Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Palestinian Christians revoke 6th commandment

February 2010. Toronto. Just before Christmas, a ecumenical gathering of Palestinian Christians met in Bethlehem to launch the Kairos Palestine Document, which urges a boycott of Israel.

As option B, the document also approves “armed resistance” as carried out by “some political parties,” clearly meaning Hamas and other terrorist groups. However, the document rejects the charge of terrorism, labelling armed attacks on Israelis as “legal resistance.”

Such “resistance” has included a daily rain of rockets on the men, women and children of Sderot. It includes suicide bombings aboard buses and blowing up teenagers at a discotheque. It includes the assassination of parents and children in a pizza parlour and the mass murder of elderly Jews at a Passover Seder.

The gathering in Bethlehem took place under the auspices of the World Council of Churches, with representatives of Anglican and liberal Protestant churches attending from around the world. The United Church of Canada was there too, represented by Bruce Gregerson.

Anti-Israel activists are claiming the Kairos Document is a unified call for a boycott from the leaders of the Palestinian churches. But this is just the boycotters’ usual misrepresentation.

The leaders of the Jerusalem churches wrote a non-committal response to the Kairos Document, stating “We hear the cry of our children.” While their failure to condemn the document shows their moral bankruptcy, the church leaders have not sunk so low as to actively endorse mass murder.

The signatories do include two impressive sounding names: Michel Sabbah the former Patriarchate of the Catholic Church in Jerusalem and Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. But these loose cannons represent only themselves.

I asked the Reverend Gregerson why the United Church of Canada attended this gathering. He was quick to point out that the UCC hasn’t actually signed the Kairos Document. He assured me the Church doesn’t support terrorism and said he went to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

When I asked about the document’s endorsement of terrorism as “legal resistance,” it appeared Gregerson hadn’t noticed this before and said he couldn’t comment on it.

He added that he thought the Palestinians were clear about the need for non-violence and said he “felt strongly that the document was built on principles of Christian love.”

To be sure, the Palestinian Christian approach to attacking Israel improves on the Islamist approach. The Christians don’t talk of Jews as the descendents of apes and pigs. Rather, we’re told the occupation: “distorts the image of God in the Israeli,” while descriptions of Israeli “evil” and “sin” salt the document.

There are also some choice Biblical quotes. One compares the Palestinians to the early Christians martyred for their faith, claiming: “For Your sake we are being killed all day long,” thus suggesting that, like the Romans, Israel persecutes and murders Christians.

In contrast to Islamists who proclaim their love of death, the churches speak of “a culture of life.” They even speak of “love and mutual respect.” But in a document that approves mass murder, such words ooze hypocrisy.

Otherwise, the document follows standard Palestinian propaganda.It denounces Israel’s “cruel war against Gaza,” with no mention of the eight years of Palestinian bombardment of Israeli civilians that prompted it.

The document denounces the “separation wall” with no mention of the suicide bombers it’s designed to keep out. It bemoans the thousands of “prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons” with no mention of the crimes they’re imprisoned for.

It calls the occupation a “sin,” ignoring that Israel occupied the West Bank in a defensive war against an Arab alliance determined to push the Jews into the sea.

And of course, the document ignores that Israel has repeatedly offered peace deals giving the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem to the Palestinians, but that President Abbas and Arafat before him will not take yes for an answer.

I’d like to report that in Bethlehem the Reverend Gregerson reminded his fellow Christians that thou shalt not murder, even if the victims are Jews. But actually he spoke on the supposed risk that churches might be called antisemitic when they merely attempt “to be critical of Israel’s policies.”

In our interview, though, Gregerson agreed that anti-Israel activism is indeed sometimes antisemitic. He draws the line at where criticism crosses into attempts to undermine Israel’s right to exist.

Moreover, Gregerson said antisemitism has been a problem within the United Church. He specifically referred to the “very troublesome” background material to the anti-Israel boycott motions presented (and rejected) at the church’s 2009 national conference.

The material included accusations of bribery and the suggestion that some Members of Parliament are “affiliated with Israel” and shouldn’t be trusted with sensitive government portfolios.

This was not the only time boycott supporters within the Church have made "troublesome" remarks. During a trip to An-Najah University in Nablus in 2006, Karin Brothers reportedly suggested that the “Jewish community” controls media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to the report published by An-Nujah University, Brothers also claimed that the Jewish community oversees Canadian politicians, stating: “Any politician would be targeted if he turned his back to Israel and would lose his job.”

Miriam Spies, another boycott supporter, wrote an article in the September 2009 United Church Observer which claimed that, at a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers arbitrarily shoot and kill Palestinians. Her Palestinian guide explained that it just “depended on the mood of the soldiers.”

Accusations of Jews controlling politicians and the media have a long and dishonourable history, while the charge that Israelis murder Palestinians on a whim or for sport looks like nothing but a new version of the ancient blood libel.

I asked Gregerson if anti-Israel boycotts are themselves antisemitic. “I’m not prepared to answer that,” he replied. “I’m an officer of the church, and the Church hasn’t yet answered that question.” He added, though, that one “consideration in rejecting the boycott motions” was that the Church “didn’t want to undermine the existence of Israel.”

That’s good to hear. In the meanwhile, though, on terrorism, the United Church wants to have its cake and eat it too – to reject terrorism while standing in solidarity with Palestinians who endorse it.

Update as of January 2011, the United Church still continues to actively promote the Kairos Palestine Document, with its endorsement of terrorism and all.

This article previously appeared in the Feb 16, 2010 Faculty Forum, an electronic newsletter produced by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and on the Harry's Place blog in Britain.

Being a Nazi is no longer cool

January, 2010. I confess I’m still shocked when I see a university professor spitting out Israel-hatred. You’d think I would have learned that education doesn’t guard against fanaticism.

After all, this isn’t new. The people driving the new antisemitism are the same people who have driven it in the past.

They’re an elitist group who see themselves as more politically advanced than most people, more “progressive.” As such, they think it’s their job to define our political morality.

The new antisemites call themselves leftists. But when it comes to Israel, they happily team up with the right. There is, for example, nothing leftwing about Hamas or Hezbollah.

Yet in a conflict between a liberal democracy and these fascistic terrorist groups, the far left identifies with the fascists. Why? Because their movement isn’t about what they’re for; it’s about who they’re against.

Two heroes of the new antisemites are John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby. They describe Israel as a shitty little country with no oil and claim the U.S. supports Israel only because a Zionist lobby controls America’s Middle East policy.

Mearsheimer and Walt call themselves foreign policy realists, in the same school as Kissinger and Nixon. They wouldn’t dream of describing themselves as “on the left.”

Indeed, David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, pointed out that he’s been saying the same thing as Mearsheimer and Walt all along!

There’s nothing leftwing or rightwing about Israel-hatred. In our time, it’s emerged on the left because of historical accidents.

Back in the 1930s, being a Nazi was cool. They looked at themselves as a progressive movement that was going to wipe away Jew contamination and create a glorious 1,000-year Reich.

