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Amira Hass – an obstacle to peace

BS”D

 

Amira Hass, columnist at HaAretz, recently wrote a column where she not only defended rock-throwing Palestinians, but encouraged them to continue it. I know that Hass doesn’t harbor any warm feelings for Israel or the Israeli society, even less for the settlers, which are an expression of colonialism according to her opinion, as well as I know that she sympathizes strongly with the Palestinian cause, so much that she now lives in Ramallah. That I don’t have a problem with, I actually sympathize with the Palestinians as well, though not so much that I hate Israel and the Israeli society (true, there are elements I would love to be without, but no society is perfect).

 

Hass is entitled to her opinions on Israel and the conflict, and I can understand some of them, though agreeing with her in general is hard. When she objects to, and criticizes Israeli violence I agree, and I believe it should be condemned. So, for example, when Israeli soldiers are beating up Palestinian children (how often or not it might happen), or when settlers attack innocent Palestinians, on their way to their fields or just passing by. But her condemnations and criticism just underscore the amazing hypocrisy of hers. How in the world can you on one hand condemn violence and on the other hand encourage it? Particularly after the incidents that have passed lately, where we have seen a three-year old girl surviving only by a miracle, after stone-throwers caused the girl’s mother to crash with a truck!

 

I know what Hass would say; that it’s tragic and unfortunate, but that it’s the parents fault for bringing her there, being in the West Bank is cause of danger for Jews (or should be according to her opinion apparently), and to bring a girl there is the fault of those bringing her. Her flawed logic screams to heaven, here are some reasons why:

 

First, how did the stone-throwers know that there were Jews in the car? True, you can see whether the car is Israeli or Palestinian, based on the color of the number plates, but Palestinians with Israeli citizenship drive in Israeli cars, and as such can also be targeted. If this had been a Palestinian girl, rather than a Jewish, what would her explanation and reaction be? No need to guess, Israel would have been blamed for this, since the stone-throwers only throw stones as a reaction against Israeli occupation, leaving the stone-throwers as beings without any ability to reflect and think independently.

 

Second, that she finds it okay to target Jews, is in itself disgusting. If I can find some reason to justify the means, is it then okay to target Palestinians, women, Buddhist, or whatever I can think of, only based on my dislike towards a certain group, making all members of this group responsible for the actions of the few? Or is it up to Hass to decide when it is moral and when not?

 

Let us turn it around for a moment. Is it really a wise advice she gives the Palestinians? Is it something which will improve their situation? No, not really. Here are some reasons for that:

 

First, we already have enough violence, the last intifada should be proof enough for anyone that violence is not the answer, that violence only hardens the attitude of the Israelis, who need to be part of a stable agreement ending the conflict, making it harder for any Israeli political attempts to improve the situation.

Or let us say, for the sake of argument, that the Israeli politicians don’t want peace. Still, these actions of violence juts gives them excuses for not doing anything to improve the situation. Whether the one or the other, these actions of violence will backfire.

 

Second, the youth (and yes, we are talking mostly about youngsters, who most likely are bored and think that they actually are doing a great deed for the Palestinian cause) are endangering themselves. Make no mistake, some settlers are armed, and very ready to use their weapons in self-defense. Note; self-defense. Hass is encouraging young people to put their life at risk, for her confused sense of justice, knowing very well that stone-throwers most likely won’t make any changes, besides worsen the situation for the Palestinians. How I can know that? You don’t see her with the Palestinians throwing stones, she knows very well the dangers connected to doing this.

 

But here is the worst reason why Hass’ encouragement is despicable. She could be a bridge, she could connect the two sides, be an intermediate partner for peace, taking advantage of her knowledge and status in order to promote actions, where people from both sides could create something together and improve relations. Instead of that she chooses to encourage to violence and by that saw hatred on both side.

 

Hass is not among the “disciples of Aharon”, those striving for peace, ready to put themselves out there, risking themselves, in order to connect striving parties, creating communications and establishing friendship on the two sides, such as for example the late R. Froman, z”l, was. She is rather among the followers of Korach, who rebelled against the establishment of the Jewish people, not in order to promote justice, but in order to gain prestige and honor not deserved.

 

And why a newspaper like HaAretz wants to take part in this, is above me to understand.

Israel, Hamas, and the futileness of discussions

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Most of you probably already know, Israel and Hamas (and helpers) have again engaged in a round of escalated violence. Yet again the escalated attempts at killing each other of will begin, and yet again the discussions about who is to blame, with direct reporting from here and there, and experts sitting in the studio (who often aren’t experts) will tell us all how wrong the one side is, and how much the other side suffers.

I still remember January 2009 and its aftermath. Too many people were killed, and all over Europe there was an outcry for justice, which apparently for some involved the killing of all Jews. It will come again, in the same level, this time though – at least for the aware person – in the background of the killing of more than 30,000 civilians in Syria, without any greater demonstrations taking place.

