justice and peace
Saturday, July 2nd, 2016: It was again my privilege to be invited to speak at an Al Quds Day event, this time in the grounds of the Kingsgrove Mosque.
I was surprised to receive applause about half-way through my brief address and I wasn’t sure at first what prompted it. It was afterwards that a Palestinian man came up to me and said “you said what we needed to hear. You told us not to forget Palestine. We are afraid that the world is forgetting us”.
Indeed the man’s plea makes sense. When there is so much trouble at home and abroad to absorb our energies, it is easy to forget the ongoing trauma of the Palestinian Occupation. The longer it goes on the more we are tempted to normalise it! In truth, we must never forget Palestine!
The video below covers the first half of my address. Please see the transcript below for the complete version.
Al Quds Day 2016
As most of you would know, I returned not long ago from Syria – my fifth visit there in the last four years. One of the great tragedies of Syria (and there are many tragedies associated with that great land at the moment) is that the violence and injustice being visited upon the Syrian people is so extreme that it can easily absorb all of our time and emotional energy and so distract us from other tragedies in our world that also deserve our prayers and our attention.
It’s not only Syria, of course. When we think of the suffering of the people of Yemen, and also of Iraq and Libya and the suffering of so many of our sisters and brothers around the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and have no space in our hearts left for the people of Palestine. After all, there’s only so many people you can pray for at any one time!
I recognise in myself that I have fallen victim to this. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I am president of Friends of Sabeel, Australia – the Australian church’s attempt at Palestinian Liberation Theology. I am supposed to be a recognisable face in the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom, and yet I find the concerns of the Palestinian people have taken a back seat for me as my energies have been absorbed by other concerns that seem even more pressing!
The truth is that there is no more pressing need in our world than that of justice for the Palestinian people, for in truth, all these global tragedies we grieve are connected. As my friend, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal (former Bishop of Jerusalem, himself a Palestinian) said “the road to world peace goes through Jerusalem”.
I believe this is true. I don’t mean that if we solve the Palestinian issue that all the other pieces of the puzzle will suddenly, magically fall into place, but I do believe that unless we put an end to the abuse and discrimination and disenfranchisement experienced by the Palestinian people, these other issues we struggle with will never be solved!
This year has been another hard year for the Palestinian people and, as I say, it has been a difficult year for all of us whose hearts yearn for Palestine. The problem has been further exacerbated too lately by initiatives taken within the Islamic world to divide the ummah over their attitude to Israel.
The Saudis have made a number of statements in recent months that seem to endorse the Israeli government and would thus encourage Muslims everywhere to accept the Palestinian Occupation as normal!
I don’t know whether the long term effect of this will be more love for the Israeli government or more hatred for the house of Saud. I suspect the latter. Either way though, I am tempted to say “welcome to the club”. The Christian community has been similarly afflicted for many years by prominent voices urging the faithful around the world to turn a blind eye to the abuse of the Palestinian people!
The other things I say is “thank God or Al Quds Day!”, and I mean that. In spite of the clamour of voices urging us to forget Palestine – voices coming through the media, through our political leaders, and (as I say) even from within the ranks of the faithful, on Al Quds Day we cannot forget Palestine!
The suffering of the Palestinian people is real and it is ongoing, and it cries out to Heaven for redress! God knows that the barriers to justice and freedom seem as intractable now as they ever have been, if not more intractable! Even so, we must do what we can and we must not give up! We must pray, and we must speak out, and we must take action wherever we can to uphold the dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people.
We may fear that our efforts will never amount to much. Even so, I am always encouraged in this regard by the comparison Jesus made between the Kingdom of Heaven and the yeast that’s sprinkled into dough to make bread.
Jesus told them still another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.” (Matthew 13:33)
The yeast seems insignificant when mixed in with the dough, and it is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the lump. Even so, we know full well that when the time comes, these small flakes of yeast become the agents of extraordinary transformation! This is our hope too – that even though our collective effort seems small, that God will work through us and through all who remember Palestine today to bring about extraordinary and genuine transformation.
