Saturday, 28 November 2009

Thanksgiving – a time to recognize and atone for past injustices

Sermon by Jim Rigby, priest of St Andrews Church in Austin, Texas, USA, 22 November 2009

An audio recording of this sermon is available here.

Thanksgiving has become a problematic holiday for many of us. We want to appreciate the wonderful gifts of life, but the holiday is housed in a story that now requires us to be dishonest.

In school, I was taught a view of history that assumed people of European descent were the centre of a story that culminated in the founding of our country. In all those years of history classes, we did not hear directly from one slave or native person. That distorted view of history became the foundation from which I did politics. I just assumed that, in any conflict, we are good and they are bad. We want peace, they want to hurt us. We are basically honest, they can’t be trusted. I believed we are better than others because of the unexamined mountain of propaganda upon which I stood.

A few decades ago this false innocence was shattered by a conversation with a visitor to our church who had worked for the CIA. He told me about the horrors of US foreign policy. He talked about the routine slaughter of innocent civilians to protect the business interests of corporations overseas. I did not believe him. I thought he was crazy. Slowly and reluctantly I began to investigate for myself. What I discovered broke my heart.

It is not possible to find truth today if we begin by refusing to let go of a lie about yesterday. The founding myth of the American empire is that Columbus discovered America. You cannot discover a country where people already live unless those people don’t count. By repeating that story every year we silence the victims of the American holocaust. If native people count, Columbus did not discover America. If native people count we cannot say that God gave us this land. If native people count, we cannot claim as blessings things that were actually seized by violence.

I do not believe we should feel guilty about what our ancestors did to people centuries ago, but I do think we should be honest about what happened. And when we are honest about the past, it is very difficult not to see that we are doing many of the same things in the present. Guilt is the only non-pathological response to our relationship to the Third World and actual political change is the only alternative to that guilt.

It can be very difficult to wrestle with these issues when friends and family call us to the old stories. That is why on 22 November, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, our worship will be a service of atonement to prepare us for the Thanksgiving season. Our goal is not to feel guilty, but to be honest. If we remember that God loves all people equally, we will also remember that children of God must humble themselves and bring justice to all people.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Get ready for another Iraq whitewash

From Gilad Atzmon

The Jerusalem Post reported on 25 November that Sir Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, criticized the appointment of two leading Jewish academics [Sir Lawrence Freedman and Sir Martin Gilbert] to the UK's Iraq Inquiry panel, stating it may upset the balance of the inquiry.

Miles said the two academics were Jewish and that Gilbert was an active Zionist. He also said they were both strong supporters of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Iraq war.

"It is a pity that, if and when the inquiry is accused of a whitewash, such handy ammunition will be available," he added. "Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced."

The former ambassador also said that having two historians in a panel of five "seems a lot" and also questioned the Jewish academics' credentials.
In December 2004 Sir Martin, while pointing out that the “war on terror” was not a third world war, wrote that Bush and Blair “may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill” – an eccentric opinion that would seem to rule him out as a member of the committee. Sir Lawrence is the reputed architect of the “Blair doctrine” of humanitarian intervention, which was invoked in Kosovo and Afghanistan as well as Iraq.
To read the full article, click here.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

TV documentary exposes Britain's Israel lobby

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Channel 4 Dispatches: "Inside Britain's Israel lobby", broadcast on 16 November 2009. The video can also be viewed here.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Inside Britain's Israel Lobby

Dispatches: Inside Britain's Israel Lobby – Channel Four | Monday 16 November | 8 p.m.

Dispatches investigates one of the most powerful and influential political lobbies in Britain, which is working in support of the interests of the State of Israel.

Despite wielding great influence among the highest realms of British politics and media, little is known about the individuals and groups which collectively are known as the pro-Israel lobby.

Political commentator Peter Oborne sets out to establish who they are, how they are funded, how they work and what influence they have, from the key groups to the wealthy individuals who help bankroll the lobbying.

He investigates how accountable, transparent and open to scrutiny the lobby is, particularly in regard to its funding and financial support of MPs.

The pro-Israel lobby aims to shape the debate about Britain's relationship with Israel and future foreign policies relating to it.

Oborne examines how the lobby operates from within parliament and the tactics it employs behind the scenes when engaging with print and broadcast media.

For background information, click here. In particular, the articles below (others are listed on the left-hand margin of

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Waging war on Palestinian students – Update 2

By Stuart Littlewood

Update to the following:
The Berlanty Azzam affair has taken several twists and turns as the Israelis duck and weave. Here’s the latest update to reach me. But first, very briefly, the story so far.

Berlanty Azzam, a fourth-year student of Bethlehem University, has been prevented from continuing her studies and robbed her of her degree. Last week, after attending a job interview, she was arrested by the Israeli military at a checkpoint, deported to Gaza blindfolded and handcuffed, and unceremoniously dumped there in the dark late at night.