Yet again we will here blame directed at the Palestinians or at Israel, attempting to portray either of them as terrorists and murderers. Yet again people will be blind to the faults of their own side, only seeing the faults of the other side. I’ve already witnessed it to great extant in less than 24 hours.

 

Last time I took active part in the discussions, this time I most likely won’t. People are dying on both sides, mostly innocent civilians, children. This morning three Israeli civilians died as well as the baby child of a Palestinian journalist. Being a soon-to-be-father I can imagine the pain, just the thought of seeing my own unborn son, has v’halilah, makes me cry. This won’t bring any good with it, just as last time we won’t see this lead to the end of fightings and the killing of people. On the contrary this will expose a lot of hypocrisies, particularly the double standards being exposed in way of criticism.

 

At work I have two colleagues being personally involved in this round of fightings. Well, all of us living here are, all of us have friends or family being within range of fire. But these two have close family in Gaza and Beer Sheva, the one being a Palestinian the other a Jew. When they meet today at work they can talk about the safety of their loved ones, or rather, the chances that they won’t see them again. Who is to blame? Forget about that, just let them be able to meet after this is over and be able to say, Alhamdulillah, my family is in good health.

 

So who is to blame? Let’s just have a couple of words or three about that. And who will benefit from this? The Israeli right wing and the extremist religious fanatics among the Palestinians, they will benefit from this. Some people have expressed thoughts on how curious it is, that this always happens before Israeli elections. I don’t know about “always”, but it does happens, and yes, it is curious. These people present it as a plan from the Israeli right wing, a scheme in order to make them seem strong and protective in the eyes of the Israeli public. Is this true? Yes and no. The Israeli right wing cannot just start a war, just because they want to. It is true that Likud and other right wing parties are gaining much more from this, politically, than the left wing, and that this certainly is a good time (if any) for the escalation of violence. But what these critical people fail to acknowledge (of some reason or another) is that this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Israel doesn’t just begin to bomb, just to do it. These people are totally ignoring the rockets being shot into Israel for a longer period or trying to excuse it. I’m sorry to say, I don’t accept any excuses for the conscious and deliberate targeting of civilians, no matter what. These critics – who blame Israel for breaking the ceasefire – also ignore the four rockets fired into Israel earlier yesterday before Israel targeted Ahmad Ja’abari, one of the top leaders in Hamas. This is ignoring facts, in order to make your understanding of what is going on fit into your bigger picture of things. And it is dishonest.

But here’s the deal. Even if Israel – per se – is only defending herself after the recent attacks on her civilians – and yes, I do believe that Israel has an obligation to do that, as any government in the world has, rather than killing them – the Israeli government, or Israel at large, does hold responsibility itself. Not necessarily for this particular escalation of violence, but for the overall situation we’re having. For making a mockery of the Palestinian side, though the Palestinian leaders also do that well. For not really wanting to give the Palestinian leadership something to bring their people, some acknowledgement of sort. Mahmoud Abbas lately stated in an interview, that he refused to hold the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel as a holy principle, acknowledging that it wouldn’t happen and Palestinians shouldn’t expect it to happen. For that he received a great deal of criticism among his own, while some Israeli politicians and opinion makers ridiculed him, refusing to take him serious. The same, of sorts, happened to Salem Fayyed when he tried to be productive, both among his own, but also among Israeli leaders. Fayyed is one person among the Palestinian leaders, which Israel really could trust, who was struggling (and still is) for honest and open relations, as well as attempting to fight corruption. He is today a shadow of what he was, after attempts to crush him both from Israelis and Palestinian leaders.

 

But also ordinary people are to blame. When we relate to each other as pure trash or bugs, then no wonder there is hatred and will for war, rather than attempts to create a future coexistence of some sort. Already now I have read statements like “make Gaza into a parking lot”, “bomb the fucking Arabs”, “a good Arab is a dead Arab”, “I won’t cry a single tear for any dead Palestinian, civilian or terrorist, since they all are terrorists”, as well as “Hitler lived for a purpose”, “I long to crush the Jew under my foot”, “a good Jew is a dead Jew”, and so on.

As related to earlier, also the one sided, black and white criticism is a cause for this. Just as critics of Israel is ignoring the faults of Hamas and other extremist groups, so do critics of the Palestinians ignore the faults of Israel, as already mention, but particularly the needs and suffering of the other side. Just as it should be acknowledged that Israeli children have to be near shelters at all times, also in schools, and that they didn’t choose this for themselves, neither did their parents, so it should be acknowledged that the Palestinians in Gaza didn’t accept this existence for themselves. Forget the “they voted for Hamas”. That is just ignorant. They didn’t vote for Hamas, they voted against Fatah and the corruption, and they really didn’t have an alternative.

