Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lessons from Hannah Mermelstein


Hannah Mermelstein is a Jewish activist who spent a couple nights visiting me and others in Ames, Iowa, a few months ago. I was extremely impressed with her ideas and ideals, and her presentation, given in concert with Anna Baltzer, another Jewish activist and international speaker who frequents our region when she is in the United States. Below is an article that Hannah submitted to the Jewish Advocate. As Hannah requested, I looked up the responses Hannah received after publication of her article. One was full of thoughts that I find untrue or half true. I am going to do as Hannah asked and respond to the response. That will be my next offering. It's important that we stand up to falsehoods; really, it's our only defense.

Congratulations, Hannah for your persistent efforts to bring about justice, not just for those who share your religious background, but for everyone, everywhere including Palestinians of various religions.

I invite my readers to review Hannah's story, one reader's response and, my response, too. I will not keep this going endlessly, but I think we must make a stand for truth and I encourage you to join Hannah and me in speaking out against injustice.
Blogger Betsy
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Creating Palestine's Refugees, 1948
Photo from United Nation's files.

By: Hannah Mermelstein
Published by: The Jewish Advocate
Date of publication:

On March 20, 1941, Yosef Weitz of the Jewish National Fund wrote: “The complete evacuation of the country from its other inhabitants and handing it over to the Jewish people is the answer.”

On this day in 1948, almost two months before the first “Arab-Israeli war” technically began, the 1,125 inhabitants of the Palestinian village Umm Khalid fled a Haganah military operation. Like their brethren from more than 500 villages, they likely thought they would return to their homes within a few weeks, after the fighting blew over and new political borders were or were not drawn.

Instead, more than 6 million Palestinian people remain refugees to this day, some in refugee camps not far from their original towns, others in established communities in Europe and the US, all forbidden from returning to their homeland for one reason: they are not Jewish.

Yosef Weitz’s wish was granted. In my name, and in the name of Jewish people throughout the world, an indigenous population was almost completely expelled. Village names have been removed from the map, houses blown up, and new forests planted. In Arabic, this is called the Nakba, or catastrophe. In Israel, this is called “independence.”

Last month I went with a man from Umm il Fahm (a Palestinian city in Israel) to his original village of Lajun, only a few miles away. Adnan’s land is now a JNF forest “belonging” to Kibbutz Megiddo.

As we walk the stone path he points to each side of the road, naming the families that used to live there: Mahamid, Mahajne, Jabrin…. The land there is not naturally rocky; the stones that we walk on are a graveyard of destroyed houses. Adnan was only six years old when the Haganah’s bullets flew over his head and he and his family fled. But he remembers. He tears up as we stop at the site of his destroyed house and says, “Welcome to my home.”

Adnan is an Israeli citizen, yet the land that was stolen from him has been given to a body that refuses to let him live on it. As an American Jew, I could move to Lajun/Megiddo tomorrow, gain full citizenship rights, and live on the land that Adnan’s family has tended for centuries. Adnan, who lives just a few minutes away, is forbidden from doing so.

As we approach the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel, the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, let us remember Adnan. Let us remember the inhabitants of Umm Khalid. Let us remember more than 6 million people whose basic human rights have been deprived for 60 years, and let us, as Jewish people with a history of oppression and a tradition of social justice, work for the right of indigenous people to return to their land. This is our only hope for true peace and security in the region.

Hannah Mermelstein is a co-founder of Birthright Unplugged and lives in Boston, Philadelphia and Ramallah.

Moving People Out, Now

HOW TO KEEP A CONVERSATION GOING: Links below can be copied, but will not automatically connect you to the Jewish Advocate.

Dear friends, I hope you're well. This is your weekly update about the Jewish Advocate. :) I don't want to crowd your in boxes, nor do I think the Jewish Advocate is the most important aspect of the struggle for Palestine, so this will be the last e-mail I'll send about it. I do find it exciting, though, and imagine the discussion will continue in the Advocate for weeks to come, so if you're interested in following it, please continue to check their site yourself at So, as for this week: First of all, thank you to all the folks who wrote letters - many of your letters have found their way into the paper this week!
?content_id=4729 This week's editorial is about Palestinian refugees: Its conclusions and some of its facts are suspect, but note that it begins by saying: "As the letters in response to Hannah Mermelstein's March 21 column and last week's editorial continue to pour in – both lauding and condemning us for running them – along with questioning the statistics and message contained in each, we are compelled to continue the discussion." So... keep on writing! And perhaps most amazingly, the online poll this week is about the right of return: "With regard to the Palestinian refugee issue, do you think some or all of the 3.7 million should be granted the right of return or given compensation in the event that a Palestinian state is created?" So their number of refugees is a little low, the word "or" should be "and", and the refugees should have rights regardless of the presence of a Palestinian state, but hey, just the fact that this question is out there in a Jewish newspaper is good. (Poll is near the bottom in the middle.) Thanks, all. if you want to keep following this, feel free to keep in touch and to follow the developments every Thursday at (I'll be checking for sure, so let me know if you think you'll forget and you want me to drop you a line). And keep up all your good work in many realms. -Hannah

