The Conversation: Making Sense of These Times
A Mighty Companions Project


Suzanne writes to Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom, in response to his "Yom Ha-Atzmaut" (Israeli Independence Day) comments, defending Israel to an audience of Jewish children:

I am ashamed to be Jewish when I read this – that you would whitewash the atrocities being committed by Israelis, which are bad enough to cause hundreds of Jewish army officer "refuseniks" to refuse to serve. Upholding the absolute right of what Israel is doing, lamely justifying it because "none of the reports [of Israeli atrocities] were independently confirmed, verified, or corroborated," is akin to the Catholic clergy turning a deaf ear to the horrors committed by their own. Getting on a side and indiscriminately defending the indefensible feeds the fires of what can destroy humanity.

The reasoning in which you do your whitewashing invokes the stuff of holy war, justifying everything we Jews do by reminding us of what was done to us – no matter that innocent civilians on the "other side" were not the perpetrators of what was done; we are justified in wiping out all peoples who aren't us. It is maddening to me when you tell us how unhappy you are that "Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned Israel's 'brutal practices in the occupied Palestinian territories,'" and that "UNESCO issued a resolution condemning the Israeli attacks on the cultural centres and holy sites in Palestine," when, "Strangely, they said nothing of synagogues burned in France or exploded in Tunisia." So, let me see, the logic of this is that you justify what was done by Israelis that evoked these condemnations because of what was done to innocent Jews in other arenas – you would slaughter one group of innocents to counter the slaughter of another.

I'm with Robert Scheer [see Five Star Piece, U.S. Jews Cannot Acquiesce to Sharon's Monstrous Behavior]. "Those are not my tanks killing Palestinians." And you are not my religion's rabbi.

Rabbi Feinstein responds:

And if it turns out that there were no atrocities, as Colin Powell asserted yesterday in his testimony before the Senate Committee, will you stop being ashamed of being Jewish?

Incidentally, of the 30,000 reservists called up to serve in this operation, all but a tiny handful showed up for duty. The protest of reservists was put on hold because Israel understood the need for this war.

I don't believe in the occupation of Palestinian lands. And I look forward to the day when a Palestinian state is established there. I would not have voted for Ariel Sharon. But in the meantime, Israel has right to defend itself from terrorism.

Suzanne responds:

The problem is that it goes beyond defense and into brutality – you get it in your gut when you listen to first hand accounts. But, even if you aren't convinced by them or by anything, how can you present such a strident whitewash when it could turn out that there were atrocities?

Perhaps you could look at these stories, which might mitigate against your certainty:

"Witness to horror Nothing excuses the cold-blooded Israeli attacks upon the civilian population of Palestine"

"News from the front Welcome to hell, where the children smile amid the gunfire"

"This Sinking Ship of Fools"

"US Morality Distorted by September 11"

"Open Letter to American Jews Assaf Oron, a Jewish 'refusenik'"

"To the Courageous Soldiers Who Say 'NO!'"

Rabbi Feinstein responds:

There are equally compelling stories from Israeli soldiers, mostly reservists, who report their experiences in Jenin. They found homes and shops heavily booby-trapped with gunmen waiting in ambush. They made genuine efforts to evacuate civilians, innocents, before advancing. They provided care for those wounded in the fray.

America avoided all this...we just bombed Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq from high altitudes and accepted the destruction of hospitals, schools, embassies, etc., as the cost of doing business. We killed thousands of innocents in these campaigns. Are you ashamed to be an American?

Israel didn't need to go in on the ground. It would have been much more expedient to bomb from the sky like America. They undertook the ground assault, with all its dangers, in order to try and save innocent lives.

Suzanne responds:

You haven't read the pieces I sent. I can't imagine you responding this way if you had, to a situation that goes far beyond Jenin. And it is troubling to find you in such an eye for an eye groove, as if one atrocity justifies another. What I originally said to you was, "I am ashamed to be Jewish when I read this – that you would whitewash the atrocities being committed by Israelis." It is you that makes me ashamed of being Jewish, as you gave such an abhorrent message to little children, indoctrinating them in the ways of hate. You also would see, if you got on my site, that I am not proud to be the American that George Bush speaks for.

Here are excerpts from the first piece I listed for you, "Witness to horror: Nothing excuses the cold-blooded Israeli attacks upon the civilian population of Palestine," dated April 4, by Geov Parrish, a Seattle columnist, who personally knows some of the people he quotes:

Eyewitness accounts are pouring out of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and other points where the Israeli Army is engaged in a full-scale attack upon the civilian population of matter how horrific Israel's losses have been at the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers, nothing – absolutely nothing – excuses the cold-blooded Israeli attacks upon the civilian population of Palestine that continue as you read this. Reports from Israel suggest Ariel Sharon's government intends to wage this "campaign" until all of Palestine has been subjected to it.

...this is no "ordinary" war; it is not even a war, because with few exceptions the "enemy" is not shooting back, is not even present. And in the course of the resulting death and destruction, Israel is violating just about every known convention for how humanity has agreed to conduct itself during its most inhumane moments. Consider these accounts from the last 48 hours:

"The Israeli aircrafts have already started firing at [the] Aida Refugees' camp.... The Israeli soldiers do not care anymore at whom their guns are pointed." – George Rishmawi, Bethlehem

"More than 150 Israeli tanks invaded [the Bethlehem area from all directions. Heavy shooting and shelling is regular all morning long. The Israeli army is moving towards the Church of Nativity. Bethlehem is sliced into a dozen isolated areas. Soldiers and Apaches are shooting at any moving target." – Ghassan, Bethlehem

"Tonight we have heard numerous reports of 30 Palestinian policemen executed in cold blood by Israeli soldiers in a building where they sought refuge on Irssal Street in Ramallah. This was after five Palestinian officers were executed by being shot [in] the head and then had their corpses thrown on the pavement for hours on Friday. Ambulances are prevented from reaching their destinations and two hospitals have either been broken into [Arabcare] or shot at [Nazer Maternity Hospital]...One of the employees of the Sakakini Center [said] the Israeli army burst into his village [Kobar] yesterday, destroyed belongings and arrested his younger brother, alongside 30 other young men from the village.

