Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Open Letter to the People of Gaza

Dear Friends of Citizen Voices

Please read and sign and/or reply to the letter below. You may pass it along to like-minded people but please keep in mind that its critical stance toward Israel will not be helpful to those who cannot tolerate such criticism. We need to engage them differently, especially Jews, many of whom I believe are still traumatized, if only secondarily, from the Holocaust. That doesn't excuse what the Israeli government has been doing but I don't want to intentionally provoke someone whom I know can't tolerate, for what ever reason, the truth.

Also note that I was advised to leave out the word "jihad" by someone because westerners tend to associate it with terrorism and violent resistance. I decided to keep it in because the letter really is to Gazans who know or should know its true meaning as "righteous struggle", i.e. like what CJME and other peace and justice groups have been doing.

Shalom and Salaam,

Jim Fleming


Dear Friends,

We, citizens of the United States, are deeply saddened and disturbed by the recent destruction of your homeland and killing of your people by the Israeli Defense Forces, an action which has been shamefully funded and justified as "defense" by our own government. The massive killing of civilians and destruction of infrastructure in Gaza is yet another cruel blow by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people. Such rampant escalation of violence and destruction, coming on the heels of an inhumane and prolonged blockade, can not be tolerated and must not be repeated.

Right now most of the Arab and Muslim world and much of the rest of the world is outraged by Israel's aggression which the U.N has condemned as out of proportion to the rocket attacks fired by Hamas fighters. Even though the official response of the new U.S. administration has been little different from that of previous ones, there is likely to be a shift toward a more critical posture toward Israel.

Ironically the humanitarian crisis and the greater than 100:1 ratio of Gazan to Israeli deaths in this conflict puts Gaza and Hamas in a position of advantage in the eyes of the world. Israel has clearly overreached; Israel has clearly been the primary aggressor. In the eyes of the world Palestinians are being seen as the real victims. Sadly, but in truth, this situation presents an opportunity to build support for a true Palestinian state, however this advantage will certainly vanish if there are renewed attacks on Israel including by rockets and suicide bombings.

We are not being moralistic here. It is not a matter of whether renewed attacks are justified or not. It is a matter of practicality. It is a matter of innocent lives being saved. Moreover, the cause of justice for Palestinians will not be served by more attacks on Israel which is likely to unleash more attacks on Gaza and cause potentially sympathetic countries including the U.S. to withdraw from support for a Palestinian homeland. The Hamas leadership knows these attacks inflict no significant damage on Israelis as a whole or on Israel's military machine. They only inflame Israeli hatred. But the most potent weapon Israel has at its disposal is the term the "terrorist". Once this potent word is uttered, the dialogue is over and somehow the rationalization for anything Israel does is made in the name of "defending itself".

Israel's inhumane policies and actions in the Occupied Terrorities are already being compared to the apartheid system of South Africa and their recent attacks on Gaza could clearly be characterized as "terrorist" in nature. But those with the power in the region, especially the U.S. are not ready to apply these damning labels yet, labels which have been shown to be capable of toppling powerful, repressive and unjust regimes.

The anguish and rage which must be felt by your people is difficult for most of us in the U.S. to understand and it is impossible to say how any of us would respond if we too had been subjected to decades of indignities. A natural reaction would be to strike back. Unfortunately there are many Israelis who would welcome another opportunity to punish the Palestinians, perhaps even harder--amazingly a large majority of Israelis supported the recent attacks and invasion of Gaza. But the Hamas leadership could make a strategic decision to denounce attacks on Israel and take steps to be sure attacks don't occur on their watch. If they do, their status will rise in the eyes of the world and Israel's oppressive behavior will be highlighted. Already there are calls for prosecution of israel for war crimes and support for a thorough investigation of the recent massive, almost month long Israeli aggression will not be silenced as long as Gazans are shown to be
focused on recovery and peace rather than revenge. Support for Palestinians will increase and support for the apartheid structure will crumble. Further, those groups in Israel, now a minority, which are promoting peace and justice for Palestinians will rise in status and become real players in the Israeli government.

The suffering and oppression of your people and that of all Palestinians must stop. We support you in your struggle for justice but righteous struggle, jihad, need not be violent. Violence only breeds more violence--until one side decides to cease. It take great courage and strength, but non-violent struggles do succeed.

In the name of the innocent people who died in the recent onslaught in your homeland; in the name of peace and justice for your children and ours; in the name of God who is Merciful; we urge you and your leaders to use the power of words and the power of non-violence resistance to set a new course for peace and justice in your region. We will support you. The world will support you. We beg of you: seize this opportunity for change.

