Refugees, Gandhi’s and Free Radicals


by Eileen Fleming


Gandhi pointed out three possible responses to oppression and injustice. The coward’s way out, which is to accept the wrong and run away, or to stand and fight by force of arms, but the third and best way is to fight by speaking truth and remaining physically nonviolent.

The Palestinian Gandhi Project is a joint “labor of love” of two women, who I am blessed to know as friends and sisters in the good fight for justice and peace who are grounded in compassion and outraged over the brutal truth.

I met journalist and marketing communications consultant, Pam Bailey in June 2009, when I was ‘embedded’ with a Code Pink delegation who had been invited to Gaza to build playgrounds and witness the facts on the ground, post Cast Lead.

Pam began traveling to Palestine in 2007, and recently returned from a six-month sojourn as a freelance writer and social media instructor for citizen journalists in Gaza Palestine.

The first videos featured on their website were shot in Gaza in January-March of 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring. The next filming trip is planned for January/February 2012, and will begin in the refugee camps of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Pam explained, “The main reason why my business partner and I called our latest venture the Palestinian Gandhi Project is that this is the language used by everyone else… [we] respond with pictures and videos…[about] what we mean by ‘Gandhian.’” [1]

MEET Keren and Pam:

I met the other co-founder of the Palestinian Gandhi Project on the second Saturday in September 2007, in Arlington, Virginia, at George Mason University. We both were attending the 6th annual US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.

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During a small group break out session, we were asked our organizational affiliations, and Keren Batiyov replied, “I am an organization of one and I am here as a free radical.”

She later explained, “I associate Free Radicals-in the political sense-with Anarchism and a rejection of hierarchy and establishment authority. As a free radical I choose to work with groups whose goals are justice and peace.”

Keren also introduced me to the writings of Jewish Liberation Theologian, Marc Ellis.

“Marc Ellis coined the term ‘Constantinian Judaism’ and is a Jewish Liberation Theologian – what he thinks and writes is drawn from the prophets – in other words, the prophetic tradition of Judaism – the tradition that says that you stand for and with the oppressed, whoever and wherever they are. What Christian Liberation Theology says that Jesus taught – a preferential option for the poor and oppressed, Jewish Liberation Theology draw the same teaching from the prophets.”

Keren was born and bred in a fundamentalist Christian home, but at the age of 40 connected with her Jewish roots and converted Jesus from God back into his originally understood role of divine prophet.

I contend that a prophet can best be understood as one who points out impending doom and provokes those so inclined to think about God: to THINK!

In 2005, Keren spoke at Marquette University, at “Jews of Conscience: Voices of Justice and Peace, Hope and Obligation” conference, “I was forty when I converted and I can still recall, sixteen years later, the feeling of finally having arrived at home, wondering how and why I had been born into a Christian fundamentalist family when I had obviously been Jewish from the beginning.

“I was drawn to Judaism because of its long tradition of justice, ethics, and dissent; its emphasis on education, study, and questioning everything, including God. The prophetic tradition of Judaism resonated deeply within me. What do I mean by the prophetic tradition? I refer to the commands of the prophets that we seek peace and pursue justice; that we stand for and with the oppressed – whoever and wherever they are; and that we not do to another anything that we would not want done to ourselves.

“About six years ago I began to sense that I was not hearing the entire story about the Israel/Palestine conflict from the Jewish community. So I set out to study and read as much as I could. I read Jewish historians, sociologists, linguists, political scientists, activists, rabbis, politicians, journalists, and theologians – and I regularly read Ha’aretz. It was also during this initial phase that I discovered the writings of Marc Ellis, whose statement you heard earlier. The more I read, the more disparity I saw between what I was hearing from the mainstream Jewish community and our media and what I was reading from those with first-hand knowledge. The more I read, the more I began to question, to voice my questions, and eventually to speak out against the abuses of the Israeli occupation. And then I discovered the lengths to which the organized mainstream Jewish community would go in order to bully and intimidate those who criticized Israel.

