Starhawk: Thoughts on Israel/Palestine

2002-04-30

Richard Moore


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Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2002 12:59:50 -0400
To: Recipient List Suppressed:;
From: Randy Schutt <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Starhawk: Heresies in Pursuit of Peace: Thoughts on
 Israel/Palestine

---<fwd>---
From: Starhawk
Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2002 12:50:42 -0700
Subject: [RWTO] Palestine piece, revised

Hi all, here's the Palestine thing again with a few small
revisions after some feedback. Feel free to repost it -- if
you can, without my personal email address but with the Web
site address below. Love Starhawk

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Heresies in Pursuit of Peace: Thoughts on Israel/Palestine
By Starhawk
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In the ruins of Jenin, an old friend of mine is digging
bodies out of the rubble where Israeli bulldozers flattened
houses, burying people alive. Blackened, maggot ridden
corpses, unearthed from the rubble, are displayed to
anguished relatives for identification. A teenage girl
unearths an infant's arm and wonders what to do with it. A
Palestinian father cries over the dark smears of flesh that
once were his two little daughters.

Another Jewish friend leaves an anguished message on my cell
phone: "I'm in downtown Washington DC. There's a huge,
pro-Israel rally going on. I don't understand it. How can
Jews support this? I know you must have something
inspirational to say. Send me what you write."

She doesn't know that for weeks I've been trying
unsuccessfully to write something about the situation. I'm
overwhelmed with accounts of the atrocities. Yet I am also
haunted by images of bodies shattered at a Seder meal, at a
café, a Passover drenched in a new plague of blood. I'm
frightened and saddened by the real resurgence of
anti-Semitism, by swastikas carried in peace marches,
synagogues attacked.

A third friend, a deeply spiritual woman and longtime
ecofeminist ally, sends me a copy of a letter she wrote to
President Bush entitled, "Standing Firmly With Israel."

In no way can I stand with her. And yet I cannot simply
stand against her, either. I cannot stand with an Israel
that tortures prisoners, an Israel that has mounted a
restrictive and dehumanizing occupation, that assassinates
political leaders as a matter of policy, that has cut down
ancient olive groves to destroy the livelihood of the
Palestinians, that is daily committing war crimes: refusing
medical care to the wounded, firing on journalists and peace
demonstrators, bombing civilians, destroying homes.

Nor can I stand in the bloody remains of the Seder meal,
among the corpses in the café, the restaurant. Yet to say,
"both sides are wrong, both sides should give up violence"
is to ignore the reality that one side, the Israeli side, is
the fourth largest military power in the world. That the
suicide bombs are a direct response to calculated political
assassinations and to a brutal occupation that has made life
untenable for the Palestinians. That for over fifty years,
the State of Israel has failed to guard and cherish the
Palestinians' rights, aspirations, and hopes for an
independence that could lead to peace and prosperity.

It is, on the one hand, incomprehensible to me that my
friend could stand with such a regime, that the Jewish
community as a whole, composed of people I know to be
caring, compassionate and good, can stand behind the tanks,
the bombs, the brutality.

On the other hand, I understand quite well the wrenching
emotional journey that many Jews must make to admit the
reality of what Israel is doing. For those of us who grew up
saving our pennies to plant trees in the Galil, who,
snowbound in blizzards, celebrated the New Year of the Trees
timed to the blossoming of almonds in the Judean hills, who
ended every Seder with the prayer "Next year in Jerusalem,"
no other issue is so painful and sad.

I am a Jew who has spent her adult life as a voice for a
different religion, a blatant Pagan whose spirituality is
attuned to the Goddess of regeneration, not the God of my
fathers. To Orthodox Jews, I'm a heretic, which gives me a
certain freedom to say what I think. I was born into, raised
in, and acculturated by the post-war Jewish community, but I
have not been immersed in that world for many years. I speak
from the margins of the Jewish community. But I am still a
Jew, and the view from the edge can sometimes be clearer
than that from the center.

The San Francisco Chronicle writes a front page story about
a school in Gaza where little Palestinian children are
taught to hate Jews. I have no reason to doubt the truth of
their story, although I question why they feature it front
and center with no counterbalancing tale of, say, the
International Solidarity Movement where Palestinians and
Jews together risk themselves in nonviolent interventions
for peace. The hate is real, and the fear it engenders is
also real.

