"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Mother’s Choice

Here is a story from Gaza contributed by Barbara Lubin, the well-respected humanitarian leader of the Middle East Children's Alliance, a non-profit organization working for the rights and the well being of children in the Middle East by sending s shipments of aid to Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon, and supporting projects that make life better for the children.

"There are so many stories to tell from our first day in Gaza. So much pain and destruction. But there is one story in particular that I think the world needs to hear. I met a mother who was at home with her ten children when Israeli soldiers entered the house. The soldiers told her she had to choose five of her children to 'give as a gift to Israel.' As she screamed in horror they repeated the demand and told her she could choose or they would choose for her. Then these soldiers murdered five of her children in front of her." - Barbara Lubin, "Notes from Palestine", Jan. 22, 2009.

Perhaps those of us who have children can put ourselves in that woman's shoes and contemplate the choice she was forced to make. Though there are no words for what was done to this woman and any words that I may offer here will be painfully short of what needs to be said and done, I'll briefly explore the struggle that lies behind acts that only Jesus can forgive.

For sixty years, Americans have been systematically shielded from the reality of Palestine. No doubt those who truly cared could discover the truth. Today such discovery can be made with elementary online inquiries, but the mainstream news media on which most Americans rely fundamentally distorts Palestinian reality. Pandering to Israeli sensitivities, they have portrayed Palestinians not as human beings with needs and desires and moral values similar to our own, but as a species of semi-humans driven by sheer fanaticism. Every suicide bombing is transformed into a brutalizing spectacle which evokes no reflection on the historical context, but mindless gaping at the sheer irrationality of the act. Those who could perform such acts must belong to a totally different species from the "civilized" members of the world which Benjamin Netanyahu invoked before the Gaza massacre.

The forbidden question is always "What would drive ordinary human beings to such acts?" For the Palestinians that carry out these acts and voted Hamas into power in the fairest elections in the Arab Middle East were as ordinary as a teenager at the local Burger King. Most Palestinians are not hypnotized by sinister mullahs, but they face daily choices that can and do kill them and their families and they have no choice but to respond to their political and military surroundings.

The Israelis did not conceal their military strategy toward the native Palestinian population either at the founding of the state of Israel or during the latest massacre. Consider the words of Israel's most prominent military analyst, Ze’ev Schiff in 1978, "... the Israeli Army has always struck civilian populations, purposely and consciously ... the Army, he said, has never distinguished civilian [from military] targets ... [but] purposely attacked civilian targets even when Israeli settlements had not been struck." (Haaretz, May 15, 1978). The political reasons are explained by distinguished statesman Abba Eban, "’there was a rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that affected populations would exert pressure for the cessation of hostilities.’ The effect, as Eban well understood, would be to allow Israel to implement, undisturbed, its programs of illegal expansion and harsh repression. Eban was commenting on a review of Labor government attacks against civilians by Prime Minister Begin, presenting a picture, Eban said, ‘of an Israel wantonly inflicting every possible measure of death and anguish on civilian populations in a mood reminiscent of regimes which neither Mr.Begin nor I would dare to mention by name.’" – Noam Chomsky, "Gaza 2009", Jan. 20, 2009. The regime that dare not speak its name evokes memories of Sophies’ Choice. In this movie, a Polish woman arrives at a Nazi concentration camp and is ordered by the Nazis to choose which of her children will live and which will die. Unlike yesterday's Palestinian mother, she makes the choice.

A cursory examination of Israeli words and actions quickly demonstrates that the recent attacks on civilians were carefully foreseen and meticulously prepared. But this is merely one element in much larger strategic objective. "Israelis would mostly breathe a sigh of relief if Palestinians were to disappear. And it is no secret that the policies that have taken shape accord well with the recommendations of Moshe Dayan right after the 1967 war: Palestinians will ‘continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave.’ More extreme recommendations have been made by highly regarded left humanists in the United States, for example Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton and editor of the democratic socialist journal Dissent, who advised 35 years ago that since Palestinians are ‘marginal to the nation,’ they should be ‘helped to leave.'" – Frank Barat, "On the Future of Israel and Palestine", June 6, 2008.

