The Oscar-winning actors issue clarifying statements on the Israel-Hamas conflict, after being heavily criticized for co-signing an open letter lamenting Israel's actions in Gaza
Spanish actors Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz have each released statements clarifying their position on the war in Gaza after the married couple were heavily criticized for co-signing an open letter in a Spanish newspaper which condemned Israel’s actions.
The letter, published by El Diario earlier this week, included the signatures of many heavyweights in the Spanish film industry and called on the European Union to “condemn the bombing by land, sea and air against the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip.”
Since the letter was published, the Oscar-winning couple has faced fierce criticism and accusations of anti-Semitism in Israel and beyond. The response has been so hostile that both actors issued statements in order to clarify their personal intentions. The No Country for Old Men star released a statement titled “Plea for Peace” on Thursday, which read:
“My signature was solely meant as a plea for peace. Destruction and hatred only generate more hatred and destruction.
While I was critical of the Israeli military response, I have great respect for the people of Israel and deep compassion for their losses. I am now being labeled by some as anti-Semitic, as is my wife – which is the antithesis of who we are as human beings. We detest anti-Semitism as much as we detest the horrible and painful consequences of war.
I was raised to be against any act of violence, and the consequent suffering of humanity for it, regardless of religions, ethnicities and borders. Too many innocent Palestinian mothers have lost their children to this conflict. Too many innocent Israeli mothers share the same grief. There should not be any political reason that can justify such enormous pain on both sides. It’s my hope that leaders involved in this complicated struggle will heed the call of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, ‘In the name of humanity, the violence must stop.’
Palestinians and Israelis in the region deserve to have their safety and human rights recognized and respected so in the near future they may find peace and co-existence, for themselves and their innocent children. So generations to come could bring hope, forgiveness and compassion for each other. This is the most basic and necessary way to peace for all of us.”
Bardem’s statement came hot on the heels of his wife’s own public clarification, as Cruz released a statement to USA Today on Wednesday, which said:
“I don’t want to be misunderstood on this important subject. I’m not an expert on the situation and I’m aware of the complexity of it. My only wish and intention in signing that group letter is the hope that there will be peace in both Israel and Gaza. I am hopeful all parties can agree to a cease fire and there are no more innocent victims on either side of the border. I wish for unity, and peace.”
Earlier this week, TIME’s Lily Rothman wrote about the backlash that often follows when celebrities wade into the thorny issue of Middle East politics. Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and Scarlett Johansson have all faced blow-back in recent years after expressing opinions on the situation in Israel, whether on social media or in interviews about endorsements. The public ire is often harsh enough that these celebrities are quick to walk back on — or delete — their original statements.
In the case of Bardem and Cruz, the pair appear to be attempting to neutralize the backlash by expanding on their sympathies for civilians on both sides of the border and emphasizing their wish for peace.
A three-day ceasefire is in tatters after an exchange of fire between Hamas and Isreali Defense Forces
The Israeli military believes one of its soldiers was captured as a planned 72-hour cease-fire fell apart just hours into the deal, a spokesman said Friday. The lull in fighting collapsed in an early morning exchange of fire that left at least five Israeli soldiers and 40 Gaza residents dead.
“The [Israeli Defense Forces] is currently conducting intelligence efforts and extensive searches in order to locate the missing soldier,” the IDF said in a statement, after Israel accused Hamas of breaking the cease-fire agreement by firing rockets on Israeli forces in southern Gaza.
Lt. Col Peter Lerner, IDF spokesman, identified the missing soldier as Second Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23. Lerner said the soldier, from Kfar Saba, was captured early on Friday as the Israeli military was “implementing” the cease-fire and that two IDF soldiers were killed during the suspected capture.
Israel and Hamas both blamed one another for Friday’s unraveling. The deal was brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and it marks at least the fourth humanitarian cease-fire to have collapsed within hours since Israel’s latest ground operation in Gaza began earlier this month.
Kerry said on Friday that “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s attack, which led to the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the apparent abduction of another.
