Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
May 18, 2018 (posted May 19, 2018)
Mr. President: Exacerbated needlessly by ham-fisted US policy, we have had a week
of strife, including a Koreas summit cancellation, doubts about the Kim meeting in
June, and the horror of Israel killing 60 unarmed Palestinians (2700 injured)
protesting at the fence that cordons them from the rest of that blighted land. In
almost all reports, this fence is called a border as if Gaza is an independent country
ruled by Hamas. Nothing could be further from the truth. Occupied Gaza for which
Israel is responsible in international law, is ruled by Israel through control of nearly
every aspect of life.
The other misleading word is 'clashes' implying some sort of parity in strength. Far
from it. On one side are fully armed soldiers; on the other, defenseless men, women
and children -- a 15-year old girl and an 8-month old baby were among this week's
dead -- burning tires to make smoke, and the occasional youngster using a slingshot,
portraying a perfect metaphor of David against Goliath.
Man's need for religion is as old as history itself. For humans, it is solace and succor
through life's journey, and it doesn't stop at the end of life for man's fertile
conceptualizations give it an even more important role beyond ... one of cheating
death and granting immortality. The pharaohs prepared for this last journey in
extravagant splendor while Abraham's descendants have used their imagination. For
all its virtue, religion has one deadly sin: a too frequent intolerance of other religions
leading often to tribalism and war.
If religion and its strife drives some to the agnostics, then next is pure amazement at
what people can believe. Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu now wants to be a Jewish
state. Yet of all Abrahamic religions, Judaism is the only one with no historical
evidence for the existence of its prophet. The assiduous Egyptians carefully noting
the events in their history make no mention of Moses, or his life in their court, nor
even the great cataclysm of an army being swallowed up by the Red Sea. Neither
does anyone else.
Millennia later the three religions, in the comforting assurance of charming miracles,
face off: Jews versus the Palestinian Muslims and Christians -- yes, some of the
Palestinians are Christian like Yasser Arafat's widow Suha and noted Palestinian
spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi. But such facts running counter to the Israeli narrative
are studiously ignored by mainstream media. The fight may be for Palestinian
freedom, but Netanyahu's insistence on a Jewish state bestows on it a religious
After the blood-letting, this particular round has resulted in a truce, brokered by the
Egyptians, by which Israel will relax somewhat its choke-hold on Gaza. What is
unconscionable is the Israeli response to large unarmed demonstrations. Instead of
police crowd dispersal techniques, or in the worst instance random fire with
rubber-jacketed bullets, it now employs snipers using live ammunition.
This latest tactic so appalled one prominent Israeli commentator (a former war hero,
Knesset member and noted peace activist) that in his April 14, 2018 column in Gush
Shalom he was moved to begin, "I Uri Avnery, soldier number 44410 of the Israeli
army, hereby disassociate myself from the army sharpshooters who murder unarmed
demonstrators ... their commanders ... up to the commander in chief." Uri Avnery is a
self-confessed atheist, not unlike many Jewish intellectuals. Yet a Jewish state
If the problem in South Africa was intractable due to race and skin color, the problem
in Israel easily presents a solution. All Palestinians, Christian and Muslim, should
convert promptly to Judaism. Mr. Netanyahu will be pleased; he will have his Jewish
state. And the Palestinians together with the Arab (Morrocan) Jews will have an Arab
majority in the Knesset. The killing will stop, and Israel will have taken a shortcut to
where it will be in 50 years -- although what religion, if any, may be open to question.
Let us stop the greed and the associated squabbles. Humans have a formidable task
ahead to respond to a crisis that threatens to be the worst in their earthly sojourn;
some call it existential. That crisis is climate change, and the window for action is
closing by the day.