Hanuka: Dedicated to Resisting Militarism Through Peace Education

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

As we approach Hanuka, the Festival of Lights, we can either promote the rabbinic message of Hanuka as dedication to spiritual illumination and peace education  OR emphasize Maccabean militarism as necessary to achieving victory over opponents. Many in the Jewish community will try to promote both, but that is impossible. Our tradition warns us: either choose the way of the book or choose the way of the sword. If we choose the sword, we can no longer be faithful to traditional nonviolent values associated with the book.

The rabbinic tradition largely supports nonviolence: “Not by military might and not by force of arms, by My spirit.” This is the prophetic verse chosen by the sages to illuminate Hanuka! Today, many Jewish people believe military strength is the way to achieve lasting security. While all states have had legitimate security needs, militarization and military occupation were traditionally regarded as evil. Yes, evil. The prophets continually denounced militarism. The sages believed that even lifting one hand to threaten another is ‘rasha‘, that is, violent, unjust and a sin. “Once the arrow is released from its bow, not even the mightiest warrior can bring it back.” Militarism has a life of its own which breeds corruption, systemic violence and the degradation of humanistic values. Militarism is not Jewish.

I find it ironic, given current Jewish loyalty to Israeli militarism by mainstream Jewish institutions, that Hanuka’s traditional emphasis on active nonviolence arose during Roman Occupation. The rabbinic sages framed the holy day as a reminder that our spiritual power comes from remaining steadfast to compassion and good deeds. We are told to think of ourselves as cohainim, spiritual educators. We don the cohenet mantle and light a menorah in the window at sunset, as people return from the market place, in order to create a public witness to our faithfulness to upholding human dignity and love. This is the true source of human strength.

Hanuka also means education. Light symbolizes Jewish dedication to rekindling the altar of peace education! Great is peace, was the message of the sages. This meant refusing to cooperate with Roman militarism. The sages initiated a boycott which forbade the buying and selling of military equipment to either Romans or Jews.  Jewish rabbinic law forbid Jews to derive pleasure or benefit from any products that promote systemic violence. Yes, BDS has Jewish roots in rabbinic tradition. So, how do we increase light today? By supporting resistance to Israeli state militarism through peace education as well as noncooperation with militarism through BDS.

If you use olive oil to light your menorah, please listen to Iyad Burnat in the video above and remember that the olive tree has been tended by Palestinians in the holy land for millennium, and, thus, traditional knowledge about the olive tree has been largely kept by the Palestinian community to this very day. A collective tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. The Annexation Wall, which, when completed by 2020, will be twice the distance of the Green Line in the West Bank. As for security: 85% of the Annexation Wall is NOT on the Green Line. 

The true miracle of Hanuka today is giving public witness to the absolute necessity of putting militarism aside and rededicating our commitment to human dignity as a force more powerful for achieving security and peace.  And lest we forget, the children of Gaza are dying. I have learned from many young Gazans that they regard education as their main form of nonviolent resistance to Occupation. Education gives them hope. The message of nonviolent resistance is alive and well among Palestinians. Israelis would benefit from listening and responding to the traditional messages of Hanuka instead of promoting the Maccabees on steroids. 

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The Politics of Weeping

by Rabbi Margaret Holub

I’ve been struck this past week, reading my various rabbis’ words as we process Operation Pillar, by all the talk of weeping.  “I weep for Israelis terrorized by sirens….”  “I weep for Gazans terrorized by Israelis….”  “I weep for everyone on both sides….”  There was a nice comment that someone made somewhere about how we shouldn’t forget to weep for the Bedouin in the southern Negev while we are weeping for both Israelis and Gazans.  And so on.

Then there were the comments telling the rest of us who we are allowed to weep for; I read one posting in another place from a rabbi admonishing the rest of us that we’re not entitled to weep for Gaza unless we have a first-degree relative in Israel, preferably directly in harm’s way.  That pissed me off.