Yet the story makes me consider what I was taught in ten or
more years of Jewish education that included a teenaged
summer spent on a kibbutz. We never chanted, "Kill the
Arabs". We were never told in so many words, 'Hate them.'
Rather, we learned a more subtle discounting, a not-seeing,
as if the Palestinians were not full human beings but rather
a minor obstacle to the fulfillment of a dream, something to
be moved aside, that didn't really count. We were taught to
be proud of the brave Zionist settlers and pioneers, the
idealistic youth who fled the ghettoes and the pogroms of
Europe to build a 'new' land. And I am proud, still, of
their experiments in new ways of living, their awareness of
women's rights, their courage in leaving home and family to
escape oppression.

But I understand now that they did not come into an empty
place, and they did not come with the capability of truly
seeing and respecting and honoring the people of the land.
They came out of a Europe that had an unshakeable belief in
its own cultural and racial superiority and had for
centuries been appropriating the lands of darker peoples.
They came as the settlers came to the "New World", saying,
"This land is ours by right, God gave it to us," The people
who had lived there during those two thousand years of exile
were an impediment. And so began the long litany of
justifications: that the land didn't really belong to them
but to the Turks or the British; that they weren't doing
anything with it, had not made the desert bloom nor drained
the swamps, and above all, that they hate us, are raised to
hate us, with a hate irrational, implacable, and
unchangeable.

The word for this sliding off of the glance, this NonSeeing,
is racism. Less blatant, perhaps, than chanting "Kill,
kill!" but with the same insidious results. Yet to simply
condemn Zionism as racism without acknowledging the context
of centuries of racial hate against Jews from which it arose
is to absolve those who have blood on their hands as well.
Worse, it is to support the complacency of Jew haters and
fascists who now emerge into the open again.

Israel has indeed served the interests of the Western powers
in subjugating the Arab world. But Israel also arose out of
an oppressed people's dream of liberation. To discount the
oppression, to deny the strength and the beauty of the dream
of a homeland, is to miss the full tragedy of what is
happening now.

Unless we understand the dream, we cannot truly comprehend
the nightmare. I know what Israel meant during my childhood
in the fifties, to my family still reeling in shock from the
revelations of the gas chambers and the ovens, still
searching for news of lost relatives. Israel was the
restitution for all the losses of the Holocaust. It was the
thing that restored some meaning and some hope into a world
utterly shattered by evil. It was the proof that Jews were
not just passive victims but actors on the screen of
history, capable of fighting back, of taking charge of our
own destiny. It was the one safe place, the refuge in a
hostile world.

And for some, it was the answer to the anguished question,
"How can I believe in God in a world in which such things
can happen?" To acknowledge the truth of what Israel is now
doing is to face a grief so deep and overwhelming that it
seems to suck away all hope, is to gasp again in the
suffocation chambers, to cover our faces with the ashes from
the ovens and know that there is no redemption, no silver
lining, no happy ending, no good and noble thing that
emerged to give dignity to these deaths. There is only the
terrible cycle, of victims becoming victimizers, the abused
perpetuating abuse. It is to look down and see the whip in
our own hands, the jackboots on our own feet.

"Don't make the Nazi connection," a Jewish peace group
warns. "It only feeds the right wing." And yet the Nazi
connection begs to be made.

It is true that the Israelis have not built extermination
camps. It is true, although not immediately relevant, that
other people in the world besides Jews have done and are
doing bad things. Other atrocities occur daily. But it is
also true that to attempt to erase a people, to destroy
their culture, livelihood, and pride, is genocide.

A wan young woman, looking depressed, wanders through the
Justice for Palestine rally, carrying a sign that says: "My
father survived Auschwitz. His parents didn't. Orphaned, he
fled to Israel." Part of the horror of Jenin lies in her
father's new kinship to the teenaged boy dug alive out of
the rubble of his house where his parents and brothers and
sisters now lie dead.

That parallel is a dark mirror that reveals how easily we
become what we most despise. If we look into it open eyed,
we face truths so painful they make it hardly bearable to be
human. For this is not just about Jews and Germans, Israelis
and Palestinians, not about how any one people is prone to
evil. It's about us all. The capacity for cruelty, for
inflicting horrific harm, exists in us all. All we need is
to feel threatened, and to let our fear define our enemy as
less than fully human, and the horrors of hell are
unleashed.

