Friday, March 27, 2009

But first some back round, by David Shasta

This is a subject of which I have been fearful of entering. But the more I become aware of the details of the situation in the Middle East, the more I feel the need to speak out.

For fear of a loss of advertising revenue, virtually no publication will criticize Israel’s policy vis-a-vis non-Jews living in Israel and Israel’s neighbors.

Yet, there is an option, free for the taking that can lead to relative peace and harmony. David Shasha calls it the “Levantine Option.” This article is unavailable on-line so I will post it in its entirety.

Sephardim and Israel Today: “The Levantine Option” on Shaky Ground by David Shasha

About five years ago I formulated a radical perspective on Middle Eastern politics which I called “The Levantine Option.” This new formulation was an attempt to restore an old way of seeing things that was fitted into a dynamic and fresh new context. “The Levantine Option” is an idea predicated on the traditions of Jews native to the Middle East. These traditions contain a significant Arabic component where the indigenous culture of the region has been fused with the realities of Judaism and Jewish identity encapsulated in the rabbinic tradition.

“The Levantine Option” is built on the hallowed foundations of Sephardic Religious Humanism; an elastic concept that goes back to the writings and ideas of Maimonides and his heirs. Sephardic Religious Humanism incorporated the learning of Greco-Roman wisdom into a parochially Jewish context. The religious mandates of the Jewish religion, its ritual laws and traditions, were opened up to the expansive modalities of the Greco-Roman intellectual system; a rich synthesis of sacred Jewish values and politics, science and philosophy.

Enabled in great measure by the opening provided by Islamic scholasticism, Sephardic Religious Humanism showed that Judaism could adapt and transform itself.

The traditions of Sephardic Religious Humanism were fiercely contested by Ashkenazi rabbinic authorities who saw in the new modalities a fearsome liberality and an acceptance of new and different ideas. Ashkenazi authorities looked to seal off Judaism from the new ideas and set Judaism apart from the world and its evolutionary changes.

It is not well-known that the initial impetus in the 19th century for a return to Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel came from two Sephardi rabbis living in the Ottoman Balkans - Judah Alkalai and Judah Bibas. Their Zionism was one that sought to affirm the right of the Jewish people to be secure in their own country and to serve as a proud member of the international community.

While the ideas of these two Sephardic rabbis influenced the Eastern European Jews who became the de facto leaders of the emerging Zionist movement, the core humanistic ideas of the Sephardic tradition were often ignored in the new formulations of the Zionist idea.

Ideas of separation from the indigenous populations of the Middle East became the norm that European formulations of Zionism articulated. Such a move led to many of the problems that Israel faces as it marks its 60th anniversary as a nation.

Rather than seeing integration of Jews into the cultural and historical contexts of the region, Zionism is today seen by itself and by others as an alien element in the region. From the early concept of what the Zionists called “Avoda Ivrit” - Jewish labor - to the current desire for a separation between the Jewish and Arab peoples whether by the use of physical walls or cultural barriers, the Zionist orientation has sadly followed the Ashkenazi pattern of alienation and parochialism.

It is today a radical idea - given the violent modalities that have subsumed both the Zionist idea as well as its Arab nationalist counterpart - to assert that the future of the region rests in a cultural symbiosis that would continue to acknowledge the genius of the old traditions of Sephardic Religious Humanism that were so pronounced in Spain, North Africa and the Middle East.

With a fierceness that frequently borders on the pathological, many individuals reject the idea that Jews were once a legitimate and accepted part of the Arab world. We are warned that Jews were simply tolerated by a hegemonic Arab triumphalism that kept them in their place. This ignores and diminishes the great accomplishments of Arab Jews who integrated Judaism into the dominant cultural trends in the Middle East.

Indeed, at the dawn of the modern age, marked by the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, reformist movements in the region acknowledged the indigenous Jewish presence in the region and welcomed Jews as partners in the process of national regeneration. Early forms of Sephardi Zionism acknowledged this cultural symbiosis and demanded of the Ashkenazi Zionists a requirement to acknowledge the realities of the region; its history, its values, its culture.

