Saturday, January 31, 2009

Debunking the Myth of Violence

Recently I heard a PBS interview with Matt Miller, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress about his new book The Tyranny of Dead Ideas. In this book Miller focuses on ways Americans think about economic issues that have become outmoded and even counterproductive. While Miller focuses on six myths that pertain to our ways of thinking about economics, I would like to take Miller’s notion of a “dead idea” and apply it to the way we as North Americans think about how to resolve conflict both in our individual lives and around the world.

Events both in my personal life demonstrating and getting arrested in front of a gun shop, as well seeing the decisions of the new Obama administration regarding U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, have made abundantly clear to me again, how much we as a culture our caught in the myth that conflict can be resolved through violence. This is a myth that is not only false, but literally deadly.

While like many people I am hopeful for change with the new Obama administration, I was troubled to learn that within the first week of his new administration, Obama ordered unmanned Predator drone missiles to be directed at sites in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As reported on Bill Moyers Journal, these drones were directed at al Qaeda terrorists and killed about twenty people. Most of those killed were innocent bystanders, including children. Moyer’s’ guests, Marilyn Young, a history professor at New York University, and Pierre Sprey, former advisor to Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War, pointed out that using such bombing to “break the will” of the “enemy” only creates martyrs and encourages more recruits to the terrorist cause. They insisted that we needed to pursue more of a political approach, rather than a military strategy in addressing the problems in Afghanistan. To pursue a policy of increased bombing and military buildup is not only to repeat the errors of the Russians in Afghanistan during the 1980’s (which led to the Taliban coming to power) and the delusions of the Iraq War, but also to repeat U.S. errors in Vietnam (which led to a defeated withdrawal). Their fear, expressed by many other like-minded thinkers in a recent New York Times article, is that in Afghanistan, we will end up in a quagmire much like we did in Vietnam forty years ago.

As I watched the interview, I was reminded of how unconsciously we as a culture our caught in thinking that the way to peace and reconciliation is through war and violence. This way of thinking has confronted me on a personal level as well. On January 16 I was arrested for demonstrating in front of a local gun shop. Despite the fact that the police must deal daily with the presence of illegal guns on the streets of Philadelphia, they vehemently supported the gun shop owner’s right to continue doing business without proper oversight of straw purchases. The small flurry of articles and op-ed columns about our action provoked comments by readers that reflected that many people believe they not only have a right but also an inherent need to carry weapons to keep themselves safe. Yet these guns, whether legally or illegally purchased, don’t keep people safer, but do just the opposite. Two-thirds of all victims of gun violence are between people who know each other. Nonetheless, we persist in this self-destructive way of thinking to our own detriment. Through this experience I have seen how dependent as a culture we are on guns and other means of violence for our sense of identity, security and safety when in fact those guns make us less safe and secure.

We can also look at popular movies (“Defiance”, “Grand Torino”), and television shows (“24”, “Prison Break”, “Heroes”, “Lost”, “The Shield”), and the message is the same: we can resolve problems by literally “blowing away” our adversaries. Violent images pervade our language. Sports contests, competition between businesses, political campaigns, and even the recent economic struggles are “battles” and “wars” and the people involved are referred to as “warriors,” “soldiers” and “collateral damage.”

Even when we respond to events, we are prone as a culture to cast them in war-like language. In an article written shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Stanley Hauerwaus pointed out that responding to the attacks with a “war on terror” was self-defeating. He wrote: "I simply did not share the reaction of most Americans to the destruction of the World Trade Center. Of course I recoil from murder on such a scale, but I hope I remember that one murder is too many. That Americans have hurried to call what happened “war” strikes me as self-defeating. If this is war, then bin Laden has won. He thinks he is a warrior, not a murderer. Just to the extent that the language of war is used, he is honored.” (Performing the Faith, p. 205)

Pierre Sprey in the interview with Bill Moyer made the same point when he commented that the bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon were “criminal acts” and should be treated as such, rather than war. By calling on the language of violence and militarism, we give justification to our actions while we wrap ourselves more tightly in a downward spiral of self-destruction as a culture to our own detriment and to the detriment of millions of people around the world.

As Matt Miller points out in his book, the power of myths is that they are accepted as foundational truths without question. Miller’s point is that such myths must be seriously examined and rejected, if we are to find healthier, more productive ways of living. I would say the same about the myth of peace and safety through violence. While I might argue against violence from a moral or religious point of view, I believe that even the non-religious and the pragmatic thinkers need to ask themselves, is the myth of peace through violence accurate and true?

