israel and palestine religious conflict

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Father Roy writes:  The highlights in the following essay are mine.  Avigail Abarbanel was born and raised in Israel.  She moved to Australia in 1991 and now lives in Scotland.  She works as a psychotherapist in private practice and is an activist for Palestinian rights.  Avigail is the editor of Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012).  Her website.    Peace, Roy

Avigail Abarbanel

Avigail Abarbanel

source: mondoweiss.net…

 Happy Hanukkah? Thanks, but not for me

By Avigail Abarbanel

Every year since I left Israel, at about this time of year, well-meaning, polite people wish me Happy Hanukkah. But I don’t celebrate Hanukkah because it is a festival that offends my values and ethics. People tend to think that it’s some kind of a Jewish version of Christmas, but they are wrong.

The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem as part of a successful rebellion against the Greek occupiers in Judea during the period 175 to 134 BC.

After Alexander’s death the Greek empire was divided and Judea became part of the Greek Seleucid Empire, which also included Syria. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the ruler of the Seleucid Empire, turned Jerusalem into a Greek-style polis, built a gymnasium, turned the Jewish temple into a temple for the Greek god Zeus, and brutally suppressed Jewish religion. Practices like reading the Torah, circumcision and observing the Sabbath were banned and punishable by death.

The rebellion led by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers was run as a guerrilla war against the Seleucid army but initially involved murdering Jewish collaborators who adopted Hellenic culture and religion.

This guerrilla war involved many battles and in the end Judea was able to establish itself as a Roman client state and free itself from the Greeks. During one of the battles a band of rebels was able to overcome a small Seleucid garrison guarding the temple. They took it back and rededicated it as a Jewish temple. The word Hanukkah is derived from the root of the Hebrew word ‘inaugurate’ or ‘dedicate’.

This event is celebrated in the festival of Hanukkah as a miracle from god with a few myths thrown in.

One of those is the myth of the little can of consecrated olive oil that was found in a corner of the temple, and that miraculously lasted eight days allowing the Menorah to be lit for the eight days of the celebration.

The Bar-Ilan University professor who taught us about Hanukkah as part of a unit on Jewish festivals said no one knows who made up this myth, but it stuck. It is told every year to little children in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world, as a way of conferring divine blessing on the successful rebellion against the Greek occupation forces.

The problem I have with Hanukkah (and many other Jewish festivals) is that I refuse to celebrate a blood bath, glorify war or justify murder of anyone, even in the name of our own liberation or survival.

Many Jewish festivals are based around stories of our deliverance from oppression, and triumph over those who wished to annihilate us or just gave us a hard time. To my taste, too many of them rejoice in the killing of others and justify what we did in the name of the survival of our Jewish identity. (I don’t celebrate Passover either, because I can’t rejoice in the death of all the eldest sons of Egypt, or Purim where Hamman and his ten sons were murdered for plotting to kill the Jews.)

Growing up, I learned so many stories about how our people resisted occupation and subjugation. They weren’t always about battles and wars. Sometimes they were just about the human spirit resisting subjugation regardless of a horrible cost.

One of the goriest stories, and one that as a child I found also deeply moving, was about Hanna and her seven sons who were brutally murdered one by one in front of her because she refused to eat pork. We were taught in no uncertain terms that one does anything to be free, one does not bow to occupiers and one does not tolerate oppression or any attempt to subjugate our religion, our way of life or our national character.

Given the realities of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, I find the hypocrisy of Hanukkah intolerable. It’s OK for us Jews to celebrate (hugely and spectacularly) our efforts to liberate our own people from occupation, no matter the cost, no matter who lives or dies on our side or the other. But it is not OK for the Palestinians.

No-one condemns Judas Maccabeus and his rebels as terrorists.

They are revered as freedom fighters with a just and even divinely decreed cause regardless of their brutality. The Greek occupiers are despised venomously in the story of Hanukkah, but no-one thinks there’s a problem with Israel being an occupier.

Of course at this point supporters of Israel are likely to say that the comparison is unfair. Israel isn’t an empire like Greece was; it is only trying to be a safe haven for the long persecuted Jewish people.

But do the reasons behind occupation and colonisation matter when their evils and crimes are the same?

Another thing that is revealed in the documents behind Hanukkah is that there was horrible and bloody infighting within the Jewish community itself during that period.

There was corruption and endless intrigue in relation to the position of the High Priest and his relatives, collaboration with the Greek occupiers, power, status and money. This is the kind of dynamic that happens when a people are under occupation, the power struggles that go with that and the different approaches to dealing with the occupation. It’s never pretty.

So when people criticise the Palestinian people, I stay out of it and I always think to myself, What do you expect? This is what happens when people are under occupation. They are responding as human beings have always responded under similar circumstances, including us Jews. Why should the Palestinians be held to a different standard than the Jews back then, or the French during the Nazi occupation, India during British colonisation, the Scots or any other occupied group throughout human history?

