(JTA) — Inhale your arms up into warrior one. Exhale and extend your arms into warrior two.
I followed the instructor’s soft but firm voice as she led me and five other women through the yoga poses, and the deep breathing helped to calm my nerves. The large tiled room was gently lit through white curtains that masked the busy city life outside Farashe Yoga.
Farashe is Arabic for butterfly, and the busy city outside the studio’s walls is Ramallah.
Exhale into your reverse warrior, the instructor guided us. I complied, letting out a long-held breath.
Ramallah is just six miles north of Jerusalem. But to get there from Jerusalem requires passing through the Kalandia checkpoint, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours. A red sign outside the checkpoint reads “This Road leads To Area ‘A’ Under The Palestinian Authority/ The Entrance For Israeli Citizens Is Forbidden, Dangerous To Your Lives And Is Against The Israeli Law.”
Area A is under Palestinian jurisdiction. Cars like the one I was in, rented in Israel, are not insured there. But my American passport pacified the Israeli soldier manning the checkpoint and we were waved through without delay.
Farashe is near the center of Ramallah, through a lively marketplace, where fruit and vegetable vendors shout out the prices of persimmons, dates and the largest cabbages I have ever seen. Past the famous stone lions of the Al Manara Square and across the street from the Stars & Bucks Cafe (its motto, according to a server, is “Let Starbucks come to Ramallah and sue us”) sits the stone building that is home to the studio. Behind a green door, up a stairway littered with cigarette butts and fast food wrappers, is the yoga studio. The class cost 20 shekels, or about $5.
When I initially reached out to Farashe, I was told by a man named Ibrahim that I would be “more than welcome to attend.” But when I told them I was a journalist from a Jewish publication, Ibrahim responded, “Farashe has a very strict policy about which media channels to talk (sic), as we are an organization that abides by BDS regulations,” referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which attempts to place political pressure on and economically isolate Israel.
My request for an interview, he told me, had been denied.
Still from CCTV footage of the West Bank killing / Youtube
I hate to say I told you so. But the fatal shooting of two Palestinian teens in the West Bank this summer? Not faked. Not “Pallywood.” Not even close. It was exactly what it appeared to be.
On May 15, four Palestinians, three of them children, were shot in the town of Bitunya during a demonstration near the Ofer Prison. Two of them, Nadim Siyam Nawarah and Muhammad Mahmoud Salameh, both 17, died of their wounds. CCTV footage of the shootings clearly showing both boys collapsing after being mortally wounded went viral around the world and was immediately met with conspiracy theories, first by bloggers and then by current and former high-ranking Israeli officials, that the shootings had been staged.
In some versions, as promoted by Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, director of the Vine and Fig Tree Project, a religious pro-peace organization, as well as many other prominent commentators, the boys were said to not have fallen “correctly” or in a manner “consistent” with their having been shot. Having seen many films of shootings while doing research on war crimes, I questioned the validity of such arguments in a previous blog post, noting that people fall in a variety of ways after being shot and that the footage was in no way “inconsistent” with the young men having been shot in the upper torso.
Soon after the initial conspiracy theory of staged shootings made its way around the internet, even more involved and unlikely conspiracy theories began to be promoted by prominent officials. On May 22, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, speaking on CNN, not only said that the boys had fallen in a manner inconsistent with their having been shot but stated that they may have never died in the first place. This, despite numerous interviews with the young men’s parents and the doctors who tried to save their lives and a plethora of footage of their funerals on Youtube.
An Israeli soldier walks past a bus on which suspected Jewish vandals painted graffiti reading ‘Gentiles in the land are enemies’ / Getty Images
Young Israelis don’t want separate bus lines for Palestinians — and they’re asking American Jews to ensure segregation never becomes a reality.
That’s the nutshelled version of a letter sent today by Young Israeli Labor, the official youth branch of the Labor Party, to the leaders of major American Jewish organizations including Abe Foxman (Anti-Defamation League), Malcolm Hoenlein (Conference of Presidents), Jeremy Ben-Ami (J Street), Eric Fingerhut (Hillel International) and Rabbi Rick Jacobs (Union for Reform Judaism).