As everyone knows, the Nazis enlisted street thugs. But the Nazis also appealed to German intellectuals. At the Wannsee conference, called to discuss the logistics of murdering the Jewish population of Europe, eight of the fourteen participants held doctorate degrees.

Indeed, the Nazis took over the universities more easily than they took the streets. Martin Heidegger, rector of Freiberg University and the foremost German philosopher of his time declared: “The Fuhrer alone is the present and future German reality and its law.”

Some people argue that Heidegger’s Nazism merely reflected his ignorance of reality. But in that case, why did Heidegger attach his enthusiasm to the Nazis?

If it wasn’t because he understood the Nazis, then it was because it was the in thing. All the coolest professors were sporting swastikas in their lapels, and students were wearing their brown shirts to class to show their love of fascism, much as students today wear the Palestinian kefiyeh.

It’s no longer cool to be a Nazi. It’s difficult to even imagine a time when it was. That’s why David Duke gets no respect. But his ideas of a Zionist conspiracy aren’t out of fashion – they’ve just migrated to the other side of the political spectrum.

The other bits of history that put the new antisemitism on the Left are its roots in Soviet antisemitism and in the radical politics of the 60s and 70s.

What’s new about antisemitism is the focus on Israel, and the depiction of Israel as uniquely evil – a colonial project and a racist entity – and the claim that the Jews have become Nazis.

These slanders were the handiwork of Soviet propagandists, who spread them through Europe and the third world.

More than anything, though, our Israel-haters are the bastard children of the radicals of the 60s and 70s. But on top of the old quasi-left, anti-war, anti-American ethos, our new extremists have added a layer of antisemitism.

In an earlier age, they might have adopted the anti-clerical and antisemitic politics of Voltaire. Before that, the religious and antisemitic politics of Martin Luther. Before that, the Catholic and antisemitic politics of the Inquisition.

Antisemitism, it seems, has a special attraction for those who believe they’re entitled to define the political morality of their age.

This makes it different from other forms of bigotry. Racists hate blacks, but they don’t define them as the enemy of mankind. However, that’s exactly how antisemites define Jews.

They create a fantasy of good and evil. They modestly cast themselves in the role of upholding everything that is progressive and holy, and they portray Jews as representing all that is unenlightened and evil. And they try to impose their beliefs on society.

This conflict is again playing itself out. The new antisemites define Israel – and those who support it – as representing the worst political evils: imperialism, racism, apartheid and Nazism. And they’re trying to inflict their twisted vision on the rest of us.

So far, they’re failing. But they can’t be ignored. History shows that whole societies can come to embrace even the most extreme beliefs.

Brian Henry is a Toronto writer and editor and a refugee from the NDP – Canada’s social democratic party. This article previously appeared in the January 14, 2010, Jewish Tribune, a community paper published weekly by B’nai Brith Canada and on Harry's Place blog in Britain.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Israeli settlements, a history

Unless you're a student of Israeli history, you probably know almost nothing about the Israeli settlements in Gaza (now all gone) and in the West Bank. Michael Weiss, the Director of Just Journalism, has written an article for Foreign Policy magazine on why the exclusive international focus on West Bank settlements is the wrong way forward for a two-state solution. Along the way, he provides a brief history of how the settlements came to be and how they're currently viewed in Israel ....

The Settlement Fixation
Michael Weiss

Of all the problems bedeviling Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank — thrown into the spotlight again this week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States — has surely attracted the most attention. But that does not make it the most important or the most pressing issue.

Contrary to what many believe, Israelis are largely in agreement over the terms and circumstances under which they would compromise over the settlements — a consensus that is surely larger than that which exists in Palestinian society over how to reconcile the feuding Islamist and secular nationalist factions in Gaza and the West Bank. While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has used settlements as an excuse to disrupt the latest round of peace talks, the open secret in today’s Middle East is that the issue is one of the least problematic obstacles to a final-status agreement.

The settlement project was originally conceived as a response to Israel’s national security concerns and was bolstered through an awkward marriage with the ambitions of Messianic Judaism. But as Israeli realpolitik and demographic calculations have turned against the settlers, the settlements have been emptied of their original ideological justifications and reduced to the status of a mere bargaining chip by even the country’s most hawkish leaders.

The first settlements were built following Israel’s capture of Gaza and the West Bank after the 1967 Six-Day War, but expansionism did not begin in earnest until after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Although Israel prevailed in 1973, Israelis believed the war could easily have gone the other way. The Israeli security establishment reckoned that possessing the military buffer zone of the Israeli-occupied territories made the critical difference between victory and defeat. Territorial depth provided the Israel Defense Forces with the room to maneuver and time to recover from the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria. Jordan stayed out of the war, but Israelis worried that it would not have been so restrained if the Hashemite Kingdom still controlled the West Bank and was thus capable of launching an invasion from next door.

Shortly after the Six-Day War, Israel mooted a program for geographical deterrence which, in the wake of a far less confident victory in 1973, now seemed all the more compelling. Conceived by Yigal Allon, then the deputy prime minister, it suggested a plan for the strategic settlement of the West Bank. Although never formally adopted, the Allon Plan attained the level of de facto policy as it was fitfully implemented by successive left-wing Labor governments.

The mountainous rift above the Jordan River was to constitute the best bulwark against Arab invasion. A strip of 12 to 15 kilometers along the west bank of the river would therefore be annexed by Israel, and Israeli towns overlooking the predominantly Arab cities in the West Bank such as Jericho and Hebron would be developed.

The security motive for the Allon Plan was obvious, but there was also a second aspect of the plan’s logic that was equally important: to prevent Israel from permanently acquiring any part of the West Bank that was home to large Arab populations. Allon envisioned that the land falling outside the 12-to-15-kilometer fortified strip would be governed by some form of Arab “autonomy.” As Irish academic and politician Conor Cruise O’Brien observed in The Siege, his magisterial history of Zionism and the early decades of the state of Israel:

In those parts of it which were implemented, the Allon Plan was a document of annexationist tendency. But the questions it raised, or expressed, over the future of the densely populated Arab areas did have the effect, during most of the period between 1967 and 1977, of closing these areas to Jewish settlement. [Italics in the original.]

The goal, then, of the initial settlement project was minimal rather than maximal. The Israeli political class sought to forestall what veteran Israeli diplomat Abba Eban termed “superfluous domination” of Arab land.

However, the escalation of Palestinian terrorist attacks soon provoked an equally hard-edged Israeli response, which gave the settlement project a more ideological underpinning. In May 1974, Arab fedayeen kidnapped 90 schoolchildren and teachers in the northern Israeli town of Ma’alot. The Israeli rescue operation was a calamity, resulting in the deaths of more than 20 children. In October of that year, the Arab League summit held in Rabat, Morocco, formally recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization, which included the faction responsible for the Ma’alot attack, as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people. A month later, PLO head Yasir Arafat, by then the public face of Arab terrorism, addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York and received a standing ovation.

