Confessions of a Jewish dissident

Investigative journalist, I.F. Stone (1907–1989). (photo: AP)

How can wise solutions be reached, and the opportunity for peace rescued, when dissident voices are hardly heard above a whisper in what passes for debate on the Middle East?

By I.F. Stone | The New York Review of Books | Mar 9, 1978

[Ed. note: A timely piece reprinted from 1978.]


How can we talk of human rights and ignore them for the Palestinian Arabs? How can Israel talk of the Jewish right to a homeland and deny one to the Palestinians? How can there be peace without some measure of justice?


Abstractly speaking, I should be quite a popular person in the American-Jewish community. I am a dissident. I am also, at a time when the search is on for moderate voices on the Palestine question, a moderate. And I proved my devotion to displaced persons in and out of the Middle East years ago. I have a medal to prove it, from the Haganah — the illegal Jewish army that fought what Prime Minister Begin calls the Jewish war of liberation and established the state of Israel in 1948.

Yet despite all these credentials I find myself — like many fellow American intellectuals, Jewish and non-Jewish, ostracized whenever I try to speak up on the Middle East. It demonstrates what slight changes in time and space can do to familiar categories. Dissidents, Jewish and non-Jewish, in the Soviet Union are — deservedly — heroes. They may be forced to circulate their views in samizdat, they may be dependent for circulation in their homeland on the typewriter and carbon paper. But at least they make the front pages of the American and world press, and the correspondents in Moscow hang on their words. Here at least their books are bestsellers.

But it is only rarely that we dissidents on the Middle East can enjoy a fleeting voice in the American press. Finding an American publishing house willing to publish a book which departs from the standard Israeli line is about as easy as selling a thoughtful exposition of atheism to the Osservatore Romano in Vatican City.

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As Gaza sinks into despair, a new book makes the case against Israeli brutality

Palestinians inspect the Israeli-bombed Zeitun district of Gaza City on Jan 23, 2009.
 (photo: Olivier Laban-Mattei / AFP / Getty Images)

“This book is not about Gaza,” the author writes. “It is about what has been done to Gaza.”

By Charles Glass | The Intercept | May 13, 2018


Gaza is sinking, if not into the sea, into desperation. The Israeli embargo has rendered 65 percent of Gazans under the age of 30 unemployed. Health care suffers from lack of equipment and medicine. People cannot leave to find work outside, and children live with the trauma of never knowing when their homes will be bombed. When I was there in 2002, Dr. Eyad Sarraj of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program told me that almost half the children under 16 suffered bed-wetting due to constant fear. That was before the military invasions of the last 10 years.


Israel celebrates a double anniversary on May 15 this year, the founding of the state and the formal establishment of the Israeli Defense Forces, the name the state gave to its combined army, navy, and air force. Armed statehood fulfilled the political Zionists’ dream of gathering Jews from the ancient Diaspora under their own government in what they declared to be their “promised land.” During the battle over the land between 1947 and 1949, the IDF expelled three-quarters of the indigenous population. Of the 750,000 Palestinian Arabs who fled, 250,000 took shelter in Gaza, a tiny pocket of southwest Palestine then occupied by the Egyptian army. The destitute and traumatized refugees were three times more numerous than the 80,000 Gazans who took them in.

The United Nations passed but did not enforce annual resolutions calling for the refugees’ return. Israel invaded the territory in 1956, withdrew under American pressure in 1957, and invaded again in 1967. As its population grew to nearly 2 million souls packed into a pocket five miles wide and 40 miles long, Gaza has become a byword for misery. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron, no advocate of the Palestinian cause, called it “an open-air prison.”

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Israel’s use of fatal fire in Gaza

Israeli soldiers arrest two Palestinian protesters who tried to approach the fence at the de facto border with Gaza. (photo: Mohammed Saber / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock)

Excessive force or justified mob control?

By Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash | The Washington Post | May 16, 2018


“Cutting or attacking the fence is an offense. It has to be countered, but countered with reasonable force. There is no meter that I know of that would put the safety of the border fence at the same importance of the life of a 14-year-old.”
— Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer


Fourteen-year-old Wisal Sheikh Khalil had wire cutters out and was trying to break through Gaza’s boundary fence into Israel when she was shot dead by Israeli soldiers on Monday, according to her younger brother, who was with her at the time.

She was one of at least 60 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops during protests this week along the fence, according to local health officials.

Israel’s sharpshooters, looking down from their nests on mounds of earth on the other side of the fence, have been permitted to use lethal force against those “endangering” the barrier, Israeli military officials say. These officials also say that Israeli soldiers have been allowed to use live ammunition to shoot “instigators” among “rioters” on the de facto border.

In both cases, the orders are to aim for the legs, they say, though Khalil was shot in the head.

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A grotesque spectacle in Jerusalem

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman sits next to White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner as he speaks during the dedication ceremony of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. (photo: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters0

Trump has empowered what’s worst in Israel, and as long as he is president, it may be that Israel can kill Palestinians, demolish their homes and appropriate their land with impunity. But some day, Trump will be gone.

By Michelle Goldberg | The New York Times | May 14, 2018


The juxtaposition of images of dead and wounded Palestinians and Ivanka Trump smiling in Jerusalem like a Zionist Marie Antoinette tell us a lot about America’s relationship to Israel right now. It has never been closer, but within that closeness there are seeds of potential estrangement.