 

There is a lot to be said, and many things probably will be said. The world will go crazy and fight about who is the sinner here, but the truth is that most of us are, and that the world are only helping to keep this conflict going with the ideologist or material interest there might be here, while refusing to relate pragmatically to what is going on.

In the meantime innocent will suffer and be killed, on both sides. Israelis and Palestinians are not two sides fighting each other, we are one side suffering from the same source. And we will continue to suffer until we realize this and relate to our situation pragmatically.

 

Happy New Year to all my Muslim brothers. I hope this latest escalation may be the last, inshallah, and that this new year will be a more peaceful one for all the children in ash-Sham, as well as in the rest of the world, inshallah.

Jewish Shari’a in Israel

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Or rather “the State of Halachic Courts in the Jewish State of Israel”.

As part of the curriculum for my studies in Shari’a in Israel, I read Adam Hofri’s “A Plurality of Discontent: Legal Pluralism, Religious Adjudication and the State”, which deals with the question of legal pluralism – i.e. the existence of more than one legal body in one state, as is the case in Israel (the secular legal body of the state, as well as the religious courts), and whether a modern state can “provide its citizens, residents and others subject to its power with a just and stable legal order by referring them to norms associated with their several religions and enforced by state courts”. He deals with the situation of Halachich Courts, i.e., Jewish religious courts, particular nonstate ones, which appear more and more. Basically, he argues by focusing on Israel as a case study, legal pluralism, where the state gives room for religious courts to cover at least some legal fields, most often matters of family and personal law, will only encourage the religious to struggle for more influence and authority.

 

In Israel we have seen the later years a growing rate of Halachic nonstate courts, which offers an alternative to the secular courts on matters of economical disputes, but not so much on matters of family law or personal law, which he explains as being because the latter is already covered by Rabbinical authorities, that is, the Rabbinate supervised by the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), and as such holding recognition from the group behind the Halachic nonstate courts, the conservative element among the Religious Zionist, the HarDal (Haredim Dati-Leumi). He also explains why criminal cases is not covered, by relating to the most likely aggressive response by the state, should they choose to cover these cases.

 

It is no secret that the religious influence in Israel (as well as other places), have grown within the last decade (or even more). This – of course – also leaves its imprints on the legal system and the relation between the secular state and her religious citizens in regards of legal questions, particularly in context of the Judaic focus on law, so that there will be growing demands for religious alternatives and conflicts between religious and the state (as for example was the case in 2006, when the Supreme Court of Israel ruled, that the Rabbinical courts could not hear private and commercial cases as arbitrators, something the Rabbinical courts has since ignored, though the number of cases brought to them are descending since).

 

Still, it could wonder why Religious Zionists chose to establish nonstate courts, rather than put pressure or force the state to accept a growing religious influence in its courts (which I personally believe is happening), to which Hofri offers six reasons:

 

1: Identification of the State Legal System as a Standard-Bearer for Secularism.

2: Delegitimation of the State Rabbinical Courts’ Practice of Arbitrating Private Law and Commercial Cases.

3: An Increased Supply of Religious Zionist Halachic Experts.

4: The Religious Radicalization of Part of Religious Zionist Society.

5: The Impact of Israel’s 2005 “Disengagement” from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria.

6: Hopes that Non-Observant Use of Halachic Adjudication will Encourage the Adoption of Halacha as State Law.

 

That is, the Religious Zionist, or at least the more conservative element among them, see the growing secularism in Israel, or more at least in the Israeli legal system, where the Supreme Court in the recent years mostly have ruled against the Religious Zionists or what they hold as important, such as the settlement activity.

Furthermore they see that the Rabbinical authorities have lost influence and authority on matters, where the Religious Zionists otherwise would have turned to their courts, which leads them to create their own alternatives. It is not without reason that commercial matters is the most covered field in Halachic nonstate courts.

Also the growing number of Religious Zionists being educated in Halachah at Yeshivot, as well as Religious Zionists with a Rabbinical degree receiving even more advanced training in Halachical issue, as well as their feeling with “real life”, something the Haredim are lacking, is a reason for wanting to create more job opportunities.

We see the radicalization of the Religious Zionist right, where some groups even are calling to struggle against the (secular) state of Israel, as a protection of Jewish values and homeland, thinking in terms of wanting to establish a Jewish religious alternative to the secular courts. Where some Religious Zionists are becoming more “secular”, wearing their religion “lightly” and taking more part in the secular society, others are becoming more “haredized”, turning closer to the strict understanding of Halachic law and principles.