The Israeli embassy in London, when asked for an explanation, said that Ms Azzam held a permit to stay in the West Bank for 4 days in 2005 and since the permit had expired she’d been living in the West Bank illegally. “As you probably know, every Gaza resident who stays in the West Bank requires a permit, failing to do so is a breach of the law. As Ms Azzam has failed to provide a valid permit she was deported back to Gaza.”

The embassy spokesperson added that if Ms Azzam wished to complete her studies at Bethlehem she should apply for a permit to the relevant authorities (COGAT) in Gaza.

After checking with Bethlehem University’s senior management, it seems the embassy’s excuses are insufficient, so I have pressed the ambassador’s people for a fuller explanation.

Thank you for your reply of 4 November, which raises further questions.

1. When did the state of Israel pass and put into effect this law concerning the residents of Gaza? Was it AFTER 2005, i.e. after Berlanty was already in the West Bank? When Berlanty went to Gaza in 2005, there was no such law, so her moving to the West Bank in 2005 was perfectly legal, was it not?

2. Does the democratic state of Israel forbid its own citizens to move from one city to another? Under what authority does the state of Israel forbid citizens of the Palestinian territories to move from one city to another?

3. Why did the state of Israel wait until she was within two months of graduating before pouncing?

4. You say that "if Ms Azzam wishes to complete her studies in Bethlehem University, she will need to submit her application to the relevant authorities (COGAT) in Gaza where they will be processed." How many students from Gaza have applied to COGAT in the past year? And how many students have had their applications approved?

Bethlehem University says that 12 students from Gaza have applied to attend the University and NOT ONE has received permission from the relevant COGAT authorities in Gaza. Do they all pose a security threat to the democratic state of Israel?

I look forward to your further reply and perhaps a word or two from the ambassador, Mr Prosor.
But I’m not holding my breath.

Stuart Littlewood
4 November 2009

How the “most moral army in the world” wages war on students - Update 1

By Stuart Littlewood

[Update to story – How the “most moral army in the world” wages war on students – published on 1 November.]

The Israeli embassy in London has finally made its excuses for the “senseless outrage” of preventing Berlanty Azzam, a fourth-year student of Bethlehem University, from continuing her studies and robbing her of her degree. She was arrested at an Israeli checkpoint and deported to Gaza blindfolded and handcuffed, and dumped there in the dark late at night.
Re: Ms Berlanty Azzam (I.D. 801158791)

Ms Azzam is a Gaza resident who is staying in the West Bank illegally. Ms Azzam held a permit to stay in the West Bank for 4 days in 2005 and since the permit has expired has been residing in the West Bank illegally.

As you probably know, every Gaza resident who stays in the West Bank requires a permit, failing to do so is a breach of the law. As Ms Azzam has failed to provide a valid permit she was deported back to Gaza.

If Ms Azzam wishes to complete her studies in Bethlehem University, she will need to submit her application to the relevant authorities (COGAT) in Gaza where they will be processed.

Sincerely yours,
Ms Ma'ayan, Israeli Public Affairs Department
Embassy of Israel
2 Palace Green
London W8 4QB
Tel: +44-(0)207-957-9541
Fax: +44-(0)207-957-9555
Berlanty was resident in the West Bank since 2005 and all that time resisted the temptation to return home to Gaza to see her folks. If her permit expired in 2005 why did the Israelis wait to ‘discover’ this fact just 2 months before she was due to graduate?

What the embassy tells me does not tally with what the University has been told. In an update issued today Bethlehem University management reports:
  • On Tuesday, 3 November 2009 the lawyers at Gisha were informed that the state of Israel claims that Berlanty has no right to be at Bethlehem University - to be in the West Bank. However, Berlanty did not need a permit to remain in the West Bank after entering, and no such kind of permit existed in 2005, so she couldn't have requested one. Berlanty only needed the Israeli permit to cross through Israel from Gaza to the West Bank, which she received.
  • The Israeli High Court of Justice will hold another court hearing on Berlanty's case next Thursday, 12 November 2009 at 9:00am to have the Israeli military to further explain why Berlanty was removed from Bethlehem to Gaza.
  • In their response to the court, the Israeli state admits that a "mistake" was made in removing Berlanty on the night of Wednesday, 28 October 2009. Orders were given by the legal adviser's office not to do it. It was done anyway and still they refuse to return her to her studies at Bethlehem University.

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are internationally recognized as one integral territory. The embassy’s explanation is at odds with the contention by Birzeit (another West Bank university) that similar action by Israel against a number of Birzeit students from Gaza was “in clear violation of the fundamental human right to education, the right to freedom of movement and the right to choose one’s place of residence within a single territory, in accordance with internationally accepted standards of human rights law”.

I’m not a lawyer, but it would be nice to hear a legal expert explain what authority Israel has for its bloody-minded and cruel conduct towards hard-working students.

Stuart Littlewood
4 November 2009