Thank God for Al Quds Day. Thank God for the ongoing strength and resilience of the people of Palestine. Thank God for the privilege of being able to participate in the process of transformation towards justice and peace.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”
Thus Dickens begins ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. The cities he had in mind were London and Paris, and yet his words form a fitting introduction to the story of Jerusalem and Ramallah in 2014.
It is the worst of times!
As I write, the IDF is tightening its military grip on the West Bank and enacting raids and arrests on a scale not seen since the Second Intifada! Meanwhile settlements continue to flourish, Gazans struggle to find fresh water, Australia abandons all pretence of concern, and the negotiating table is empty.
In the corridors of power – in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Washington and Canberra – it is the worst of times for our Palestinian sisters and brothers. But this is not the whole story! Tectonic shifts have been taking place at the grass-roots, and what’s more the church is at the very heart of the shift!
The accomplishment of Pope Francis in bringing Abbas and Peres together for prayer in Vatican City was nothing short of miraculous! Who would have thought that such a thing could happen?!
The tangible effects of the Pope’s initiative might not yet be obvious but what Francis has done is to help accelerate a paradigm shift in the way the world is dealing with the Palestinian Occupation. Israeli and Palestinian peace is no longer simply a political issue. It is also a spiritual issue and a human issue, and as such it is something for which we all need to take responsibility!
The quest for justice and peace in Palestinian is becoming a truly democratic struggle, as seen in the ever-growing ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign’ (BDS). The BDS again moves the struggle for justice beyond the realm of professional politicians to a place where every business, every household and every individual can play a role in defunding the Palestinian Occupation!
And so it should not surprise us to see these two forces converge – spiritual leadership and BDS – with the United Methodists of America last week divesting from companies fuelling the Palestinian Occupation and with the Presbyterian Church of the USA about to follow in their wake!
It is the worst of times for political settlements being established from the top down, and yet the death of the American-led ‘peace process’ has opened up the way for ordinary people, and for the church in particular, to take the cause of Palestinian peace into their own hands!
In Biblical Greek the word ‘kairos’ means ‘time’ but not in the sense of clock-time. It means an opportune time – a God-given moment that needs to be taken hold of and taken full advantage of. Now is such a kairos in the struggle for Palestinian justice. Now is the time to act, now is the time to pray, now is the time for us to organise our churches to act and pray and to shout out to the world that our Palestinian sisters and brothers have suffered long enough!
If we – the Church of Jesus Christ – take hold of this time and work hand-in-hand with other grass-roots groups of concerned people around the world, I do believe this could turn out to be the best of times for Palestine, and a decisive turning point in the global struggle for justice and peace.
As ever, reading Uri Avnery gives me hope that all is not lost in the quest for justice and peace in the Middle East – not quite.
One line from this essay that I will certainly quote again is Avnery’s analysis of Islamophobia (a statement he says he has made before but somehow I had missed it up till now):
“Islamophobia is nothing but the fashionable modern cousin of good old anti-Semitism, seeping from the same sewers of the collective unconscious, exploiting the same old prejudices, transferring to the Muslims all the hatred once directed towards the Jews.”
As to the debate between Obama and Romney, Avnery sees it as a façade, but what else could it be? How can anyone be expected to have a serious discussion on Foreign Policy when the whole debate is designed as a vote-winning exercise? Having said that, even if the statements of the two wanna-be’s does not reflect their true understanding of international politics, it does reflect their understanding of how their voters see the rest of the world. That in itself should be enough to make us all worried.
October 27, 2012
Drought in Texas
EVERYBODY IN Israel knows this story. When Levy Eshkol was Prime Minister, his assistants rushed up to him in panic: “Levy, there is a drought!”
“In Texas?” Eshkol asked anxiously.
“No, in Israel!” they said.
“Then it doesn’t matter,” Eshkol assured them. “We can always get all the wheat we need from the Americans.”
