Mondoweiss Online Newsletter



Settlers assault Palestinians in Hebron. Palestinian fire fighters save settlers in Hebron

Jan 15, 2012

Today in Palestine

and other news from Today in Palestine:

Jewish settlers assault two young men and the soldiers arrest themIsraeli occupation forces (IOF) arrested two Palestinian young men in Al-Khalil city after a group of Jewish settlers assaulted them on Friday.
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HEBRON (Ma’an) — Palestinian firefighters put out a blaze on an Israeli bus traveling south of Hebron on Saturday morning, civil defense teams said. The civil defense said fire fighters rushed to the burning bus from nearby Dura and Dhahiriyya stations, and evacuated the Israeli passengers before extinguishing the fire.  The bus, passing by al-Fawwar camp, set alight when oil leaked from the lubrication system and exploded due to the engine temperature, a report by the civil defense department said.

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Attacks on Palestinians defending their land / Land Theft / Destruction / Apartheid / Refugees

IOF troops quell peaceful anti wall marches
Israeli occupation forces (IOF) quelled the weekly anti-wall marches in a number of West Bank villages on Friday using rubber bullets, teargas, and waste water.

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IOF incursion into Nabi Saleh, curfew imposed
IOF troops, at dawn Friday, went into the village of Nabi Saleh, to the north west of Ramallah, and raided and ransacked homes.
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Settlers Cut More Than 100 Olive Trees Near Salfit
A number of fundamentalist Israeli settlers cut on Friday more than 100 Palestinian Olive trees, including some ancient Roman trees that belong to residents of Yasouf and Jam’een towns, near the central Went Bank district of Salfit.
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New demolition notices delivered in Silwan
Israeli Forces delivered demolition notices to many houses in Silwan on Wednesday, 11 January 2012. The exact number of notices remains unknown, but according to eyewitnesses there were 6 at least. The family of the late Khadeejah Siyam received a demolition order for her simple house which was built seven years ago by her son.

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The streets and alleys of Silwan expose the discriminatory policy of the Jerusalem Municipality
Residents of Silwan are committed tax payers. Those who don’t pay tax are punished according to Israeli law.  However, Silwan is considered the most neglected village in East Jerusalem , suffering from bad odor and insects in the summer and from the continuous collapse of streets and walls due to the construction of tunnels and excavations claiming to search for ruins in the winter. Because of this, the streets and alleys turn into pools when it rains. Residents of Silwan know that when it rains, they will need to change their clothes when returning home because they will be soaked by the pools that have formed. Nearby Israeli neighborhoods such as Abu Tour, or other neighborhoods in Western Jerusalem , don’t suffer from the same problems. On the contrary, in these neighborhoods rain water drains easily, not forming pools as it does in Silwan or other Arab neighborhoods. This is because in Western Jerusalem the Municipality maintains the sewage infrastructure very well, while Silwan and other Arab neighborhoods, which are lower than Israeli neighborhoods, are neglected.
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They can take away our land; they can take away our rights; they can even take away our right to live; but we are Palestinians, and with God’s help, we will survive.
The above statement encapsulates the spirit of Palestine and its people. The speaker was an elderly man sitting in a cramped temporary shelter provided by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in an area “adjacent” to the Naher Al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon. I met this dignified gentleman today with some of his colleagues from the Camp’s Popular Committee during a field visit organised for me by UNRWA on behalf of Interpal. Naher Al-Bared was destroyed by the Lebanese Army in 2007 in a stand-off with around 300 armed “Islamic fundamentalists” who were, it is alleged, intent on taking control of the camp. It took 11,000 regular soldiers, helicopters and bombs to dislodge the group; 35,000 Palestinian refugees were made homeless, again, as a result of the army’s complete destruction of their community. Almost five years later, the first tranche of refugees has been allowed to move into newly-built shelters on the site of the old camp; a serious shortage of funds (around $200m is still needed by UNRWA) means that redevelopment is slow, painfully so. Phases 2, 3, 4 and 5 are still incomplete. Nevertheless, progress has been made since my first visit to the site 3 years ago, before which we had to undergo a briefing on possible munitions in the rubble of the camp and give the mine clearance team our blood group in case we stood on an unexploded bomb or picked up a boobY-trapped object.

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One dead, four injured in Rafah blast
A Palestinian man was killed and four were injured in an explosion that ripped through the house of Sheikh Zuhair Al-Qaisi, the secretary general of the popular resistance committees, in Rafah.

