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Our Friday News Analysis | What the World Reads Now!
We, Too, Choose ONE side – JUSTICE!
The Hague, 17 November 2023 | If you know of any story that is decisive, tell the world. We're still searching.
Making a Difference – The Means, Methods, and Mechanism for Many to Move Mountains
By Abraham A. van Kempen
Those who commit to 'healing our broken humanity' build intercultural bridges to learn to know and understand one another and others. Readers who thumb through the Building the Bridge (BTB) pages are not mindless sheep following other mindless sheep. They THINK. They want to be at the forefront of making a difference. They're in search of the bigger picture to expand their horizons. They don't need BTB or anyone else to confirm their biases.
Making a Difference – The Means, Methods, and Mechanism for Many to Move Mountains
Accurate knowledge promotes understanding, dispels prejudice, and awakens the desire to learn more. Words have an extraordinary power to bring people together, divide them, forge bonds of friendship, or provoke hostility. Modern technology places unprecedented possibilities for good at our disposal, fostering harmony and reconciliation. Yet its misuse can do untold harm, leading to misunderstanding, prejudice, and conflict.
When others are portrayed in hostile terms, news spreaders often sow seeds of conflict, which can quickly escalate into violence, war, or even genocide. Instead of building unity and understanding, the media often demonize the other – social, ethnic, and religious groups –inciting fear and hatred.
Areopagus of the Modern Age
The media can teach billions about other parts of the world and different cultures. With good reason, they have been called "the first Areopagus of the modern age . . . for many the chief means of information and education, guidance and inspiration.
Images especially have the power to convey lasting impressions and to shape attitudes. They teach people how to regard members of other groups and nations, subtly influencing whether they are considered friends, enemies, allies, or potential adversaries.
Indeed, the Building the Bridge Foundation (BTB) and other media sources have enormous potential for promoting peace and building bridges between peoples, breaking the fatal cycle of violence, reprisal, and fresh violence that is so widespread today.
Our Brand – Our Unique Approach
Scroll through one of our News Analysis editions. Notice! It scrutinizes the news with all the bells, whistles, and tools of a sophisticated, in-depth, multi-dimensional probe, with no stones unturned. Typically, our Monday, Wednesday, and Friday News Analysis series feature divergent articles and videos reporting from around the world, i.e., Beijing, New York, Kyiv, Dubai, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Kuala Lumpur, Cape Canaveral, The Hague, Delhi, Moscow, and Bethlehem – to name a few – and written by recognized journalists – some Pulitzer Prize journalists – and experts in their fields. Often, I slide an editorial or editor's note into our editions from my heart and experiences.
We Propose, not Impose – The Readers Judge
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If there is any question about our role in the world, it is to leave it a better place. Can we do what is right? In response to the 'a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye,' one could choose to give a tooth or an eye if needed and warranted. That is what bridge building is about.
"I Think Therefore I am" (a Unique Creation in the Image of God!) … I Think NOT Therefore I'm WHAT? (A Robot in God's Image?)
The Building, the Bridge Foundation, asserts that human progress only becomes possible if respect for every person's inalienable dignity and rights are guaranteed.
- Every democratic system must demand and protect fundamental human rights and every category of those rights.
- This applies to the rights related to material survival and the human mind with its incessant search for truth and freedom.
- The many forms of injustice and discrimination inflicted on the weak in too many parts of the world prove that the world is still far from that goal.
Today, the international community urgently needs a renewed and more practical commitment to respond to the needs of all.
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What is the Side of the Story that is Not Yet Decisive? Edited by Abraham A. van Kempen.
Itay Garmy (left) and Sheher Khay with students from the Vossius Gymnasium in Amsterdam on Wednesday. Photo Simon Lenskens
War and dialogue Itay Garmy and Sheher Khan, Jew and Muslim, both members of the Amsterdam City Council, continue to believe in dialogue. In their city, they talk about it with secondary school students.