The disengagement from Gaza and some settlements in 2005 made the Religious Zionists feel let down by the state, even betrayed, which created a split between them and the state. They don’t trust the state now as they did before, and are more ready to confront and challenge the state on principles, which they hold as important, such as the implementation of Halachah.

And finally, some Religious Zionist halachic thinkers are hoping that by creating a cheaper and more effective legal alternative to the secular courts, they can make the less religious or even non-observant public realize the ethical principles of Halachah, and by that making it easier to implement Halachah into Israeli law.

 

This is of course mostly related to Jewish religious law in Israel, but I believe that we can see some of the same factors in the Muslim case. First and foremost, Israeli Palestinian Muslims have never felt close to the state of obvious reasons, so relating to a state institution might seem hard already. We also do experience a radicalization of Muslim youth, both in the territories and in Israel proper, where the Islamic Movement has gain ground within the last two decades and publicly is challenging the Shari’a courts and their qadis.

But where I see a big difference is in the attitude of religious judges in the Jewish courts to the nonstate courts, compared to the Muslim ditto to the Islamic Movement’s call on nonstate Shari’a courts. Where the former is positive, the latter is negative. How this is portrayed and why, is something I’m going to look into later on.

Shari’a in Israel

BS”D

First, let me send thoughts to all the victims from Sandy, whether in the States or elsewhere. If any of you readers felt the impact, then let me express my relief that you are able to read this post by now. I sincerely hope that you weren’t affected too much of the storm.

 

Back to the title.

Yes, you read correct.

Israel is – or at least claims to be – a secular Jewish democracy, but yet is religious law part of Israeli law. One might not be so surprised that Jewish religious law, Halachah, is influencial on Israeli secular law, Mishpat Ivrit, but some might wonder why and how Shari’a can be influential on Israeli law.

There’s a good explanation. Israeli law is to a certain extent based on the model of Ottoman law, which was taken over by the British during the mandate period, and now in Israeli law. To be more precisely, based on Ottoman law Israel recognize a number of religious groups, which are governing themselves according to their respective religious law, in matters related to family law and privacy law. It is clearest expressed in matters of marriage and divorce, but also guardianship is falling under the religious courts, but whereas Israeli secular law rarely relates to the two first, the latter is more a focus of controversy, as well as cases involving the question of equality (as is the case for most conflicts between Israeli secular law and religious law in Israel). More about that in another post.

Israel has eight regional Shari’a courts, in Bir al-Sabi’, Jerusalem, Yaffo, Taybe, Baqa al-Gharbiya, Hayfa, Nazareth, and Acco, as well as the Shari’a court of Appeals, sitting in Jerusalem, which works as the court of appeals (hence the name). The Shari’a Court of Appeals plays a crucial role in the development of Shari’ah in Israel, since it is this institution which takes the most confrontations with the Israeli legal system, as well as being able to overrule rulings from the regional courts. It is headed by Qadi Ahmad Natour, and besides him has Qadi Farouk Zoebi and Qadi Zachi Madlaj, all elected in 1994 on permanent status (first time that happened).

The Shari’a Court of Appeal is challenged from three sides; the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice, on matters where Israeli secular law and the rulings of the Shari’ah Court of Appeals conflict, from the Islamic Movement(s), which questions and challenges the authority of the Court, and from feminist groups, challenging the lack of sensibility to the status of women and human rights.

 

There are a number of scholars dealing with the subject, mostly Israelis (Jewish and Palestinians), but three of them stand out in particular, Aharon Layish, who have written indepth on a number of subject connected to Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) within Israel (both in case of the Shari’a courts and conflicts between the courts and the litigants) and historically. Moussa Abu Ramadan, who has written very indepth on the rulings and practices of the Shari’ah courts, particularly the Shari’ah Court of Appeals. And Alisa Rubin Peled, who has written about the debates and attitudes to the Shari’ah courts.

It is these three that I will base most of my study of Israeli Shari’ah upon, but still relate to others as well.

 

This post is a little introduction to my study of Shari’ah in Israel, and I hope there will come many more posts. From what I have read so far it really seems like an interesting subject, not only because it’s about Isreal and Shari’ah (in context of each other), but also because it raises some interesting thoughts on the relation between religion and a/the secular society it exists within. What is the role of religion in a modern society? Where should the borders go, if there should be any at all? Is it possible to implement religious law into secular law? And so on.

 

Enough for this time. Take care out there.

Settlers beating Palestinians!

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And this is actually positive news. No, I haven’t suddenly turned extremist, what I’m referring to is a friendly match between settlers from Beit Aryah and Palestinian residents from the neighboring city of al-Laban, who celebrated a new soccer field with a friendly match. Here’s the good news: the settlers beat the Palestinians 11 to 0! Yeah! No, as one of the Palestinians said, “this is for fun, for sport and for friendship,” and that is good news.

