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Our Friday News Analysis | What the World Reads Now!
A Shared Identity (Part 1 of 3)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 01 December 2023 | If you know of any story that is decisive, tell the world. We're still searching.
ISRAEL’ IS NOT CONCEIVED OF AS A PLACE BUT AS A PEOPLE
This probably reflects the reality that Israel’s identity stemmed from their religion: maybe religion is all they had to unite them, rather than ethnicity or common origins.
Victorian archaeologists discovered the first known non-biblical mention of ‘Israel’ in an inscription on a stone victory monument created for the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah in 1216 BCE.
In the course of his (possibly overblown) account of a successful military campaign in Canaan, listing his achievements there, he claims that ‘Israel is laid waste, its seed is not.’
Significantly, the Pharaoh’s inscription uses a different set of hieroglyphic conventions for ‘Israel’ from those that describe specific cities in Canaan, and this suggests that ‘Israel’ is not conceived of as a place but as a people.
Yet, in the minds of the Egyptian monument-reading public, these people are expected to be associated with ‘seed’ or grain. So we could conclude that ‘Israel’ was then known as a people of farmers perhaps scattered throughout the broader territory of Canaan, but that already they possessed a common name that could identify them.10
The Book of Judges consistently tells Israel’s story about the one God, who called the people of Israel (with intermittent success) to be faithful to his commands. This probably reflects the reality that Israel’s identity stemmed from their religion: maybe religion is all they had to unite them, rather than ethnicity or common origins.
From an early period, the Children of Israel were also called ‘Hebrews’ – usually (even in the Tanakh itself) by those who did not think much of them. The word is authenticated beyond the Bible; it appears as ‘Habiru’ in various times and places, from Egypt to Mesopotamia (modern Iraq).
What is striking about these other references is that they seem to concern a social rather than an ethnic grouping, and their context invariably suggests people who were uprooted and on the edges of other societies, people of little account except for their nuisance value.11
That is a plausible origin for the peoples who gathered as ‘Israel’ under the rule of the Judges in Canaan/Israel. They were those who had been marginalized: nomads, semi-nomads, the dispossessed who now began to find ways of settling down and building new lives. While such people were not unique to this area, something remarkable seems to have happened to the groups of Habiru who massed in Canaan from the late thirteenth century BCE, whether from Egypt or elsewhere: they constructed a new identity, sealed by a God who was not necessarily to be associated with older establishments or older shrines.
It would be natural for the worshippers of this God to begin a long process of refashioning a patchwork of ancient stories from their varied previous homes into a plausible single story of common ancestors, among whom may be numbered Abram/Abraham and Jacob/Israel. It was significant that these Patriarchs had experienced their God changing their names.
Perhaps the Habiru felt that this was what was happening to them: God was giving them a new identity.
Editor’s Note | The Term ‘State of Israel’ was Non-existent until 1948
'The Invention of the Land of Israel, authored by Historian Schlomo Sand of the University of Tel Aviv, aims to trace the concept of a Jewish homeland from the vague territorial references of the Torah to today's armed and embattled Jewish state. The idea has evolved over the years.
"While Genesis 15 promised that Abraham's offspring would rule 'from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates,' the actual kingdom of Judah, from which the term 'Judean' derives, was never more than a hilltop duchy, some thirty miles across.
Today, the coastal plain, formerly the haunt of the Philistines, is in the hands of the Zionists and Judah, mainly in the hands of the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. So, what exactly is this 'land of Israel' that everyone argues about, what are its boundaries, and how did it come about?"65
During an interview with Dalia Karpel for Haaretz, published on 24 May 2012, she asked: "What is the origin of the term Land of Israel as the homeland of the Hebrews"?66
Sand responds: "The term appeared after the Romans changed the country's name [in 132 CE eds.] from Judea to Syria-Palestine, and people then started to emphasize the Land of Israel. But in the Talmud, it is an area that extends geographically from south of Acre to north of Ashkelon, and the term appears in the context of a commandment. The Talmudic Land of Israel is not a geopolitical term; it is a theological term which refers to a holy land whose residents must obey special commandments [becoming a light among nations eds.] relating to that land."
Neither in the past nor today does the term Land of Israel correspond to the area of jurisdiction of the State of Israel. In Hebrew, it has been used as the standard name for the region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In the relatively recent past, it has also been applied to extensive areas east of the Jordan.