And I also saw disgruntled comments that certain kinds of weeping — for the four Israeli dead, for example — just feed the evil delusion that this is a symmetrical conflict.  Or that if you only weep for the dead and destroyed of Gaza, you are self-hating, or at the very least, no one in the Jewish community will take your weeping seriously.

For a couple of days now I’ve been kind of anti-weeping.  But, like many of us, I’ve been feeling pretty damned impotent to do anything useful.  And today I got to thinking that maybe this is one role for rabbis: to weep.  And to share our sorrow and rage and all the rest, whatever piece of the whole scenario brings us to tears.  There’s plenty to cry about.  I haven’t personally shed any tears yet, but I’ve had knots in my stomach a lot and some sleepless nights.

But mostly I think it’s probably a good idea, at least for me, to try to stay centered and think.  What I am trying — not totally productively — to think about is what I have to offer that might be of help.  I don’t think that any of us can do absolutely the one perfect thing that will end the blockade, end the occupation and bring peace and justice.  It’s going to be partial from each of us.  So I’m also thinking that it’s probably not too productive to try to look tougher than I actually am, or smarter, or more radical.  though it’s hard for me not to try.  I was particularly moved by one person in our Rabbinic Council who said the other day that she’s not really in a position to be out front in public right now, but she can see doing some behind-the-scenes things, like making phone calls or writing press releases or even reaching out to other rabbis who are having a hard time right now dealing with this stuff.  When she said that I thought, wow, that’s something useful being said here.

But back to the weeping…  I think that all of us are moved to weep by different things, which is as it should be.  I don’t really think that one kind of weeping is better than another at this moment.  I kind of imagine us all at home, looking at our various computers and weeping, each in our own way, so that between us all we’re weeping over much of the tragedy/crisis/war/massacre and trying to find our voices and think how we can help.

And I find this comforting.

Reflections in the Key of Anguish

by Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton

I am a singer and a rabbi, and I would rather sing to you right now, because you have probably read too many words, heard too much raw speech, about Israel and Gaza. It would be better to sooth and distract. But I feel compelled to find words. Just words.

Biblical verses and fragments of songs jostle for recognition and repetition, but I can’t hear then clearly enough. Instead, I’m trapped in the compulsion to read every report, go to every web site.

It feels disrespectful to say that I feel inundated or bombarded by all the words, when there are too many who are actually being bombarded.

To recite a litany of some things on this “side” and some things on that “side” feels like a desecration, a less-than-holy thing to write. I’m a rabbi; I have comforted at hospital beds, in houses of mourning; celebrated in times of joys, worshiped on the holy days, learned and taught with children and the young at heart, and know that trauma is trauma. No proportionality need qualify the permanence, and the destructiveness, of its impact.

My heart is heavy now, listening and reading way too much, way too many words, pulling me back to the days of Operation Cast Lead. A friend wondered, then, why I was so absorbed, so anguished, from so far away. How can I explain now, to anyone – to family, to clergy colleagues, to friends – how profoundly I want to find a way to wail the song: no more bombing in my name.

The diploma on the wall speaks: You! Find words, analyze, contextualize. I reply, resisting: I don’t have to come up with political solutions.  Let me just sing.

But I’m pulled to this keyboard, not to the other one, tapping at the letters to drown out the songs of anguish. Maybe, soon, a new melody in the key of tselem elohim will come to me.

I’ll keep listening for it.

Who is in Your Community? Israel and Hamas Must Learn to Live Together

by Rabbi Art Donsky

With violence once again overflowing between Israel and Hamas, I ask, what does Judaism teach us about war, the value of human life, the right to defend oneself?

As Judaism is a tradition of this world, for this world, there is much that has been said and taught on this subject — some of it influenced by the gross lack of value given Jewish “blood” throughout the centuries and some of it placing human life of any kind above tribal and nationalistic devotions.

While I know deeply the pain and suffering of “our” people over the generations, and I feel deeply the horror that Israeli children experience with rockets flying and bombs bursting in air, I also know that it is an illusion to believe that I am separate from anyone else — that for the sake of my blood or lineage, I or someone else in my name has the right to take another’s life. And to believe that I or someone else can do so without retribution is foolishness.