The striking thing about this is not just the willingness of Israeli youth to speak out against segregated buses, but the fact that they’re turning to American Jewish leaders to appeal, on their behalf, to Israeli leaders — specifically, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya’alon. The subtext seems to be that they don’t feel they can make themselves heard (or heard successfully) in their own country without a powerful intermediary. We can chalk this up partly to their perception that “Ya’alon is caving in to a well-organized campaign of the extreme right, who hold powerful positions inside the Likud party.” Here’s the rest of their letter:
This unfortunate decision is a disastrous one in any respect. Apart from being a severely miserable decision in every moral aspect, it also adds a very powerful weapon to the arsenal of those seeking to undermine Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Side by side with you, we, the Young Israeli Labor, the official young branch of the Labor Party, lead an uncompromising struggle on Israel’s international standing. Exactly because of our love for Israel, we must at present do whatever it takes to stop this poor decision from realization.
I call upon you to turn to Israel’s Prime Minister, MK Netanyahu, and demand that he interferes in this matter and prevents Defense Minister Ya’alon from surrendering to the extremist right-wing in Israel, which is jeopardizing our continuing existence as a Jewish and democratic state.
As of next month, Israel will operate separate buses for Palestinian residents of the West Bank returning from jobs as day laborers in Israel, thanks to political pressure from West Bank settlers who donʼt want to ride on the same buses as “Arabs.” The question is: Should we care?
Settler leaders claim that the move was due to aggressive and uncouth behavior by Palestinian passengers, coupled with an overall concern for Jewish passengersʼ security. According to a report in Haaretz, one settler told a meeting of a Subcommittee on Judea and Samaria, convened by MK Motti Yogev of the Jewish Home party, about having been sexually assaulted by a Palestinian rider. Another complained that his pregnant wife was not given a seat by Arab passengers. Others were worried that Palestinians on buses could lead to hijackings, or worse. But IDF officials insisted they did not see the Palestinian presence on board these buses as a security threat.
In a democracy, of course, an official report of sexual assault should result in an investigation and possibly individual charges being laid. An informal report — as this one was — might lead a municipality to intensify its safety and surveillance measures. But to collectively deny an entire ethnic group the right to travel on some buses would be collective punishment, rightly considered prejudicial.
Israelʼs rule in the West Bank, however, is far from democratic. Palestinian residents of the West Bank arenʼt Israeli citizens, which means that the normal democratic channels arenʼt open to them from the get-go.
Palestinian mourners carry Orwa Hammad to a prayer session at a Silwad school / Naomi Zeveloff
On Sunday afternoon, the main street in Silwad, a village north of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, was lined with parked cars for as far as the eye could see. Palestinians from all over the area had come to pay their respects to Orwa Abd al-Wahhab Hammad, the 14-year-old killed in clashes on October 24 with the Israeli military. Posters with Hammad’s photo — a serious-looking teen with his black hair combed forward — were plastered on bumpers, windshields and on fences throughout the town, each one bearing the imprint of Hamas, Fatah or the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
According to news reports, the Israeli Defense Forces said it opened fire on Hammad after he was getting ready to hurl a lit firebomb toward Route 60, an account which Palestinian officials dispute. A family member said that Hammad was with a group of boys throwing rocks when he was killed.
Hammad was raised in Silwad, a village of around 6,000 people marked by a stone Arabic sign and a marquee advertising a USAID-sponsored road project. But Hammad was also a United States citizen, the second one claimed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the past week. On Thursday, an East Jerusalem Palestinian named Abdel-Rahman Shaloudi plowed a car into the Ammunition Hill light rail station, injuring seven people and killing three-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun, an American citizen whose family had taken her to the Western Wall for the first time that day. Shaloudi was killed by Israeli police as he fled the scene. On Sunday, an Ecuadorian woman injured in the attack died from her wounds.
