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The Rabbi Who Renounced Zionism May 26, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Human Rights, Religion, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: personally I can do without religion, which I believe for the most part has been a violent and destructive force in human history (including today, especially including today).  Nonetheless, minorities of religious Jews, Catholics, Protestants (including even some Evangelicals), Muslims, Hindus, etc. have fought for justice and human rights and against the hypocrisy withing their own ranks.  They are to be embraced.

 

 

BY ELI MASSEY, In These Times (no date available)

In 2014, Rabbi Brant Rosen resigned his post at the Jewish Reconstructinist Congregation in Evanston.  III., after serving for over 15 years.  His Palestinian solidarity work had become a divisive issue within the community.  Rosen was not always an advocate for Palestinian human rights – he started a blog in 2006, Shalom Rav, in which he chronicled his growing disillusionment with much of the Jewish community’s blind support for the state of Israel.  His painful and public reckoning with Zionism unfolded in the midst of the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, code-named Operation Cast Lead.

In July 2015, Rabbi Rosen founded Tzedek Chicago, a non-Zionist and social justice-focused synagogue, where he serves as rabbi.  (Full disclosure: I’m a congregant.) He also serves as the Midwest regional director for the American Friends Service Committee.

In These Times sat down with Rosen to discuss Tzedek Chicago, Israel and Palestine.

What led you to become an advocate for Palestinian rights?

It was gradual.  Israel had always been a part of my life, and I identified-if I had to put a label on it-as a liberal Zionist.

I, like many Jews, identified with the Zionist narrative.  It’s a very powerful, intoxicating, redemptive story: These people who have been hounded for centuries around the world finally find a way to make it back to their ancestral homeland and liberate themselves.

But there were also, along the way, nagging voices.  I did a good job of keeping those voices locked away and never really following them to their conclusion.

I always wondered about this business of creating a Jewish state when there are so many people who are not Jewish in this land-and how to create a state that was predicated on the identity of one people in a place that historically has been multi-ethnic, multi-religious.

And the whole issue of demographics: Liberal Zionists talk a great deal about what’s called the “demographic problem”: In order to create a Jewish state, you need a demographic majority of Jews.  Back in the day, I used words like “demographic threat” [in reference to the growth in Israel’s Arab population] to advocate for the importance of a two-state solution.  When the two-state solution was still a very edgy thing to be advocating for, it was very, very liberal to talk about it in those terms. But every once in a while I’d think, “They’re a demographic threat, because they’re not Jewish?” As an American, if I called another people a “demographic threat” to the national integrity of my country, that would just be racist.  Those were the kinds of things I would entertain for a while but never completely unpack.

Was there a moment when you “wiped the slumber from your eyes,” so to speak?

It was a gradual process.  I can trace important milestones.  The first important one was the 1982 Lebanon War and Sabra and Shatila massacre.  I remember thinking, “This is Israel’s My Lai.” That was the first time that my romantic Zionist ideals developed cracks.  The Second Intifada and the collapse of the Oslo peace process and seeing what happened in the wake of Oslo-and the creation of the separation wall, the blockade on Gaza-was when it started to crumble.

Then the final breaking point was in 2008 and 2009 with Operation Cast Lead.  By this point, I had been a congregational rabbi for a little over 10 years, so it became very complicated for me to break with this Zionist narrative, which is so cherished still in liberal Jewish circles.  Operation Cast Lead was where I finally said, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Why do you think that so many Jews who are otherwise progressive ignore Israel’s violations of human rights?

In the circles I travel, it’s called the “PEP phenomenon.”

Progressive Except Palestine.

Yes.  That phenomenon is where the struggle for the soul of the Jewish community is taking place right now.

I know that because I’ve been living in that nexus point almost my entire life. For liberal Jews, largely, it goes back to the Zionist narrative, which is a sacred narrative, for Jews who don’t consider themselves religious. It’s a redemptive story, emerges out of the ashes of one of the worst catastrophes in Jewish history, but in human history. The legacy of the Holocaust still looms large in the psyches even young Jews today. The trauma still lingers, and in many ways, it’s exploited by the Jewish community. A lot it boils down to fear.

On Dec. 28, 2008, during Operation Cast Lead, you posted on your blog, “We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass. It’s a fascinating double standard, and … I’ve been just as responsible as anyone else for perpetrating it. So no more rationalizations.” You then add: “There, I’ve said it. Now what do I do?” Seven years later, do you have an answer for yourself?