In God’s eyes, human life is human life, whether it is Israeli or Palestinian or any other. As the Torah and our sages teach in the Talmud:

The sword comes into the world because of the suppression of justice and the perversion of justice, and those who misinterpret the Torah. (Pirke Avot 5:11)

Our rabbis did not justify or explain away violence. They saw bloodshed as a horrible curse. They expected human beings to resist the impulse to do evil. But as my friend and colleague, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, recently wrote:

In the real world the Bedouin who see their homes unfairly demolished and schoolchildren tear-gassed will lash out at their neighbors in their comfortable homes. Gazans who can import or smuggle in just about anything, but can’t afford many of the goods on their well-stocked shelves (of smuggled goods) because restrictions on exports leave them without income, will continue to support terror against their oppressors. Israelis under rocket fire while the world is silent will feel justified in doing whatever is necessary to stop those rockets, even when civilians are also killed…

Our message cannot be to ignore the rockets on our fellow Israelis. However, when we hear ‘there would be no attacks on Gaza if there were no rockets falling on the Western Negev,’ we must both join the demand that the rockets stop and remind our fellow Israelis that we can best help ourselves if we stop using our overwhelming power to make life miserable for most Gazans. With our greater power comes greater responsibility.

So I am very sad but not surprised at what’s transpired. Violence begets violence. No justice. No peace.

It is too easy to become cynical, to remember that the last time such an escalation took place between the Israeli leadership and the leadership of Hamas was also election time in Israel. History and the Bible tell stories of war used to enhance one’s political status. Recall also that the fighting in the first Gaza War took place immediately after the last U.S. election, in the winter of 2008 and 2009.

The body count will rise. Each side will blame the other. The final question when all is said and done will be, “Who is in your community?”

Last week, as I sat with a group of clergy – Jews, Christians and Muslims – from Pittsburgh and the North Hills, a colleague offered those five words as the basis of her spiritual reflection. While our gathering was not about the conflict in Gaza half a world away, it certainly fits. And so, when my colleague asked, “Who is in your community?” we sat in silence. She then explained how she came to realize that her community numbers – 7 billion!

May the leaders of Israel and Hamas as soon as possible call a truce and acknowledge this truth before the cycle of violence spirals out of control and more human lives are tragically lost.

Shabbat Shalom to Jerusalem and Gaza

by Cantor Michael Davis

Shabbat Shalom

I just got off the phone with my brother in Jerusalem. Morning in Chicago, Friday afternoon in Israel. This is the time that the family starts preparing for Shabbat with the weekly “Sponja”, sweeping and washing the floors. “The air raid sirens just went off,” he said. Over the phone, an ambulance’s siren got louder, then another ambulance. “Let’s wait and see if there are any more ambulances.”

The conversation took me right back to my last couple of years in Israel, some 15 years ago. On any given morning, at the start of the workday – oddly enough, only during the workweek –  in the quiet air of Jerusalem, suddenly, a loud explosion. Some tense moments waiting. If we could hear multiple ambulance sirens, that meant there had been a suicide bomb attack. If, after a few minutes there were just the usual sounds of the city, we knew everything was fine; the blast was likely a controlled explosion at one of the working quarries in the area.

So, I tried to reassure my brother that this was unlikely to have been a missile attack. After all, Jerusalem was never targeted, not even during the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein sent 39 missiles into Israel.

While he took another call, I opened my laptop and checked Haaretz. Top headlines on the homepage: * First Missile Attack on Jerusalem Since 1970 (this has not happened since before the Yom Kippur War) * Thousands of Reservists Called Up (…it’s going to be another ground war) * picture  of a tank base near Gaza mobilizing  (Cast Lead all over again) * Picture of Egyptian Prime Minister with Gaza PM Hanniye waving and smiling in Gaza! (the Egyptians are committed….what if an Israeli missile kills the Egyptian PM…

My first reaction to the news a couple of days ago was dread. For the people of Gaza. And for the inevitability of the cycle of violence. How did this start? Israel freely admits that its troops violated Gazan territory but claimed this was for “routine repairs to the border fence”. For Gazans, this was just one more infringement on their supposed sovereignty along with actual attacks. The Israeli siege of Gaza is enforced through these attacks and violations. And yet, what good will this escalation do for anybody on either side.