When Itay Garmy woke up on October 7 and heard what was happening in Israel, he called his mother. "The first thing she said was: “Itay, keep a low profile!"
Garmy saw the same reflex among many Jewish Dutch people in the days after the brutal Hamas massacre. He says: "There is a wave of anti-Semitism coming."
His mother's fears came true: the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands increased by more than 800 percent last month, according to the Dutch newspaper, the Algemene Dagblad. But Itay Garmy has not kept a low profile. Garmy is a Jewish Amsterdammer with an Israeli and Dutch passport. Since October 7, he has been speaking out tirelessly to promote understanding between Jewish and Muslim Dutch people. And he does so in a remarkable way: side by side with Sheher Khan – a Muslim of Pakistani descent and "outspokenly pro-Palestinian."
The two know each other from Amsterdam politics, where they serve as members of the Amsterdam City Council. Last year, long before this war in Gaza, they started talking to each other. In Khan's words, the "bottom line is we have fewer differences than similarities."
This resulted in a plan for promoting dialogue in Amsterdam society, including through programs at schools and in the cultural sector. By sheer coincidence, the discussion of their proposal was on the municipal council agenda four days after 'October 7.'
"We doubted for a while whether we should go through with it," says Garmy. "But we soon decided we would do it anyway."
Khan: "It was the most terrible moment to talk about it when 1,400 Israelis had just been slaughtered. But it was also the right time. If we as council members do not set a good example, what should happen in the rest of society?"
The council accepted their proposal unanimously. "So also," says Khan with a grin, "with the support of those parties that always thought dialogue and meeting were soft."
Mutual understanding and respect for each other's positions: more than a month after the Hamas attack and the bloody Israeli war, this seems further away than ever in society. Yet here and there, attempts are made, sometimes to the contrary, to keep the conversation between 'pro-Israel' and 'pro-Palestine' going.
The Jewish-Islamic network ‘Yalla!’ organizes 'solidarity meetings.' The secretary of that foundation, Rabbi Lody van de Kamp, visits schools with social entrepreneur and former kickboxer Saïd Bensellam - a project that has been running for some time.
After October 7, Jewish and Muslim young people joined forces for the 'Share the Pigeon' campaign. And then there is the mission of the two Amsterdam council members.
Garmy and Khan sit next to each other in the auditorium of the Vossius Gymnasium in Amsterdam South. This Wednesday morning, they will speak to all fifth grades at the school at the invitation of history and social studies teacher Jantine Swagerman. A new group of students arrives every 35 minutes. The coats stay on; it's cold in the auditorium.
The two council members do not differ much in appearance: dark hair, similar hairstyle, and a beard.
Garmy (29) grew up in Amsterdam as the son of a Jewish-Brazilian mother and Israeli father with Yemeni and German roots. He went to a Jewish primary school, where he said he "learned what it is to be a Jew in the Netherlands." The school was (and is) - like all Jewish institutions in Amsterdam - permanently guarded due to the threat of anti-Semitic violence.
Later, Garmy lived in Israel and went through an Israeli army program. He is highly critical of the current right-wing government ("a bunch of crazy people"). He is in favor of a separate state for the Palestinians, but he also describes himself as 'pro-Israel' and believes that the country should be able to defend itself.
Sheher Khan (36) introduces himself as a "born and raised Amsterdammer." He grew up in Nieuw-West as the son of Pakistani Muslims and is married to a Moroccan-Dutch woman. "When I was still judged for my origins and religion after my studies," he says, "it affected me so much that I decided to enter politics."
Garmy and Khan have been in contact almost daily since October 7, they tell the students. They ask each other how things are going and share information from their 'own bubble.'
Sometimes emotions run high, such as last week, when Khan used the controversial slogan 'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free' in the Amsterdam city council. "I called Sheher later. I was outraged," says Garmy. "But at the end of the conversation, we could go through one door again."
How do they do that, keep talking to each other?