Almost immediately, many people reached out to me. People in the Palestine solidarity movement, but also people in an organization called Jewish Voice for Peace, some of whom were members of my congregation and were patiently waiting for me to come around on this issue. They gave me a Jewish community where I realized I could engage in Palestine solidarity work and be a truly progressive Jew on all issues and still have a Jewish institutional, spiritual home. Jewish Voice for Peace then has grown by leaps and bounds.

Describe what Tzedek Chicago is and how it came to be.

I left my congregation because of the circumstance that I’ve described. I didn’t have any intention of starting a new congregation when I left. Shortly after that, I started my full-time job with the American Friends Service Committee. But it became clear to my wife and me that we didn’t have a Jewish spiritual community. A number of us-including some who left the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation when I left because of the pain of the breakup, and others I knew who, because of this issue, didn’t have a congregation where they could feel completely at home – would get together in a havurah, an informal participatory group, mostly for Shabbat dinners. A group of them approached me with the idea of starting a new congregation that was predicated on values of justice and values of human rights and universal democracy, and not predicated on nationalism and Zionism and such. I became very excited about creating a new kind of Jewish congregation that was predicated on the social justice values that are deeply embedded in the Jewish tradition and are not attested to in most Jewish congregations.

What has the response been from the wider Jewish community?

The response to Tzedek Chicago exceeded what even I was hoping for. When we had our High Holiday services in September 2015, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, but we ended up averaging about 300 people for all of the services. It was clear there is a deep thirst for a community like this.

Israel is at the heart of Jewish communal life for many people.

If we shift the focus of Judaism away from Israel or take Israel out of the equation entirely, what fills this space?

A venerable, centuries-long spiritual tradition that looks at the entire world as our home, the entire diaspora as our One that is predicated on values of justice and decency and morality, being able to find God wherever we live, and seeing all people as created in the divine image, as the Torah teaches us. One of the things Zionism was to colonize the Jewish religion itself. It eclipsed that incredibly beautiful and profound Jewish notion which saw the world as our home.

God isn’t geographically specific to only Israel or Jerusalem or the temple. We bear witness to an ancient truth that is still very relevant in the world today – more than relevant, essential. Universalism is central to our core values and our congregation. And that is a problem for many Jews, too. There’s a strand of Judaism that is very parochial and tribal. It looks at the outside world with suspicion and looks at the Jewish cornmunity as the be-all and end-all. Our future is predicated on finding common cause with all people, particularly those who are oppressed.

Israeli Commander: ‘We Rewrote the Rules of War for Gaza’ February 3, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Published on Wednesday, February 3, 2010 by The Independent/UK

Civilians ‘put at greater risk to save military lives’ in winter attack – revelations that will pile pressure on Netanyahu to set up full inquiry

by Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

A high-ranking officer has acknowledged for the first time that the Israeli army went beyond its previous rules of engagement on the protection of civilian lives in order to minimise military casualties during last year’s Gaza war, The Independent can reveal.

[An Israeli soldier directs a tank outside the Gaza Strip in December 2008. (REUTERS)]
An Israeli soldier directs a tank outside the Gaza Strip in December 2008. (REUTERS)

The officer, who served as a commander during Operation Cast Lead, made it clear that he did not regard the longstanding principle of military conduct known as “means and intentions” – whereby a targeted suspect must have a weapon and show signs of intending to use it before being fired upon – as being applicable before calling in fire from drones and helicopters in Gaza last winter. A more junior officer who served at a brigade headquarters during the operation described the new policy – devised in part to avoid the heavy military casualties of the 2006 Lebanon war – as one of “literally zero risk to the soldiers”. 

The officers’ revelations will pile more pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to set up an independent inquiry into the war, as demanded in the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report, which harshly criticised the conduct of both Israel and Hamas. One of Israel’s most prominent human rights lawyers, Michael Sfard, said last night that the senior commander’s acknowledgement – if accurate – was “a smoking gun”.

Until now, the testimony has been kept out of the public domain. The senior commander told a journalist compiling a lengthy report for Yedhiot Ahronot, Israel’s biggest daily newspaper, about the rules of engagement in the three-week military offensive in Gaza. But although the article was completed and ready for publication five months ago, it has still not appeared. The senior commander told Yedhiot: “Means and intentions is a definition that suits an arrest operation in the Judaea and Samaria [West Bank] area… We need to be very careful because the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] was already burnt in the second Lebanon war from the wrong terminology. The concept of means and intentions is taken from different circumstances. Here [in Cast Lead] we were not talking about another regular counter-terrorist operation. There is a clear difference.”