I had a sinking feeling for the ugliness that is beginning to surface in the Jewish community. The recently retired head of the Reform movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, defended the Israeli attacks on Gaza as “progressive values”. Israel invoked an image of divine presence, the Biblical “Pillar of Cloud” (that shielded the ancient Israelites in the wilderness from Egyptian attack) as the military name for the onslaught on Gaza. And, throughout the Jewish community, the response has been to line up behind the Israeli attacks, even in the more progressive parts of the community.

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that former US Middle East negotiator, Aaron David Miller predicted that the President had no choice but to support the Israeli attacks on Gaza. “ If Obama has any hope of promoting an Israeli Palestinian initiative down the road, he’s going to have to remain in lock step with the current Israeli government…and [take] a very, very tough line on Israeli security,” said Miller. “There’ll be latitude in giving the Israelis a lot of leeway in terms of the disproportionality of whatever response they undertake in Gaza.”

The poor people in Gaza. Under siege and now under attack. And what do my family in Israel get in return for these attacks on Gaza? Fear and the possibility of worse. Lockdown in the south and the ugly thrill of going to war “because we have no choice but to respond” spreading throughout Israeli society and into the American Jewish community.

Through all this, I am grateful to Jewish Voice for Peace for standing tall and calling out Israel for its attacks and killings in Gaza and for consistently insisting on an end to violence on both sides of the conflict.

My brother and I went on to chat about family and the breakthrough Israeli invention of a cardboard bicycle – cycling is a passion we share – which has the potential of revolutionizing mass bicycle production and usage in China and around the world. Israelis are famous of shrugging off bad news and just getting on with things. So we moved on.

We ended our call as we wished each other Shabbat shalom, a Sabbath of Peace. Halevai. If only.

Where are we Headed? A Reflection on the 74th Anniversary of Kristallnacht

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

In hindsight, Kristallnacht signaled what was to come: the rounding up and extermination of European Jewry. Most of the world did not intervene and worse, chose to block Jewish efforts to escape. As people either collaborated with or chose to ignore the implications of each step along the path toward genocide, the Germans carried out their plans with impunity and in public.  German civilians either explicitly or tacitly supported a regime of incredible brutality.  They stood by while Jewish neighbors and friends were rounded up and killed. Acts of collective nonviolent resistance like the one pursued by the village of Le Chambon (they saved 5000 Jews) were rare.

I grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a sixth generation North American Jew in the Reform tradition. I am still amazed by the wisdom of my rabbinic teachers in response to the Shoah. I learned from the rabbis of my youth not to barricade myself in layers of fear and distrust; rather, they taught me to protest racism in all its ugly manifestations in public because never again meant never again for anyone. They taught me that when one of us suffers, all of us suffer.  They taught me that silence in the face of injustice is complicity with injustice. They tied these lessons to their version of Jewish religion. I never imagined that I would have to apply these lessons to the actions of the Jewish community in relationship to Israel. I incorrectly assumed that the Shoah had somehow immunized us against harming others, that we had learned the Biblical lesson: do not oppress others, for you were once oppressed.

When I was seventeen I traveled to Israel as an exchange student where I confronted a deeply uncomfortable truth with which I have been wrestling ever since: the same racist patterns of segregation, discrimination and mass incarceration of people on the basis of their identity which I learned to resist in North America because of Jewish experience during the Shoah was, in fact, occurring in Israel. Only instead of white people oppressing blacks, Jews were oppressing Palestinians. The justification? Security.  But it looked and sounded like racist disdain to my ears.  In 1966 Atallah Mansour told me the story of the Nakba. The Nakba never ended.

