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This week’s Washington Jewish Week has a short piece about a counter-protest against the TIFF protesters. For those who don’t know, a group of filmmakers, artists and academics protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s holding a special focus on Tel Aviv.  The protest document, called ‘The Toronto Declaration’ has rankled many of Israel’s aggressive supporters for making a comparison to apartheid South Africa and the general characterization of the state.

Now, a group of mostly Hollywood directors, actors and writers have written a letter protesting the Toronto Declaration, calling it an effort at ‘blacklisting’. I personally have some problems with the wording of the Toronto Declaration, but the counter-protest and the Washington Jewish Week piece distort what the Declaration said.  It is hardly a ‘blacklisting’, as the protest does not call for any restrictions on Israeli films or filmmakers.  The focus on Tel Aviv does not appear to be part of a focus on Israeli film, but rather part of an advertising campaign, as noted by Roger Ebert, who is not a signatory to either petition. Not surprisingly, Israel wants to draw attention to the realities of the occupation, and this is part of a new effort.

The aspect of the Washington Jewish Week piece that I find to be most pernicious is the attempt to discredit the signatories of the Toronto Declaration, partly through a subtle racism.  Five signatories are named, Jane Fonda, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Julie Christie, and Alice Walker.  First is Jane Fonda, who for most people self-identified as “pro-Israel” will dismiss as a lefty radical who supported the Viet-Cong.  Belafonte, Glover, and Walker are all black.  This seems like an effort to characterize blacks as enemies of the Jews, as the number of African-Americans on the list is not very large.  Furthermore, a significant proportion of the signatories are Jewish, and there are a number of Israelis on the list as well.  As for other celebrities, there is Viggo Morternson, Howard Zinn, Slavok Zizek, Ken Loach who are all as notable as Julie Christie.

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Today Taayush members went out to Hebron.  We were accompanied by a new friend, whom I shall call Y.  Not long ago, Y finished his service in the IDF.  Although coming with Taayush for the first time, he had been out with a couple of other groups, learning more details about the situation in the Occupied Territories.

However, his first real learning experience took place while in the army.  He had been a soldier in Bil’in, the site of regular protests against the construction of the Separation Barrier which often end in violence.  Y said that his time there raised questions for him about the morality of what the army was doing.

To begin with, he wondered about the path of the wall, which went right through the middle of a grove of olive trees, instead of around it.  Then there was the attitude of some of his fellow soldiers who said “we have the power, no one can tell us what to do.” They were angered by the challenge to their authority, and often responded with brutality.

Y recounted one instance when a settler woman told the soldiers that someone had thrown a stone at her.  The army’s response was to go to the Palestinian village, and line everyone up.  Most of the Palestinians there were children, and Y said he started to feel like the  ‘bad guy’.

While off-duty as a soldier, Y began to join the Bil’in protesters and see the conflict from their side.  One day he was called up by an officer and told that he would no longer serve with them because of his activities.  The rest of his service was spent as a ‘jobnik’, doing secretarial work.

I admire Y’s standing up for his convictions, and refusing to ignore the reality of what he and his fellow soldiers had been doing.  He told me he considers himself an Israeli patriot, and I believe his values have proven it.

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For years, Ezra Nawi has been an active and outspoken Israeli activist for the Palestinians of the South Mount Hebron region.  Recently he was found guilty of assaulting an officer, a crime that he denies, and no one who knows Ezra believes.

I have worked with Ezra on many occasions, and although passionate about his work with Palestinians, he is good-humored and has never been violent in any way.  I do not believe for a moment that he is guilty of assault.

Neve Gordon wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian that tells the story well.

There is also a website that has been put up to help support Ezra through political petitions and assistance with legal fees.

The website is at:http://www.supportezra.net/


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Vacation until March

I wanted to inform readers that I am on vacation and will resume posting in the beginning of March.

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I came across this song just a couple days ago.  It’s as if I picked the title of this blog with the song in mind.