His remarks reinforce testimonies from soldiers who served in the Gaza operation, made to the veterans’ group Breaking the Silence and reported exclusively by this newspaper last July. They also appear to cut across the military doctrine – enunciated most recently in public by one of the authors of the IDF’s own code of ethics – that it is the duty of soldiers to run risks to themselves in order to preserve civilian lives.

Explaining what he saw as the dilemma for forces operating in areas that were supposedly cleared of civilians, the senior commander said: “Whoever is left in the neighbourhood and wants to action an IED [improvised explosive device] against the soldiers doesn’t have to walk with a Kalashnikov or a weapon. A person like that can walk around like any other civilian; he sees the IDF forces, calls someone who would operate the terrible death explosive and five of our soldiers explode in the air. We could not wait until this IED is activated against us.”

Another soldier who worked in one of the brigade’s war-room headquarters told The Independent that conduct in Gaza – particularly by aerial forces and in areas where civilians had been urged to leave by leaflets – had “taken the targeted killing idea and turned it on its head”. Instead of using intelligence to identify a terrorist, he said, “here you do the opposite: first you take him down, then you look into it.”

The Yedhiot newspaper also spoke to a series of soldiers who had served in Operation Cast Lead in sensitive positions. While the soldiers rejected the main finding of the Goldstone Report – that the Israeli military had deliberately “targeted” the civilian population – most asserted that the rules were flexible enough to allow a policy under which, in the words of one soldier “any movement must entail gunfire. No one’s supposed to be there.” He added that at a meeting with his brigade commander and others it was made clear that “if you see any signs of movement at all you shoot. This is essentially the rules of engagement.”

The other soldier in the war-room explained: “This doesn’t mean that you need to disrespect the lives of Palestinians but our first priority is the lives of our soldiers. That’s not something you’re going to compromise on. In all my years in the military, I never heard that.”

He added that the majority of casualties were caused in his brigade area by aerial firing, including from unmanned drones. “Most of the guys taken down were taken down by order of headquarters. The number of enemy killed by HQ-operated remote … compared to enemy killed by soldiers on the ground had absolutely inverted,” he said.

Rules of engagement issued to soldiers serving in the West Bank as recently as July 2006 make it clear that shooting towards even an armed person will take place only if there is intelligence that he intends to act against Israeli forces or if he poses an immediate threat to soldiers or others.

In a recent article in New Republic, Moshe Halbertal, a philosophy professor at Hebrew and New York Universities, who was involved in drawing up the IDF’s ethical code in 2000 and who is critical of the Goldstone Report, said that efforts to spare civilian life “must include the expectation that soldiers assume some risk to their own lives in order to avoid causing the deaths of civilians”. While the choices for commanders were often extremely difficult and while he did not think the expectation was demanded by international law, “it is demanded in Israel’s military code and this has always been its tradition”.

The Israeli military declined to comment on the latest revelations, and directed all enquiries to already-published material, including a July 2009 foreign ministry document The Operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects.

That document, which repeats that Israel acted in conformity with international law despite the “acute dilemmas” posed by Hamas’s operations within civilian areas, sets out the principles of Operation Cast Lead as follows: “Only military targets shall be attacked; Any attack against civilian objectives shall be prohibited. A ‘civilian objective’ is any objective which is not a military target.” It adds: “In case of doubt, the forces are obliged to regard an object as civilian.”

Yedhiot has not commented on why its article has not been published.

Israel in Gaza: The soldier’s tale

This experienced soldier, who cannot be named, served in the war room of a brigade during Operation Cast Lead. Here, he recalls an incident he witnessed during last winter’s three-week offensive:

“Two [Palestinian] guys are walking down the street. They pass a mosque and you see a gathering of women and children.

“You saw them exiting the house and [they] are not walking together but one behind the other. So you begin to fantasise they are actually ducking close to the wall.

“One [man] began to run at some point, must have heard the chopper. The GSS [secret service] argued that the mere fact that he heard it implicated him, because a normal civilian would not have realised that he was now being hunted.

“Finally he was shot. He was not shot next to the mosque. It’s obvious that shots are not taken at a gathering.”

