Thursday, April 21, 2016

"Let Us See What Love Can Do"

Early in 1948, just before the end of the British Mandate, Palestine was in turmoil. Jewish immigrants fleeing European persecution were pouring into the region, believing they were returning to a long-lost homeland, now devoid of civilization. Palestinian Muslims and Christians, forced out of their homes and villages, were fleeing into neighboring countries; others had taken up arms to defend their land and way of life. Palestinian Jews, who had lived in friendship with their Muslim neighbors for generations, were appalled at the idea that they must now take sides against them. The holy city of Jerusalem was on the verge of collapse, its water supply compromised, the threat of disease imminent.

Into this cauldron stepped three Quakers: Edgar Castle from Britain, James Vail, representing the American Friends Service Committee, and Kendall Kimberland, a Cairo-based Quaker with long experience in the Middle East. After prayerful consideration, they had decided to travel to the heart of the conflict to see what love could do.

AFSC recently has made public their archives from that tumultuous period: four cubic feet of notes, cables, letters, and reports that tell the story of the attempt of these three men to “discover what Friends might do in reconciliation work between Jews  and Arabs.” They were convinced that the political deadlock “would yield only to the reconciling force of reason founded in love.”

Over a period of two months, the small Quaker delegation met with high-level individuals from all sides in the conflict. They would explain, sometimes to sympathetic listeners, sometimes to hostile ones, that “the Quaker aim was always to seek peace and create brotherhood.” By appealing to the best in all three religious traditions they were able to make a surprising amount of headway: they offered emergency assistance “without discrimination except that of human need,” transmitted messages of compromise and reconciliation from one side to another, and established a basis for a truce in Jerusalem’s Old City that seemed amenable to all sides. “We had learned once again,” Castle wrote, "that barriers of suspicion will fall before confident acceptance of God's goodness in men."

But as they soon discovered, in such a volatile situation love was not enough. "I had not written three words of these notes, says Castle, "before the radio announced the news of Bernadotte's assassination, surely the consumation of evil." Count Folke Bernadotte was a Swedish diplomat who had arranged the release of 31,000 Jewish prisoners from German concentration camps in WW II, and was at the time serving as U.N. Security Council mediator for the Palestinian conflict. He was traveling in the region with a peace plan proposal but was assassinated by the Lehi, a Zionist group that opposed his plan.

Despite the failure of their attempt at a truce, the Quaker mission was not in vain. As a result of their two-month effort, AFSC was asked by the United Nations to set up humanitarian assistance for some of the 500,000 refugees "flying from another refugee people" -- the Palestinians who had been left homeless while joyful newcomers celebrated the birth of the State of Israel.

As Quakers continue the work begun by Castle, Vail, and Kimberland sixty-eight years later, we have learned that in dealing with powerful regimes, ever-more deadly weapons, and still-raw emotions, we need to do more than appeal to reason guided by love. Nonviolent pressure tactics, refined over the years in struggles for justice in South Africa, Latin America, India, and countless other places, have proved both ethical and effective.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is now leading the way. Yet the optimism and spiritual determination that guided the small AFSC delegation should never be discounted. What love can do is astounding when it informs the power of nonviolence.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Candidates on Israel/Palestine

In February, President Obama offered Israel what a US official described as “the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in US history.”

The package would start at $3.8 billion for the first two or three years and grow incrementally until it reached a combined 10-year total of more than $40 billion.

Yet Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu was not convinced that this amount would be enough, and suggested he would wait to conclude a deal with whoever succeeds President Obama.

So what are the views of the candidates now vying to become the next president?

TRUMP: Although he has cited Israel’s “separation barrier” as an example of why the US should build a wall on the Mexican border, Donald Trump claims he will remain neutral about the Israel Palestine conflict. He is used to making deals, he says, and if he came out in favor of one side or the other, he would not be seen as a credible broker in making peace between the two groups. “I don’t want to get into it,” he told a South Carolina town hall meeting. “You understand a lot of people have gone down in flames trying to make that deal. So I don’t want to say whose fault it is. I don’t think that helps.” But Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (net worth $28.9 billion) sees something else in Trump: 

RUBIO: Questioning Trump’s “commitment to Israel” because of his comment suggesting that Israel would need to offer “sacrifices” to win a peace deal, Senator Marco Rubio told the Republican Jewish Coalition, “There is no moral equivalence between Israel and those who seek to destroy her. Understanding that fundamental truth is essential to being the next commander in chief.” “Today, anti-Semitism hides behind the label of anti-Israel,” Rubio continued. “We need a president who will call it that. I will be that president.” The largest single backer of Rubio’s campaign is billionaire auto dealership magnate Norman Braman (net worth $1.88 billion), a past president of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

