Friday, 6 December 2013

Lessons from Mandela's long walk to freedom

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

As President Obama said yesterday (Thursday 5 December), echoing words said at the death of Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela no longer belongs to us but "to the ages".

I remember first becoming aware of the struggle against Apartheid in 1980 after listening to Peter Gabriel's song about the death in police custody of the black civil rights activist Steve Biko. I was playing the same song in my car last night with my son just before we returned home and turned on the television to hear the breaking news coming out of Pretoria.

'Biko' was part of my awakening to the issue of human rights as a teenager. As a student in Manchester in the mid eighties the boycott strategy of the Anti-Apartheid movement and the campaign to Free Nelson Mandela were part of my emerging political understanding of the way the world ticks. More recently, the South African story has influenced my understanding of the situation in Israel/Palestine. They are not identical scenarios but there are enough similarities to draw conclusions.

So what are the lessons we must take from Mandela's long walk to freedom?

  • Palestinian violence, however provoked, will always undermine the cause of human rights and allow all resistance to be branded as terrorism and be brutally suppressed. Meanwhile, genuine grievances will be dismissed as irrelevant compared to the needs of Israeli State security.

  • The campaign for freedom in Israel/Palestine must be a global call for the restoration of human rights. All the complexities and history must not obscure the basic fact that one people has been dispossessed, and continues to be discriminated against, by another people.

  • Change will not come from above until politicians around the world recognise a tipping point in the public understanding of the Palestinian people and their story. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement will create that consciousness and eventually shift the political paradigm in Israel and globally just as the same tactics did in South Africa.

  • The way ahead must acknowledge the human rights of all those who call the Holy Land their home. Solving one injustice must not create another (that's what happened in 1948). This fundamental understanding of the equal worth of all humanity and the need for compassion on all sides was the outstanding contribution of Nelson Mandela in the immediate post Apartheid years. Jews and Palestinians must acknowledge each other's narrative. The future cannot be built on past hatred. However, just as in South Africa, there can be no doubt as to who has been the oppressed and who the oppressor.

Some will see this as utopian nonsense. The same was said about South Africa. Some will say that the Palestinians lack a Nelson Mandela that can unify the people and show moral and political leadership.

I strongly believe that the Palestinian Mandelas do exist. They are men and women who are currently in exile, sitting in Israeli jails, or working right now to build a non-violent worldwide campaign to liberate their people. You may want to read the statement from Marwan Barghouthi in Hadarim prison who has been in Israeli jails since 2002.

While still President of South Africa, Mandela gave a speech in December 1997 to mark the United Nations Day of Palestinian Solidarity.

"It behoves all South Africans, themselves erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world."

This is a statement that recognises how interconnected justice must be. It reminds us of Martin Luther King Jr's. statement that: “Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.”

Sadly, when others, close to Mandela during the South African Apartheid struggle, speak about Israel (such as former Archbishop Desmond Tutu) they are often dismissed as over-stating their case in drawing any parallels to their own experience. That couldn't be more wrong. Tutu recognises injustice when he sees it.

As I have said many times on this blog, Jews have a right to a homeland through our historic, religious and cultural connection to the land. But it doesn't have to look like this. In fact, what Mandela's story tells us is that it can't look like this. The way in which Israel is currently constituted is ethically unsustainable and it is eating away at the soul of Judaism.

For me, and for a great many others, Mandela may belong to "the ages" but he also belongs to every struggle that has justice and human rights at its core. And that means he belongs to all those who want to see a just peace in Israel/Palestine.

In the end, as Obama said in his tribute, there is a moral arc to the universe that can be bent towards justice. Until that moment comes for Israel/Palestine we wait and we work and we take inspiration from the life of a great man.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Micah meets...Mark Braverman

This month the Jewish American writer and Israel/Palestine activist, Mark Braverman, publishes his second book 'A Wall in Jerusalem'. It follows 'Fatal Embrace' in 2010 which quickly established Braverman as an important new voice in the Israel/Palestine debate. Below you can read Braverman's first interview to mark the new book's publication given exclusively to Micah's Paradigm Shift.

Braverman, who has deep family roots in Israel, has developed what he describes as a 'calling' to speak to the Church in a spirit of Christian teaching that sees Jesus as a radical Jew rebelling against the Jewish establishment and the Roman occupation of first century Palestine. In his new book he successfully straddles Jewish and Christian theological thinking to create a shared dialogue of justice and compassion. Braverman is determined to articulate a Christian approach to Palestinian solidarity that counters evangelical Christian Zionism while remaining rooted in the teaching of Jesus. He also challenges the phenomenon of Christian post-Holocaust guilt that leads to a reluctance by the Church to confront Israeli injustice against the Palestinian people for fear of disturbing Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue.

'A Wall in Jerusalem' is full of personal stories and the voices of Christian and Jewish, scholars and activists. Braverman's own story of his journey to an awareness of the Palestinian cause is as compelling as any in the book. For me the book holds many moments of great clarity including the insight that the Palestinian story has become not just 'their narrative' but the defining narrative of Israelis and the Jewish Diaspora too.

Whether you are new to the issues or familiar with them you will find 'A Wall in Jerusalem' an exceptionally rewarding and inspiring read.

An interview with Mark Braverman

MICAH'S PARADIGM SHIFT: In this book, more than in Fatal Embrace, it feels as if your primary audience are Christians grappling with what to think about Israel/Palestine. You talk about the difficulties you have experienced in raising the whole debate within synagogues but the warm welcome you have received in many churches. Have you given up on raising awareness within your own Jewish Community?

MARK BRAVERMAN: Awareness continues to increase in the Jewish community, but I see this as a separate issue from the mobilization of the churches as a grassroots force for changing government policy in the US and among its Western allies. There are Jewish journalists, academics, and now even rabbis who are raising their voices, and grassroots Jewish peace groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace in the U.S. who are doing very important work with the Jewish community as well as presenting an alternative to those Jewish institutional voices who defend Israel against all criticism and claim to speak for all Jews. I simply have another calling, which is to speak to the churches.

MPS: What does that 'calling' look like? What's the core message you want to put across to Christians and the Church?

MB: One of the points that I make repeatedly to my Christian audiences – and I am not aware of other Jews who make this point – is that they must, as Christians, and as church organizations, move ahead as Christians and as the church in the movement to liberate Palestinians and Jewish Israelis from the scourge of apartheid in our time. The interfaith project to reconcile Christians and Jews for thousands of years of anti-Jewish persecution at the hands of the church continues to be important – but this is a different matter.

MPS: So what is it about the on-going interfaith reconciliation project that creates a Christian barrier to engaging with the Israel/Palestine debate?

MB: If Christians allow themselves to be held back from this human rights cause because they are being told that this is betrayal of their “friendship” with the Jewish people, if they figure that they must wait for the Jewish community to come around before they can feel comfortable taking on the cause of Palestinian rights, or embracing BDS, for example, then they will wait too long. So part of my point in working only with the churches is to drive home this distinction – the church must put its own house in order with respect to the Palestinians, and I have accepted, for now, the assignment to be a Jewish voice urging it to do so. But I am very clear that I this does not mean that Christians cannot move forward on this without a Jew walking beside them. I am fond of saying that I am willing to do so for now, but that I pray for the day that Christians do not need a Jew’s permission to act as faithful Christians in this matter.

MPS: At times, and I think you acknowledge yourself in the book, it feels like here is a Jew giving Christians a lecture on how to rediscover their own Christian mission and the role model that Jesus set for them in first century Roman occupied Palestine. That must be an interesting position to have found yourself in?

MB: Well, it’s quite wonderful for me because meeting the Palestinian Christians, in particular the people of Sabeel, and the authors of the Kairos Palestine document, has allowed me to discover Jesus of Nazareth and to embrace him as a Jewish reformer. The parallels of our current situation to the first Century I find very compelling. I think it’s an opportunity for the Church, as it seems to have to do in every generation, to discover the core meaning of the gospels, which is to work for social justice, for compassion for the vulnerable and the oppressed.

MPS: And where do you think that takes the Jewish attitude to Jesus?

MB: I think it’s an opportunity for Jews to discover that same Jesus, who, if he were to turn up in Jerusalem today, would speak truth to the power to the Jewish establishment of our times just as he did to the Jewish monarchy and Temple establishment of long ago.

MPS: I'm not sure most Jews are ready to embrace Jesus as a radical Jewish reformer with a message for Judaism today. It's a viewpoint that must leave you isolated from the mainstream Jewish community?

MB: People ask me if I feel lonely or isolated – making the assumption that I am alienated from the Jewish community. My answer is that it is quite the opposite. I feel a part of a broader, larger community now, and it includes people of all faiths and persuasions. So it’s been quite liberating and gratifying for me. I think Jesus would have approved – his message had to do with stepping out of the tribal and into the universal.

MPS: Do you think that as a Jew, saying the critical things you do about Zionism, you are giving Christians the permission to think differently about Israel and break free of the post Holocaust feeling of guilt they may have towards the Jewish people? 

MB: Yes but as I said before I think Christians need to move beyond needing that permission. It’s appropriate to feel horror, sadness and shame about the sins of the church – but guilt is not a good motivator. I think that what we have come to call guilt over the Nazi Holocaust has resulted in the embrace of Zionism by the Christian West, and I think that this is why Israel has been allowed to get away with its crimes, historic and current. Besides the tragedy this represents for the Palestinians, this is bad, not good for the Jews. I don’t need your guilt offering, I say to Christians. I need you to be good followers of Jesus and work for justice and compassion. Call my people to account, but not for our sake, but for the sake of your consciences and for the good of humankind.