Sure, the conflict is still on, the situation hasn’t suddenly changed 180 degrees, people in Israel still have to fear terror and Palestinians are still living under occupation, but that settlers and Palestinians are showing more and more signs on wanting to exist together, is definitely something that points in the right direction. So for me, at least, this is great news and it is yet one of those positive stories, which also takes place down here.

Read more here.

Why Law and Religion – The Attempt to Define Identity

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I have earlier talked a little about why I chose to study religion, but the other day I was asked why I chose to focus on law in religion. What is it about law, which triggers me, makes me aware, makes me want to understand the finesses and theories, which by others would be considered way too boring or abstract to even begin considering it? Well, it’s a little complicated to explain, but I will give a try anyway. But first I need to correct something I wrote in the before mentioned post on why I chose to study Comparative Religion. There I wrote that I would be focusing on the role of the woman in Israel, something which has changed. Or actually, I returned to my first focus though I at the time wasn’t so sure that that was my focus. What I want to say is that my focus is going to be on the mutual attitudes between Jews and Muslims, especially in the context of religion in Israel.

But there’s more to it than that. During my under-graduate studies I took my minor in cultural studies, where identity and the thought on identity preoccupied my quite a lot. It still does. The whole question of how we identify ourselves and what influences this really talks to me, I find it fascinating. Not only that, how do we relate to each other based on that, is also something which, I think, is of crucial importance.

Law and religion is two very strong identity markers, each in its own way. Religion as deciding on identity is obvious, people normally identify themselves according to what they believe, in some cases according to what they think they believe, as well as relating themselves to those who share their beliefs. Law is different; law is more of a deciding factor in how you are identified by those deciding the law. Law doesn’t care much about feelings, only facts (true, those deciding the laws might pay attention to feelings, but they will still have to establish a structured defining system, otherwise making the law too vague to decide anything). But law can also be influenced by those following it or relating to it, by whether they accept it at all (or have to be forced to it) or choose to relate to another system of laws instead. And what will happen in that case?

I’ve downloaded the introduction to a book called “Law and Identity in Mandate Palestine,” written by Assaf Likhovski, which deals a lot with what I’m focusing on, though not so much from the perspective of religion. Likhovski writes about his book that it “is a book about the role of law in defining the self and the collective, in balancing tradition and modernity, Western and non-Western norms. Every non-Western culture confronts this problem, which also constitutes one of the main issues in the momentous conflict between Islam and the West that is now unfolding before our eyes. In this battle, law plays an important role. It serves as a banner under which combatants fight, a weapon for overcoming enemies, a middle ground for meeting them. Law also defines the nature of the participants in the conflict.

Law is definitely defining for identity, especially in relation to who is among “us” and who isn’t. Everyone the law grants rights and citizenship is per definition one of “us,” everybody isn’t granted this is not. And law is used in this perspective as a weapon, everybody with just the faintest knowledge of the right of return here in Israel, should be aware about that.

Likhovski later relates to the status of the whole matter of identity in then Palestine, and how it was without any clear form:

“Another singular aspect of the country was the unstable identity of its inhabitants. Many twentieth-century societies witnessed a process of identity transformation— the rejection of traditional identities based on religious or tribal loyalty and their replacement by modern national identities. But in mandate Palestine, the process of identity transformation was especially evident. Here Muslim and Christian politicians were engaged in constructing a new Arab identity following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Zionist Jews were busy creating a novel “Hebrew” self, purged of the marks of the Jewish exile. Even British rulers were occupied with reexamining the foundations of their imperialism in response to the challenges posed by the interwar era.”

I believe we still struggle with the problem down here even today. I can point to a couple of examples on the struggle between identities, for example Israeli vs. Jewish, Palestinian vs. Israeli, Arab vs. Palestinian, all being dealt with in extensive discussions. For example, according to the law on Right of Return every Jew, descendant of a Jew, or spouse of a Jew, has the right of return to Israel, becoming a “Oleh Hadash.” There are some exceptions and details influencing the final decision on whether one is allowed in or not, but all in all the law is rather clear. Or actually it isn’t. The problem is who is a “Jew,” a question which has been discussed for millennia (just see the Biblical account on the ‘Yehudim’ vs. the Samarians in the Book of Ezra and Nehamyah), and today is the cause of great fights between various Jewish groups, particular between the Reform movement in the States and Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel. Here a secular law is suddenly being caught up in the discussion of a religious law and how it should be deciding in favor to or against a defined group of participants. The problem is not so much on those descendants from Jews, being for sure Jews, but rather those who convert within the Reform movement and as such will not be recognized as Jews by the Orthodox Rabbinate.