Settlements haven’t been in the news of late — and not simply because war pushed them off the media’s radar. They haven’t been in the news because since the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli yeshiva students back in June, there hasn’t been much settlement news to report.
True, already-approved settlement construction continued unabated (and there’s plenty of it). And settlers established several new illegal outposts. And tenders were awarded for new construction in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. So clearly we’re not in the midst of a full-fledged settlement freeze. However, with respect to both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there is undoubtedly a semi-freeze: no major new settlement plans promoted through planning committees, very few new approvals granted and then for only a tiny number of units, and no new tenders issued.
This is nothing like the 10-month “moratorium” Netanyahu grudgingly negotiated with then-U.S. envoy George Mitchell, during which all sorts of new settlement planning and approvals continued apace, and previously-approved construction went ahead without restraint. And it’s nothing like the settlement “restraint” that Netanyahu disingenuously promised Secretary of State John Kerry in the context of the last U.S.-backed peace effort, which translated to a huge spike in settlement approvals and announcements.
To be clear, a lull in new settlement approvals and announcements under Netanyahu isn’t unprecedented. However, coming on the heels of the collapse of even the pretense of peace talks and Israel’s condemnation of Abbas for forming a reconciliation government approved by Hamas, one would have expected Netanyahu to open the floodgates. Instead, he adopted a policy that, if adopted months earlier, could have given peace talks a chance to survive and even succeed. Why? The most likely explanation is that Netanyahu calculated that at a time when he wanted the world to see the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the most black-and-white terms possible — a peace-seeking democratic nation fighting an irredeemably evil terrorist enemy — he was better off keeping settlements out of the news. And so he did.
A woman cries as Israeli soldiers evict Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005 / Getty Images
Even as war continues to rage, August will mark the ninth anniversary of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Dubbed a “disengagement” by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the retreat was greeted enthusiastically by the institutional Jewish community. A full-page ad in the New York Times, spearheaded by the Israel Policy Forum and signed by 27 organizations, praised the plan as “courageous.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations greeted Sharon as “a great and patriotic leader,” and even AIPAC came around, if with a caveat:
“If the Palestinians transform Gaza into a reasonably well-functioning, reasonably peaceful place — not necessarily Sweden — then the world won’t have to pressure Israel to do this in the West Bank,” said Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director.
As luck (or possibly behind-the-scene conversations) would have it, the whole disengagement plan was conceived to help Israel avoid international pressure — if not quite in the way Kohr seemed to be suggesting. As Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s adviser and confidante, acknowledged in a pre-withdrawal interview, Gaza was to be sacrificed in order that Israel could better hold on to the West Bank.
The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a [diplomatic] process with the Palestinians.
… The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. It legitimizes our contention that there is no negotiating with the Palestinians.
…We educated the world to understand that there is no one to talk to. And we received a no- one-to-talk-to certificate. That certificate says: (1) There is no one to talk to. (2) As long as there is no one to talk to, the geographic status quo remains intact. (3) The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens — when Palestine becomes Finland. (4) See you then, and shalom.
In keeping with the contention that “there is no one to talk to,” Sharon didn’t even coordinate the withdrawal, much less negotiate it, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel simply pulled up stakes, and gave the party with which it had been in a diplomatic process since 1993 nothing to show for its efforts.
Unsurprisingly, Hamas announced that its rockets had made Israel turn tail, and — in the absence of a credible competing claim — declared victory. Less than six months later, Palestinian legislative elections were held, and Hamas narrowly won. As is now abundantly clear, Hamas did not transform Gaza into “a reasonably well-functioning, reasonably peaceful place,” or, indeed, “Finland.”
The indictment today of three suspects for the revenge killing of the Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir has put this crime, knocked off the news agenda by the Hamas-Israel violence, back in people’s minds.
As I have watched the reaction over the last 12 days to the news that Khdeir does appear to have lost his life because of Jewish extremism, I am reminded again and again of the day I spent in the West Bank Palestinian village of Yasuf back in 2009.