But from the very start of political Zionism, this native Levantine Jewish voice was silenced. There were Jews whose names are not at all known today such as Albert Antebbi, Elie Elyashar and Haim Nahum Effendi who counseled for a Sephardic role in the Zionist enterprise and in the development of a new Middle East.

As scholars such as Abigail Jacobson, Yaron Harel and Michelle Campos have shown in their researches into the subject of native Middle Eastern Jewish thinking during this period, not only were these voices silenced, but the ideas they presented were mocked and vilified. Rather than accepting the native place of Jews in the region, the incoming Zionist leadership incorporated alien ideas into their thinking which served to ensure that Zionism would become a foreign element in the region.

A corollary to this point was the tension it created between Ashkenazim - whose culture and history would come to dominate the new state and its ideology - and the Sephardim, the indigenous Jews of the Middle East, who were marginalized and often demeaned in the Zionist mission.

As Arab Jews continued to live in their ancestral homes in the region, some adapted to the new Zionism, while some did not. A seismic shift took place in their world that would be deeply disorienting. In the course of a few decades, Jewish life in the Arab world would come to an almost complete end and with it the rich and varied cultural traditions of those Jews.

What I have called “The Levantine Option” died in the 1950s and 60s when Jews were forced to leave the Arab world under the specter of an intractable stalemate between Israel and its neighbors that was not merely a matter of politics and territorial dispute, but of a more insidious cultural divide which isolated Israel from its neighbors.

Arab Jews were forced to undergo a cruel process of De-Arabization that left them bereft of their organic identity. The “melting pot” mentality as it took hold in Israel was in essence a process of Ashkenazi acculturation; a process which has continued to this day in the alienated culture of the state.

So in spite of Israel’s success in re-establishing Jewish sovereignty over the land, the problems that have been created by its alienated stance has led to a residual violence and a sense of paranoia and entrapment that has gripped so many Israelis who have little hope that the country will ever find normalcy. The parallel obstinacy of an Arab world that has also rejected its own native traditions of liberalism and pluralism has added to this dysfunctional picture of a region that is now permanently on edge.

While “The Levantine Option” is an idea that will be fiercely contested by those who hold to the useless orthodoxies - ideas that have led us into violence, anomie and racial hatred - the idea merits examination as a means to restore dignity and rationality to what is now a completely unworkable mess.

“The Levantine Option” and its foundation of Religious Humanism with its ethnic tolerance and pluralism is an idea whose allure rests in the fact that it is the native modality of the region and has its roots in the thinking of the greatest figures in the cultural history of the Jews, Muslims and Christians.

To those who would seek to strangle the idea, the question should be asked quite bluntly: Do you have a better idea of how we should bring people together?

Over the course of many fruitless decades punctuated by hatred, cruelty and violence at the hands of the different protagonists in this drama, the failed premise that continues to inform the discussion is that peace and stability will come from an acknowledgement of the differences between Jews and Arabs.

“The Levantine Option” asserts that the future of the Middle East will come when Jews and Arabs learn that they share a culture and that this shared culture flowered in the many centuries of life in the wake of the cultural giants of the region such as Maimonides, Al-Farabi, Averroes and so many others whose names and memories continue to be venerated in the parochial communities that have now been wrenched apart under the rubric of a failed set of nationalisms.

From Tikkun Magazine, May/June 2008

Mr. Shasha can be reached at and you can Google Tikkun

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Letter to two contributors to

Dear Yousef Al-Helou and Dina Jadallah-Taschler

I enjoyed your articles and commentary at

I know Palestinians have been fighting for the return of their homelands for now going on 62+ years. With each passing year the lands under Palestinian control have slowly but unabated continued to shrink. And as frustrations mount among all involved, the speaking with one voice has also continued to ebb. If you really want to see a long term solution to the Palestinian state I encourage you to read and reflect on, yes, another approach to the conflict.

I have long been concerned about the plight of Palestinians, especially the children. I agree with the need to the establishment of a Palestinian state. However I find that the concept of a viable Palestinian state going forward from even the most extreme wishes of the current Palestinians of all political parties, ie, total return of the West Bank to pre 1967 borders, "right of return" and the opening of Gaza to the world would not in anyway constitute a viable country.

