can understand, however, is the preponderance of hate and the need for vengeance and retribution. There is no thought or concern for humanity.

 

While American critics of Israel are being silenced with charges of anti-Semitism, and while real and vicious anti-Semitism grows in sympathetic Europe, I try to remember humanity.

 

I try to avoid the obscuring cloak of religion and see people simply as people and tragedy simply as tragedy. I ignore old scores but recognize the destructive dynamics of power and politics and the readiness to kill to maintain power.

 

I try to see the many victims of power, and the people who must rally around it for protection and as a way to secure the basic necessities of life.

 

With this kind of view, perhaps some answers can be found. Yet the situation grows increasingly complex.

 

There is new instability in the Middle East that is making matters worse. A growing number of Arab nations see Hamas and the Islamic movement as a threat. Like Israel, they want Hamas neutralized. And so these countries, mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, provide back channel support and momentum in the campaign against Gaza. In a way, we are witnessing a proxy war in the Sunni-Shiite fight for regional dominance, which is further complicated by an intra-Sunni rivalry.

 

As a result, hostility is layered upon hostility, making resolution much harder to achieve.

 

When the current war ends, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia may find – to their disappointment — that Hamas actually is stronger. After absorbing such terrific blows, it may win concessions pushed by the United Nations and the international community. Some of the borders around Gaza could open.

 

With people being able to get TVs, medicine, motorbikes and much more of what they need and desire, a degree of calm and possibly optimism will set in. The intelligent thing for Israel and Egypt to do is to go beyond any negotiated settlement and open borders even wider and increase that optimism. They should rebuild schools, hospitals and neighborhoods. They should initiate cultural exchanges and promote commerce and trade.

 

Gaza should be made a decent place to live.

 

Regardless, some Palestinian fighters will continue their attacks, keeping Israel under threat. But slowly, very slowly, sympathy for Hamas could shift to a more accommodating faction. With hate and revenge so insidious, nothing short of a Gandhi-esque approach will work in Gaza. And it will take time.

 

As a big assist, America’s warlike attitudes in these conflicts must end. American Jewish organization and American Jews in general can and should play a part in a new peace initiative. Likewise, Christian organizations must seek to heal and stop seeing Arab progress as a threat to Biblical prophecy. All who value religion need to recognize the importance and necessity of brotherhood and the sanctity of life.

 

A continuation of current policy only guarantees resistance, rebellion, instability, unhappiness, death and a bankruptcy of our collective spirit.

 

Mohammed al-Banna, a Palestinian who in one morning lost nine of his in-laws, told the New York Times, “The aggression here is creating a new generation of youth who want revenge for all the crimes.”

There is no future in this. The cycle of hate and death needs to be broken. The outstanding question is: Who or what has the courage, stamina, patience, temperament and love of mankind to do it?

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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A Sephardic Jew: Why discriminate against this person?

19 Oct

emmanuelle chriqui

The man whom I will call the Martin Luther King of Israel has died at 93.

He was Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a leader in politics and religion.

It is doubtful anyone else has compared him to the American civil rights leader, but that’s how I see it. Just as there is black and white in America, in Israel there is Sephardic and Ashkenazi. The Sephardim are the underdogs. Rabbi Yosef was their advocate and protector.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Most Americans think of Israeli Jews as homogenous. This is because most American Jews are of European descent, which makes them Ashkenazi. Overlooked and mostly out of sight in the U.S. are the Sephardim, who are Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. This group has more in common with Arab culture than with European culture, hence the dichotomy and the basis for discrimination.

It is dangerous for a non-Jew, such as myself, to write about the social fabric of Judaism, especially when the writer has never been to Israel and never witnessed the relationship between Sephardim and Ashkenazim.  So let it be known that I write with interest rather than authority.

It is of little consequence here, but a casual friend is a Sephardic American. He has never mentioned the word in my presence, nor has he ever discussed any difference between himself and any other Jew. His ancestors are from Morocco. His mother lives in France, is very refined, quite fashionable and appears wealthy. She reminds me of Jackie Kennedy. These things are all counter to the negative stereotype of the Sephardim, which I learned of only through television.

Jerry Seinfeld: Sephardic Jew

Jerry Seinfeld: Sephardic Jew

I wish I could remember the name of the film, or on which channel it appeared. I would link to it to see if you found it as shocking as I. It was shot in Israel and documented the perception of the Sephardim by the Ashkenazim. Some of the dialogue could have been overlaid on a film about white and black Americans.

For example, many Ashkenazi, in a nod to tolerance, said the Sephardim are hip and cool and fun; that they set trends and styles. Some said they have friends who are Sephardic. Still, in subsequent conversations, they said Sephardic Jews are mostly poor, crude, criminal and not so intelligent.

Clearly, social barriers have been set. This was confirmed for me when I read Rabbi Yosef obituary.

Other comments didn’t parallel the black-white struggle in America, like the disgust shown for the Sephardim who watch Arab movies.

Basically, the documentary illustrates how the one group considers the other inferior and beneath them. Overall, the impression was that the Sephardim were just too much like Arabs.

The irony here is that so were Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.

Indeed, recent genetic testing has shown that the Ashkenazim may be far off the Hebrew bloodline. It was originally thought that the Jewish communities in Europe originated with men and women from the Near East.  Now it has been shown genetically that the ancestral roots of the Ashkenazim are in the union of non-Jewish European women and traveling Jewish traders.

Although the comparison between blacks and whites in America is somewhat accurate – an Israeli court, for example, had to force the integration of Sephardic and Ashkenazi school children — this intra-Jewish problem has additional layers of complexity. Unlike in America, differences in religious practices also keep the Jewish groups apart.

I referred to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as the Martin Luther King of Israel, but, unlike King, he was for school segregation in the court case I mentioned. Religion, it seems, was taught at the school in question, and Rabbi Yosef wanted only pure and accepted Sephardic doctrine taught to the children of his followers, not a diluted, blended brand taught in a mixed school.

Religion aside, the life and work of Rabbi Ovadia – like those of Dr. King — indicate the pervasive need of Homo sapiens to form tight groups of very like people, to preach group superiority and to categorize others – even those who could easily be accepted into the group – as inferior and unworthy of advancement. It shows the incredible need to hold back rather than lift up.

What is the basis for this need?

Limited resources? Limited positions of power? Intrinsic insecurity? General nastiness? The necessity to have enemies as a motivating force for survival and civilization building?

Because of their differences, and because of our shortcomings as a species, it seems almost understandable that there is tension between blacks and whites, Jews and Arabs (even thought they are both Semitic people), liberals and conservatives. But why does each group draw circles within their circles to set even more people apart?

How can we solve global conflict when the people on the north side of Chicago distrust those on the south side?

The Jews possess a unique place in history as one of the first cultures – perhaps the first – to take stock of itself and say, “We are barbarians. This is unacceptable.”

For now and always, the People of The Book have documented their epic struggle for the perfect, enlightened society. Through darkness and light, catastrophe and near destruction, triumph, dire warnings, dire consequences and rebirth, they have never ceased to strive with God and themselves.

One would think that by now such a people could get along with themselves; that such a people might actually be the ones to bring peace to the entire Earth.

Who better?

While we wait for a new prophet, I would hope that all will soon dispense with finding disgust over another person simply because of his taste in movies.

Rest in peace, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

 

 

The lucrative tunnels of Gaza

18 Feb

gaza-tunnels

 

For those without it, money always seems to end up in the wrong hands.

A fool and his money are soon parted because there never will be a shortage of disreputable types willing to fleece the weak and unknowing. Writer Dorothy Parker said if you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to. And the Bible itself, in Matthew 19-24, plainly and poetically states that heaven is not for the rich.

But while money has caused great misery in the world, it also has the remarkable, almost magical power of solving problems. It can literally break down barriers.

In the Middle East, in Gaza, there is a wall. On one side are people who need things they can’t get. One the other side are those things.

Due to the force and power of money, the wall and all its associated political obstructions have been circumvented.

They’ve been circumvented by tunnels, which in Gaza can make millions for their owners.

These outlaw entrepreneurs find the means to acquire the wood, concrete and excavation equipment needed to create 700-meter corridors of commerce. Some might even dig a tunnel by hand, even though it could be destroyed by Israeli bombs.

These tunnels are in the town of Rafah, which is split down the middle. Egypt controls one side; Israel the other. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Gaza has 1.6 million people, with 40 percent living below the United Nations poverty line. Unemployment is at 31 percent.

Yet the tunnels can cause the economy to boom. Businessweek says that the tunnel system employs almost 15,000 and carries 75 percent of the good sold in the area.

One successful tunnel owner, Emad Shaaer, has family members on both side of the barrier, which greatly facilitates his business. Payment for his services vary. “Sometimes you got $200,000, and sometimes you got nothing,” he said.

Tunnel construction can cost about $200,000, but you only need $50,000 to get started. You don’t have to pay the labors and tunnel experts until the flow of goods starts.

Things became really good for the smugglers in 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority. To punish Hamas and Gaza residents for taking a more radical stance, Israel closed the borders even tighter. If anything can make a smuggler rich it’s a tight border. But as success and profits grew, they attracted attention.

When Hamas realized how much money the tunnel owners were making, it began to tax the operations, raising an estimated $188 million annually. (Hamas denies this.) The local Gaza government also regulates the good that can be transported, outlawing all the things that make the most money. (Further outlawing what is already outlawed.)

Even so, it is doubtful the tunnels will go away. Taxes and regulations can be skirted. Or, maybe there is enough for both the tunnel owners and Hamas.

The only thing that can truly destroy the tunnel system is peace, a highly unlikely prospect. Still, it is possible that the day may come when there will be enough profit in peace that the power and force of money will have succeeded in making us civil.

In such a case, I would argue that the time has finally arrived to allow the rich into heaven.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

 

Can’t we just stay home and make money?

7 Mar

Much is being written about Iran and a possible attack. If it happens, it will be an Israeli initiative that requires U.S. military support … a pre-emptive strike designed to stop a nuke program. Obama has spoken with some caution, but the Republicans seem to want a new war. In all this, it rarely is said that both American and Israeli intelligence agencies believe Iran discontinued its nuclear program in 2003.

The New York Times wrote at least once about this, but doesn’t mention the intelligence in fresh stories. No one does. Is this yet another case of ignoring the facts to accomplish the dastardly?

Why the madness? If one can’t accept the moral arguments for peace, I hope they can accept the financial ones.

 

Finish one war, start another

5 Feb

Remember this?

If you believe news reports, it seems likely that Israel will attack Iran in an attempt to knock out its ability to make nuclear weapons. Iran denies it has plans to build such weapons. The reports took me back to those days when we were threatening to attack Iraq because it had weapons of mass destruction. There were no weapons, but we did, of course, attack.

Question for thought: If Iran truly did not intend to build nukes, would the U.S. and the Israelis acknowledge that and back off?

Second question: If you were the leader of Iran, would you prefer to be an unthreatened nation without nukes who concentrates on making money from oil, or one who plans to build nukes and has its economy destroyed by an attack from a neighbor allied with the U.S.?

If pre-emptive action is necessary, I prefer cyber war to hot war. Generally, no one dies. It also is less expensive. The downside: it invites  counter-attacks, which require not billions in military spending but only a single, clever mind.

A recent cyber attack on Iran’s reactors proved pretty successful. I assumed that was going to be the continued course of action. Seems I was wrong. I also thought the Iranian nuke problem was mostly solved by the assassinations of its top nuke scientists.

Wrong again.

Perhaps nations wouldn’t build nuclear weapons if they felt secure and unthreatened. How does one go about doing that? Religion is a logical start, but I think that was tried and actually made things worse.

Anyway, we all should brace ourselves for another major world conflict, a loss of the recent stock market gains and the fun and excitement of lining up for $5 a gallon gas.

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