If we don't like the Nazi parallel, we must refuse to become
Nazis. We must remember that the Nazis played on the German
sense of deprivation and loss after World War One, and admit
that our own real victimization has not elevated us to some
realm of purity and eternal innocence. We can grow beyond
the propaganda we were taught and the myths of our childhood
and the comfort of our chosenness, and see the Palestinians
as the full human beings that they are. Even if to do so
seems to require us to walk out again into the wilderness
with no outstretched hand nor hope of a promised land to
guide us. For if we admit the Palestinians' full humanity,
if we admire their knowledge and appreciate their culture
and cherish their children, then all the justifications of
conquest fall away. No God, no superior virtue or inherent
right, has granted us dominion. We have the land because we
were able to take it.

And while that admission might seem to threaten Israel's
very right to exist, it is not nearly as much of a threat as
clinging to the justifications and rationalizations that
prevent us from seeing the Other as human. For full human
beings placed in a situation of utter despair may turn to
suicide bombs and retribution. Human beings, humilated
beyond bearing, may turn to revenge. But full human beings
are not mindless agents of hate. Given hope and dignity and
a future to live for, human beings will tend to choose life.
And full human beings can be reasoned with, bargained with,
made peace with. The wilderness, the desert, has always been
the place where our people have heard the still, small voice
of God.

Religion is supposed to call us away from our most brutal
possibilities, to challenge us to act from compassion and
love. Right now in the Middle East, religion is not doing
its job.

I know well that to equate the actions of the Israeli
government with Judaism is to risk feeding anti-Semitism and
to erase the great spectrum of political and spiritual
diversity that exists in the world Jewish community. And yet
the question of Israel cannot be separated from Judaism. Our
prayers for rain are timed to coincide with cloudbursts over
the Sea of Galilee. We count the 'omer', the successive
gathering in of the harvest from ancient fields bordering
the Jordan. Fundamentalist Jews have established the
contested settlements in the Occupied Territories and resist
any concessions to the Palestinians. And the mainstream
Jewish community stands firmly behind the Israeli
government's rule of force.

The current crisis represents a great spiritual crisis
within Judaism. I write as an admitted heretic, yet it's
clear to me that the Orthodoxies of all three Great
Religions, along with atheists, pragmatists and secularists
of many political persuasions, are embroiled in a blasphemy
that far outweighs any naked dancing around a bonfire. They
are united in the worship of the God of Force.

The God of Force says that force is the ultimate answer to
every dilemma, the resolution of every conflict, the 'only
thing they understand.' The God of Force makes His
appearances in the Old and New Testament, the Koran, and
other sacred and secular scriptures. The God of Force
licenses his agents to kill, unleashes the holy war, the
jihad, the crusade, the inquisition. The God of Force says,
"Go unto the land and kill all the inhabitants thereof."

Now, I'm a polytheist. I recognize many Powers, many
constellations of energies and forces in the universe, that
arise from a deep interconnectedness and unity but have
their own flavors, characters and names. One advantage of
being a polytheist is that you can choose your gods or
goddesses, acknowledging that bloodthirsty and cruel powers
exist, but turning resolutely away from them. When God tells
you to commit some horrific atrocity, you have somewhere to
go for a second opinion.

But monotheism is, of course, the heart and essence of
Judaism as it is of Islam and Christianity. I submit that
the God of Force is incompatible with the oneness of God.
For if God is one, s/he must by definition be God of All,
not of any one people exclusively. He cannot simultaneously
encourage callousness and cruelty and be Christ the God of
Love, Allah the Merciful, or El Maleh Rahamim, God Who is
Filled with Compassion. And if he chooses a people, he does
it in the same spirit in which my partner confides to each
of his four daughters that she is his favorite.

The current situation is a call both to God and to us to
evolve. Judaism has always had within it a tradition of
wrestling with God, as Jacob did with the angel, of arguing
with God, as Abraham did when God wanted to destroy Sodom
and Gomorrah. To see God as fixed, eternally and
unchangingly rigid is indeed to worship a graven image.
Instead, we might see God as a dynamic process in which we
are cocreators of the world we inhabit. We are actively
engaged in shaping who God becomes.

We are commanded not to make images of God because our human
imaginations are always limited and will reproduce our own
faults and lacks and prejudices. God the General, God the
Ruler, God the King, God the Distributor of Real Estate, God
the Avenger, God of Holy War, God of Punishment, Retribution
and Revenge, God Who Favors One People Above All Others, may
in reality be that very idol, that truncated image, we are
told to turn from. The worst heresy of all may be to limit
our conception of the great force of compassion that
underlies the world.