MPS: How has your sense of Jewish identity changed as a result of your engagement with the cause of the Palestinian people? You say in the book that it feels the most Jewish thing you have ever done.

MB: I am in the company of tens of thousands of Jews who feel as I do – that Jewish identity today is about embracing the Palestinian cause, just as we were taught as children in synagogue and Hebrew school to stand up for the oppressed because we were slaves in the land of Egypt. My father, who was active in the Anti-defamation League of B’nai Brith, taught me back in the 1960s that working for racial equality in the U.S. was the core of being a Jew. That holds now for the Palestinian cause. Even more so, perhaps, because we are responsible for their suffering. We need to mourn for our past losses and suffering, but move on from our preoccupation with our own victimhood and do something about how we have now become the victimizers. That is the most important component of Jewish identity today. To be Jewish today means to understand that the Nakba is our story as well.

MPS: In the book you go to some length to 'join up the dots' between the mission of Jesus, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, South Africa under Apartheid and Israel/Palestine today. Your key texts appear to be the Gospels, Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Kairos document produced by the dissenting South African churches in the mid 1980s. Can you foresee a 'tipping point', as we did with Civil Rights and Apartheid, where consciousness of Israel/Palestine leads to a fundamental shift in global opinion?

MB:Yes, and we may be approaching this point. Look at the New York Times piece by Ian Lustick from September 14 (check out my latest blog posting). I also believe that, regardless of timing, it is inevitable. As MLK Jr. said, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice. Desmond Tutu and the Palestinian Kairos authors also talk of hope – even as things get worse, the inevitability of a just resolution is there, because the current situation is unsustainable. And, as the South Africans discovered, things can move faster than expected. I would not be surprised to see this happen with Israel and Palestine. Israel is digging in deeper and deeper, moving rapidly toward domestic racist policies that to many feels like a turn toward fascism. As this continues, it only makes the end seem closer – an “end,” I hasten to say, that does not mean the destruction of Israel, but a new beginning for all its citizens.

MPS: You have described yourself as a retired ('recovering') professional psychologist, with that hat on, how hard do you think it will be for communities on all sides (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian) to break free of the rigid narratives that we use to define ourselves and the world around us?

MB: Hard for some perhaps but I feel strongly that the impulse for health is stronger. It is not good to live behind a wall, and that separation wall is as much psychological as it is physical. Israeli Jews who have crossed to the other side of the wall have discovered that the Palestinians are not the hateful enemies they were told they were. Remove the wall and those narratives begin to deconstruct themselves naturally. I am a one-stater because I believe that it is the natural outcome – Jews and Palestinians can live together harmoniously, in fact I think that give the opportunity they will create a wonderful, diverse society together.

MPS: Finally, when we met over the summer, you told me that all of us involved in the movement to bring justice and peace to the Holy Land were punching above our weight. What did you mean by that?

MB: You know I’m not sure the metaphor is the best. Individually, we each do our best and I think we are doing quite well using the gifts we have. The movement, perhaps, can be said to be outnumbered and under-resourced, certainly compared to the opposition, which is connected to the structures of government and religious establishments. But individually and collectively we have a power that the other side, with all its money and institutional support does not have – we are on the side of justice. The other side knows that as well. Which is why it is fighting so hard – bringing out the big guns, so to speak. The prophets spoke with the authority of absolute principles they said came from God. So did Jesus. And he started with 12 followers…. Do we say that Elijah or Jesus were punching above their weight? It sounds absurd, even wrong to say so.

But maybe I don’t understand the expression. Maybe it supposed to mean: if you are ready for the fight, you go into the ring even if the odds or the rules say you will lose.

Interview conducted via email between 31 October and 1 November 2013  

In the US you can buy the book here from Tuesday 5 November and in the UK it can be pre-ordered here for release on Monday 21 November.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Simon Schama and the error of Jewish silence

“ some sense if you don't live in Israel - I don't live in Israel - you're morally obliged to be nearly silent, nearly silent."

Simon Schama – The Story of the Jews, episode 5, broadcast Sunday 1st October 2013 

It was the final episode. After four Sunday nights of television and three thousand years of Jewish history, here was the telling of the modern State of Israel. Simon Schama had entitled it: 'Return'.

After all I had read beforehand about Schama's promise that the last part of his 'Story of he Jews' would make "the moral case for Israel", this final episode was a great deal more nuanced, considered and reflective than I had dared to hope for.

Schama gave an appropriately agonised and conflicted portrayal of Zionism, both in its theory and its practice. It was light years away from the previous popular Jewish histories that I'd been re-reading over the summer as homework in preparation for what the BBC had billed as a highlight of the television year.

Books by Cecil Roth and Max Dimont, which I'd first read as Bar Mitzvah presents in 1979, had been written in the 1940s and 1960s. They now looked badly marred by self-serving colonial views of Arab culture and suffered from a highly biased portrayal of the Jewish 'return' to Palestine from the 1880s onward.

Paul Johnson's 'History of the Jews', published in the mid 1980s, stood up better to my 2013 scrutiny than either Roth or Dimont. But Johnson had just missed the start of the new wave of Jewish Israeli and Palestinian history writing that has since set the record straight and challenged the traditional narrative of brave, virtuous, morally entitled Jews – Versus – cowardly, intransigent, hate-filled Arabs.

So a new popular history of the Jews was well over due if only to update the last 120 years. Thankfully, Schama had taken a great deal of the new thinking on board (even if the mainstream Jewish establishment and most Western political leaders are still struggling to catch up).

Zionism's fundamental test

In telling the story before 1948, Schama gave time not only for the big names in Zionist history, such as Chaim Weizmann, Ze'ev Jabotinsky and David Ben-Gurion, but also for the philosopher, Martin Buber, a hero of this blog. Schama described Buber as the most "thoughtfully tortured" of the Zionist idealists. Buber, he told viewers, knew that Zionism should not be "mostly about matters of power". For Buber, explained Schama, “if Zionism merely ended up reproducing the power play of the rest of the world, all of its achievements would be merely self-defeating”. Buber's fundamental test for Zionism would always be how it treated the Arabs of Palestine.

It was a relief that Schama didn't try to duck acknowledgement of the Nakba of 1947-8 and the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes as the State of Israel came into being. He wasn't as clear as he might have been about how all this took place on the ground and he went on to look for a 'balance of suffering' by citing the Jewish refugees that had to flee their Arab homes in the aftermath of Israel's establishment. But this was opening the doors to a period of history that is still widely unknown or just deliberately ignored in Jewish circles.

Schama did confront the Socialist Kibbutznik about the abandoned Palestinian village that his home was built on top of. He did dismiss the smiling and engaging West Bank Settler who based Jewish entitlement entirely on scripture. He did show the daily ordeal of Palestinians crossing the West Bank checkpoints like so much cattle at a market. He did speak to the Israeli Jewish author David Grossman (a philosophical descendent of Buber) about the dangers of the Jewish spiritual imagination and its attachment to the biblical Land of Israel.

And then, in the closing minutes, Schama stood in front of the 18-metre high, grey, concrete slabs of the Separation Wall and wondered if this was Jabotinsky’s ‘Iron Wall’ against the Arabs come true. In another nod to Buber, he saw a Judaism that has had to "scurry for safety beneath the watch towers" during the last few decades of Israeli history.

This was all a mightily refreshing approach to the subject matter and I hoped that the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the office of the Chief Rabbi would all be sending out the DVD as Hanukkah presents this year.

But then came this:
"I want to say that nobody, including me, ultimately has the moral right to say that the Wall shouldn't have some sense if you don't live in Israel - I don't live in Israel - you're morally obliged to be nearly silent, nearly silent."
And that's where Simon Schama and I, having got along so well up to this point, had to finally part company.

Not an option

Silence is not an option I can subscribe to any more. In fact, I can’t think of a more inappropriate response to the on-going Occupation, the blockade of Gaza, and the institutional discrimination against the Arab citizens of Israel.

Schama’s context was that the Wall had stopped the wave of suicide bombings that had killed 500 Israeli citizens during the Second Palestinian Intifada a decade ago. He failed to mention the number of Palestinian civilians that were killed during the Israeli suppression of the uprising (the total number of civilian deaths was actually much greater than 500 for both Jews and Arabs during the period 2000-2005). You can read about the full casualty figures for both sides here.

I’m not for a moment condoning suicide bombing, but the idea that the Wall alone has been the cure for this immoral tactic of resistance is thoroughly disputed. There’s certainly not a simple ‘cause and effect’ that justifies its building in the face of international law and the deprivations it has brought.

So what sets Schama and me apart? How have we ended up expressing a shared concern for the Jewish future in such different ways?

I suspect the answer has much to do with what distinguishes liberal Zionists, like Simon Schama, from 'Diaspora-Universalists' (or, if you insist, 'anti-Zionists') like me.

I believe it is Schama's attachment to Zionism that leaves him unable to articulate what has gone wrong in Israel and that causes him to take a vow of silence and then call it morality.

For Schama, everything was basically okay before 1967. It has been the Occupation of the West Bank and the building of Jewish Settlements that has undermined what had been a ethical endeavour until that point.