The term Land of Israel is nonexistent in both Books of Maccabees and in the historical writings of Josephus Flavius, all of which are about the Second Temple period. "When he [Josephus] describes the territory that is the arena of the events for the rebellion," Sand writes, "he divides it into three separate lands: the land of Galilee, the land of Samaria, and the land of Judah. These three regions do not constitute a single territorial unit, and the Land of Israel as a concept is not to be found in his writings.
"The name Land of Israel," Sand concludes, "is one of the many epithets for this territory; others being Holy Land, land of Canaan, land of Zion, land of the Heart probably first appeared after the destruction of the Second Temple, and, ironically, in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament: "Now when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying:
Awake, take the child and his mother and go to the land of 'Israel'; for those who sought the life of the child are dead (Matthew 2: 19-20)."
However, even that is an exceptional one-time usage. The New Testament generally preferred 'land of Judah.'"67
Within Jewish communities, the term Land of Israel only took root sometime after the destruction of the Second Temple, when Jewish monotheism showed signs of regression across the Mediterranean Basin in the wake of the failure of three anti-pagan revolts that were fomented within 70 years – the Great Revolt, the Diasporic Revolt, and the Bar Kochba uprising.
Only in the second century CE, when the Romans renamed the territory Palaestina and many of the inhabitants began to convert to Christianity, did we find, in the Mishna and the Talmud, the first hesitant use of the Land of Israel, Sand notes. "But that term," Sand writes, "in its Christian or Jewish rabbinic version, differs from its modern meaning." At the beginning of the 20th century, the theological Land of Israel was finally converted and polished as a saliently geo-national term. Nonetheless, the Declaration of Independence tells a different story:
"After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith in it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased praying and hoping for their return to it and restoring their political freedom. Impelled by this historical and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland."
What if a DNA analysis indicates that the indigenous Palestinians are more Israelite than the Jews who wandered into the land from Eastern Europe?
You don’t have to be a geneticist to see the obvious. Have you noticed? Jews from the diaspora look like people from where they’re from. A Chinese-Jew seems Chinese. An Ethiopian-Jew looks Ethiopian. An Indian-Jew looks Indian. Jews from Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, or Russia look less Middle Eastern than Polish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, or Russian. On the other hand, the indigenous Palestinians look more Hebrew. We’ll examine this reality in the next two issues of Our Friday News Analysis.
Hint! People marry one another and the OTHER.
What is the Side of the Story that is Not Yet Decisive? Edited by Abraham A. van Kempen.
Originally published on 08 August 2017
Source: JEWS FOR JUSTICE FOR PALESTINIANS
By Robert A. H. Cohen
5 August 2017
This is a short talk I gave this week about building a broad-based movement for Israel/Palestine. It took place at the annual ‘Gathering’ of British Quakers held at Warwick University near Coventry on Thursday, 3 August 2017. Thanks to the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) for the invitation to speak.
A movement requires a broad consensus.
There has to be some agreement on the problem's nature and the best outcome.
It needs a straightforward, easy-to-understand message. A bold ambition. But, ultimately, an achievable one.
Something that most people can unite around.
When it comes to Israel/Palestine, we still don’t have that single, bold, unifying message.
I don’t believe our starting point should be ‘anti-occupation’ or ‘anti-settlements.’
I don’t believe a movement should be built around ‘Two States.’ Or ‘One State’. Or ‘Boycotts’.
None of these things, on their own, quite captures where we need to be.
A natural, broad-based movement requires something more fundamental. Something more elemental. Something that needs to be agreed upon before anything is considered.
Luckily for you, I have that clear, bold, easy-to-understand message.
It’s in my pocket.
I can read it out if you like.
Okay, are you ready?
It’s two words.
It’s simple, it’s clear, it’s easy to understand.
But tragically, it’s also highly contentious. Highly controversial.
What counts on Israel/Palestine?
The strange thing is that calling for equal rights is generally considered ‘a good thing.’ At least, it is in Western liberal democracies.
Except when it comes to Israel when a whole set of other considerations suddenly come into play.
Because equal rights, International Law, and UN Security Council resolutions don’t appear to count for much when it comes to Israel/Palestine.
So what does count?
The relationship between Christians and Jews in Europe across two millennia counts.
How the West, and most Jews, have come to understand the Holocaust counts.
Christian Zionist reading of scripture counts.
The Jewish pro-Israel lobby in America counts.
Jewish understanding of the ‘right to national self-determination’ counts.
Recent definitions of antisemitism that attach themselves to a political agenda count.
The international arms trade and the demand for high-tech civil surveillance equipment also count.