CRUZ: Responding to Trump’s claim of objectivity, Senator Ted Cruz said he had “no intention of being neutral” in his support for Israel. Cruz positions himself to the right of GW Bush, who at one time, called on Israelis to disband their settlements on disputed land. Instead, Cruz says, the US shouldn’t be dictating where Israelis choose to live. Confusingly, this means he isn’t averse to a two-state solution, because even though “the barrier to peace is the Palestinians,” if Israel chooses to negotiate with them the US has no right to dictate the terms. Yet Cruz also insists that there is “no moral equivalency” between “terrorists” and Israelis who are only trying to protect themselves. Cruz's biggest benefactors are Farris and Dan Wilks, Texas billionaire brothers who made their money from fracking. But Farris Wilks is also a pastor in an obscure Christian denomination called the Assemblies of Yahweh, which traces its roots to "Jewish Cristianity."

CLINTON: Palestinians “deserve to have a state of their own,” Hillary Clinton told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “That’s why I support a two-state solution.” Supporting Palestinian aspirations “is in the long-term best interests of Israel, as well as the region.” Yet at the same time, she vows to strengthen relations with Israel’s right wing government. “I have stood with Israel my entire career,” she wrote in an op-ed in The Jewish Daily Forward. “As Secretary of State, I requested more assistance for Israel every year. . . . I defended Israel from isolation and attacks at the United Nations . . . including opposing the biased Goldstone report” (which documented widespread Israeli war crimes during the 2014 assault on Gaza). Clinton's donors include "Hollywood leftists" George Soros, Steven Spielberg, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who have given at least $1 million to Clinton's super PAC.

SANDERS: Given his heritage as the son of a Jewish immigrant from Poland whose family was murdered in the Holocaust, Sanders might be expected to have the strongest ties to Israel. Yet his website claims he does not favor Israel over the Palestinians, nor does he otherwise let his religion influence his positions regarding the 60+ year conflict, which he describes as “depressing and difficult.” He believes that the Palestinians must fulfill their responsibilities to end terror against Israel and recognize Israel’s right to exist. In return, the Israelis must end their policy of targeted killings, prevent further Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses and infrastructure.

Sanders' top contributors include members (or PACs) of the Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union ($105,000), the Teamsters Union ($93,700), the National Education Association ($89,242), and other unions.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Effluent of the Affluent

Now that the damage to the people of Flint, Michigan from their contaminated water supply has been exposed, Americans are rightly outraged. The New York Times called Governor Snyder’s attitude toward residents who complained “depraved indifference.”

Time Magazine published a photo essay on an impoverished black child, two year old Sincere Smith, who is suffering the effects of his bath water. Public health officials announced that drinking water in some areas of the city had tested at more than twice the level of toxic waste, and that all of Flint’s children should be treated as if they had been poisoned.

Astute commentators are calling what happened in Flint environmental racism, pointing out that the poorest and most vulnerable communities, almost always of color, are the ones that serve as dumping grounds for the waste of the affluent. Whether it’s polluted water, pesticides, toxic smoke from incinerators, pig farm refuse, or factory toxins, environmental pollutants are more likely to be located in poor communities of color where complaints are ridiculed, disparaged, and ignored as they were in Flint, where forty percent of the population live below the poverty line and more than half are African American.

Despite assurances from Governor Snyder that his failure to respond to the water crisis in a timely manner had “nothing to do with race,” many Michigan Quakers are not convinced. We are quite sure of what would happen if Ann Arbor residents turned up at City Council meetings with jugs of foul-smelling tap water rife with floating bits of “organic matter.” Indeed, Ann Arbor Mayor Chris Taylor pointed out that the water crisis in Flint was not simply the result of a few poor official decisions, but can be traced to “decades of state neglect . . . decades of broken promises, decades of disinvestment in our communities." That’s another component of environmental racism: a political culture of ignoring poor people’s problems.

Six thousand miles away, in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians are facing a similar crisis – for similar reasons. As journalist Ben Lorber writes: Israel has historically used Palestinian land as a dumping ground, covertly transporting waste products into the occupied west Bank, polluting the Palestinian earth and water supply, while Israeli settlers deliberately poison the water, land, and livestock of nearby Palestinian villages. Solid wastes from Israeli settlements and military camps throughout the West Bank are dumped without restriction on Palestinian land, fields, and side roads, and industry regularly moves from Israel to the West Bank, where labor is cheaper, environmental regularions are lenient and wast products can flow freely down to Palestinian villages in surrounding valleys. 