Another example, to stay here in Israel, is the one of being Palestinian and/or Israeli. How are Palestinians defining themselves here in Israel? The vast majority of them do define themselves as Palestinian, though some refuse to define themselves this way, but rather prefer to describe themselves as Israeli Arabs. Some define themselves as Israeli Palestinians, but still, most define themselves as Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, or so it is my experience. But it doesn’t stop there, this is only a question of nationality and belonging to either or both nationalities (Palestinian and Israeli), another question appears when we deal with religion, having most Palestinians in Israel being Muslim, but a large majority being Christian, and the religious definition is important, and can be of crucial matter, also in comparison on whether one first define him or herself as Muslim or Palestinian. This is a matter which can cause conflict between the Islamic movements and the nationalist movements. Take an example as Hizb ut-Tahrir, which calls for a Caliphate, not a Palestinian state (since that would be a national state based on Western ideas and as such against Islam), and how their expectations would clash with the nationalist expectations of the more secular Palestinian movements (or maybe even other Islamist movements not sharing the same expectations).

In the meeting between religion and the secular society, especially in the question of law, insights and understandings of how identity is defined, as well as the flexibility and demands of the religion is extremely important. Does the religion demand total loyalty, denying any acceptance of other authorities besides its own authority? How does it allow to rule on behalf of it? How are we dealing with conflicting identities and definitions of identities? Those questions are among the questions I hope to deal with, because in a country like Israel these questions are important to answer, in order to understand the relations and mutual attitudes between Jews and Muslims of today. And that is why I’m focusing on law in the two religions. Among some other reason as well.

Nakba-Day

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Tomorrow it’s the 15th of May 2012. This day marks the 64th year after what is known as yom an-Nakba among Palestinians. Nakba is Arabic for ‘catastrophe’ and relates to the several hundred of thousands of Palestinians, who had to leave their homes when the war between the Arab alliance and Israel broke out, a war which was the result of Israel’s independence just the day before. It is a day which marks the tragic destiny for more than 700,000 Palestinians, and a day which coincides with a day, which for the majority of the Israelis, is a day of joy, namely the Israeli Independence Day, Yom Ha’Atzmaut.[1]

In Israel Yom Ha’Atzmaut is celebrated all over the nation with barbeques, parties, and concerts. Yom an-Nakba is not, it shouldn’t be, it’s a day of mourning, but it’s not even commemorated. Okay, one could understand that, it’s part of the Palestinian narrative, not the Israeli, but the Israeli Palestinians are not even allowed to commemorate the day. I find it criticizable.

I am a Zionist, a Jew, married to an Israeli, and living in Israel. I do celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, as well as I commemorate the fallen Israeli soldier, who gave their lives protecting the country. I do doubt some versions of what happened during the independence war with the Arab armies, but I know that at least part of the Palestinians leaving their homes were forced to do it by Israeli soldiers, that is – or should be – beyond doubt. There are a lot of discussions surrounding the war. Who were really the evil ones, who did the greatest atrocities, did the Palestinians leave freely, and so on. But those are for the historians to discuss, and while many people choose to be one-sided, only relying on those historians who give the account which fits their narrative, I try to be objective, or at least as objective as I can.

That aside, discussion aside, no matter how big a role Israel played in this, no matter how many Palestinians left of their own will, we still witness the consequences of the war (and the later war in 1967), having millions of Palestinians still living in refugee camps, under terrible conditions. True, some camps are more reminding of cities today, but that doesn’t go for all of them, probably only few of them. I wouldn’t like to live in them, and I bet that most would agree with me that no one deserves to live in them. I don’t blame Israel for this, at least not alone or totally. Many refugee camps are either found in Lebanon, Syria, or Jordan, and while Jordanese Palestinians, I think, have somewhat normal lives, that’s not the situation for the Lebanese or Syrian Palestinians. It actually doesn’t matter much who is to blame, that won’t change their situation.

I can’t do anything personally, besides raise awareness of the situation millions of people are living in. I can do that without blaming people, I can do that in order to change that situation for the better. True, there are people out there who live even worse lives, but the Palestinians are part of my destiny, as a Jew living in Israel. And – again – though I do celebrate the day Israel came into existence, no matter how much or little I might agree or disagree with various Israeli policies, I do mourn the sacrifices which had to be given for this. I do mourn that we, 64 years after the establishment of Israel, still have to live and experience the consequences of war.

I can’t change their situation, but I can raise awareness of it. And I won’t tell Israel to solve it, not alone at least, nor to take blame, not all at least. But at least allow people to mourn. At least that.


[1] These days rarely fall next after each other today, since Israel is following the Jewish calendar, which is a lunar calendar, whereas the date for the Nakba-day follow the Western solar calendar.