For the past forty five years I have been deeply involved with all kinds of peacemaking efforts between Israelis and Palestinians including dialogue, education, delegations and direct action. As I prepare to mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht, I am haunted by profound disquiet.

A recent poll of Jewish citizens of Israel (September 2012) based on a sample of 503 interviewees is the Israeli response to President Jimmy Carter’s question: Peace or Apartheid?  The majority of Jewish Israelis have answered: apartheid or, as Ehud Barak described it, “Us here, them there.”  Most Israelis believe that Israel should be a Jewish state that privileges Jews over “non-Jews” as a matter of law.  To uphold draconian laws that apply only to Palestinians to separate, marginalize and systematically discriminate an entire people based on their national, cultural and religious identity.

Many people are offended by the description of Israel as an apartheid state. What we should be offended by is the actual policies that Israel employs against Palestinians. People outraged by the South African-Israel comparison claim that Israel is nothing like South Africa during the apartheid era because the term apartheid is associated with racism. But they are wrong.

Race is a social, not a biological, construct. Use of the term “apartheid” applies whenever a state codifies into law a preferred identity status, then racializes that identity. The racialized identity group is systematically segregated from the rest of the population into discrete geographic areas (bantustans in South Africa; and areas A, B and C plus Gaza in Israel) in order to dominate and control them.  An apartheid state grants the preferred group access to resources and benefits and denies the same benefits to the denigrated group. Those in the underdog role are forcibly confined to their designated territories. Military repression, mass incarceration and unyielding bureaucracy are used to keep systems of apartheid in place.

No one voluntarily deports themselves from their family land or homes.  Israeli apartheid involves systematic and massive  land appropriation, settler brutality, Jewish only roads, the permit regime, the cutting down of trees, restrictions on family unity, arrest of children, administrative detention without legal recourse, constant military incursion, movement restrictions, severe limitations on export and import capacity, home demolition and the threat of demolition, denial of education and health care, unjust distribution of water, internal transfer and in the case of Gaza, a siege which is making the entire stripe “uninhabitable”.  These conditions makes Palestinians vulnerable to mass killing.

Denying this reality is tantamount to willful ignorance. Mountains of credible testimony collected by a variety of human rights groups such as B’tselem, Al Hak, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, the Russell Tribunal, the Goldstone Report and thousands of eye witnesses over six decades including Palestinians, Jewish Israelis, internationals and human rights organizations leave no doubt that Israel is pursuing policies that are an insult to Jewish history. Israel’s apartheid regime is a disgrace to the values that I was once taught are the very heart of our tradition.

As Angela Davis recently told the American Public Health Association, you don’t get rid of racism with anti-racism workshops alone! Systematic and institutional change occurs when people engage in mass protest and noncooperation with policies that support a corrupt status quo. That is why Palestinians have called upon us to take up boycott, divestment and sanctions as a way to apply pressure until Israeli apartheid is dismantled.  The object of nonviolent struggle is not to defeat people, but to change the system. Apartheid is not good for the occupied or the occupier. It is a dehumanizing system that promotes endless tragedy for everyone.  We need a new paradigm.

Those deriving profit and benefit from apartheid do not easily surrender their power. The history of nonviolent struggle has taught us that people maintaining an unjust status quo will do as little as possible to prevent real, systematic change. They will obstruct, deflect or suppress with harmful force those who demand their freedom. Institutional change can only arise from movement building, grassroots organizing and steadfastness. Like all freedom struggles, the struggle for Palestinian human rights is a universal struggle. That is why people across nationality, gender and religion are joining together to shape political, economic and social realities that embrace universal standards of human rights.

Overcoming injustice is the first priority of our religious traditions.  This 74th anniversary of Kristallnacht, let us pick up the broken shards of history and fashion a mosaic of peace that honors the human dignity of everyone. This is the true meaning of the promised land.