Here is Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, and Bonnie Raitt performing the song “Across the Borderline”.  Unfortunately the video is not good, but the audio is, so probably best to listen and not watch.

Here is the first two verses

Theres a place where Ive been told
Every street is paved with gold
And its just across the borderline
And when its time to take your turn
Heres one lesson that you must learn
You could lose more than youll ever hope to find

When you reach the broken promised land
And every dream slips through your hands
Then youll know that its too late to change your mind
cause youve paid the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And youre still just across the borderline

The line “You could lose more than you ever hope to find” makes me think of one of the tragedies of Israel’s actions, the settlements.  As more and more land is being grabbed by the settlers, the state itself is losing  its morality and creating an unhealthy mind-set in the Israeli population.  Much more is being lost through the policies of settlement building, and treatment of the Palestinians, than is gained in land or security.

The term, “broken promised land” is obviously powerful, and it reminds me of something.  Around two years ago, I went out on my first “peace activity”, which was helping some Palestinians to harvest their olives.  Along on the trip was Udi Adiv (Wikipedia entry).  He is an Israeli who was imprisoned for 12 years for spying for Syria.  What seems to have happened is that he was foolish, and trying to establish a dialogue, not be a spy.

Anyway, he was generally quiet, but he came up to me, and the first thing he said was, “What are you doing in this Unholy Land”.  Needless to say, I was stunned, and came out with the reply, “I’m doing an ulpan at [kibbutz] Hazorea”.  (An ulpan by the way, is an intensive Hebrew course).  Well, we didn’t talk much after that, but his provocative question was burned into my mind, and I don’t think I’ll forget it.

Any comments or interpretations on the lyrics to the song would be appreciated.

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Very Brief Hiatus

I will be writing again in a few days, and I will start including pictures(!) as well. At the moment I have a lot of work though.

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The Reaction

The neighborhood bully strikes again – Haaretz – Israel News .

Gideon Levy writes on the dangers of the Gaza operation, both moral and political.  I think his opening paragraph captures these dangers quite well:

Israel embarked yesterday on yet another unnecessary, ill-fated war. On July 16, 2006, four days after the start of the Second Lebanon War, I wrote: “Every neighborhood has one, a loud-mouthed bully who shouldn’t be provoked into anger… Not that the bully’s not right – someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction!” 

To be honest, the issue of ‘proportionality’ never held much sway with me, but I’ve started looking at it in a slightly different way.  In the past, the idea of proportionality was distasteful because it seemed to suggest that there should always be a basically equal amount of dead.  I now see it in terms of reasonable or unreasonable response.

Israel’s response, like in the Second Lebanon War, is too much, and seems almost like a reaction of rage.  This may or may not be a good parallel, but what came to mind was, if your ‘enemy’ kills your cousin, you respond by killing his whole family and burning down his house.  I can understand that Israel wants to act to stop the rockets coming in, but that doesn’t mean that any response is justifiable.

These bombings are getting a lot more coverage internationally than anything I can remember in my 2+ years here.  For the first time, I have friends sending me emails and messages, asking, ‘what is going on over there?’

One friend told me, that upon seeing images of Gaza on television, a line from Schiller’s poem, “Song of the Bell”, came to mind.  She translated the line as meaning “woe, when they are unleashed”.  It gave me pause to say the least.  I can leave it to any readers to determine what exactly has been ‘unleashed’.

One thing I urge supporters of the current strikes on Gaza to reflect on, is that the IDF has acknowledged that these are not exclusively strikes on Hamas’ armed groups and buildings, but rather everything connected with Hamas.  This meant bombing the Islamic University in Gaza, which was a troubling act.  I know the University had many connections to Hamas, but it was still a University, and I think that regardless of association and ideology connected with an institution of learning, they should be considered off-limits as targets.

Finally, I will direct you to Wisdom and Folly from U.S., Israeli Media on Gaza | Tikun Olam-תקון עולם: Make the World a Better Place.  There are some interesting comments in this section, and some good articles from Haaretz are discussed as well.

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