Not by coincidence, 1974 was also the year that Gush Emunim — “Bloc of the Faithful” — was founded by young Israeli activists from the National Religious Party. The movement, which was dedicated to the expansion of Israeli settlements, preached that the Jewish nation and its land were holy and given to the Jews by God. Gush Emunim’s official policy with respect to the occupied territories was hitnahalut, which literally means “colonization” and, in practice, meant squatting on Arab territory regardless of state policy. By 1976, then Defense Minister Shimon Peres allowed Gush Emunim to “colonize” the Palestinian village of Sebastia, near Nablus. It was fast becoming clear that the interests of Messianic Judaism and Israeli security had merged.

The first and second intifadas — Palestinian uprisings — only reinforced this precarious dynamic. But following the 1991 Madrid peace conference, the settlements also acquired a role as a bargaining chip in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Israel accepts a “land for peace” arrangement premised on territorial concessions, while continuing to suggest that Jewish real estate in the West Bank knows no limits. It’s a paradox with a point, as historian Walter Russell Mead recently noted: “Without the threat of more settlements, it’s not clear what the incentives are for the Palestinians to accept a territorial compromise based on the 1967 frontiers.” Fueled by this logic, the settlement population has tripled since the Madrid conference.

But the continued growth of the settlements and the international attention directed toward them obscures the fact that their original rationale has eroded. The prospect of Israel fighting a conventional war against another Arab army is outmoded, as both its recent conflicts with Hezbollah and Hamas attest. Terrorists, unlike tanks, are not deterred from crossing over rocky terrain. Moreover, the security wall that now physically separates much of Israel from the West Bank acts as its own buffer and has so far managed to radically reduce the number of suicide bombings in cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Furthermore, the West Bank has largely been pacified since the Second Intifada due to the savvy partnership between Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s security establishment, the training of a professional Palestinian gendarmerie by the United States, and the internal policing methods of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

In Israel, settlements have also lost popular support. The 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir, a Messianic rejectionist of the Oslo Accords, marked the beginning of the erosion of the settler movement’s credibility. As recently as this March, a poll conducted by the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that 60 percent of Israelis support “dismantling most of the settlements in the territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”

In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, judging that an indefinite occupation was destructive to Israel’s long-term national interests, withdrew all settlements from Gaza. By Sharon’s reckoning, Israel stood to become an Arab-majority state if its expansionist project in the occupied territories reached a level of de facto annexation. He feared that this would allow Arab inhabitants to vote away Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland, or force Israel to deny this population equal democratic rights and to establish a system of apartheid.

Netanyahu epitomizes the Israeli establishment’s embrace of this hardheaded logic and the marginalization of Messianic Judaism in its mainstream political discourse. In his 2009 address at Bar-Ilan University, the current prime minister acknowledged the legitimacy of a Palestinian state. Although the speech was criticized as being insufficient by Netanyahu’s leftist critics, it in fact ended the Likud party dream of a state of Israel lying between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and encompassing all of Gaza and “Judea and Samaria” (the biblical terms for the West Bank).

This speech, which came just four years after Netanyahu quit his post as finance minister in Sharon’s cabinet to protest the Gaza withdrawal, certified a slow reorientation of Israeli politics away from a theological or security-based justification for the settlement enterprise. The prime minister’s latestoffer to extend the construction moratorium in exchange for the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” has been roundly criticized as a diplomatic non-starter while the larger point — that a conservative hawk sees the settlements as leverage and not a divine mandate — is just as predictably elided.

So where does that leave the die-hard settlers? Perhaps bidding for renewed political relevance, the movement has itself begun to flirt with democratic integration — except that its preferred model is the so-called “one-state solution,” which envisions the Jewish and Arab polities in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank merging into a single democratic state. This concept, however, is even more fraught with obstacles and the possibility of bloodshed than the two-state solution. Ethnic power-sharing would, at best, transform Israel into another Lebanon and invite the same wardrobe of calamity, including civil war and tribal assassinations.

If this is God’s will then so be it, argues Uri Elitzur, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and a leading intellectual of the Israeli religious right. Elitzur recently endorsed the one-state solution in Nekuda, the settler movement’s official magazine. Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament,said this year that he “would rather [have] Palestinians as citizens of this country over dividing the land up.”

Wondrous though it undoubtedly is to imagine the religious Jewish right nodding in agreement with theNew York Review of Books, the settlers’ rethink on Greater Israel’s political boundaries also demonstrates their divorce from mainstream Israeli thought and practical reality. It is all the more reason to see their movement for what it is: marginalized politically and curtailed in scope.

That is not to say that the existing West Bank settlements are destined to fall from Israeli control. Land swaps have long been part of the tool kit of final-status negotiations; in late 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas undertook a hypothetical map-drawing exercise that delineated the border between the two states. The end result allowed for large settlement blocs to be incorporated into the Jewish state, while according land currently inside Israel to the new Palestinian state. Ma’ale Adumim, for instance, which was a sticking point in the international debate preceding the construction moratorium, is home to some 36,500 Israelis who aren’t likely to go anywhere, as most Palestinians acknowledge. Building new bathrooms or balconies there is hardly the fatal blow to peace that it has been made to appear.

Settlements should not be the top Mideast priority for the Obama administration. More critical issues will have to be resolved first, such as reconciling feuding Palestinian political factions, guaranteeing that security can be maintained in the West Bank without an IDF presence, and ensuring that Palestinian institutions now being built are stable enough to sustain a functioning democratic government, regardless of which party is elected. The settlement fixation is a convenient distraction from these obstacles, which have no easy remedy and continue to block the way to a two-state solution.

*

Michael Weiss is the executive director of Just Journalism, a think tank based in London, England, that monitors how the British media cover Israel and the Middle East. This piece origianally appeared in Foreign Policy magazine, the most influential journal in the United Stated devoted to issues in American foreign policy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rhonda Spivak has another excellent article in the Winnipeg Jewish Review ...

Canda's minister Peter Kent protested to PA Foreign Minister about PA incitement against Israel

Exclusive: Kent tells Al-Malki PA can't send double messages

By Rhonda Spivak, October 19, 2010

Thornhill MP Peter Kent, Canadian Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas), who was recently in Israel on an eight-day mission, says when he met with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister al -Malki in Ramallah he raised the issue of official PA incitement and honouring of terrorists.

In a one on one interview when he was recently in Winnipeg on October 8, Kent told the Winnipeg Jewish Review he “made the point very strongly’ to Minister Al Malki that “Palestinian Authority official media continues to incite and encourage martyrdom and terrorism and deny the right of Israel to exist.”

Kent said “I made a protest to him [Foreign Minister al- Malki] about the naming of squares and streets in honour of martyrs ... more

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Peace Proposal

The last time anything happened in the Israel-Palestinian peace talks was two years ago when then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians a comprehensive peace settlement.

Olmert’s offer included the West Bank and Gaza with a corridor connecting them, a chunk of Israeli territory in exchange for land occupied by Israeli settlements, international control over the holy sites in Jerusalem, and so forth – everything good-hearted people believe the Palestinians can possibly want.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas rejected the Israeli offer out of hand. And he made no counter offer.
Now the Israelis and Palestinians are negotiating about whether to resume negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (whom the media describes as a hard-liner) is all for talking peace, with no preconditions.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (whom the media calls a moderate) says he’ll concede to talk peace only if the Israelis will again freeze construction within Jewish neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem and settlements in the West Bank.
People pretend to take this demand seriously even though Abbas allowed the previous ten-month freeze to run out without agreeing to talk peace – though admittedly in the final month of the last freeze he sat down with the Israelis to try to extract a new freeze.

