Sami Al Jundi’s story is the most remarkable memoir I have read coming out of the Palestinian experience. For those who care about ending the violence, enmity, occupation, and repression that characterize the Israeli-Palestinian context, I recommend this book highly.
The book is not, however, for the faint of heart. There are passages difficult to stomach including a detailed description of Sami’s torture by both Israeli security officials and Palestinian Authority police (yes – he was abused by both). Indeed, Sami spares no one, Israelis, Palestinians and “do-good” Americans who he believed did not fully understand the depth of enmity between the peoples and what is necessary to transform the relationship if peace is to be realized.
Sami was born into a loving family in the old city of Jerusalem in 1961. As a child, like many Palestinian children living under occupation, he became radicalized and participated in rock throwing against Israeli soldiers. When he was 17, he was arrested after a bomb he and two friends were making and planning to detonate in an Israeli vegetable market blew up in their faces. One friend was killed and Sami was wounded. He was arrested at the hospital, interrogated and tortured by Israeli security police, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to 10 years in an Israeli prison.
Once in prison he discovered that his fellow Palestinian political prisoners (as opposed to common criminals) had created a democratic system that included a highly sophisticated and intensive educational program. Sami read 300 pages a day for 10 years in world history, philosophy, psychology, French and Arabic literature, and poetry, as well as the Torah, New Testament and Qur’an. As a result he began to rethink relations between individuals and peoples.
Despite his violent past, Sami was drawn to the non-violent thought of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. Upon release from prison, Sami was committed to non-violence and became involved with the “Palestinian Center for Non-Violence in Jerusalem.” The Center’s purpose was:
“Throw flowers, not stones, at soldiers at demonstrations. Force them to see our humanity…be stronger than your opponent – do not respond to their violence with your own….the occupation must end and there must be equal rights for both peoples living in this land. The message will be stronger if it is delivered using nonviolent methods.”
Noting the influence of two Persian dualist philosophers, Mani (3rd century CE) and Mazdak (6th century CE), Sami wrote:
“Everyone … has light and darkness inside them. Even the darkest heart always has some small point of light. We have to help them find their light also. And then it will grow. This is the essence of nonviolence. Not to fight the person, but to fight the darkness in his heart. The only way to do this is through growing his light… The only way to change their behavior is if we’re willing to talk to each other, to build respect for each other as human beings.” (p. 210)
Sami was disgusted by violence of all kinds, be it perpetrated by Palestinian suicide bombers, Israeli settlers, the Israeli Defense Forces, and the Palestinian Authority police.
Soon after its founding in 1993 by the American journalist John Wallach (who was my congregant when I served at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in DC), Sami became the supervisor of the “Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence in East Jerusalem.” The program was founded upon the idea that when young people from enemy communities have an opportunity to meet each other on neutral ground as equals, talk, argue, listen, and spend time together, they develop empathy for the other and consequently become friends, which Seeds of Peace affirms is the basis for the peaceful resolution of conflict between individuals and peoples.
It was at the Center that Sami met the American author/documentary filmmaker/playwright Jen Marlowe, who was on staff, with whom he co-authored this book.
Though Sami eventually would leave Seeds of Peace, the reasons for which he describes in detail, the Seeds program has expanded over the 20 years of its existence to include 5000 alumni from 27 nations. (See http://www.seedsofpeace.org/about)
The resolution to the memoir is as unfinished as is the lack of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though I do not know Sami or Jen personally, I would imagine that they would both affirm that now, especially in the wake of the violence in Gaza, is not the time to desist from efforts for Israelis and the Palestinians to make peace.
As they have stated, our two peoples are destined to live together side by side on the land we each claim as our national home. Programs such as Seeds of Peace and the Palestinian Center for Non-Violence represent among the few shining lights remaining in the darkness of the human heart within the Israeli-Palestinian context and thus are our greatest hope.
Both Jeremy Ben Ami (President of J Street) and Yossi Klein Halevi (Writer and journalist at Jerusalem’s David Hartman Institute) are personal friends. I respect them both as thinkers, as committed Jews and Zionists, as men who truly love the people of Israel and see the State of Israel as the embodiment of Jewish national dreams.