© 2010 The Independent

Gaza invasion: ‘If you’re not sure – kill’ July 15, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Israeli soldiers’ accounts of January siege betray little regard for civilians
DEADLY TACTICS

TheStar.com

AP FILE PHOTO
An Israeli gunner covers his ears as a mobile artillery piece fires at a target in the Gaza Strip on Jan. 4, 2009 during the bloody three-week offensive known as Operation Cast Lead.

Oakland Ross

Toronto Star, July 15, 2009

JERUSALEM – Israeli soldiers who invaded the Gaza Strip in January received no clear rules of engagement and operated with a shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality that significantly increased the danger to civilians.

“If you’re not sure – kill,” confessed one of the soldiers who gave his testimony anonymously to an Israeli organization that gathers front-line reports from Israeli soldiers. “The firepower was insane. We went in, and the booms were just mad. The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began firing at suspect places. In urban warfare, everyone is your enemy. No innocents. It was simply urban warfare in every way.”

His remarks underline the central theme of the accounts from Israeli soldiers who participated in the three-week operation, code-named Cast Lead, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead, according to a Palestinian count, and inflicted extensive physical destruction. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

“Very few soldiers ever heard in the briefings, `Guys – be careful about innocent people,'” said Yehuda Shaul, head of Breaking the Silence, the Israeli organization that gathers and publishes the testimony. “That’s the most disturbing and disappointing thing.”

A veteran of many Israel Defense Forces’ operations, Shaul said the invasion of Gaza that began Dec. 27 marked a departure from previous Israeli military practice.

“Cast Lead was something different,” he said. “We had an opening-fire policy. `You see something you’re scared of – you shoot.’ We were shocked. This is not the IDF I know.”

Shaul was reacting to the contents of a 110-page book being released by his organization today, containing the testimony of 26 Israeli soldiers who participated in the operation, including 14 young conscripts as well as a dozen older, more experienced reservists. The Star received an advance copy of the text.

Again and again, the soldiers who were interviewed in the book insisted they were given little if any guidance about human-rights considerations before being sent into Gaza, which is ruled by the militant Islamist group Hamas.

Instead, they understood they were to do whatever seemed necessary to protect themselves, even if that meant shooting non-combatants without warning or destroying buildings without knowing who might be inside. The operation was aimed at stopping Palestinian militants from firing rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have issued damning reports about the IDF’s conduct of the invasion, charging Israeli forces with possible war crimes.

The two reports also accuse Hamas of war crimes, including deliberate and sometimes deadly rocket attacks on civilian targets.

For its part, Israel insists its armed forces took heroic measures to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza, and it is not alone. Last month, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, told a Jerusalem audience the IDF did more to safeguard the welfare of civilians during Operation Cast Lead “than any other army in the history of warfare.”

The IDF and its supporters point to measures the Israelis took to warn Palestinian civilians to flee areas about to come under attack. Those warnings were transmitted in Arabic by air-dropped leaflets, tens of thousands of phone calls, and loudspeakers.

The troops interviewed by Shaul’s organization mostly entered Gaza after such warnings were issued, and they appear to have operated on the assumption any Palestinian who remained behind rather than flee was an adversary, not an innocent. The ground troops consistently describe the use of massive Israeli firepower, even while acknowledging they encountered little Palestinian resistance.

The soldiers sometimes use a lurid vernacular, such as the terms “wet entry” and “dry entry” to distinguish between two different ways of securing the interior of a building.

A wet entry involves the use of considerable offensive weaponry prior to entering the building – in order to kill or disable anyone inside – while a dry entry bars the use of weapons until enemy personnel are actually encountered.

“Missiles, tank fire, machine-gun fire into the house, grenades,” said one of the soldiers, describing a typical wet entry. “Shoot as we enter a room. The idea was that, when we enter a house, no one there could fire at us.”

Shaul said it’s clear from the soldiers’ testimony that wet entries were the rule during the offensive.

Meanwhile, decisions about whether to demolish houses or other buildings seemed to follow no consistent military logic.

The book provides eyewitness accounts of three instances in which civilians were shot and killed more or less deliberately, including an elderly man who ventured near an Israeli-occupied house at night, carrying a flashlight.

No warning shots were fired in that episode, and no one shouted at the man to turn back. Instead, he was simply shot dead.

“Eventually, it turned out to be a mistake,” said one of the soldiers.

Asked to sum up his main reaction to the three-week operation, another soldier waxed philosophical.

“How people are able to watch others die or suffer,” he said. “How terribly easily you can grow indifferent to this. It’s like you can turn yourself off. The guy’s dead, let’s move on.”