These things are only helpful when building a movement based on equal rights for all who call the Holy Land home.
We have created too much complexity and many excuses—far too many reasons to justify injustice.
But despite all that’s in our way, I still believe that the concept of equality is where we should start. Because starting from any other place quickly leads you back to inequality.
That central message of equality may derive from religious belief or secular belief. I don’t mind how you get there, as long as you get there.
How this then plays out in practical arrangements on the ground could go in several directions.
Two states, one state, a federation. But our starting point is equality, backed up by equal rights for everyone from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. In that case, that will radically alter the nature of the discussions from day one.
The most significant issue, the most significant challenge
If you’ve read any of my writing over the last six years, you’ll know that I come at all of this from a particular Jewish perspective.
I come to this issue out of solidarity with the Palestinian people, but I go to it firstly from a concern for the future of Jews and Judaism.
I’m in no doubt that, as Jews, our relationship with Israel and the Palestinians is the most significant issue and the greatest challenge facing us in the 21st century.
Everything else either relates to that relationship or pales insignificance against it.
The tragedy is that we are making a terrible hash of it right now.
I want to build a movement in Israel/Palestine that has widespread Jewish support. But I can’t because most Jews in Britain are still asking themselves, and everyone else, the wrong questions about Israel/Palestine.
“Why do they teach their children to hate us?”
“Why do they incite violence against us?”
“Why do they pay their terrorists?”
Or, at best, “Why can’t they (the Palestinians) share the land?”
It is exasperating that my community consistently asks the wrong questions, counts the bad things, and mistakes symptoms for causes.
There is a paradox at the heart of modern Jewish identity.
It goes like this:
“We wholeheartedly support equality in every land apart from the place we call our national home. There we claim privilege, we claim superior rights, we claim a superior history, we claim a unique story of oppression which, we argue, requires a unique and discriminatory response.”
There’s no time for me to discuss the seamless merger that has taken place over the last 70 years between Judaism and Zionism and modern Jewish identity.
All I’ll say is that the merger has taken us down a moral cul-de-sac that’s now very difficult to walk back from.
It’s a cul-de-sac that’s left us bereft of the vocabulary, whether religious or secular, to make sense of what has taken place and what’s still taking place in the name of the Jewish people and Judaism itself.
I would love it if my people could do some catching up and recognize that we are no longer the victimized people, no longer the oppressed people.
For the first time in two millennia, we are strong have status, and respect.
In all those places where we enjoy equal rights, we have succeeded and made outstanding contributions to those societies.
In Israel, we have something more. We have power over other people. We are not handling it well.
However, most of us still don’t see it like that.
But to build a movement, you can’t afford to move at the pace of the slowest participant.
Especially if they still don’t see the problem in the first place.
I can’t work with you … IF
If you say: “Zionism is nothing more and nothing less than a Jewish movement of national liberation and self-determination,” then I can’t work with you.
Mainly because you need to read more books and talk to some different people, and you need to understand what happens when your sacrosanct understanding of Jewish identity plays out as a catastrophe for other people.
If you say that Zionism is a “noble and integral part of Judaism,” then I can’t work with you.
Mainly because you are very ignorant about Jewish history and Jewish theological understanding of exile – and this is especially problematic if you also happen to be Britain’s Chief Rabbi.
If you say boycotts in support of Palestinian rights are a form of antisemitism and should be illegal, then I can’t work with you.
Mainly because you don’t understand the history of political protest, and you certainly don’t understand Nazi Germany's boycotts of Jewish businesses in the 1930s, and because you also oppose free speech.
Or you understand all these things but prefer to play politics with history for a narrow and short-sighted advantage.
Suppose you can’t acknowledge that Israel/Palestine is an asymmetrical conflict in which one side has power, a state apparatus, and a standing army and is maintaining an illegal occupation with the backing of the world’s superpower. In that case, I’m going to struggle to work with you.
Mainly because you are in a severe state of denial.
Suppose you count incidents of antisemitism but refuse to acknowledge that Israel’s behavior and our Jewish community’s insistence that Israel is central to Jewish identity are contributing factors to that antisemitism. In that case, I can’t work with you.
Mainly because you’re debasing the meaning of antisemitism and reducing all criticism of Israel to mindless hatred.
If you think it’s okay to hang out with Christian Zionists who love the State of Israel but have a theological problem with Judaism, then I can’t work with you.
Mainly because you think Jewish nationalism is more important than Judaism itself.