I remember the charred smell inside the mosque, the signs if damage, the bewilderment of villagers. This was the first “price tag” attack on a place of worship. It shocked and mobilized Jewish Israelis, and the expressions of outrage - while nobody died of sustained injuries - have echoes in the expressions heard after the announcement last Sunday that the suspects in Khdeir ’s murder are Jewish.
There was never another Yasuf. There were attacks on places of worship, but the reaction the first time if happened was never replicated.
Perhaps the shock was a one-off feeling, and while the sadness each time is the same we are more ready to deal with it. But I can’t help thinking that we have become, to a degree, desensitised to attacks on places of worship.
The challenges facing Israelis at this difficult time are many. My hope is that, in the unfortunate but not unlikely event that a similar crime to the abduction-murder takes place, it will be met with the same straight of feeling that this one evoked.
In moments of national tension — Israelis know these all too well — one can expect a leader to measure every word on a scale that calms on one side and inflames on the other.
So what are we to make of Benjamin Netanyahu’s tweets on Monday as the country was preparing to bury and mourn its three murdered boys?
Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created. Neither has vengeance for the blood of 3 pure youths who were on their>— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) June 30, 2014
way home to their parents who will not see them anymore. Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay. May the memories of the 3 boys be blessed.— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) June 30, 2014
I am not drawing a direct causal link between what I think was ill advised language and the Facebook page where tens of thousands of Israelis cried for vengeance or the murder of Mohammed Abu Khudair, most likely an act of revenge. But I do think that a leader has a responsibility to set a tone and this was the wrong one.
I’ve floated this argument on Twitter, actually, and the response (mostly from Times of Israel writer Haviv Rettig Gur) has been, firstly, that in describing vengeance for a child’s murder Bibi was making a literary allusion to Chaim Nachman Bialik’s poem about the Kishniev massacre. Then came the argument that Bibi was actually using such dramatic rhetoric in order to compensate for a not-so-dramatic military response, and so this talk of vengeance represented a sort of de-escalation. And, lastly, Gur pointed out that this exchange was directed at Hamas and not at innocent 16-year-old Palestinian kids.
All of this is true, and yet I doubt that any of it was telegraphed through Netanyahu’s tweet. How many people got that it was Bialik? Understood that Bibi was offering tough words to make up for his decision to, say, avoid retaking Gaza? Or that he was even talking specifically about Hamas? No. What that tweet expressed was one word: Vengeance.
There are ways of channeling the pain and anger of a country without calling for vengeance, which in its classically biblical form is indeed an eye for an eye, a life for a life. Why not talk instead of justice, of tracking down the perpetrators and holding them to account for their crimes? Wouldn’t it have seemed more temperate, more responsible, to call for justice instead of vengeance?
If it sounds like I’m over-intellectualizing this, parsing hairs just at the moment that rocks are being thrown and missiles raining down, I would argue again that seemingly trivial word choices at moments when emotions are raw and people are looking for guidance about how to behave and what to feel are not at all inconsequential.
Still think I’m making too much of a tweet? I’d refer you to another moment when Bibi has been accused of drawing violent allusions that had very real world effects. See: Rabin, Yitzchak.
Israel is consumed with calls for revenge for the murders of three kidnapped students. But some are pushing back against the cycle of hate./Getty Images
The headlines in Israel this week have been overwhelming. First the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers — Naftali Frenkel, Gil-ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach — were found, buried, eulogized, and mourned by Jews in Israel and around the world. There were calls on both the digital and actual street for vengeance, and for settlement construction in the Knesset, and soon somebody took matters (one could nary say “justice”) into their own hands: The body of an Arab teenager named Mohammad Abu Khdair was found lifeless in the Jerusalem Forest yesterday morning.
The 16-year-old’s death has led to what is arguably the worst violence in East Jerusalem in the last decade, exacerbated tensions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and has palpably darkened the Jerusalem summer sky.