In Peace and Solidarity,

James L. Fleming, M.D.






Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Global Exchange Trip to Palestine

On December 9th 2008, my peace and justice delegation to Israel-Palestine was cut short due to a personal injury.
I was on a home demolition tour with ICAHD ( when the accident occurred. While trying to reach a displaced Palestinian widow, I took it upon myself to climb through the demolition debris and razor wire that had been placed all around her home (now a UN provided tent for which she must pay rent). I fell and broke my ankle and could not continue with the group. I didn't feel this way at the time, but I feel blessed now for this experience and know that my hopes to see a real glimpse of Palestinian life were answered.
I was taken to Al-Makassed Islamic Charity Hospital for surgery. I had many options for care and could have sought help at a more modern Israeli hospital and in fact that was encouraged by the trip leader and others around me. However, as I was on this trip to understand the plight of the Palestinian people, I inquired about and chose the only option that would be available to my Palestinian guides in a similar situation; Al-Makassed.
There was anesthesia for the surgery but no pain medication to follow. I was feeling sorry for myself until I met my two roommates. One, a young woman from Hebron, had been in an auto accident. She had been forced off the road by Jewish settlers. She is now permanently paralyzed. She'd been there a week before I arrived and her parents were only then getting to see her. It had taken almost a full week for them to receive permission from Israel to travel from Hebron to East Jerusalem to visit their critically ill daughter. The permit was good for only 10 hours that single day. After 7:00 PM that evening they would be in violation of the order and subject to imprisonment. They chose to stay. We all slept side by side and they treated me as a guest in their own home, sharing blankets and food with me, including me in their Eid celebration and in their prayers.
My other roommate arrived the day I was discharged. He was a 9 year old boy who had severely mangled his hand in a piece of farming equipment. He was such a brave boy and only sobbed softly to himself. Again, there was no pain medication for a child obviously in agony. I had nothing to offer him except some chocolate one of the nurses had given me earlier in the day. He grasped it tightly and took it into surgery with him. I never saw him again.
It's sad to think an American with no ties to Israel or Palestine had so many more options for medical treatment than those whose families have lived there for decades. I highly encourage donations to medical centers in the Occupied Territories. Please offer what you can. Also, if you ever have the opportunity to visit one, please do so. It is a life altering experience. One of the most powerful impressions I left with was that of the Palestinians themselves. So resilient, so happy, so hospitable. I am so amazed and inspired by their passion and their absolute joy for life even among dire and often humiliating conditions. The Occupation does not define them.
I cannot wait to return and continue this journey. There is a way for peace and we must all work together to find it. We are one.
In Solidarity,
Billi Jo Larmore

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A report on an Israeli official's talk to Kansas City audience

Fellow Mennonites George Melby, John Mueller, Quaker friend Ginger Kenney, and I attended a lecture and Q&A at the Jewish Community Center last night. It was a very unsettling experience for me to hear all the right-wing, pro-war rhetoric from the speaker and from the audience. There was one question offered by a middle-aged doctor wearing scrubs that expressed some skepticism about Israel's end-game and expectations of success through violence. And someone asked about possible spreading of violence to other countries. (This morning the Associated ress
reports on several acts of violence in Europe against Jews and synagogues in France, Sweden and Britain:

There was one brave Muslim who stood up and posed a reasonable question about why the harsh economic sanctions imposed by Israel on Gaza were not relaxed during the recent cease-fire. He was heckled and interrupted by members of the audience, but treated politely by the speaker, although not given a satisfying answer.

The event ended after only 40 minutes, and even though the four of us remained silent during that time, I think we all were formulating comments and questions we would raise if the atmosphere were more conducive or if the event went on another 10-20 minutes. Ginger would
have asked about COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT, whether Israel respected Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. John would have asked about the plight of the Gazans at their last election when faced with the choice between corruption vs. militarism (PLO vs. Hamas) -- and
wasn't it a choice between the LESSER OF TWO EVILS. I would have asked about the negative perception the world is getting of Israel using DISPROPORTIONATE force against a weaker opponent, like the fire hoses turned on the children of Birmingham during the Civil Rights struggle.

This morning I received Gene Stoltzfus's newest blog entry:
-- which gives me hope and inspiration for a reasonable long-range solution for the Middle East. And his precious quote from Albert Einstein: "You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that caused the problem."

Phil Rhoads