Tag Archives: conflict

Arab Spring, Flotilla Summer

By Adina Rosenthal

‘Tis the season. Flotilla season, that is. Summertime marks a new tradition of groups gathering in boats and sailing to the Gaza Strip, with the alleged aim of providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, though many think the main objective is to test Israel’s resolve by breaking its naval blockade.

Last year, the flotilla made headlines when IDF commandos clashed with Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara, a ship sponsored by the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), a Turkish NGO accused of having links to Hamas and al-Qaida. With nine killed and several injured, including Israeli soldiers, the aftermath of the conflict resulted in an inquisition and finger pointing that has torn holes in the alliance between Israel and Turkey and has given the international community another excuse to vilify Israel. Since the disaster, Israel has added the IHH to its terror watch list.

Keeping with tradition, the “Freedom Flotilla 2” plans to set sail at the end of June. However, there’s something different in the air this summer. World governments and the U.N. are pleading with participants not to sail to Gaza and elicit a showdown with the Israelis, even in the name of humanitarianism. Even more surprisingly, the Mavi Marmara, now seen as a symbol of the Gaza struggle, recently announced it would not be part of this summer’s brigade.

So what gives? Why has “Flotilla: the Sequel” lost the wind in its sails? While the IHH cites damage from last year’s IDF raid as the reason for the Mavi Marmara remaining docked, it’s possible that the overall initiative has lost steam due to the strong winds still lingering from the Arab Spring.

While the Arab Spring didn’t directly hit Israel, its implications have reverberated throughout the Jewish state, particularly from neighboring Egypt and Syria. With Hosni Mubarak pushed out of power and democracy trying to take hold, Egyptians reopened the Rafah Crossing, ending their participation in the four-year blockade of Gaza, which began in response to Hamas’ takeover. The combination of Egypt reopening Rafah and Israel allowing more aid into Gaza seem to have deflated the rhetoric and the apparent urgency of the mission.

In Syria, the Arab Spring uprisings against Bashar al-Assad’s government have spread to the Israeli frontier. After 37 years of quiet on the border, al-Assad allowed thousands of Syrians to protest, perhaps to detract from attention at home. One opposition group—Reform Syria—claimed on their website that the protesters were poor farmers, paid $1,000 by the Syrian regime to protest and promised $10,000 for their families if they were killed. Moreover, the Syrian chaos has spilled into Turkey, with thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing oppression across their shared border.  Perhaps Turkey is trying to hedge its bets, keeping Israel happy by discouraging flotillas as violence encroaches on its borders.

Despite clear differences from last year, flotilla advocates still believe there is work to be done. “While we wholeheartedly welcome the decision of the Egyptian government to regularly operate the Rafah crossing… Israel’s unlawful blockade remains in effect,” said a Greek coordinator of the flotilla. Bülent Yıldırım, head of the İHH stated, “In the past, we went there for Gaza, but now we are going for humanity and the law,” highlighting the flexible rationale behind the flotilla missions.

Clearly, the Arab Spring has shifted the playing field of the flotilla initiative. But what does it mean for Israel?

Despite this year’s more tamed rhetoric and the Mavi Marmara’s lack of participation, Israel has thoroughly prepared for any summer showdowns. According to one Israeli diplomatic official, Israel is “continuing to prepare for the flotilla as usual…We have not heaved a sigh of relief, but are continuing to prepare on all fronts, including the diplomatic front.”  Last year, Israel was arguably unprepared for the violence that ensued. Learning from past mistakes, the IDF has spent weeks preparing, training through simulations geared specifically toward a worst-case flotilla scenario. According to Israel Navy commander, Adm. Eliezer Marom, the Navy “will continue to prevent the arrival of the ‘hate flotilla’ whose only goals are to clash with IDF soldiers, create media provocation and to delegitimize the State of Israel.”

Though the flotilla summer is as full of uncertainties as the Arab Spring, Israel must remain vigilant in securing its safety and protecting its borders. In other words, business as usual.