To highlight the existential Palestinian reality, Michael Neumann recently described their situation as follows: "But suppose a bunch of thugs install themselves, with their families, all around your farm. They have taken most of your land and resources; they're out for more. If this keeps up, you will starve, perhaps die. They are armed to the teeth and abundantly willing to use those arms. The only way you can defend yourself is to make them pay as heavy a price as possible for their siege and their constant encroachment on your living space. You're critically low on food and medical supplies, and the thugs cut off those supplies whenever they please. What's more, the only weapons available to you are indiscriminate, and will harm their families as well as the thugs themselves. You can use those weapons, even knowing they will kill innocents. You don't have to let the thugs destroy you, thereby sacrificing your innocents (including yourself) to spare theirs. Since innocents are under mortal threat in either case, you needn't prefer the attackers' to your own." Michael Neumann, "Hamas and Gaza", Jan. 13, 2009.

"I believed, and to this day still believe, in our people's eternal and historic right to this entire land," Prime Minister Olmert informed a joint session of Congress in May 2006 to rousing applause. As a Catholic, I must ask myself, "Do these people not have the right to defend themselves?" If it was my family that was threatened, would I not do everything in my power to make the oppressor feel pain until they relented? If I was given Sophies’choice, what would be my response? Even though the recent atrocities have forced literal Sophies’ choices on helpless mothers, Palestinians have faced a national Sophies’ choice for the last sixty years. They can live like dogs, as Moshe Dayan suggested, risking their own and their childrens' lives from attacks by settlers or the IDF or they can do as the Israeli’s wish them to do and run from their homeland, saving their families’ lives, but condemning them to the shame of having abandoned the life they had every right to lead. This latter choice is not a literal death, but a spiritual one that is in many ways worse. What would you choose?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Palestinian Right to Self-Defense

I'd first like to explain why I identify the Palestinian people of Gaza with Jesus Christ. Fundamental to the gospel is God's love and predilection for the weak and abused of human history. This is not based on their moral purity or piety, but because of who God is. In the Beatitudes, the word for "poor" is ptochoi, meaning the "stooped", the "dismayed". Note that it says nothing about whether they are Christian, righteous, or members of approved social groups, but only that they are the needy, the helpless. Likewise, the word "hungering", peinontes in Greek, means to suffer deprivation resulting from evil acts of violence perpetrated over an extended period. The use of the verb klaiein, "weep", in the Beatitudes, means profound suffering as a result of permanent marginalization. So it is that those without social status, the inconsequential, those whose lives are of no value to society, who will inherit the Kingdom.

What people can be more justly spoken of in these terms than the Palestinians living in Gaza? For the past two years, Gaza has been under a blockade that includes food, medicine, and gasoline. Their only means of survival were the tunnels to Egypt that have now been blasted. Their major sources of electricity were destroyed nearly a year ago, meaning no incubators for premature babies or pumps for water and sewage. And that was just to soften them up for what they're getting now.

In the faces of this suffering people, we see the features of the man of sorrows. God's love for the ptochoi is based not on their virtue, wisdom or guiltlessness, but the fact that they are regarded as disposable human garbage by a nation that craves their land.

Next, let us consider whether the Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves. Before getting into details, I want to make it perfectly clear that Hamas fires rockets which it knows will harm innocent civilians, including children, who bear no responsibility for Israel aggression. However, I don't wish to use this fact to pretend that the violence on both sides is moral equivalent because I don't believe it is.

The Catholic Catechism points the way, "Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility." - Catechism 2265.

The Palestinians in the occupied territories are subject to the supreme authority of Israel, a state equivalent to slavery. They have no right to vote in Israeli elections, so they have no political avenue to affect the policies that control their lives. Those who care enough to read about the daily life of Palestinians know about the women who die in childbirth at checkpoints, the destruction of Palestinian olive groves, and the theft of water supplies, all sanctioned by the Israeli government without the possibility of Palestinian redress. The Israeli government has absolute power over a people that has no say whatever in how they are treated.