Political Detainees

Four arrested as Silwan stormed by security forces
A large contingent of Israeli forces stormed Silwan and arrested four youth. The arrested youth were Abd Serhan Al Qaimary, 18, Fuad Al Qadi, 20 , Abd Qaqoor, 19, and Abd Ateyah, 20. The arrest operation took place by undercover units which were hiding in the street of Al Bustan. Consequently, Silwan is now experiencing increased tension due to the presence of dozens of Israeli troops.

The detention of three abducted children extended yesterday
On January 13, the Israeli Magistrate court extended the detention of three youth from Silwan to allow for further investigation. The three youth were sitting in agrocery shop in Beer Ayoob on a street adjacent to Silwan when Israeli forces and undercover units entered the neighbourhood causing confrontations with local residents.  At that time, the three youth were abducted from inside the grocery shop.

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Muhammad Abd Oudeh faces a 9 month sentence
This morning the district court issued a prison sentence of nine months to Muhammad Abd Oudeh, 34, from the neighborhood of al Bustan in Silwan. He spend 55 days in Israeli jails then under house arrest and exiled from Silwan. Muhammad was accused of incitement, organizing children to throw stones, helping masked demonstrators, and obstructing police work.

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European aid convoy ‘Miles of Smiles 8’ arrives in Gaza
The eighth in a series of vehicle convoys from European and Arab countries to the Gaza Strip reached Gaza on Saturday, bringing medical equipment and vehicles for the disabled.

On Friday Jan 13, a conference was organized by “Tunisia the Voice of Islam” and the “City of Tunis Charity Association” to inform Public Opinion about the “Signs of Victory Caravan” that is heading to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Jan 16.

14 January 2009 – Muhammed Mousa
“We would stay up late at night talking with each other about what had happened over the day, we were brothers, if ever I needed anything I could go to them and they would help me out”

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Activism / Solidarity / BDS

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Palestinians rallied Saturday against steps toward renewing negotiations with Israel, gathering outside the presidential headquarters in Ramallah.  “If you’re against negotiations, honk your car’s horn,” protesters chanted.  Sympathetic drivers joined the demonstrators calling for the PLO to cease involvement in bilateral meetings in Jordan.  A gathering of young men and women also chose to protest silently to show the youth’s rejection of negotiations being attended by the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership.
The planned national park, located adjacent to the E1 area, on the slopes of Mt. Scopus, would constitute an insurmountable obstacle to any possible future peace agreement involving Jerusalem.  Most immediately, it would “choke off” a number of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and deny residents access to their private lands. For detailed information on the plan for the national park, click here.
Plant a Tree in Palestine
On January 2nd members of a Stop the Jewish National Fund (JNF) delegation joined individuals from a nearby refugee camp, trade union representatives, youth activists, Stop the Wall campaigners and representatives of a spectrum of political parties to take part in a new project to re-plant trees in previously devastated areas of Palestine. The group planted 111 trees, representing the number of years that the JNF has been in existence, playing a key role in Israel’s policy of displacing and dispossessing Palestinians. The JNF controls land that the organisation openly decrees is solely for the benefit of Jewish people; non-Jewish people are not able to live or work on the land and it can only be sold or rented to Jewish people. Despite the JNF’s clearly discriminatory and racist raison d’etre, it remains a key instrument of Israeli land administration.
Occupied Palestine is part of free heartbeat in this world and her cause continues to inspire solidarity across the globe.  The World Social Forum Free Palestine is an expression of the human instinct to unite for justice and freedom and an echo of the World Social Forum’s opposition to neo-liberal hegemony, colonialism, and racism through struggles for social, political and economic alternatives to promote justice, equality, and the sovereignty of peoples.
2012: A good year to boycott Sabra (& Shatila) Hummus
I’ve been thinking a lot, recently, about the upcoming 30th anniversary of the September 1982 massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. As some of you may know, my company, Just World Books, will soon be publishing a reissued version of former WaPo journo Jon Randal’s classic 1983 study of the Israeli-backed Maronite-extremist militias that, with the full backing and encouragement of Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon, committed those massacres. More details on that, soon…

Violinist suspended for Israel Proms protest takes claim to tribunal
Call for Proms organisers to cancel concert by Israel Philharmonic Orchestra led to suspension of four musicians. One of four musicians suspended by the London Philharmonic Orchestra is taking a claim for discrimination on the grounds of belief to an employment tribunal. Sarah Streatfeild, who has played violin with the LPO for 25 years, was suspended for six months without pay last September after she signed a joint letter to the Independent calling on the Proms to cancel a concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

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Death threats and intimidation by Zionist groups increasing in France, say BDS activists, Ali Abunimah

Palestinian solidarity organizers in France say they have been receiving death threats and have received a suspicious package by mail containing a white substance according to a statement issued by Campagne BDS France – which works for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

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The US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has dismissed a complaint against Barnard College – which is a partner of Columbia University – that a student was “steered” away from taking a class by Professor Joseph Massad because the student is Jewish.

