Saturday, July 02, 2005

Religious extremists in Israel

This past week as revealed the ugly face of Israeli extremism. Usually when "religious extremism" is mentioned with regard to Israel, it is a reference to one of the islamic armed movements that attacks civilians like Hamas or Islami Jihad. There is usually a media oversight of the violence of Israeli power structure. For example, few are aware of the fact that the Israeli military has killed more civilians since the beginning of the recent intifada than have armed Palestinians.

That being said, this past week Israelis motivated by religious extremism have acted with such arrogance and violance that it is astounding. Beside the protesters in Israel that through nails and oil on major highways to cause accidents in protest of the withdrawel from Gaza, other protesters in Gaza threw rocks and fists at Israeli soldiers. They were very enraged that jewish israeli soldiers were treating jews in a harsh manner by arresting them. BBC shows a picture of a young boy in New York protesting Sharon's removal of settlers because forced removals are for Palestinians, the signs said "Don't do unto Jews what you won't do to Arabs."

Someone should remind them how luck they are not to be Palestinian. Palestinians who throw rocks are often killed by angry soldiers. This past week even saw the conviction of an Israeli soldier for manslaughter in the killing of the Briton Tom Hurndell. Hurndell was shot in the neck by a sniper for guiding children out of the line of fire. Some of these same extremist explained his death by repeatedly stating that he was wearing a gun and camoflouge at the time of his murder.

Lynch mob

CNN reported that a group of the Gaza extremists nearly killed a Palestinian who had the misfortune of being too close to the mob. They even showed footage of the man being beaten with rocks until he was unable to walk himself to safety. The last I heard was that he was in critical condition in the hospital.


While much talk has been made of the demolitions of settlements, BBC also reports that the Israeli military is stepping up home demolitions and the construction of the separation fence or "apartheid wall" (from the Afrikaans root meaning apartness or separation). This Gaza withdrawel is unfortunately working as a distraction from the continuing systematic violence of the occupation, and over-reassuring the Israeli public. The problem is that the withdrawal is limited, since the Israeli government promises continued military incursions while the territory remains unstable. Furthermore, the most ecomically viable Palestinian region (the West Bank) continues to be polluted, divided, and subjugated by the Israeli military and civilian authority.

A final word on Israel and Palestine

People who don't know me personally may take this commentary as "one-sided" or "anti-Israel." Unfortunately, Israel and the United States of America are two of the few countries that you are not allowed to criticize without being called hate-filled, anti-(place your fatherland here), or (in the case of Israel) anti-semitic (or a self-hating Jew if you, like me, are Jewish yourself).

Let me just say that I am equally dismayed by the religious extremism rising up in the Palestinian territories and the rest of the Muslim world. My Palestinian friends speak with frustration at how the democratic and pluralistic atmosphere of the first intifada is being replaced with religious-based intolerance and dogma.

However, in the case of much of the Muslim world, I have been told that Islamic fanaticism takes root best in areas (like Palestine) when hope in secular or humanistic politics seems to have failed or been crushed to a point of hope beyond hope. In areas where there is little or no hope, what will you put your trust in, a left-leaning populist who may be killed or be coopted? A secular system that may put food on the table ten years ahead while you are hungry now? Or will you put your faith with the almighty ruler and creator of the world, who promises hope beyond this life and immortality in faith?

I am more frustrated in the Christian, Jewish and Islamic extremists who are using religious ideology to further their own political and economic power. The Christian right shows immense hypocrisy and dangerous arrogance when it advocates war, economic, and AIDS policies that are designed to enrich themselves while others suffer. Would Jesus not throw the money-begging televangelists out of the temple? Would he not nail himself to the cross in protest for the sins of war? Would Jesus not side with the victims and potential victims of AIDS in search of prevention strategies (and condoms) as he walked with the prostitutes two thousand years ago?

And how can the Israeli extremists advocate racism and violent displacement against the citizens of Judea and Samarra (what Jewish fanatics call the West Bank as a reference to the Torah and a claim to ownership)? Is this not a selective reading of the Torah and a complete ignorance of some of the central themes of judaism like Tikkun Olam and Tzedekeh? Is it not also a reproduction of the spirit of racist Aryan entitlement of Europe that underpinned Nazi ideology?

In the Muslim world, one can easily condemn and vilify the puritanic authoritariansim embodied by the Iranian board of clerics and the violent acts of Pakistani local power structures that are justified by the religion of Islam. The indisciminate violence of Al Qaeda, underscored by the mass murder in London this week, is all the more despicable because the purveyors of this death claim heavenly rewards for the attackers.

Nevertheless, I wonder if the secular regimes in the region that have historically been supported by American politics have not done more harm and commited more murders and acts of violence. I am thinking of the governments like the ones based out of Baghdad (before 1990), Cairo, Damascus (on and off until the present date), and the house of Saud among others. The fact that racist neoconservatives and others are now calling for the toppling of these governments does not give them the right to ignore their own role in the violence and religious extremism sweeping the world.

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