The Israelis could have given the Palestinian people their own land in 1948, as most of the world urged them to do. In that case, had the Palestinian nation attacked them, they would have had the right to retaliate in self-defense. But that isn't what happened. Instead, the Israelis decided to take the land on which Palestinians were living through a settlement policy that resembles nothing so much as the "settlement policy" used by the Americans regarding the Indian territories. This amounts to raising a series of legal smokescreens to hide the actual policy which is to take all the native land and reduce the original inhabitants to cheap labor for Israeli-owned industries and simply murder or exile the rest. This policy can be easily traced from public statements by Israeli leaders from Moshe Dayan to the present, but we choose to blind ourselves to the obvious, which is particularly ironic considering the searing self-knowledge we have had to accept regarding our treatment of the American natives.

Given the growing settler movement which openly and blatantly disregards even of Israeli law to seize Palestinian land without compensation, the unstoppable strength of the Israeli right, the military protection and encouragement of outrages against Palestinians by settlers, including murder, what is the Palestinian to reasonably conclude? The only rational conclusion is that they are faced with a mortal threat not simply to their existence as a people, but to their own lives and those of their families. They have watched their land stolen outright, their orchards ruined, their wives and children murdered decade after decade by fanatics protected by the Israeli military, so what else can they believe?

They must conclude that Israel is an unjust aggressor who means to destroy them, whether quickly with F-16s or slowly through food and medicine blockades matters little. Therefore by any reasonable moral standard, emphatically including the Catholic one, they have the right to self-defense. Israel as the unjust aggressor, does not share this right. Israel's only moral option in this situation is to cease its unjust attacks on those whose rights they have violated. Until it does, it does not have the right to harm a hair on a Palestinian head.

Their situation is well-characterized by Michael Neumann in his recent article "Hamas and Gaza": "But suppose a bunch of thugs install themselves, with their families, all around your farm. They have taken most of your land and resources; they're out for more. If this keeps up, you will starve, perhaps die. They are armed to the teeth and abundantly willing to use those arms. The only way you can defend yourself is to make them pay as heavy a price as possible for their siege and their constant encroachment on your living space. You're critically low on food and medical supplies, and the thugs cut off those supplies whenever they please. What's more, the only weapons available to you are indiscriminate, and will harm their families as well as the thugs themselves. You can use those weapons, even knowing they will kill innocents. You don't have to let the thugs destroy you, thereby sacrificing your innocents (including yourself) to spare theirs. Since innocents are under mortal threat in either case, you needn't prefer the attackers' to your own." "Hamas and Gaza", Jan. 13, 2009.

Precisely the language of the Catechism: "Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow." Catechism 2264.

Just as Jesus was dehumanized by the Roman authorities in Palestine, so today no one in power dares give the Palestinian a human face by attempting to see the situation from their viewpoint. They have no power, therefore their viewpoint and their humanity are worthless. How quickly shall we force them onto the Cross?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Power of Conscience

"An Israeli Apache helicopter pilot is refusing to take part in the ongoing onslaught against the civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Captain Orr, who has flown dozens of combat missions over Gaza the past few weeks, said Tuesday that he decided to abort missions to avoid killing civilians after seeing children near his intended targets.

He also expressed sorrow for civilian casualties, the people who were caught up in the bombardment by him and his colleagues, saying that the vast majority of damage and casualties in Gaza were caused by flying attack helicopters and jet fighters.

Since the start of 'Operation Cast Lead', Israeli forces have killed more than 1000 Palestinians and wounded over 4580 others -- most of whom are women and children."

For those of us whose sight is clear, the attack on Gaza is simply the fulfillment of the plan which Israel has adhered to with religious consistency since 1948 - the elimination of the Palestinian people from Greater Israel.