A glimmer of sun, perhaps, through this week’s haze, came yesterday at an event put together by Tag Meir and its partners, an anti-racism organization that has been the loudest Jewish vocal response to price-tag (“tag mechir”) attacks perpetrated most often by radical settlers who attack Palestinians or their property. The event gathered some 1,000 Israelis in Jerusalem’s Cat Square, not one block away from Zion Square where, the night before, some 47 anti-Arab rioters were arrested by Israeli police before they could turn into a full-blown lynch mob, or worse.
Tamar, an art and theater student in yellow earrings and short bangs, told me that she had come to the Tag Meir event because “Yesterday, I experienced something awful.” She had been sitting on her balcony in the center of town when she heard the shouts “death to the Arabs!”
She went down to the street, only to quickly find herself a human shield, situated between the police, a few Arabs, and the mob. “It opened my eyes,” she said. “They had murder in their eyes… In that moment, I didn’t want to be Jewish.” And so, despite being less than politically engaged by her own admission, Tamar came to the event yesterday. She was looking for a way to express her fear and frustration at the violence that is threatening to sweep this city off its feet. She — and many others — weren’t looking for politics. She was looking for light in the darkness.
Palestinians clash with Israeli police in East Jerusalem after an Arab teen was killed / Getty Images
The Torah sternly commands us to pursue justice (“Justice, justice, shall you pursue”) — but it leaves revenge to God.
That thought should resonate in our ears like a thunderclap after the discovery of a body in the Jerusalem forest. Israeli authorities fear that a Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khudair, was kidnapped and murdered in a suspected revenge killing for the murders of three Israeli boys, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaar. If their fears are confirmed, this horrifying murder should provide a wake-up call to Israeli society and to all of us feeling anger over the murders of the Jewish teens.
As soon as the boys’ deaths were announced, calls for vengeance rang out in Israel. In just 24 hours, a new Israeli Facebook page, “The Nation of Israel Wants Revenge,” gained over 35,000 likes.
Funeral ceremony for the three Israeli teenagers / Getty Images
When the city of Modi’in was built in 1993, I don’t think the planners envisioned the scene that took place here today. Tens of thousands of Israelis — nearly the equivalent of Modi’in’s entire population — descended on the modest cemetery at the outskirts of the city to bid a final farewell to the three boys murdered on their way home from school 19 days ago. The families of the three boys — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaer, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16 — were surrounded by masses of Israelis from all over the country, spilling out of the Ben Shemen forest where the cemetery sits, all having come to share their grief and provide mutual comfort.
The crowd was overwhelmingly religious and very young. Teenage girls in skirts and boys wearing knitted yarmulkes dominated the scene. I felt almost old as I searched for other adults in the crowd, a feeling reinforced by the sight of teens wearing youth-movement shirts, a reminder that in Israel, teenagers pretty much run the country. Gilad Shaer’s sister eulogized him by describing how they would plan their youth group activities together. The boys were in some ways still children, and in other ways deeply formed and complex young people.
There were some beautifully touching moments at the cemetery. Before the three processions arrived from their respective towns (Nof Ayalon, Elad and Talmon), the crowd kept breaking into spontaneous singing, like a massive standing kumsitz. As I walked along the forest road, one group of singers faded and another heightened. In between the singing, there were groups praying mincha, the sounds of “Amen” reverberating for a distance because the crowd was so quietly subdued. Young boys were walking through the crowds handing out free bottles of water, though I have no idea who paid for them, or in fact how all of the logistics of this massive event were organized so fast or by whom. And then there were people wearing t-shirts saying “Bring back our boys” and other related slogans, reminding me of how quickly everything moves, and even entire movements form, in this digital age.
As the procession of the cars of the families passed by, my heart tore apart. Images of Eyal Yifrach singing a song he wrote while strumming on his guitar at a recent wedding of a relative, images widely circulated these past few weeks, stuck a chord with me. The boy is the exact same age as my son, Effie, who also plays guitar, and who is currently serving in the army. The similarities in their build, the purity of their smiles, the beauty of the spirit shining out of their eyes, made Eyal’s death particularly piercing for me.