This dialogue on criticism of Israel by Diaspora Jews during war time which Jeremy and Yossi have undertaken (below) is as good a discussion as we will find on the sensitivities and moral obligations of Jews vis a vis the Jewish state, whether we be Israelis or Diaspora Jews.
I recommend you read the entire piece below, but before doing so it is important to recognize two elements of Jeremy’s and Yossi’s discussion with each other that have enabled them to talk with such candor and respect:
1. Their conversation together is civil, respectful, honest, and clear;
2. Each is motivated by ahavat Yisrael (love of the people of Israel) and ahavat Medinat Yisrael (love of the State of Israel).
With regards to point #2, unfortunately, many Diaspora Jews do not feel this love for Israel, do not identify with Israel’s history, struggle, fate, and destiny nor with the Israeli people, and identify policies of the Israeli government with the meaning of the Jewish state. When they criticize Israel, therefore, they do not do so from a position of love – and to me, that is a critical difference from those who do love the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
One final point – Jeremy is right (and Yossi expresses his appreciation of this point) that we living here outside Israel cannot know what it feels like to live there in time of war, and it is the Israeli people who must live with the consequences of decisions they make. The rest is commentary.
Here is the piece:
I received an email today from a young woman away at college who I have known for most of her life. She is a strongly identifying Jew, smart, open-minded and open-hearted. She asked me for help in addressing the following statement made to her by a college friend:
“Israel is the aggressor. Israel won’t compromise. Israel needs to be stripped of its military because it is using it too liberally. Israel is the bully.”
About five years ago it became clear to me that college students, in particular, and adult Jews as well, do not have the background necessary to respond effectively to the kinds of statements that my friend shared with me. And so, I wrote and compiled a document entitled “Facts, Responses and Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” that offers, to the best of my ability, a concise history of the conflict drawing on facts and modern scholarship from a variety of sources.
My goal in writing this piece was to state the most common myths and distortions made against Israel and then to offer the true history behind the claim. (Note: I have not added to this document since April, 2010).
This past year I published another piece in the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly entitled “The International Delegitimization Campaign Against Israel and the Urgent Need of a Comprehensive, Two-State, End-of-Conflict Peace Agreement” (Winter, 2012).
I referred my college student friend to both of these pieces which can be accessed on The Temple Israel of Hollywood Website under “About Us” and “Clergy” and “Writings by Rabbi Rosove” – http://www.tioh.org/about-us/clergy/aboutus-clergy-clergystudy
If you yourself need more information, or you feel your high school and college student children and grandchildren could benefit, then I ask you to refer them to these pieces as a beginning to gaining greater understanding.
This piece by Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin offers greater understanding behind the violence in and out of Gaza today.
Baskin is the Israeli CEO and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) and was the key Israeli negotiator with Hamas in attaining the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in October, 2011.
Baskin has frequently consulted with Israeli government and security officials (at their request) because of his connections with top leadership in Hamas. He is a loyal Israeli and a man of peace. His observations as presented in this article (see link below) should be taken very seriously by anyone seeking greater understanding of the context in which the current violence is taking place.
Let me not be misunderstood. Israel has every right to defend itself against the hundreds of bombs (800+ since January before Israel began this most immediate war on Hamas’ ammunition stockpiles and rocket sites) being shot deliberately from Gaza at Israeli cities, settlements and civilians. However, there are a number of questions that need to be considered as both sides march to a full-scale war. These questions include: Who is actually launching these missiles from Gaza – Hamas or other groups? Does Hamas, in fact, have control over the territory it rules and the ability to stop the rockets if other groups are launching them? What cost in life will a new war exact on both sides? And will yet another war bring us any closer to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, security for Israel and the Palestinians, and peace when the fighting stops?
Shaalu shalom Y’rushalayim v’Shabbat shalom!
Bio on Gershon Baskin – http://www.ipcri.org/files/gbcv.html
Anyone who has visited Sderot in the south near the Gaza border must appreciate why Israel cannot tolerate the hundreds and thousands of missiles launched indiscriminately by Hamas from Gaza on Israeli cities and settlements.
The Israeli targeted killing this week of Ahmad Jabari, the mastermind of the Gilad Shalit kidnapping and a terrorist responsible for the murder of hundreds, if not thousands of innocent Israelis, is justifiable. Any progressive Jew should be supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas bombs. No nation in the world would do otherwise.
