Monday, May 31, 2010

A Time for Quakers (and everyone) to Act

Dear All,
Last night, the Israeli army attacked the humanitarian flotilla to Gaza in international waters, killing between 10 and 20 peace activists on board. The international community is in an uproar. Please read the New York Times and/or Aljazeera accounts below. And please, now is the time to act. Letters to the editor, op-eds, talking to friends, sending mail to your Senators and Representatives as well as the President, all can help.

While individual actions are essential, it is time for Quaker Meetings to take a more visible stand on the difficult, controversial, yet crystal clear issue of Palestine. A recent story in Friends Journal on another controversial issue, slavery, makes a similar point. Here is the jist of it.

322 years ago, four Quakers living in Germantown PA, wrote a Minute decrying the Quaker practice of slavery (see attached for the full text).

The signers made several arguments, the first and most prominent being the Golden Rule: "There is a saying that we shall doe to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are." The authors ask, in a tone of anguish, if their fellow Quakers would like to be treated as they treat their slaves, for "Quakers doe here handel men as they handel there ye cattle."

The four Dutch Quakers who wrote the Minute presented it to their monthly Meeting in 1688. It was judged too controversial, and sent to the Quarterly Meeting, where it was judged too weighty. It was then sent to the Yearly Meeting, where "it was adjusted not to be so proper for this Meeting to give a Positive Judgment in the case, It having so General a Relation to many other Parts, and therefore at present they forbear It."

Why was this Minute so controversial? Slavery, by 1688, had become quite profitable, and profit, as well as freedom from oppression, was a draw for new immigrants. And although various forms of slavery were quite widespread at the time (in Russia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe), slavery in the "New World" had become color-coded (slave=black), which made it easier for the people who saw themselves as "white" to consider blacks as less than human. There are always "reasons" to ignore the Golden Rule.

The proposed Minute, never passed, was filed away in the archives of the Philadelphia Meeting House until it was "rediscovered" by Quaker abolitionists 156 years later, and used to promote the national anti-slavery cause. Pennsylvania abolished slavery 92 years after the Minute in Germantown pointed out its inconsistency with the Golden Rule.

Dear Friends, let us not be like the early Pennsylvania Quaker Meetings, that were unable to take a principled collective stand on the Golden Rule. If Palestinians are human beings like ourselves, and if our own government supports their oppression through monetary and military support of Israel, we cannot in good conscience stand by silently.

In peace with justice
Helen Fox
for the Palestine Israel Action Group
of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting

Friday, May 28, 2010

Please support International Flotilla to Gaza

PIAG’s monthly dispatch for June, 2010 focuses on ten humanitarian ships with 700 peace activists on board bringing 5000 tons of aid to Gaza this Memorial Day Weekend, with all the celebration and trepidation that nonviolent action entails. This video clip shows the joyful send off of The Rachael Corrie, one of the ships in the "Freedom Flotilla" which will converge in the Meditarranean and set sail toward Gaza, where the Israeli military is determined to stop them.

Described as "a force more powerful" by Ewa Jasiewicz in the Electronic Intifada, "this flotilla represents radical solidarity and a force that can be realized when people from all over the world act on their conscience. It's a force made real through stepping out onto the streets or into occupation-supporting businesses, through speaking out, through fundraising in mosques, churches, synagogues, schools; through writing, singing, sharing, relaying and promoting, and packing and driving boxes of materials and cement, and cheering on and praying for and protesting any attack."

We conclude with an appeal from the Shalom Center: A Prophetic Voice in Jewish, Multireligious, and American Life: Support Humanitarian "Ship-In" to Gaza: Urge Israeli Government to Let Ships Land:

From the Shalom Center:

"According to Israeli news reports, half the Israeli Navy has been deployed to intercept these ships instead of letting them proceed to deliver food, medical supplies such as wheelchairs, and materials for reconstructing homes that were destroyed during the Israeli government's attack on Gaza a year ago.

The ships are being sent because the Israeli government has imposed a blockade on many civilian goods from entering Gaza. The ships are intended as a nonviolent way of breaking through the blockade.

In Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights has urged the government to allow the ships to pass and to end its blockade of civilian goods from entering Gaza. The Shalom Center joins in this plea and invites our readers and members to join in it as well by writing or calling Secretary of State Clinton, the Israeli Embassy to the United States, and the Israeli consulates near where they live.

This nonviolent approach to achieving political change is both profoundly ethical and profoundly practical. It echoes, for example, the work of the civil rights movement in the United States in the early 1960s. Sit-ins, freedom rides, freedom schools, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party all operated on the principle of carrying into practice in the present the vision that its activists had for the future.

Their vision was that restaurants, buses, and schools should be open to all, and that the Democratic Party in Mississippi should reflect the voting rights of all citizens of Mississippi, black and white.

What civil rights activists faced was racially segregated society and culture. They did not begin by petitioning Congress for new laws; they did not attack segregationists or segregated institutions. Instead, they embodied the future that they hoped for -- in the present when they were living.

Since they hoped to achieve integrated restaurants, they went in integrated groups to the restaurants. That left the burden of response on the owners and officials. They could arrest sit-in activists; they could even kill them; or they could let the restaurants become integrated.