Learn Arabic With Maha

BS”D

Some time ago I wrote some thoughts on the being pro- or anti-something. Often when we are dealing with various conflicts people are either found pro- the one side or anti- the other side. We see it in the debate in Europe about Islam and Muslims, where people are either taking the side for or against, mostly. Not very many are attempting to stay nuanced and balanced in their approach to European Muslims or Islam in Europe. The schism is focused around the meeting between Western Culture on the one hand, and Islamic Civilization (as I’ve seen it expressed) on the other hand. In this meeting the contrasts are very outspoken, for example in issues such as freedom of speech vs. not making blasphemous and hurtful comments, as well as the way of dressing, dressing sexual provocative vs. covering up in hijab and the like. Another good example is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where people are often either for Israel or for Palestine. Or that is how it appears. I’m inclined to think that there are a lot of people who are pro-Israel/anti-Palestine, as well as a lot of people who are anti-Israel, without necessarily being pro-Palestine. Why? Well, when the whole focus is on how bad Israel is, without thinking in wider terms of circumstances of the Palestinians, such as in Lebanon, Syria and other countries, while the whole focus is on how evil Israel is, then people don’t come out as pro-Palestinian to me, but rather anti-Israel. Their focus is Israel, not Palestinians, and only in the negative. For example, why don’t you see these people promote Palestinian culture? Or struggling for the rights of Palestinians in for example Lebanon? Because their focus is against Israel, not for Palestinians. The only reason they are “for Palestinians” is mostly because the Palestinian is used as the opposition to Israel. Sadly.

Okay, why am I stating all this, and what does that have to do with my title? Well, once in a while I do come across a true pro-Palestinian person or approach. I admire the few who take this approach, wanting to represent the Palestinians for their best. Maha, who has a Youtube-channel, where she teaches Arabic (as well as Italian and Hebrew once in a while), is one of these persons. I believe that we would come a long way, if only more people would take her approach, attempting to show the best, especially if it happened on both “sides.” We don’t need haters, we need lovers. Not necessarily lovers of both sides, but at least people who love their own side, without having to succumb to hatred for the other side.

I have to point out, and apologize to Maha in advance if it is going to be the case, that she hasn’t herself expressed any of the above views, those views and thoughts are mine or based on how I understand and experience things. I don’t want to catch her in a political fight, I’m not aware of her political views, the sole reason for promoting her, is that she – for me – come out as a positive example, that more people should strive to become like. She might hate Israel and Israelis from all of her heart (I don’t think so), but if so she has chosen not to let that be what defines her, rather her love for the Arabic language, Palestine and Palestinian culture. Whether I agree with her or not, I truly do respect that.

So, all of you out there reading this, please check her channel out, especially if you want to learn Arabic and how Palestinians also can express themselves. It’s definitely a visit worth.

May the Compassionate One bless the State of Israel, first Flowering of our Redemption

BS”D

I read an article, “Who Broke their Vow First? The ‘Three Vows’ and Contemporary Thinking about Jewish Holy War,” by R. Reuven Firestone on the Three Vows and the concept of Holy War in Judaism. For those of you who have dealt a little with discussions on Jewish religious approaches to Zionism and the existence of the State of Israel, the Three Vows probably sound familiar, but for those of you who haven’t, I can shortly explain that they are three ‘vows,’ which are based on three verses in the Song of Songs, interpreted as God forbidding the Jewish People to immigrate to the Holy Land as a ‘wall,’ as well as not to ‘rebel’ against the nations, and the nations not to ‘overly succumb’ the Jews.

It is a very interesting article, which is part of the book “The Just War: Violence in Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” where Firestone reviews the basic understanding of the concept of ‘Holy War’ in Judaism and according the Hebrew Scriptures, the basis for the Three Vows, as well as later reactions for or against them, as well as interpretations of them, particular in the period of 1948 to recent days.

I can strongly recommend it for anyone wanting to get an idea of religious Zionist approaches and thoughts both on the State of Israel as well as the Three Vows.

Anyway, the article made me think a little on my own position as a religious Jew and as a Zionist. Not that I haven’t thought so much about it before or that I wouldn’t be able to explain my position, but still, the article did make feel more clear about some points.

As you might have noticed I formulated my position as a religious Jew and as a Zionist, not as a religious Zionist. There is a reason for that, namely that I differ on my positions between the two, not being a religious Zionist Jew, but rather a religious Jew and a Zionist. Sounds confusing? I know, and I see why. The thing is, I am a Zionist because I believe that Jews, as well as every other people out there, be it Italians, Tibetans, Kurds or Samis, not necessarily based on the expulsion of others, but rather as defining a homeland for them and their’s. I’m not going into so much details about that here, nor about how I differ between ‘people’ (as in German ‘Volkschlag’), ‘ethnicities,’ and ‘races.’ Rather that this is a pragmatic approach, which is not motivated or based on my religious faith. And I am a religious Jew, because I believe in God and that He gave the Torah as a Divine Guidance for His People. I’m not going into details about what I mean by this either, for anyone being curious enough, you are more than welcome to ask.

So on the one hand I am a Zionist, and on the other a religious Jew. The two of those don’t necessarily have to be opposed, but they are differing approaches to how I view myself, my people, the existence of a ‘Jewish’ state, and our relation and responsibilities to God.

I would define the difference between my position, as a Zionist, and a religious Zionist, as a religious Zionist believing that the State of Israel is the beginning of redemption, seeing that this is a Divine Plan, or something the like. In that sense the State of Israel, while not being the Land of Israel (Medinat Yisrael vs. Eretz Yisrael), is inheriting some kind of divinity. That is, as a Jew you are supposed to be loyal to it.

I don’t see it that way, I see the State of Israel as a state, a Jewish one (whatever that means), as I see Denmark as a Christian state, both being secular, but both giving a special place for Judaism and Christianity respectively as the main religions, but not the only religions. Neither do I see the State of Israel as the beginning of redemption, though I certainly pray for its wellbeing, as I did and still do with Denmark, and for the whole humankind. For example, when I pray the ‘Birkat HaMazon,’ the prayer said after eating bread, the Koren Siddur, which I use, has the addition of blessing Israel being the beginning of the Redemption, which I have used as title for this post, though this is in no way standard for the most Siddurim. This addition I don’t pray, though I do pray for the wellbeing of the soldiers in IDF, who are ‘standing guard’ over Israel.

That also mean, which I believe has been the case until now at least, that you never will see me use any religious arguments for Israel’s presence in the West Bank/Yehudah v’Shomron, though I do believe that it is good and right of Jews to live here, but not only Jews, and not necessarily under Israeli authority.

So in conclusion, being a religious Jew and a Zionist, does not necessarily makes you a religious Zionist, though that certainly most often is the case. And, I have to stress, this also mean that I’m leaning to a separation of state and synagogue, letting religion be part of the private sphere of life (not invisible though, nor ignored, on the contrary), at least until the Coming of Mashiah, may it happen speedily in our days, BE”H. Until then I’d rather support a secular state for the Jews and its citizens.

 

Gunter Grass and the Freedom of Speech

BS”D

I really don’t want to deal with politics, but again I have to speak my mind. This time about the infamous poem of Gunter Grass, apparently most known for being a German intellectual and a former member of a Waffen Panzer division. And now also for confusing Israel and Iran (at least it seems like that for me).

Now, Grass has received a lot of criticism for his latest poem, where he accuses Israel for being a thread against world peace, posing a threat against the Iranian people, possibly wiping out the whole population of Iran, as well as other like accusations. Needlessly to say, Israel didn’t take this light, nor did many other reactions show too much of support for Grass’ thoughts as they were expressed in the poem.

Of course I have my thoughts on his poem, and on his stance as well, especially his confusion of who wants to eradicate who, having Israel threaten to attack targets in Iran, true, but never threatening, as Iran has, to “wipe of the country of the map.” But that’s not so much my focus here. My focus is more on the reactions, some of which I find wise, and others I find, well, less wise. Okay, not wise at all.

One thing is the reactions against his poem. That is fine and well, I sincerely do believe that his poem and thoughts should be reacted to. Another thing is the demand to censure him or – as is the case now here in Israel, after Eli Yishai’s rather childish reaction – to prohibit him to enter.

One of the foundations of Democracy is free speech. That freedom should be given to anybody, whether one agrees with them or not, also Gunter Grass. He is in his full right to express his opinion, no matter how wrong or stupid we might find it, as well as we are in our full right to react to his opinions and statements. That is what creates a healthy debate in democracies. If we disagree with a person, then it should be expressed orally. Therefor it goes counter to what we believe in, when we believe in the freedom of speech and Democracy. That is one thing.

Prohibiting Grass from entering Israel is not only childish, it is also stupid. Rather instead he should be invited to Israel, so he could see for himself how life really is here. Instead we prevented ourselves (or Yishai did) to show him that he is wrong, to instead maybe even cause him to think that he actually is right. If Israel doesn’t have anything to hide (and here I’m not thinking about security matters or the like), then we shouldn’t prevent people from seeing the country and the society, no matter how twisted and wrong their views might be, especially not if that is the case. If they indeed are honest, then they will admit their erroneous views, as for exampel was the case for Nicky Larkin.

I’m against silencing people, no matter how annoying I find them, how much I disagree with them, or how much I have to shake my head in disbelieve caused by their lack of knowledge of simple facts (or refusing to acknowledge them). They are not being shown their errors by trying to silence them, rather that would enforce them in their believe that they are right. They are being shown their errors by pointing out their errors. This is the way a Democracy deals with differing opinions.