Having said this, understanding context and the risk of unintended consequences is important. Though it is nothing new that Hamas is a sworn enemy of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, the political fall-out for Israel from this operation and anything yet to come from a possible invasion is unknown and cannot be predicted one way or another.
Israel is in the midst of an election campaign. The PA is preparing to introduce a bill into the UN General Assembly to gain recognition of a “State of Palestine” and already has the votes to get it passed. Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to miss opportunities to work towards a two-state solution, most recently when he ignored President Abbas’ statement that Palestine is the West Bank and Gaza and not Israel. President Obama is refocusing (I would assume) on the Middle East after the American election, and has stated his desire to draw down more quickly, if possible, the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He also understands the need to stabilize Iraq, address ongoing issues relative to the “Arab Spring”, tighten sanctions on Iran, maintain a working and productive relationship with Egypt, and figure out what to do about the deadly civil war in Syria.
Another Israeli-Hamas war, even if justifiable, throws a monkey wrench into the mix.
A popular Israeli song from 1977 written and composed after Anwar Sadat visited Israel (“Yehiyeh Tov” – lyrics: Yonatan Gefen; Music: David Bruza) still expresses the yearnings and dreams of Israeli youth who have born the burden of defending the Jewish state for so long. As we read the unsettling news day in and day out, it is important to remember that at the heart and soul of the Israeli people is a yearning for a better future and peace. I believe the same is true of the Palestinian people.
The melody of Yehiyeh Tov is beautiful and the English translation a pale reflection of the original Hebrew. You can watch and listen to David Bruza sing it here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIphEtttLcA&feature=fvwrel
“I look out the window / and it makes me very sad, / Spring has left; / Who knows when it will return. / The clown has become a king; / The prophet has become a clown; / And I have forgotten the way; / But I am still here.
All will be better, yes – / all will be better. / Sometimes I break / But this night, / O this night / I will stay with you.
Children wear wings / And fly off to the army / And after two years / They return without answers. / People live with stress / Looking for a reason to breathe / And between hatred and murder / They speak about peace.
And all will be better…
Yes, above in the heavens / Clouds learn to fly, / And I look up / And see a hijacked plane. / A government of generals / Divide the landscape, / To what is theirs and ours, / And we know not the end.
And all will be better…
I look out my window – / Maybe it will come, / Maybe it has come, / Yes it has come – / A new day.
Here comes the prince of Egypt. / O how I rejoiced for him. / There are pyramids in our eyes / And peace in his pipe / And we said let’s complete it, / And we’ll live as brothers / And he said let’s go forward. / Just get out of the territories.
And all will be good…
We will yet learn to live together / Between the groves of olive trees; / Children will live without fear / Without borders, without bomb shelters. / On graves grass will grow, / For peace and love, / One hundred years of war / But we have not lost hope.
I look out the window / Perhaps a new day will come.”
David Bruza has been singing this song for 35 years and vows to continue until there is peace.
The French film-maker Lorraine Levy has told a provocative and moving story in “The Other Son” about an accidental baby-switch in a Haifa hospital during a Scud missile attack in the first Gulf War. A Muslim Palestinian-born baby boy consequently came to be raised in a Jewish-Israeli home and a Jewish-Israeli baby was raised in a west-bank Muslim Palestinian home.
The error was discovered when Joseph (now 18) went for a blood test before entering his mandatory Israeli military service, and his mother, a physician, found that her son’s blood type was unlike either hers or her husband’s. The hospital administration sought out the records and discovered the error, brought the two families together and the drama unfolds.
Many critics found the scenario forced and unlikely. Perhaps! However, the drama poses the existential question – “Who am I?” Am I the product more of nature than nurture, biology than environment, DNA than religion/culture/nationality?
The confusion is palpable for the central characters in the film. The two fathers (played by Pascal Elbe and Areen Omari) first want to hide the newly discovered identities of their sons and bear quietly the pain and confusion to avoid public embarrassment and shame. The mothers (played by Emmanuelle Devos and Khalifa Natour) yearn to hold and kiss their birth sons. The two younger sisters are thrilled to have new brothers. The older Palestinian brother Bilal (played by Mahmood Shilabi) suddenly regards his formerly beloved younger brother Yacine (played by Mehdi Dehbi) as his enemy.
