Palestinians can now count a growing number of Jewish intellectuals and organizations that support their cause for freedom and self-determination. Recently a group calling itself "Not in My Name" (NIMN) held an eight-day Chanukah vigil in solidarity with the Palestinian right of independence. NIMN members lighted a Menorah for each day of the vigil and called on the Israeli Defense Force to stop use of excessive force against a largely unarmed Palestinian population. Each night of Chanukah they remembered the milestone events in the Middle East struggle. And each night its members opened a wrapped gift box only to find it empty except for the names of hundred of Palestinians and the Jews who have died in the current clashes.
The group chose to mark parallels between Maccabees' struggle for religious and political self-determination in 164 BC and the current efforts of Palestinians to carve out a just peace for themselves.
"This year, as we celebrate our freedom, it is important to recognize that Palestinians are also engaged in a struggle for their own liberation. This struggle has been clouded and distorted by violence for the last 50 years, but it surely must be clear to all that Palestinians want and deserve their own freedom to live in peace, in their own homes, under their own authority," said NIMN in a statement released at the start of Chanukah.
NIMN represents independent Jews who do not share the uncritical support of the mainstream American Jewish community for Israel. The organization was recently founded in Chicago in the wake of the recent wave of violence against Palestinians and with hopes to promote awareness within the Jewish community. Organizers feel that the uncritical support of their community has done harm to Jewish values and that the community needs to examine its position to the current crisis. It encourages its members to strongly object to the Israel government's treatment of Palestinians and its stance in negotiations.
Jewish intellectuals have also come out with scathing criticisms of the Israeli government in various periodicals. In the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, a magazine published by former U.S. officials, Rachelle Marshall of the International Jewish Peace Union recounted the atrocities committed by Israel after the provocative appearance of Arial Sharon at Haram al-Sharif.
"It was not a war between two well-matched adversaries, however, but an assault by the Israeli army on a civilian population fighting for its freedom with stones and rifles," wrote Marshall. "It is not unreasonable to suppose that when an entire population has been stripped of its property, deprived of its land and water, imprisoned behind barbed wire and subjected to constant abuse and humiliation, a few will become desperate enough to attack its abusers."
In the same issue of Washington Report there is an article entitled "Extremism in Israel is Fueled by a Growing Ultra-Orthodox Movement in the U.S." by Allen C. Brownfeld, Editor of Issues, the Quarterly journal of American Council for Judaism. He observes that there has been a dramatic growth of ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in the U.S. "While fewer than 100,000 Orthodox European Jews entered the country after 1945, their effects were profound." He quotes Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg saying that these believers "asserted the most uncompromising, separatist version of the Jewish religion " that most American Jews thought "they had left all that behind in Europe decades earlier."
Furthermore, a petition signed by 50 Israeli scholars published in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz last October demanded "an immediate and unilateral Israeli commitment to evacuating the provocative settlements that are to be included in the Palestinian state - including those in the Gaza Strip, Hebron, and the Jordan Valley."
Strangely, Israeli journalists have been more critical of Israel's policies than their American counterparts. As renowned Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk so eloquently pointed out, the brutality of Israeli soldiers is fully covered in Ha'aretz. The same publication questioned the large number of U.S. peace negotiators who are Jewish.
It is no wonder the American public has failed to be more critical of its own government's involvement in the Middle East. Until more Jews speak out against these horrors, the U.S. government will continue to blindly favor Israel.
Dr. Siraj Mufti currently serves Islamic consultant to the Correctional Corporation of America in Arizona and is a retired chaplain from the U.S. Department of Justice. Previously, he was a research professor at the University of Arizona.
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