Schama sees Zionism as a movement born out of existential necessity, caused by the failure of the European nation states to integrate Jews, as Jews, into their societies.

There is no question that the European Jewish story, through to the mid 20th-century, ends in an unparalleled tragedy, not just for the Jews but for European civilisation, and neither the Jews nor Europe will ever fully recover from it. But even this cataclysm does not provide the proof that Zionism was the only way forward for the Jewish people.

Zionists (even American ones) appear to forget that while Europe in the 19th-century was full of setbacks and false dawns for Jewish emancipation, a whole different story was emerging on the other side of the Atlantic. Schama described this himself in episode four: 'Over the Rainbow'. The American story surely contradicts the central premiss of Zionism that successful Jewish integration, on Jewish terms, is impossible. In fact, doesn't Simon Schama's own life and his successful UK/US academic career prove that progress is possible without the retreat to narrow nationalism.

The ethical cul-de-sac

For me, who wants to champion the Jewish Diaspora experience despite all of its many highs and terrible lows, Zionism has been a failed response to anti-Semitism. It has led us down an ethical and spiritual cul-de-sac that leaves us silent when faced with our own wilful displacement and slow destruction of another people. Zionism has created a whole new set of problems without resolving any of the issues it set out to address.

How could we hope to deal with the on-going discrimination and persecution of the Jews by resorting to the same ethnic, nationalist and colonialist thinking of Europe that was feeding the growth of anti-Semitism on the continent in the first place?

What's made the situation even more difficult to deal with is that Zionism succeeded in wrapping itself around Judaism's traditional messianic longing for the end of Exile. It was a sleight of hand that was challenged at Zionism's inception and needs challenging again today. Zionism does not, and never did, equal Judaism.

But we are where we are.

There is a Jewish State of Israel and now we need to find a path to justice, peace and security for Jews and Palestinians on which ever side of the Separation Wall they live.

Staying silent though is not the way to get there.

Gathered at the foot of Mt Sinai

The rabbis tell us, through a Midrashic legend, that as the Children of Israel stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, all the Jews were there to see and hear Moses come down from the mountain top with God's Law. This was the moment when tradition says we received the words that would forever guide us to a just and faith-filled way of life.

And every Jew was there.

Not just the slaves on the run from Pharaoh, but every Jew that has ever been born, and all those yet to be born.

That's a deeply affecting idea and once heard it seeps into the Jewish soul. And the message from the mountain top is what gave us the strength and adaptability to survive, scattered across the globe, when other kingdoms rose and fell and other civilisations came and went.

We are a people with a shared faith, a shared heritage and a shared history that binds us together and creates a powerful feeling of being mutually accountable and mutually responsible to each other. When it comes to the Jewish story, we are all in it together.

For me, that does not mean you stay silent when you see your brother or sister making terrible mistakes. When it has become abundantly clear that Martin Buber’s worst fears for the revival of a Jewish homeland have come to pass, then it is time to step up and speak out. Not remain silent.

But Diaspora Jews have abdicated their familial responsibility. We allow Israel to speak in our name and keep our disquiet to ourselves. Or perhaps we simply close our eyes, preferring to slumber in a state of denial about the reality of Israeli power.

Not the final chapter

I have no doubt that the creation of the State of Israel is not the natural conclusion of Jewish history. It is certainly not our redemptive pinnacle, a miraculous 'Return' or a post Holocaust 'Resurrection'. How can it be when it has achieved neither the normalcy nor the safety that its ideological founders had hoped for? How can it be when it has turned us from a David into a Goliath in the space of a single generation?

At this moment in Jewish history, "silence, or nearly silence", is not what is called for.

Instead we should be remembering what we all heard at the foot of the mountain in that first period of enlightenment and wandering. The mission we were given was to build the just society by treating others as we would wish to be treated. The rest is commentary!

So, rather than agonising in front of the Separation Wall and mourning a version of 'benign Zionism' that never really existed, we should be shouting from the synagogue rooftops for justice for the Palestinians in the name of Judaism and demonstrating with Jewish menorahs on flags outside of the Israeli Embassy. Or failing that, start a blog.

I hope that in another 100 years we will be able to look back and see how a revitalised Jewish future began to take shape in the early 21st-century as Jews worldwide started to reconnect to their most long-lasting and resilient of values.

As Simon Schama said at the close of the final programme:"The chapter is written but the book is not finished."

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Letter to the Council of Christians and Jews

To those of you marking the Jewish New Year...Shona Tova!

As followers of this blog will know, I try not to trouble my readers more than once a month. But, thanks to comments made by the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), I'm breaking my normal blogging regime.

My previous post on the launch of Kairos Britain in which I asked: 'When will there be a Jewish Kairos moment for Palestine?' Has attracted more than the usual amount of traffic which indicates I must have hit some nerves (painfully or otherwise) around the blogosphere.

At the same time as I was publishing, the CCJ came out with some particularly misjudged criticisms of Kairos Britain as well as the Greenbelt festival where it was launched, and one of the keynote speakers at the event, the Jewish Israel/Palestine activist Mark Braverman. Some of you may have read Braverman's book Fatal Embrace. If you haven't it comes highly recommended, not just by me but from Walter Brueggemann who is widely recognised as an one of the most important Old Testament scholar and theologians of the last 50 years. 

Below is the letter I emailed to Revd David Gifford, Chief Executive of CCJ, earlier this week. You can read the two articles by the CCJ here and here. I address various points they raise in the letter below.

Letter to David Gifford, Chief Executive of the CCJ, Wednesday 4 September 2013

Dear Revd Gifford

Having your read your website's two statements regarding Kairos Britain, Greenbelt and Mark Braverman, I wanted to share some observations from a Jewish perspective that you maybe less familiar with but one that is just as valid as those you present as mainstream in your statements. I should also point out that I attended the launch of Kairos Britain at Greenbelt and had the opportunity to meet Mark Braverman and others closely involved in the production of the document.

On a general note, let me first acknowledge that the CCJ has done outstanding work over the decades to promote Jewish-Christian understanding following the nadir of Jewish suffering during the Second World War. The CCJ has played a vital role in leading Christian repentance and rapprochement between the two communities in the UK and its regional and local activities are a welcome expression of tolerance and respect for the multi-faith and ethnic make-up of our country.

My concern though, having read your critical reaction to Kairos Britain's call for the rights and human dignity of Palestinians to be recognised, is that your position is doing a great disservice to the central values of both Christianity and Judaism. 

'Balance' works both ways

I find it odd that you are critical of the Greenbelt organisers for not inviting a speaker to counter-balance Mark Braverman's appearance at the festival.

Let me ask you this.

Does the CCJ invite Palestinian or pro BDS Jewish speakers to its events when discussing Israel/Palestine in order to achieve 'balance'? I suspect not. 

Greenbelt has taken a stand after many years of listening, consulting, debating and praying about how it should respond to the well-documented injustices taking place everyday in the Occupied Territories. Just as the CCJ has the right to decide how to run its events and who to invite to does Greenbelt. If you want continuous 'balance' then it must work both ways. I'm sure Kairos Britain and Greenbelt could suggest future speakers for CCJ events which, they might consider, would otherwise present one-sided views of the politics and history of the Holy Land during the last 100 years or so. 

Zionism and Judaism

I find it even more surprising that the CCJ, despite all it surely knows about Judaism and Jewish history, manages to confuse Zionism with traditional Jewish teaching.

Zionism is a heady mix of European 19th century 'blood and soil' nationalism combined with a genuine religious, spiritual and cultural connection to the Land of Israel. There are many ways to understand the attraction of Zionism to Jews, particularly to Eastern European Jews at the turn of the 20th century, but Zionism is very far from being the 'traditional Jewish teaching' that you accuse Mark Braverman of dismissing. The traditional understanding of 'exile' and 'return' involved a spiritual rather than a political route to Jewish salvation. It's Zionism that bucks Jewish tradition, not Mark Braverman. But I'm sure you must know this.

Israel and the Jewish Diaspora

You quote the following from one of Braverman's talks at the festival in which he refers to the Separation Wall that cuts deep into Palestinian land in the name of 'Israeli security': " people behind that wall – and I include Jews outside of Israel as well, because the wall is psychological and it is spiritual – have learned to hate". You appear to present this quote as evidence of Braverman's anti-Semitism or perhaps some kind of Jewish self-hatred. 

For an organisation so familiar with Jewish thinking and attitudes towards Israel you are displaying considerable ignorance on this point. You will know that Israel has always regarded itself as the State belonging to all Jews throughout the world and not just those who are its Jewish citizens. You will also know that successive Israeli Prime Ministers have liked to talk as if they are representing the views of the Jewish people worldwide. That's one reason why I, as a Jew, feel personally responsible and have sorrow and anger for what goes on in the name of the Jewish State, even though, living in Cumbria, I can hardly be thought of as responsible for it. I understand exactly the point Mark Braverman is making about the 'psychological wall' in modern Jewish self-identity about Israel and how this has led to Palestinians being perceived as the perennial 'other' always to be distrusted and often despised. Your accusation is a cheap and badly aimed shot.

Nazi boycotts?

As for the CCJ comparing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) to the Nazi boycotts of Jewish shops in 1930s, this is just an attempt to scare off Christians from taking non-violent direct action against discriminatory policies carried out by the State of Israel against the Palestinian people. 

After 20 years and more of a failed peace process, BDS is a peaceful, legitimate protest against violations of international law (accepted as such by the UK and US governments). 