Today, says Lorber, as Israel portrays itself as a "green democracy," an eco-friendly pioneer in agricultural techniques such as drip irrigation, dairy farming, desert ecology, water management and solar energy, Israeli factories 
drain toxic waste and industrial pollutants down from occupied West Bank hilltops into Palestinian villages, and over-pumping of groundwater aquifers denies Palestinians access to vital water scources in a context of increasing water scarcity and pollution. 

Environmental racism is not just an American problem, It is a problem of "depraved indifference" of those who see themselves as dominant, entitled, and superior to others, wherever they may live. As people of conscience, our response to institutionalized racism and injustice should be worldwide, as well.

Friday, January 22, 2016

What if Vermont were Conquired, Occupied, and Colonized by Israel?

It's hard to get accurate information: Seven Days has been shut down; two editors have been replaced at the Burlingon Free Press; Kevin Kelley has suffered a questionable bicycle accident trying to cover the situation at the checkpoints. Power has been shut off from Sovernet,, and Burlington Telecom.

Movement is severely restricted. Passports are required at the Main Street, Riverside Avenue, Route 7, and I89 checkpoints, and there are mile-long backups on all routes. Within city limits, all major east-west streets are restricted to permitted drivers and vehicles, and many businesses have been severely affected. To control movement in and out of a particularly troublesome area, razor-wire now surrounds the Old North End. 
What If Israel Occupied Vermont?
Life is hard in occupied Burlington. More than 400 homes have been bulldozed or claimed via eminent domain to be used for other purposes, leaving many homeless. All public schools are closed for use as detention centers. There have been sporadic reports of torture in these facilities, but no contact is allowed with families, so details are scarce. Burlingtonians out-of-city will not be allowed to return to their homes, as these dwellings are needed for a selected out-of-state population. Though schools are closed, no day care is available; many have lost jobs taking time off to care for their families. Running water and electric power are limited to 3 hours/day and all telephone service has been suspended. Police stand by as the more affluent attempt to appropriate by force goods and services from their less well-off neighbors. Those with extensive bank holdings have watched money and valuables taken from vaults by armed officials to support the expenses of the occupation and the construction of the South End hotel and government theme park complex.

Not surprisingly, public health has precipitously declined. All community and backyard gardens have been poisoned by occupiers and the Intervale shut down; a food emergency is fast approaching as City Market and Rite Aid have closed, and the Food Shelf sees no more donations. Burlington water is being diverted to Shelburne and Williston.

Health care has not been able to keep up. At least 40 people have died at checkpoints in the last month, unable to reach Fletcher Allen. Both BFD and St. Mike’s ambulances have been fired upon, and two EMTs have been killed insisting on getting their patients through checkpoints. Hospital supplies are running low, and the destruction of its water tower by F16s has severely affected operations. Medicine is increasingly unavailable, and its importation into the city restricted.

There is little hope for political relief. All Independent and Progressive city councilors have been arrested, and Council meetings are being held without them. Mayor Weinberger has been targeted for assassination if necessary. All city paychecks are on hold until further notice. The Peace & Justice Center has been shut down, its staff arrested, and demonstrations have been met with violent responses from the authorities, using of illegal gases and live ammunition. The curfew has been extended, and people on the street or at their windows have been shot. Landmines surround the lake to prevent escape by water. All calls from other state, national and foreign governments have been rebuffed, as authorities assert that this is not the time to discuss key issues. It is promised that some of these restrictions will be lifted, pending correct results of the next election.

An unimaginable dystopian fantasy for Vermonters, but a compendium of real daily experience for Palestinians, with all mechanics and ammunition funded by US tax dollars. Is this really how we want to spend our money and our moral and political capital?  

With thanks to: Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine Israel

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Writing Letters to the Media

Mainstream media in the United States often slants its coverage in favor of Israel. Even media that are progressive on other issues tend to allow right wing Israeli politicians to go unchallenged, omit a Palestinian point of view, and ignore the historical context of emotionally charged events. 

PIAG has begun a letter writing campaign, using facts, examples, recommendations, and questions to counter biased reporting. Please join us!  Email is quickest, but don't forget the power of a hand-written note. 

Here are some sample letters PIAG members have sent recently, followed by the contact information for several media outlets:

The "headlines" today include a biased statement about Israel-Palestine.  It is biased because seriously incomplete.  The announcer tells that the EU has adopted a new rule, insisting that many West Bank exports NOT be labeled as from "Israel."  Then comes the bias: the announcer only states Israel's protest: that this West Bank label on exports will hurt Israel and will block peace with Palestine.  BUT there is NO statement about WHY the EU is taking this step, which is that under international law, the West Bank is NOT part of Israel; it is militarily occupied territory.  This information is crucial in helping listeners understand the actual status of Palestine and the growing worldwide protest of Israel's occupation and repression of Palestinians.