Garmy and Khan's advice for Vossius students sometimes sounds obvious but is no less valuable. Keep talking to each other. Get out of your bubble. Talk to people who think differently.
Listen to each other. Only then can you understand the other. Don't try to convince each other that you're right – it's about understanding each other's feelings. "Agree to disagree," says Khan. "Keep realizing there are multiple realities."
Garmy: "If I'm angry about something Sheher said, I let it rest for a while. I'm not going to argue in the heat of the moment."
The two council members tell the students about their concerns and views. Garmy focuses on the escalating anti-Semitism. The fear among Jewish Dutch people, he says, is not always justified: "It is passed on through the generations." The less you speak to 'the other,' the greater the fear can be. "My sister and mother wondered after October 7: are we still safe here? I had that feeling much less. I go out a lot and talk to a lot of people."
If I'm angry about something Sheher said, I let it sit for a while, says Itay Garmy.
Khan speaks extensively about the "double standard" applied in the West in the conflict. "Palestinian lives are worth less than Israeli ones. You can see that in the numbers alone: 1,400 Israeli deaths, and now more than 10,000 on the Palestinian side. Some pain is not recognized in the West."
"But isn't that pain also on the other side?" asks Nathan (17).
"Yes," answers Khan, "but the difference is that there is more power behind it on the Western side. Israel can bomb Gaza, as the United States did in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reverse is not the case."
The students say that they discuss Israel and Gaza in social media groups. They feel tension and notice that others are less and less open to a conversation.
Aya (17) says she has stopped watching videos from the war zone. "It made me feel bad. Reading about it is one thing, but those images…."
The questions from the auditorium come mainly from Jewish students – and they provide an uncomfortable picture of their concerns about growing anti-Semitism.
"I am Israeli myself," says Aya. "My girlfriend is Moroccan. She trusts different sources about the war than I do. That clashes."
Garmy: "Can you talk about it?"
Aya: "Yes, but that doesn't lead anywhere. It feels like a pointless discussion."
Garmy: "I wouldn't see it as a pointless discussion anyway. Sheher also sees different things than I do. This allows me to understand his feelings better."
Aya: "It's just not possible to talk about anti-Semitism. When people have a deep-seated hatred, nothing I can say will make it disappear."
A boy speaks. "My best friend is Muslim. Recently, we decided not to talk about Gaza anymore. Why would we risk our friendship? We have nothing to do with it, do we?"
"I understand that," says Garmy. "But if everyone were to do that, there would be no dialogue anymore."
A question that the students repeatedly ask Garmy and Khan: is it okay not to take a side in the conflict? "People say to me: if you don't make a choice, you are for the oppressor," says one girl.
"What about that?"
"It's certainly okay not to choose a side," says Garmy. "Sometimes you just have to accept. I don't know. I have to think about it for a while."
Khan: "You can at least choose one side: human rights. They are violated all over the world. It is because of human rights that I am pro-Palestine, but I also stand up for Jewish Dutch people who feel threatened."
The last class enters. Garmy and Khan say they have also received criticism from their supporters for their joint performance.
"A frame is placed over it: this is drinking tea and looking away from the problems," says Garmy.
"Some of those reactions were very funny. Like: you are the fifth column and against the Netherlands."
Khan, grinning: "A Jew and a Muslim working together to undermine the Netherlands. Now that's diversity!"
Despite the profound trauma of the past few weeks, the tendency of both Israelis and Palestinians to portray the conflict as an existential battle against absolute evil will make things worse.
By Ian Buruma
Project Syndicate, A George Soros Publication
2 November 2023
He noted that ‘the savagery that we witnessed, perpetrated by the Hamas murderers coming out of Gaza, were the worst crimes committed against Jews since the Holocaust.’”