Over time, so many Americans were moved and drawn by these nonviolent protests that they joined the demonstrations, and insisted that Congress change the laws.

These ten ships approaching the coast of Gaza are doing the same thing. They want the blockade of civilian goods to end; so they are ending it by bringing humanitarian supplies. They are putting the burden on the Israeli government of choosing to attack them or choosing to let the supplies through.

For years, many of us have urged Palestinians to turn to nonviolent action. Now they and their supporters are doing this. And they are doing it not by boycotting or divesting from Israel but by a positive rather than a negative action -- affirming the simple justice of allowing Palestinians in Gaza to receive what human beings need. I hope that many Americans, many Jews among them, will respond as Northern whites responded to the sit-in movement 50 years ago.

Below you can find three items: the English translation of the letter sent today by Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel to Defense Minister Ehud Barak; a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to the Israeli Embassy; and the telephone, fax, and e-mail addresses of Secretary Clinton, the Israeli embassy to the United States, and consulates around the country.

Supporters are encouraged to draw on these letters as they like, to phone, e-mail, or fax their own comments to Secretary Clinton and the Israeli government -- -- urging them to welcome, rather than attack, these ships bearing humanitarian supplies.

Below is the English translation of the letter sent today by Rabbis For Human Rights to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

To Defense Minister Ehud Barak,

Rabbis For Human Rights believes that, instead of viewing humanitarian aid as a provocation, Israel ought to let the Gaza flotilla reach the Gaza port, along with the cargo and those on board, after a thorough but quick inspection.

Rabbis For Human Rights supports the people of conscience from around the world who have sent humanitarian aid to Gaza. We also welcome Israeli government's announcement that it will allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. We are hopeful that, after years of the blockade that has caused great suffering to the Gaza's civilian population, violated international law and prevented Gazans from rebuilding their lives after the Gaza War, Israel will carry out the Jewish tradition's demand that, even when a town is under siege, a side must be left open. (Mishna Tora; Hilchot Malakhi 6:7)

However, Israeli statements hedging on what will be allowed in and denying that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, along with the list of goods denied in recent years, whose only connection with security is that they allow the civilian population to exist, causes doubt as to Israel's true intentions.

RHR also calls on those responsible for the flotilla to change their decision, and to agree to the request of Gilad Shalit's father to take a package and letter to his son.

B'Vrakha (In Blessing),
Rabbi Arik Ascherman
Executive Director
Dear Ambassador/ Dear Secretary,

As a rabbi, I am deeply committed to the physical safety and the moral and ethical legitimacy of Israel. Both would be enhanced by welcoming, rather than halting and arresting, the ships bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza -- and by ending the Israeli government's blockade of civilian goods.

Ten ships, over 700 international passengers, and some 5,000 tons of reconstruction materials, representingover 50 countries, are represented on this Flotilla, including parliamentarians, medical professionals, and peace activists. These individuals have every right - indeed,. Obligation -- to sail into Gaza's sea port and deliver the much needed humanitarian, medical, and construction materials necessary for Palestinians in Gaza to rebuild their lives.

Media sources report that Israeli naval forces are allegedly in training to prepare to interdict the Flotilla and prevent the arrival of the ships at "any price". According to news reports, about half of the Israeli naval forces will participate in an operation to prepare to seize the boats in the flotilla and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will supervise the operation.

Israel has stopped at least three Free Gaza sailings since January 2009, including one ship which almost sunk after being deliberately rammed by an Israeli vessel and another ship which Israel intercepted in international waters and arrested all of its passengers. Another ship was forced to turn back after the Israeli Navy threatened to shoot the civilian passengers on board.

I am writing to ask you to do everything possible to prevent Israel from using military force to launch an attack or naval blockade on the Flotilla and it's peaceful, unarmed, international citizens. Please do the right thing and stand with the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza by calling on Israel to ensure that all threats to attack the Freedom Flotilla are withdrawn and its safe passage is guaranteed. I remain hopeful that you will take to heart your role in this and will do everything in your power to ensure their safety.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Phone (Office of Public Affairs): 202/647-5171.

Embassy of Israel to US
Phone: (202) 364-5500
Fax: (202)364-5429

Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta
1100 Spring St. N.W. Suite
440 Atlanta, Georgia 30309
Phone: (404) 487-6500
Fax: (404) 487-6555

Consulate General of Israel in Boston
Phone: (617) 535-0200
Fax: (617) 535-0255

Consulate General of Israel in Chicago
Phone: 312-297-4800
Fax: 312-297-4855

Consulate of Israel to the Southwest
Phone: (713) 627-3780; (713) 622 4924
Fax: (713) 627-0149

Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles
Phone: (323)852-5500
Fax: (323)852-5555

Consulate General of Israel in Miami
Phone: 305-925-9400
Fax: 305-925-9455

Consulate General of Israel in New York
Phone: (212) 499-5400; (212) 499-5000

Consulate General of Israel in San Francisco
Phone: 415 - 844-7500; (415) 844-7510
Fax: 415-844-7555

Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia
Phone: 215-977-7600
Fax: 215-977-7611