“Hamas, which has security control over the Gaza Strip, must immediately and unconditionally release the missing Israeli soldier, and I call on those with influence over Hamas to reinforce this message,” Kerry added.
The health ministry in Gaza reports more than 1,450 Palestinians have been killed and 8,200 wounded in the violence in the Gaza Strip, Haaretz reports. At least 61 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have died in the conflict. Israel began a bombing campaign in Gaza on July 8 followed by a ground invasion with the objective of destroying tunnels that connect Gaza with Israel and are often used by militants to stage attacks and kidnappings within Israel.
It’s yet unclear how the Israeli soldier’s capture, if confirmed, may change the dynamics of Israel’s operations in Gaza.
"I still root for him," she says+ READ ARTICLE
Maggie Gyllenhaal comes from a long line of lefties, including her mom Naomi Foner, whose screenplay for Running On Empty was nominated for an Oscar. The actress has been politically outspoken before standing up against the Iraq war. So it’s kind of surprising that she’s not such a fan of Obama,not will she take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Or maybe not that unexpected. Taking sides in the Middle East could turn potential viewers away from her new miniseries The Honorable Woman, which starts on July 31 on Sundance. “You know, you say one word on one side or the other, and you alienate hundreds of thousands of people,” she says in the longer version of her interview for the 10 Questions page of Time. “And I’m hoping actually to open many people’s minds and hearts even the tiniest bit. So, yes, I’m trying to think about what my ultimate intention is…and I’m trying to think before I speak.”
In the longer video below (pro-tip: skip the first minute if you watched the one above), Gyllenhaal also explains how President Obama broke her heart. “I really believed in him and I’m not sure what he believes in any more.” She thinks he wasn’t aggressive enough in dealing with the National Security Agency, after it was shown that their activities were Enemy of the State-ish than most Americans had been led to believe. “I still root for him,” says Gyllenhaal. “But I feel a little hopeless right now….I hope for a leader who will stand up and be unpopular.”
She also understands (a bit) actresses who don't embrace feminism+ READ ARTICLE
In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s crackling new series, The Honorable Woman, she plays a high profile business executive with dealings in Israel and Gaza. So…..pretty topical. Her character, Nessa Stein, sleeps in an ultra secure fingerprint-operated panic room. Gyllenhaal doesn’t have one of those but says she understands panic.
“The panic comes when you think you’re supposed to be someone you can’t possibly be,” Gyllenhaal, 36, said during an interview with Time for the 10 Questions page. Just as her character goes from someone who’s “expected to be extraordinary and remarkable all the time” but comes unglued as the series progresses, she feels pressure to perform herself, to be what others expect her to be.
“I feel like so much of my 30s has been that performance not working any more,” she says. Gyllenhaal also talked about what she doesn’t want to talk about: who’s right and who’s wrong in the Israeli-Gaza conflict and her disappointment in President Obama. She also shared her nuanced feelings about feminism. “I do sometimes take issue and have almost all my adult life with the kind of old-school feminism that cuts out the complicated gray areas,” she says, like when people are considered “difficult” instead of as “creative.”
The Honorable Woman airs Thursday nights on Sundance. Gyllenhaal’s interview can be read in full by subscribers in this week’s issue of Time.
"We are determined to complete this mission, with or without a ceasefire"
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Thursday to continue his country’s offensive against Palestinian militants in Gaza until tunnels facilitating attacks on Israel were destroyed, defying peace efforts and potentially extending the three-week war for at least several more days, if not longer.
“We are determined to complete this mission, with or without a cease-fire,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks ahead of a government meeting in Tel Aviv on Thursday, according to Reuters. “I won’t agree to any proposal that will not enable the Israeli military to finish this important task, for the sake of Israel’s security.”
The Israeli military also called up 16,000 more reservists, a move that an unnamed military official told Reuters was done to relieve some of the tens of thousands of other reservists already called up.