Netanyahu has countered with the offer that if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he’ll extend the hold-up on any new construction. This was a good move, as it gets close to the heart of the conflict.

Currently, the Palestinians recognize Israel in much the same way as they recognize the world. The difference is they’re okay with the world’s existence. As for Israel, they’re not willing to concede that the Jews have any right to their own state.

This is a problem, because as long as the Palestinians continue to declare Israel illegitimate, there won’t be peace. Even if the leaders eventually sign an agreement, peace won’t follow. “Idealistic” Palestinians will continue to strap on bombs and try to make things right by destroying the Zionist entity.

To no one’s surprise, the Palestinians rejected Netanyahu’s offer. Israel has long recognized the Palestinian’s right to a state, but the Palestinians will not reciprocate. To do so would undermine their identity, which is built largely of grievance.

There’s another reason Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Today, roughly 4 million children and grandchildren of the Palestinians displaced by the Arab wars against Israel live in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere in the Arab world.

The Palestinians insist that these descendents of the displaced should be settled in Israel, thereby transforming Israel into a Palestinian state – not a Jewish one. There is no chance Israel will ever agree to this, but nonetheless it remains a key reason the Palestinians keep rejecting Israel’s peace proposals.

I suggest Netanyahu offer another deal: Israel will extend the building moratorium if the Palestinians will agree to renounce terrorism.

In September, when the Palestinian Authority grudgingly negotiated with Israel for a couple weeks, Hamas tried to upset the talks by murdering four Israeli civilians. Abbas denounced the attack – but only as an ill-timed military operation.

If Abbas would like another building moratorium, let him denounce that attack as a crime – as terrorism, as murder.

In addition, let Abbas declare that PA will no longer honour terrorists – will no longer name schools, summer camps or soccer teams after murderers, as has been their custom. For example, 10 months ago, the PA named a public square in Ramallah in honour of Dalal Mughrabi.

Mughrabi was the leader of a terrorist squad that murdered an American photojournalist, then hijacked a bus, commandeered another, and went on a murderous rampage that left 37 Israeli civilians dead, 13 of them children.

The Palestinians have also named two high schools, two summer camps, a computer center, a soccer championship and a high school graduation ceremony in Mughrabi’s honour, all within the past two years.

Let Abbas declare – in Arabic, on PA television and in all their newspapers – that Mughrabi isn’t a hero but a murderer and that henceforth murderers are not to be honored. Perhaps the Palestinian Authority could rename the square in Ramallah, call it the Galit Ankwa Square, in honour of Mughrabi’s youngest victim, a little girl, two years old.

I’d love it if Abbas were to renounce terrorism in this way, because it would suggest he’s serious about peace. Unfortunately, there is no chance at all of Abbas calling terrorism and murder by their proper names.

But his refusal to do so – even in exchange for a settlement freeze – will at least show what the conflict is all about.

*

Photo: Mural at Deheishe refugee camp of Ayat al-Akhras, a suicide bomber who blew herself up at a Jerusalem supermarket, murdering two Israelis. Photo credit: Rhonda Spivak, Winnipeg Jewish Review.

I previously published this piece in the Oct 28, 2010, Jewish Tribune in Canada, on Harry's Place blog in Britain, and in the Nov 3, 2010 Winnipeg Jewish Review.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In August, I published a piece in the National Post suggesting a referendum be held among the Arabs of east Jerusalem, asking if they preferred to remain part of Israel or if they wanted to be incorporated into a Palestinian state (see here).
My piece was picked up by the Daily Alert and went to the Alert’s many thousands of subscribers around the world.
Now Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who regularly writes about Palestinian affairs for the Jerusalem Post, has also proposed a referendum ...

Ask the Arabs of east Jerusalem: Should Jerusalem be divided?
Khaled Abu Toameh

The future status of Jerusalem is back on the negotiating table between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and Israel. It is being described as one of the "core issues" in the US-sponsored direct talks that were launched in early September.

Both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators need to take into account that it's completely unrealistic to talk about restoring the pre-1967 situation where Jerusalem was divided into two cities.

The division was bad for Jews and Arabs back then and it will be worse if it happens once again.

Jerusalem is a very small city where Jews and Arabs live across the street from each other and on top of each other. Since 1967, Israel has built many new neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, rendering it impossible to imagine a reality where Jerusalem would exist as a divided city.

Redividing Jerusalem will turn the lives of both Jews and Arabs into a nightmare, especially with regards to traffic arrangements. Every day, tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs commute between the two parts of the city freely.

Redividing Jerusalem will result in the establishment of checkpoints and border crossings inside many parts of the city. Jews and Arabs will find themselves confined to their homes and neighborhoods, which will be surrounded by security barriers and checkpoints.

In addition, the negotiators must concede the possibility of asking the Arab residents of the city about their preferences. There is no reason why more than 200,000 Arabs in Jerusalem should be denied the right to voice their opinion on a matter that has a direct affect on their lives and future.

This can be done through a referendum where the Arab residents would be asked if they would like to live in a divided city under the rule of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. Most likely, a majority of the Arab residents would say that they prefer the status quo to the other options.

Most Arabs in the city prefer to live under Israeli rule for a number of reasons. First, because as holders of Israeli ID cards they are entitled to many rights and privileges that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip don't enjoy. They include freedom of movement and social, economic, health and education services that Israeli citizens are entitled to.

Redividing Jerusalem means bringing either the Palestinian Authority of Hamas into the city. The Arab residents of Jerusalem have seen what happened in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the past 16 years and are not keen to live under a corrupt authority or a radical Islamist entity.

Over the past few years, many Arab residents of the city who used to live in the West Bank have abandoned their homes and returned to Jerusalem. They did so mainly out of fear of losing their rights and privileges as holders of Israeli ID cards.

But many of them also ran away from the West Bank because they did not want to live in territories controlled by militiamen, armed gangs and corrupt leaders and institutions. ... more

Friday, August 27, 2010

Director of Education supports The Shepherd's Granddaughter

Chris Spence, the director of education for the Toronto School Board, has issued his decision in regard to the Shepherd’s Granddaughter. He’s decided to accept all nine recommendation of the committee looking into my compalint about the book. So he’s rejected my suggestion that The Shepherd’s Granddaughter be used as an example of the kind of book that should never get on a recommended reading list for kids in grade school.

Well, it would have been a surprise if he’d rejected the recommendations of the Board’s own committee and gone with my recommendation instead. Besides, the most important issue is that our schools have been promoting books recommended by the Ontario Library Association without anyone on the school board ever reading them and without the books ever being vetted by any teacher or school librarian.

The Board’s now realized that they can’t take it for granted that the Library Association will recommend wholesome books. In future, books recommended by the OLA will be vetted and school librarians will actually read them before giving them to any students.