Rabbi Brian Walt on the Rachel Corrie Trial

by Rabbi Brian Walt

Today the Israeli court dismissed any responsibility by the State of Israel for the death of Rachel Corrie. More than two years ago I spent a day in the courtroom at the Corrie trial and today’s verdict was not surprising to me. It was clear two years ago that the court had no interest in a fair examination of the evidence. I wrote then:

I left the courtroom after the most effective lesson I could imagine on military investigations. All the problems one would imagine could be part of a military investigation of an incident in which it is involved were so obvious in that courtroom.When the military investigates itself – in any country – it has a vested interest in the outcome and the investigation will always be suspect. In this case it had overwhelming interest in making sure the outcome didn’t point to any responsibility on the part of the IDF.

This military investigation like all the military investigations of the egregious violations during Operation Cast Lead and all Israeli military investigations of violations on the West Bank should not be taken seriously. They are part of the apparatus of the Israeli state, justifying its actions. Cindy Corrie described today’s verdict well:

This was a bad day not only for our family but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule of law and also for the country of Israel.

Here is the post I wrote on March 18, 2010, after spending a day watching the Corrie trial:

On Tuesday this week, exactly seven years ago, Rachel Corrie, an idealistic young woman and human rights activist from Olympia, Washington, was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to protect the home of Dr. Nasrallah, a pharmacist, and his family in Rafah, Gaza, from demolition.

Yesterday, I spent the morning in a small courtroom in the District Court in Haifa, sitting next to the Corrie family, Cindy and Craig, Rachel’s parents, and her sister, Susan, in the hearing of their civil suit against the State of Israel.   First, we listened to the cross-examination by the State’s lawyers of one of Rachel’s fellow activists, who was with her on that day. Following this, Husein Abu Husein, the Corrie’s lawyer,  cross-examined Elad (a pseudonym to protect his identity), an Israeli man, one of the three people who conducted the Israeli military investigation into Rachel’s death.   What emerged from this cross-examination  was shocking.  It was a window into the whole process of Israeli military investigations which has been so fiercely debated over the past year in response to the Goldstone report.

Elad, currently a student at Bar Ilan University, was assigned to the military investigation unit during his regular army service and as a result he was assigned to the military investigation into Rachel’s  death.  He described his training as an investigator as a one or two month course followed by a one to two-week “advanced course” in investigations. His experience included some 30-40 investigations.

Elad hadn’t prepared for his testimony, he had not read the file of the investigation and repeatedly said he didn’t remember.  His lack of preparation indicated the lack of importance he ascribed to his appearance in court and to the proceedings.

Husein abu Husein, the Corrie’s lawyer, started with the issue of the autopsy.  Elad initially signed the request of the military to a court for an autopsy as he had heard that the family had objected to the autopsy.   After establishing that he had no documentation to prove that the family had objected to the autopsy, the lawyer produced a fax from the Corries sent a day or two after her death indicating that they would agree to an autopsy on condition that it was performed by a civilian doctor and that a representative of the American embassy was present.  A representative of the American embassy was not present. He pressed Elad as to why he hadn’t ensured the order of the court was fulfilled.

I felt a lot of sadness and anger sitting there next to Rachel’s parents as we hear that their wishes in regard to their daughter’s body were violated.  Their daughter’s body and the investigation of her death were being manipulated by the Israeli military that had every reason to hide or even distort the findings.   Cindy told me that it was only recently that she found out that an American representative was not present at the autopsy. Despite the fact that the Corrie’s request for the presence of a representative of the American government were included as part of the court order, not only didn’t the military make sure that these conditions were fulfilled, the court didn’t either.  The court order specified that a copy of the autopsy report was to be sent to the court and this condition was also violated.   In testimony last week the doctor who performed the autopsy, testified that he didn’t agree to the presence of a representative of the American embassy and he also for the first time revealed that he had kept samples of her body, a fact never shared with the Corries.  The samples have since been discarded.