The challenge is that as a culture are so wedded to the way of violence and war that many will be afraid and resistant to ask those tough questions. They will castigate people like me as “liberals,” “do-gooders,” “impractical,” and “wimps” (some of the terms we have been called for protesting at the gun shop). To detractors I would say, there are none so blind, as those who will not open their eyes and see what is happening right before them.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Honoring Dr. King by Sitting Down

Most people remember Martin Luther King Jr. as a great leader who fought for racial justice. Many people commemorate the holiday set aside to honor him with acts of volunteer service, concerts, sermons, and recitations of his famous 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech. However, this MLK Holiday I honored Dr. King by sitting down in an act of civil disobedience. Along with six others, I sought to enter Colisimos gun store in Philadelphia to ask the owner to sign a Code of Conduct that would allow him to track and identify potential straw purchasers in his store. When we were denied entry to the store, we sat down outside the entrance to block entry to anyone seeking to enter (although we did let people out). Our purpose was to inhibit the sale of guns on that day, and to call attention to Mr. Colisimo’s unwillingness to take steps to keep illegal guns off the streets of Philadelphia and surrounding communities. Two days before five other protesters had done a similar action, so that in total twelve people were arrested and charged with trespassing and criminal conspiracy.

For the past several months, I have been part of a group that had been planning a legal demonstration for Saturday, January 17 and smaller acts of protest leading up to the larger demonstration. All of us also took part in a conference on peacemaking called “Heeding God’s Call” that was running simultaneously to our action. So for the twelve of us, our actions were not only an expression of our desire for peace in our city, but also an expression of our religious faith.

On the Friday (1/16) I was arrested, I did not start the day thinking I was going to commit civil disobedience, though I knew it was a possibility. However, on that morning when the 20 or so of us involved in the planning met, the consensus of the group was that civil disobedience was in order. Despite the fact that Mr. Colisimo had consistently objected to our modest request, I persuaded the group to try and meet with him one more time and persuade him to sign the code. I volunteered to ring the bell to his store and ask to talk with him. When the clerk refused to buzz us into the store, we decided to sit down in front of the entrance.

Some people my age and a few years younger (who were too young for most of the anti-Vietnam protests and missed the Civil Rights movement altogether), feel a need to earn their “activist creds” by committing civil disobedience and getting arrested. I have heard statements to that effect expressed enough times to know it is a sentiment shared by a segment of my generation of a certain political persuasion. I do not have such a longing. In fact I was quite relieved when what had been planned as an act of civil disobedience looked like it was going to become a legal protest. However, when the challenge and responsibility to commit an illegal act in front of Colisimos was presented, I agreed to do so. My commitments and convictions on the issue made that act a natural and necessary next step.

Lest anyone think that committing civil disobedience is somehow “chic” or “cool”, let me be brutally honest. Breaking the law did not come easily to me. My previous acts of civil disobedience (sending in my draft card; withholding my Federal telephone tax in protest of military spending) were safe and mild by comparison. Even though my head was convinced, my emotions ranged from guilt to anxiety. My parents raised me to be a responsibile citizen who honored and respected the law. During the action itself, the police who arrested us were hostile and belligerent, and threatened to “throw the book at us” (one officer’s phrase). Furthermore, spending 25 hours in a jail cell was traumatic. Moreover, I have a court date, which I am sure will cause further strain and disruption in my life. I do not feel like a hero; if anything, I feel quite the opposite. That being said, I would do it again, because the situation called for it.

History has sanitized Martin Luther King, Jr. so that he is depicted as a nice black man who wanted people to love each other. We too easily forget that in his day King was considered a criminal, a Communist, a degenerate, and an enemy of the state. He and his followers were vilified for their use of illegal actions. One of King's most famous writings, “The Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” was written in response to a group of prominent Alabama white clergy who publicly criticized him for his “disruptive” and “untimely” actions. The strain of being a lawbreaker did not come easily to him. Yet, as King said on many occasions, sometimes one must “stand up to evil and injustice by sitting down.”