Moment Magazine Launches Tweets4Peace Contest

Moment Magazine is thrilled to announce the Tweets4Peace contest.  Lengthy tomes have been written about the Middle East conflict, which ranks among the world’s most intractable.  Amid the mountains of scholarship, research, and analysis, Moment seeks new ideas in the shortest, simplest form possible: Twitter updates.

Through June 30, the Rabins, Sadats, Gandis and Kings of the world are invited to submit their solutions to Middle East peace via Twitter using the hashtag #Tweets4Peace.  At a time in which peace appears distant, the contest represents an opportunity for fresh thinking and new ideas.  Aside from the obvious reward of bringing peace to the Middle East, the contest winner will receive a 1-year subscription to Moment in addition to a special peace prize (look out, Nobel), to be announced.

Moment Magazine, an award-winning bimonthly with a flagship print publication, lively website, comprehensive digital version, celebrated blog IntheMoment, popular thrice weekly e-newsletter The Fix and much more, was co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Elie Wiesel in 1975 and relaunched in 2004 by journalist and entrepreneur Nadine Epstein. As an independent voice, Moment includes points of views that transcend ideological and denominational divides; highly-diverse interpretations of religious thought; a food section for thinking people called “Talk of the Table;” award-winning in-depth features; and first rate book reviews edited by former New York Times Sunday Book Review editor Mitchel Levitas. Contributors include Calvin Trillin, Cynthia Ozick, Wolf Blitzer, Yossi Klein Halevi, Theodore Bikel, Erica Jong, Dara Horn, David Margolick, Dani Shapiro and many others.

For more information on the Tweets4Peace contest or to arrange an interview with editor and publisher Nadine Epstein, contact Niv Elis at (202)-363-6422 or nelis@momentmag.com.

The Olive Conflict

By Lily Hoffman Simon

When Noah’s ark ended its forty day journey, Noah sent forth a dove, which returned to him with an olive branch. The olive branch indicated the end of the flood and reappearance of land, and symbolized the restoration of justice to humanity (Genesis 8).  Since then, the olive branch has become a symbol of peace in the Jewish and Western traditions.  But recent history concerning olive trees in the West Bank seems to contradict this peaceful association.

First, a little history is necessary. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in 1967. The Palestinian inhabitants of the territory are not Israeli citizens.  Some areas of the West Bank are entirely under Israeli control, while other areas have an autonomous Palestinian governmental body. However, Israeli settlements in the West Bank impede the development of Palestinian autonomy.  Amidst this complicated political and territorial situation, olive trees have unexpectedly emerged as a tool of land appropriation.

In the West Bank, where the question of who “owns” plots of land is legally murky, the person using and tilling the land usually receives default possession.  As a result, Palestinians in the West Bank can hold on to more land by planting olive trees. Settlers claiming Biblical sources as their deed to the land respond by planting trees of their own.

Yet the saga doesn’t end there.  The olive rebellion has turned into a bloody feud, as Jewish settlers have responded to the Palestinian olive trees with torching, uprooting, and violence.  The human rights organization Yesh Din has reported 69 accounts of damage to Palestinian trees in the past 4 years, acts that result in economic decline, environmental deterioration, humiliation, and even physical harm to Palestinians.

The olive tree is central to Palestinian rituals, historical agricultural practice, and economic growth through the production of olive oil.  In this light, Palestinian tree-planting can be viewed as both a cultural and political act by the Palestinians. But the prominence of olive trees throughout the Israeli landscape presents the importance of the tree to the Jewish tradition as well.  In the parallel plantings, it is apparent that the olive trees are not simply about land appropriation, but also ethnic devaluation of both Israelis and Palestinians.

The complications concerning olive trees in the West Bank degrade the importance of an international symbol – the olive branch itself. The tree’s connotation is sadly transforming into one of power struggles, violence and ethnic conflict instead of peace and justice. However, there is some hope, given the development of peace and community initiatives that maintain use of the olive tree as a positive symbol (examples include The Olive Tree Initiative, and even the infamous Dr. Bronner’s soap which uses olive oil from joint Israeli-Palestinian production).  Despite the symbol’s newfound defamation, the olive branch may yet be reclaimed as a sign of peace.  Before that can fully happen, the olive branch’s place in Middle Eastern ethnic life must be respected.