The problem is never with the response; it is always with the occupation. Colonisers and occupiers are not benign. They are cruel and exploitative, and there is nothing the colonised and occupied can do that will ever be right. No occupier ever tolerates any resistance, peaceful or violent. They crush them both because they interrupt and threaten the agenda of the occupier. Occupied people can do nothing right when dealing with a force bent on taking what they have and destroying them if they get in the way of it.

I used to like Hanukkah as a child because it’s fun for children. You get to light pretty candles, sing really nice, albeit gory, traditional songs (Maoz Tzur is positively shocking if you know what the words mean), and eat yummy sweet, fatty food, like fried potato patties (latkes) and jam doughnuts (sufganiot). (Both of these are traditional Eastern European dishes, not really Jewish as such, but Israel has always been dominated by Ashkenazi culture.) So when I gave up all of this years ago, it was a little sad, but it’s been a worthwhile sacrifice to make so I can live according to my ethics.

It’s time for Jewish supporters of Israel around the world, and in particular for Israeli Jews, to wake up and see the terrible irony of celebrating Hanukkah while Israel occupies the Palestinians.

Why can’t they see that they are playing the part of the Greeks and that the Palestinians are responding the same way the Jewish rebels did back then? If Jewish culture glorifies and celebrates our rebellious and uncompromising spirit, why does it condemn that same spirit in others?

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Father Roy writes: Another front in the Battle has opened up.  The front of which I speak is in England: The Plight of the Rev’d Stephen Sizer.  The article pasted below will explain. 

It’s a serious matter.  I’ll write no more about it now, but lots of people will be writing about it in the near future.  Sami Joseph wrote this morning that Stephen is under a great deal of pressure.  The Jewish Establishment is standing adamant against him.  Stephen’s Bishop has asked him to write a letter explaining himself.  Here’s background information on the subject: stephen sizer – AOL Search Results.  The article pasted below is quite comprehensive.

Peace,Roy

Rev. Stephen Sizer

Rev. Stephen Sizer

Board of Deputies makes formal complaint about Stephen Sizer to Church of England

The Board of Deputees has issued a formal complaint to the Anglican Church, about Rev Stephen Sizer:

In a move believed to be without precedent in modern times, the Board of Deputies has lodged a formal complaint against Revd Stephen Sizer under the Church of England’s disciplinary process – an Act of Parliament known as the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003.

The complaint is based on statements made by Revd Sizer that the Board regards as antisemitic and a series of instances where Revd Sizer has posted internet links to articles on racist and antisemitic websites.

The BoD website has also published an opinion piece, evidence in support of the complaint, and an appendix.

Earlier this month, Stephen Sizer hosted the UK branch of Jews For Jesus, who did not challenge Sizer publicly about antisemitism, but used Sizer’s church as a platform to promote their own organisation. One wonders if Jews For Jesus is surprised by this development.

The BoD complaint follows a complaint from the Council of Christians and Jews about Sizer made this past year, and also a lengthy blogging campaign to highlight Sizer’s dalliances with antisemitism, much of which has featured here on HP.

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Deeply encouraging are the wise words of Rabbi Arthur Waskow. He calls a spade a spade – labelling the Israeli government’s lust for power as a form of idolatry.

Listening to Rabbi Waskow, the words of Jesus concerning Nathanael come to mind: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47)

Father Dave

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

source: The Shalom Center

Israel, Palestine, & Torah: Toward a Deeper Understanding

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Dear friends,

For me, the most important physical danger threatening the Jewish people, as part of human civilization and the web of life on Earth,  is the climate crisis;  and the most crucial vision and values the Jewish community can offer the world are those that help us all walk away from the Climate Cliff.  So if facing that issue is both most urgent and most helpful, why do I still spend time on Israel-Palestine and related matters?

Because the right-wing Government of Israel and its state-supported right-wing Orthodox rabbinate, with considerable help from many other Israelis and from the official leadership of most American Jewish organizations, are trying their best to poison the bloodstream of Torah.  Above all, to pervert and poison the very value, rooted in Biblical and Rabbinic wisdom, that is crucial to healing our planet and our society: “If you have power, Do Not Over-reach! Do Not Domineer! Seek communion, not domination!”

Perhaps I and others should have expected that. To draw on one aspect of the Hanukkah story, I have often said about the Emperor Antiochus’ ancient order to enforce idolatry, that it is the very job description of a king: Make the people bow down to idols – first of all, the Idol of the king himself. Torah saw that power tends to addict, and absolute power addicts its holder absolutely. (See under: Pharaoh.)

So I am disgusted but not surprised when the Prime Minister whom some Israelis call King Bibi (I prefer, in honor of Jonathan Swift & Gulliver, “King ‘Yahu”) carries out a whole series of aggressive and violent acts calculated to prevent any negotiations that might possibly lead to a free and peaceful Palestine alongside Israel. (Nothing assured – some Palestinian officials have their own record of rejectionism – but possible openings are now being slammed shut by ‘Yahu.)