"The cleaning lady of the Center lives in a house with an outhouse for toilets. For three days the Israelis have been posted by the door to her house and preventing all exit. When the eldest today sneaked out to the outhouse, the Israelis caught him and beat him. His school teacher father tried to intervene, [and] the Israelis beat him and arrested him.

"One of the board members of our center was arrested with all the employees of the office building where he was working late Thursday night. They were all blindfolded and had their hands tied and placed in one room for 16 hours. The Israelis destroyed some office furniture and stole hard drives from computers. They all untied themselves once they realized the Israelis had gone on to bigger prey.

"My next-door neighbor's 70+-year-old father lives near Yasser Arafat's office. The Israelis broke into his home Friday, broke everything with the butts of their rifles (TV, sinks, furniture, etc…) and then stole some money.

"There are reports also of Israeli soldiers breaking into banks and change offices and jewelry stores and stealing money and jewelry...." – Adila Laidi, Director, Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, Ramallah

"Israeli tanks were waiting outside the front of the house. Israelis have been going into houses taking food and leaving. Also, they have been going into houses and taking all men ages 15 to 50. Some have been taken away. Others have been stripped and left in the street for several hours in the cold and rain.

"This morning the President of the Red Crescent Society [Red Cross] [Younis Al-Khatib] was taken from his office by Israeli soldiers, made to crawl on his hands and knees in the street in the rain, and then arrested. Many medics have been arrested. PRCS officially announced that there is no ambulance service for the sick and injured in Ramallah. Israelis will not let ambulances pass, and the medics are taken away." – Caroline, Ramallah, as told via phone to a Seattle friend

"Things here are shifting again slightly, but not enough. there are still large numbers of wounded in Manger Square in the center of the old city, and many dead lying in the streets or in houses from which they cannot be removed [update this second: the family who had two members killed by a tank shell have managed to get them out]. The mosque, in which people were hiding, was shelled by tanks, and there are 150-200 holed up in the Church of the Nativity; we've just spoken to one of them and no medics have been allowed through but nuns have been attending the injured. Injured in [the] Deheishe refugee camp have also been denied access to [a] hospital, and we've just watched from our window as Israeli troops surrounded and searched a Red Crescent ambulance.

"Another ambulance was crushed by a tank this morning in Beit Kala. A group of internationals attempted to accompany an ambulance to Manger Square to get humanitarian aid to those trapped, but they were fired on; apparently the Israelis had chosen (without telling anyone) that they would use their clocks and not Palestinian time to time the curfew and thus decided to shoot at people....

"In Ramallah, a group of 2,000 Israelis [Gush Shalom] and Arab Israelis attempting to deliver food and medical supplies were stopped and heavily teargassed. One truck of aid was allowed through, but the soldiers then emptied it and stamped on the medical supplies, leaving the food on the ground." – Sarah Irving, International Solidarity Movement, Bethlehem

And so they come in, account after account, endlessly detailing a systematic attack by a marauding army upon a helpless, impoverished civilian population: denying food, denying medical supplies, denying care for the wounded, stealing what they like and destroying the rest, arbitrarily arresting, beating, torturing, and even executing large numbers of people for the crime of being Palestinian and male, and specifically attacking neutrals – not just medics, but journalists and internationals who can tell the world what Israel is doing.

All of these are violations not just of the Geneva Convention, but just about any international law or standard relating to warfare that can be imagined. This is not an invasion, but an attack upon civilians who have already lived under Israeli military rule for 35 years. That military is now carrying out calculated actions thought by many to be unimaginable in the 21st century.

Rabbi Feinstein responds:

Impossible. If you are so deeply offended by "Israeli atrocities" you must be even more deeply pained by what America has done to innocent Iraqis, Afghans and Bosnians. We bombed, often indiscriminately, killing thousands of innocent civilians. Why aren't you outraged? Why aren't you raising your voice in bitter protest? it possible you hold Israel to a standard different from the one you measure others by? Is that possible?

Suzanne responds:

Again, get on my Website. I am aghast at all these horrible American perpetrations. But I am writing to you in response to what you wrote. And, again, what is this bargaining, tit for tat, where I give you Israel and you give me Iraq? How does one balance another? How's about you sticking to what I'm talking to you about, and not ignoring what I'm saying while trying to pull the rug out from under me with other subject matter, as if one cancels out another?

Rabbi Feinstein responds to Suzanne:

I did look at your Website. It's quite remarkable. And it makes just the point I've been trying to fact, you make the point so much more eloquently than I have.

There have been two million deaths in the civil war in Sudan. But where is the international outrage? Where is the call for an international force to separate combatants and negotiate a cease fire? The LA Times printed two prominant front page articles about reports, not facts but reports of Israeli atrocities. But look from front to back, you'll find no coverage whatever about Sudan. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has been writing about this. Why hasn't Robert Scheer said anything about it?

The refugee camps that sit on the Pakistan/Afghan border are so horrible, they make Jenin look like Monte Carlo. Where is the international protest, the outrage, the aid? Where is the front page coverage of such squalor and the degradation of human life? Why no Robert Scheer editorial exposing this evil?

As your website notes, American bombing decimated thousands of innocent Afghan lives. Where is the UN investigation? Where are the world's humanitarians? Why no Robert Scheer piece on this?