Israel today reigns high in the heavenly Olympus of today's domination system. In the religious system of modern capital, Israel embodies the eternal David fighting the Goliath of "terrorism", while Palestinians are the Canaanites who must be eliminated for God's plan to triumph. To question this is to question God. The relevant verse:

"Joshua said, 'By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite.'" Joshua 3:10

The settlers reach ecstatic frenzies of violence against those who inhabit the promised land, the land given to them by a "God" who cares only for the elect among nations and treats other nations as mere chattels to serve the chosen. But who is this God?

A Palestinian, confronted by the power of this "God of Israel", has the choice of submission, which means the annihilation of the truth of his humanity, or resistance in the face of overwhelming military power. From every media mouthpiece of the domination system the command rings out: "Liberation is found only through submission to power."

If only the Palestinians would submit their own annihilation, then there would be "peace". Such is the bargain that power always makes with its victims. But another God is united with the Palestinian people and this God will not permit consent to annihilation.

It is the same God that Christians who resist the force of idolatry worship in solidarity with those who bear the face of Christ in his crucifixion. Those of us who fail to worship the spirit of power, the spirit of money, live in irreconcilable opposition to the "God of Israel" who massacres women and children. Instead we worship the God of Jesus Christ, not the God who consoles us for the "collateral damage" which our idolatry inflicts.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Massacre at Zeitoun

The image of the cross is the image of unjust suffering. The battle with the injustice which crucifies the poor, is the assertion of God. The practice of injustice or resigned passivity in the face of such idols and such injustice is the rejection of God.

To make this suffering concrete, consider what happened in Zeitoun. The IDF raided it on Sunday, quickly establishing total control. The town commands a strategic location which they coveted for the "third phase" of their blitz, the invasion of the inner city of Gaza, home to 410,000 people.

Their first act was to compel extended families to gather in centrally located buildings. In order to establish control, they march the terrified residents at gunpoint from one building to the next. Then the IDF assures them that they were being moved to secure houses where they will be safe from bombs.

Into one of these "safe houses", 110 Palestinians were deposited without food or water last Sunday. The next day, just as they were beginning to trust their good fortune, 3 men ventured outside, hoping to find food to bring back to their starved families. They died instantly in a barrage of IDF machine gun fire. But they were mercifully spared the next sight. F-16s obliterated the building with a precision missile strike. At least 70 were killed immediately, but many lingered on, half-alive, praying for help.

What happened next is best described by an eye-witness: "Meysa Samouni, a 19-year-old who survived the attack with her two-year-old daughter, who was maimed, described the scene: 'When the missile stuck, I lay down with my daughter under me. Everything filled up with smoke and dust, and I heard screams and crying. After the smoke and dust cleared a bit, I looked around and saw 20 to 30 people who were dead, and about 20 who were wounded. The persons killed around me were my husband, who was hit in the back, my father-in-law, who was hit in the head and whose brain was on the floor, my mother-in-law Rabab, my father-in-law's brother Talal, and his wife Rhama Muhammad a-Samouni, 45, Talal's son's wife, Maha Muhammad a-Samouni, 19, and her son, Muhammad Hamli a-Samouni, five months, whose whole brain was outside his body, Razqa Muhammad a-Samouni, 50, Hanan Khamis a-Samouni, 30, and Hamdi Majid a-Samouni, 22."

The Israelis simply left them to die in their own blood, some from wounds, others from starvation. The aid agencies only became aware of the massacres when a few surviving members of the Samouni clan arrived at their doorstep and poured out their tale. As the Telegraph put it, "A handful of survivors, some wounded, others carrying dead or dying infants, made it on foot to Gaza's main north-south road before they were given lifts to hospital. Three small children were buried in Gaza City that afternoon."

But the Israelis were not satisfied with what they had done to the residents - they prevented the Red Cross from visiting the denizens of the blasted buildings until three days later.