To CNN:  The interview with Mark Regev re: violence in Israel-West Bank was hugely biased and incomplete.  The Palestinian toll of wounded and dead was totally omitted, as was the reason for Palestinians' attacks--Israel's repressive colonial military occupation.  Palestinians have no rights; their children are jailed brutally; their trees and cattle are destroyed by "settlers" who are taking over their land acre by acre.  PLEASE give the Palestinians' reality to the uninformed US population. Furthermore, Ambassador Regev's description of the verbal response of Palestinian leadership was false. Surely you can couple such false claims with a response from Palestinians and their leaders. Thank you!


To NPR: Emily Harris's description of why Palestinian Muslims see Jewish visitors to the mosque as provocative omits a key factor.  She focuses on "covert praying" by Jews who stand near the mosque.  She omits the fact that these Jewish visitors often shout cruel, racist, and disrespectful epithets at the Muslims who are there to pray at the mosque.  Please do a story on the "racism" problem.  Many Israeli Jews are ever more vocal in angry racist actions toward Palestinians. "Arabs to the ovens" is printed on a wall.  "Death to Arabs" is shouted in mass demonstrations. Some American and Israeli Jews are speaking with great concern about the runaway racism that afflicts the Israeli government, its soldiers, and many citizens.  It's dangerous.  Please cover it.

Media Contact info:
National Public Radio
Diane Rehm Show
4401 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20008  (Use this page to obtain transcripts of current news programs so you can cite chapter and verse)


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holiday Message from Jean Zaru in Ramallah

Ramallah Friends Meeting 
Advent Meditation 2015 

How Can I Keep from Singing?

Advent is upon us, my Friends.

Wherever we find ourselves and regardless of our circumstance, this season beckons us to pause, to prepare our hearts, and to appreciate the Giver’s gifts ever more deeply.  But how?  How to pause and open our hearts when life is so hard and death so close?

Today, the violent policies of a nearly half-century military occupation seem more closely coupled with overt racism and identity-based discrimination than ever before. These past few months have been very distressing for those of us living in Palestine.  So, too, is direct and indiscriminate violence being felt in an increasing number of countries around our world. Each day is like the ice of the hardest winter and we wonder how much longer we can go on.

Yet, is it not, at precisely such times as these, that we must heed the Advent call?

In such times as these we are invited to tap ever deeper into the wellspring of our common humanity. We are called to root ourselves ever-more firmly in a posture of gratitude.  Surely, when we do so our faith is refreshed and our Spirit renewed –no matter the state of our bodies and our surroundings.  And wide open are our lives to the expectant wonder of Advent and the coming of the Blessed Community where all are cherished without exception.

Although it is December, there are still a few olives left on the tree in my back courtyard.  For those of you who have visited my home, you may remember this beautiful olive tree.  What a joy it is to wake up to the sound of birds singing, as they sit perched in the tree. They seem to call other birds to share their food. It is as if their music invites the whole community of birds to gather together in celebration. Their joy is infectious and I bask in their sweet notes, appreciating both their beauty and the bounty of the season’s olive harvest. The birds and their seemingly unceasing optimism, remind me of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Mary certainly lived under the harsh realities of empire.  And many years later, in the same land I, too, live under the harsh realities of empire.  I feel that Mary, who I call Our Lady of Palestine, stands by me.  She witnesses day in and day out to the harshness of our experience, to the reality of life under a brutal and prolonged occupation.  She sees the rich oppressing the poor, the powerful lording their authority over society’s most vulnerable.

Mary witnesses to the seen and unseen walls of exclusion, to livelihoods stolen, homes demolished, lands confiscated, water rights violated, freedom of movement restricted, access to holy sites forbidden, human spirits being bent to the breaking point and lives extinguished. The disregard of human rights has become routine, as years roll into decades, and decades into generations. She watches and she knows.

Yes, Mary, Our Lady of Palestine, shares our lived reality even today.  She understands and she stands with us as we experience the heavy hand of empire.

Likewise, in her time, in the shadow of the Roman Empire, Mary bore witness. She sang to God, the Truth and the Light. She sang with full-throated confidence in God’s deliverance of the captives and release for those living under lawless oppression. She proclaimed through song that God will turn the world upside down --lower mountains, and raise valleys. God will bring down empire and raise a new human community of all God’s people. God will restore balance, equality, and well-being to humankind.