Attempting to smear this approach by association with Nazi Germany shows a wilful misunderstanding of history and a deliberate misrepresentation of the motives of those showing solidarity with Christian Palestinians and also with Israeli Jews who believe the Occupation is the single biggest threat to the future of their country.

Jewish-Christian dialogue is undoubtedly a good thing until it stops being an honest dialogue and becomes a mutual appreciation society. I'm not sure you are doing the Jewish community, or Judaism itself, any long-term favours by failing to remind the Jewish partners in the dialogue that they should reconnect with the Jewish prophetic tradition. Good friends tell each other when they have made a mistake or are failing to see their errors. 

The CCJ believes it is not for Christians to 'tell Jews what to do' after centuries of anti-Jewish Church teaching. However, it's one thing wanting to see the world through Jewish eyes as part of a process of Jewish-Christian reconciliation but what room does that leave for Christians (and Muslims) in the Holy Land who have a very different experience and perception of the State of Israel? At some point the debate has to move beyond 'understanding' the 'Jewish point of view' (and by the way, there is no such thing anyway - 2 Jews, 3 opinions etc).

Refuting the statistics

You cast doubt on the statistics and reports quoted in Kairos Britain which document the oppressive and discriminatory nature of the Israeli Occupation and you suggest that these could be challenged. I look forward to you, or others, attempting to do this. You will find it an impossible task. No doubt the context can be challenged, based on the endless appeal to the Israeli 'security' paradigm. In the end though, you just have to count how many Palestinian children have been killed in the last 20 years compared to how many Israelis children have been killed to get a sense of which side should be the most fearful of the continuing situation. 

Finally, I would urge the CCJ to reflect on the fact that it is possible to support a Jewish homeland in Israel/Palestine without having to defend (or turn a blind eye) to what has happened to the Palestinians over the last 65 years. A more critical stance on Israel is to the long-term benefit of both Christian and Jewish communities here and in Israel/Palestine. Personally, I have no doubt that the Jewish future, and the future of Judaism itself, will be defined by our relationship with the Palestinian people. This is the single most important issue we face as a community.

You may like to read my considered response to the launch of Kairos Britain at my blog: Micah's Paradigm Shift: 'When will there be a Jewish Kairos moment for Palestine?' Here's the link.

With kind regards

Robert Cohen
Kendal, Cumbria, UK

Sunday, 1 September 2013

When will there be a Jewish Kairos moment for Palestine?

'Kairos Britain' has been published and I believe this could be the game changing intervention that pushes the Israel/Palestine debate into a significant new phase in the United Kingdom.

It also has the potential, as the Kairos Britain authors are well aware, of causing division and argument not only between Christian grass roots communities and the Christian hierarchy, but between local churches and their neighbouring synagogue communities.

The 35 page document is a direct response, from a Christian British perspective, to the 'call from the heart of Palestinian suffering' made by Palestinian Christians in their 2009 Kairos. The word 'Kairos' is Greek and refers to a critical moment in time when urgent action is required. The Palestinian Church denominations that came together unanimously to endorse the 2009 document, firmly rooted their call to the world in faith, hope, love and non-violence. The British Kairos does the same.

In short, carefully researched chapters, Kairos Britain sets out the the condition of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip. It summarises Britain's specific involvement in the history of Palestine between 1917 and 1948, examines interfaith issues, sets out a theological position, based on human dignity, and finally makes the case for action.

But what form should that action take?

The writers of Kairos Britain say it is up to individuals and communities to decide exactly how to respond. But they believe we must take seriously those Palestinians and Israelis who call for the boycott of, divestment from, and economic sanctions against everything produced by the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

This is the point at which Kairos Britain parts company with moderate, liberal opinion on Israel. The implication of supporting the BDS campaign is that you have no confidence in the long running 'peace process' or the political dynamics that govern its parameters. It means you do not believe the United States can be an 'honest broker' or that Israel is at all serious about allowing the creation of a viable, contiguous, independent Palestinian state. Not until politicians believe that their constituents no longer find the status quo of daily oppression of Palestinians acceptable will things change. BDS aims to builds things up from the grass roots until the political weather begins to change. Remember, Thatcher and Reagan were the last, not the first, to change their minds on South Africa.

Such an approach will set Kairos Britain on a collision course with the current Church leadership in the UK and most certainly with the mainstream Jewish community.

But is that really such a bad thing?

Has the moment come when we put an end to compromising on justice for the sake of ecumenical peace? Is this the moment when interfaith dialogue between Christians and Jews is forced to confront current injustices as well as past iniquities? Within the UK, could we be edging, slowly, towards the tipping-point in the Israel/Palestine debate? Is this the moment of truth when Christians learn of the depth of injustice in the occupied Palestinian territories and recognise that campaigning against it has nothing to do with being anti-Semitic and everything to do with being faithful to the values of Christianity - and for that matter Judaism as well.

A Jewish sensibility

At this point, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should declare an interest. I was approached in the spring (along with many others from Christian, Muslim and Jewish traditions) to read and comment on advanced drafts of the Kairos Britain document. I was happy to bring a Jewish sensibility when reading the text and suggested some small revisions that I thought would bring even more emphasis to an understanding of Jewish attitudes to the Land of Israel - historically, religiously and culturally. What was gratifying to discover was that the Kairos Britain writers were already immensely mindful of the likely criticism the document would attract and wanted a final text that fully acknowledged Jewish suffering, Christian responsibility for it, and the central position that Israel has in post Holocaust Jewish identity.

At this year's Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham (24-27 Aug) I had the opportunity to meet some of the leading figures behind the Kairos Britain initiative at the launch event for the document. I can tell their Christian and Jewish critics (and there are many) that the writers of Kairos Britain are not bleeding heart liberals, nor misguided dupes and they are certainly not anti-Semites. They do care about discrimination, oppression and institutionalised injustice and want to bring peace and security to all those who call the Holy Land their home.

They have learnt their history and their politics and developed a coherent and compassionate theology based on the equality of God's creation. In short, they know their stuff and have chosen to make a stand.

A Jewish Kairos?

All of this makes me wonder how long it will be before we reach a Jewish Kairos moment for Palestine?

What is abundantly clear is that a Kairos moment will never come from the Jewish establishment. In the last 70 years, Zionism has become the dominant ideology within the Jewish community. Indeed it has become the new Jewish theology as well, which is what allows accusations of anti-Semitism to be made against anyone who calls into question the behaviour of the State of Israel.

A Jewish Kairos moment will begin on the margins of the Jewish community as more and more Jews begin to recognise that our relationship with the Palestinians will define our present and determine our future as much as it will theirs. It will come from Jews who begin to understand that the Occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza, the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, and the institutional discrimination of Israeli Palestinians is doing untold damage to the Jewish soul and to Judaism itself. The Jewish Kairos moment will come when we rediscover our Hebrew prophetic theology of justice and choose to take it seriously. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Micah were talking to us...and they still are.

The Jewish Kairos will only come when we see the Zionist understanding of Jewish history and the nationalist solution to Jewish salvation as an aberration rather than a continuum of Jewish values. It will be a painful moment and require a new construction of the Jewish narrative, one that can incorporate the Palestinian narrative too.

Palestinians will need to understand our pain and our trauma, as well as their own, if open hearted dialogue is to be possible. But this is not a conflict of equals. We hold the power. We have the superpower backing. The onus is on us.

I see little sign of a tipping-point being reached on Israel/Palestine anytime soon within the Jewish community. But the seeds are being sown and I like to think that this blog is one of those seeds.

Like minded 'Micah Jews', like those that support the actions of Jews for Justice for Palestinians or follow news feeds from Mondoweiss and +972, and support Jewish Israeli groups like B'Tselem and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, are creating the movement that will eventually shift the ground and shake our diaspora leadership from their belief that the status quo is both moral and sustainable.

I look forward the day when the first synagogue council in Britain passes a motion condemning the Occupation and the expansion of Settlement building. That will be a moment when Judaism begins a 21st century renaissance.

In the meantime, Jews who wish to stand in the Jewish tradition of universal justice will find their friends outside of the Jewish community. Our opportunity to influence events will be through our support of projects such as Kairos Britain. If nothing else, it will demonstrate to local church communities that Jews may be monotheistic but they are not monolithic when it comes to Israel. There is a Jewish diversity of opinion that makes a nonsense of anti-Semitic accusations.

So I would urge my Christian and Jewish readers to look closely at Kairos Britain and the original Palestine Kairos. These are important documents with the power to move people to action.

This week (4 September) sees us welcome in the Jewish New Year of 5774. It is the beginning of a 10-day period of atonement that reaches its liturgical and emotional heights on Yom Kippur. The issues raised in Kairos Britain will certainly be at the forefront of my thoughts and prayers in the coming days.

“Leshanah tovah tikateiv v’teichateim" - May you be inscribed for a good year!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Will Jewish Democracy please phone home

So, peace negotiations have been restarted but nobody's holding their breath for any miraculous breakthroughs in the next nine months.

And why is that?

Well, I could talk about the long-standing American bias towards Israel and the undue influence of the pro-Israel lobby on Congress and the White House. I could mention the appointment of Martin Indyk as the talk's chairman (a former Israel lobbyist and previous US ambassador to Israel). I could point out that Israel's governing coalition is stacked firmly in favour of continued Settlement expansion. I could remind you that Israel has already said it will never share Jerusalem and refuses to take any responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugees in 1948.