We needn't go so far afield. If we're going to hold up Israel for its atrocities, where is the investigation of Palestinian atrocities? Where is the outcry over lives lost to suicide bombers? Where is the outcry over a Palestinian culture that has turned its own children's bodies into weapons of murder? Hasn't Robert Scheer anything to say about this?

You don't know me, but my politics are very close to yours. I hate what Israel has done. I hate what Israel has become. I think occupation is cruel, immoral and, most painfully, unnecessary. I think the "settlements" have been the worst thing Israel has ever done. And I have no love for Ariel Sharon. I pray for a peace that will give Palestinians their own land and their rights and freedoms.

But to hold Israel up to this kind of castigation that has appeared in the press and in the "humanitarian" circles of the world is so totally out of proportion and twisted. That's what I said in my talk. If the world can condemn Israel and ignore Sudan, if the world can condemn Israel and let millions of refugees rot in Pakistan, the world is wrong. If the world can overlook the sick culture of death that Arafat has bred in the Palestinian populace and accuse Israel, then the world is wrong. Israel has no right to commit atrocity. But Israel has the right to defend itself. And it has the right to a rational hearing in the world's moral judgement.

Then I begin to wonder, why? Why the bitter condemnation of Israel when so many other areas of the world are rife with levels of murder and destruction that eclipse anything Israel has even been accused of? What motivates such a moral outrage far out of proportion to scope of evil in the rest of the world?

I'm not one to fling around accusations of anti-Semitism. But one has to wonder why Israel has come under such scrutiny and attack when the world is so filled with poison and your fine website details. Don't you wonder?

Suzanne responds to the Rabbi:

Here we are, two strangers who, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, are having this intense exchange. But, it feels important – like maybe we are surrogates for a big world out there, which is wracked with an opposition that's not among traditional enemies, but among lifelong allies. So, maybe if we can come to new understandings, we somehow can be a signpost for the rest.

The world is full of atrocities. The liberal press has not failed to note them – read "The Nation," or "The American Prospect," and get on some progressive/liberal email lists. What brings one situation to the public fore, however, while another remains in the background is a question. Currently, you could make a case for what is happening not being grounded in anti-Semitism, but in the danger that activities in the Middle East represent to the survival of civilization. But, no matter why we are focused on it does not affect the reality of what is going on, and I am not OK with excusing what Israel is doing by pointing to other things that are equally appalling – once we get beyond the fact that "the world is wrong" for its relative complacency over the inhumanity that plagues humanity (which, in our own religion, includes the blind eyes it had for the holocaust), we still come down to here and now and the unjustifiable reality that Robert Scheer wrote about. Throw in Palestinian atrocities, even had they, too, been ignored, and we actually were complacent about their suicide bombers (although for the life of me I can't imagine where you get that idea), still, what the Israelis have been doing horrifies me to where I can't imagine you suggesting that, in the name of "defense," it is "rational" for the Israelis to become as inhumane as the Nazis. Blind support of Israel, because we're Jews, could be equated to blind support of the Catholic church at this time, when distinctions need to be drawn. Maybe these things arising at the same time, in the camps of bedrock world religions, is inviting us as a humanity to come out from behind simplistic taking of sides to be responsible individuals, calling horrors horrors whomever is committing them.

I hope we can find our way here to what could be a path to the oneness that is so vital to understand and to support at this time, when prejudice and blind hatred can have such devastating effects.

Rabbi Feinstein responds:

There is much we agree on. And I am not a blind apologist for Israel. Israel bears a great deal of moral responsibility for this painful situation.

But Israel is not now, nor has it ever been, in your words, "as inhumane as the Nazis." That charge is absolute lunacy. And what's worse, inasmuch as we agree on so much else, is that when you level such charges you lose all credibility and you lose the power of your language. If Israel is as "inhumane as the Nazis" what do you call Sudan, Ruwanda, Bosnia? How do you expect people to take you and your positions seriously if you exhibit such a lack of perspective?

The record will show that there was no massacre...that was a Palestinian lie. The human rights violations will end up being debatable, because of the nature of warfare against a terrorism that has taken root in an urban setting among a civilian population. (The Palestinians used ambulences to transport munitions. The Israelis had to stop and search them.) Yes, there will be examples of Israeli brutality, as there are in every war. And those who committed them will be brought to justice. Israel has a tough code of military justice. But intentional brutality wasn't the policy of the Israeli government, nor was it the norm. Nevertheless, you and much of the world go on flinging these charges. That's what frustrates people like me. And that's what convinces me that Israel is right and the world is wrong.

Suzanne responds:

Israel is not right, no matter how the rest of the world is wrong – this is the dangerous dualistic thinking that keeps us on sides, at each other's throats. It's not a scorecard about who's the worst in hell, with the best being victorious. This is the point at which I engage you – and Gil Friend, whose emails I've copied to you. You two are cut of the same cloth, and I suggest that it's a devil's cloak in the name of being angelic.

Rabbi Feinstein replies:

Ms Taylor, as long as I have your attention among the hundreds of emails you receive each day, perhaps you could help me understand something.

I can understand your anger at Israel and that of others who share your perspectives on the world. What I don't understand is why people like yourself, who call themselves poitically progressive, are so ready to embrace the Palestinian cause. Long before there was any shred of investigation or corroboration, you were ready to believe every report eminating from Palestinian sources charging Israel with atrocity and massacre. And concommitantly, you dismissed any information or explanation offered by Israel. You use the most powerful words to describe Israeli actions ("inhumane like Nazis") but nothing in response to Palestinian actions.

