Category Archives: Jerusalem

JVP Rabbis Passover Message: This Year Let’s Divest from Hewlett-Packard!

Here’s a new Passover video message from the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, which uses the final line of the seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” as a cue to examine the current dire reality in earthly Jerusalem. Please watch – and consider using its text as a reading/call to action at your seder this year:

This year in Jerusalem, Israeli policies seek to limit the number of Palestinians who can live in the city.

This year in Jerusalem,  Palestinian Jerusalemites are deemed “permanent residents.” Israel considers them immigrants even though for many, Jerusalem has been their family’s home for generations.

This year in Jerusalem, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, is maintained by daily practices of surveillance and control.  In recent years, these practices have increasingly relied on technology provided by international corporations.

This year in Jerusalem: a Hewlett-Packard powered system divides Palestinians into four categories, each with different rights: blue Israeli IDs, green-blue Palestinian-Jerusalem IDs, green West Bank IDs and orange Gaza IDs.

According to Human Rights Watch, over 640,000 Palestinians risk separation from a direct family member who holds a different colored ID. Hewlett-Packard profits from this colored ID system that divides Palestinian families and loved ones.

This year in Jerusalem:  Israel’s “Cen­ter of Life” policy requires that Palestinian Jerusalemites prove continuous residency in the city to retain their Jerusalem IDs.  There is no such requirement for Jewish Israelis.

This year in Jerusalem:  More than 120,000 family unification applications remain unprocessed. Over 10,000 Jerusalem children are estimated to be unregistered and more than 14,000 Jerusalem residencies have been revoked.

The decision to grant or deny Jerusalem residency for Palestinians is at the discretion of the Israeli government.  Meanwhile Jews throughout the world are entitled to receive automatic and immediate citizenship through Israel’s Law of Return for Jews and reside in Jerusalem at will.

Hundreds of churches, colleges and socially responsible retirement funds continue to be invested in Hewlett-Packard.  This year let’s divest from Hewlett Packard, so that next year, bashana ha’baah, we’ll be one step closer to the day when Palestinian families can gather and pray freely in Jerusalem.

This year, let’s divest from Hewlett Packard, so that next year, bashana ha’baah, we will be one step closer to Jerusalem being a just home for all of its residents.

This year, let’s divest from Hewlett Packard, so that next year, b’shana ha’baah, we will be one step closer to Jerusalem truly being a city of peace.

(To take a Passover pledge to support full freedom of movement for all Jerusalemites, click here.)

Land and Liberation: An Interview with Reverend Naim Ateek

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This past weekend, I had the great pleasure to engage in an extended interview with Reverend Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, during a brief visit he made to Chicago. I’ve known Rev. Ateek for several years and am honored to call him a friend and colleague – and I’ve written before about his important work in the development of Palestinian liberation theology.  Since he’s been the object of unrelenting attack by the Jewish institutional establishment, I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to model a different kind of Jewish-Christian engagement on his life and his work.

An edited version of our conversation follows here:

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Reclaiming a Tu B’shvat of Liberation

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Tonight is the eve of Tu B’shvat, the Jewish festival that celebrates the “New Year of the Trees.” According to the Talmud, Tu B’shvat marks the dividing point for the tithing of the fruit from trees for the year to come. Throughout the centuries, this festival has been announced by the blossoming of the white almond blossoms that proliferate throughout the central and northern parts of the land of Israel.

As a celebration of the natural world and the tentative beginnings of spring, Tu B’shvat has been celebrated in different ways during different eras of Jewish history and through a variety of Jewish cultural contexts around the world. But with the rise of the Zionist movement and the establishment of the state of Israel, Tu B’shvat has become, for many Jews, almost exclusively associated with the Jewish National Fund’s fund raising efforts to plant pine forests throughout modern-day Israel.

In a recent blog post, my friend and colleague Cantor Michael Davis underlined the darker legacy of this particular Tu B’shvat observance, noting that the JNF’s mission to create Jewish facts on the land has led to tragedy for the Palestinian people:

My first home in Israel was in a little village in the Jerusalem hills. On the bus to school in Jerusalem, I could see the pine forests stretching from the crest of the hilltops down to the dirt trail at the base of the slopes. Sometimes, I would go on hikes along these trails, passing through the deserted stone buildings of Lifta at the entrance to Jerusalem. Close up, I could see the man-made stone terraces hidden by the trees.