Thursday, March 13, 2008

People I Love Are Dying

From my friend, Kathy Walsh, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, 03 March 08

People I know and love are dying. They are under a siege that prevents them from getting adequate food, medicine and potable water. Children I held and played with are being targeted by the world's fourth largest military power. They are in danger if they leave their homes, and equally in danger if they stay put. Their crime - being born in a part of the world that was sacrificed to atone for horrible crimes committed elsewhere by other people - being born to parents who refuse to lie down and let the world quietly take from them what little remains of who they are and what the Western world has left to them - being born Palestinian in the Gaza Strip.

Every night I go to bed terrified of what may happen while I sleep, if I sleep. When I get up, I check the news to see what was lost overnight. Yesterday I got news that a blast near a friend's apartment had blown out their windows. No one was hurt - physically - but the children's symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or more accurately Chronic Traumatic Stress Disorder have worsened. Same with the parents who must deal with their own anxieties while trying to protect and heal their children. These are children who shared their toys with me when I visited Gaza three years ago. One tried to teach me a few words in Arabic. My pronunciation was apparently unacceptable and quite funny. But we persisted until we all dissolved in laughter. I in turn showed them how to fold peace cranes with wings that flapped. And we flapped these cranes all around the apartment. We provided crane noises.

February 29. I read that Matan Vilnai, the Israeli deputy defense minister has threatened a "shoah" or "holocaust" on the people of the Gaza Strip. Now this "shoah" is reality - not so deadly as the Nazi "holocaust" that murdered 6 million Jews along with various other "undesirables". But A "shoah" nonetheless. A "nakba" or catastrophe for the people of Gaza.

Now, missiles are flying around and landing, some landing near or in other apartments. The noise they make is much louder and scarier than noises made by paper cranes. The cranes have probably long since been lost or worn out. The trauma from the missiles will last a lifetime.

I spent an afternoon in Rafah in the home of a family expecting twins. I ate food prepared especially for me. I played with five young nephews - the toys, paper cranes again. I spent the night with them. My host was a fieldworker for the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

The following morning my host took me on a tour of Rafah. We were interrupted by reports that a young girl was killed by sniper fire from an Israeli tower while waiting in her schoolyard for school to start. I saw her mother surrounded by friends trying to console her. I saw the body at the morgue. I saw her wounds. I visited a child in the hospital that was injured in the same "incident." Barely a blip in the US news. A few days later I visited the newborn twins.

Al Mezan carefully documents human rights abuses in the Gaza Strip. Israeli abuses of Palestinians, Palestinian abuses of Israelis, and Palestinian abuses of other Palestinians. Human Rights Watch also documents these human rights violations. Their reports can be found on-line. And all types occur, but the overwhelming majority of human rights violations that occur here are of the first kind. Palestinian civilians have been killed at an alarming but hardly noticed rate. Homes, greenhouses, gardens have been routinely destroyed. This killing and destroying has gone on at times when Palestinians resisted peacefully and at times when the resistance was not so peaceful. Yet Israel, the US and the US news media frames the violence as Palestinian provocation and Israeli retaliation.

This latest escalation of violence is framed as Israeli retaliation for rocket fire from Gaza that injured a teen-aged girl in Ashkelon. But nobody asks if maybe that rocket fired from Gaza was retaliation for ongoing Israeli violence in Gaza. And the immediate Israeli retaliation: four young boys killed playing soccer in Gaza.

Death by siege, death by the IOF, death (rarely) by Palestinian rockets. Why is the latter deplored while the former are largely ignored? Who decides what is provocation and what is retaliation? Who decides who can retaliate? Who decides who is allowed to react to what in "self-defense" and who must quietly accept an intolerable situation?