A crucial question: Why has the Israeli people elected ‘Yahu and kept moving to the right?  (After Likkud’s recent internal primary and its alliance with “Yisrael Beiteinu,” its slate and the next Knesset will be even much further to the right than this one.)

I understand this process as rooted in the dark underside of one of the best teachings of Torah, “Love the stranger, the pariah, for you were strangers, pariahs, in the Land of Egypt/ Narrowness.”

Its dark and bloody underside is this: It is repeated 36 times in the Torah. Why? Because to repeat the command so often means it is being rejected, disobeyed.

For the first impulse of those who have been abused and enslaved is:  “I will grasp as much power as possible to prevent such enslavement ever again, and if that means enough power to abuse and oppress others, so be it.”

But the Torah out of the experience of many generations comes to warn us: That response is a profound ethical and practical mistake. It turns our empowerment to free ourselves into top-down power over others, and into arrogant Over-reaching.

And that leads not only to spiritual but also to political and physical disaster. Remember, “Pharaoh’s Army was drowned, deep in the Red Red Sea.”

Far wiser to empathize with the oppressed than to identify with the oppressor.

Hard to learn, but crucial.

For the Torah, that oppression was Egypt. For Israeli Jews today, it was the Holocaust. And the policy of some Israeli political and cultural forces has been to reiterate and deepen that post-traumatic response. For those Israelis who have been cozened by the restimulation of the trauma, I have great compassion – though that does not diminish my strong opposition to the policies that flow from it.

The Palestinian people has also experienced a deep trauma, and for some of them too, that leads to unethical and self-destructive violence and rejection. Again, what I feel is both compassion and strong opposition.

What we need instead, for both peoples, are spiritual and cultural and political practices aimed to transcend trauma, not to intensify it.

The trauma continues among some American Jews, but American society encourages a more generous direction.

In the story of the Maccabees, much worse than the Imperial edict ordering idolatry was that parts of the Jewish community obey the power-addicted King/ Emperor Antiochus, and bowed down to idols. It was only when some in Mattathias’ own home town bowed to idols in the public square that Mattathias went berserk, or sane, and went underground to organize a guerrilla rebellion.

Just so, I am most outraged when some among my own “kinfolk” – that is, not only the donors and leaders of some ”official” American Jewish organizations but even some who claim to be seeking to renew Judaism – bow down to the Idol of power-addiction and aggressive violence in the Israeli government when they would never justify such actions by any other government, including that of the USA.

Some American Jews are driven internally into this idolatry by their own traumatization. Others – especially some among the “official” leaders – know and will say in private that they understand the Israeli government’s policy is leading to disaster, but perks of prestige and money dispensed by King ‘Yahu and his courtiers keep them captive, far more supportive of the King than are the grass-roots members of their own organizations.

For example: Some in America justify the Israeli government’s murder of a Palestinian leader, General  Jabari of the Government of Gaza, who was preparing to sign a long-term truce agreement that the Defense Minister of Israel had approved. The murder came precisely to prevent his signing, and precisely because the killers knew it would lead to a violent response. Both means and ends were violence, intended to prevent a cease-fire that could lead toward peace. (For a careful investigative report on this event, see Israel’s leading newspaper, Haaretz)

Even though the murdered Palestinian had been violent before, the murder cannot be justified. Suppose an angry Palestinian had murdered the former terrorist Menachem Begin, precisely to prevent his signing the peace treaty with Egypt when he became Prime Minister of Israel. Would that have been condonable on the principle that Begin had been a terrorist?

Were the ancient Rabbis not talking about precisely such a case when they describe God, about to save Ishmael’s life in the wilderness, being challenged by the angels: “Don’t You know how he behaved toward Your people in the past, and how his offspring will in the future?” And the Holy One responded, “Where is he NOW, THERE, RIGHT NOW?” The angels admitted he was not being violent.  So God saved his life, and that is why a seemingly extraneous “Sham, THERE,” appears in the text. (Gen. 21:17)

Moreover, noch worser, some have asserted it would have been ethical and legitimate for the Government of Israel to prepare a truce agreement and pretend to be willing to affirm it precisely as a ruse to trick General Jabari to appear in public so that he might be more easily murdered.  Reading such a statenent, words fail me. Indeed, my bowels and belly fail me.

This was in fact the strategem of Dina’s brothers when they pretended to welcome the men of Sh’chem into their community through circumcision and then, on the third day when the Sh’chemites were in most pain, murdered them. (Gen. 34)

As their father said to them, “You have made my name stink!”

Do we any longer have a sense of smell sensitive enough to know when our names begin to stink?

Shalom, salaam – Arthur. My Hebrew name is  “Avraham Yitzchak Yishmael Yam: Abraham Isaac Ishmael Ocean.”  I am proud to bear ALL those names, even through it is hard to bear the pain when the children of the first, through the children of the second and the third, murder each other.