In "The Letter From a Birmingham Jail” Dr. King wrote that he and his followers broke the law in order to “arouse the conscience of the community” in hopes that people would see the error of their ways. Time will only tell what effect our action will have on changing the laws and practices around the sale of guns in Pennsylvania. Only God and and Mr. Colisimo know how our action affected him. Even so, I draw inspiration from Dr. King’s unyielding commitment to confront injustice. I leave the results of our actions in God’s hands; for me the action was a natural extension of my faith and commitment, and indirectly a way to honor the memory of a man whose actions changed a nation, inspired movements around the world, and opened the door for people like Barack Obama to believe he could run for president. So this year I remember the radical King who reminds us that each generation has injustices it must confront and when the challenge presents itself, people of conscience must be willing to take the risk of being “uncivil.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Taking on The Gun Lobby: David and Goliath

This week approximately 300 people from across the county will gather in Philadelphia for a peace conference entitled “Heeding God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace." Sponsored by the historic peace churches (Quaker, Mennonite and Brethren), the stated purpose is “to strengthen our witness and work for peace in the world by inspiring hope, raising voices, taking action.” The conference organizers hope that participants will not only leave the conference with encouragement and inspiration, but also have developed concrete plans for addressing the needs for peace, justice and reconciliation in the war torn places of the world. While the focus of the event is largely in international, I was part of a small group folks early on who advocated that we also needed to address the gun violence at home taking place on our city streets. I felt we could not address the wars abroad without also taking on the war at home.

So,on Saturday, January 17, the conference will conclude with a gathering of
1500-2000 people of faith from across the Philadelphia metropolitan area demonstrating in front of a gun shop named Colisimos that is notorious for selling handguns that have end up killing and seriously wounding hundreds of people, mostly young people, in Philadelphia and surrounding communities. We have asked Colismos to sign a Code of Conduct that has been endorsed by the Mayor’s office and has been signed by Walmart, the leading gun retailer in the country. The purpose of the Code of Conduct is to ask the gun dealer to take common sense steps to reduce the likelihood of guns getting illegally into the hands of criminals. If you live in the Philadelphia area I encourage you to join us. You can get more information at

However, beyond the action we are taking on Saturday, this event is an effort by a number of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to say to the people of Philadelphia that there is hope that deaths and injury due to gun violence can be reduced. This past year Philadelphia has seen a 15% decrease in homicides due to gun, but only a 3%drop in violent crimes over all. We can do better as the current death rate is still about one per day, and this event is saying we will do better.

This action is saying to our elected officials that we should pass common sense legislation that will significantly reduce the presence of unregistered guns on our streets: Legislation like the “One Handgun a Month” law that limits the purchases of one handgun every month. Legislation like the “Lost or Stolen” bill which requires a gun owner to report a gun to be lost or stolen within 24 hours of discovering that loss or theft. Legislation like can be found in New Jersey that requires extensive background checks on potential gun owners, so that guns do not get into the hands of unstable or irresponsible people, unlike the cursory background checks that are done in states like Pennsylvania.

These bills are designed to inhibit the process referred to as “straw buying.” Straw buyers are individuals with no criminal records who are hired by underground gun dealers to purchase guns on their behalf. The guns are registered in the straw buyer’s name, but quickly transferred to the underground dealer and then sold under the table to other people, many of whom are under the age 18 and/or have prior criminal offenses. When that gun is used in a violent crime and traced back to the straw buyers, if they say it was “lost” or “stolen” they face no criminal charges. By making the process of straw buying a more serious offense with even the threat of jail time, these bills are would impede and discourage the would be straw buyers, and reduce the flow of unregistered and illegal guns.

However, beyond even bringing hope to those victimized by violence and changing gun laws, our hope is to challenge National Rifle Association who see any effort to control the sales of guns, even illegal guns, as somehow limiting their Second Amendment rights. When I explain the proposed bills many people why it has been so hard to pass these bills. Very simply it is because the NRA fills the campaign coffers of elected officials and stirs up fear among legal gun owners by characterizing any attempt to limit gun sales an issue of curbing patriotic rights. The propsed bills have no bearing on legal gun owners, but are designed to discourage illegal sales.

This action is also a challenge to the gun manufacturers themselves, who profit handily through the sale of illegal and unregistered guns. The legal gun market is basically saturated, and so the “growth market” for guns is the underground market. The gun industry has been largely shielded by the Bush Administration from any prosecution but with a new president, there is hope for a new and more just approach.

Those who have planned this event (I have played only a minor role) recognize that the culture of violence that has gripped our society from the White House to the Pentagon to the city streets to the rural areas will not be changed by one conference or one civic demonstration. So we are committed to work beyond Saturday mobilize our churches, synagogues, mosques, community groups and legislatures so that a new spirit and a new attitude toward guns and violence can be fostered in our hearts and in our community.

