It was a Friday evening ritual for me, for years: pulling up the Gush Shalom web-site to partake of Uri Avnery’s weekly offering, each one providing some unique window into Israeli life, society, culture, politics or history– and especially issues of war, peace and justice. Always well written and engaging, Avnery’s essays were the product of his truly vast knowledge and experience, which spanned the entire existence of the State of Israel, and much more. So, when his incisive articles ceased showing up a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know what to think… Indeed, Uri Avnery– a clear-eyed truth teller practically without equal, and an activist to the end– died a few days ago in Tel Aviv at the age of 94.
His passing must be noted here for a couple of reasons: For one thing, his commentary and analysis have been important in shaping my own thinking about the region, especially the constellation of Zionist-Palestinian issues stretching back over a hundred years and still played out every day within a lopsided paradigm of Power, Control, and ongoing Dispossession. Avnery’s work had little to do with the Standard Israeli Narrative (except as critique)– far from it, nor with the messages of mainstream media generally– but for my money it consistently hewed closer to The Truth than almost any other source. Therefore, on multiple occasions over the years I’ve pointed my readers to some of Uri Avnery’s articles (or tried to, at least), for example HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
If you want to know more about this rather remarkable man, there are (of course) scores of videos to be found on YouTube. One of my favorites is this one (3 min.), which has Avnery strolling the Via Dolorosa, while discussing the 1967 war and subsequent Occupation and their implications for the long-term life of Jerusalem as a shared city.
There are likewise years worth of his weekly articles archived on-line by Gush Shalom. As a sample, and if you read nothing else, try this noteworthy piece which Avnery wrote at Passover 2009. Profoundly poignant, it expresses the conflicted musings of an old Zionist who Continue reading
Here’s a thought provoking offering from Yudith Oppenheimer, Executive Director of the Jerusalem-based Ir-Amim organization, on the occasion of Tisha B’Av, when Jews worldwide remember the loss of their historic temples. She writes in part:
Post-Temple Judaism managed, for the most part, to embrace the tension between the longing for the Temple as a utopian symbol, and the solid foundations of halakha, moral teachings and interpretations grounded in everyday life. However, there were also periods of messianic foment and attempts to speed up the redemption, almost all of which came to disastrous ends.
Zionism was a daring attempt to harness the messianic tension for social-political action in — and not outside of — history. […] The more Zionism invested in denying the existence and presence of the Arab inhabitants of the land, and later in maintaining the occupation, the more it needed the array of sanctified justifications that seemingly granted it exclusive ownership of the land. Thus, the Temple reappeared and took up its place as a foundational Zionist symbol.
Her comments are just as apt, in my opinion, for evangelical Christian Zionists worldwide who, without thinking too deeply about the implications, perhaps have dabbled, or even become immersed, in such ways of thinking. The complete article Continue reading
From the NPR web-site comes an intriguing article by Jerusalem-based international correspondent Daniel Estrin offering a rare glimpse inside the modern Samaritan community in the Holy Land. This tiny sect, tightly-knit and steeped in colorful ancient traditions, consider themselves the “true Israelites” (and those of you who have witnessed the Samaritan Passover ritual might be inclined to agree).
Today’s Samaritans, less than 1,000 in number, are split between the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon and their ancient center atop Mt. Gerizim overlooking the West Bank city of Nablus, thus the community maintains a delicate balancing act between the Israeli and Palestinian spheres.
The narrative that carries Estrin’s story–one which he himself has been enmeshed in for the past several years–is the mystery of two, centuries-old Samaritan Torahs stolen from their Gerizim synagogue in 1995. One was a scroll, the other a bound codex, both written by hand in the Hebrew-like but still cryptic Samaritan script. Despite some vexing clues, hints and innuendo, the theft of the two works remains unsolved.
However, on his quest in search of these missing relics, Estrin takes us on a fascinating journey through Samaritan history and culture, including fault lines within the community itself– not to mention the shadowy world of the illicit antiquities trade. You’ll be introduced, too, to the ultimately enigmatic figure of Benny Tsedaka, a proponent and self-appointed spokesman for all things Samaritan.
This extended account, accompanied by some excellent photographs, is well worth a read. Estrin writes, in part:
If the Samaritans are the true keepers of the biblical faith, their Torahs are title deeds: rare and sacred manuscripts, written in a variation of the original Israelite script that Jews abandoned long ago and featuring passages scholars say preserve some of the earliest drafts of the Bible. Of the three dozen old biblical manuscripts left in the community’s coffers, the Samaritans say one is the oldest in the world, written by Moses’ great-grandnephew. These manuscripts are the Samaritans’ most jealously guarded possessions, and collectors across the globe have gone to great lengths to get their hands on them.