So, all in all, it's hard to imagine quite what a fair and principled final status deal would look like that could be remotely acceptable to both sides.

But instead I want to examine a different factor. Something more fundamental to the dynamics of the talks. Something that underpins all of the issues above.

A few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made clear that his main motivation for agreeing to the resumption of talks with the Palestinian Authority was to secure the future of a 'Jewish and Democratic State of Israel'. And he expects the Palestinians to recognise the country in those very precise religious/ethnic terms. At all costs, he wants to avoid anything that looks like it will lead to some kind of bi-national state of all its citizens. In other words, he wants to ensure Israel remains democratic for Jews only, and that means on both sides of the 1967 borders.

It's the description 'Jewish and Democratic State of Israel' that takes us to the heart of the matter. It's a shorthand descriptor that always sounds so reasonable, indeed admirable, to most western ears. Far better than those despotic Arab regimes that persecute women and gays and outlaw political dissent. And anyway, don't the Jews deserve their own distinct state that is theirs, and theirs alone, after all they have suffered at the hands of other nations.

There are a number of ways to argue against this position..but the one I'd like to put forward here is that the current way in which the Jewish and Democratic State of Israel is constituted is not very...well, Jewish.

Orwellian doublethink

The Jewish community, worldwide, needs to wake up to what Zionism has done to the Hebrew conception of 'Democracy'. And by 'Democracy' I mean the ideas of universal human dignity, individual rights and collective responsibilities that have come to define what an ethically grounded community or state should look like. These are the Jewish values I was taught to understand and take pride in as a Jewish youngster. These were the values I was told that we had brought to the community of nations and made witness to even during the darkest moments of our history.

But, during our current 'Age of Zionism' we have distorted Jewish ethics to the point where they have become unrecognisable from our traditional teaching. Either that, or we are being to asked to live in some strange world of Jewish Orwellian 'doublethink' where we are expected to hold in our heads contradictory versions of Jewish Democracy and claim that both are to be admired and respected.

Personally, I think it's high time to rouse ourselves from the Orwellian nightmare and tell the Israeli version of Jewish Democracy to phone home.

In the beginning

You don't have to look too hard to find the origins of modern democratic thinking in the Hebrew bible.

What does the creation story in the book of Genesis teach if not the dignity and worth of every human being, each made in the image of God? In the very first verses of the Torah, we are presented with all embracing God who creates an all embracing universal ethic. This was Judaism's breakthrough moment in theology and it goes on to to influence the entire history of Western thought.

What do the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood teach if not that each of us has personal moral agency and responsibility.

And the morality that the early Hebrew scriptures teach is not an ethnocentric code that says that only Jews really count. In a moment of true moral grandeur we see the Jewish patriarch, Abraham, becoming the conscience of God, audaciously negotiating with the Almighty to save of the city of Sodom for the sake of the righteous who live there. What higher example of moral agency in the ancient world is there?

What is the Exodus story if not a sacred foundational myth to teach us the meaning of oppression, freedom and justice? And what can the commandment to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation mean if not to share God's vision with all of humanity.

Through the rest of the Torah we get the fine detail of how to live in a community that respects and cares for all of its members with particular attention to the 'widow' and 'orphan', or in modern vernacular, the most vulnerable. The prophets take the theme forward to the next theological level, making it absolutely clear that the Hebrew God is not a tribal totem but a being intimately concerned with how every aspect of his creation is playing itself out.

What is the biblical story of the Jewish people if not an account of the struggles and set backs to create a just society?

Enlightenment foundations

However much they may have been sceptical about God and critical of the teachings and behaviour of organised religion, there's no question that Hebrew thinking profoundly influenced the radical enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century and the high ideals of the American and French revolutions.

The creation of the League of Nations after the First World War and the United Nations after the Second both clearly had the same Hebrew ancestry. Along with a body of international law that has evolved during the 20th century, these institutions have been serious attempts to bring a universal consistency to the behaviour of nation states, no matter how powerful they may be.

It's the same body of international law that has consistently ruled on the illegality of Israel's Settlement building project on the West Bank and the creation of the separation wall that builds deep into the Occupied Territories.

But just when the world has finally understood the value of Hebrew Democracy, we have lost sight of our own achievement.

In the last 100 years, through our wholesale adoption of the Zionist agenda for the Jewish people, we have abandoned our central contribution to the development of Western thought and culture. We have exchanged the universal ethic we forged in biblical times for the narrowest conception possible of Jewish Democracy. We have pursued, not the justice of Deuteronomy, but the imperatives of ethnic nationalism.

Ask the Bedouin

And there are plenty who can bear a painful witness to the dereliction of our inheritance.

Ask the Bedouin herdsman in the Negev waiting to be evicted from his ancestral land - what he thinks of Jewish Democracy.

Ask the Nazareth school teacher who knows her Palestinian-Israeli pupils will be disadvantaged throughout their lives - what she thinks of Jewish Democracy.

Ask the villagers from Bil'lin protesting non-violently against the separation wall - what they think of Jewish Democracy.

Ask the olive oil farmers of Burin whose land is destroyed by Jewish Settlers with impunity...

Ask the teenage boy from Jenin detained without charge in a military jail...

Ask the Palestinians clinging on in East Jerusalem...

Ask the market trader in Hebron...

Ask the fishermen from Gaza...


Jewish Democracy has shrivelled to a form of exclusive nationalism that cannot tolerate the 'other', or the 'stranger'. Today's version of Jewish Democracy sees only threats and has turned notions of victimhood and eternal suffering into a self-serving cult and the State of Israel into the Sparta of the Middle-East.

Bringing it all back home

And where does all of this leave the peace talks?

There is little hope for this new round of negotiations to get anywhere until we rediscover our ancient Hebrew heritage and remember what it is that gives us purpose as a people.

Jews have made an outstanding contribution to the development of human rights and right relationships. Right now we are busy squandering our own gift when we should be applying it to our current predicament and building a truly democratic homeland that respects and honours Jews and Palestinians in full and equal measure. If we concentrate on that, you can be sure that peace and security for both sides will look after itself.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Jewish nationalism, Christian theology and the demise of interfaith dialogue

Right now, decades of progress on Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue is unraveling. What had been a period of unprecedented advancement has been halted and replaced by (Christian) frustration and (Jewish) anger.

Interfaith relations now seem to exist only as part of the established hierarchy of formal Jewish and Christian communal structures. The realms of acceptable debate are securely locked down, confined to domestic issues and the sharing of religious practice. Any serious challenge by Christians or Jews to the status quo on Israel is considered firmly out of bounds.

So what's happened and what can be done to get back on track and establish a mature, open and honest interfaith conversation that doesn't fall apart as soon as Israel or the Palestinians get mentioned?

Here, I want to examine how distorted presentations of Christian theology and fossilised views of Judaism have become part of the new and disturbing dynamic of Jewish-Christian interaction.

Stifling honest debate

Over the last few years, it's become clear that a favourite method of criticising Christian intervention in the Israel/Palestine debate is to accuse Christians of using 'replacement theology' to deny Jewish claims to the 'Promised Land'. Replacement theology is a strain of traditional Church teaching that has been thoroughly discredited through the process of Jewish-Christian dialogue but which has now been given a new lease of life by those wishing to use it as a blunt instrument to stifle an honest debate about a genuine injustice.

It's becoming a rather tiresome sequence of events. American Presbyterians, Quakers, Methodists and Anglicans have all been fed through the mangle on this. Usually, it ends up with accusations of anti-Semitism on the grounds of attacking the very heart of modern Jewish identity.

Most recently, it's been the Church of Scotland with its Assembly's adoption of: The inheritance of Abraham? A report on the ‘promised land’. The Jewish communal response was reported in the UK's Jewish Chronicle on 24 May: “Scottish Jews have condemned the Church of Scotland’s decision to approve a controversial report on Israel, calling it an unacceptable attack on Judaism."

But is the Christian critique of the modern State of Israel really ‘replacement theology’ or is the real candidate for replacing Jewish heritage and spiritual understanding to be found elsewhere?

What I believe we are seeing is a deliberately distorted presentation of Christian thinking along with a partial reading of Jewish history and a fossilised view of Judaism itself. All of which serves to divert attention from an urgent call for universal justice that can be found loud and clear in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

A short history of replacement theology

'Replacement theology' (sometimes called 'supercessionism' or 'fulfillment' theology) derives from the idea that God's expanded Covenant, through Jesus, embraces the whole world rather than one particular people in one particular place. The expanded Covenant can either be viewed as a positive sharing of Jewish values with the rest of humanity or a doctrine that renders Judaism, and its 'Old' Testament, obsolete. It was the latter understanding that led to a long and poisonous history of Church teaching that had murderous implications and created fertile ground for the Nazi's near genocide of European Jewry during the Second World War.

The last seventy years have witnessed great strides by Christian theologians who have challenged this interpretation of New Testament scripture, understanding Judaism as the crucible of Christianity with its own, on-going, unique relationship to God. In turn this has led to a blossoming of Christian-Jewish dialogue.

Until now that is.

Today we see the conflict over Israel/Palestine undoing much good work and all for the sake of protecting Jewish nationalist interests.

The Church of Scotland's report provides the most recent case study of the 'replacement theology' accusation being deployed to close down debate.