Concerning The Shepherd's Granddaughter, the issue is that the TDSB was recommending a book of anti-Israeli propaganda to all kids in grades 7 and 8, a book that defames Israelis and Jews as child murderers.

After I complained, the Board decided that this book should be classed as a "controversial book." This meant that teachers were supposed to guide students before, during and after they read the book, and school libraries were supposed to make material available so that it would be possible for students to get other views on the conflict. However, it doesn’t appear that these policies were followed.

Again, no surprise. School librarians don’t have the time to guide students as they read a book, and it’s impossible to provide students with alternate, less biased material on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because for this age group, such resources don’t exist.

I then made a formal complaint about the book, arguing that The Shepherd's Granddaughter is a perfect example of the kind of book schools should not recommend to our children. That when the schools recommend a book about a contentious political issue, it should be an intelligent book that makes an attempt at even-handedness and that shows the humanity of people on both sides of the conflict.

The Board disagreed. The committee that looked at this book argued it's a good thing the book is biased, as this gives kids an opportunity to practice their critical skills. The director of education for the Board has now said he agrees with them.

And for the time being, that’s where the matter rests…

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Happy in Israel by Fabian

You know, the other day I was counting the things I have here, and yes I am very happy. Actually these are the best and happiest years of my life and I know it. Funny how - in spite of being a recent immigrant - I would answer yes, I am happy, like the rest of the Israelis.

The feeling of safety here compared to Argentina is one of the things you cannot value enough. No need to watch your back when entering your home at night, or when extracting money from an APM. No need to put your backpack on the front when you get on the bus.

Parks with games for children everywhere. And with grass even. The cranes everywhere, building more places to live and you know, you can feel, touch and see that your city is progressing and getting nicer every day (as opposed to Buenos Aires where you cannot see or touch or feel any of these things).

I haven’t been much to the beach this summer cause of the baby, but the beach, man! The beach 10 km away instead of 500! The mountains at the same distance, not 1000 km away! The children learning Hebrew, and every day a new aspect of Judaism I wasn’t aware of is mentioned by someone, a friend, a coworker, the TV, etc.

The forest I pass by on my way to work. And when you know that Jews planted and each and every tree you see, helped by the Jewish National Fund, man the forest is worth a hundred times more in your eyes.

And finally, the knowledge that you being here is a miracle after 2000 years of Exile. Can’t put a price on that - but of course you can rank it.

I heard that the Palestinian government in the West Bank is planting lots of trees nowadays. Good for them. I wish that will help them see more green instead of red.

This posting is re-blogged from Harry's Place. Fabian from Israel blogs here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The happiest people in the world

I originally published this piece in the National Post, Tuesday, Aug 17, 2010.

Canada and Israel have much in common. We're both big believers in democracy and in fairness, we're both highly diverse multicultural societies and both of us have dynamic economies.

But I was tickled to learn this summer that Canada and Israel have yet one more thing in common: We're tied for eighth place among the happiest people on Earth.

Some people might be surprised to find Israelis at the top of the happiness charts. After all, Gallup conducted this poll from 2005 to 2009, and during that time, Israel fought two wars.

On top of that, Israel is often protrayed as a monstrous, apartheid state. Surely Israeli Arabs must live in utter misery -- and since they make up 20% of the population, their despair ought to pop the happiness bubble, right? Apparently not. It seems Israeli Arabs are pretty happy, too.

Arab-Israeli soccer star Beram Kayal has an easy explanation for misconceptions about Israel. "People watch too much television," he recently told Scotland's Sunday Herald.

"What the television shows about Israel is totally different [from] what happens. The life between the Jews and the Arabs is very good. I'm an Arab and my agent is Jewish but we're like family ... Maccabi Haifa has seven or eight Arab players and that's normal. The only difference is their religion, but there's no conflict."

But what about all those wars in Israel? Shouldn't they make Israelis miserable? Not really.

The 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon lasted just 34 days. The operation in Gaza against Hamas, in 2008-2009, lasted just 22 days. In total, that's only eight weeks of war.

For the other 252 weeks in the last five years, Israelis spent their time pretty much like Canadians: working, raising their families and enjoying themselves. That's normal life in Israel, but what's normal isn't news, so we don't hear about it.

Besides, being at war doesn't necessarily make people unhappy. During the first hours of the Lebanese War, Israel destroyed all of Hezbollah's long-range missiles, making Israel's major cities safe for the duration.

Hezbollah did fire thousands of missiles into northern Israel, trying to kill as many Jews as possible. But Hezbollah's missiles caused few injuries, as a million Israelis simply

evacuated to the south, and those who stayed waited out the bombardment in bomb shelters.

Meanwhile, the country was absolutely behind the war. Overseas, people may have been confused over what the war was about, but Israelis all knew they'd been attacked without provocation, with missiles striking Israeli towns and an ambush on an Israeli patrol that left three soldiers dead and two more kidnapped.

Standing together in the face of aggression doesn't make people miserable; quite the contrary. It puts fire in the belly and the warmth of fellow feeling in the heart.

Similarly, while people overseas may have been confused by the media coverage, Israelis know that their operation against Hamas in Gaza was one of the most justified wars in history -- that it was an answer to naked terrorism after all other solutions had been tried and failed.

For years, Hamas had tormented the townsfolk of Sderot with daily rocket and mortar attacks that struck schools, homes and health clinics. The purpose of the war was to allow Sderot and other Israeli towns coming under terrorist attack to enjoy the same peace and happiness as the rest of Israel. And whole country supported the cause.

Israel isn't paradise of course -- except in comparison to most places in the world. For example, the Palestinian-controlled territories rank 96th on the happiness list. Which brings me to a modest proposal: Among other intractable issues, the status of Jerusalem is one of the major stumbling blocks to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Why not hold a referendum? Ask Jerusalem's Arabs if they want the continuing happiness of being part of a compassionate and caring liberal democracy or if they prefer the abject misery of living under the infinitely corrupt Palestinian Authority.

No one can seriously doubt the result of such a referendum. During the Camp David talks, it was proposed that, as part of a peace agreement, some Israeli Arab towns should be placed on the Palestinian side of the border.

So the Israeli Arab weekly Kul Al-Arab polled the Arabs of Um al Fahm to ask what they thought of their city joining a Palestinian State. Only 11% were in favour; 83% said they preferred to remain Israeli.

A referendum among Arab Jerusalemites would have a similarly lopsided result. And allowing Jerusalem's Arabs to tie themselves permanently to Israel of their own free choice would be an excellent way to begin a new stage in the relationship.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Final(?) arguments re The Shepherd's Granddaughter

The Toronto School Board committee struck to consider The Shepherd's Granddaughter finally got around to issuing their report a few weeks ago. As expected, it was long, carefully worded and about as intelligent as one should expect from any report written by a committee of bureaucrats. The committee sent the report to me and to the Director of Eductaion, Chris Spence, for his final decision.

I sent a note the Chris Spence, as well...

Dear Mr. Spence,

I believe the committee struck to consider The Shepherd’s Granddaughter has gone astray; though with reservations, I support eight of their nine recommendations.