Yasmin Khatib and Catie Stewart of the Brandeis-Al Quds Student Dialogue Initiative
Talking about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is difficult. Seeing it firsthand is harder. Living under it is nearly impossible. We learned this while leading a trip for a group of Brandeis students to Al Quds University in the West Bank this June. The purpose of the trip, organized entirely by students, was to open up a channel of dialogue between both universities and to establish ties on a student level.
After one of our long days of touring and dialoging, we, like any other group of students, wanted to have a bit of fun. Someone plugged their phone into the speaker system on the van from Jericho to Ramallah, and an impromptu dance party was born, complete with everyone singing and dancing in the aisle. Out of nowhere, the van came to an abrupt stop. A young face covered by a green helmet peered through the window and glanced at our group of American and Palestinian students, and then promptly demanded we all disembark and hand over our IDs. Outside, a group of Israeli soldiers stood by their jeep, stopping vehicles marked by Palestinian license plates. The music was shut off, and the laughter and singing disappeared. In the heavy silence, we did as we were told, obediently filing off the bus. We were no longer treated as individuals, but rather as faceless suspects. The soldiers’ gaze did not meet our eyes.
Brandeis University is deeply connected to Israel. It is a historically Jewish university, and 50% of its students are Jewish. Israel activism on campus is vibrant and ubiquitous. Brandeis historically has also taken a stance dedicated to maintaining communication and relationships with Palestinian institutions such as Al Quds, and working towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict. We had a decade-long partnership with Al Quds University, initiated at the height of the second intifada, when starting a relationship with a Palestinian institution was difficult. The partnership was instituted as a beacon of cooperation that showed we, as Jews and Palestinians, could work together despite some deep differences in ideology. We — Brandeis and the Jewish community — were willing to try and understand the Palestinian experience. Brandeis’ message was clear: its connection to Israel necessarily meant engaging with Israel on all levels — including with the conflict and occupation.
This all changed last November, when Brandeis President Fred Lawrence suspended the partnership as a response to what he deemed intolerant acts: an Islamic Jihad-affiliated political rally on the Al Quds campus and the response from Al Quds’ then-president Dr. Sari Nusseibeh.
The suspension not only damaged longstanding relationships, it also served to keep us — Brandeis students as well as the larger Jewish community — from seeing and understanding life under occupation.
Choir members at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida / Getty Images
When Christians fight, Jews are collateral damage. The prize is Israel, or at least how Americans perceive Israel. That’s one lesson to take away from the Presbyterian Church-USA’s (PC-USA) decision on June 20 to divest from three companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions.
The debate preceding the vote at the PC-USA’s General Assembly was emotional, or at least as emotional as a debate can be that features speakers whose lilting cadence is reminiscent of Mr. Rogers, who was a Presbyterian minister. At one point, the bow-tie-wearing moderator sighed, “Guess I won’t be going to Israel next week.”
The divestment resolution passed by the slimmest of margins — the vote was 310-303. Shortly after, groups associated with the BDS movement trumpeted their achievement and a remarkably unified American Jewish establishment issued ritualized statements complete with finger-pointing and outrage. Even J Street’s senior vice president for community relations, Rachel Lerner, who attended the General Assembly to protest the resolution, expressed her exasperation with the PC-USA. “I don’t know what’s going on in their heads,” she told me.
You’d think that this was the first time a church group had voted to use economic pressure to call attention to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. It’s not. The Mennonite Central Committee voted to divest last year. The Quaker American Friends Service Committee did so even earlier. Nor does the PC-USA vote signal a wholesale divestment from Israel or announce the latest dubious success of the BDS movement. The final text of the PC-USA resolution explicitly rejects the “alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS movement.” The fact that the vote will be misconstrued by observers and manipulated by BDS partisans who lobbied PC-USA delegates doesn’t alter the narrow scope of the resolution. BDS supporters will not be cheered that the resolution reaffirms the Church’s longstanding support of a two-state solution and the importance of “a secure and universally recognized State of Israel.”