Occasionally, you would come across broken stone walls tracing the shape of a ruined house. The pines blurred the lines of previous ownership and concealed the destruction of Palestinian civilization that happened with the birth of the State. (Over) 80% of the forests were planted after the birth of the State of Israel, many of them on land vacated by the departing indigenous population. Some 80% of the Palestinian population left in 1948, never to return. And this project continues with JNF’s focus on land in the Palestinian areas of the State of Israel in the Galilee and Negev and the secretive planting of trees in the West Bank. (In a call-in interview that JNF just posted on YouTube, the organization’s CEO, Russell Robinson, does not answer a caller’s question about JNF tree planting over the Green Line.)

I was particularly struck by Cantor Davis’ observation that the forests of the Jewish National Fund forests are not fruitbearing, but pine:

It is deeply symbolic then that the early 20th century Eastern European settlers chose a non-native, barren tree. Symbolically and in a real sense, this foreign tree displaced the olive trees of the indigenous population.

Might there be a way to decouple Tu B’shvat from this destructive legacy of colonialism and disenfranchisement? I’d like to suggest one possibility:

I’ve long noticed the power of celebrating this “harbinger of spring” in the colder climates of the northern-hemisphere diaspora, where we are barely one month into winter and the landscape is filled not by the white of newly-budding almond blossoms, but by the white of snow-covered trees.

While some might think this would be an unlikely setting to celebrate Tu B’shvat, I actually find it quite profound to contemplate the coming of Spring in the midst of a Chicago winter. It comes to remind us that even during this dark, often bitterly cold season, there are unseen forces at work preparing our world for renewal and rebirth. Deep beneath the ground, the sap is beginning to rise in the roots of our trees. In the chilly diaspora, we can celebrate the invisible forces of liberation reborn underground even as the prison of winter seems to reign above.

Thus we observe Tu B’shvat as a welcome reminder that spring will always follow winter; that even in the coldest and darkest of times, the unseen power of liberation will inexorably rise up.

I encourage you to reclaim Tu B’shvat as a celebration of liberation: seasonal, spiritual, political, or all of the above.

Click here for more information on how you can support tree-planting for justice, not disenfranchisement.

The New One-State Solution: Connecting the Dots

Connect these dots:

From The Guardian:

The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank grew by more than 15,000 in the past year to reach a total that exceeds 350,000 for the first time and has almost doubled in the past 12 years.

Figures from Israel’s population registry show a 4.5% increase in the past 12 months. Most of the newcomers moved into settlements that many observers expect to be evacuated in any peace deal leading to a Palestinian state.

There are an additional 300,000 Jews living in settlements across the pre-1967 border in East Jerusalem, the pro-government and mass-circulation newspaper Israel Hayom reported.

Putting a finer point on these statistics, Dani Dayan, chairman of the settlers Yesha Council had this to say in a recent NY Times op-ed:

(We) aim to expand the existing Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and create new ones. This is not — as it is often portrayed — a theological adventure but is rather a combination of inalienable rights and realpolitik. Even now, and despite the severe constraints imposed by international pressure, more than 350,000 Israelis live in Judea and Samaria. With an annual growth rate of 5 percent, we can expect to reach 400,000 by 2014 — and that excludes the almost 200,000 living in Jerusalem’s newer neighborhoods. Taking Jerusalem into account, about 1 in every 10 Israeli Jews resides beyond the 1967 border. Approximately 160,000 Jews live in communities outside the settlement blocs that proponents of the two-state solution believe could be easily incorporated into Israel.

…Our presence in all of Judea and Samaria — not just in the so-called settlement blocs — is an irreversible fact. Trying to stop settlement expansion is futile, and neglecting this fact in diplomatic talks will not change the reality on the ground; it only makes the negotiations more likely to fail.