So have thieves.
Word of the burglary Continue reading
by URI AVNERY / 06 APR 2018
A FRIEND from overseas sent me the recording of a song. An Arab song, with a soft Arab melody, sung by an Arab girls’ choir, accompanied by a flute.
It goes like this:
Ahed / You are the promise and the glory / Standing as high as an olive tree / From the cradle to the present / Your honor will not be violated / Palestine has been planted in us / As a dock for every ship / We are the land and you are the water /
You are covered with blond hair / You are as pure as Jerusalem / You taught our generation how the forgotten people should revolt / They thought the Palestinians are afraid of them because they are wearing armor and holding a weapon? / Palestine has been planted in us / As a dock for every ship / Our nation must be united and resist for the freedom of Palestine and the prisoners /
Your blue eyes are a lighthouse / For a country that has every religion / You united the people far away and close / You ignited the spark in all our hearts / Your head is raised up high encouraging us / You ignited the light in our darkness /
Despite the softness of your hands / Your hands have shaken the world / Your hands returned the slap to the occupier / And returned esteem to the nation / Palestine has been planted in us / As a dock for every ship / We are the land and you are the water.
IF I were an adherent of the occupation, this song would frighten me very much.
Because the force of songs is much stronger than the force of weapons. A gun wears out, but a song lasts forever.
In the early days of the Israeli army, there was a slogan hanging in our mess: “An army that is singing is an army of victory!”
The present Palestinian generation has decided to lower its head and wait until the storm has passed. The coming Palestinian generation may act in a completely different way.
On the eve of my 15th birthday, Continue reading
It’s been almost 10 years ago now, but some of you may remember Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish — if not the name, then at least the horrendous story of how his family was decimated in a matter of seconds during Israel’s brutal 2009 assault on Gaza: The Palestinian physician’s three daughters and his niece were all killed when the family’s Gaza apartment was shelled by the Israeli military, an act the IDF acknowledged responsibility for at the time but for which the State of Israel has never apologized.
Several facets of the story only add to the intense tragedy and drama: Abuelaish, at that time a gynecologist, was the first Palestinian to serve on the staff of an Israeli hospital, where he treated both Israeli and Palestinian patients, traveling to his work via checkpoints from his home in Gaza. He spoke fluent Hebrew, and was already an important figure in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Then, during the 2008-9 Israeli onslaught on Gaza, when Israeli journalists were barred by their government from entering the Gaza Strip, Abuelaish was phoning in daily reports to his friend in Israel, TV reporter Shlomi Eldar. On the day of the deadly shelling — Abuelaish was present in the apartment at the time, in another room — the doctor’s shocking, anguished phone call went out live on Israeli television. Later, with Abuelaish still awash in grief, several seemingly crazed Israeli citizens shamefully disrupted the doctor’s press conference, hurling wild accusations and verbal abuse at him [for video of both incidents, see links below].
In the wake of all this, one could could forgive the man his expressions of hatred, recrimination and revenge… except there were none, and never have been. Anger, yes, of course. But his message has been consistent throughout, from the moment he was thrust by tragedy into the global spotlight: that hatred is irredeemably destructive, and that people — if they choose to — can live together in peace.
NOW, in her nightly offering on PBS, Peabody Award-winning journalist Christiane Amanpour (a classy lady by any measure, IMHO) re-connects with the Palestinian physician Continue reading
Our local Public Radio outlet just aired a wide-ranging interview with well-known New Testament scholar, professor, and author Bart Ehrman (the latest of five such features over the years — search the WUNC site). For some readers, Ehrman’s name may resonate from articles appearing in Biblical Archaeology Review and other publications, both popular and more academic. Today he serves as James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The latest of his several books is a work of early church history, The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World (2018, Simon & Schuster).
This time out, Bart Ehrman lets listeners in on some of the religious and academic influences — and crises of faith — that have impacted his personal and professional development: an Episcopalian upbringing in Lawrence, Kansas; fervent, Youth for Christ-style conservative evangelicalism beginning in high school; many years of studies at Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, Princeton Seminary, Rutgers… And the deeper he dug, the bedrock certitude he once experienced simply grew ever more elusive, a story he unfolds for us with utmost candor.
While I’m not advocating replication of Ehrman’s spiritual journey — some, depending on their viewpoint, may say his ‘fall from grace’ or descent into the abyss — perhaps it’s still instructive to consider the paths he’s trod along the way. As the intro to the piece says:
He began his career as a fundamentalist Christian who believed the Bible was the inerrant word of God. His hunger to learn everything he could about the world’s most popular holy book led him to several academic institutions and a vast amount of knowledge that caused him to Continue reading