Starhawk can believe in all the goddesses and spells she wants: “The Boy Who Kissed the Soldier” [August 2003] is the most honest, gut-wrenching, and ultimately hopeful piece I’ve yet read on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’m humbled and inspired by the courage she and the International Solidarity Movement have shown in their nonviolent interventions.
I was moved to tears by Starhawk’s description of the devastation in Palestine. Afterward, because I still follow the rules that other people make, I had to mow the grass. As I pushed my hand mower back and forth, I thought about bulldozers demolishing Palestinians’ homes, women and children terrorized and made homeless. I looked down and saw the moths in the grass fleeing before my machine. To my left, tall grass danced in the sun. To my right, blades lay in rows, cut down by my mower.
In my head, I heard screaming Palestinians. The roar of Israeli bulldozers. The click of a rifle safety echoing in a temple doorway. I sat down right there and prayed for all the suffering people in the world. I prayed for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the plants and animals and stones.
Underneath me the grass was humming with life; everything was humming.
I am in sympathy with the great bulk of what Starhawk writes in “The Boy Who Kissed the Soldier.” It demonstrates well the degree to which violence begets violence and why oppression is as much a danger to oppressor as it is to victim.
I found one omission particularly troubling, however. She writes of the need for a Palestinian state. I fully agree. As a Jew, albeit an atheist one, I have no problem strongly criticizing the Israeli government for obstructing the creation of such a state. But it should be said that, prior to the Israeli occupation, the West Bank was held by Jordan for almost twenty years; Gaza was held by Egypt. At any time, those Arab states could have permitted the formation of a Palestinian state, but they chose instead to keep their brethren in refugee camps and to keep the land for themselves. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remain in refugee camps in countries throughout the Middle East.
Yes, what Starhawk calls the “eternally festering sore” of the Palestinian crisis was caused in part by Israel. We should look that squarely in the face. But the Arab countries have also cynically manipulated the Palestinians for their own purposes. We should look at that squarely as well.
It is rare to read something that looks passionately and honestly at more than one side of an issue. Starhawk’s essay does just that.
To humanize Palestinian terrorists for the reader, Starhawk states the hard truth: “Full human beings, placed in a situation of utter despair, may turn to suicide bombs and retribution.” We can only hope that the other side of her argument (“Given hope and dignity and a future to live for, full human beings will tend to choose life”) is equally true — and attainable in our lifetime.
I wonder about Starhawk’s views on how to handle brutal dictators like Saddam Hussein. I prefer not to espouse violence, but I simply cannot see Saddam as one who could be “reasoned with, bargained with, made peace with,” as Starhawk says all human beings can. What, then, are we to do?
I appreciate Starhawk’s courage, her unpretentious style, and her perspective as a Jew in the Occupied Territories. Some of her writing conveys beautifully the humanity that can prevail in the midst of violence.
I am disappointed, however, in her conclusion that only one side is responsible for the violence. She justifies Palestinian violence when she writes that “suicide bombers are a direct response to a brutal occupation” while likening Israeli violence to that of the Nazis. She claims, “Israel has indeed served the interests of the Western powers in subjugating the Arab world,” but fails to illustrate her point. She even redefines the word genocide.
I, too, believe the current Israeli leadership is inept, the occupation cruel. But so is the Palestinian leadership inept and their tactics cruel. Both sides share the guilt for perpetuating the violence. So I ask Starhawk: where is the Palestinian peace movement?
I am a member of the Israeli left and of Peace Now. I believe that a viable independent Palestinian state must be created, not only to end the fighting, but because Palestinians have as much right to self-determination as Israelis. I detest the West Bank settlers and Ariel Sharon and all the right-wing lunatics as much as Starhawk does, possibly more.
But Starhawk confuses hearsay with fact. She opens her essay with a friend’s account of Palestinians being buried alive, yet she did not witness this herself. Reporting and commenting on controversial conflicts requires not only empathy for the oppressed but also the willingness to check facts. Starhawk is entitled to her opinion, but not at the expense of the truth.
During the assault on Jenin in May 2002, Palestinian Authority spokesmen made wild accusations that a massacre was taking place. These statements were thoroughly debunked by CNN, the Washington Times, visiting diplomats, and the international aid community. Yet this essay appears in your publication more than a year later.
The stated aim of your magazine is to shed light on the truth, however painful. Your spirit of inquiry is admirable, but are you sure you know what the truth is, or do you stop looking when it appears as you want it to be? Many of us are most comfortable when we’re defending the underdog. But does it go without saying that the underdog is telling the truth all the time?
The Palestinian cause, and the cause of peace, is not served by perpetuating fabrications. There are plenty of awful things happening, to both Palestinians and Israelis, without resorting to distortion, exaggeration, or lies.
Space does not allow me to respond fully to all the letters, but I do want to respond to a couple.
Tzviyah Rosenstock dismisses “wild accusations” that a massacre took place in Jenin. I spent a week in Jenin in July 2002 and spoke with and interviewed many survivors and eyewitnesses. I myself viewed and photographed the football-field-sized pile of rubble that remained months after the bulldozers had done their work. There is no doubt in my mind that massacre is the only word that can do justice to the terror, destruction, and loss of life involved.
The Israelis prevented the UN from conducting an impartial, on-the-ground investigation in Jenin. The UN issued a report culled from the Internet. Neither CNN nor the Washington Times is an impartial source. The information in my article was taken from a report sent by a longtime, trusted friend who was on the ground within a few days of the attack on Jenin, helping with the cleanup. Her harrowing account is posted on my web page: www.starhawk.org.
Perhaps the most damning testimony is that of Moshe Nissim, the bulldozer operator who demolished much of the camp. In the Israeli tabloid Yediot Aharonot (May 31, 2002), he boasts, “For three days, I just erased and erased. I kept drinking whiskey to fight off fatigue. I didn’t see dead bodies under the blade of the D-9, but I don’t care if there were any.” The full text of his interview is chilling, especially because he is proud of what he did and received the accolades due a hero for his drunken rampage.
Robert Hodgson asks, “Where is the Palestinian peace movement?” Some of it is in exile, like Mubarak Awad, American University professor and founder of Nonviolence International. Some of it is in jail, like Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah militant, but one of the most respected of the moderate leaders. Some of it is dead, among the more than two thousand Palestinians killed in this last intifada.
The peace movement can be found in villages like Mas’Ha, which stood to lose 98 percent of its land, including all of the farmland that provided the villagers’ livelihoods, to the new so-called security fence Israel is building deep into Palestinian territory. The village elders in Mas’Ha called for help from internationals and Israelis, and a peace camp was born.
The peace movement exists in many organizations working to provide for the needs of the Palestinian people and to open communications with Israelis. It exists in tens of thousands of Palestinians who responded to a project that allows Israelis and Palestinians to converse by telephone. It exists in groups such as the Jerusalem Center for Women, which, together with the Israeli women’s group Bat Shalom, has been conducting its own peace negotiations.
Every International Solidarity Movement team includes Palestinian coordinators, who take enormous risks to help organize nonviolent actions against the occupation. Part of the reason for founding the ISM was the hope that the presence of internationals would increase safety for Palestinians who were engaging in nonviolent forms of protest, so that they wouldn’t simply be shot.
No matter how painful it is for us as Jews to cut through our collective denial and face the full reality of what is being done in our name, we need to do so if Judaism’s call to justice and righteousness means anything at all. No matter how uncomfortable it is for us as Americans to stand up against our country’s funding and overt and tacit support for these destructive policies, we need to raise our voices and be heard. Only if we create a groundswell of support for nonviolent resistance will there be hope for peace.