I believe that Palestinians deserve a state of their own. But frankly, I find it very difficult to find much in Palestinian society and culture that is congruent with my values. I sincerely need your help in understanding your enthusiasm, and the enthusiasm of progressives, for this cause.

.. Arafat's Palestine is ruled by a dictator who has plundered millions in world aid monies for his own bank accounts. (His wife lives in a very nice flat in Paris...who pays for that?) His cronies drive in Mercedes limos and live in huge villas while much of the populace lives in squalor.

.. In Arafat's Palestine, there is no political dissent or discussion. Freedoms of speech and press are not protected. People who publicly disagree with the regime are labeled as collaborators, dragged into the street and beaten to death, and their bodies hung up in public.

.. In Arafat's Palestine, there is no due process of law, no civil justice. Just this week, the four men accused of murdering an Israeli leader were summarily tried by what the papers called an "ad hoc" court in Arafat's compound.

.. In Arafat's Palestine, as in much of the Arab world, women have no rights. Palestinian culture still practices rites of "honor killing" – If a woman loses her virginity without her father's consent, she is murdered by the family to protect the family's honor.

.. These last weeks, an 18-year old girl and two 14-year old boys were sent out as "suicide bombers." Who sent them? What kind of culture does that to its children?

This is what I see in Palestinian culture. You must see something different to be so very supportive. Otherwise, your criticisms of Israel would be balanced by equal criticisms of Palestinian actions and policies, and you would be as skeptical of Palestinian reports of events as you are of Israeli reports. So please help me understand this.

Suzanne responds:

Why don't you get what I'm saying – that whitewashing Israel is abominable? You can't do that. There is too much indication of atrocities. Who knows what the final outcome will be? Don't get on your soapbox to whitewash them. You keep hurling all sorts of accusations at me which have nothing to do with what I said to you, and don't represent my position. You insult me by insisting I am whitewashing Arafat. I'm doing no such thing.

Israel right or wrong is a warlike stance. It's you I am railing against for perpetuating the wars in the world. This is between you and me – I am not a court of final judgment on who did what to whom, where there is plenty of horror being spread around by both camps. Let's all of us be against atrocity. Then, people like you and me can be united to make this a better world, which is the best service we can perform. Call off this squaring off on me for positions I'm not in, and let's shake our heads together at the rampant stupidity in the Middle East, as the rest of the world should be doing to give the situation the best chance for resolution and the whole world the best chance for living in peace.

Blind support for Israel versus blind support for Palestine is perhaps the primitive position we all are being invited to transcend. It's what has gotten the world into this mess, and our maturity as a species is perhaps the outcome we are being challenged to attain in this powder keg that our primitive behavior has gotten us to.

Rabbi Feinstein responds:

You haven't answered my question.

The articles on your Website and your comments to me have all been indictments of atrocities by Israel. Nowhere in your comments to me, nor in any of the material you present is there any, let me repeat that, ANY, hint of critique of Palestinian behavior, policies, or culture. My question once again is, why are you, and others who call themselves progressive, so supportive of a corrup, totalitarian, repressive, woman-hating, violent regime and culture?

I really want to understand this.

Suzanne responds:

You continue to misrepresent my position. I wonder why you do that. It is disheartening.

You do a great disservice to the cause of peace by asking, "...why are you, and others who call themselves progressive, so supportive of a corrupt, totalitarian, repressive, woman-hating, violent regime and culture?" What a horrible leap for you to make, to accuse those who are appalled by Israelis committing war crimes of being on the Palestinian side. A lack of listening and understanding creates all the war in the world, and you do violence to me and to many other Jews, whose conscience is at least as developed as yours, by holding such ugly thoughts and making such assertions. Look for where I support the "corrupt, totalitarian, repressive, woman-hating, violent regime and culture," which you will not find, to have the entitlement to your continuing assault on me for what you, unbelievably, presume is my position. My subject is Israel and not Palestine. I am trying to heal the world, and I don't have a voice in the Palestinian community to change its behavior. I am talking to my own, where I have the entitlement and hopefully the power to do something to promote peace. Jews don't need any more cataloguing of what has been done to us, but we do need not to behave in commensurately unspeakable fashion.

I just added these quotes from Michael Lerner's "Jews for Justice" to my site:

They call us "self-hating" Jews when we raise criticisms of Israeli policies. Yet most of those Jews who risk this calumny as the cost of getting involved actually feel a special resonance with the history and culture of the Jews – because this is a people who have proclaimed a message of love, justice and peace...No wonder, then, that social-justice-oriented American Jews today feel betrayed by Israeli policies that seem transparently immoral and self-destructive.

Social justice Jews are not apologists for Palestinian violence. We are outraged by the immoral acts of Palestinian terrorists who blow up Israelis at Seder tables, or while they shop, or sit in cafes, or ride in buses. We know that these acts of murder cannot be excused. But many of us also understand that Israeli treatment of Palestinians has been immoral and outrageous...

There is ample reason for the non-Jewish world to atone for its past oppression of Jews. But non-Jews are doing no favors to the Jewish people when by their silence they help the most destructive elements of the Jewish world pursue immoral policies that almost certainly will generate more hatred of Jews. impossible choice between pro-Israel groups that support Sharon's current policies in lockstep or pro-Palestinian groups that claim the Palestinians are facing Nazi-like genocide at the hands of the Jewish people (an exaggeration that allows right-wing Jews to yell "anti-Semitism" because there is no attempt to systematically murder Palestinians, thereby letting Israel off the hook).

In this article, "Apartheid in the Holy Land," Desmond Tutu has said all that I've been saying to you.

The essence of what I've been saying:

"My brother Naim Ateek has said what we used to say: 'I am not pro-this people or that. I am pro-justice, pro-freedom. I am anti-injustice, anti-oppression.'"

