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Archive for March 25th, 2009

latimes.com  
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-israel-holywar25-2009mar25,0,4876301.story

From the Los Angeles Times

Israeli army rabbis criticized for stance on Gaza assault

Some Israeli soldiers say military rabbis cast the offensive against Hamas rockets as a fight to expel non-Jews.

By Richard Boudreaux

March 25, 2009

Reporting from Jerusalem — The winter assault on the Gaza Strip was officially portrayed in Israel as an attempt to quell rocket fire by militants of Hamas. But some soldiers say they also were lectured about a more ambitious aim: to banish non-Jews from the biblical land of Israel.

“This rabbi comes to us and says the fight is between the children of light and the children of darkness,” a reserve sergeant said, recalling a training camp encounter. “His message was clear: ‘This is a war against an entire people, not against specific terrorists.’ The whole thing was turned into something very religious and messianic.”

As armies elsewhere use chaplains, the Israeli military inducts rabbis to serve religious soldiers. Their traditional tasks include ensuring that kitchens are kosher and religious services are available.

But soldiers now going public with allegations of misconduct in Gaza portray the military rabbinate as a corps of self-appointed holy warriors whose sermons and writings demonized Palestinians.

“The army itself is a battleground of conflicting ideals in Israeli Jewish society,” said Avi Sagi, a Bar-Ilan University philosophy professor who in the 1990s was a co-author of the military’s code of ethics, which obliges soldiers to avoid killing innocents.

On one side, he said, are universal values that call for respecting all human life equally and are largely shared by Jews who seek accommodation with the Palestinians. On the other side are more nationalistic passages of the Torah, cited by religious thinkers who liken the Palestinians to Old Testament invaders and place a premium on Jewish life.

In the Gaza conflict, the argument has focused on how to fight Islamic militants who for years have fired rockets indiscriminately at Israeli communities, causing scores of civilian casualties.

Maj. Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman, denied that the military rabbinate takes sides. Army rabbis violated a directive to “stay away from politics” in Gaza, she said, but they were few in number and acted on their own.

‘Well organized’

In testimony reported by Israeli news media and in interviews with The Times, Gaza veterans said rabbis advised army units to show the enemy no mercy and called for resettlement of the Palestinian enclave by Jews.

“The rabbis were all over, in every unit,” said Yehuda Shaul, a retired army officer whose human rights group, Breaking the Silence, has taken testimony from dozens of Gaza veterans. “It was quite well organized.”

The army, which conscripts almost every Israeli Jew at 18, has been dominated for most of its history by secular officers. But over the last 15 years, as secular Israelis have soured on the occupation of Palestinian territory, religious nationalists have taken over senior positions in elite combat brigades.

With them have come hundreds of volunteer rabbis, who teach at pre-military academies for religious youths and serve side by side with the troops.

The rabbis’ role in Gaza came into focus last week along with testimony from soldiers who said that loose rules of war led to unwarranted civilian deaths and property destruction.

The testimony reported by two Israeli newspapers was the first such criticism to surface from within the army since the assault ended Jan. 18, leaving an estimated 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. Most Palestinian casualties were listed as civilians.

The army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, said Monday that he did not believe soldiers shot Gaza civilians “in cold blood.” He added that “isolated cases” of misconduct, if proved, “will be dealt with individually.”

Responding to newspaper photos, the army also condemned soldiers who wore T-shirts depicting a pregnant woman in a rifle’s cross hairs with the slogan “1 Shot 2 Kills.”

During the Gaza offensive, critics contend, rabbinical propaganda was part of a broader effort to legitimize Israel’s decision to use overwhelming force.

Legal opinion

Before the assault, the army’s legal office issued an opinion saying that Israel was entitled to use artillery against civilian neighborhoods from which Hamas was launching rockets.

And after the 22-day operation, a Tel Aviv University philosophy professor with close ties to the military, Asa Kasher, said the decision to shell Gaza’s cities stemmed from an anti-terrorism doctrine he had helped draft a few years ago. It stated that in Gaza, as in other areas the army does not control, there is no justification for endangering soldiers’ lives in order to avoid killing civilians in the proximity of targeted militants.

That doctrine appears to be at odds with the military code, which obliges the army to avoid civilian casualties, and it was never formally adopted. However, it was echoed in religious terms in literature distributed in Gaza by military rabbis.

“Our ancestors did not always fight with a sword and at times preferred to use a bow and arrow from a distance,” one text read.

“Actions must be taken from a distance in order to spare our soldiers’ lives.”

The reserve sergeant, an observant Jew who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity, said that he and a fellow soldier in his 15-man unit were troubled by the “children of darkness” sermon, but that other troops seemed receptive.

In one of several postwar testimonies given at a left-leaning military institute, a squad commander identified only as Ram complained that army rabbis tried to press what he called a “religious mission” on his men.

“The military rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles and their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land,” Ram said.

As a commander, he said, he tried to explain to his men that “not everyone in Gaza is Hamas [and] wants to vanquish us [and] that this war is not a war for the sanctification of the holy name, but rather one to stop the Kassams” — a type of rocket fired from Gaza.

Danny Zamir, director of the institute that elicited the testimonies and leaked them to Israeli papers, was quoted in a transcript as voicing dismay that Israeli nationalists, like their Hamas enemies, are using faith to justify violence.

“If clerics are anointing us with oil and sticking holy books in our hands, and if the soldiers in these units aren’t representative of the whole spectrum of the Jewish people, but rather of certain segments of the population, what can we expect?” he said.