“I worked for a Jewish organization at the time and I was told to shut up about the Israel-Palestine conflict; that if I continued to speak publicly about it, I would lose my job. I have been called “self-hating” and “a deadly enemy of the Jewish community”; I have had my Jewishness impugned; I have been asked if I would have also supported Hitler; and I have been accused, in a letter to the local rabbis and Jewish community leaders of the “crime” of hugging Muslim women.

“According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the prophets were also hated and considered traitorous. In his book, The Prophets, Heschel says, “The striking surprise is that the prophets of Israel were tolerated at all by their people. To the patriots, they seemed pernicious; to the pious multitude, blasphemous; to the men in authority, seditious.” But what does it say about our Jewish community, when justice is discarded for nationalism? What does it say about our Jewish community when we, as Jews, are commanded to question everything, including God – in fact Israel means “God wrestler.” So what does it say about our Jewish community when we are commanded to question, and argue with God, but we are forbidden to question or criticize Israel?

“Being a Jew of conscience also invites loneliness and isolation…My voice was activated by a sense of justice, a deep commitment to the precepts of the Judaism to which I had converted, an outrage that political Zionism was not only attempting to hijack Judaism, it was oppressing another people. For me, there was no choice – I had to speak out.

“After several years of studying the conflict and doing some local activism, I knew that as a Jew of conscience it was incumbent upon me to do more. The studying and local activism continued, and does to this day, but I also knew that it was time to physically stand in solidarity with the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Despite the fact that Zionism is not Judaism and Judaism is not Zionism, Palestinians know that it is Israelis who oppress and humiliate them, and most Israelis are Jews. It was important to me to put a different face on Judaism – the face of justice and ethics – the face that drew me to Judaism in the first place.

“Because I am a pacifist I looked for groups that reflected that philosophy and I eventually chose to work with the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led group based on the non-violent action and resistance principles of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. ISM was founded approximately four years ago by Palestinians and is supported by Israeli and international activists. In October, 2004 I journeyed to Palestine to work with ISM during the Olive Harvest. I was stationed near Nablus at Balata Refugee Camp.

“Now I come to the point in my presentation where I have struggled mightily with what to tell you. Because of time constraints there is no way I can give you more than a thumbnail image of life on the West Bank. So what do I tell you?

“Do I tell you about the 312 miles (and increasing) of Jewish-only roads? Apart-ride, I call them. Do I tell you about the 500 checkpoints on the West Bank, an area slightly smaller than Delaware? Do I tell you that 39 people died at checkpoints in 2004 due to denial or delay? Do I tell you about the 360, 000 olive trees that have been uprooted and destroyed? Or do I tell you about the 4,100 homes that have been demolished during this Intifada alone?

“Do I tell you about the trenches that are dug – some of them miles long, 16 feet wide and 9 feet deep – to separate Palestinian farmers from their lands – to make life increasingly difficult for Palestinians? Do I tell you how sewer lines are severed when these trenches are dug, polluting Palestinian streams and water supplies? We hear a great deal about “security;” that Israel only acts from security needs – so do I tell you about the 500 dumpsters that were arbitrarily destroyed in Nablus?

“Do I tell you that Israelis consume six times as much water as Palestinians are allowed? That while Israeli settlements, (settlements illegal under international law), have no shortage of water for drinking, washing, maintenance of swimming pools and irrigating freely, Palestinians frequently are without water, some villages for several weeks at a time; that many children have kidney problems due to the lack of water? Do I tell you that the water denied the Palestinians comes from their aquifers on their land?

“Do I tell you about the olive trees that haven’t been tended for three to four years because Israel will not permit farmers to work their fields – that trees that used to bear 40-50 kilos per tree are now bearing 10 kilos? Do I tell you that farmers must have a permit to harvest their crops and if they are lucky enough to obtain a permit, they are granted only two to three days to bring in their entire harvest? And do I tell you that even with the permit, there is no guarantee that they will not be harassed or prevented from harvesting by soldiers and/or settlers?