The first problem would be "right of return". This is just not going to be agreed to by the Israeli government. Point to resolutions, show refugees with keys and children among rubble. It still is not going to happen. That leaves the complete control of p re 1967 West Bank borders and the Gaza. That may be fine for those currently living in the area, and with the evacuation of all current Israeli settlements in the West Bank, space could be found for an additional half million or so. So where do the rest go? What are they going to do for jobs? What about demographics? That time bomb of population growth so often sited as the main reason that Israel would not allow a one state solution does not stop ticking with the return of the Gaza and West Bank.

Right now. Today. If Israel were to say that they were packing up and would be out of the West Bank by 1 November 2009, who among the Palestinians is to be in charge and what are they offering as a viable government, country and way forward. I sure don't see any type of road map to that question and that is all in the Palestinian camp. No Quartet, no Arab League. Just among the Palestinians themselves.

If the Palestinians take a cold hard look, their solution involves all those keys having locks to come home to. It involves those aid packages, for bankers and civil servants, to keep on coming. So what do the 55% under 17 look forward to. Besides make work jobs for political support by Hamas and Fatah, I sure haven't seen any road map again here. And that is also all the 17 and under living outside of the West Bank and Gaza.

60+ years and instead of looking forward it seems like way too much time and effort has been spent looking back. What was lost. What might have been. The three solutions offered are homes that don't exist any more, scarce land and jobs for those who long to come home and anger that has no end in sight. Is that really all that you have to offer those millions of Palestinians under the age of 17 who are expecting a future.

It is not to late to back up, take a deep breath and really decide what it means to be a Palestinian state going forward. What does a Palestinian state need to really make that happen? What is really needed for peace in the entire neighborhood. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Do all their problems go away with a current peace plan? What has any one of them have to give up to make Palestine whole? Does any current solution in the neighborhood still not leave Palestine to be the poor stepchild of the region?

Take a few hours. Read my blog. I know it is not the answer. But it does focus on some topics and solutions that might possibly be missing from any current discussions to date.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Gary L. Tucker

Denver Colorado.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AP Article: Hamas not budging in Israel, Fatah talks

Hamas not budging in Israel, Fatah talks
By KARIN LAUB – 1 hour ago
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — An opening of Gaza's blockaded borders, access to billions of dollars in foreign aid, a popularity boost — Hamas would have much to gain by working out a prisoner swap with Israel and a power-sharing arrangement with its West Bank rivals.
Instead, Gaza's Islamic militant rulers have been clinging to their demands and displaying a stubbornness that would seem irrational considering the enormous stakes.
But Hamas apparently believes that time is on its side and that its adversaries — Israel, moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the West — will eventually fold, analysts say.
"They are not acting like people who are negotiating from a position of weakness," said Robert Blecher, an analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank.
Egypt has been mediating parallel sets of talks involving Hamas — with Israel on exchanging a captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and with Abbas' Fatah movement on a transitional government that would pave the way for new elections.
Hamas wants Israel to release 450 prisoners with lengthy terms for Schalit, and resists demands by Abbas that the unity government commit to the Palestine Liberation Organization program, including its recognition of Israel.
In both cases, Hamas is refusing to make concessions that could lead to a lifting of the Gaza closure, imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas' violent takeover there in 2007.
"Hamas is sticking to its demands," spokesman Ayman Taha said after the failure of the prisoner talks Tuesday, even adding a threat that Hamas would try to capture more Israeli soldiers. On Wednesday, Hamas' military wing said it might harden demands in future talks.
Such swagger comes, in part, from surviving the border blockade and Israel's recent military offensive in Gaza, which served to emphasize how hard it would be to bring Hamas down.
Ending Gaza's isolation has become more urgent since the war — reconstruction requires open borders and huge sums in foreign aid, already promised by donor countries. But Hamas seems in no hurry.
In the final stage of negotiations over prisoners this weekend, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered to free 320 prisoners of the 450 Hamas was demanding.
Compromise on the prisoners might be seen in Gaza as inadequate compensation for the hardship that befell the territory after Hamas-allied militants captured Schalit in a cross-border raid in 2006. Israel closed Gaza's borders, bombed Gaza's only power station and unleashed military strikes that killed hundreds.
Hamas is also under pressure from the families of prisoners not to leave any lifers behind.
"Getting the prisoners out is more important than open borders," 70-year-old Khadije Salameh said Tuesday, flanked in her living room in the town of Khan Younis by the gold-framed posters of her imprisoned sons Hassan and Akram.
Hassan Salameh is among the 11 prisoners Israel says it will never free. Arrested in 1995, he is serving 48 life terms for masterminding several suicide bombings that killed dozens of Israelis.
The release of the 11 names and Olmert's pledge not to lift the blockade without Schalit will tie the hands of his designated successor, hard-line Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Hamas could have a tough time getting a better deal from Netanyahu.
The deadlock complicates the international community's plans for Gaza reconstruction.
"We are not able to bring anything in for rebuilding Gaza until the case of the Israeli soldier Schalit is resolved, and that's what the Israelis are telling us," Karen Abu Zayd, who runs the major U.N. aid agency in Gaza, said Tuesday.
Donor countries are ready to give billions of dollars to fix the war damage, including repairing or rebuilding 15,000 homes, but can't do so without open borders and won't give the money to Hamas.
The purpose of the Palestinian unity talks is to form an interim government made up of both rival factions until new elections are held by January 2010.
Such an arrangement would let funds start flowing, but would force Hamas to soften its opposition to Israel. And Hamas can't afford to compromise on its principles, especially with the possibility of elections in less than a year, said Hani Basoos, a Gaza analyst now based in Europe.
Hamas is committed to Israel's destruction, in contrast to Fatah, which seeks a Palestinian state alongside Israel. An implicit recognition of Israel would also undercut Hamas' main argument in any election campaign that Fatah's 16 years of peace talks with Israel have been a waste of time.
Hamas has shown that its stubbornness is not a negotiating tactic, Basoos said.
"If they wanted to compromise, they would have done it last year or the year before," he said. "It is a waiting game."
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spiral West Bank?