That was some 50 years ago. Since than, nothing much has changed. The elections in the US in 11 days are more important to us than our own elections in three months.
I HAD to stay awake till 3 am again to watch the final presidential debate live. I was afraid that I would doze off, but I did not. On the contrary.
When two chess players are engaged in a game, there is often a person – we call him a “kibitzer” – standing behind one of them, trying to give him unsolicited advice. During the debates, I do the same. In my imagination, I stand behind Barack Obama and think about the right answer to Romney, before Obama himself opens his mouth.
I must admit that on some occasions during this debate, his answers were much better than mine. For example, I did not think up a stinging reply to Romney’s contention that the US now has less warships then it had a hundred years ago. Obama’s dry reply – that the US army now has fewer horses, too – was sheer genius. The more so since he could not have prepared it. Who could have foreseen such a dumb remark?
Also, when Romney slammed Obama for skipping Israel on his first Middle East tour as president. How to counter such a factual challenge – especially with thousands of Jewish pensioners in Florida listening to every word?
Obama hit the right note. Remarking that Romney had visited with an entourage of donors and fund-raisers (without naming Sheldon Adelson and the other Jewish donors), he reminded us that as a candidate he went instead to Yad Vashem, to see for himself the evil done to the Jews. Touche.
On a few occasions, I thought I had a better answer. For example, when Romney tried to explain away his comment that Russia was the most important “geo-political foe” of the US, I would have reacted with “Excuse my ignorance, governor, but what does ‘geo-political’ mean?” In his context, it was a highfalutin but meaningless phrase.
(“Geo-politics” is not just a juxtaposition of geography and politics. It is a world-view propagated by the German professor Hans Haushofer and others and adopted by Adolf Hitler as a rationale for his plan to create Lebensraum for Germans by annihilating or driving out the population of Eastern Europe.)
I would have talked much more about the wars, Nixon’s Vietnam, the two Bushes’ Iraq, the second Bush’s Afghanistan. I noticed that Obama did not mention that he had been against the Iraq war right from the beginning. He must have been advised not to.
ONE DID not have to be an expert to notice that Romney did not present original ideas of his own. He parroted Obama’s positions, changing a few words here and there.
Earlier in the campaign, during the primaries, it did not look like that. Clamoring for the votes of the right-wing base, he was about to bomb Iran, provoke China, battle Islamists of all shades, perhaps resurrect Osama Bin Laden in order to kill him again. Nothing of the sort this time. Only a meek “I agree with the President”.
Why? Because he was told that the American people had had enough of the Bush Wars. They don’t want any more. Not in Afghanistan, and certainly not in Iran. Wars cost a lot of money. And people even get killed.
Perhaps Romney decided in advance that it was enough for him to avoid looking like an ignoramus on foreign affairs, since the main battleground was in the economic sphere, where he can hope to look more convincing than Obama. So he played it safe. “I agree with the President…”
THE WHOLE concept of a presidential debate on foreign affairs is, of course, nonsensical. World affairs are far too complicated, the nuances far too subtle, to be dealt with in this rough way. It would be like performing a kidney operation with an ax.
One could easily get the impression that the world is an American golf course, in which the US can knock the peoples around like balls, and the only question is which player has the more skill and selects the best club. The will of the peoples themselves is quite irrelevant. What are the feelings of the Chinese, the Pakistanis, the Egyptians? Who cares?!
I am not sure that most of the American viewers could find Tunis on the map. So it makes no sense to argue about the forces at work there, make distinctions between Salafists and Muslim Brothers, preferring these or those. All in four minutes.
For Romney, obviously, all Muslims are the same. Islamophobia is the order of the day, and Romney openly pandered to it. As I have pointed out before, Islamophobia is nothing but the fashionable modern cousin of good old anti-Semitism, seeping from the same sewers of the collective unconscious, exploiting the same old prejudices, transferring to the Muslims all the hatred once directed towards the Jews.