A Red Cross medic who was finally allowed in described the scene: "Inside the Samouni house I saw about 10 bodies and outside another 60," the medic told the Telegraph. "I was not able to count them accurately because there was not much time and we were looking for wounded people.... I could see an Israeli army bulldozer knocking down houses nearby but we ran out of time and the Israeli soldiers started shooting at us." The Red Cross also found four half-dead children lying near the corpses of their mothers. They also discovered the bodies of 15 others who had suffered slow and agonizing deaths while Israeli soldiers were stationed 100 yards away.

But this massacre was only one of many, all following the same ghastly pattern. In another building in Zeitoun, the Israelis gathered 80 people together, again without food or water. Then they waited outside for the starved residents to attempt to flee and gunned them down in cold blood, men, women, and children. One man was shot dead as he opened his door to the soldiers, who then proceeded to murder his two-year old son.

Once they had had their sport with the residents, they rounded up and blind-folded some of the few remaining men to serve as human shields for upcoming raids into more resistant areas of the city.

Jesus is crucified again whenever the poor are subjected to the unjust rage of the powerful. Please speak out now before Israel begins its "third phase" of the invasion. Now is when your voice counts, not after the massacres are over.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Jesus is a Palestinian

They are the image of our pierced savior. Their crucifixion has been long and heightened with all the cruelties that contemporary ingenuity can dream of. Every day they cry out to God. But they have not been broken.

"He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
A man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
And as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account."
- Isaiah 53: 2 – 3

Like Yahweh’s Servant they have been deprived of their human face. They are not human beings like Americans and Israelis are human beings. If their children are killed, it does not matter. They only understand violence.

We, the protectors of humanity, are not like them: "Strip away the clich├ęs and the vacuous newspeak blaring out across the servile media and its pathetic corps of voluntary state servants in the Western world and what you will find is the naked desire for hegemony; for power over the weak and dominion over the world’s wealth. Worse yet you will find that the selfishness, the hatred and indifference, the racism and bigotry, the egotism and hedonism that we try so hard to cover up with our sophisticated jargon, our refined academic theories and models actually help to guide our basest and ugliest desires. The callousness with which we in indulge in them all are endemic to our very culture; thriving here like flies on a corpse.” – Jennifer Lowenstein, "If Hamas did not Exist", Jan. 1, 2009.

They are crucified because they are weak and in the way of our quest for dominance.

"By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked..."
- Isaiah 53: 8 – 9

And what is said about the crucified people? If they had been willing to silently starve while Israel cut off food supplies, if they had been willing to simply die, disappear, and graciously eliminate their inconvenient presence from the land Israel craved, they would have been forgiven. But when they decided to live, when they became aware of their crucifixion, protest against it and struggle to escape from it, then they are not even recognized as human beings, and the practiced litany is intoned against them: terrorists, Al Qaida, suicide bombers...

At the moment of this writing, they are being "disappeared" and their bodies thrown on rubbish heaps. Their deaths will not be investigated. They are dying not because of anything they have done, but because of who they are. They must die in order to terrorize and paralyze the others.

Indeed, they bear the sin of many. Their death is necessary so that Israelis may enjoy the good life.

"Strip away the current symbols and language of the victims of our selfish and devastating whims and you will find the simple, impassioned and unaffected cries of the downtrodden; of the ‘wretched of the earth’ begging you to cease your cold aggression against their children and their homes; their families and their villages; begging you to leave them alone to have their fish and their bread, their oranges, their olives and their thyme; asking you first politely and then with increasing disbelief why you cannot let them live undisturbed on the land of their ancestors; unexploited, free of the fear of expulsion; of ravishment and devastation; free of permits and roadblocks and checkpoints and crossings; of monstrous concrete walls, guard towers, concrete bunkers, and barbed wire; of tanks and prisons and torture and death. Why is life without these policies and instruments of hell impossible?" – Jennifer Lowenstein, “If Hamas did not Exist”, Jan. 1, 2009.

Today Gaza is the new name for Golgotha.