I invite you to join us this week and covet your prayers. At times this struggle seems a bit like the Biblical story of young David taking on Goliath. The NRA and the gun lobby are powerfuls force, and we who are opposing them are small by comparison. However, as I recall, size and power did not prevail that day on the Philistine plain, and so I/we go forth in hope, and the expectation that peace can and will prevail.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Gaza: The Need for a New Paradigm

Upon receiving the letter from Adam Beach that I posted below, a colleague at Eastern who had received the same email, posted a response that simply supplied a link to “another perspective” on the issue. Ther link (below) was to an article by syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer

As I read the article I was convinced agains of the futility of trying to say who is right or wrong, whose justified or not. While most seem to want to polarize the issue as , I consider myself anti-war, pro-Palestinian, and pro-Israel, which in fact means I advocate a radically new paradigm for addressing the ongoing conflict there.

In his article Krauthammer states that the “moral clarity [of the Israel- Gaza war is] not only rare but excruciating.” He states that Israel is “morally scrupulous” about contacting Palestinians and telling them they are going to attack them, while Hamas “unscrupulously” positions its rocket launchers in civilian targets such as schools and hospitals. He says that Hamas has fired 6.664 rockets in the last three years, whereas Israel has fired fewer, though more accurate weapons. He claims that Hamas uses civilian noncombatant deaths and injuries as part of their strategy, going so far as to say, “For Hamas the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians.” He points out that from an early age Palestinian children are taught in schools to believe that Israel as a nation must be eliminated, and that Hamas has a deliberate strategy of ongoing disruption and conflict. Furthermore, when Gaza was granted sovereignty and Hamas was elected to govern they did not begin building roads, schools and other infrastructure, but instead “devoted all their resources to turning it into a terror base -- importing weapons, training terrorists, building tunnels with which to kidnap Israelis on the other side. And of course firing rockets unceasingly.” By contrast in his view all Israel wants is “a sustainable and enduring ceasefire….If this fighting ends with anything less than that, Israel will have lost again.”

Krauthammer’s analysis and perspective has much to commend it. There is no doubt that Hamas has provoked this attack by its unrelenting attacks on Israel, and is morally culpable in the deaths of its own citizens. Furthermore, he may be correct in saying that Israel’s goal is “peace” and a ceasefire. Yet his analysis seems to ignore two important pieces of context.

First, Israel’s power and military strength completely dwarf Hamas. Furthermore, Israel’s policy of continual degradation of the Palestinian people has invited this response. The building of the wall, the cutting off of economic opportunity, and now the limiting of humanitarian aid to the region only cause the innocent to suffer more. Furthermore, their objective is not to “get even” but to obliterate the Palestinians; not just Hamas, but the whole region, hammering it into submission. Their tactics only fuel the very fire they seek to quell.

Second, while Hamas may be the enemy on the ground, they are not the real enemy; the real enemies are Syria and Iran who fund and fuel Hamas’ activities. For obvious reasons Israel does not want to directly take on those two nations (nor they Israel), and instead Israel obliterates Iran’s and Syria’s proxies, the Palestinian people. Though Israel recognizes this disparity, it seems to place its emphasis on oppressing the Palestinians rather than dealing with the root of the problem in its relations with Syria and Iran.

To say that Israel is morally scrupulous because it forewarns its victims, is to say the bully is justified in hammering the 90 pound weakling because he told him he was going to beat him up before he did it. Furthermore, having the right to defend oneself (which I affirm) does not therefore give one the right to kill innocent citizens (which I don’t affirm). The issue is not dead Jews vs. dead Palestinians; it is dead human beings, whose blood runs red no matter who fires the shots or who is killed. In its attempts to defend itself, Israel has contributed along with Hamas to causing untold suffering on innocent people. They have not tried to appeal to those innocent people, but have simply counted them as “collateral damage.”

Contrary to Krauthammer, I do not think there is any moral clarity on either side of this conflict. As long as both Hamas (& Syria and Iran) and Israel use violence as a means to peace (an oxymoron that most of the world’s governments have failed to understand), not only will the war continue, but also the innocent will bear the brunt of suffering. In that scenario no side can claim any moral high ground.