Judaism can march lockstep with the Israeli authorities
deeper into the domain of force. Israel could conceivably
exterminate the Palestinians utterly, and that is the trend
of the current policies. Nothing less will crush their
aspirations for independence and freedom. A Jewish community
that supported that final solution would lose its soul and
any claim to moral authority. An Israel that carried out the
genocide would be no fit homeland for any person of
conscience. The dream of Israel would become an utter and
complete horror show. And genocide would not bring security
to Israel: it would simply inflame the hatred of the entire
Arab world and jettison the rest of the world's support.
Given all the nuclear weapons floating around in the Middle
East, that road is likely to lead straight to the
fulfillment of Christian prophecies of apocalypse.

One of the agonies in the current crisis is that nobody
seems to have much hope or vision of how to resolve it. We
can see where the road leads, but we don't know how to step
off of it.

"If only the Palestinians would practice nonviolence,
embrace the principles of Gandhi and King," I hear from some
of my Jewish allies.

Of course, there are Palestinians, and Israelis, and many
others who have stepped forward to be a nonviolent presence
in refugee camps, who have accompanied ambulances and
attempted to deliver medical supplies, who have written
their own eyewitness accounts and spoken their truth.

But I find myself thinking "Wouldn't it be quicker if Gandhi
or King reappeared among the Israeli leadership and their
supporters? Are they not in an even better position to
change this situation?" If the Israeli leadership were to
abandon the idea that force will resolve this conflict in
any positive way whatsoever, the solution becomes
stunningly, obviously clear. Any mind not clouded by fear or
hate or self righteousness or utter religious certainty can
see it in ten minutes of serious thought: The Palestinians
need their own state. And it needs to be a viable, coherent
state with the potential for prosperity and beauty, not a
Bantustan, not a few scraps of unwanted land the Israelis
have decided to discard. A Palestine of milk and honey, of
bread and roses, of the vine and the fig tree, of olive
groves and red anemones, of health clinics and universities,
of a new renaissance of Arabic culture, science, learning
and art.

Anything less will be an eternal festering sore, and there
will be no peace. An Israel that gave up the delusion that
force will win all of Israel's demands while conceding the
Palestinians nothing might recognize that a flourishing and
happy Palestine would be Israel's best security measure,
might even become her closest trading partner, best friend.
Such a Palestine would offer its youth a better future than
becoming human bombs..

It is utterly in the best interests of Israel to nourish and
support and foster the creation of the Palestinian state, to
be surrounded by friends instead of enemies. And while that
might seem impossible at the moment, consider the friendly
relations between the U.S. and our former deadly enemies,
Germany and Japan.

Those who love and care for Israel need to stand with her
true interests now, by demanding an end to the occupation,
the dismantling of the settlements, by calling for the
intervention of a neutral, peacekeeping force, and by
pressuring the United States government to stop covertly
supporting and funding Israeli aggression.

The grip of the God of Force is strong, so strong that even
though we can clearly see what the solution might be, we may
despair at actually bringing it about. To pry that grip
loose, we need to use all the tools of political activism,
from writing letters and making phone calls to
demonstrating, doing nonviolent civil disobedience, or even
joining the peace witnesses on the front lines.

On a spiritual level, we can look into the dark mirror that
reveals our own prejudices and reject them. We can believe
that the force of intelligent, embodied love, as feminist
theologian Carol Christ describes the Goddess, is indeed
stronger than stupid, disembodied hate.

One last Pagan heresy is the belief that we can prod a
sluggish God into producing a miracle or two by performing
an action with conscious, focused intention. So, as a spell
for peace, make peace with someone you think you can't make
peace with. Notice what resistance arises even at the
thought, how you build your case against your enemy, how you
marshall your allies and ready your weapons. Note what it
takes to give them up, what you must sacrifice and what you
gain.

Maybe, in this process, we can all learn something. Maybe we
can begin a turning, a transformation that will leave the
God of Force starved of his blood sacrifices and burnt
offerings, and feed gentler fruit to a kinder God. So that
the children of Israel and Palestine can both grow up to
enrich the land not by the blood of corpses but by the songs
of poets, the works of artists, the healing of doctors, the
fruit of farmers, the knowledge of teachers, the wisdom of
mystics. And this corner of land, battleground for so many
years, might become for all people a place of refuge, vision
and hope.

http://www.starhawk.org

Reclaiming -- a Community of people, a Tradition of
Witchcraft, and a religious organization.

More info on Reclaiming: http://www.reclaiming.org/about/

-- 
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Randy Schutt Author of Inciting Democracy: A Practical
Proposal for Creating a Good Society

The Vernal Education Project: Working to increase the skills
and support of progressive activists 
<http://www.vernalproject.org>
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