So I don’t think I can work with such people, but I am happy to talk to them. I don’t want to demonize those I’m afraid I have to disagree with. I don’t think that’s right or helpful.
But the truth is they don’t want to talk to me.
I received many invitations to speak from across the country. Thank you for your invitation today. But I’ve not had a single one from a mainstream Jewish organization. In their opposition to boycotts, there’s lots of talk of “bridge building” and “local dialogue” from the leadership of my community, as if the heart of the problem is that Jewish Israelis and Palestinians need to get to know each other better.
But if you question Zionism (whether you are Jewish or not), you find yourself firmly boycotted.
That tells me something about the inability of the Jewish community in Britain to cope with open debate on this issue. It also tells me the limits of including mainstream Jewish institutions and their leaders in a movement based on equality through equal rights. They don’t have the language or conceptual thinking that will allow them to champion Jews and Judaism and, at the same time, lead us back out of the ethical cul-de-sac of Zionism.
A more serious problem
There are other people I have an even more serious problem with.
They are the people who claim to be motivated by Palestinian solidarity but who too easily slip into real antisemitism in their opposition to Israel.
If you say the Holocaust didn’t happen, I don’t want to talk to you. And you need help.
If you say there’s a Jewish media conspiracy or Jewish control of governments or international finance, then I’m not interested in working with you or talking to you. It would be best if you grew up.
If you say Jews have no place in Palestine, I can’t work with you.
If you think a Free Palestine is free of Jews, I can’t work with you.
Building a movement
So now I’ve ruled out so many people, let me finish with who I can work with and where we should look to build a global movement.
If your starting position is equality through equal rights, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, I can work with you.
If you can accept that a great injustice has taken place against the Palestinian people, then I can work with you.
If you agree that Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions are legitimate forms of protest, I can work with you even if you don’t want to take that action yourself.
If you think liberal democratic societies that respect and protect all of their citizens are good for all people, everywhere, regardless of history, culture, and religion, that’s fantastic; I can work with you.
I’m in no doubt that this will not be easy.
A movement based on equal rights will be shunned, attacked, and, yes, branded as antisemitic.
But the principle of equal rights is the place to begin the journey and from which to build the movement.
Equal rights recognises that that this is not about terrorism, it’s not about security, it’s not about competing nationalisms, it’s not about antisemitism.
Equal rights recognize a great injustice that must be acknowledged to move on.
Equal rights recognize that there is no pre-Zionist Palestine to return to. Both people are now permanently part of the future landscape.
Equal rights recognize that both Jews and Palestinians are connected to the land – historically, culturally, and religiously. It even acknowledges that American and Russian-born West Bank Settlers also have rights, whether we like how they got there or not.
For me, this must be the basis of the movement. It may sound outrageous to some ears. But the more people like me say it, the easier it becomes to have this new conversation. What is now considered political suicide, or in my case, ‘self-hatred,’ starts to become everyday discourse.
So we need a ‘paradigm shift,’ which means taking this issue away from our current crop of world leaders: May, Macron, and Trump. It means taking it away from our current crop of religious leaders and many of our current community leaders.
They are all failing us. They aren’t promoting peace and justice. They are, in practice, holding it back.
Equal rights is the lesson I draw from Judaism, from two thousand years of Jewish history and the Holocaust.
Equal rights are the way.
Equal rights is the movement.
Let’s build it.
While the world is watching the Israel-Hamas war unfold in Gaza, Palestinians in the West Bank are suffering some of the worst violence and restrictions on their daily lives in years.
Israeli soldiers man a position near the town of Deir Sharaf as Jewish settlers gather on November 2, 2023. Credit: Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP
28 November 2023
Since Hamas infiltrated Israel on October 7 and killed an estimated 1,200 people, Israel’s security forces have cracked down on Palestinian factions in West Bank cities. They have also detained a considerable number of Palestinians and allowed settlers to threaten and attack West Bank residents without consequence.
In this week’s episode of the Haaretz Weekly podcast, Haaretz West Bank correspondent Hagar Shezaf speaks to host Allison Kaplan Sommer about why ignoring settler violence and other deepening problems in the occupied territory is a dangerous course of action for Israel.
Since October 7, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank. “There have been mass arrests of Palestinians suspected of being part of Hamas and also other groups, and settler violence has increased – not that it wasn’t [already] very high before the war,” says Shezaf. “This has resulted in some Palestinian villages evacuating themselves due to the settlers’ threats and violence.”