The Israel siege of Gaza is deadly violence. There is not enough food, not enough water, the water there is is unsafe, there is no more hypochlorite to disinfect it. There is not enough fuel to pump the wells, boil water, drive ambulances, run hospital machinery. Critically ill and injured Gazans are often prevented from leaving Gaza to obtain life-saving treatment.

Targeted assassinations occur routinely, often killing innocent family member and random nearby people. The target is not always killed. Buildings that "might" house "extremists" are blown up, possibly killing the targets, and usually killing others. Random acts of deadly violence also occur routinely. Nowhere is safe. There is nowhere to go.

I am worried about the physical and mental health of my host, the twins, the nephews. Will they survive?Intact? How will the current trauma effect the rest of their lives? What kind of adults will they become?

My mission in Rafah was to help Playgrounds for Palestine build a playground in a park, previously bulldozed by the Israeli army during "Operation Rainbow" . Playgrounds are not safe places to be in Gaza. Neither are schools, or the streets, or homes. Might as well have playgrounds.

Last night I got news of a family from Rafah I met here in Madison. They were on tour raising money for The Rebuilding Alliance to rebuild homes for people whose homes had been bulldozed by Israel. They brought along an infant. Last night a missile exploded a kilometer from their home, but it was loud enough that the children thought it hit very nearby. More traumatized children.

Some children are not traumatized. They are dead. My latest information is that since February 27, 101 Palestinians have been killed; 49 were unarmed civilians, 25 of these, children. The Israeli toll: three deaths, of which two were soldiers.

We must stop pretending that this situation is the Palestinians fault. We must admit that they are the ultimate victims of an attempt to remedy the crimes of a European nation on the backs of innocent Asian victims. We must admit that they are currently victims of the worlds fourth largest military power, backed by the world's only superpower. They are the victims of racism by former victims of racism and their allies. And the only way to end racism is to end all racism. Everywhere. By everyone. Forever.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What my shower and the situation in the ME have in common

My friend says that my blog has too much about Palestine and not enough about me. The truth is I am bound up in the issues involving Israel/Palestine and I simply cannot detach myself from the struggle I know goes on and on half-way around the world while I enjoy the mundane simplicity and pleasure of life in a peaceful burg in America. Furthermore, “the war” goes on here, too. It’s a public relations war, a war within which I must fight. From my perspective the whole Middle East thing is a matter of public opinion. The Zionists have the most brilliant public relations strategy ever known to man and they’ve been at it since the late 1800s. Those of us who value a world not tied up in “isms”, nationalism heading the list, have only of late begun a campaign to foster peace and prosperity for people everywhere; irregardless, of religion, culture, color, creed, whatever. I do not want a land for Presbyterians for heaven’s sake, or any other “ians,” and I’m going to have to sell that idea, I guess, even if I have years of catching up to do.

Given the history of the struggle for land in the inappropriately named Holy Land (it’s not holy, these days), I feel that there has never been a time better than now to start sharing and behaving ourselves worldwide. The situation reminds me of cleaning the bathroom. I’ve always been a bit of a potty mouth.

Today, no less, I really cleaned my bathroom, especially, the tub. Our bathroom was installed about 10-years ago, all white and shining. At first, I took care of it, going in periodically to look at my matching towels and wallpaper and smiling at the thought of my Corrian shower, something special for us. But, it wasn’t long until I lost interest in the novelty of this corner of my house. I stopped washing down the walls and the glass doors. It was in and out of the shower for me. Sometimes my beloved husband would suggest a cleaning, and I’d give him a look that said, “you do it.” I think some men trick us women when we ask them to clean something in the house. They do it, but ever so badly. I never ask my guy to clean anymore. Well, sometimes.

Of course, a scum developed, a scum that could not be washed away simply . Remember those shower sprays advertised as a way to clean the shower without having to do any rubbing at all. I did that. It only added to the scum; it was like a public relations campaign that tries to get people to see things in a certain way knowing they don’t have the understanding to know where the real dirt begins and ends. It’s a perfumed spray, a cover up, unsanitary with nothing in it to really solve a problem or bring disaster to an end. It allows build up after build up. Soon, the mess is truly out of hand. I’m sure you get the point.