You tell me, "Nowhere in your comments to me, nor in any of the material you present is there any, let me repeat that, ANY, hint of critique of Palestinian behavior, policies, or culture," yet my site is full of statements comparable to this quote from Tutu:

"We condemn the violence of suicide bombers, and we condemn the corruption of young minds taught hatred; but we also condemn the violence of military incursions in the occupied lands, and the inhumanity that won't let ambulances reach the injured."

Can we not meet in this equitable place that Tutu is suggesting?

Rabbi Feinstein responds:

I appreciate your Jewish conscience and your passion for justice. And, as I've said, in many ways, we agree on the dire situation both in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. My difficulty is precisely with your perspective. When you write: "My subject is Israel and not Palestine. I am trying to heal the world, and I don't have a voice in the Palestinian community to change its behavior..." you reveal something important. It seems to me that what started out as a cry of Jewish conscience has ended up in a moral turn-about.

Your perspective shapes the way you read the news and the way you read reality. When the Palestinians cried, "massacre! atrocity!" in Jenin, you believed them. When the Israelis denied it, you dismissed them. You believe Palestinian accounts of Israeli brutality. You dismiss the Israeli response that every possible measure was taken to protect innocent life. (Of course they delayed medical care for the wounded. If ambulences are used to transport munitions and high explosives as is the practice among the Palestinians, is it morally wrong to stop and inspect them before letting them cross lines of battle?) But before any evidence is presented, you've already decided whose account of events is true, what really happened and who is responsible.

By focusing solely on Israel and its behavior is to see the situation through warped lenses. To make a reasoned moral judgement, you must also consider the moral circumstance. Israel had at hand a much cleaner, safer, more efficient way to deal with the terrorism in Jenin and elsewhere – the American way, bombing from the sky. But it deliberately turned away from this choice precisely to safeguard, to whatever extent possible, innocent life. As a result of this choice, 25 Israeli soldiers were killed in Jenin by an ambush. Does this not register on your moral scale?

It's not just your reading of the situation that is warped by your perspective. Your prescription for solutions will also be warped.

I thank you for Bishop Tutu's powerful piece. I was very moved by it. But it disturbs me in the same way that your position does. Read the piece carefully. In one-half of one sentence he condemns "the violence of suicide bombers ...the corruption of young minds taught hatred." The entire rest of the article is about Israeli injustice. The Bishop places the entire moral burden for seeking peace on Israel. Note, for example the eighth paragraph: "Israel has three options..." Of course he's right. But where is his clarion call to the Palestinians describing their options and calling for their commitment to peace? Why is this powerful piece aimed only at Israel and not directed equally at the Palestinians?

The consensus among progressives seems to be that it's Israel's task to "end the occupation" and restore justice. And then Palestinians stop their war against Israel, and there will be peace. But what evidence do you have that Yasir Arafat will be satisfied with an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. That's just what was offered in 2000 at Taba and he turned it down and began this war. The problem here isn't just "the Israeli occupation of territory," the problem is equally the Palestinian preoccupation with violence. And until you start talking about both problems, you will see no solution to this tragedy. Nor will you be faithful to your Jewish conscience.

Suzanne replies:

What I said to you was you couldn't whitewash Israel. That's all I said. The rest is you talking about other things.

You misread Tutu the same way you misread me. "Why is this powerful piece aimed only at Israel and not directed equally at the Palestinians?" Do you think it's because everyone is anti-Semitic? No, it's because we already decry Palestinian terrorism – it's a done deal. It's beyond question. Now we are taking up a new topic. Where Palestinians were the only ones we thought of as terrorist murders before, now, based on what's been reported, it seems likely that Israel has descended to this behavior. We know the Palestinian horror, but the Jewish one is the new news. That's why people are writing. It's not to try the case, but to point to it having become mutual horror. I am astonished that you don't get this. And that in insisting that everyone newly decry Palestine, you still cling to a likelihood of Israeli innocence.

After visiting our conversation, reader Donald Johnson comments:

I was disturbed by Rabbi Feinstein's claim that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch haven't condemned Palestinian terror attacks. This is false and there is no excuse for this, because anyone with internet access can go to the websites of these organizations and read their condemnations of Palestinian terror.

I'm not surprised by the Rabbi's lie, however, because it's an old story. Some people love AI and Human Rights Watch when they criticize certain groups, but you start to hear bleating and falsehoods about them when their criticisms strike too close to home.

Rabbi Feinstein responds to Suzanne:

Here's a good description of your Israeli "atrocity": The Battle of Jenin, in Time Magazine – no friend of Israel. Perhaps this belongs on your website. Find me another army anywhere in the world that announces its arrival on bullhorns, begging innocents bystanders to please leave so they won't get hurt. According to the piece, even the Palestinians expected the Israelis to simply bomb the place. Much safer and cheaper. They were surprised when Israel chose to go in on the ground to save civilian lives.

My difficulty, Suzanne, is that while you say that you're against Palestinian terrorism, all of your moral castigation is focused on Israel. This seems to be the case among many who call themselves progressive. I suspect that many feel that Israel is totally responsible here – the "evil Israeli occupation" – and therefore, Palestinian resistance to Israel, including violence, is morally righteous. (The UN Human Rights Commission said as much!) This makes the suicide bombing of innocent Jews into a heroic act and Israeli attempts to stop terror into "atrocity." The death of Jews is therefore justified. The death of Palestinians is a moral outrage. That's what I hear from "progressives." And that's called hate. But a special kind of hate – hate masking itself in the voice of justice.

OK, maybe you don't believe this. Maybe you equally condemn Palestinian murder and terror. But I can't find that statement among the many articles you've sent me. I read lots of words against Israel, but I can't find a single word about the Palestinian cult of violence, its repression of human rights, its role in making this conflict so difficult. Surely, you have such articles in your possession, the op/ed piece on Arafat on this morning's LA Times editorial page for example. Somehow, they don't make it to your website or to your emails.

I read the Bishop Tutu piece. Very moving. But it too is directed 99% to Israel. Just count the paragraphs that talk to Jews and the one that talk to Palestinians. OK, maybe he has the same problem with being misunderstood. But when Israel is singled out for castigation, that justifies the other side's violent justifies the murder of Israeli children.

If nothing else, perhaps I can make a suggestion. If you want to talk to the Jewish world and to Israel...if you want to be taken seriously and reach people, you've got to change your rhetoric. You can criticize and castigate Israel all you want. I do. My friends in Israel do. But you have to do it in a way that doesn't give license to the other side to commit acts of murder. When you make Israel out to be Nazi Germany, you may win friends among "progressives," but to the rest of us you make Palestinian suicide bombers into righteous heroes and we stop listening. When you use the word "atrocity" to describe Jenin (what word would you use for Sudan or Bosnia or Ruwanda?), you lose us.

Ultimately, I am worried about rebuilding a peace movement in Israel and among American Jews. Your rhetoric makes it harder. Because it mixes up legitimate moral critique of Israel with an ideology that celebrates Palestinian terrorism as legitimate resistance to evil.

Suzanne responds:

Ed – My moral castigation is focused on you, not on Israel. It was unconscionable for you to whitewash Israel. That's what fanatics do – support their cause, right or wrong. You did a horrible thing, whatever the subsequent story turns out to be. I saw the Time Magazine piece – I thought about you, and that if you saw it you'd come back again with your justification of Israel, as if Israel right or wrong was what we were disagreeing about. (But do note that on that front, the vote isn't in – there still are stories that seem credible about Jewish atrocities.)

Second point – NOBODY of good conscience feels "Palestinian resistance to Israel, including violence, is morally righteous." That is another tool of the fanatic – to demonize the other side. You say, "Israel is singled out for castigation, that justifies the other side's violent resistance." No one is justifying Palestinian atrocities. You make those who criticize your point of view into ogres and monsters, which makes you the warmonger. "An ideology that celebrates Palestinian terrorism as legitimate resistance to evil" is your ugly idea. We'll never reconcile differences if we're not even noting what they really are. I am just dumbfounded that not only do you champion Israel, but suggest that the criticism being made is tantamount to Palestinian support. You line Jews up, with one side supposedly supporting Palestine, when in fact all Jews abhor Palestinian atrocities, and what's happening is concern lest Jews sink to the Palestinians' level.

For a piece that I think articulates your position, you could look at Avi Davis, from the Freeman Center: He makes the 'Israel is entitled to be inhumane because the rest of the world is inhumane' argument, summed up in his last lines: "The United States today makes little secret of its decision to use extra-judicial means to eliminate the terrorist menace to its population. Why should Israel be any different?" It is shameful to me to be Jewish with that as a Jewish perspective. My pride in being Jewish involved Jews as exemplars, not in any idea that Jews are just one faction in a dog eat dog world.

Another piece you might look at, that I think is well reasoned about the danger in unqualifiedly getting on one side, is Todd Gitlin's "The Politics of Victimhood: Victimhood has become a default position for Jews and Palestinians alike – with bloody consequences for both peoples." He nails the desperate spot we're in with this: "The victim mentality, left unleashed, both leads to the crimes of the present and incites the murderers of the future, who might not hesitate to graduate from suicide bombs to suitcase bombs. At this moment, Palestinians who think with their blood are thirsting for the apocalyptic day when they will run the risk of rendering large portions of their wished-for homeland unfit for human habitation. Meanwhile, Jewish fundamentalists, cheered on by the leaders of America's Christian right, gird up to expel the Philistines once more. Self-righteousness has its reasons, but it murders the future in the name of an unsalvageable past." The way out of this is unknown, but the way to perpetuate it is to get on one side or another.

Elihu Edelson writes:

I know pretty much how Suzanne feels when taking flack in the Israel/Palestine debate. I tried to make points similar to hers on a "Progressive Zionist" site and for my troubles got called "traitor" and "pro-Palestinian." Why didn't I spend equal time chastising the Palestinians? It does no good to assert that one is fundamentally nonviolent and oppose all wars and violence. (I'm a WW II vet with a Purple Heart to show for it.) These folks hate Bush but have a Bushite mindset: you're either for us or against us. To them the Palestinians are non-persons. They have no right to their own land but there are no positive solutions to their human dilemma. The undercurrent would suggest expulsion or herding Palestinians onto reservations, like the abomination which befell the Native Americans. "Well, you can't give the country back to the Indians." Right; and look at the situation of the Indians today. Do we Jews want to repeat the American shame?

William Irwin Thompson wrote an op ed called You Become What You Hate for the N.Y. Times years ago. It's worth looking up. The Israelis are looking too much like Nazis for comfort in their mistreatment of Palestinians. All Jews should be concerned about what Israel is becoming in the hands of extreme hard-liners. Not all Jews are believers, but it is a law of nature that we reap what we sow. Likely many who read this site are aware of the law of karma. There is too much denial about the overkill and ecocide Israel has indulged in under the policies of Sharon and his supporters. But God is not mocked, and those of us who care about Israel's future are really concerned about the consequences of its current actions. Now it's the illusion of a security fence, making Israel a self-imposed ghetto. Oy!