Mideast conflict spills onto BART walls
Thousands of miles removed from the political tinderbox of the Middle East, a controversy has broken out between Palestinian and Israeli advocacy groups over dueling advertising campaigns on BART. Since 2010, a consortium of Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups has sponsored three BART train ad campaigns, each of which feature slogans asking for an end to United States military support for Israel.

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Racism / Discrimination / Sexism

Sources say that had Beinisch urged the justices to rule on the appeals before the retirement of Justice Procaccia, who objected to the law, the majority of justices would have voted to revoke the controversial law.
Israelis Facing a Seismic Rift Over Role of Women
Not only did Dr. Maayan and her husband have to sit separately, as men and women were segregated at the event, but she was instructed that a male colleague would have to accept the award for her because women were not permitted on stage.

Political Developments

Hamas to return Abbas’ seized Gaza house
After reconciliation talks in Gaza between two main Palestinian factions, Hamas agrees to give back Fatah leader’s home.

Palestinian parliamentary delegation arrives in Switzerland
A Palestinian parliamentary delegation of the Hamas-affiliated change and reform bloc arrived in Geneva on Saturday on a few days visit at the invitation of the international parliamentary union.

Other Mideast News
Hassan Nasrallah says Ban Ki-moon’s concern about Lebanese group’s military strength “reassures and pleases us”.

Iraq: Arbaeen Attacks Leave 71 Killed, 145 Wounded
Today is Arbaeen, which marks the end of the 40-day mourning period observed by Shi’ite pilgrims in honor of Hussein bin Ali, the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson. As expected, insurgents staged a major bombing against pilgrims. It alone left about 200 casualties. Overall, at least 71 people were killed and 145 more wounded. It is unknown if any foreigners were among the casualties.

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Iraq’s Shias brave attacks to visit Karbala 
Millions of Shia Muslims are converging on the Iraqi city of Karbala for an annual pilgrimage, despite a spate of recent bombings that have targeted their community. Two years ago, more than 50 Shia pilgrims were killed on their journey, most of them women and children. Refusing to be deterred, just hours after the bombing, the pilgrimage continued, link to

Tunisians honor anniversary of revolution
Tunisians are marking the first anniversary of the country’s revolution. It was January 14 last year when Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country. But many people are angry that their lives have become worse. Nazanine Moshiri reports from Tunis.

ElBaradei will not seek Egypt presidency
Former atomic chief and Nobel laureate says he will not seek top office while there is no “real democracy” in country.

Qatar’s emir suggests sending troops to Syria

Sheikh Hamad says “some troops should go to stop killing” amid reports by activists of more deaths across the country.

Saudi Arabia urged to investigate Shi’a protester death

The Saudi Arabian authorities should launch an independent investigation into the death of a Shi’a protester who was killed during a demonstration in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.  Issam Muhammad Ali Abu Abdullah, aged 22, was shot dead and three others were reported to be wounded at a protest on Thursday evening in the town of Awwamiya. The Ministry of Interior said that the killing occurred during an exchange of gunfire between the security forces and individuals who had also attacked them with Molotov cocktails. Sources in the area told Amnesty International that Issam Mohammad Ali Abu Abdullah was killed by multiple bullet wounds fired by security forces.
David Cameron vows to bolster Saudi Arabia ties
Prime minister and Saudi king agree to strengthen bilateral relationship despite fears over kingdom’s human rights record. David Cameron has agreed to “strengthen co-operation” with Saudi Arabia despite concerns about its human rights record and criticism of British arms sales to the kingdom. The prime minister held talks with King Abdullah during a one-day flying visit to Riyadh designed to deepen ties with the country – Britain’s chief trading and security partner in the Middle East. “They discussed the importance of the UK-Saudi bilateral relationship and agreed to strengthen co-operation in a range of areas,” Downing Street said in a bland statement. Cameron is understood to have agreed with the Saudis that a tougher line was needed on Iran, requiring tougher action from the Russians at the UN security council.

The repressive kingdom is branding itself as a bulwark against the Arab spring – hardly the ideal customer for British contracts.