Krauthammer’s analysis only highlights the need for a new approach, one that (1) seeks to protect the innocent victims of war and oppression, and that (2) is willing to avoid the easy polarities and finger pointing and instead and call all responsible parties to account. Because of the vested interests of the governments involved, including our own, I don’t see this new approach coming from the politicians or even the United Nations. It will need to come from a counter community of international peacemakers, which alone has the moral authority to speak for justice and peace in such a morally vacuous situation. At this point all sides are operating solely out of a defensive and self-interested posture (as Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us nations can and must do), and so morals may seem like a luxury the combatants are neither interested in nor can afford to consider. However in the end morality is not a luxury, but rather is the very essence of what is needed if there is to any semblance of peace in the region.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Warsaw Ghetto (1943) and the Gaza Ghetto (2009)

Adam Beach, an Eastern University student who has spent a great deal of time in the Middle East documenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sent out this recent letter comparing the Nazi attack on the Jewish gehetto in Warsaw, Poland during WWII and the current attack on Gaza by the Israeli forces. The similarities are chilling, and remind me how easily and quickly the oppressed can become an oppressor. I print Adam's letter here in its entirety without comment. (I would encourage you to follow Adam's blog, Yallah Handala

On January 18th 1943 Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, surrounded by walls, and living under crippling restrictions imposed by Nazi forces engaged themselves in an uprising that would last until May 16th in the same year. The poorly armed and ill-supplied Jewish forces staged heavy resistance against the modern war machines of the SS. While the Nazi SS claims to have suffered only 16 casualties; history has surmised that in reality SS casualties were much higher. In the end the courageous Jewish resistance was deflated as the Nazi troops resorted to indiscriminate burning of houses. Of the nearly 13,000 Jews that were killed in just three months of fighting at least 6,000 died in the house fires or from smoke inhalation. Thus, over %40 percent of those killed in the Ghetto uprising were not killed because they were engaged in resistance but rather by nature of the fact that they happened to be in or around the houses that the Nazis were indiscriminately fire bombing in order to root out the "sub-human" Jewish resistance forces. Considering that the Nazis' claim that they suffered just 16 casualties is suspected to be a heavily doctored number, it seems likely that, as it was published by the Polish Underground State, in fact their were at least 200 German casualties. Thus, the brutal Nazi Forces killed roughly 65 times more Jews then they suffered casualties. About half the Jews that were killed were engaged in active resistance, while the others were simply living in the Ghetto and found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Nazi justification for the ghettos in the first place and then the ensuing brutality against the already impoverished ghetto inhabitants was the idea of Jews as a dangerous and polluting people who were locked up in ghettos for the good of Germans and indeed the good of the world. Jewish resistance was twisted and contorted and reconstructed by the Nazis as sub-human terrorism while the Nazi brutality was constructed in the macabre logic of Nazism as defensive in spite of the heavy disproportionality in those killed and the reality that the Jews who rose up in rebellion were doing so in a ghetto!

Aside from enormous power imbalance introduced by the Nazi's heavily superior military weaponry the Warsaw Ghetto suppression was so successful related to the number of Jewish collaborators the Nazi's had coerced into feeding them information about the Jewish resistance movement. As the massacres took place the Allied forces did little to nothing to stop the Nazis. Szmul Zygielbojm, who was the leader of the Jewish socialist party called the Bund wrote in suicide letter that:

"The latest news that has reached us from Poland makes it clear beyond any doubt that the Germans are now murdering the last remnants of the Jews in Poland with unbridled cruelty. Behind the walls of the ghetto the last act of this tragedy is now being played out.

The responsibility for the crime of the murder of the whole Jewish nationality in Poland rests first of all on those who are carrying it out, but indirectly it falls also upon the whole of humanity, on the peoples of the Allied nations and on their governments, who up to this day have not taken any real steps to halt this crime. By looking on passively upon this murder of defenseless millions, tortured children, women and men they have become partners to the responsibility ..." (Quote By Joseph Massad,

In the last 11 days of fighting in the Gaza Ghetto Uprising nearly 700 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 3,000 have been wounded (many of which are expected to succumb to their wounds because of an acute lack of medical supplies and space in Gazan hospitals). Medical sources in Gaza are saying are the casualties are at least %50 civilians. Over a hundred of the casualties are children. Today, a UN school was shelled twice by Israeli tanks causing over 40 deaths and dozens more wounded. In last few days whole families have been killed in their houses. In once case Israel bombed a mosque it said was a "stronghold" for Hamas. As it turned out five young girls, sisters, were in the mosque after having fled their home. The only video evidence Israel has released which they did as "proof" of their targeting Palestinian resistance fighters turned out to be a 14 year old boy and other men loading badly needed gas and water tanks onto a pickup.