Nonetheless, David Brog, executive director of Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI), vented his frustration with the Presbyterians before the vote in an email statement to me: “The fact that they are focusing their attention on the one democracy in the Middle East…raises troubling questions.” Indeed there are troubling questions at the heart of the PC-USA’s decision, but those questions have as much to do with Christian sectarianism as with anti-Israel politics.
Jews gather for a mass prayer for the release of three Israeli teenagers / Getty Images
On Monday the New York Times reported that the recent abduction of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank has raised a “hushed debate [within Israeli society] over the conduct of Jewish settlers.”
While I think it’s fair to point out that Israel’s reactions to the kidnappings have been marked more by anger and prayer than debate (however hushed), the simple fact that any questions whatsoever have been posed in conversation with an American reporter is significant and reflects a broader shift in attitudes toward the settlement project.
Earlier this month, Justice Minister (and one-time right-wing stalwart) Tzipi Livni was quite blunt: “It’s time to say things exactly as they are: The settlement enterprise is a security, economic and moral burden that is aimed at preventing us from ever coming to [a peace agreement].” Moreover, a recent study found that a growing majority of Israelis no longer support that enterprise.
It’s important to note, however, that if the citizenry shares Livni’s general sense of disapproval, they do not appear to share her reasoning: 71% of those surveyed say settler violence against Israel’s military keeps them from “identifying with” their settler brethren; 59% say the settlements are bad for Israel’s relationship with the U.S. The violence of some settlers against Palestinians, the financial drain on Israel’s increasingly inequitable society, or the obstacle that settlements pose to achieving a workable resolution of the conflict do not appear to be major concerns. In fact, while 52% support a full or partial withdrawal from occupied territory in the framework of an accord with the Palestinian Authority, 31% support full or partial annexation — where the difference lies between partial withdrawal and partial annexation is unclear.
All of which is to say: The average Israeli may question the wisdom and efficacy of hitchhiking in what is clearly dangerous territory just to prove you can; the average Israeli may prefer good relations with America over the rabble-rousing of true-believers; and the average Israeli may find attacks against the country’s defenders to be reprehensible — but the average Israeli still doesn’t appear to understand that every problem raised by the settlements is a necessary outcome of their very existence.
(Haaretz) — Like (almost) everyone else, I hope against hope for the safe return of the three kidnapped yeshiva students. One can only imagine their nightmarish ordeal as well as the agony and anguish of the father or mother whose child has disappeared under such bone-chilling circumstances.
But it is not only the immediate families that I am concerned about. In fact, the dignified and even inspiring public appearances of the worried parents leads one to pray that they will be able to cope with the worst, if it should come to that, God forbid. But Israel - or at least large parts of Israeli society - may not be so resilient: the killing of the three boys could push us closer to the edge that we’ve been long approaching.
I am not talking security here, though that too could deteriorate in the wake of what seems to be Israel’s strategy of achieving long held objectives under the guise of searching for the missing students. And I don’t think there is much cause for concern at this point about Israel’s international image, as the world’s attention is on the World Cup in Brazil and the disintegration of Iraq and, if there’s anything left, on the ongoing turbulence in the Ukraine.
I am less focused on the tangible and more on the emotional and psychological toll of the kidnapping on the Israeli psyche. No one can deny that Israeli society has grown more insular and less tolerant, especially over the last decade: prone to bouts of self-righteousness, blind to its own transgressions, allergic to dissenting points of view. The despicable crime committed by the terrorists who carried out the kidnapping could hasten this dangerous and ongoing process.
Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf, left; Palestinian student Mohammad AlQadi, right
Since the kidnapping of three Israeli teens last Thursday, the Israeli media has been engaged in a full court press to fill in the blanks and tell a compelling story — whether or not it’s true.