Iran ‘open to nuclear talks’
Iranian parliamentary speaker says issues can be easily solved through negotiations as US supports more sanctions.

U.S. seeking to ‘close down’ Iran central bank
WASHINGTON — The latest round of American sanctions are aimed at shutting down Iran’s central bank, a senior US official said Thursday, spelling out that intention directly for the first time. “We do mean to close down the Central Bank of Iran (CBI),” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity, while adding that the United States is moving quickly to implement the sanctions, signed into law last month. The sanctions, broadly aimed at forcing Tehran to shift course on its nuclear program, targeted Iran’s crucial oil sector and required foreign firms to make a choice between doing business with Iran or the United States.

Got this from Mark Wauck, from Mark Shea’s Catholic site: “Murderers for Jesus.”  “Some people will try to make the claim that he was not a civilian. Sorry, but we are not at war with Iran. The scientist is part of the military-industrial infrastructure of Iran–just like the occupants of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were. If you say it is legitimate to murder him, you are saying it was legitimate for Osama bin Laden to murder his victims on 9/11.”

U.S. has ‘some ideas’ who killed Iran scientist: Panetta
WASHINGTON — Pentagon chief Leon Panetta said Thursday that US officials had “some ideas” who was behind the assassination of a nuclear scientist in Tehran this week, but insisted the United States was not involved. During a meeting with soldiers at a Texas military base, Panetta said the United States was “not involved in any way, in any way with regards to the assassination that took place there.” “I’m not sure who was involved. We have some ideas as to who might be involved. But we don’t know exactly who was involved,” he added.
Mossad ‘posed as CIA to recruit fighters’
Magazine report claims Israeli spies used fake US spy identities to work with Pakistani fighters targeting Iran.

On Saturday, Iran claimed it had information tying U.S. to the incident; Senior Israeli official tells Time Magazine he ‘doesn’t feel bad’ for scientist killed.
The repercussions from the  assassination of Iranian nuclear expert Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan are rippling thru diplomatic circles even as thousands of Iranians mourn. With tensions high and the US denying any involvement in the slaying, the U.S. has– are you sitting down?– warned Israel against striking Iran over U.S. objections.
It’s hard to know how much to credit anything published in the Wall Street Journal.  But in an article that raises the temperature a few degrees higher than it already is, the reporters say that U.S. officials are growning more worried about an Israeli attack on Iran.  They have put a full court press on Israel to stop them from striking.  But they really have very little control, if you can believe the WSJ, over what Israel does.  Further, the U.S. government is simply flying blind since it has no backdoor access to intelligence information about internal Israeli political deliberations.

Mossad Assassinations, Black Ops Campaign Backfires Within Iran, Richard Silverstein
Omid Memarian writes an acute column in The Daily Beast based on direct interview with prominent Iranian reform figures who denounce the Mossad black ops program against Iran. I’m going to quote a long passage since I believe it conveys the full power of the author’s and his sources’ arguments better. Their views echo my own precisely. Though it’s great to know they’re in accord with those of native Iranian supporters of democratic change.

Sunday Talk on Israel’s Role in Iran War Threat at University Temple Church, Seattle, Richard Silverstein
I’ll be giving a short talk on Sunday morning at 9AM at University Temple United Methodist Church in Seattle’s University District (43rd Street and 15th Avenue).  I plan to talk about the latest developments regarding Iran, Israel’s specific role in them, and the potential for war in the region.  There will also be Q&A after the presentation.  The talk is hosted by the Church and the United Nations Association of Seattle.  My thanks to Dick Blakney for organizing the event and inviting me.

Analysis / Op-ed
Thank goodness we don’t have to hear Newt Gingrich for a while. His statement that the Palestinians were an “invented people” marked about the lowest point in the Republican-Christian Right-Likudist/Israel relationship. So deep has this pact now become that you can deny the existence of an entire people if you want to become US president. It’s time, surely, to take a look at this extraordinary movement, to remind ourselves – since US “statesmen” cannot – just what its implications really are.
Nazareth – Already-strained relations between Israel and Europe hit an all-time low this week after a leaked internal European report on the so-called peace process criticised Israel in unprecedented terms. The document, which warned that the chances of a two-state solution were rapidly fading, appeared to reflect mounting exasperation among the 27 European member states at Israel’s refusal to revive talks with the Palestinians.
Why hasn’t NGO Monitor’s US fundraiser filed legally required public disclosures with Internal Revenue Service?, Ali Abunimah
NGO Monitor, the far-right Israeli group that fashions itself as a transparency watchdog, suffers from a mysterious lack of transparency itself. The legally-mandated public disclosures required of US nonprofits are nowhere to be found for NGO Monitor’s US-based fundraising arm known as REPORT. Indeed, The Electronic Intifada has obtained an Internal Revenue Service document that shows REPORT was warned of the consequences of failing to file its public disclosures.