Since the beginning of the Israeli invasion of the Gaza ghetto, 4 Israeli civilians have been killed by rocket fire and at least 6 soldiers have been killed. Israel has been using phosphorous bombs in crowded civilian areas (bombs that explode in the air and shower thousands of bits of burning phosphorous that burns through flesh and bone in seconds and is considered a war crime if used in civilian areas). Israel has also been using radioactive Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME) weapons. "DIME bombs produce an unusually powerful blast within a relatively small area, spraying a superheated "micro-shrapnel" of powdered Heavy Metal Tungsten Alloy (HMTA). Scientific studies have found that HMTA is chemically toxic, damages the immune system, rapidly causes cancer, and attacks DNA (genotoxic).<4-11>" ( The weapon was developed by the US and sold to Israel. What is taking place in the Gaza ghetto is a massacre that equals and even so far exceeds the Nazis massacre of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.

If Israel were to keep up her pace for as long as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising lasted--three months--roughly 6,300 Palestinians will be killed and over 27,000 wounded (many if not most of which will succumb to their wounds as a result of the fact that conditions in Gazan hospitals, if they are not bombed, look only to get more dire). This reality puts potential Palestinian casualties at well over the 13,000 that were killed in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, if even a third of the potential Palestinian wounded succumb to their wounds, which seems tragically likely. If Israeli casualties remain at the same rate they have been at there will be about 90 dead at the end of the three months. Thus if things continue we are looking at over 15,000 Palestinian deaths and a Israeli disproportionality rate of 170-1, a rate that makes the Nazis 65-1 look mild. Even now the Israeli massacre in Gaza is running at nearly 70-1, already proportionally worse than the Nazis' suppression of the Jewish uprising in 1943.

It may seem sick to engage in such theoretical projections (and God knows I pray each day that things will not carry on this long or with the ferocity that we have seen so far) but I believe it is important to put this mass killing in historical perspective."

The sick thing about what is happening now is Gaza, is that like in the case of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Israelis have enlisted their own judenrat collaborationist government--the PCA (Palestinian Collaborationist Authority)--in their program to root out Hamas. The PCA in the West Bank has actually been on the verge of violently breaking up Palestinian demonstrations in solidarity with the Gazans. I fully expect their to be a Fatah invasion of Gaza following the Israeli massacre. Indeed I wouldn't be surprised if Mahmoud Abbas had foreknowledge of the invasion of Gaza and may already have plans for taking Gaza over after the mass killing.

Yet as Joseph Massad wrote recently in an Electronic Intifada article:

"The crushing of the Gaza Ghetto Uprising and the slaughter of its defenseless population will be relatively an easy task for the giant Israeli military machine and Israel's sadistic political leadership. It is dealing with the aftermath of a strengthened Palestinian determination to continue to resist Israel that will prove much more difficult for Israel and its Arab allies to deal with. While the thousands of dead and injured Palestinians are the main victims of this latest Israeli terrorist war, the major political loser in all this will be Abbas and his clique of collaborators. The test for Palestinian resistance now is to continue to refuse to grant Israel the right to conquer populations, to steal their land, to destroy their livelihoods, to imprison them in ghettos, and to starve them without being resisted.

The only constant in Palestinian lives for the last century of Zionist atrocities has been resistance to the Zionist project of erasing them from the face of the earth. While Zionism sought and recruited Arab and Palestinian collaborators since its inception in the hope of crushing Palestinian resistance, neither Israel nor any of its collaborators has been able to stop it. The lesson that Zionism has refused to learn, and still refuses to learn, is that the Palestinian yearning for freedom from the Zionist yoke cannot be extinguished no matter how barbaric Israel's crimes become. The Gaza Ghetto Uprising will mark both the latest chapter in Palestinian resistance to colonialism and the latest Israeli colonial brutality in a region whose peoples will never accept the legitimacy of a racist European colonial settlement in their midst." (Joseph Massad,

Please do what you can, in demonstration, in boycotts, in resistance in Palestine, and in prayer on behalf of the people of Gaza.