At least 1,372 Palestinians, most of them civilians, in Gaza—and 56 Israeli soldiers and three civilians—have been killed since Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge” on July 8 in response to rocket fire from Gaza. Netanyahu’s security cabinet approved continuing operations to destroy the network of tunnels in Gaza on Wednesday amid international efforts to reach a cease-fire.
A strike on a U.N. school being used as a refuge in Gaza leaves 15 people dead, and puts more international pressure on Israel
Seventeen times, officials from the U.N. called their contacts in the Israeli army to give them the exact GPS coordinates of a U.N. school in the Jabalya Refugee Camp. “There was fighting very close by and the staff there was very alarmed,” Christopher Gunness, the spokesman of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which works with Palestinian refugees, tells TIME. “We told them what the precise coordinates were.”
Despite the worried calls, the Jabalya Elementary Girls School was hit just after the early morning call to prayer Wednesday, when most of the 3,000 people taking shelter there were asleep. A few minutes later, the school was hit by a second explosion, in which a shell or a rocket crashed through the roof of the building. Fifteen people were killed and more than 100 injured.
However it happened, the devastating attack of the U.N. school seems such an egregious example of killing innocent civilians that it could be a turning point in the three-week-old war between Israel and Hamas that senior U.S., European and Middle Eastern officials have so far failed to halt. Strong condemnations have come in from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the strike “unjustifiable,” as well as from the White House. It is the second time over the past several days that a U.N. school has been hit, and the sixth such incident since the war began.
The refugees at Jabalya “are people who were told to leave their homes by the IDF,” Gunness says. As a result, there are 200,000 Gazans around the Strip living in 85 shelters, leaving UNRWA and other aid agencies struggling to provide for their most basic needs. That includes water, which is trucked in because most of the tap water in Gaza is undrinkable even during peacetime. “We can’t offer safe sanctuary. We ask people to respect the inviolability of our offices.” Earlier in the day, Gunness tweeted: “UNRWA condemns in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces.”
Israeli forces, however, have not taken responsibility for the attack on the school. As it did after fiery destruction of a power plant a day earlier, which seemed to indicate Israel was not just striking military targets but also the kind of basic civilian infrastructure that could permanently affect the more than 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip, the IDF said it was checking the incident and could not confirm who had hit the school.
“We don’t target U.N. facilities in any way, shape or form,” Lieut. Colonel Peter Lerner tells TIME. He describes the IDF’s version of events: “In the early hours of the morning, there was mortar fire launched from the vicinity of the school and there was an exchange of fire there. In the aftermath of that, there was a report of deaths in the school. We are reviewing this incident.”
Lerner says that in the past few days, there have been “several attempts by Hamas to pin on Israel launches from the Gaza Strip” that didn’t go as planned, landing on civilians instead of in Israel. “There are two cases in which we are aware of — the Beach Camp [Shati] and the attack on Shifa Hospital — which were the result of rockets that were definitely launched in Gaza.” As for UNRWA’s 17 distressed calls to the Israeli army, Lerner said that the location of the U.N. schools was not the issue. “We know where their schools are, as well as shelters and warehouses, and we have an ongoing relationship with their offices in Gaza to facilitate their humanitarian work on the ground. In fact, the humanitarian cease-fire today was to enable their ongoing activities.”
That cease-fire — though a four-hour lull or pause would be a more precise description — was declared by Israel in part because of U.N. requests, ostensibly to allow emergency workers to go out into the field and to remove bodies from the ruins. Hamas, for its part, has refused to participate in any cease-fires unilaterally declared by Israel, and continued launching several rockets even during the cease-fire, adding to the more than 2,670 that have been fired since July 7. During this so-called lull, Israeli warplanes struck a crowded market in Shujaiyeh, killing 15 people. Shujaiyeh, an area in the eastern part of Gaza City, has witnessed the heaviest bombardment by the IDF since it began its ground operation, with many of the buildings reduced to ruins.