The Walid Abu Shakra retrospective − being held simultaneously at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and in Umm al-Fahm − reflects the London-based artist’s longings for his childhood.

Pro-Israel Twitter death threat, Richard Silverstein
Brian of London, who’s a good pal of David Lange (aka Aussie Dave of Israellycool) has offered the world a classic example of the pro-Israel hasbarocracy’s homicidal impulse in dealing with dissent and opposing views.  I’m offering here a screenshot of a running Twitter thread between Brian and one of his other pro-Israel chums in which the former asks (evidently he’s a Jewish am haaretz who knows little or nothing about Jewish ritual and practice) whether it’s possible to excommunicate me because I’m likely to “get one of us [Jews] killed.”  The other twerp replies “Yes.”  To which Brian asks: “Does it involve firearms?”  In order to protect himself from a police investigation he adds the wholly unconvincing #justjoking.


Breaking report: US/Israel military drill cancelled, after US tells Israel to back off

Jan 15, 2012

Annie Robbins

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US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey

Huge news.   Israel Hayom (Sheldon Aldeson’s Israeli newspaper) has just reported that the military drill with Israel entailing the deployment of thousands of American troops this spring has suddenly been canceled.

Israel Hayom based its report on an Israeli Radio report this afternoon:

Set for May, “Austere Challenge 12” was supposed to be the largest drill ever held between the two countries • U.S. Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to arrive in Israel later this week to receive assurances from Israel that it won’t strike Iran.

The cancellation– if true– has huge political significance. It would be the culmination of a war of words between Israeli officials and US officials in recent days. Two days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US had warned Israel to back off in its actions and rhetoric re Iran.

Following the Wall Street Journal report,  the Jerusalem Post  republished an announcement first made in December  regarding the deployment of thousands of US troops in a military exercise in Israel next spring although, it has now been edited to read “later this year”. The announcement of the deployment was hardly covered in the US media.

 Israel Hayom:

A large joint U.S.-Israeli military drill, scheduled to take place in the coming months, has been cancelled due to budgetary constraints, Israel Radio reported on Sunday afternoon.

It was unclear from the Israel Radio report which side cancelled the drill. The radio report said that the drill would likely be held toward the end of the year.

Set to take place in May, the drill called “Austere Challenge 12” was supposed to be the largest ever held between the two countries, and was designed to improve defense systems and cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli military forces. Just on January 6th the IDF spokesperson, commenting on the future joint drill with the U.S., said thousands of U.S. and Israeli soldiers from different units would take part. He said the drill would test multiple Israeli and U.S. air defense systems against incoming missiles and rockets. Israel has deployed the “Arrow” system, jointly developed with, and funded by the U.S., designed to intercept Iranian missiles in the stratosphere, far from Israeli airspace.


Jerusalem Post now reporting “officials cite technical, logistical issues” as the reason the drill was cancelled. Claiming both “Israel and the US canceled a missile defense drill”.

The parties were scheduled to simulate missile defense scenarios with the objective of creating a high level of interoperability so that, if needed, US missile defense systems would be able to work with Israeli systems during a conflict.

Officials refused to elaborate on the reasons behind talks to postpone or cancel the drill, but said they were mostly “technical and logistical.”

Talks about postponing the drill took the Americans, as well as the Israeli Air Defense division, responsible for missile defense, by surprise. Just last Thursday, top IAF officers had said that the drill was scheduled for this spring.

This year’s drill was expected to be unique in its size and scope and also mark the first time that commander of the US European Command, Adm. James Stavridis, would participate in the simulations. In the event of war, the EUCOM commander will be responsible for approving Israeli requests to deploy US missile defense systems in Israel.

‘I better not call Betty’ — My long path to unreasonable optimism about the conflict

Jan 15, 2012

Kevin R. Vixie

Kevin R  Vixie
Kevin R Vixie

Editor: Some weeks back we asked mathematician Kevin R. Vixie to write up the story of his disaffection from Zionism. “I immediately agreed,” Vixie relates. “But then I began to wonder how I could craft such a story while avoiding the self-absorption into which such personal stories often collapse. In the end, I decided I could do that by telling the parts of the story I felt most deeply, and by doing that as simply as possible.”