'The inheritance of Abraham' charts the Christian understanding of ‘Land’ and ‘Covenant’ using scripture to demonstrate that the original 'Promise' to Abraham should no longer be considered grounds for exclusive Jewish control of the Holy Land. The report draws on the New Testament's interpretation of 'Israel' as being, not just the Jews, but all people of God, while the 'Promise' of the 'Land' becomes a metaphor for the creation of the 'Kingdom of God' in all parts of the world.

This is the moment when defenders of the modern State of Israel call 'foul'. The attempt to universalise the meaning of 'Land' 'Promise' and 'Israel' is seen as once again calling into question the legitimacy of Judaism. The argument has traction (particularly among Christians involved in the communal establishment version of interfaith dialogue) for the very reason that Zionism has been immensely successful in conflating itself with Judaism.

It works like this: If you call into question the Biblical foundation of Jewish claims to the Holy Land, then you undermine the right of Jews today for national self-determination in their historic homeland. Universalising the Covenant means attacking a central element of historic and modern Jewish identity (or at least the Zionist conception of it). So, the Church of Scotland, and others, quickly find themselves accused of jeopardising decades of post-Holocaust interfaith reconciliation.

An evolving Jewish understanding

One reason why this attack on Christian theology is so wrong-headed, from a Jewish perspective, is that it fails to recognise Judaism's own development both within Biblical scripture and across two thousand years of diaspora living.

The truth of the matter is, we Jews have been 'replacing' or at least ‘developing’ our theology of 'Promise', 'Land' and 'Covenant' for the last three millennia.

This evolution in Jewish thinking was happening throughout the Biblical period and long before the New Testament brought a further layer of (Jewish) understanding to the meaning of the human relationship with God.

In Hebrew scripture we move from the family/tribal God of Genesis to the people's God of Exodus to the God who sets moral conditions on his gifts in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Propriety of the Land clearly becomes conditional on faithfulness to God and the upholding of his law.

The idea that Judaism is a portable religion rooted in faith and ethical action, gained further momentum with the writings of the Prophets. When Micah asks famously: "What does the Lord require of you?" The answer was not the blood of thousands of rams killed for Temple sacrifice but instead a core commitment to: act justly, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

The genius of the Jewish Diaspora

The Jewish story and the Jewish conception of the Covenant did not stop with the closing chapters of the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish relationship to God and to the Land continued to evolve across two millennia of rabbinic thinking and the continuing development of Jewish spirituality. Our rabbis replaced Temple sacrifice with prayer, study and ethical action and the understanding that living on the Land was not integral to the practice of Judaism or Jewish identity. Living in the Diaspora was never second class Judaism.

Jewish teaching saw 'Exile' as a metaphysical construction, a theological distancing from the Almighty that had led to a physical dislocation. Exile involved a continuing effort directed at spiritual renewal and return to God. The physical return to the 'Land of Israel' was a distant, indefinitely postponed, messianic future, firmly in God's hands and not ours.

But then came Zionism. A late 19th century variant of middle European ethnic nationalism that successfully weaved a traditional connection to the Land, expressed religiously through festivals and prayer, into a political and colonial project. The upshot has been the creation of a Jewish State that, by its very nature, must privilege its Jewish inhabitants to the detriment of the indigenous Palestinian population and all other non-Jews.

Zionists like to jump back two thousand years as if the whole diaspora experience was a mere detour, a temporary distraction from nationalism, rather than a miraculous achievement of cultural and religious development.

If you are looking for a ‘replacement theology’ that undermines Jewish tradition and religious understanding, and skews Jewish ethics as a result, then look no further than Zionism.

A new path for dialogue

For Christian-Jewish dialogue to have a future it has to challenge what Marc Ellis has described as the 'ecumenical deal' that agrees to take all criticism of the State of Israel off the table. It also has to dismiss claims of 'replacement theology' as a deliberate political tactic (a theological 'red herring') that ignores Judaism's own historic development and its core value of justice. Christian-Jewish interfaith relations will become morally atrophied if Christians feel they must silence themselves on the behaviour of the State of Israel to its own minority citizens and those whose land it continues to occupy.

Jews and Christians enjoy tremendous common ground and can build on their shared understanding of a universal God concerned for all of his creation and who demands of us that we love our neighbour and pursue an agenda of justice. Anything done in the name of Christianity or Judaism that is an affront to that calling must be clearly identified or else both traditions are fatally undermined.

Christian partners in Jewish dialogue must acknowledge the very real connection of Judaism with the Holy Land through Jewish prayer, festivals and sacred mythology. On that basis, Israel should be seen as a 'homeland' of Jewish heritage. But that doesn't mean accepting that Zionism is integral to Judaism or that the Jewish population of Israel has the right to create exclusive rights for itself and deny human rights to others.

The return to Jewish nationalism has led the Jewish people down an ethical cul-de-sac. The history that has taken us to this point needs to be understood and acknowledged but the rightness of its outcome must be challenged. To navigate our way out will require a brave dialogue with the Palestinians that turns Israel from a 'Jewish Democracy' to a 'Human Democracy'. Meanwhile, we need sympathetic Christian partners who will help us to reclaim the very values that their own faith is built upon.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

"Put yourself in their shoes" - Taking Obama seriously for Nakba at 65

Barack Obama in Jerusalem, March 2013

"Put yourself in their shoes", said the President. "Look at the world through their eyes."

Good idea. And easily the best lines in his Jerusalem speech delivered on 21st March. This was Barack Obama turning into Atticus Finch.

Finch, the small town lawyer in 'To Kill a Mockingbird', burdened with the moral conscience of his community, had been transplanted from the Deep South to the Middle East with disenfranchised Black Americans replaced by disenfranchised Palestinians.

Put yourself in their shoes.

It was a direct challenge to Jewish Israelis (and diaspora Jews too).

Look at the world through their eyes.

But how hard is it to step onto the 'Radley porch' of Israel/Palestine to imagine the world of Boo and Tom Robinson, the world of the Palestinian 'other'?

This month (15th May) marks the 65th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba - 'Catastrophe'. The date follows one day after the anniversary of Israel's Declaration of Independence in 1948. What better moment to take seriously the Obama/Finch shoe-swapping challenge.

I thought I'd try the experiment by revisiting that speech in Jerusalem since it contains a near pitch-perfect rendition of the Zionist telling of Jewish history.

Here are a few key lines that now demanded revisiting.

"For the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the State of Israel wound through countless generations." said Obama.

So how does that familiar statement seem to me now as I walk around in my borrowed shoes?

Well, I can't help but spot the verbal sleight of hand as God's "promise" gets retrospectively upgraded from a biblical homeland to a modern State.

But then I shouldn't blame Obama for getting confused about this. After all, my fellow Jews from across the globe have also become muddled on the topic. We have happily accepted the fusing together of religious concepts of 'exile' and 'return' with 19th century ethnic nationalism and then happily bolted on our own special take on European colonialism and justified it all through a clumsy reading of our own prayer book liturgy. With my Palestinian outlook, the consequences of all this start to look much clearer.

Then there was this:

 "Through it all, the Jewish people sustained their unique identity and traditions, as well as a longing to return home."

Standing on the Israel/Palestine Radley porch for a few hundred years, I may have been surprised at how little 'return' actually took place during all those centuries of 'longing'. My Jewish learning could give my Palestinian alter-ego the explanation for this historical discrepancy.

Wasn't exile rather more than a geographical condition? Wasn't 'return' a messianic concept that meant even a physical presence in the Holy Land did not guarantee the end of exile. Isn't that what our rabbis taught us over two millennia, until Zionism took hold of our thinking?

Never mind, Barack was on a roll by now:

 "...the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea -- to be a free people in your homeland."

With my Palestinian eyes this too might jar with me. I might want to ask the President where he thinks this leaves the six million American Jewish citizens who consider the United States to have fulfilled the "dream of true freedom", giving them self-determination unparallelled in 2,000 years of Jewish history. Why have the vast majority stubbornly stayed there, apparently against their best interests?

After so much flattery about the achievements of the State of Israel (business, cultural and scientific), I would have been pleasantly surprised that Obama finally got around to mentioning the Palestinians.

However, I would have noticed that, unlike the Jewish story, the Palestinians were not accorded the grand sweep of history in the telling of their narrative. And the President's description of the birth of Israel itself made no mention of terror tactics and murder, the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of families, the deliberate destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages and the blatant grab of Palestinian land - all carried out under the fog of war and the justification of Jewish national liberation.

The story of the 1948 Nakba was easily available to Obama. And if he could not bring himself to accept Palestinian accounts, or preferred to dismiss them as so much Arab propaganda, he could have flicked through the works of numerous Jewish Israeli historians writing over the last thirty years.

If confronting the truth of the 1948 Nakba isn't what 'looking at the world through their eyes' means, then what's the point of the exercise?

So finally, we come to the half-dozen sentences that got me started and that gave the speech some political bite and the President a small degree of credibility as a broker for peace.

"Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student's ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer."

With my Palestinian eyes and ears I would probably have thought that this list was not even the half of it. What about the cleansing of Palestinian homes in annexed East Jerusalem? What about the continuing confiscation of Palestinian land in the 60% of the West Bank that Israel controls entirely? What about discriminatory planning regulations, house demolitions, the appropriation of water resources, military courts, the unilateral expansion of Jewish settlements in continuing breach of international law?

And then there's Gaza.