At the Kamal Odwan Hospital in northern Gaza Strip, Said Sulaiman sits over the bed of his son Rezeq, who was seriously wounded by shrapnel at the U.N. School in Jabalya. As instructed by the Israeli army, two weeks ago they decided to flee their house in Atattra, near Beit Lahia — an agricultural area that in the past has been used by Hamas and other militants for launching rockets — and came to seek shelter at the U.N. school.
“I came to the school in search of a safe place. My family is still in the school while I am here, and I hope no strikes will happen while I am away,” says Sulaiman, 55. “We are waiting here in the room until the operation room is ready to take him into surgery. I hope they won’t have to amputate his leg. I just want to return to my house with my family safe after the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, and for the aggression to stop.”
A more lasting cease-fire still seems elusive, however. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet agreed Wednesday night to intensify attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza and to keep destroying tunnels. The night before, Mohammed Deif, the head of al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said that only Israel lifting its blockade of Gaza would be enough for the militant group to agree to a cease-fire.
A Hamas-made video released on the same night, showing militants infiltrating Israel via a tunnel, successfully ambushing and killing five Israeli soldiers near Nahal Oz, has only confirmed for the government that the tunnels still pose a danger, encouraging the government to continue the fight. A poll released Tuesday found that 90% of Israeli Jews think the IDF operation in Gaza is justified. The survey, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, indicated that most expected the war to continue.
The Palestinian Ministry of Healthy put the death toll Wednesday at 1,361; Israel has lost 58 soldiers and three civilians. Israeli officials blame Hamas for many of the civilian deaths, repeatedly accusing the militant group of shooting from within populated areas, including residential buildings and hospital. Netanyahu himself has charged Hamas with regularly using human shields, purposefully putting people in harm’s way. That means Israel’s soldiers and pilots have to either have to retreat from their targets or shoot anyway, knowing that civilians will be killed in the process.
Gunness counters that on three occasions, including one this week, rocket caches have been discovered in U.N. schools, but noted that these were empty, out-of-use structures undergoing maintenance — not buildings housing refugees.
“On these separate occasions, [rockets] were found in schools that have been closed for the summer and which were being inspected by UNRWA,” Gunness says. “We condemned the groups that put them there as a flagrant violation of the sanctity and neutrality of the U.N., we immediately notified all relevant parties, and we have never handed them over to Hamas.” The dispute over who hit the U.N. school continues, but the day’s grim images make one fact indisputable: there are no safe havens in Gaza.
— With reporting by Hazem Balousha / Gaza City
Curiously absent from the latest resolution is any mention of Hamas
There are 1,725 words in the latest resolution released by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which cynically chastises Israel for so-called “human rights violations” in Gaza.
Nowhere among those 1,725 words will you find the name of the terror organization that is truly responsible for every civilian death and every human rights violation in both Israel and Gaza: Hamas.
Instead of focusing on actual human rights violators around the world, as this international body was created to do, the UNHRC keeps its main focus on Israel—a nation that has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect and preserve the lives of civilians, both during this latest conflict and throughout previous defensive responses to Hamas’ terror.
A nation, Israel, which Colonel Richard Kemp, the Former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, has said “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
Since its inception in 2006, the UNHRC has released a total of 103 resolutions. Astonishingly, 56 have focused on criticizing Israel. The UNHRC has held a total of 21 special sessions to address dire humanitarian crises throughout the world. One has addressed Sudan, another Sri Lanka, another Ivory Coast and another Libya—while 7 of the 21 special sessions have irrationally targeted Israel.
While the UNHRC goes after Israel, it has completely ignored Hamas’ actions. There have been more than 2,600 rockets lobbed by Hamas at Israel. But you’ll find the word “rocket” appear only once in this latest resolution.
Hamas makes no secret of its intentions. This terrorist organization openly states that it deliberately fires rockets at Israeli civilians and calls for the kidnapping and murder of all Israelis.
Even the Palestinian representative to the UNHRC, Ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi, stated in a July 9 interview with Palestinian television that such attacks against Israel violate humanitarian law. He said, “the missiles that are now being launched against Israel, each and every missile constitutes a crime against humanity, whether it hits or misses, because it is directed at civilian targets.”