I do hope that, in future, school librarians spend scarce dollars on better books, but I am not concerned that the committee recommends The Shepherd’s Granddaughter simply be available. The book has a large cast of poorly developed characters whom the reader can’t keep track of, while the author is utterly humorless, incapable of irony and possessed of an earnestness that’s exceeded only by her ignorance. Few children will ever read the book without encouragement.

My complaint was never about whether The Shepherd’s Granddaughter should be available to students, but rather that the schools shouldn't have been recommending this book to students. Unfortunately, the committee simply ignored this objection.

If schools are going to promote a list of 10 books to all students in grades 7 and 8, the schools should ensure that the list of such highly recommend books are actually good. I would have thought it obvious that the standard must be higher than for a book that is merely available to students in the library.

If I were to amend the list of recommendations, I might simply amend recommendation #8 to read that in considering whether a book should be actively promoted to students (as in the Forest of Reading program, for example), The Shepherd’s Granddaughter should be taken as an example of a book that should be excluded, because:

- The book’s obvious bias throws into doubt its veracity. That is, in the absence of certainty about contested events, a book that is so obviously one-sided should be assumed to be both unfair and untruthful. Rather than being a good faith attempt to portray a complex situation, the book should be recognized as being mere propaganda.

- The book portrays people of a certain nationality (Israeli) as arbitrarily violent, as child murderers. The presence of a few exceptions to the norm who show they are good Jews by siding with the Palestinians does not mitigate the hateful depiction.

- The book defames a religion, depicting Jews as commanded by their God to steal and kill. It must be noted that this depiction is voiced by the novel’s main character and confirmed by the only developed Jewish character.

- The author clearly prefers non-violent “resistance” to the evil Israelis, but the book represents violence as a legitimate option. While there are many purely villainous Israelis in this book, the author depicts dear Uncle Hani – who champions suicide bombing and declares no Israeli is innocent – as a sympathetic character. The book also refers to friends of Omar who are engaged in violent “resistance” in an approving way.

The committee agrees the book is biased but underestimates the extent of that bias and overestimates the practical ability of teacher-librarians to deal with the problem. For example, I strongly concur with recommendation 7: “that school libraries provide students with access to a variety of resources which give them an understanding of the contexts of the controversial issues contained in their independent reading.”

This recommendation restates what’s already contained in the Board document on dealing with controversial material. But in fact, school libraries don’t have resources that might provide context and act as a corrective to the bigoted portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contained in The Shepherd’s Granddaughter.

Nonetheless, after the Board designated this book as controversial, schools continued to promote it as part of the Forest of Reading program, even in the absence of corrective resources. Indeed, schools still continue to make the book available to students without providing resources that could place the book in context and act as a corrective to the book’s bias – contrary to Board policy.

When schools make controversial books available (never mind actively promoting them), resources that can provide balance and act as a corrective to bias must be in place first.

In dealing with The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, the Board was clearly at fault in that it’s failed to withdraw the book until corrective resources can be provided.

Of course, for that to happen such age-appropriate resources need to exist, and in regards to the Middle East, I don’t think they do.

Moreover, for all that we have many marvelous teachers in the Toronto Board, very few of them have any expertise in the Middle East, and while they might be able to support critical reading of The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, they’ll be unable to provide context and will be just as clueless as the students as to which parts might be true or half-true and which parts are wholly false.

The committee acknowledges "that the novel portrays the Palestinians in a sympathetic light as compared to the Israelis depicted in the novel." But to pretend that Israelis are merely portrayed less sympathetically is a gross understatement, a whitewash. The Israelis are depicted as villains, as continually and mindlessly violent, as child-murderers.

The committee engages in special pleading on behalf of the book. They claim the book can be defined as "oppositional reading"; that is, as a work that encourages readers to see events from a viewpoint in opposition to the preferred, mainstream or dominant perspective. The committee evidently means to suggest that Canadians don't usually get a Palestinian perspective; rather that they usually get a perspective sympathetic to the Israeli point of view. This is wrong in three ways:

First, it's simply untrue. In general Canadian media give the Palestinian narrative at least as much weight as the Israeli view.

Second, it's out of touch with the reality of children in grades 7 and 8. The overwhelming majority of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds aren’t familiar with some dominant perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; they've had almost no exposure to the issue at all. For nearly all of them The Shepherd's Granddaughter will have been their first substantial exposure to the issue and for most will be their last substantial exposure, as well. As such, this book, which the committee agrees is biased, will likely form the students’ perspective.

Third, The Shepherd's Granddaughter does not give a Palestinian perspective. It shows the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as appropriated by a Canadian anti-Israel activist; and there's no reason to suppose that its depiction of Palestinians is any more authentic than its depiction of Israelis. If "oppositional reading" simply means propaganda, if it means the book shows an off the wall perspective not taken seriously by anyone outside the Libby Davies wing of the NDP, then this is indeed "oppositional reading," and as such certainly should never be recommended to students.

The committee claims a good feature of the book is that it represents characters from different religions. But in regards to Jews, the committee is confusing representation and defamation. In The Shepherd’s Granddaughter the main character “represents” Jews as having a God who commands them to steal and kill and the only significant Jewish character confirms this defamation as being true.

The committee chose a member of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations to aid them in their deliberations, a woman named Tam Goossen. It’s a pity they didn’t choose someone with some knowledge of Jewish issues. On the contrary, Goossen is prominent in Toronto NDP circles, and as it’s well-known that most NDP activists have an anti-Israel bias (see here), her inclusion on the committee cannot generate confidence.

The Committee claims a good feature of the book is that it addresses issues from a variety of perspectives. This is facile. Which perspectives are chosen is obviously far more important than the mere number of perspectives. The book does not represent any mainstream Israeli perspective. Rather, a group of murderous religious settlers are depicted as the Israeli norm.

Another supposed Israeli perspective depicted in the book is voiced by the Israeli soldier who claims that "We [Israel's soldiers] kill Palestinian boys." Again, this is defamation, not representation. The committee fails to recognize the difference.
In addition to these false and grossly negative portrayals there are a couple very minor Jewish characters who don’t represent any distinct Israeli position but simply side with the Palestinians. The main Jewish character is an American boy who, we’re told, doesn’t know enough Hebrew to take a bus.

On the Palestinian side, there is no perspective represented that is in the least critical of the Palestinian leadership; no Palestinian character wishing that their own leaders would pursue peace.

Rather, the perspectives provided all conform to the author’s vision of Palestinians as victims, unable to do anything but resist the evil Israelis who are intent on cleansing them from the land. In short, the book is a mere a collection of anti-Israel clich├ęs.


It’s good that the committee confirmed the earlier recommendation that someone from the Board should actually read these books recommended by Ontario Library Association before encouraging students to read them. What’s needed is a clear statement from the Board that The Shepherd’s Granddaughter is an example of the kind of bigoted text that teachers and librarians should never recommend to students, either within the Forest of Reading program or elsewhere.