And yet I ask myself how, after 67 years of dispossession and 48 years of occupation and denial of all basic rights, can I continue to witness and sing joyfully, as did Mary?
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1: 46-49)

In Luke’s account, the unwed Mary seeks support from another woman: Elizabeth. Together, the two women rejoice in God’s liberating action of new life; they are filled with the Holy Spirit which will later work through their sons. John will, in his own ministry, call for an upturning of societal norms as he instructs people to share their abundance, to be fair in their dealings, and to uphold justice in their daily lives. Ultimately, he asks the people to repent from the evils and vanities of society.

John’s call is just as valid and hard-hitting today. We have plenty of reasons to repent: militarism, fanaticism, disregard for pluralism, and a lack of attention to refugees and other vulnerable children of God. John calls the crowd to prepare themselves for the One who will baptize them in the Holy Spirit. As he does so, he renews the prospect of hope for a new order where justice is abundant and the well-being of all life is assured.

The future that God promises of well-being for people of all faiths, races and identities without exception is not to be awaited passively. It is born in us today, from our flesh and blood, from our commitments and struggles for justice. It becomes the hope for those who do not have hope. A hope that abounds in Mary’s humble song.

How then, my Friends, can we keep from singing?

May this Christmas season be a time of renewal of our commitment to one another and hope in Christ!

Jean head shot

Jean Zaru
Clerk, Ramallah Friends Meeting


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Talking Points on Current Violence in Israel/Palestine

Please write, comment, tweet, or call the media on their one-sided coverage of the current violence in Israel/Palestine. Here are some talking points:

Whether it's FOX News, CNN, or the New York Times, most U.S. news reflects a right wing Israeli point of view. Ironically, Israeli media, notably Ha'aretz, cover many sides to the story.

According to a Jewish Voice for Peace report ( over 50% of New York Times headlines have depicted Palestinians as the instigators of violence, while no headlines depicted Israelis as aggressors. Palestinians were referred to as terrorists 41 times, while the term was used four times (including quotes from Palestinians) to refor to violent Israeli actions intended to terrorize Palestinians. The terms "attack/s" or "attackers" were used 110 times to describe Palestinian actions and people, and 17 times to desribe Israelis. This is important since no media organization is more influential in shaping the way American policymakers and news outlets think about Israel and Palestine than the New York Times.

Eight Jewish Israelis have died in attacks by Palestinians. 64 Palestinians have been killed (as of 10.30.15) by Israeli fire and over 7200 injured, many of whom were only suspected of engaging in violence.

Attacks by disaffected Palestinian youth are the inevitable result of decades of occupation, dispossession and state violence.

The emotional violence of humiliation at check points, imprisonment without trial, and seeing one's children snatched from their beds at night by heavily armed soldiers; the violence of words when racist mobs are allowed to roam the streets, or when Palestinian suffering is denied, diminished, or belittled, or when youth are forced to sign confessions in a language they do not understand; the violence against personal property when Palestinian homes, orchards, and water storage tanks are demolished; the violence of the deliberate destruction of critial infrastructure, such as Gaza's electrical grid and water treatment plant during Israeli bombing attacks in 2014; the physical violence of beatings, tear gas, and shooting with live fire; and the sadistic violence of all-out war against a population (in Gaza) that is not allowed any means of escape.

Knife attacks on Israelis by Palestinian youth are uncoordinated. None of the youth were recruited, indoctrinated, or controlled by others.

The Palestinian Medical Relief Society reports that Israeli security has targeted medical professionals, first aid providers, nurses, and ambulance drivers with live fire and metal bullets. Forty one journalists have been injured.

Under the current arrangement, Israel is receiving $3 billion in U.S. military aid per year, most of which is used to purchace U.S. military hardware such as fighter jets and missle defense systems. The U.S. has offered to increase military aid to Iarael by another $1.5 billion per year to ease tensions over the nuclear deal with Iran.

Heed the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. Spread the word about the biased news coverage of the current violence. Write to U.S. administration officials. Visit your members of Congress. Sign on-line petitions. Write or tweet questions to presidential candidates during debates. Support campus student groups and faculty who are targeted by right-wing, pro-Israel organizations. Post articles on Facebook and Twitter. 

REMEMBER, as in all struggles for justice and human equality, “the oppressor” is not monolithic. Many thoughtful Israelis and American Jews support Palestinian freedom. (Photo courtesy Jewish Voice for Peace)

Some References:
•          972 (Jewish/Israeli writers who oppose the occupation)
•          Ma’an News Agency
•          Ha’aretz (Israel’s liberal newspapter)
•          Mondoweiss (U.S. analyses of US foreign policy)
•          Electronic Intifada  (Independent online news)

•          PIAG’s blog