The film-maker avoids spending much time on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in lieu of telling the personal story of two families struggling to comprehend and integrate a new and confusing truth.
Yacine (the Palestinian raised Israeli-born son) standing next to Joseph (the Israeli raised Palestinian- born son – played by Jules Sitruk) says “Isaac and Ishmael, sons of Abraham!” thus shining a light on their Biblical familial ties.
Joseph, the best student in his rabbi’s yeshiva who had strongly identified as an Israeli Jew, is now no longer certain who he really is. His rabbi tells him that Jewish identity is a “state” and he can convert, but he is offended and alienated. He tells his mother, “You mean I’m the other one? And the other one is me?…I’ll have to swap my kippah for a suicide bomb.”
He says to Yacine, “I can’t feel Jewish anymore. I don’t feel Arab either. What’s left?”
Yacine muses, “I’m my worst enemy, but I must love myself anyway.”
Both sons are drawn to know their birth parents and siblings, and they travel to the other side. The women’s hearts open immediately. The men, burdened by pride, machismo and hate melt more slowly.
The mid-part of the movie has Joseph and Yacine exploring each other’s worlds and becoming friends. The two young actors successfully play layered characters who wonder about the lives they could have lived and the parents they would have known and not known. Their situation reveals the absurdity of arbitrary divisions defined by religious and national identities.
The question before each young man is who they are and what they will become?
The director allows them to be quiet on screen, to not react explosively, and to dwell in their confusion and crisis that they might find greater clarity and a new way to think and be in the world.
The movie concludes with an act of violence against Joseph by street toughs on a Tel Aviv beach. Both Yacine and his older brother Bilal (who has come around to accept Yacine and Joseph as his two brothers) rush to the injured brother’s aid. In the hospital, Yacine told Joseph, “I called your parents.” Joseph asked, “Which ones?”
I loved this film for the hopeful possibilities it offers for Israelis and Palestinians once a two-state solution is achieved and peace is given a chance – Imshallah/B’ezrat haShem!
I have not used my blog for a purpose such as this before, but I am doing so now because of my utter disgust with the destructive utterances of Donald Trump in the last election cycle.
MoveOn.org is organizing a petition drive to communicate the public’s opposition to Macys Department Store entering into an agreement to carry Trumps product line.
I have shopped at Macys for more than 40 years, and knowing that Macys has an “arrangement” to promote Trump’s goods is disheartening, to say the least.
Please sign this petition if you agree with me.
Already, many of us are hoping that after President Obama’s inauguration and Israeli Elections this January, President Obama will make a visit to the Middle East, meet with Israelis and Palestinians, and bring a strong proposal for a new round of negotiations leading to a two-states for two-peoples resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Given the strong support that J Street’s 2012 election night poll (http://jstreet.org/) of Jewish Americans found among American Jews for President Obama’s policies overall and for his approach to the Middle East, Iran and Israeli-Palestinian peace, the President should feel confident that American Jews support him as an honest broker.
J Street commissioned three polls to assess the American Jewish vote in 2012, examining voting preference and priorities, as well as opinions on Israel. One poll focused on the national picture. Another focused on the Ohio Senate race, where Senator Sherrod Brown faced numerous attacks on his pro-Israel credentials and affiliation with J Street. The third poll focused on the state of Florida, where right-wing groups poured an unprecedented amount of money into dishonest ads and attack campaigns to try to turn support for Israel into a partisan wedge issue.
The American Jewish community remains a solidly Democratic voting bloc despite tens of millions of dollars spent to move their votes. In 2012, American Jews remained overwhelmingly supportive of President Obama, of Democratic candidates, and of US leadership to achieve a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The J Street Poll found the following:
“Jews hold progressive views on resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
• Strong support for U.S. playing an active role to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, even if it means publicly stating disagreements with the Israelis and the Arabs (69 percent support)
•76% support the U.S. putting forth a peace plan that proposes borders and security
• 72% percent support comprehensive agreement along the lines of the Clinton parameters
It has been suggested that President Obama appoint former President Bill Clinton as a special envoy to the Middle East to help resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. No one has the authority and knowledge that the former American President has, and I, for one, hope that Obama will invite President Clinton’s active involvement and leadership. For a persuasive argument on this point see Bernard Avishai’s recent blog – http://bernardavishai.blogspot.com/ .