Here are some links:

Along with the vast majority of the world's people and nearly none of the world's governments: I look forward to and pray that the state of Israel is swiftly dissolved out of existence. I hope and pray that not one drop of Jewish-Israeli blood is spilled in the process and equally that not one Israeli-Jew be displaced from their homes but it is time that the rouge state of Israel be brought to justice and swiftly dissolved for being the racist, apartheid state that it is.

In mourning,

Adam Beach

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Futility of Violence and the Need for a Counter-Community of Peace

The recent invasion and bombardment of the Gaza Strip by the Israelis is yet another example of the utter futility of war when it comes to truly resolving conflicts. While there were major demonstrations in European and U.S. cities opposing the Israeli action, the U.S. and other governments have basically stood idly by offering their spoken and tacit support for the Israeli action. Now, in Israel’s defense, Hamas, the radical Islamist group they are combating, is equally culpable when it comes to perpetuating the conflict through the use of both targeted and random violence. How many times do the Israelis and the militant Palestinian groups like Hamas have to attack and kill each other and innocent civilians before they realize there will be no winner in the conflict and no lasting peace in the region as long as war and violence is the route they choose?

On January 7, 2001, in the twilight of his presidency, Bill Clinton said in a policy speech on Israel said “there is no place for violence and no military solution to this conflict. The only path to a just and durable resolution is through negotiation.” However, in that same speech Pres. Clinton went onto say “the United States must maintain its commitment to preserving Israel’s qualitative edge in military superiority.” Now does anyone else see the inherent contradiction there? If there is no military solution, then why are we supporting and supplying their military capabilities? When you bang your head against a wall enough times, you might want to consider another approach.

I am no expert on the politics of the region, but from what I have learned from friends and colleagues who have spent time in the region and have taken time to study the conflict, three things seem very clear. First, the suffering of the average Palestinian at the hands of the Israeli military and domestic policies is morally and politically indefensible. The anger behind the Palestinian attacks has a realistic and justifiable basis, even if their actions do not. However, second, the official policy of nations like Iran and Syria, and their surrogates like Hamas, give Israel the justification to defend itself, even if their means of defending themselves is unjustified. Third, the United States’ policy of blindly supporting Israel in such actions as have recently occurred, only fuels the endless cycle of violence and drives the possibility of resolution further away.

This recent crisis is yet another challenge to pacifists and other people committed to the way of peace to raise our voices about the inability of war and violence to bring about justice and lasting peace. Shortly after the September 11, 2001 bombings, Stanley Hauerwas, theologian and ethicist from Duke University, wrote an essay to a primarily Christian audience which he called a “pacifist response” to the bombings. When questioned about the alternative he would propose to the current U.S. practice of responding to violence with violence, he wrote: “Such questions assume that pacifists must have an alternative foreign policy. I have something better – a church constituted by people who would rather die than kill” (Performing the Faith, p. 206). His words refer to the fact that we who believe in peace must be like the Christian Peacemaker Teams and Witness for Peace teams that literally put themselves in between warring factions, in an effort to force warring parties to seek another way. He is saying that if there was a community of people committed to the way of peace to the degree that our government is committed to war, we might see a different result.

In speaking of Osama bin Laden Hauerwas said: “Indeed, I fear that absent a counter-community to challenge America, bin laden has given Americans what they so desperately needed – a war without end. America is a country that lives off the moral capital of our wars” (Performing the Faith, p. 207). In the same vein groups like Hamas, and nations like Israel, give each other the moral justification to be at war continually and endlessly, when in fact those wars are totally and completely morally bankrupt.

We who believe in alternatives to war and violence, be it from religious or humanist convictions, must be willing to model in our daily life, as well as our political actions, a perspective that rejects war as a means to resolving conflict. The last 60 years of the Israeli-Arab conflict is exhibit A of the futility of that approach.

Some years ago, in the late 1980’s there was a proposal put forth in a Congressional bill to establish a national Peace Academy in the same vein as the national military academies. Obviously, that proposal never went very far on the government levels, but there are think tanks such as the Carter Center in Atlanta and the The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University that have taken seriously the charge to find alternative ways. Moreover, there are numerous groups and individuals such as Jimmy Carter, the World Elders founded by Nelson Mandela, and Dan Buttry of the American Baptist Churches, who work tirelessly to help local and national groups find peaceful resolutions. We need to know and hear of these folks. We need to become that “counter-community” Hauerwas talks about. We need to say loud and clear: Enough with war, let us seek another way.