What makes Hamas’ actions a double war crime is that they target civilians in Israel while exploiting civilians in Gaza and using them as human shields.
Hamas is building its terror command centers and weapons storage facilities among schools, hospitals and mosques, showing no regard for civilian lives. Israel’s concerted efforts to avoid harming uninvolved civilians have been well documented. Hamas instructs the people in Gaza to ignore Israel’s phone calls, leaflets and text messages, warning civilians of pending attacks against terrorists. Knowingly, they put Palestinians in harm’s way turning them into propaganda tools.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a television interview earlier this month, “the fact that people are facing Israeli warplanes bare-chested to protect their homes, I believe this procedure has proved its efficiency. And we in the Hamas movement call on our people to adopt this procedure.”
Where is the condemnation for this war crime? Where is the so-called “Human Rights Council”?
UNHRC’s mechanisms for voting and membership seem designed to protect some of the worst human rights violators in the world. This is an organization whose elected membership has included such stalwarts of human rights as Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Iran and Libya under Muammar Qaddafi. Israel is the only country that is on the UNHRC’s “standing agenda” to be debated at each session—not Syria, not the Congo, not Sudan—but the only democracy in the Middle East.
There have been more resolutions aimed against Israel than all 191 countries in the world, combined.
The real tragedy is, of course, the suffering that civilians in Israel and Gaza are experiencing because of Hamas’ terrorist actions and motives. Hamas has disrupted the lives of millions of Israelis, forcing us into bomb shelters on a daily basis. Hamas’ decision to ignore and reject ceasefires, divert international aid meant to restore basic infrastructure in Gaza into the production of more weapons and an underground network of terror tunnels and, most heinously, their decision to use civilians as human shields are all evidence of how Hamas continues to perpetuate the suffering of their own people in Gaza.
Instead of wasting its time on these misguided, one-sided resolutions that antagonize Israel, the UNHRC must turn its attention to true human rights violators throughout the world, especially terrorist groups like Hamas. Hamas and its ideological partners in Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and Hezbollah are committed to terror. They stand against the most basic and natural human rights, they have no regard for human life, they mistreat and violate the rights of women and they oppose all believers in free speech and democracy.
The UNHRC must shift its focus to eradicating these crucial injustices facing humanity today, and abandon its politically motivated and cynical agenda to target Israel.
Ambassador Ido Aharoni is the Consul General of Israel in New York.
The former Democratic Vice Presidential nominee-turned-independent also says he is watching the rise of Rand Paul "with concern."
After 24 years representing Connecticut in the Senate, Joe Lieberman left Washington in Jan. 2013 as a man without a party—a Democrat-turned-independent-turned-GOP-endorser.
Speaking to TIME 18 months later, Lieberman is content with his decision to quit the Senate, but still has doubts about Washington’s handling of domestic issues and global crises. “I do feel that the Obama administration has gone off the track in the efforts to broker a ceasefire,” he says, saying that the reported terms of a U.S.-offered agreement would have left Hamas stronger from its ongoing conflict with Israel.
The former Democratic vice presidential nominee said he takes issue with the growing “neo-isolationism” within the Democratic and Republican parties, saying he’s watched the rise of Sen. Rand Paul “with concern.” “The world suffers and the American people suffer eventually both in terms of our security and our prosperity—and ultimately our freedom—if we’re not engaged in problems elsewhere,” he says.
Lieberman said he has yet to make a decision about who to endorse in 2016, after drawing fire from Democrats for his outspoken support for Sen. John McCain over then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. But he said he believes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would keep the Democratic Party engaged in the world.
Lieberman was recently named the inaugural Joseph Lieberman Chair in Public Policy and Public Service at Yeshiva University where he will deliver lectures and teach in the upcoming academic year. Lieberman says he hopes to convince young people to pursue public service despite the gridlock in Washington.
The following conversation has been lightly condensed and edited:
Looking at the dysfunction in Washington today, are you glad you left Congress? How do you plan on encouraging young people to go into public service in this political climate?
I didn’t leave because of the partisanship and the lack of getting anything done, but it made it a lot easier to leave. I will tell you that my last two years was the least productive of my 24 for me and for the Congress really. And I watch it needless to say from here with a sense of, oh, disappointment, frustration, and in some sense embarrassment because I still feel an identity with the institution. And I know how important it is that it gets some problems solved.
Notwithstanding all of that, or maybe in some sense because of all the dysfunction in the federal government and government generally, but the federal government particularly, people like me have to try to convince students that it’s worth getting involved and that they can still make a difference and maybe together with others of like mind and heart they can actually change things for the better. I look back on my years in public service with a lot of gratitude for the various things that I was able to do. Part of my message to the students at YU is going to be I never got, honestly, anything significant done without the support of people in the Republican Party. In other words, I never felt that I could do it alone as a Democrat, and obviously in my last term as an independent I needed support of people in both parties. It’s all about a willingness to put—as formalistic as it sounds—to put the interests of country ahead of the interests of party or ideology.
How do you view the turmoil in the world today and the American response, particularly to the conflict in Gaza?
These events have occurred of their own momentum. They have a life of their own. On the other hand, I’m afraid that the U.S. has sent a message that we’re going to be less engaged in the world than we have been at other times in our history and I’m afraid that encourages some others to try to take advantage of us and our allies. It’s not just President Obama and the U.S. government, I think in many ways it’s the Europeans as well. And I’m afraid that may have encouraged Putin to seize the moment and seize Crimea. So the world suffers and the American people suffer eventually both in terms of our security and our prosperity—and ultimately our freedom—if we’re not engaged in problems elsewhere. So that’s a general statement.
I think in the Hamas-Israel conflict, which is just one of a broader series of conflicts going on in the middle east, the administration has been strong in supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against the Hamas missile attacks and the Hamas terrorist attacks. But lately, I do feel that the Obama administration has gone off the track in the efforts to broker a ceasefire, as much as everybody would like to see the violence stop. Because I think those efforts, if they had been pushed any harder—it seems like they have fallen by the wayside now—would have really allowed Hamas to emerge from this much stronger than they went into it and they began this. Israel is our ally and Israel is a democracy and Israel is governed by the rule of law. Hamas is a terrorist organization that is a declared enemy of the U.S. as well as Israel. And the last proposal made by Secretary Kerry, who I greatly admire and like, but nonetheless if the proposal was as it was reported, it really would have strengthened Hamas and weakened Israel. And in some sense coincidentally strengthened Qatar, Turkey, and Iran who are backing Hamas and weakened our other allies in the Arab world like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE and the Palestinian Authority who don’t want to see Hamas strengthened. So I think it was a mistake and I’m glad it seems to have fallen by the wayside and I hope the Secretary tries again but with another plan.
Looking ahead to the 2016 election, what do you make of the field. Many Democrats are coalescing around former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, do you think you will as well?
I don’t know yet. It’s good to be out of active politics and watching it. I’ve known Secretary Clinton for a long time. We met briefly, though I got to know President Clinton much better, when they were both at Yale Law School. And I’ve known them well. So I have a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton and some of the things that I’ve worried about in both the Obama administration and the drift of the Democratic party which is away from American international leadership, I hope and believe would not be true with Hillary Clinton as the candidate, and if she’s elected, as the president. But it’s much too early for me, anyway, to decide what or whether or if anybody cares I will do in this campaign. The more fascinating part of the campaign, of course, will be the Republican presidential primaries.
What do you make of the rise of Sen. Rand Paul and the Republican Party’s isolationist wing.
I’ve watched it with concern, because honestly, as a pro-defense Democrat, there’s a way in which I relied for some period of time on the Republicans—and some Democrats, but not other Democrats—to support strong defense, muscular foreign policy, etc. Now there is a certain attrition happening on the Republican side, mostly among the so-called libertarians and to a certain extent among tea party people who are so focused on reducing taxes that they seem more willing than Republicans have in recent years to cut back on support of America’s defense. There is—I don’t think any of us have found the right word for it, so I opt for neo-isolationism. There is a kind neo-isolationism, certainly a retrenchment from internationalism going on in both parties and to me it’s troubling. It’s troubling for the future of the country.
How did this appointment come about? What are you hoping to accomplish?
It ended up with an unexpected result. Richard Joel, the president of YU, reached out to me last year about wanting to do something in my name at YU in public policy. For the obvious reason, I suppose, that I am both Orthodox Jewish and was involved in public service. I was touched and honored by that. Because I hoped and still do that it’s going to be a permanent, endowed chair, but then they surprised me toward the end of the process asking me to be the first occupant of the chair, which I’ll do for a while as long as it’s working for me and the students, but i’m exciting about it. It’s very much part time. I’m going to give three public lectures in the fall semester in various schools of the university, probably starting with one Yeshiva College, one at Stern [College for Women], and then one at Cardozo [Law School]. And then in the second semester I will teach an undergraduate course in public policy, public service. So I’m looking forward to it. I actually taught this last semester at Columbia law School and I’m going to repeat that course this fall and I enjoyed it immensely, more than I expected actually. It was just very rewarding to try to convey what I experienced and learned to the next generation of students, some of whom, hopefully, will consider public service.
I’ve taught college courses way back to the late 70s and early 80s at Yale. So those were residential college seminars and I enjoyed that too. But I must say that I’m at a different stage of my life. I finished my time in elected office, I look back at it with great gratitude that I had the opportunities I did. There is no question I was influenced by people who were in once sense or another teachers of mine. So I view this as an opportunity both to try to inform students today about public policy, but also to hopefully attract some of them into public service.
Israeli and Palestinian narratives insist on continuing the carnage, with neither side seeming aware of the humanity of the other
Weddings in Ramallah usually take place on Saturdays or Sundays. But when my daughter Tania and her in-laws to be were discussing her wedding date, the main concern was to avoid the World Cup finals. The only available date was Friday, July 11th. Little did we know last April, when we met with the priest at the Latin Church in Ramallah with our expected new in-laws, that this July date would be in the crossfires of a war on Gaza in which rockets would be flying all over.
In addition to local friends and family, we were expecting relatives to arrive from Jordan and the U.S. via Jordan bridges, and some straight into Tel Aviv.
As the wedding day neared, we had to reassure friends and relatives that Ramallah was safe. Friends from Nazareth, Jerusalem and Amman were calling us, saying that they are worried about coming. A week earlier, my brother-in-law, his wife and another couple were nearly killed by angry settlers as he was returning from a wedding in Ramallah. The incident caused us all to reserve half a local hotel in Ramallah to ensure that family and guests would sleep in town rather than risk returning home at night.
Our friends coming from the U.S. were bombarded with news about how almost all of Israel was being hit by rockets from Gaza. The news and images were accompanied with voiceover and scrolling text that portrayed Palestinians as merciless terrorists who were carrying out a totally unprovoked attack on innocent Israelis and terrifying the entire country.
Relatives from Jordan who were also invited to attend the wedding were seeing the same images, but with an entirely different subtext. The rockets were given names and the attacks were part of the heroic Palestinian resistance. In addition to the images of destruction and killing, the narrative of the Arab media was of the Palestinian heroes who were presented as nothing short of some kind of Superman that could go through fire without getting hurt.
Both narratives accompanied angry voices refusing a ceasefire and insisting on the continuation of the carnage in order to accomplish some unclear political or, rather, emotional goal.
The American relatives coming via the Israeli crossings on the Jordan River were extensively questioned and interrogated. In one case, after six hours of delay, Israelis finally allowed all but my nephew. The reason this young man, who belongs to the pacifist Mennonite Church, was not allowed to attend the wedding was because he had volunteered a year earlier with the Christian Peace Makers teams, a faith-based group that helps disenfranchised groups around the world. They have missions in Mexico and in the Palestinian town of Hebron. His main job at the time, in a Palestinian town without any Christian Palestinians, was to help kindergarten children cross the street and protect them from rowdy Jewish settlers who feel that the city of Hebron is their God-given territory, irrespective of who has been living in the city for centuries.