It began, I suppose, with the family that I was born into.  My father was a gifted musician and a brilliant polymath who was rarely appreciated for who he was. My mother was a compassionate, morally ambitious and courageous person who had, as a young single woman, started a nursing school in Africa in the time period 1945-1950.

They were both Seventh Day Adventist.

As a young child, I was constantly exposed to great music, whether through the rather impressive stereo system my dad fed by constant trips to Rose records in Chicago or through frequent concerts at Orchestra Hall and trips backstage with my parents after most concerts. I still remember shaking hands and speaking with musicians like Eugene Ormandy and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

Fairly early on I chose the violin as my instrument.

My first memory of thinking about myself in relation to Judaism was when my paternal step-grandmother told me that unless I was Jewish, there was no hope of me being any good in music. My naive response was to try to prove to myself that I was Jewish enough to qualify.

What I found out from my mother was that her father’s family was in some hazy unrecorded way actually German and Jewish, but they had assimilated and converted long ago.


In addition to my obsession with science and mathematics — I studied these on my own, at home, for the period of time most others would have been in high school — I also studied spiritual ideas and teachings of unusual Adventist teachers, teachers who took very different viewpoints and essentially introduced me to a mode of thinking about truth that is not unlike some Jewish modes of thought.

In college, I became friends with a Messianic Jew. He preached to me a rather rabidly racist, Zionistic message, a message to which I was very receptive. For it felt like it was a place I might fit.


While I never traveled to Israel, nor took action in line with the Zionistic message I consumed, this is not so surprising given my theoretical bias. It was not until later that I began balancing this tendency out. For me, the conception eclipsed the actualization of ideas. If I could conceive of something clearly, I would move onto something else. So I was less inclined to action than others in a similar position. By the time I was developing a more action-based mode, I was no longer convinced that Zionism was something I identified with. (The first stage of the transition to a more action or experimental mode was my teaching of things I conceived or discovered. This was followed by the creation of things from wood and eventually metal, in a shop that is now fairly substantial. There was also the tendency to try to get others involved in making real the thing I conceived and this was a big part of my creating communities or groups I led or helped lead.)


After college, I went to graduate school in mathematics, but the effects of my parents dying (my mom had died in my last year of homeschool high school and my dad died my last year in college) had left me with deep issues: where did I belong? Into that void some cousins stepped with a message of radical spiritual ecstasy and belonging. Of course, where else was this based but Oregon, the home to every species of offshoot, cult, eccentric viewpoint that one might want to delve into.

But just before dropping out of graduate school to associate myself with the group, I remember being accosted on the street in Seattle by a young, ultra-orthodox Jew who was looking for wayward Jews. I was of course intrigued and warmed by the attention. He first asked me if my background was at all Jewish and I said yes. Then he asked me whether it was my mother or father’s side. When I said mother, his interest heightened. Of course he next asked whether it was her mother’s or her father’s side and when I said her father’s side it was instantly as if I didn’t exist. He didn’t see me any more, instantly losing all interest in talking to me. I was intensely offended.

Jumping ahead thorough many experiences in Oregon, I eventually started making my way back to universities and research. I met my wife. After we were married her father told her that his family was Jewish in background, though they had assimilated thoroughly enough that they survived the Nazis in Poland.

I was running a research lab in Neurosurgery in Portland, Oregon, and I became friends with a beautiful soul in the department to whom I made some rather uninformed Zionistic statement. Very kindly, she said “you need to read something” and she recommended some books that opened my eyes to the Palestinian side of the conflict.


The result was fundamental and thorough. It was essentially my waking up to the fact that political things as presented by the mainstream are often different from the true state of affairs. That this was the case, I was prepared to believe because I had seen it before, in religion, in medicine, and in pieces of science. The fact that I had grown up in southern New Mexico, surrounded by many eccentrics, also biased me away from rejecting ideas simply because they were different, or even strange. And when my parents delved into alternative medicine, the issues, reactions and realizations thus opened to me were quite transformative. Even the rather unusual views of the Old Testament that evolved for me as a child and teenager had left me with a sense that the status quo, the consensus, was often flawed.

Now David Barsamian’s interviews had a deeper impact. Now I began to make a distinction between the pieces of Judaism that I identified with and Israel as a project containing some very disturbing elements.