On Monday, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other leading lights of the Trumpist right gathered in Israel to celebrate the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, a gesture widely seen as a slap in the face to Palestinians who envision East Jerusalem as their future capital.

The event was grotesque. It was a consummation of the cynical alliance between hawkish Jews and Zionist evangelicals who believe that the return of Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse and the return of Christ, after which Jews who don’t convert will burn forever.

Religions like “Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism” lead people “to an eternity of separation from God in Hell,” Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor, once said. He was chosen to give the opening prayer at the embassy ceremony. John Hagee, one of America’s most prominent end-times preachers, once said that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral homeland. He gave the closing benediction.

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What the Gaza protests portend

A Palestinian woman on the Gaza side of the fence on a day of bloody protests at the buffer zone with Israel, May 14, 2018. (photo: Ali Jadallah / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

From Sharpeville to Selma, the history of marches for civil and political rights is long and bloody.

By Tareq Baconi | The New York Review of Books | May 15, 2018


This mass mobilization around the core principles of Palestinian liberation — arising from civil society independently of discredited political leaderships — holds immense power to disrupt the status quo. Whether this movement, from East Jerusalem to Gaza, Israel to the West Bank, eventually bends toward justice depends on whether the international community will tolerate Israel’s capacity to deny an entire people their basic rights and rob them of a future because they are not Jewish. The past record is not encouraging, but something new has started.


“The battle against infiltration in the border areas at all times of day and night will be carried out mainly by opening fire, without giving warning, on any individual or group that cannot be identified from afar by our troops as Israeli citizens and who are, at the moment they are spotted, [infiltrating] into Israeli territory.”

This was the order issued in 1953 by Israel’s Fifth Giv’ati Brigade in response to the hundreds of Palestinian refugees who sought to return to homes and lands from which they had been expelled in 1948. For years after the war, the recently displaced braved mines and bullets from border kibbutzim and risked harsh reprisals from Israel’s army to reclaim their property. The reprisals included raids on refugee camps and villages that often killed civilians, as the Israeli historian Benny Morris and others have laid out. Still, refugees persisted in their attempts to return, and Israel persisted in viewing these attempts as “infiltration.”

Over the past six weeks, Israeli soldiers have killed some forty Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the majority of them unarmed civilians, and injured more than five thousand protesters. As the US relocated its embassy to Jerusalem Monday, the violence escalated alarmingly. Israeli forces shot dead at least another fifty Palestinians and injured more than 2,400, making it by far the bloodiest day yet in the current round of protests in Gaza.

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Why is Israel using lethal force against unarmed protesters in Gaza?

Smoke rises as Israeli soldiers are seen on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip, Israel, May 14, 2018. (photo: Amir Cohen / Reuters)

When Hamas sends young demonstrators towards a firing squad, that doesn’t mean Israel has to keep pulling the trigger.

By Ilene Prusher | Haaretz | May 15, 2018


Do we really imagine this so-called “March of Return” to be an existential threat to the strongest army in the Middle East? Demonstrators might be wild with rage and even psyched up by Hamas slogans, but they’re not armed and equipped to take on Israel.


The loss of life in Gaza at the ends of Israeli army snipers is not only gruesome, it’s reprehensible — because lethal force is not the only way to confront protesters.

We in America know that from our own history.

We’ve been thinking a lot about civil rights in America, recently. Last month marked 50 years since the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the passage of the 1968 Civil Rights Act.

In the year-and-a-half since Donald Trump was elected, we’ve seen a resurgence of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic incidents, and signs of white supremacist groups moving out of the shadows and into town squares not en masse, but enough to make us realize that America remains rife with racism.

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“Ashamed to Be Jewish”: As Trump base celebrates embassy move, horrified US Jews mourn Gaza deaths

Left: A wounded Palestinian demonstrator being evacuated during the protest against the US embassy move to Jerusalem. Right: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at the embassy inauguration, May 14, 2018. (photos: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters;  Menahem Kahana / AFP)

After being shut out of embassy celebrations by evangelicals and ultra-Orthodox, many mainstream Jews face crisis and anguish over Israeli response to Palestinian protests.

By Allison Kaplan Sommer | Haaretz | May 15, 2018


“[We are] alarmed, concerned, and profoundly saddened by the growing number of Gazan dead and wounded. It does not have to be this way.”
— Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Union for Reform Judaism president


The opening ceremony for the new US Embassy in Jerusalem was, essentially, an invitation-only Trump campaign rally.

Those in attendance had all sworn loyalty to the president and belonged to one of the groups that has hailed him as a modern-day Cyrus the Great: Orthodox Jews, right-wing Israelis (including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) and the pro-Trump Republican base — particularly those in the evangelical community.

This was all on display from the ceremony’s opening blessing, by Texan Baptist megachurch pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress. His eyes squeezed closed in prayer, he thanked God for “our great president, Donald Trump,” lauded how Israel “has blessed this world by pointing us to you, the one true God, through the message of her prophets, her scriptures, and the Messiah,” and praying for Jerusalem “in the name of the spirit of the Prince of Peace, Jesus our lord.”

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