Today, I came across a Facebook post from Mohammad AlQadi, a Palestinian student and activist living in Lyon, France. His picture had been posted (without permission) to an article in Walla, a major online news source for Israelis. The article reports on a campaign to support the kidnappers by holding up three fingers as if to gloat that three Israelis have been abducted.
According to AlQadi, the photo of him with three fingers up was taken last year. The three fingers that he was holding up were related to last year’s Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf, a Palestinian singer born in Gaza. The three-finger salute in that context refers to the campaign to vote for Assaf on the show by choosing option 3.
AlQadi had been trying to get the picture taken down, which seemed to me like a normal reaction to the situation. A colleague and I also contacted Walla to tell them about the error. The photo was taken down soon after. But the problem remains.
Prayer vigil for the three missing Israeli teens / Getty Images
(JTA) — Four days into the search for three kidnapped Israeli teens, I attended a group prayer session dedicated to their safe return.
Dozens of women gathered together to read responsively psalms seeking God’s mercy and intervention before the start of our morning Jewish studies classes. Our voices broke as we prayed for the boys’ safe return, though most of us do not know the families personally.
I returned home to find my teenage daughter, who is about the same age as two of the boys and should be studying for finals, preparing to perform special mitzvot to help bring them home. My teenage son returned home from school and immediately ran off to participate with the community’s youth in special prayers on behalf of the captives.
It is amazing how quickly the rhythm of our lives and our daily schedules has begun to revolve around the three teens, including one dual Israeli-American citizen, who were kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists while trying to get rides home from a junction in Gush Etzion, a bloc of settlements located south of Jerusalem.
Since the abduction of Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frenkel, we are all checking news sources from the Web earlier and more often on our computers at work or on our phones. Even my younger children have been coming home from school and turning on the television news instead of their usual Nickelodeon. Not that some SpongeBob wouldn’t do us all some good.
I have not slept well since the boys were discovered kidnapped, and it is clear to me that none of my neighbors and friends here in Israel have either, if the times stamped on their Facebook posts are any indication. We ask each other for updates at the supermarket, at exercise class, at school pickup. We talk about our fears for the boys around the Shabbat table and at the “makolet,” or corner store. We curse their kidnappers as we pick up the kids from the pool and at the library.
The three kidnapped Israelis / Twitter
The kidnapping of three Israeli teens from the Gush Etzion area is especially poignant for us now as it (and please God, their safe return) is the lead story in the weeks leading up to my family’s aliyah in 12 days.
My obsession over the past six months — since we announced to our congregation that we are moving to Israel — has been quotidian: shrinking our possessions to fit into a Jerusalem apartment, finding schools and camps for our three kids, transitioning the work that we have done in Sag Harbor to the new rabbinical team and deciding which of my children’s artistic creations from nursery and kindergarten should be framed.
The existential reasons for moving — “being a part of the most important Jewish project of the 21st century,” the fact that in Israel “Jewish holidays are just the holidays” and that my children will be fluent in Hebrew after months — are part of the greater narrative of our decision to make aliyah that we tell our congregants and ourselves. That Israel is a dangerous place to live and raise a family is the darker underside of the story, which we barely mention.
Natan Sharansky holds up a #BringBackOurBoys sign on behalf of the Jewish Agency / Twitter
What’s in a hashtag?
Soon after news broke about the three kidnapped Israeli teens who went missing in the West Bank on Thursday night, Israel supporters began using #BringBackOurBoys to signal their desire to see the students safely returned to their homes. That hashtag made the Internet rounds with amazing speed. It filled first my Twitter feed, then my Facebook feed, and finally my email inbox.
I wish it hadn’t.
Not because #BringBackOurBoys was quickly appropriated by pro-Palestinian activists who used it to highlight the plight of Palestinian boys detained or killed by Israel — that was predictable enough — but because the Israeli use of the hashtag was itself an appropriation.
I’m talking, of course, about the #BringBackOurGirls campaign launched to help find Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by radical terrorist group Boko Haram in April.