Well, I finally knew that I couldn’t let the shower go any longer. Mold developed making it into a no-mans-land for me. My shower was a place that made my eyes sting and my skin get hives. My shower was winning. Hum! So, I bought the strong lye based cleaner I could find and started. I bought an excellent squeegee that really gets the water and soap off after each use and I started caring about my shower: how it felt, how it looked, how it made me feel.

The first scrub down did nothing at all. The second did a little more, but all the yellow mold spots stayed stuck (they always do). I got a different kind of cleaner. I scrubbed until I was red in the face and even though I wore rubber gloves, little warts arose on my hands from the fumes coming from the cleaner. I put on my swimming goggles and a worker’s face mask. I scrubbed some more. Today is the first day since all this cleaning began several weeks ago that the yellow spots began to fade. I still have a long way to go.

Even with my shower, it’s never too late to make things right. In my case, there was no time like the now before me to start. I want a perpetually clean shower. I could not get that without an effort, the right kind of effort: a cover up wouldn’t do; ignoring the creeping sludge made things worse; refusing to face reality pushed my shower and me further and further apart; a change in strategy and behavior became essential. When all is said and done, to make a place safe and clean and pleasant takes work, care and recognition of truth, i.e. justice for the shower and for me. I’m sure you get the point.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

MAZIN QUMSIYEH, A Man of His People

On Tue, Mar 11, 2008 at 2:27 AM, Mazin Qumsiyeh wrote:

Here is a quote from a speech by Nelson Mandela, African National Congress leader who spent decades in prisons in Apartheid South Africa and became its President after the end of Apartheid

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

And Mazin, himself, wrote. . . .

We are now (Tuesday) heading to Boise, Idaho on the Wheels of Justice Bus Tour. We had great time in Oregon (and over 300 signed on as new friends of the bus; ranging in age from 11-88 year olds :-). Here is a relevant short poem I wrote inspired by a message covering a mirror at the Catholic Worker house where we stayed in the last few nights in Portland (note I am a medical geneticist and not a poet :-{ ) followed by the weekly relevant links:


As a child we first recognized faces before objects or toys
And we loved all faces.. ALL Faces
But a child's eyes grow some times
and learns to avert from some faces
Those who still really see.. see all faces
Faces that look away and those that engage us
Faces of youth radiant with young love
Faces of old content in holding hands
Faces of a lifelong activists with passion and determination
Faces of anger and fear and yes even racism in people who may or may not feel guilty for their thoughts of tribalism or yes racism
Faces that see the color of the face not its expression
I see faces of child angels who have no fear of strangers
Faces of mothers looking at their suckling babies
Faces suffering illness
Faces of students unsure of where to go
and those which light up with new knowledge
Faces contorted with hunger
Faces smiling at new friendships
Faces wet with the tears at the loss of loved ones
Faces weeping at coffins of young shot by those with young faces
Faces of those who claim to be good Christians, good Muslims, Good Jews
While doing unto others what they would not want done unto them
Faces of hate and bigotry
or compassion and understanding
Faces devastated at a home demolished
a family uprooted, a refugee camp
Faces of horror
Faces of despair
Faces of deep love
Faces of those who still see with a child's eyes
and those hardened and cynical
Faces of kindness and mercy
or ignorance and racism
Smiling or laughing
shouting or wailing
All human faces..etched when we look carefully
and choose

Video: AFSC video on the cost of war on Iraq

Video: Palestinian children in a destroyed refugee camp in Jenin express steadfastness/resistance:

Scary Video: The "Christians United for Israel Tour!" (End-times, nuclear weapons blowing up, Jews accepting Jesus and "Moslems = Satan" circus).

From CAPJPO-EuroPalestine
We would like to thank all those who took part in our fantastic bus tour through Paris on the 23 February, date of the international day of protest against the blockade of Gaza. This provided us with the opportunity to make the film "Paris-Palestine Tour", which we wholeheartedly recommend to you. You can watch it on our site , or on YouTube, DailyMotion or Google ( ; ; ).

The mega prison of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe (Pappe was a professor at Hebrew University and is now at the University of Exeter).

Al Jazeera, March 9/08 Tragedy of Israel and Palestine By Mark Levine

Khalid Amayreh in occupied Jerusalem "My message to the Jews"

ACTIONS: Speak and write to friends, family members, the media, and to elected officials. Express your opinion in every forum. Every voice counts. As Howard Zinn said "You can't be neutral on a moving train" (in this case the train is likely heading for a cliff and we need to stop it or get off of it).

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD