Monday, January 28, 2008

Chief Rabbi's Gaza Solution: Throw Them Into the Desert

I was going to comment but I am afraid I would have lost my cool in the process. At any rate, the article speaks for itself.

Chief Rabbi says move Gazans to a Palestine in Sinai
By Saul Sadka, Haaretz, 1/28/2008

London - Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has been quoted as
calling for Gazans to be transferred to the Sinai Peninsula, to a
Palestinian state which he said could be constructed for them in the

In an interview in English with the British weekly The Jewish
News, the chief rabbi also said that while peaceable Muslims should be
allowed to pray in Jerusalem mosques, they should recognize that
Jerusalem belongs to the Jews. Muslims have Mecca and Medina, he was
quoted as saying, adding that "you don't need a third place."

Metzger called for Britain, the European Union and the United
States to assist in the construction of a Palestinian state in Egypt's
Sinai Desert.

According to Metzger, the plan would be to "take all the poor
people from Gaza to move them to a wonderful new modern country with
trains buses cars, like in Arizona - we are now in a generation where
you can take a desert and build a city. This will be a solution for the
poor people - they will have a nice county, and we shall have our
country and we shall live in peace."

Metzger was quoted as telling the paper that the plan was new and
he had not presented it to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"I have thought about it with some wise people only in the last
two weeks, and I think it is a great idea - nobody spoke about it
before." He expressed his intent to discuss the matter with Olmert and
anticipated that the idea would find popularity among Israelis. He
prefaced his comments by pointing out that he could not advise on
political matters as he is a religious leader in Israel, noting that
according to the law he "cannot be involved in political situations."

Muslims 'don't need a third place
Metzger also called for Muslims to have the freedom to return to
pray in mosques on condition that they do so peaceably: "We will welcome
every Palestinian man who wants to pray in his mosque. Every Friday they
can come, but with one condition, without violence. We have the same
feeling about prayers, we want to give you respect but let us live and
believe our land is the Holy Land and Jerusalem belongs to us. You have
another place, Mecca and Medina, you don't need a third place."

In the interview Metzger also described Jerusalem as "the capital
city forever to the Jewish nation." He argued that Muslims have no
connection to Jerusalem commenting that "behind the Kotel we have a
mosque. But when they pray even though they are in our holiest place,
they face Mecca. Their back is to Jerusalem. So you can see from only
one sign that it does not belong to them. They have nothing - no

The tenure of Metzger, 54, appointed as chief rabbi in 2003 for a
ten-year term, has been marked by controversy. In 2006 Attorney General
Menachem Mazuz called on him to resign his post in a report which
alleged that he had accepted discounted hospitality at a number of
Israeli hotels - a call that Metzger rejected.

Metzger has also proposed the establishment of a "religious United
Nations" comprised of religious leaders from around the world, and was
named one of the 12 most influential international religious figures in
a recent CBS documentary entitled In God's Name.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gaza: The Great Escape

I could not help but cheer on the thousands of Palestinians, fed up with Israel's cruel and stifling siege, who staged the world's largest mass prison breakout, even if it is likely that their new found freedom is only a temporary respite. The images of the Palestinians breaking through the physical barriers that have made their existence a living hell, are loaded with symbolism.

My joy, however, was tempered by the annoying spin on the whole Gaza debacle by the mainstream American media. I tend to get my real time news form the radio (TV news is just hopeless) at National Public Radio, which usually offers fairly objective, unsensational reporting on most topics, except recently when it comes to the Israli-Palestinian conflict. This morning the first story was a live report from the Gaza-Egyptian border. The reporter, explains that the blockade (of food, fuel, medicine) is Israel's response (ie: self defense) to the firing of Kassam rockets. This sequence of cause-effect is a given here, never mind that, even assuming the veracity of this sequence of events, the "effect" is collective punishment of a civilian population. He goes on to explain, incredibly, that the Palestinians went on a shopping spree in Egypt because of the scarcity of goods in Gaza, a situation that began when "Hamas came to power two years ago"; apparently the physical lockdown of the Gaza by Israel not a contributing factor. He also at least once, in talking about the siege, would qualify the siege as "what the Palestinians refer to as the so called siege". He was apparently unconvinced that this is a real siege rather than the product of overheated Arab minds trying to inflame the masses.