This is a very cleaver idea about dividing the West Bank. I do not know the author, but hope to have his/her/their permission to leave the link here. If not, it might disappear soon.

But I do like the attempt at further solution options besides what is being hashed over at the moment.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

And now what?

The new government of Israel.

The government of Gaza.

The government of the West Bank.

Millions still without a homeland after 67 years.

Who will step up and say enough is enough for the vast majority of Palestinians who do NOT live in Gaza or the West Bank.

It is time to "go around the bumps in the road".

The other countries of the region, yes Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon; it is time to "go around". You don't need the US. You don't need the EU. You don't need Russia or Iran or to get the process moving.

Yes there are many steps.

Yes they may not all succeed.

But no step proposed is dependent upon any of the other steps being accepted, implemented or traded in any way.

Each one stands or fall of its own weight.

But together they each put one more step in the path to a viable, vibrant and forward looking country for those who wish to join in the dream.

May they be Jordanians, Egyptians, Saudis,Palestinians, Christians, Iraqis, Druze, Syrians or Jews from either Europe or Africa.

Together they can all chose to join together to create a new and wonderful path to peace in the region.

If not will you be the one to tell the children or the parents of the children that it is best for all if they just remain wanderers a little longer.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why perhaps a different approach? Because after 62 years the children should go home.

Hamas? no. Fatah? no. Reminder that this blog is for all the children of the area.

copy of letter sent to

Dear Common Ground:

While it indeed seems that there is stalemate in Palestine - Israel conflict it is my contention that taking the conflict as involving Palestinians and not Palestine per se is really more of a tract to take right now.

Peace process bogged down? Neither side budging?

GO around it all.

I have a number of steps that should be considered in finding a solution to Palestinians plight. Again NOT Palestine plight, Palestinian plight. And it needs to be made that. Palestinian's of all countries. Must millions continue to suffer while just one narrow avenue of solution is followed.

Nowhere do current solutions to the conflict leave a Palestine that is in anyway a functioning independent country with prospects for long term healthy advancement.

I encourage you to read some of my thoughts and comments at:

I encourage feedback, comments, arguments and perhaps, just perhaps the passing of some of my ideas to others in the area for their input as well.

Gary L. Tucker

Denver Colorado USA