Our Mennonite relatives that did make it visited the Tent of Nations near Bethlehem. The farm, owned by a Christian Palestinian family, is dubbed “people’s bridge” and has turned into a Christian retreat for locals and volunteers. This educational and environmental farm has become a target of nearby Jewish settlers. A few weeks earlier, Israeli troops had uprooted some 1,500 fruit-bearing trees, an act the Palestinian Christian owners felt was a prelude to a possible confiscation to make room for the expansion of the nearby Jewish settlement.
One group of relatives from the U.S. were surprised to find us sitting relaxed in a local hotel balcony when they arrived in Ramallah. On their way, the tourist bus driver had an app on his cellphone that would blare a siren every time a rocket was launched from Gaza. After some hot shawarma sandwiches and Ramallah’s best Rukab ice cream, our relatives began to settle in.
Judging by the diametrically preconceived attitudes formulated by mass media, it is difficult to find anyone on the planet that is neutral in this decades-old conflict. Neither stereotypical images of Palestinians as terrorists or as superheroes does much to show the humanity of Palestinians.
The ongoing onslaught of Gaza is being spun, on the one hand, as an act of self-defense. No country can accept being shot at with rockets, is the typical Israeli line. The speakers never tell their audience that Israel is no ordinary country, that it has been holding another people under military occupation for 47 years, that it has brought Jewish settlers into and besieged the occupied areas in contravention of international law. This siege of Gaza for more than seven years hasn’t been approved by any international body, yet no one is able to put an end to this basic right, describing it as a reward to Hamas rather a right to the human beings living in Gaza.
On the other hand, Palestinian fighters facing up F-16 fighter jets and powerful tank and naval shells respond with unsophisticated rockets that have barely caused any fatalities or physical damage—yet has produced much anger. While the war on Gaza takes on an asymmetrical nature when you look at the reported casualties (more than 1,200 Palestinian civilians versus three Israeli civilians), the conflict is never written about with anything but stereotypical adjectives.
A follower of the Israeli narrative hears the word Hamas as if every one of the 1.8 million Palestinians is a Hamas fighter holding a knife in his teeth and waiting to destroy the entire state of Israel. The pro-Palestinian narrative is similarly oblivious of the humanity of the Israelis and the desire of the majority of Israelis for peace irrespective of the fact that their government is being pulled to extreme positions that have included the yet to be proven justification of the war. Even though Israel began the war on an unproven accusation against the Gaza-based Hamas leadership, the fact is that those killed in Hebron, or in Jerusalem as well as the hundreds in Gaza, are human beings.
Neither side, nor their respective supporters and allies, seems aware of the humanity of the other. After an unbearable seven-year-long siege, Gazans want to live in freedom and independence with open borders so they can visit relatives and friends in Cairo or pray in Jerusalem. And Israelis don’t want to have to run to their shelters every time a siren warns of an incoming rocket.
The day after my daughter was born, September 7th 1990, I got a message on my beeper. Israeli soldiers had clashed with Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, leaving 17 Palestinians dead.
Despite all obstacles since her birth, my daughter has grown into a beautiful, smart and outgoing young woman. Her wedding and the festivities following it were beautiful and joyful. The bride and groom went to Turkey for their honeymoon and returned. But the war on Gaza has not stopped.
The hatred and the dehumanization have escalated to unprecedented levels on both sides. Neither calls of death to Arabs nor anti-Israeli rhetoric will change the basic problem that continues to fester.
The underlying roots of this conflict are political. No military solution can replace the human aspiration of people to live in freedom and independence. The sooner all parties can deal with these yearnings, the sooner we all can have our humanity back.
Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist. He is a columnist with Al-Monitor and a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on Twitter at @daoudkuttab.