Yours,…

P.S. I have lots more to say, but no time to say it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Update on The Shepherd's Granddaughter

This update is long overdue - my apologies. But I expected the whole process of complaining to the school board about this book to be over long ago - which just goes to show how badly I underestimate bureaucracy. But there has been progress.

First and most importantly, the Toronto Board has decided that in future it won't assume that the Ontario Library Association recommends good, wholesome books. Instead, the Board will do it's own assessment to make sure books recommended by the librarians meet the board's anti-racism standards. As far as I'm concerned, this is the most important step for the Board to take and anything beyond it is gravy.

Second, the Board has classified The Shepherd's Granddaughter as a "controversial book." This means that students are alerted that the book may be biased if not downright bigoted and teachers are to guide students before, during and after they read the book.

In addition, teachers are supposed to supply students with other books that provide differing(and more accurate) views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, the Board hasn't carried through with this last bit, probably because they can't: for children in this age group, there aren't any good books about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or even about the broader Arab-Israeli conflict.

This isn't a big surprise. Take any contemporary conflict and you'll find very few children's books about it - for the obvious reason that most authors can distinguish between their own obsessions and children's actual interests. Unfortunately, anti-Israeli activists are an exception to this rule and feel no shame about attempting to propagandize children. (For a report on another example, of Israel-haters trying to propagandize students, see here.)

I do know of one Young Adult book on the Palestinian Israeli conflict which does an excellent job of humanizing people on both sides: A Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Valerie Zenatti. But it's for kids in high school, not grades 7 and 8.

But back to my update: The York Region School Board also put a caution on The Shepherd's Granddaughter so that it's only available in the context of teacher-guided reading, and the Niagara Board "red-flagged" the book so that librarians and teachers will warn students that the contents aren't to be believed. To me these seem to be reasonable steps and better than banning the book outright, which I don't favour.

Still better would be to spend precious library dollars on books that are actually good and don't tell students that the Jewish God commands them to kill and steal and that Israelis are child-killers. But for most school libraries in Ontario, it's too late for that.

(My complaint to the Board has nothing to do with banning the book. I objected to the schools promoting The Shepherd's Granddaughter to grade 7 and 8 students as a book they should read - which I'm sure the Board would never have done on its own account. The book got distributed on the recommendation of the Ontario Library Association, without anyone from the Toronto Board reading the book first.)

Meanwhile, The Shepherd's Granddaughter did not win the Red Maple Award. No surprise there, as the book is not only bigoted, it's boring. It was nominated by a committee of librarians, obviously on the basis of its politics, not its literary qualities. The winner of the Red Maple for 2010, as chosen by Ontario children is Word Nerd, a great book by Susin Nielsen.

And the Toronto Board continues its formal review of The Shepherd's Granddaughter. It's been a couple months now, but I'm not complaining. The board conducted its initial, informal review very quickly and slapped the "controversial" label and all the restrictions that go with that label within in days of receiving my complaint.

Every few weeks someone from the board phones me to assure me that they haven't fallen off the planet and that the bureaucracy's slow grind is continuing. Doubtless, sooner or later, they will issue a very cautiously worded report. But in the meanwhile, the chief victory - making sure that in future books recommended by the Ontario Library Association are vetted first - is already won.

Note: For my original complaint to the Toronto School Board (and to the Ministry of Education), see here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Let's keep political propaganda out of our elementary schools

When teachers enter a classroom – especially an elementary school classroom – they leave their political agendas at the door. They're not allowed to use our schools to preach their own views. Neither are they allowed to bring their agenda in through the back door by having the kids read a book that just happens to present their views and no other.

However, in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is exactly what the Ontario Library Association has done – twice. If you want to know what it's all about, read my open letter to the Minister of Education, below.

In response, the Minister has chosen the path of least courage and is pretending the issue doesn't exist. So, as she's useless, it's up to us. Please help keep our elementary schools a politics-free zone. Google your school board, (you don't need to have a child in school to do this) and email the Superintendent of Education (or the Director of Education) or a Trustee. Tell them:

– We don't want our schools used to promote anyone's political agenda.
– We don't want our schools to recommend books to our kids that might promote hatred of any people or of any religion
– Ask the Board to investigate whether The Shepherd's Granddaughter is an appropriate book for our teacher-librarians to be promoting and whether it should be removed from the Red Maple program
– Ask that, in the future, the school board vet books recommended by the Ontario Library Association, as they've shown they can't be trusted.
– Urge them to act quickly. For a few weeks now, teacher-librarians across Ontario have been innocently urging our children to read all the books in the Library Association's Red Maple program, including the odious Shepherd's Granddaughter.

Note: In Toronto, school board trustee Sheila Ward has vowed to get the Shepherd’s Granddaughter off the shelves. See here.
And in York Region, access to the book has been restricted. See here.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Shepherd's Granddaughter, an open letter



Dear Leona Dombrowsky, Minister of Education:

I have a child in a Toronto elementary school, and it's come to my attention that children in her class and children across Ontario in grades 7 and 8 are reading The Shepherd’s Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter, a book that seems designed to teach kids to hate Israelis.

The book is part of the Red Maple program – ten supposedly outstanding books selected by the Ontario Library Association and which teacher-librarians across the province are innocently encouraging children to read.

The heroine of The Shepherd’s Granddaughter is an adolescent shepherd girl named Amani. In her first encounter with an Israeli, he shoots one of her sheep. Amani flees before the Israeli can kill any more of her sheep – or her. Later, the Israelis poison her whole flock.

What provokes them to do this? Nothing at all. In this book, it’s just the sort of crime Israelis commit – all the time. Indeed, I can barely begin to list the atrocities these fictional Israelis heap on an innocent Palestinian family.

They build a settlement on the family’s grazing land, and when the Palestinians stage a peaceful sit-down protest, the Israeli army punishes them. They chop down the family orchards, crush their houses and barns with bulldozers, and shoot the heroine’s dog.

The father rides up on a donkey, shouting at the Israelis to stop, so they shoot the donkey out from under him. Then they beat the father, kicking him as he lies on the ground and striking him with their rifle butts.

When Amani throws a stone at one of the bulldozers, the driver pursues her, attempting to crush her to death.

The author has Israelis speak, too, but only to reinforce her damning portrayal of them. At a roadblock outside Hebron, an Israeli soldier informs the family: “We shoot Palestinian boys.”

But the main Israeli spokesperson is the son of one of the settlers, a sixteen-year-old American kid who befriends Amani. He explains to her that the Palestinians should simply leave because God gave this land to the Jews.

Amani says, “Your God says kill us? Steal our land?”

“They don’t see it as stealing,” the Jewish boy replies. “They’ll provoke you, kill you if that’s what it takes to get back their Holy Land.”

Note that the boy doesn't deny that the Jewish God commands Jews to kill; he rather confirms it.

In fairness, there is also a very minor second sympathetic Jewish character in this book - a rabbi. However, again, this character does not present the Israeli side of the debate. Rather, he's a good Jew because he takes the side of the Palestinians.