National Public Radio, deeming this report too sympathetic to the Palestinians found it necessary to follow it with another story from the other side, lest the pro-Israel media watchers descend on them with a vengeance. The story was about the psychological trauma suffered by the residents of Sderot, an Israeli town a mile form the Gaza border and the major target of the Kassam rockets. I am not unsympathetic to the plight of these civilians, but it is a stretch to compare the suffering of 18,000 Sderot residents to the hellish conditions that a million Palestinian continue to endure.

Distilling the two stories down to their message, we get the following: Arabs deserve what they get, Israel is just protecting itself and Israeli lives are more precious than Palestinian lives. So there you have it in a nutshell, the reason why the US, barring a major shift in attitude, can never act as an honest broker in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

(Photo AP/ Hatem Moussa)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Yamli: Arabic Search Engine

I just discovered a new Arabic search engine tool that allows those of us with latin based keyboards to be able to search Arabic websites more effectively. What Yamli essentially does is tranliterate Arabic words typed phontenically using the Latin keyboard into Arabic script which is then used to search websites through Google.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Eboo Patel's Acts of Faith

I heard Eboo Patel in an interview and was intrigued by his story as told in his new book, Acts of Faith. Patel is the founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, an international non-profit organization the aim of which is to build an interfaith youth movement. He is a Muslim American of Indian descent. His book, Acts of Faith, is an autobiography that traces the evolution of his thinking and philosophy on the necessity, indeed the urgency, of planting the seeds of interfaith cooperation among the youth in a world increasingly polarized by religion.

The following excerpt from best describes Patel's vision: "I believe that the twenty first century will be shaped by the faith line. One side of the faith line are religious totalitarians. Their conviction is that only one interpretation of one religion is the only legitimate way of being, believing and belonging on earth. Everyone else needs to be cowed, or condemned or killed. On the other side of the faith line are religious pluralists, who hold that people believing in different creeds and belonging to different communities need to learn to live together. Religious pluralism is neither mere coexistence nor forced consensus. It is a form of proactive cooperation that affirms the identity of the constituent communities while emphasizing that the well-being of each and all depends on the health of the whole. It is the belief that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its unique contribution."

Patel's beliefs are not the product of starry-eyed, naive idealism but are molded by his own life experiences as a brown-skinned Muslim growing up in a white America. The racial and ethnic taunts and his social marginalization in school left him angry and bitter. In college in the 90s, he found his voice and his intellectual stimulation among the left wing social and political activists. He read and absorbed the likes Malcolm x and Franz Fanon. Yet the anger and negativism that seemed to be part and parcel of much of this movement left him somewhat uneasy. He also noted that social and political activists always addressed social justice issues that had to do with race, ethnic, class or gender differences but never addressed issues of spirituality and religion.

Patel was most at ease and most satisfied when involved in active community service that tried to positively address issues of social justice. Most such service was provided by different faith based organizations a fact that made and important impression on him. Patel then takes us through his journey of discovery back to Islam by way of India all the while his family's experience with Hindu extremist terrorism and the events of 9/11 solidifies his conviction about the importance of interfaith understanding .

Patel argues, convincingly, that promoting interfaith understanding among the young is crucial. His organization brings together youths of different religious backgrounds to perform community service projects that conform to the shared ideals of all their faiths. They are then encouraged to share with each other narratives from their own faiths that promote these ideals. He shows, that far from diluting the individual religious identities, this type of sharing simultaneously reinforces the individual's religious identity and increases understanding of the faiths of others.

Much of Patel's struggles with issues of identity and faith will ring true especially for those Muslims living in the West. I fully share his concern for the need of interfaith understanding. In a world increasingly defined by an "us against them" mentality, the middle ground is quickly turning into a big gaping hole that threatens to swallow us all.