At the same time as my discovery of the other side of the story, my cousin, a member of that religious offshoot mentioned earlier, gave me some inspired advice. He watched me struggling with various emotional issues and he told me that he had seen me benefit deeply from walkabouts in the woods and mountains. He advised me to do this everyday, without fail. We lived near the medical school in Portland, and there were enormous forested parks within a two minute walk from my house. So I began to do exactly what he suggested, spending hours there every day.

This began a profound, ongoing transformation and deepening. In those woods I learned that I was a mathematician in a very deep way that I had never seen before. There was a flow I could connect to that brought everything alive, that transformed my seeing. This soon led back to graduate school in mathematics and that led to a position at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1998.

A comment on this critical piece of my journey: while religion is a definite turn-off for so many, and even spirituality is something many feel is best discussed in private or not at all, spirituality is so important that I think we must gently insist that it be talked about, that it be included in any heartfelt narrative. The simultaneity of my discovery of who I was, of the reality of a living walk that illuminates everything and my waking up to the universality of the sleepwalking state that so many exist in, is not a coincidence.


Moving to Los Alamos felt very much like a homecoming. Working as a mathematician, I was warmed by the sense of belonging — I was a part of community of similarly-disposed people, people who valued the intellect and mathematics. That was the first impression of the place. The natural setting deepened my sense of belonging. I lived next to a forested canyon, as did many of the town’s inhabitants, and I used these canyons for my walkabouts. Eventually, I would sometimes work in them, taking a cell phone and small laptop.

The physicist who hired me had been well known in graduate school for his Marxism, but by the time he hired me, he was no longer a communist of any sort, having renounced the dalliance as a youthful folly. Now, though he was still quite liberal and a fan of Molly Ivins (he had been a graduate student in Texas), he was just another very sharp staff member who had few qualms about working on weapons. To be fair, he and I were both persuaded by the argument that while a weapons-free world would be great, the facts were that Los Alamos needed sharp people to keep weapons safe, to maintain the stockpile and do other tasks that were not direct escalations of the nuclear threat. He was also a bit of a hawk — in some ways — on Israel. In addition to being kind to me and a great mentor, he and I would also get into arguments on various issues. On one occasion he gave me a ride home at 5:00 and came into the house for 5 minutes to finish a conversation on Israel. After about an hour, he looked at his watch and said “I need to call Betty”, but he didn’t and we kept talking. This was repeated every hour or so until about 11:00 pm after which he would look at his watch and say, “I better not call Betty”.

He left at 1:00 am.

I continued to read, books like “Blood Brothers” by Chacour and “Yellow Wind” by Grossman. But I had to take breaks, for I would get very worked up by the injustice and this would turn into physical stress.

At the same time, I became interested in moving to academia and away from a connection to weapons. But while my interest and connection to Middle East issues was instinctive and deeply felt, the transition to a position that opposed the idea of working on things related to war, came only after the “war on terror” gathered full strength.

Over my time at the Lab, my research focus shifted from dynamical systems to data analysis and geometric measure theory, with applications to image analysis. Of course, one of the big demands for image analysis was improved face recognition. But this also bothered me, because I knew that improved capabilities here would inevitably lead to abuses of power and further invasions of privacy. The result of this viewpoint was that after doing something successful in face recognition with three other colleagues, I moved to other research.

And as I moved gradually away from the center of the lab, the sense of belonging started to fade. The fact that the atmosphere for science was also sliding downhill also encouraged me to think about leaving. The increasing focus on profits for the lab contract-holder, rather than cutting edge science, added even more of an impetus to leave. I was already in the Theoretical Division, the academic portion of the lab, so the next natural step was to actually move to academia.


In 2008, we left Los Alamos and moved to Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.

Soon after arriving at WSU, I arranged for Chris Hedges to visit Pullman and give several talks. Since that time, I have become increasingly aware of the real complexity in social and political arenas, and of people like Norman Finkelstein, Marc Ellis, and Avrum Burg.

Also important is the growing influence of many students from the Middle East who, by their very presence and reasonableness, more deeply convince me of the absurdity of seeing everything through a Zionistic lens.

These influences, that now include alternative thinkers in many areas, have combined with my own discoveries from the walkabouts, as well as other significant experiences like my brother’s recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The result is an outlook that has transformed everything, from the way I think about my main focus of mathematics research and teaching to how I think about the environments I create for discovery and connection.

For reasons I am just beginning to fully grasp, the discovery of courageous individuals promoting unpopular truths — people like Hedges, Finkelstein, Ellis and Burg — has had a very powerful effect on me. It gives me an unreasonable optimism. And that is what we need right now — unreasonable optimism. For dangers loom in so many directions that we would freeze into reaction and even inaction if we did not have non-rational tools to escape them. (Note that I did not say irrational tools.)