NEW YORK – In 2002, during a visit to Ramallah, Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese writer José Saramago compared the living conditions of Palestinians in the West Bank to the extermination of Jews in Auschwitz. This extraordinary remark triggered an international uproar, but Saramago asserted that as an intellectual, it was his duty to “make emotional comparisons that would shock people into understanding.”
Saramago was by no means the first (and surely not the last) to invoke Nazi Germany’s attempted annihilation of the Jewish people to condemn the actions of the Jewish state. In the final volume of A Study of History, published in 1961, the British historian Arnold J. Toynbee posited that, through Zionism, “Western Jews have assimilated Gentile Western civilization in the most unfortunate possible form. They have assimilated the West’s nationalism and colonization.” In his view, “the seizure of houses and lands and property of the 900,000 Palestinian Arabs who are now refugees” was “on a moral level with the worst crimes and injustices committed, during the last four or five centuries, by gentile Western European conquerors and colonists overseas.”
These Holocaust analogies are again being used to describe the tragic events unfolding in Gaza. In a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu labeled Hamas the “new Nazis.” He noted that “the savagery that we witnessed, perpetrated by the Hamas murderers coming out of Gaza, were the worst crimes committed against Jews since the Holocaust.”
Editor’s Note | A Critical Spirit Has a Way of Boomeranging
7 3 “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.
__ Matthew 7:3-5 (The Message Translation)
Netanyahu’s comments undoubtedly reflect the view of many Israelis. I heard an Israeli critic of Netanyahu say that the current situation is like 1940, and the war against Hamas is a “war against evil” that must be won through the “total elimination” of the enemy.” But Hamas’s horrific slaughter of more than 1,400 Israelis on 7 October was more comparable in scale to a brutal pogrom than the near-total annihilation of European Jewry.
It is only natural that Israelis would be deeply shocked by Hamas’s vicious attack. The primary motivation behind Israel’s establishment was to create a haven for Jews and offer security to a minority that had faced centuries of persecution. Keeping Jews safe from slaughter has been at the core of Netanyahu’s appeal. Several generations of Israeli leaders have invoked Israel as the bastion against a second Holocaust.
That Palestinians have had to suffer from the Jewish aspiration to feel safe in their state is a tragedy that David Ben-Gurion, the founder of modern Israel, already saw coming in 1919. Just two years after the British government announced its support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, Ben-Gurion observed, “There is no solution. We want Palestine to be ours as a nation. The Arabs want it to be theirs – as a nation. I don’t know what Arab would agree to Palestine belonging to the Jews.”
Since then, there has been plenty of violence, miscalculation, and bad faith from both sides. Much like Ben-Gurion before him, Netanyahu believes the conflict cannot be managed. By sowing political divisions among the Palestinians, expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and initiating periodic military offensives in Gaza, Netanyahu thought he could maintain control over the Palestinians and ensure Israel’s security. While this strategy has failed spectacularly, drawing parallels between the actions of the Israeli government and those of Nazi Germany is both spurious and almost invariably anti-Semitic.
At the same time, Israeli leaders’ insistence on framing the war against Hamas as an existential battle between good and evil will make things worse. Evil is a concept that belongs to metaphysics, not politics. As Ben-Gurion put it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about land and sovereignty. Such disputes require a political resolution.
But as long as Israeli leaders see the gates of Auschwitz behind every instance of Palestinian hostility, there can be no resolution. Only total domination will do.
The same goes for Palestinians. As long as Israelis are seen as evil “settler-colonialists” and compared to Nazis, horrific terrorist attacks like the one on 7 October will be lauded as brave and necessary acts of resistance.
As matters stand now, a political solution is a very long way off, given the traumatic cycle of terrorist violence and brutal revenge. But in a war against evil, it will be impossible.
Ian Buruma is the author of numerous books, including Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance, Year Zero: A History of 1945, A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir, The Churchill Complex: The Curse of Being Special, From Winston and FDR to Trump and Brexit, and, most recently, The Collaborators: Three Stories of Deception and Survival in World War II (Penguin Press, 2023).
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