By Tim Sheard
Our tax dollars and our good name should go to build international solidarity for all people, and to fight against intolerance and exploitation of working people in all lands. And don’t forget, Hamas was originally funded by U.S. dollars as a counter-force against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), just as Al Qaeda was funded by the U.S. CIA to counter Soviet Union influence in Afghanistan.
Recently a friend of mine – a Jewish physician in Brooklyn – posted some thoughtful remarks on Facebook regarding Israel’s current policy towards Gaza and the Palestinians. He felt that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is eerily like the Warsaw ghetto and deserves to be condemned. When I shared his remarks, several friends felt that because I was critical of Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians, I must be a supporter of the Muslims as led by Hamas, who are fighting the Israelis. This is far from the truth. Criticism of Israeli policy does not mean that I support that community’s antagonists. To me, the leadership of both communities have been commandeered by ultra-right wing political parties that deserve equal condemnation.
The current Israeli government takes the hard line view that punishing Palestinians – cutting off water, electricity, closing borders, banning trade, bombing children, etc., – will change the political will of Hamas the ruling Palestinian political party or even turn the Palestinians against their current government. I think this is the opposite of true: that brutality begets more brutality. I think showing kindness and generosity toward Palestinian people would be a more effective, long range approach to bringing peace to the region.
Most religions employ their belief systems – using guilt, shame, and threats of spending eternity in hell vs. in heaven with virgins or with grandma and grandpa – as tools to recruit and retain members. They all pretty much say, “I have a secret hotline to ‘god’ and all the other prophets are phonies. Follow only my law exclusively or you are damned forever.” These religious ideologies are not so much about finding answers to the age old questions about life and death, but are about asserting control over people’s hearts and minds. Thus, the orthodox Jews in Israel and Brooklyn preach they are chosen by god, so they have the right to impose their beliefs on non-Jews at the point of a gun, while the right wing Muslims spout the same rhetoric and the same threats. The right wing Christians do the same in the U.S. when they pass laws that ban birth control and abortions and then enforce those laws at the point of a gun: arrest and incarceration, etc.
Why can’t an Arab family and a Jewish family be cordial neighbors? In Brooklyn, it happens all the time; in the Middle East, political leaders promote hatred as a winning political agenda to stay in power. Preaching hate wins votes. When these political leaders can’t or won’t provide services that people need, they stir up bigotry against another group and blame that group for all their own failings, just as Hitler’s brown shirts did in Germany.
In my mind, neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian government is committed to reducing poverty, promoting broad acceptance of human rights, fighting against gender/ethnic/color discrimination, or accepting other belief systems as equally valid, admitting that followers of other religions are equally worthy of living a good life. I do not support any of the ruling political parties in the region, because none of them stand for tolerance and social justice for all.
That said, some people in power are more egregious in their deadly campaigns than others. Yes, Hamas sends rockets into Israel which cause fear and damage and a small number of deaths. The Israeli government prevents Palestinians from having fresh water, sanitation, reliable medical care, electricity, factories to produce goods and services, etc. These are deadly, oppressive long term campaigns. Hamas never turned off the electricity in an Israeli hospital. Both sides are led by corrupt bullies, but the Israeli bullies are just more deadly. Of all the people in the world, they should be tolerant of others.
Unfortunately, the United States government – Congress and President alike – give billions of dollars of support to Israel without setting conditions, like stopping the bulldozers that level whole Arab villages and replace them with Jewish ones. American policy should be promoting tolerance, not the destruction of neighborhoods. Our tax dollars and our good name should go to build international solidarity for all people, and to fight against intolerance and exploitation of working people in all lands. And don’t forget, Hamas was originally funded by U.S. dollars as a counter-force against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), just as Al Qaeda was funded by the U.S. CIA to counter Soviet Union influence in Afghanistan.
Religious beliefs should be personal, not political, and they should be tolerant. “All religions lead to god,” a wise Hindu priest once said. Would that all religious leaders follow this dictum and stay out of political parties. We live on one planet; we are one race of people; “working people have no nation.” We need to stop pitting one group against another; one community against a neighbor, and share the bounty that we produce rather than horde it for a select, powerful few.
(Tim Sheard is a writer based in Brooklyn and publisher of the Hard Ball Press. He is currently chairperson of the National Writers Union New York.)