In essence, Dayan is calling for a kind of a one-state solution here – albeit one that does not extend citizenship rights to non-Jewish residents. (Although in fairness to Dayan, he does say they should be given “freedom of movement.”)

Still can’t figure out what’s going on here? Let’s connect the final dot.  While the Jewish population in Area C of the West Bank is increasing, Israel is demolishing homes, evicting Palestinians, and moving them into Areas A and B at an ever-increasing pace.

Here’s Mya Guarnieri, writing in +972:

At the same time that Israeli settlements are expanding unchecked, the state is putting the Palestinians and Bedouins who live in Area C under extreme, unrelenting pressure, as exemplified by this week’s report by Haaretz that Defense Minister Barak has ordered the demolition of eight Palestinian villages to make way for IDF training.

Demolitions of homes and structures in 2012 have seen an increase. According to a source at the United Nations, between January 1 and April 27 of 2011, 352 Palestinian and Bedouin were forcibly displaced from their homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The same period of 2012 saw “at least 487″ people lose their homes.

It’s a one-two punch intended to increase the Jewish population in the West Bank as much as possible and deplete the Palestinian population as much as possible to ready the area for annexation. Susya, a Palestinian village that is under threat of demolition, is an example of how this works. The village has been destroyed numerous times since the Jewish settlement of Susya was built there in 1983, despite the documents proving it belongs to Palestinians and the fact that this small community has no where else to go.

Israeli pressure on the Palestinian and Bedouin residents of Area C has resulted in a drop in the Arab population in the same area.

And then there’s the Levy Committee Report, which denies that there is an occupation and, according to some observers, lays the legal groundwork (at least in the mind of the Israeli government) for a unilateral annexation of Area C.

It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.

OK, I’ll say it for you: Israel has no intention of creating a two-state solution. It is creating it’s own “one-state” solution by increasing the Jewish population in the West Bank and warehousing Palestinians in Bantustans throughout Areas A and B. By any other name this would be called an “apartheid” state.

If there are those who disagree with my calculus, I’m certainly open to hearing alternative explanations. In the meantime, here are two questions I’m still unable to answer: when will our community be ready to call out this illegal and immoral behavior?  And what will we be willing to do about it?

“Home Front” – Just Vision Chronicles the Struggle in Sheikh Jarrah

Just Vision (the folks behind the documentary films “Encounter Point” and “Budrus“) has just released “Home Front” – a new series of four video portraits that profiles Palestinians fighting Israeli settler takeover of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah as well as Israeli solidarity activists who are standing with them in their struggle.

If you ‘re unfamiliar with the situation in Sheikh Jarrah (and similar circumstances in other parts of E. Jerusalem and the West Bank) this film will provide you with a powerful and expertly documented introduction.  Click above to see the first clip. Click here to see all four.

Highly recommended.

Tell JNF to Cease its Practice of Ethnic Cleansing

The Sumarin Family (Photo by: Michal Fattal)

From the newly formed Campaign for Bedouin – Jewish Justice in Israel (a joint project of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and the Jewish Alliance for Change):

While many of us will be gathering with our loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving, the Sumarin family will be anxiously sitting on suitcases and wondering whether they will have a home in another week.

The Sumarins, a Palestinian family of twelve, including five children, a pregnant mother, and a grandfather on dialysis, have lived in their home for more than forty years in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

On Monday, November 28th, they will be evicted from their home – unless we raise our voices now.

We’re deeply troubled that a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund in Israel, called Himnuta, is behind this move.

To expel this family is a violation of both Jewish and human rights law.   And it risks inflaming Arab-Jewish tensions in Jerusalem, further undermining the hope for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Send a message now to JNF CEO Russell Robinson and urge him to stop JNF’s Himnuta from expelling the Sumarin family from their home.

The Silwan neighborhood has long been a flash point in the struggle over land in and around the Old City of Jerusalem and the site of clashes between Jews and Palestinians.

Twenty years ago, an ultra-nationalist Israeli government bent on expanding Jewish control in East Jerusalem took legal possession of the Sumarin home, along with other Arab properties in Silwan. The government transferred the Sumarins’ home to JNF’s Himnuta, along with seven other houses in Silwan.

Himnuta then turned its other East Jerusalem properties over to ELAD, a group whose explicit political agenda is to expropriate Palestinian homes and land in Silwan and transfer them to the control of Jewish settlers. There is every reason to expect that the Sumarins’ home will also end up in ELAD’s hands.

How has the Israeli government used the law to expropriate Palestinian property and land in East Jerusalem for Jewish settlers?Go here for the story.

Remind JNF CEO Russell Robinson that “legal” does not mean “just.”  The many anti-democratic and anti-Arab laws recently passed by the Knesset add yet more tragic testimony of the ways law can be used for injustice.

This will not be the last expulsion of a Palestinian family from Silwan by JNF’s Himnuta or ELAD.   Other families are facing the same threat.

Tell JNF CEO Russell Robinson: It’s time to end JNF’s role in expulsions or demolitions of Palestinian and Bedouin homes, whether in the Negev or East Jerusalem.

For more information, see this recent article in Ha’aretz and this post from Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity.

The LA Times on Lifta, Katamon and the Resilience of Memory

Lifta today

I’ve been increasingly impressed with the LA Times’ willingness to run pieces on Israel/Palestine that unflinchingly explore the deeper dimensions of the conflict. Latest example: a powerful op-ed by Palestinian doctor, academic and writer Ghada Karmi.

In her piece, Karmi responded to a recent LA Times feature that chronicled the events currently swirling around Lifta, the last intact pre-1948 Palestinian village in Israel. The Israel Lands Administration plans to raze this historic site in order to develop 212 luxury apartments, a hotel and retail shops; advocates fighting for the preservation of the site point out that these plans are but the latest example of Israel’s ongoing assault on Palestinian memory.

Karmi commented on the timeliness of the article, noting that April was the month that in 1948, her family was forced from their home in Jerusalem:

The people of Lifta (the village that The Times features), which is just three miles from my old neighborhood in west Jerusalem, were already fleeing in December 1947. The Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah and the Stern Gang, a Jewish dissident group, attacked the villagers with guns and hand grenades. By February 1948, most houses on the edge of the village had been demolished; the inhabitants fled in terror.

The same fate was intended for Katamon, where we lived. Increasing attacks on our street and its vicinity had the same desired effect as in Lifta. After January 1948, when the Semiramis Hotel on a street near ours was bombed by the Haganah, killing 26 people (a nightmare of horror that I dimly remember), the attacks against our neighborhood escalated. Families started leaving, fearful for their children and believing it would be a temporary evacuation. By the time we left, hardly any of our friends remained. The increasing danger around us forced my parents to leave. We took nothing with us, convinced it would not be long before we returned.

Karmi pointed out that unlike Lifta and hundreds of other Palestinian villages, her home is still inhabited today. Then in a throwaway aside, she revealed a minor bombshell: NY Times correspondent Ethan Bronner currently lives in an upper story that was later added on to her family home.

Ali Abunimah covered this particular turn of events one year ago in a piece for The Electronic Intifada. Also recommended: Karmi’s memoir “In Search of Fatima” – particularly the riveting first third of the book in which she recalls her childhood experiences in Jerusalem.

Al-Jazeera Unleashes The Palestine Papers

From Al Jazeera:

Over the last several months, Al Jazeera has been given unhindered access to the largest-ever leak of confidential documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are nearly 1,700 files, thousands of pages of diplomatic correspondence detailing the inner workings of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. These documents – memos, e-mails, maps, minutes from private meetings, accounts of high level exchanges, strategy papers and even power point presentations – date from 1999 to 2010.

The material is voluminous and detailed; it provides an unprecedented look inside the continuing negotiations involving high-level American, Israeli, and Palestinian Authority officials.

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Jerusalem Has Other Lovers, Too: A Guest Post From Palestine

Silwan, E. Jerusalem, 12/24/10 (Photo: Rich Katz)

Here’s a guest post by Liz, another participant from our trip:

Looking back, it becomes clear to me that I fell in love with Jerusalem years before I would ever meet her.

We finally did meet for the first time in 1987, when I went to Israel on a high school summer program. Arriving instantly confirmed my feelings. I saw the forests of trees that I helped to build as a little girl all those times I answered the JNF’s call to give money to plant a tree in Israel. I saw the beautiful Jerusalem stone buildings everywhere. I saw Jews, feeling safe after the Holocaust, walking around proud to be there. I knew I was in love.

Subsequently, now that I was in love, I planned to spend my Junior year of college abroad in Jerusalem. But the Gulf War was launched the semester I was supposed to go and I was stuck in the US, separated from my lover. I missed being in Jerusalem so much that I told myself if I couldn’t go Junior year, then I would go for graduate school. I lived in Jerusalem from 1992-1996 and received my Master’s degree in English and Hebrew Literature from Hebrew University.

I was still in love. I was a young woman in my twenties living in Jerusalem walking the streets with pride — as though my whole life had led me to live, work, and study in this beautiful city. I deserve to be here, I am welcomed here, I need to be here.

Having just returned from the JRC trip to Israel/Palestine, I can’t get two things out of my mind. First, that my love for Jerusalem still runs very deep. And second, that it does for others even more so. Having stayed in the West Bank once before as a facilitator for Hands of Peace (a Chicago-based Israeli-Palestinian coexistence program), I was not blind to the Palestinians’ plight. For many of the Palestinians with whom I stayed, I was the first Jewish person they had met who wasn’t a soldier. They were hospitable, generous, and hungry to tell their stories. I listened, and when I returned to Chicago, I read everything I could.

This JRC trip, however, was very different. It was incredible to go with a group of Jews who had agreed to put themselves in emotionally vulnerable, uncomfortable situations which would require a lot of thinking, reflecting, and feeling. It was as though we all walked out onto a tightrope, knowing we could not go back.

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Jerusalem From a Shared Perspective

We’ve just finished the first full day of JRC’s Israel/Palestine study tour – which we devoted to understanding and experiencing Jerusalem as a “shared holy city.” While this might sound like an obvious fact, many Jews today (including myself) have been raised and socialized to regard Israel, if you will,  as a “Jewish city that just happens to be important to some other faiths as well.”

To this end we made a point of visiting and spending time at the three main holy sites of the city: the Western Wall, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Afterwards we met with two Shaykh Yusuf Abu Sneina, Imam of the al-Aqsa mosque and Rabbi Yechiel Grenimann of Rabbis for Human Rights. Tomorrow morning we’ll be meeting with Revered Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Institute to round out our visits with faith leaders.

Our tour is being led by Aziz Abu Sarah and Kobi Skolnick – who are Palestinian and Israeli respectively. Both Aziz and Kobi are remarkable individuals with powerful personal stories. Aziz is a native of Jerusalem who became radicalized at a young age after the death of his older brother at the hands of the IDF. He became active in the youth movement of Fatah and participated extensively in Palestinian resistance actions during the First Intifada.

Aziz has since become actively involved in Israeli-Palestinian coexistence work. He was one of the original staff members of the Bereaved Parents Circle and works with Rabbi Marc Gopin at the Institute for Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. Aziz and Rabbi Gopin have also founded Mejdi, a business that promotes coexistence through educational tourism and small business cooperation. (You can read an extensive interview with Aziz here.)

Kobi’s story is no less amazing. Born into a Chabad family in Israel, he moved to a settlement in the West Bank during his high school years. There he become a member of Kach – the Jewish extremist movement founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane that actively promotes violence against Palestinians. During his service in the Israeli army Kobi went though a personal transformation as he confronted the reality of the conflict.

Today, Kobi is highly involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement – he was one of the original members of Breaking the Silence and now studies conflict resolution. He travels widely as a trained mediator and facilitator.

Among other things, the genuine friendship between Aziz and Kobi has powerfully affected the members of our group. Considering their respective backgrounds and personal journeys, their working relationship and very obvious affection for one another is moving and inspiring indeed. (The picture above was taken this morning at next to the Dome of the Rock. That’s me in the middle, with Aziz on the left and Kobi on the right.)

Tomorrow we’re off to tour East Jerusalem and Bethlehem before spending two nights in the Deheishe refugee camp. Stay tuned.