Many Jews, of course, especially the elderly in the nursing homes in warm Florida, are relieved to see the Goyim turn on other victims. And since the new victims happen also to be the foes of beloved Israel, all the better. Romney clearly believed that pouring his bile on “Islamists” was the easiest way to garner Jewish votes.
Trying hard to look tougher than Obama, Romney did, after all, come up with an original idea: provide the Syrian insurgents with “heavy arms”. What does that mean? Artillery? Drones? Missiles? And if so, to whom? To the Good Guys, of course. And take care that they do not fall into the hands of the Bad Guys.
What a brilliant idea. But please, who are the Good Guys and who the Baddies? Nobody else seems to know. Least of all the CIA or the Mossad. Dozens of Syrian factions are at work – regional, confessional, ideological. All want to kill Assad. So who will get the cannons?
All this made any serious discussion about the Middle East, now a region of infinite variations and nuances, quite impossible. Obama, who knows a lot more about our problems than his adversary, found it wise to play the simpleton and utter nothing but the most fatuous platitudes. Anything else – for example a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, God forbid, could have offended the dear inhabitants of the one old people’s home which may change the outcome in Florida.
ANY SERIOUS Arab or Israeli should have been insulted by the way our region was treated in this debate by the two men, one of whom will soon be our lord and master.
Israel was mentioned in the debate 34 times – 33 times more than Europe, 30 times more than Latin America, five times more than Afghanistan, four times more than China. Only Iran was mentioned more often – 45 times – but in the context of the danger it poses to Israel.
Israel is our most important ally in the region (or in the world?) We shall defend it to the hilt. We shall provide it with all the arms it needs (plus those it doesn’t need).
Wonderful. Just wonderful. But which Israel, exactly? The Israel of the endless occupation? Of the unlimited expansion of settlements? Of the total denial of Palestinian rights? Of the rain of new anti-democratic laws?
Or a different, liberal and democratic Israel, an Israel of equality for all its citizens, an Israel that pursues peace and recognizes Palestinian statehood?
But not only what was parroted was interesting, but also what was left unsaid. No automatic backing of an Israeli attack on Iran. No war on Iran at all, until hell freezes over. No repetition of Romney’s earlier declaration that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. No pardon for the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
And, most importantly: no effort at all to use the immense potential power of the US and its European allies to bring about Israel-Palestine peace, by imposing the Two-State solution that everybody agrees is the only viable settlement. No mention of the Arab peace initiative still offered by 23 Arab countries, Islamists and all.
China, the new emerging world power, was treated with something close to disdain. They must be told how to behave. They must do this or that, stop manipulating their currency, send the jobs back to America.
But why should the Chinese take any notice when China controls the US national debt? No matter, they’ll have to do what America wants. Washington locuta, causa finita. (“Rome has spoken, the case is closed,” as Catholics used to say, way back before the sex scandals.)
UNSERIOUS AS the debate was, it showed up a very serious problem.
The French used to say that war is too serious to leave to the generals. World politics are certainly too serious to leave to the politicians. Politicians are elected by the people – and the people have no idea.
It was obvious that both contenders avoided any specifics that would have demanded even the slightest knowledge from the listeners. 1.5 billion plus Muslims were considered to fall into just two categories – “moderates” and “Islamists”. Israel is one bloc, no differentiation. What do viewers know about 3000 years of Persian civilization? True, Romney knew – rather surprisingly – what or where Mali is. Most viewers surely didn’t.
Yet these very same viewers must now finally decide who will be the leader of the world’s greatest military power, with a huge impact on everyone else.
Winston Churchill memorably described democracy as “the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
This debate could serve as evidence.
Read more from the great Uri Avnery on his website: gush-shalom.org…
Miko Peled is a passionate activist on behalf of Palestinian human-rights. That in itself is unusual for a Jew. What makes Miko unique though is that his father was one of the leading Israeli generals in the war of 1967!
It is hard not to respect someone who gives up a life of privilege for the sake of their commitment to justice and peace. Miko is a great man. He is also a man of extraordinary insight into Israel/Palestine that has come from his unique upbringing. I met Miko in person last year when he was in Sydney. Indeed, we had the privilege of having him address our community here in Dulwich Hill (and you can see the videos here).