The De-Militarized Zone: Politics and Religion in the Middle East

By Samantha Sisskind

AMMAN, JORDAN – The swastika and anti-Israel graffiti spray-painted on the wall of a church parking lot I pass on the way to my school in central Amman reminds me daily of the blurred line between religious and political beliefs, particularly here in the Middle East. In fact, while referring to it as a “line” is familiar terminology, it’s woefully insufficient to suitably explain the relationship between these two facets of human identity. The inevitable overlap between politics and religion more aptly resembles a mine-laden de-militarized zone: a volatile and uncertain area separating two realms that have more in common than either is willing to admit.

In a presentation given to foreign students at Jordan University, Father Nabil Haddad, a Greek Melkite Catholic Priest and Executive Director of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, advocated that Jordan is the paradigm of religious cooperation and tolerance in the Middle East. He argued that Jordanian Muslims live in harmony with the Christian minority. In addition, he claimed Jordanians, the majority of whom identify with some faith, respect other religious people and are tolerant of the faiths of their fellow countrymen.  Thus, Jordan lacks religiously motivated internal violence that plagues its geographical neighbors, such as Lebanon or Egypt.  Though his sweeping generalizations ignored salient points, I decided to pick a big juicy bone with his argument. I asked in Arabic, “If Jews made up a large portion of the population here today, would there be such inter-religious cooperation in Jordan?”

His answer was revealing, yet ultimately unsatisfying. He told me that any Muslim or Christian in Jordan who respects his or her faith must respect Jews. He said that Muslims, in particular, get caught in the trap wherein they mistake political issues for religious ones, and direct their frustration with political problems toward the Jewish people. However, religion has nothing to do with conflicts between political entities. Jewish, Christian and Muslim people need to resolve their issues with each other, learn to cooperate as fellow People of the Book, and separate their political views from their religious beliefs before any political resolution can be achieved.

Easier said than done.

Despite the prevalence of extreme political Islamic parties, such as Hamas, Palestinian secularist movements for statehood still retain significant support today. However, in my opinion, the infusion of Islam into the dialogue surrounding Palestinian nationalist goals has carried over to the interpersonal level wherein many Palestinians attach their Muslim faith to their national Palestinian identities. Thus, the issue of Palestinian statehood becomes an affirmation of their Muslim identity instead of a political debate aimed at achieving peace, and further adds to the relevance of faith in politics.

As for Israel, it’s identity as “the Jewish state” ties outside perceptions of its politics to perceptions of its religion. The Knesset is not unified regarding the issue of Palestinian statehood, and it is impossible to say that there is a collective Jewish will–political or religious.  Yet, by disempowering Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza, the actions of the Israeli army and government are perceived as enacting the will of the Jewish people. From an outside perspective, the Jewish faith is responsible for the Gaza siege, Israeli occupation, etc. thereby politicizing the role of religion.

Both Judaism and Islam have religious claims to land in the region, notably Jerusalem, and these matters of faith play a role in the present political conflict over borders and land rights.  Though politicians are writing the proposals and representing each side, we have to ask ourselves where their motivations are rooted. The source of conflict not only resides in the antagonistic political history between Palestinians and Israelis, but within the Scriptures and religious histories of Islam and Judaism, which hallowed the land in Jerusalem making both parties want to administer it.

Unfortunately, the faith of the “other” has become symbolic of the adversary in this conflict from both perspectives in each society.  Animosity and blame aren’t only directed toward Israel or Hamas, but toward ethnic and religious identity, such as the Arab Muslim or the Jew. Political agreements have failed to achieve coexistence between believers of both faiths. Conflict resolution through interfaith dialogue or cooperation is part and parcel of political compromise and reconciliation.

As for the priest, while I appreciate his candor, idealism, and incredible achievements to increase interfaith cooperation in Jordan, his views were unrealistic, and fell short of identifying a cure to reduce the ill will between Arab Muslims and Jews. Unfortunately, like the swastika at the church in Amman, the discord among religions in the Middle East will not be erased until we recognize that faith is intimately connected to the politics.