Suzanne replies to Elihu:

I love your call to higher ground. We've got to make the climb. It is painful that this is such a hard sell. I very much appreciate your clarity. And pray for it to prevail...
The conversation in this column is in response to Gil Friend reading my conversation with Rabbi Feinstein at left:

Gil Friend comments to Suzanne:

Suzanne, you seem to be presuming that there was "slaughter of innocents" by Israel, as opposed to an as yet uncorroborated charge that there was. My personal sources "on the ground" dispute the Amnesty charges. Are you so positive that you are right and they are wrong?

If only I could see remotely comparable outrage from you about the people blown to bits at that Passover seder, the five year old shot in her bed in Adora this weekend. Why do you only rail against Israeli bullets? (Scheer at least is willing to condemn BOTH Sharon AND Arafat. Why won't you?)

I for one don't extend Israel a blank check. I'm no fan of Sharon, I've opposed the settlement policy since it began, actively criticize Israel when I find them wrong. I only wish the world would show a fraction as much outrage at suicide bombings that willfully seek to inflict maximum civilian casualties, as it does about whatever civilian casualties have resulted from the Israeli action. (By the way, when you want to "slaughter innocents" you don't accept heavy losses by sending your soldiers in for door-to-door, hand-to-hand combat; you bomb from the safety of the air. Not what Israel did.)

Oppose Israeli settlement policy, if you will. I join you in that. But...

I was going to say "I hope you send this to Rabbi Feinstein so he can respond to you directly," but I see you've posted this dialog with him on your site. Bravo. I also see that you refer to his responses as "strident," which I find odd, since his tone seems much more reasoned than yours. Of all the hundreds of people of many points of view that I've corresponded with on these topics, you seem to be the most consistently vitriolic. "reverence for the oneness"? Maybe I'm missing something...

PS: I hope you read Eric Hoffer's L.A. Times article, Israel's Peculiar Position – from 1968 – that I sent you yesterday.

Suzanne responds to Gil:

You've got to be kidding – only it's not funny. Do you think I'm taking Arafat's side? Your comments are a function of a mighty simplistic dualistic matrix, where my criticism of Sharon would imply support of Arafat. I really can't believe you'd think this of me. Of course I condemn Arafat, and wouldn't think I'd have to confirm that. But what I was writing was because some Jews and liberals – and some strange bedfellow right wingers – continue to be supporters of Israel despite the indefensible activities the Sharon forces engage in. And what "world" are you living in that doesn't condemn suicide bombers? It really makes me ill to listen to your ridiculous assertions. Call me strident and vitriolic – I am, at the horrible misguidedness that I've been railing against. My compassion for people so lost in hatred – where the oneness lives – is another story, that's not the subject matter of these writings.

I am positive that I am right, but that wasn't the point I was making when I railed at Feinstein for his whitewash of Israel in the face of what's far more uncertain than gave him any right to it.

Re the Hoffer piece, I support Israel, too, just like all us liberals have, and I stand with those of us who are aghast at how it is acting now. Perhaps discoveries of the last few days have by now appalled you, too???

Gil responds to Suzanne:

Gotta be specific about which "discoveries" you're referring to.

- Israel freeing Arafat?

- NY Times story that Palestinian higher ups have implicated Arafat as terror master?

- Human Rights Watch declaring that there was no massacre?

- HRW finding that some Israeli soldiers violated Geneva Convention?

- Palestinian gunmen deliberately machine-gunning sleeping children in their beds? [*]

Or maybe you have something else in mind?

[*] (I assume you're aghast at that too, but see no sign of such in your correspondence or postings. This is one of my great points of concern with those who are aghast at Israel. Bi-directional aghastness seems so rare.)

Suzanne replies to Gil:

Now now, don't be snotty – or one Jewishness is reviled by what fellow Jews are doing – nothing justifies destroying civilians or civilian infrastructure, whatever they are doing to us – I want us to not stoop to their level, and we are at least doing that, and, from all reports, even worse...

Gil responds:

I don't mean to be snotty. But I do wonder about your answer to my questions.

You said "Perhaps discoveries of the last few days have by now appalled you, too???" I asked you "what discoveries?" You said "don't be snotty." So I still don't know what you were talking about.

If you want to have a "conversation," fine. But this is not feeling productive.

Suzanne responds:

Answering the challenges you keep making to me indeed doesn't feel productive to me. Will forward my last rabbi exchange, which makes my point that I keep making to you and to him, that neither of you respond to, as you keep pinning me against walls that I'm not defending. The revelations keep coming that mitigate against certainty. Uncertainly dictates openness, not closing down in a position, on a side. That's all I ever proposed, and events have supported the need to do that.

Gil responds:

Challenge? How about "ask for specifics and clarification." As I wrote last night,

You said "Perhaps discoveries of the last few days have by now appalled you, too???" I asked you "what discoveries?" You said "don't be snotty." So I still don't know what you were talking about.

I _still_ don't know what you were referring to, and you evidently would rather keep me guessing. Let's just drop the whole thing, OK.

Take me off your list, and I'll take you off mine.

Suzanne responds:

Can't we do better than what feels to me like a microcosm of the very war that is the subject of this conversation?

Desmond Tutu says what I am trying to say in this new piece, "Apartheid in the Holy Land." He says, "My brother Naim Ateek has said what we used to say: 'I am not pro-this people or that. I am pro-justice, pro-freedom. I am anti-injustice, anti-oppression.'"

Rabbi Feinstein responds:

A parable:

A woman goes for a walk in the park. A man comes to attack her. But the woman knows how to defend herself. In the course of their struggle, the attacker is badly injured. A moralist comes upon the scene and begins to berate the woman for her excessive use of force. When the woman protests this condemnation, the moralist replies,

"No, it's because we already decry Palestinian terrorism/rape – it's a done deal. It's beyond question. Now we are taking up a new topic. Where Palestinians/rapists were the only ones we thought of as terrorist murders/criminals before, now, based on what's been reported, it seems likely that Israel/women has/have descended to this behavior. We know the Palestinian/rapist horror, but the Jewish/feminine one is the new news."