Also, anyone familiar with anti-Israel propaganda will recognize the theme of ethnic cleansing enunciated by this book. Of course, that Israel's supposed policy of forcing Palestinians to leave is pure fantasy can be seen by the population explosion in the West Bank over the past 40 years. But the depiction of Israelis as not merely brutal but genocidal helps build the rationale for terrorism – as it does in this book.

The heroine’s uncle Hani declares: “They want our land, our water. They want to drive us out, village by village.” Significantly, this character continually urges violence and applauds news of a suicide bombing that kills 11 young people, aged 14 to 21.

“No Israeli is innocent,” he declares.

It should go without saying (but apparently doesn’t) that the Israeli army doesn’t go around shooting children – boys or girls – and doesn’t favour crushing girls with bulldozers. This depiction of Israeli evil is so over the top it’s medieval, though admittedly the Jews in this story don’t poison wells, just sheep.

Further, Israel hasn’t built new settlements since 1999, and most settlements were built in the 1970s and 1980s. Continuing disputes about the settlements concern building within the boundaries of existing settlements.

Back when the sort of isolated settlements described in this story were being built, they were generally situated on barren, unused land, and contrary to the claims of this book, Palestinian villages were not mowed down to make way for them.

Israel has indeed torn down Palestinian houses – in particular the homes of suicide bombers in an attempt to discourage further mass murder, but not as this book claims, to punish Palestinians leading peaceful protests.

It must be noted that the heroine’s father is appalled by Uncle Hani’s enthusiasm for murder as a political tool, and the book’s author clearly prefers peaceful opposition to Israel. Nonetheless, Carter portrays terrorism – “resistance” as she calls it – as a legitimate side of the Palestinian dialogue. Indeed, with this book, Carter has made her own small contribution to the legend of Israeli evil, which is the narrative that fuels terrorism.

On “Goodreads” a website where readers review books, I came across this comment from a girl calling herself Madeline: “Reading this book made me want to go to Palestine and kill Israelis” (here). Unfortunately, that’s a perfectly natural reaction to this book which our kids are being encouraged to read.

You must realize that for the large majority of our children, this book will be their first substantive introduction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and having read the book, its contents will comprise their entire knowledge of the subject. And not only are they not being encouraged to also consult better and more even-handed sources, but for this age group, such books don’t even exist.

I don't want to this book banned, but our teacher-librarians should not be encouraging our children to read a biased, one-sided and prejudicial account of such a complex and sensitive issue.

The Shepherd's Granddaughter should be withdrawn from the Red Maple program immediately.

Moreover, this is the second time in a few years that the Ontario Library Association has slipped anti-Israeli propaganda into their Forest of Reading Program. Two years ago, the OLA recommend Three Wishes, a book that normalizes terrorism, including an interview with a girl who admires her older sister for having become a suicide bomber and murdering two Israelis. The OLA recommended this book for 10- and 11-year-olds.


Generally the Forest of Reading is a wonderful program. But as the OLA seems determined to to use our schools to promote a particular extremist political view, the school boards must review how they vet books recommended by the OLA.

Finally, on a personal note, as a parent I’ve always known that my children will eventually encounter anti-Israeli propaganda, but I'd hoped it wouldn't be something we'd have to deal with in elementary school. I’m sick at heart to see that I was wrong.

Yours truly



Post script: "Madeline," the girl who wrote: "Reading this book made me want to go to Palestine and kill Israelis" turns out to be 21, not a teen as I'd supposed, and she had the good sense to realize the book's depiction of Israelis couldn't possibly be right. I guess this shows the difference between a 21-year-old and the 12- and 13-year-olds who were being encouraged to read this book.


To see how the kids in grades 7 and 8 reacted to the The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, we can go to RedMaple OnLine, a site maintained by the Ontario Library Association where Ontario students reading books in the Red Maple program make comments.


There are only 18 comments about the Shepherd's Granddaughter, because students were much more interested in the other, much better books in the Red Maple program. But of those 18, only one student, book_freak1011, noticed the possibility of bias. I think we can assume this student was already aware of the Israeli-Palestinian issue beforehand and, from the vehemence of his/her response, perhaps felt the book as an assault.


The other students all accepted the book as a factual depiction of the supposed cruelty Israelis inflict on Palestinians, expressing no awareness of the possibility of bias or misrepresentation. See the student remarks below:


Taylorgirl Dec 20, 2010 BORING! But I guess they want us to kno how bad the Jwsh are.




McDj27 Apr 22, 2010 looked at it didnt read but want too


Ecogirl101 Apr 20, 2010 This book was ok, but I found it too sad. I liked how it was about real life, though, because it can help people understand what's happening in the real world.


robin15 Apr 06, 2010 This book was an amazing book! it brought tears into my eyes to see how human biengs like us are bieng treated like this in palestin! This book got me thinking, that we take soooo many things for granted. But in this book, it opened a new point of view for me.


1knigh Mar 26, 2010 I think that the sheperds granddaughter is a great book for beginner readers. This book is really interesting when the girl that wants to be a sheperd but her uncle and her father thinks that it is to risky and she might get shoot by the settlers and the armys trying to build the highway on top of the property.


Silvy Mar 25, 2010 A very gripping story. I'm glad the piano got saved :) On April 22, it's either this one, or submarine outlaw!


zezedaoui Mar 25, 2010 The Shepherd's Grand-daghter is a pretty good story. I thought it was sad. And i cannot believe that events like that happen today aswell. I really recommend this to people , and i think everyone would really enjoy this book.


darkdaughter2 Mar 24, 2010 boring


bhaloon Mar 23, 2010 This book was pretty good and eye-opening for me, but I found it kind of boring.


patmunroe Mar 23, 2010 The Shepherd's Granddaughter is a story of faith and fearlessness in times of trial. It's about a young girl who follows her dreams and brings with them the true meaning of friendship and family. Her story is very sad, but her strength is admirable.


spookum Mar 11, 2010 I think it was so sad but very realistic for those living in Palestine.The relationship between Amani and Johnathon was very lifelike and is amazing for the language barrier between the two.


Nixknox Mar 10, 2010 A very lifelike and realistic book. You could believe it was true, and the read wasn't bad.


GlobalGenius Mar 05, 2010 didn't really like this book much, it had a slow writing style and took me a week to read (I can read the Harry Potter series in one day, so that means I was morer then a bit bored by it. This was the #10 book in all the Red Maple books, i honestly think they should've switched this book with Vanishing Girl, by Shane Peacock, he's an awesome Canadian author. One of the few parts I found entertaining in this book was when the house collapsed, but the piano was unharmed. Overall I wasn't a big fan of this book, but I did read it all the same.


Aberacadabera Mar 04, 2010 This is a saddening book, but really opens the eyes of the reader.


peacebellreads Mar 04, 2010 this book was really sad. i cant beleive this is still happening today. it really opened my eyes i definitely recommend it


Hermione905 Mar 03, 2010 Report This not a great book it was just boring


book_freak1011 Mar 03, 2010 This book was very horendous, it was boring and i don't agree with the author!


beloved12 Mar 02, 2010 this book was good, really good and although it was sad it had a ----- ------


(Shepherd's Granddaughter at RedMaple online: here)