Ofer Shelah, military correspondent for the newspaper Maariv, said the rising profile of religious nationalists in the army has helped them in two showdowns with the high command.

After Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, graduates of two pre-military academies associated with the settler movement said they would refuse to obey future orders to disband West Bank settlements. The army threatened to cancel its certification of the schools, then backed down.

During the Gaza assault, the chief military rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, was called in to answer criticism that his department was distributing war propaganda. He denied knowledge of it, and a subordinate was given “a slap on the wrist” by the Defense Ministry, Shelah said.

Rabbi David Hartman, a leading Jewish philosopher who has lectured thousands of officers at his Shalom Hartman Institute, said the religious nationalist belief in holy war is still a minority view in the army.

“But it has to be fought with a rational religious ideology that takes into account the living reality of two peoples,” he said. Otherwise, he added, “you have these rabbis volunteering in the army, and it’s not necessarily the people the army wants. There’s a vacuum, and it gets filled by crackpots.”

boudreaux@latimes.com

   

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 i often hear it stated (especially by neo-liberals such as findley, carter, weir, if americans knew, etc) that us. support for israel is against all u.s. values and is hurting the image of the u.s around the world; as if u.s. policy toward israel were so different than the policy that forged this nation, created bantustans (reservations), committed genocide, and is the belly of the beast of world domination and empire. as if all antipathy towards the u.s. is merely the result of u.s. policy in one small region, since 1967. this argument is racist on so many levels. on the surface it is anti-jewish as it perpetuates the stereotype of jewish power, not within any dialectical analysis, but from some magical source, unconnected to any other base of power, magically forcing the u.s to work against its “own interests.” the argument is also racist because it negates the incredible role the u.s. has played historically, not only within the confines of official expanding territory, but in imperial wars, neo and traditional colonialism, incarceration (the new slavery), free enterprise zones, etc. and how that policy is consistent with u.s. policy towards palestine and palestinians. this event: From la Frontera to Gaza. promises to make some of the connections between the situation in palestine, where a wall and a border has crossed what was an open palestinian homeland, and the situation in the southwest where a wall and a border crosses the territories and homelands of several indigenous populations, as well as the area that was once mexico.

-Emma

From la Frontera to Gaza: Chicano-Palestinian Connections

Monday March 30 2009

12.00-3.30 pm

Taper Hall of the Humanities (THH) 101

Free and open to the public

During the Israeli offensive on Gaza, it was often asked, “What if a terrorist group were lobbing rockets into San Diego out of Tijuana?” The analogy was tendentious and misrepresented both situations and their histories. But are there really connections between the Chicano and the Palestinian situations?

What connections exist between the histories of “Occupied America” and of Occupied Palestine?

–Are there analogies between the wall being constructed along the US border with Mexico and the separation wall that cuts through the occupied West Bank—both being constructed by the same Israeli firm, Elbit Systems? (http://rachelcorriefoundation.org/site/2008/01/23/up-against-the-wall-from-palestine-to-mexico/)

–What is the impact of the security state and the control of movement of people on US Latinos and both Palestinians and Arab Americans?

–Are there comparative dimensions to educational inequalities affecting both Chicanos in the US and Arab Israelis, both of who form substantial minorities that suffer from discrimination against their cultures and languages and significant under-representation in the upper levels of education?

–What lessons can be drawn from the practice of boycott by Cesar Chavez and the UFW for the current movement for the boycott of Israel? How does boycott work, what is its status as an instrument of non-violent struggle, when and why should a boycott be pursued?

These and other questions will be explored by the panel of speakers, which will be followed by three more focused workshops: History of Palestine, Boycott as a Non-Violent Tool, and The Right to Education.

12.00 –1.30 pm, THH 101: panel discussion with Manuel Criollo, Jose Fuste, and Manzar Foroohar

1.30-3.00pm: Focus Workshops in the Von KleinSmid Center

History of Palestine: VKC 105, with Manzar Foroohar

Boycott as a Non-Violent Tool: VKC 108, with Manuel Criollo and David Lloyd

The Right to Education: VKC 151, with Rana Sharif and Jose Fuste

The Panelists:

Manuel Criollo, Bus Riders Union lead organizer, son of immigrants from El Salvador, life-long resident of Pico/Union neighborhood of Los Angeles where he knows “just about everyone.” Manuel received a BA from University of California, Santa Barbara, was elected to the BRU Planning Committee before joining staff. His work focuses on grassroots leadership development and mentoring organizers-in-training and new organizing staff, he is also a co-host of the Voices from the Frontlines radio show, and key staff liaison with regional elected officials including the LA mayor and County Board of Supervisors.

Manzar Foroohar is Professor of History at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Her work focuses on Modern Latin America, Modern Middle East, and the Comparative Political Economy of Latin America and the Middle East. She has recently returned from a visit to Palestine.

Jose Fuste is a graduate student in the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego. He runs the blogsite Pensamiento Cimarrón/Maroon Thinking, which has recently focused on Palestine and the invasion of Gaza: http://marooning.blogspot.com/2008/12/gaza-war.html

David Lloyd is Professor of English at USC and a member of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and of Teachers against Organization.

Rana Sharif is a Ph.D. student in Women’s Studies, UCLA. Currently, her research focuses on the ruptures and inconsistencies of the everyday, mundane, and habitual in the Occupied West Bank Territory of Palestine. She investigates the ways in which temporal and material consequences to occupation forfeit heteronormalcy and reconstitute subjectivities. Rana is an Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies and a contributor to KPFK’s Radio Intifada.

This event has been sponsored by: the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity, Chicano and Latino American Studies, and USC Students for Justice in Palestine.

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