The lawyer then proceeded to other issues relating to the investigation all of which pointed to an investigation that lacks any credibility.  The lawyer asked Elad if he thought as an investigator it was important to visit the site where the death occurred  Elad if he had done so in this case.  He said he hadn’t and he didn’t think that other two investigators did either.  When pressed as to why they didn’t visit the site,  Elad retreated to the cover of “security” to which the lawyer asked whether they could not have gone in an armored military vehicle.

This type of questioning about obvious steps an investigator would take that were not done continued for the rest of the hearing.  Some of the questions asked were:

Why the bulldozer and the military vehicles that were on the site were moved.

Why he never sat in the bulldozer to examine the sight lines.

Why despite the fact that the bulldozer regulations state that D9′s (the type of bulldozer) should not be operated in the proximity of civilians, he  failed to question the bulldozer driver about these regulations or make them part of the military police investigation file.

The judge got angry with the lawyer for pressing Elad for reasons as to why he hadn’t taken on various tasks as a military investigator.   Elad was a soldier in regular army service who worked in the military investigations unit.  He was not in charge and didn’t make the decisions.  He restricted the lawyer only to ask questions about documents Elad himself wrote or signed like the request for an autopsy.   What the judge didn’t take into account is that the Husein Abu Husein is at a huge disadvantage as the State has seen everything related to the event knows all the parties and the military response.  Husein doesn’t know the parties and only has access to a small portion of the documentation.

This was one opportunity he had to question someone involved in the investigation and I thought he did a superb job.  Moreover why did the army assign just a regular soldier with very limited training as an investigator to such an important case involving the death of a human being?  How much authority is given to soldiers in regular service in military investigations?  And, why shouldn’t the lawyer question Elad seeing that it is the prosecution that brought him as a witness?

There was a lot of tension in the room.  Here was a Palestinian Israeli lawyer cross-examining an Israeli soldier, demonstrating the lack of seriousness of the military investigation for which he along with two others, was responsible.   And this clash was being played out in front of a group of zarim (“foreigners”), including the parents of the person whose death was being discussed.  In this little courtroom we were watching the enactment of the complex relationships between Americans and Israel, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and people of other faiths.

The lawyer continued to produce more evidence that the investigation was not credible.  After getting Elad to affirm that military investigations are independent and should not be subject to outside influence he produced a document that was in the file of talking points that they should use in the controversy about Rachel’s death.  There was a note on the top of the page to the military investigation unit telling them that this was a very sensitive issue, so sensitive that the President of the United States had raised it with the Israeli Prime Minister!  The note urged them to review the document carefully and to be careful in this matter.

I left the courtroom after the most effective lesson I could imagine on military investigations.  All the problems one would imagine could be part of a military investigation of an incident in which it is involved were so obvious in that courtroom.   When the military investigates itself – in any country – it has a vested interest in the outcome and the investigation will always be suspect.  In this case it had overwhelming interest in making sure the outcome didn’t point to any responsibility on the part of the IDF  Rachel was an American young person who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer as she was trying to protect the human rights of a family.  Her death could have an impact on relations between America and Israel and could affect the way Americans see Israel. This is the reason there was a hasbara document in the file.

It has taken the Corrie family seven years to get into a courtroom where hopefully some of the truths about their daughter’s death can be uncovered.   I admire their profound commitment to their daughter, to the values she upheld, and to pursuing the truth about her death.   One could argue that there are more pressing current issues but at the heart of this hearing is the critical issue of accountability.   Jewish tradition teaches that every human life is of infinite value demands accountability for every life.

Israel has refused to be held accountable in this instance, as it has in many other egregious violations of human life, including the deaths of other foreigners and of many Palestinians.  Yesterday’s hearing was a powerful lesson that there must be independent non-military investigation into such violations.  I wish those who have argued so vociferously over the past year that there is no need for an independent public investigation into what happened during Operation Cast Lead had been there yesterday.  We will not know the truth and there will be no accountability until there is an impartial credible investigation into Rachel Corrie’s death and all other allegations about human rights violations and deaths caused by the IDF

May the memory of Rachel Corrie, a principled and idealistic young woman inspire us always to pursue justice, human rights and peace.  May her memory be a blessing.