“Do I tell you about the day that our group was brutally attacked by Israeli soldiers as we threw our bodies over our Palestinian coordinator, Mohamed, to protect him from arrest? Do I tell you how the soldiers viciously beat and kicked almost everyone on the human pile covering Mohamed – that they only withdrew after one of the soldiers pointed his gun at the head of an ISMer from Sweden, who was beaten and on the ground; that it was only then that the commanding officer yelled, “Dai, dai,” (Enough, enough)? Should I tell you how I sensed that Mohamed, until that incident, viewed me with skepticism for I had made no secret of the fact that I was a Jew? Or perhaps I should tell you that he came to me afterward and thanked me for covering his body; that he extended his hand to me to shake – and this was during Ramadan when, among other proscriptions, contact with the opposite sex is prohibited.

“Do I tell you that there are almost 9,000 Palestinian political prisoners? That many are arrested and held on administrative detention, meaning they can be held for six months without charge? Do I tell you that at the end of six months, another six months can be added? And another, and another; that some Palestinians have been held for three and four years without ever a charge brought against them? Do I tell you about the prisoners who are tortured; that some men return to their communities sterile, as a result of the tortures?

“Should tell you that seven of Mohamed’s friends, including his best friend, have been murdered by the Israeli army; that I saw the pictures of his best friend whose body was rendered like charred hamburger and his face blown away – by an Apache missile. Or maybe I should tell you that when I asked Mohamed why he chose to work with ISM, a non-violent resistance group, given the violent deaths of his friends at the hands of the Israeli army, he quietly replied, “Because I have a hope for peace.”

“Do I tell you that Israelis have killed almost four times as many Palestinians as Palestinians have killed Israelis during this Intifada? That Palestinian children represent 22% of the fatalities and 42% of the injuries? That Israeli soldiers are ordered to kill unarmed civilians, including children? That half of the child fatalities are from wounds, sniper wounds, to the chest or the head? Do I tell you about fellow-ISMer Karen, from England, who when she saw Israeli snipers on the roof in Balata Refugee Camp and saw that one of them had his gun trained on her, held up her hands and cried “Stop, don’t shoot – Internationals”? Do I tell you that the sniper didn’t shoot her, but moved his gun and shot dead a 12-year old Palestinian boy near her?

“What do I tell you? And how do I even begin to tell you?

“Before leaving Palestine, I predicted that the hardest work would begin upon my return home – sharing my experience, exposing the ugliness of occupation, and providing an alternative Jewish voice to that of mainstream American Jewish mythmaking and denial. I also had promises to keep – promises to the Palestinians and to fellow-ISMers whom I left behind – that I would tell their stories; that I would send others to take my place…

“Yet, at the same moment I realized that I had no hope, simultaneously obligation stepped in. It didn’t matter how I felt, I was obligated to continue standing for and with the Palestinians. In the absence of hope there is obligation. Marc Ellis, in the final paragraph of his book, Toward A Jewish Theology of Liberation, says ‘If we throw strategy to the wind and end our hope for victory, then we are free to be faithful.’

“Free to be faithful – I don’t know that it could be conveyed more beautifully — we’re not called to be effective, we’re called to be faithful – because there are no guarantees of outcome – because there will be times when hope is hidden or lost or even destroyed. I’m sure the prophets knew the chances of being heard and heeded were pretty slim. I’m not convinced they always had hope, in fact I don’t recall that God ever commanded us to have hope – but we are commanded over and over to pursue justice, to deal justly with every human being. The prophets were faithful, constant – they took their obligations to speak truth to power very seriously. It wasn’t, and isn’t, about outcomes or return-on-investment, it’s about doing what is right and just only because it is right and just. This is what it means to be a Jew of conscience, a person of conscience. Hope is a luxury; obligation and faithfulness are essentials.