No mention of the on-going blockade of land, sea and air that stifles any chance of normal economic development.

And did he mention the rights of Palestinians in Israel itself? Immigration laws, marriage laws, employment discrimination, education policies, town planning?

With Palestinian eyes and Palestinian shoes, all of this is what makes the Nakba not just a moment in time but an on-going catastrophe.

And so it becomes clear, as I put my own shoes back on, why Obama's plea for empathy is such a radical challenge for Jewish Israelis (and certainly for Diaspora Jews as well).

Once you take Obama seriously, and try out the shoe-swapping thought exercise, it becomes clear what is stopping our ethical imagination from understanding Palestinian suffering.

It is the Palestinian story that messes with our sense of identity and the privileged entitlement to what we insist on calling the 'Land of Israel'. Their counter-narrative to Zionism with its language (and experience) of colonialism, dispossession, exile and apartheid is such a fundamental challenge to our story of eternal victimhood and biblical destiny that it cannot be acknowledged without (as I discovered for myself) everything starting to unravel.

Our national renewal, our redeemed homeland, our resurrection from the ashes of Europe, was paid for not with reparations from post-war West Germany, or arms from the Soviet Union, or aid from America. The invoice was sent to the Palestinians.

But none of this can be accepted into Jewish consciousness. For the Jewish narrative to remain intact, every Palestinian must remain a would-be terrorist afflicted with the latest mutation of anti-Semitism. Even non-violent opposition, from economic boycotts to prisoner hunger strikes, are seen as just another form of terror and an existential attack on the Jewish people.

And if, as a Jew, you do choose to take Obama's words seriously you soon find yourself in hot water with your own community and your own family. Such has been the success of the Zionist narrative, that to choose to see the world through Palestinian eyes immediately places you at the dissenting margins of the Jewish community, easily dismissed and easily ignored.

For myself, I refuse to accept that my views have disenfranchised me from Judaism or the Jewish community. My position of solidarity with the Palestinian people is not borne out of enmity to my own people but from a commitment to Jewish values and Jewish well-being.

I care about what the Jewish community says and does when it comes to Israel/Palestine. I care about its pronouncements, I care about its silence, I care about its denial and its indifference.

To 'put yourself in their shoes and see the world through their eyes' is a huge ask. For me it has meant overcoming my own racism and prejudice to allow myself to hear Palestinian voices and accept the validity of their story. It's become an exercise in un-installing the cultural software in my head.

As it turns out, I don't think Obama takes his own words seriously enough. He certainly fails to live up to the standard set by Atticus Finch who could see clearly the power dynamics of his own Maycomb County in Alabama. If Obama wants to take himself seriously, the first thing he would need to do is to re-write his whole speech to tell a more rounded and truthful story about how Jews and Palestinians have faced each other for the last hundred years and more.

I believe the Jewish future is dependent on us upholding what the Jewish Liberation theologian Marc Ellis describes as: Jewish prophetic consciousness. That can only mean hearing and seeing the Palestinian narrative and allowing it to shape a new post-Zionist Jewish self-understanding. That doesn't mean supporting a second Holocaust in Israel but it does mean the country growing beyond an ethnocentric State to a nation that respects the rights and national stories of all of its citizens.

Right now, standing on the Radley porch of Israel/Palestine, that looks like the only way to rescue the Hebrew covenant.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The story of Marek Edelman and the Warsaw Ghetto uprising

Marek Edelman, a leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April 1943
This week sees the 70th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (April 1943). I wanted to use the occasion to share with you the story of one of the leaders of the uprising – Marek Edelman. What follows is information cleaned from a number of obituaries that appeared after Edelman’s death in 2009.

My interest in Edelman is that his way of looking at Jewish history is rather different from the mainstream Zionist historiography that attempts to show every misfortune and tragedy of Jewish history as evidence of the impossibility of Jews to live ‘among the nations’ in safety, security and respect. For Zionism, every calamity is proof that Jews can only protect their identity, their culture and their religion if they have the trappings of the modern nation state. Edelman did not see it that way nor did he believe that the ghetto uprising had somehow contrasted ‘muscular Judaism’ with the ‘passive victims’ who were forced into the gas chambers of Treblinka. If anything, Edelman believed it was those that died in the death camps that had  shown the greatest courage. For Edelman, there were lessons to be learnt for Jews and gentiles alike after the Holocaust, and they were universal lessons about our responsibility to all humanity.

Born in 1919 into a Jewish family in Poland, Marek Edelman grew up in Warsaw and joined the Jewish Socialist organisation, the Bund, as a teenager.

The Bundists did not believe in waiting for a Jewish messiah to solve their problems (as orthodox Judaism did), nor did they agree with Zionism's answer of building a new Jewish State in Palestine as the way to solve the ‘Jewish Question’ in Europe. Bundists believed that Jews should be citizens of the nations in which they lived and that they should be committed to political systems that respected the rights of all minorities.

After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, the Jews were forced into city ghettos throughout the country, the largest being in Warsaw. The ghetto’s population soon swelled from 300,000 to over 400,000 by an influx of Jews cleared from the surrounding countryside.

In November 1940 the Warsaw ghetto was walled off from the rest of the city and mass murder and starvation of the population soon followed.

In January 1942 the Jewish political organisations in the ghetto, principally the Bundists and the Zionists, came together and determined that armed resistance was necessary. The Jewish Fighting Organisation, the ZOB, was formed and Marek Edelman became one of its commanders.

Over the next few months, 100,000 people died inside the ghetto from hunger and disease, and over 300,000 were sent to Nazi death camps, mainly to Treblinka in eastern Poland. When Edelman and his comrades were finally able to launch their revolt against the Nazis, there were fewer than 60,000 left in the ghetto.

Those that remained included the youngest and fittest whose survival had depended on their ability to withstand the terrible conditions of ghetto life.

Edelman later wrote that they had one pistol and ten to fifteen bullets for each of their three hundred or so fighters, a few rifles per section, and one machine gun in the entire ghetto. In addition they had a number of grenades and home made Molotov cocktails. Edelman, at 22, was one of the oldest of the fighters.

Their uprising began on the eve of Passover 1943.

"We knew perfectly well that we had no chance of winning," Edelman recalled. "We fought simply not to allow the Germans alone to pick the time and place of our deaths. We knew we were going to die. Just like all the others who were sent to Treblinka." Indeed, Edelman added, far from going passively, those who went steadfastly to Treblinka had shown the ultimate courage. "Their death was far more heroic. We didn't know when we would take a bullet. They had to deal with certain death, stripped naked in a gas chamber or standing at the edge of a mass grave waiting for a bullet in the back of the head. It is an awesome thing, when one is going so quietly to one's death. It was easier to die fighting than in a gas chamber."

After escaping through the Warsaw sewers with the surviving members of the uprising, Edelman joined the Polish resistance.

After the war, he chose to stay in Poland and help try to construct a socialist society. He trained to a doctor, eventually becoming a highly respected heart specialist.

In the decades that followed, Edelman’s role in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was forgotten. He stayed active in politics and was a critic of the oppressive Soviet Russia backed governments in Poland in the 1970s.

In the early 1980s, he joined Solidarity, the independent Polish trade union that was campaigning to bring greater political freedom than that allowed by the communist government. When Solidarity was outlawed by the Polish government Edelman was arrested and imprisoned for a time.

As he grew older, Edelman continued to speak out on issues of political freedom. In the 1990s, he was concerned about the events in Bosnia, then in Kosovo. He went with a humanitarian convoy to Sarajevo, and made an appeal to the NATO leadership in April 1999 that was published in leading Western newspapers. In it, he wrote:

“I appeal to you, leaders of the free world, not to stop the air strikes and to send soldiers to Kosovo so that what I witnessed in the Warsaw Ghetto will not be repeated. In the current situation, only the presence of NATO soldiers can save the Albanians from genocide. I know how painful it is for those sending their soldiers to war to know that they could die. But I also know-as do all those of my generation-that freedom has a price. A price that we must be willing to pay.”

Marek Edelman was a critic of Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians. As a result his role in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was never given the acknowledgement that others received. But he also condemned the Palestinian leadership when suicide bombing became a tactic of their resistance. Edelman wrote a public letter to the Palestinian military commanders:

"My name is Marek Edelman, I am a former Deputy Commander of the Jewish Military organization in Poland, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Insurrection, In the memorable year of the insurrection - 1943 - we were fighting for the survival of the Jewish community in Warsaw. We were fighting for mere life, not for territory, nor for a national identity. We were fighting with a hopeless determination, but our weapons were never directed against the defenceless civilian populations, we never killed women and children.In a world devoid of principles and values, despite a constant danger of death, we did remain faithful to these values and moral principles."

Despite his experiences, Marek Edelman never lost faith in the ability of people to transform themselves into something better. He believed that all people should be able to live in freedom, without fear and with respect and dignity. For Edelman, the lessons of the Holocaust were for all people to learn if the cry of 'Never Again' was to have real meaning. He never lost his Jewish Bundist outlook on the world that saw the special contribution that Jews could bring to building a just world.

Marek Edelman died on October 2nd 2009 aged 90. He was the last surviving member of the Ghetto uprising.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Soundtrack to a Paradigm Shift...or...

...Now That's What I Call, the Essential, Ultimate, Best of, Gold Collection, Israel-Palestine music crowd-sourced by readers of Micah's Paradigm Shift

I'm looking for your help to compile the ultimate Israel-Palestine music playlist. You can read my own suggestions below but before we get down to business, here's the topical connection and some (musical) notes by way of background.