Much of my exposure to writers and thinkers on these subjects ends up being impressionistic in nature. I am very intuitive and I approach even the deep technical work I do in mathematics this way. I want to know the core, the fundamental insight or insights from which everything flows. In listening to, watching or reading, Hedges, Finkelstein, Ellis, Burg, Chomsky, Tony Judt, and others, the insights emerge in ways that are difficult to describe accurately. Others sometimes gets frustrated with the way in which I read books, reading this piece and that piece, a little here, a little there, in a very nonlinear fashion. But the result is a view that I find useful. Of course there are some books that I read in a more traditional way, from beginning to end. But even there, what I retain is more impressionistic in nature.

For example, what stands out from that first book on Palestine that I read over 15 years ago now (whose title I can’t recall) are the descriptions of the massacre at Deir Yassin, the Stern Gang and Irgun terrorist groups, of the displacements of Palestinians, and the war in 1948. Also in this picture is the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, and the fact that he allied himself with the Nazis. Zooming forward in time, Hedges impressed me deeply with an authenticity and a depth of feeling that permeates his insights into war, human nature and conflicts in religion. Chomsky intrigues me with lots of facts I never knew, while Burg takes a courageous position that is far-reaching in its implications. Because of the fact that they all speak of things that were at various stages of realization in myself, all of them make me feel less lonely, like there is a place in which I am not singular in what I see or feel.


The courage shown by those who see the truth and uncover it for others, is a courage that exists because it abandons self-care for a deep focus on being, on doing, on creating, and on sharing. And trusting, turning away from self-care to cultivation of the creative and connective, is the only antidote for the self-absorption that I opened this story worrying about.

The place of belonging that Israel once represented for me has dissolved into the realization that the community I was seeking began in the woods, many years ago, and continues in every person I meet who has thrown off those shackles and blindness, embracing trust and generosity. In this realization, I begin to see that the Land I am seeking begins here, now, where I am, where you are.

And in that Land, even the strangers are welcome.

‘NYT’ Travel section features visit to another planet

Jan 15, 2012

Philip Weiss

There’s a piece called “Lost in Jerusalem” on the front page of the NYT Travel section. The author is travel writer Matt Gross, who says as a Jew he regarded Israel as “a politically iffy burden” and therefore did not visit it till last fall, when a Jewish friend challenged him and he felt life “calling my bluff.” And then the iffiness gave way to splendiferousness. A reader writes:

The Old City of Jerusalem is made out to be in Israel. There is only the vaguest reference to Arab East Jerusalem. He describes the wall as separating Israel from the West Bank–a clear error.

The low beige buildings of Arab East Jerusalem covered the hills in the near distance, and on clear days I could see the sinuous, ominous wall separating Israel from the West Bank.

The New York Times describes this wall as separating Israel and the West Bank.In fact it separates occupied East Jerusalem from other portions of occupied East Jerusalem

He talks about coming out of Yad Vashem and seeing “a picture-perfect valley, a white-washed village clinging to the far slope. I stared at it a long time before I could move on.” This is presumably where the ethnically-cleansed village of Deir Yassin was.

The shallowness of his visit is repeatedly established, perhaps one consequence of his determination to see the place “without benefit of map or guidebook.” Israeli security measures are described as “fascinating.” I can’t see that word springing to mind for Palestinians subjected to them.

But leave I did, often well after 1 a.m., late enough that the Israeli guards in the Old City would interrogate and search me on my way back to the guesthouse. As an occasional experience, the security measures were fascinating, much more thorough and intelligent than the cursory T.S.A. sweeps I’m used to. I could also sense the tension they created, and again found myself amazed at what true believers will do, and submit to, in the name of their faith.

And oh, there’s one reference to 1967:

The transition from Old City to new was striking. Exiting through one of the 16th-century gates that still control access — touristy Jaffa Gate, busy Damascus Gate, historic Zion Gate, where Israeli soldiers entered in 1967 — I leapt forward into a distinctly modern world of crosswalks and traffic lights, 19th-century buildings and chunky apartment towers, green parks and municipal offices, falafel joints, cellphone stores and a brand-new light-rail system.

The word Palestine does not appear in the piece. Palestinian appears twice:

I passed Palestinian women selling bundles of sage near Damascus Gate…

I bellied up, ordered the excellent Palestinian “upside-down” chicken-and-rice dish, and quizzed the bartender

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