“In Marc Ellis’ statement he spoke of the need for a reckoning with Jewish history and a confession to the Palestinian people. I want to close with a prayer that I wrote several years ago in anticipation of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews – a time when we seek forgiveness from God – but only in first seeking the forgiveness of those whom we have wronged can we presume to ask forgiveness from God. Perhaps one day Israel will make such a confession.

T’shuvah* For A Nation

God forgive us
for hostility toward those we perceive
to be not like ourselves;
for judging the powerless contemptible—
though it was we who rendered them so;
for believing that we are better, more deserving,
and even entitled, because our own suffering has been so great.

God forgive us
for turning our pain into a grisly weapon
with which we torment others;
for perpetuating the poisonous cycle—
from abused to abuser;
for despising the stranger, the refugee, the homeless—
for forgetting that we have been all of these.

God forgive us
for the thousands we have displaced and discounted;
for the land we have confiscated
and the homes we have demolished;
for the trees we have uprooted, and the water withheld;
for the hearts, and bones, and promises we have broken;
for the hatred we have engendered.

God forgive us
for invoking your name to justify revenge
and ethnic cleansing;
for citing Security to legitimize murder and torture;
for exploiting the Holocaust to defend doing to others
what has been done to us.

God forgive us
for the blinders we so carefully fabricate
to hide our eyes
from the humanity of the people we call enemy;
the same whom history records as kin.

God forgive us
for euphemisms, Orwellian doublespeak, and outright lies;
for hiring high-powered firms to sell myths
of innocence and righteousness;
for seeking a face lift for our image
instead of atonement for our soul.

May God forgive us.
May those we have so terribly wronged
forgive us.

Repentance ©Keren Batiyov

For many years the existence of free radicals was dismissed as non-existent or just a curiosity. This view has changed; and currently the role of free radicals in many unexplained disease phenomena such as rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, hypertension, heart disease, liver cell injury and cancers, is being met with growing enthusiasm by scientists and physicians alike, who seek to not just treat symptoms, but heal.

Free Radicals live short intense lives are highly reactive with most molecules and that includes DNA, thus Free Radicals can potentially alter one’s very core.

Free Radicals are all on a mission to enter into another molecule in order to complete themselves by uniting with another cells electron. This action sets up a chain reaction that once begun, will cascade and result in changing a living cell.

I wondered if perhaps Jesus could be considered a free radical too.

Jesus was never a Christian; in fact that term was not even coined until three decades later, in the days of Paul.

Jesus was a social justice, radical revolutionary Palestinian devout Jewish Road Warrior who challenged the job security of the Temple authorities by teaching the people they did not need to pay the priests for ritual baths or sacrificing livestock to be OK with God-for God LOVED them just as they were; ‘sinners’, outcasts, diseased, cripples, poor, oppressed, widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners all enduring under a brutal Roman Military Occupation.

What got Jesus crucified was disturbing the status quo of the ROF/Roman Occupying Forces by teaching such subversive concepts as God preferred the ‘sinners’, outcasts, diseased, cripples, poor, oppressed widows, orphans, refugees and prisoners above the elite and arrogant.

The early followers and lovers of Jesus were called members of THE WAY; being THE WAY Jesus taught: You must forgive to be forgiven and pray, bless and love your enemies-NOT bomb, torture or occupy any!

Jesus also said that his sisters and brothers, where those that DID the WILL of the Father.

“What does God require? He has told you o’man! Be just, be merciful, and walk humbly with your Lord.” -Micah 6:8

2,000 years ago the cross had NO symbolic religious meaning. When Jesus said: “Pick up your cross and follow me” everyone back then understood he was issuing a political statement, for crucifixion was Rome’s way of ridding itself of rebels, dissidents, outlaws, outcasts any who disturbed the status quo of the elite.

Keren also introduced me to this quote by Allen Ginsburg:

“F— hope! It’s not about hope. You don’t do what you do because you hope things will get better. It’s about getting up every morning and asking yourself what’s the right thing to do and doing it.”

Learn more and may you do something too: Palestinian Gandhi Project


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