I've just seen reported that Pink Floyd founder member, Roger Waters, is rounding up fellow musicians to record an song calling for a boycott of Israel in support of Palestinian rights. Waters is no slouch when it comes to campaigning on Israel-Palestine, as you can tell from the recent interview he gave to the Electronic Intifada

As a teenage Floyd fan in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I remember Waters name-checking the then Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, in his song about cruel and sadistic world leaders, 'The Fletcher Memorial Home'. It was 1982, the year of Israel's first Lebanon war and the massacre by Christian Phalangist militia of Palestinians living in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut (under the watching eyes of the Israeli Defence Forces). The passing mention of Begin was enough to start me on a long journey to understand the history of the State of Israel and the Zionist political philosophy that underpins it.

At the same time as buying Pink Floyd albums, I was also catching up on early Bob Dylan and discovering the world of protest songs. Looking back, it now seems as though the 1960s were the high point of this particular musical genre. The U.S. Civil Rights and the anti-Vietnam movements intersected perfectly with a creative musical explosion. For a few critical years in the mid-20th century, good politics and good popular music brilliantly coincided. All of this was built on the hard work work of previous generations, notably Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and the entire Black Gospel tradition that in turn led to Soul music. My own favourites from this time are Dylan's 'Masters of War' (with a tune borrowed from the English folk tradition) and the Curtis Mayfield Gospel/Soul classic 'People Get Ready'. Anything by Mavis Staples gets my vote too. If you want dive deep into the whole history of popular protest music then look no further than Dorian Lynskey's 33 Revolutions Per Minute published last year.

So, like many young people over the years, it wasn't political tracts, books or speeches that sparked my curiosity about what makes the world tick, but rather melody, rhythms, harmonies, back-beats, passionate vocals and inspired lyrics. 

I'm a firm believer that every socially progressive movement for change deserves its own musical soundtrack. A set of songs to keep the foot soldiers and keyboard tappers motivated and inspired through the long haul to the new world.

The international campaign for Palestinian rights and peace for all the inhabitants of Israel-Palestine is no different. However, so far, the musical aspect of this particular struggle has failed to take off despite a few concerted attempts.

For those readers that remember the anti-Apartheid era of the 1980s, there was Peter Gabriel's Biko from 1980, which reached no. 38 in the UK charts and then 'Free Nelson Mandela'  by the Special AKA in 1984 which reached no.9. Then in 1987 there was the techno-pop-jazz 'Bring Him Back Home' by the exiled South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela which gained world-wide attention.. Songs like these introduced my generation to the situation in South Africa and left us politicised for life. Only later did I integrate my thinking into a Jewish religious tradition that sanctifies all human life as equally precious in the eyes of God and that demands the eternal pursuit of  prophetic justice.

For a while now I've been looking out for songs that attempt to make sense of what's been happening in that tiny strip of land in the Middle East. Compared to South Africa, it seems to be taking a lot longer to reach the tipping point in the public's imagination so that a song akin to 'Free Nelson Mandela' can take hold and become the soundtrack of social change. That tells us something about how difficult it is to cut through the political dynamics that govern this particular conflict. But still, you have to start somewhere.

So below is my current Israel-Palestine iPod playlist (most tracks available via iTunes). There's a distinct bias in favour of British and American artists with a folky/country bent. Meanwhile, Jewish Israeli and Muslim and Christian Palestinian contributions are rather lacking at the moment.

So this is where I need your help. Take a look at my list and the 'sleeve notes' below and then let me know what you would like to add to the catalog. The songs need to be commercially available. You can post a comment below or use the Contact Micah form to send through your contributions. And let me know why your choices mean something to you.

In a few weeks I'll update the list.

Soundtrack to a Paradigm Shift 
(hyperlinks take you to YouTube clips)    
  1. Freedom for Palestine - One World
  2. The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie - Billy Bragg
  3. Road to Peace - Tom Waits
  4. On the Wrong Side of the Wall -  Rory McLeod
  5. Long Live Palestine -  Lowkey
  6. Jerusalem - Steve Earle
  7. My Father's Jewish World - Leon Rosselson
  8. On an April Day (Deir Yassin Remembered) - Garth Hewitt
  9. Song of the Magi - Anais Mitchell
  10. Donestan - Robert Wyatt     
Sleeve notes

1. Freedom for Palestine:  One World's straight-ahead, up-beat, dance-pop anthem for Palestine and Palestinian human rights "We are the people, And this is our time, Stand up, Sing out, for Palestine". Composed and produced by Dave Randall (Slovo\Faithless). The aim was to break through into the mainstream pop charts and so force broadcasters like the BBC to air the message. It didn't quite happen (only no.79 in the UK) but a noble effort and a great track.

2. The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie: Billy Bragg, the UK's post-punk doyen of protest song, borrows a tune and format from Bob Dylan's Civil Rights era to tell the story of the American peace activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she attempted to protect a Gazan family's home from demolition in Rafah in 2003. Bragg laments the fact that "the spilt blood of a single American is worth more than the blood of a 100 Palestinians." Full lyrics here.

3. Road to Peace: Tom Waits in his trade mark voice, shredded by razor blades, tells the story of a Palestinian suicide bomber during the second intifada who murders 17 Israeli Jews on a Jerusalem bus. The song goes on to recount the tit-for-tat consequences of the attack ("they say the killing has intensified along the Road to Peace") with the mood being one of a 'plague on both your houses'. However, Waits does call out the United States for its role in perpetuating the conflict. The final verse is worth pondering: "And if God is great, and God is good, Why can't he change the hearts of men ? Maybe God himself is lost and needs help, Maybe God himself needs all of our help, He's lost upon the Road to Peace."

4. On the Wrong Side of the Wall: This song by the highly talented UK folk singer Rory McLeod was written as part of a song project ('All Along the Wall') about Hadrian's Wall, the Roman built separation wall between England and Scotland. McLeod's, upbeat, jaunty tune with a catchy chorus uses the Roman wall as the epitome of all walls that separate people, exerting power and repression.There's no doubt that the Israeli separation wall was firmly in his mind: "Because the gates were closed we lost our crops, All gone to seed and flower, The wall is a way to grab our land, They tell us the wall's our security, But it stops us all who live nearby and we can't travel free."

5. Long Live Palestine: Lowkey is the 'rapper name' for Kreem Dennis, the London born rap activist who has an Iraqi mother and English father. His second album 'Soundtrack to the Struggle' is full of sharp, impassioned deconstructions of various political hypocrisies. The Long Live Palestine EP contains versions of the song with contributions from the Palestinian rap group DAM and the Anglo-Palestinian singer Shadia Mansour. One line, among many, that demands attention is: "Nothing is more Anti-Semitic than Zionism". I could write a whole blog post unpacking that one.

6. Jerusalem: American Steve Earle brings his Nashville country background to his political songwriting. In this song he wakes up to hear the news of "death machines rumblin' cross the ground where Jesus stood" and for a moment Earle is taken in by the news commentator saying there's "nothin' anyone could do or say" before regaining his senses and looking into his heart to find the way forward.

7. My Father's Jewish World: Leon Rosselson made his name in the early 1960s writing satirical folk songs for the UK's 'That Was the Week That Was' show. This song may be my favourite in this list. These lines come towards the end: "Now it's my father's face that meets me in the mirror, And I wonder what to me his Jewish legacy has been, The state of always being an outsider, Of asking why, and then asking why again, That precious strand of Jewishness that challenges authority, And dares to stand against the powers that be."

8. On an April Day (Deir Yassin Remembered): Garth Hewitt  (known as 'the troubadour' to friends, family and fans) has been treading the folk gospel scene around the world since the early 1970s harnessing the power of scripture to his social action agenda. Hewiit has more strings to his guitar though, founding the human rights charity Amos Trust in 1985, he was its director for 26 years. Hewitt's also a leading light of the Greenbelt festival. Here he tells the story of the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin and the massacre perpetrated by Jewish terrorist groups, notably the Irgun led by Menachem Begin, in 1948. It's the most well know example of what would now be described as 'ethnic cleansing' during the '48 war. "The children couldn't speak at all on an April day, They'd seen and heard too much, on an April day."

9. Song of the Magi: Anais Mitchell is an American folk singer who's made quite an impact on the UK folk scene in the last couple of years. This song from from her album 'The Brightness' tells the story of the three wise men and their journey to Bethlehem. The setting though is the Occupied West Bank: "We came through the cold, We came bearing gifts of gold, And frankincense and myrrh, And there were trumpets playing, There were angels looking down, On a West Bank town, And he so loved the world."

10. Donestan: Robert Wyatt's simple, jazz syncopated observation that: "Palestine's a country, or at least it used to be."  Snare drum and piano carry along Wyatt's child-like repetition of the facts.

Okay, now it's your turn and let's see what Roger Waters comes up with too.

Even before I publish this post, my older daughter, Rosie, wants to be first off the mark to suggest an addition. It's a political comedy song by Tim Minchin (now best known for writing 'Matilda - The Musical'). It's called 'Peace Anthem for Palestine' and you can see Minchin performing it on Youtube. The killer line is: "So if you don't eat pigs, and we don't eat pigs, why not, not eat pigs together!".

I look forward to hearing from you!!