In the following article Miko is not optimistic the future. Can anybody stop Israel from taking a preemptive strike against Iran? Certainly he recognises that the violent rhetoric wasn’t always serious but he clearly believes now that Israel is 100% serious about war. I hope he is wrong.
Can Sparta be Stopped?
by Miko Peled
source: Miko’s Blog – Tear Down the Wall
A senior Israel government official, who is strongly believed to be Israel’s Defense Minister General Ehud Barak, was quoted in Haaretz saying “The blade that rests on our neck today is more dangerous than the blade that threatened us in 1967.” In spite of evidence that clearly proves Israel was not under any threat in 1967, the legend of the1967 war where Israel was supposedly under an existential threat and therefore had to engage in a pre-emptive strike against it Arab neighbors, continues to live on in the minds of Israelis. Now this myth is being manipulated to justify an attack on Iran. General Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are recreating 1967 in order to spread fear among Israelis and solidify their arguments for an attack on Iran.
Until recently it seemed that Israel wanted the so-called Iranian threat so it could use it as a smoke screen. It was easy for Israel to hide behind an Iranian threat so that the state can continue its atrocities and gross human rights violations against the Palestinian population. But now, as the 1967 scenario is being re played it seems that Israeli decision makers want more than just the threat, they want the war.
In the weeks and months leading up to the war of June1967, several elder statesmen warned of a pending disaster if Israel acted alone and they pleaded that Israel must not act until US approval was clearly given for an attack. Today, Israeli President Shimon Peres came out of his non-political post as citizen number one, and said Israel must not attack without the US or “It will remain friendless”. Line by line, this too was taken from the script of the 1967 play.
Clearly Israel is the Sparta of today where war is just a game. Seventy five million Iranians who have done no harm must suffer sanctions and live in fear of an impending attack. Israel is known to be a nuclear power and it has a history of aggressive, one would argue irrational and violent behavior. The question is who has the power to stop Sparta, and the answer, sadly, is: No one.
In a world where stockpiles of weapons need to be replaced so that new ones can be manufactured and sold, and politicians running for office confuse war mongering with leadership, an entire nation is once again seen as collateral damage. Iranians may be victims to the war hungry state of Israel and money hungry US arms manufacturers and contractors.
Just as in the case of Iraq, once the guns are silenced and the dead have been counted, and whatever it is that these blind, war hungry megalomaniac generals and politicians did not foresee happen does happen, only then will people ask, “why?” Why was this war necessary? Why did we allow the rogue Zionist state that has already delegitimized its very existence by practicing ethnic cleansing and mass murder of civilians to go ahead with this act of terrorism against Iran? Then politicians will claim they opposed this from the get-go and that they were misinformed, and the look for a scapegoat will begin. But by then the damage will already have been done, the destruction will not be undone and the dead will not be brought back to life.
What will it take to stop Sparta? Palestinians, who suffer daily under the yolk of Israel’s oppressive and brutal regime, have been calling out for years but their cries fall on deaf ears. Israel continues the slow and methodical ethnic cleansing campaign that began six decades ago, but the world looks the other way. Now it seems that Israel is preparing for its most dangerous, indeed most deadly escapade and still politicians in the US and around the world either sit idle or add to the beat of the war drums with their absurd claims of an Iranian threat. One wonders what would it take for millions to start protesting in front of Israeli embassies and consulates around the world and demand Israel stand down the threat of war.
On June 1967, Israel’s government was pushed into the war by an irresponsible, trigger happy, overly confident group of young generals who wanted to conquer land and destroy the Arab armies. No thought was given to the future of the state or to the consequences the war may bring, but because they were victorious their irresponsible actions were forgotten. Today, a government that is blinded by a desire to fight, destroy and of course win leads Israel. They are certain that victory is within reach and they seem willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to act on their urge to attack. They are Sparta.