The moralist's message gets out. Soon everyone is talking about the vicious woman in the park and how she assaulted that poor man. Steps are taken to arrest and incarcerate her. After all, she's clearly at fault here. The moralist said so.

Suzanne responds:

She should have killed him – someone very close to me was raped and I have no mercy. But Israelis should not have wiped out a generation of Palestinian civilians and infrastructure for whatever their terrorists did. The woman had a right to self defense; wiping out civilians is a war crime.

Rabbi Feinstein responds:

But they didn't "wipe out a generation of Palestinian civilians." Even Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International concede that now. But you won't. Because you will only let yourself hear and believe the Palestinian point of view. That's why looking at only one side of a moral situation is itself immoral.

Suzanne responds:

Ed, you can't ascertain that Israel is not guilty, as you told the kids in that speech. Who's only looking at one side? That's you!

Starhawk is partially commenting on what a good friend in the Middle East, who was on the scene of Israeli atrocities, had written to her:

To acknowledge the truth of what Israel is now doing is to face a grief so deep and overwhelming that it seems to suck away all hope, is to gasp again in the suffocation chambers, to cover our faces with the ashes from the ovens and know that there is no redemption, no silver lining, no happy ending, no good and noble thing that emerged to give dignity to these deaths. There is only the terrible cycle, of victims becoming victimizers, the abused perpetuating abuse. It is to look down and see the whip in our own hands, the jackboots on our own feet.

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

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

Rabbi Feinstein responds:

If what you say is true, why has the Nobel Prize Committee met to retract Shimon Peres's prize but not Yasir Arafat's prize?

If what you say is true, why has the European Parliament voted to suspend the EU's trade agreement with Israel but not to suspend trade with Palestine?

If what you say is true, why has the faculties of UCLA, Harvard, and other American universities suspended academic exchanges with Israeli universities but not with Palestinian universities?

If what you say is true, why was the UN investigation coming to inquire about Israeli atrocities but not Palestinian terrorism?

If what you say is true, why did Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International condemn Israeli human rights violations but say nothing, nothing, about Palestinian terrorism?

If what you say is true, why doesn't Bishop Tutu speak to Palestinians in his article the way he speaks to Jews?

Your one-sided morality which condemns Israel alone has become the world's response to this situation. The world has affirmed that it's all Israel's fault. The Palestinians are innocent victims. The world calls for Israel's capitulation without a concommitant call upon Palestinians to seriously root out the murderous violence with is at the heart of their culture. This endangers Israel. It is an expression of the world's contempt for Jewish life. And in this repeating it, under the guise of your Jewish conscience, you are their accomplice.

Suzanne replies:

What I "say is true" is that you whitewashed Israel, when there was ample evidence to preclude such an evaluation. And my "one-sided morality which condemns Israel alone" is yet another example of your extremism – it doesn't ring true when you castigate the world in this way, and for sure I know it's ridiculous when you talk this way about me. There isn't one Jew in the world who would condemn Israel alone. Such extremism is what makes for war.

Rabbi Feinstein responds:

Suzanne, We are a tiny people clinging to life on a tiny sliver of land in a vast ocean of hate. Europe hates us. The UN hates us. Yasir Arafat doesn't want peace or coexistence with us. He wants us dead. That's what he's said again and again and his deeds have demonstrated how earnest is this desire. We sent a Prime Minister to offer peace, a return of territories, a Palestinian State with its capitol in Jerusalem. The other side did not present a counter-proposal. The other side did not continue to negotiate. They began a war. They gave a green-light to the militias, killer organizations and murderous fundamentalist factions. Again and again, Arafat promised to stop the violence. He never did. He used the last cease fire to imported 50 tons of high-explosives and advanced weapons from Iran. What would you have Israel do in response to this?

Israel fought this war with more care for civilian life than any country in the world, certainly more than America demonstrated in Afghanistan, Iran or Bosnia. The data is actually remarkable. The current estimate is that only 7 innocents died in Jenin. I mourn their deaths. But to fight a war against an entrenched terrorist enemy and only 7 innocents died? Find me another country that has done better.

Nevertheless, Israel earns all your castigation. I honestly don't understand this. I'm no friend of Ariel Sharon. I want to see a negotiated peace, with a Palestinian State, its capitol in Jerusalem, and an end to Israel's settlement policy. I'm on your side. I read these articles you've sent me and I honestly don't understand. Your outrage seems to me so far out of perspective given what really happened, given what happens in the rest of the world, and given the context of the conflict.

Suzanne responds:

Your whitewash of what outrages me seems to me perpetuates violence. I have sent you the most eloquent articulations regarding things that point to Israeli transgressions. And, my only point was for you to hold open the possibility that Israel deserved censure for what it did.

You come back to me now with a continuing insistence that the only situation that is in play is anti-Semitism. I think that to whatever extent that's true, it's because of people like you, who give Israel license to do what it is doing now, which is so abhorrent to good people in the world. Both sides need not to be right in this for it ever to be resolved. They won't get there following your prescription.

The old news is Palestinian atrocities. What kind of horrific judgment do you hold on humanity that doesn't recognize how awful people perceive suicide bombers to be? The new news is Israeli atrocities. And, this as a clash of civilizations that could lead to the annihilation of humanity. If we listened to people like you, we'd be on a fast track to this denouement.

[This conversation is in process. Suzanne looks forward to more of you chiming in.]

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Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts...they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun, but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric...

-Edna St. Vincent Millay-

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