As some of my readers know, I am a strong supporter of J Street, the national home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who believe that a two-state solution is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I serve as a national co-chair of the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet because I believe in J Street’s vision and strategic approach to the Middle East conflict. J Street understands (reflecting the views of a majority of Israelis themselves) that unless Israel and the Palestinians find a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Jewish state will lose its Jewish majority and democracy.
This 2012 election showed exceptional success for the J Street vision in the polls. Here are the main results:
All 49 JStreetPAC-endorsed incumbents in the House were elected.
All 7 JStreetPAC-endorsed Senate candidates were elected.
JStreetPAC’s challengers and candidates for open seats – elected in 13 out of 15 races (Ami Bera hanging on to a razor thin lead in his race for a Congressional seat in Sacramento would make it 14 of 15.)
Contributors gave over $1.8 million to these 71 pro-Israel, pro-peace candidates for Congress, and, consequently the 113th Congress will have 50 percent more JStreetPAC-endorsed members than are in Congress today. JStreetPAC efforts helped elect Tammy Baldwin (WI), Martin Heinrich (NM), Sherrod Brown (OH), and Time Kaine (VA) to the Senate, and for the first time in its four years of existence, JStreetPAC moved aggressively AGAINST candidates who are “One-Staters” (i.e. against a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and supporters of full annexation of the West Bank by Israel). Come January the House of Representatives will no longer have One-State Caucus members Joe Walsh, Allen West, Bobby Schilling, Frank Guinta, or Ann Marie Buerkle.
- Given the success of the above endorsed candidates, it is clear that J Street chose well and that those candidates enjoy broad support for their positions generally.
- It is also clear that the J Street vision is increasingly being embraced at the highest levels of Congress and that both House and Senate candidates and office-holders happily accepted endorsements from J Street.
- No longer is the right-of-center policies vis-à-vis Israel and within Israel itself the only legitimate pro-Israel position embraced within the American Jewish community. In this regard, it is time that the 8-10% of the American Jewish community for whom Israel is their number one voting issue – the outspoken, emotional, passionate, right-wing, and deliberately intimidating – be understood as the small minority that it is.
- It is clear that it is time that we in the moderate-left of the American Jewish community become equally passionate advocates of our positions.
- The polls have clearly said in this election cycle that the majority of the American Jewish community supports the J Street position vis-a-vis the Middle East.
The attached poll (J Street poll) is necessary reading for anyone interested in the American Jewish community’s voting behavior in the 2012 election, its concerns about Israel and peace with the Palestinians. The poll puts to bed the canard that the American Jewish community is behaving substantially differently than it has since World War II.
The Gerstein poll discovered that 70% of the American Jewish community supported President Obama and Democrats and 30% supported Governor Romney and Republicans. That is essentially unchanged.
Jim Gerstein is a founding partner of GBA Strategies. For 10 years, he served as the Executive Director of Democracy Corps, a non-profit organization founded by Democratic strategists James Carville, Stan Greenberg, and Bob Shrum, that conducts public opinion research and provides strategic advice to the progressive community. Prior to his work with Democracy Corps, Gerstein was the Executive Director of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, where he led public education campaigns, congressional visits to the Middle East, and convened Middle East diplomats in the U.S. for meetings with business and political leaders. The Institute provides financial, organizational, and strategic support for various Arab-Israeli peace projects, including meetings between retired generals from Israel and Arab countries, initiatives with regional business leaders, and dialogues between Jewish and Arab officials.
During the 1999 Israeli Prime Ministerial campaign, Gerstein took a leave of absence and joined Ehud Barak’s U.S. based consulting team. He served as the team’s man on the ground, overseeing polling, paid media, and message development for the campaign. Gerstein has worked on several U.S. political campaigns and has held several key positions within the Democratic Party. In 1992, he worked on the field campaign for Carol Moseley Braun’s successful run for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. He later moved to Washington, DC, where he became the Deputy Director for Jewish Affairs at the Democratic National Committee. In 1996, Gerstein worked in the press office for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and then directed the Clinton/Gore campaign for the north side of Chicago and northern Illinois.