Mourners attend the funeral of four Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli settlers near Nablus on October 12, 2023. Credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters
One of the main friction points has been the olive harvest. According to Shezaf, many Palestinians find themselves unable to harvest this year at all: Young settlers “have WhatsApp groups where they notify others about where there are Palestinians picking olives, and then they show up to scare them. In one area, settlers put leaflets on Palestinian cars saying they would suffer a ‘Great Nakba.’ Not in all cases, but in some cases, the army prevents people from harvesting their olives.”
In Turmus Ayya, a town that was attacked by settlers in June, Shezaf says she heard from the mayor that “about 80 percent of the residents are not going out to harvest this year because they are afraid.”
Another critical issue in the conversation was the number of Palestinians detained in Israel since the start of the Gaza war. “One of the first things that Israel did on October 7 is cancel the work permits of thousands of Gazans,” who were in Israel working legally at the time.
“In the first few days, many tried to stay where they are. Some tried to reach the West Bank, but quite soon after that, Israel started to arrest them. Most of them were not suspected of anything. They were detained because their permits were canceled.”
This has led to overpopulation and mistreatment of detainees. Some soldiers even posted their abuse of detainees online. “A couple weeks into the war, I found out that two Palestinians had died in Israeli detention,” in unrelated incidents, Shezaf shares. “Both of them were sick. One had diabetes, and one was a cancer patient. When I spoke to the family of the detainee that had diabetes, they did not know that he died. It was a miserable role that I played, confirming to his family that he died. He had diabetes, but he died because no one gave him his medicine.”
EDITORIAL | Read the 3-Part Series, ‘A Shared Identity’
In this series, ‘A Shared Identity,’ we will explore why many Palestinians are more Israelite than most Jews who wandered into the Land from Eastern Europe. Read next week’s Our Friday News Analysis Part 2.
In my letter to President Barack Obama, dated 29 January 2015, I asked: “Instead of heading toward a Native American model with Palestinians confined on reservations amid a sea of Israeli settlements and security zones, why not [authenticate Israel’s democracy with] open borders, freedom of movement? Mr. President, many people around the world would like to hear you say: ‘Mr. Netanyahu, tear down those walls.’”
“Would you want to load up all of Israel’s Palestinians on flatbed trucks; those who are documented as Israeli citizens and those who are undocumented and ghettoized as stateless captives, subsisting in the occupied territories, not going anywhere; and haul them away, with barely clothes on their backs, blistering under the burning desert sun, to perhaps an Israeli secret processing plant, to be gassed until death; and, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) grabbing the loot to be divided among all the winners of the war, like the kibbutzim, Israel’s spacious farming communities, ‘built on the ruins of hundreds of Palestinian villages, ethnically cleansed; an occupation that has crushed the rights of Palestinians and caged them into ever-smaller holding pens (*Kindle Locations 2303-23080)?’”
Of course not!
“Despite Israel’s lethal arsenal, it goes against Israel’s collective conscience to sentence the Palestinians to a Final Solution. There is also good in the Israeli character. For many, certainly for my mother, the concentration camp has been a breeding ground for compassion and tolerance.
So, another Holocaust, especially on shared soil, is out of the question. Nonetheless, some religious ultra-nationalists, together with some secular ultra-nationalists, shining like 10,000 angels of light and blinding the world, execute slow-but-sure ethnic cleansing, a Holocaust against the indigenous Palestinians in slow motion, often in clear daylight in the glare of world television (Kindle Locations 2058-2064). How many olive groves, some passed on for seven to fifteen generations of Palestinian clans, have we not thrashed in the name of God, feigning a virtue by perpetrating a vice?
Ethnic cleansing violates the prophetic ideals rooted in our Judaic conscience.
Here’s a quote from my book citing my good friend, Shimone:
“Why must Israel clear out and remove all Palestinians? Why can’t we liberate ourselves from our ghetto mentality? Why must Israel be an exclusive supra-national state, as you coin it, Abraham, a state for Jews only?
Are the Secular Ultra-nationalists sucking up to the Religious Ultra-nationalists who still believe in our exclusive chosenness? No self-respecting Israeli believes in that ‘holier-than-thou’ gobbledygook (Kindle Locations 1282-1285) …
Most Israelis know better. They want a leadership to steer them out of an Ultra-nationalist [branded as Zionism] movement into authentic statehood, with a Constitution, a Bill of Rights, and a nationality, all of which still do not exist and are on the back burner because they are obsessed for possession – the occupation and illegal settlements (*Kindle Locations 1287-1289).”
Ariel, an Israeli medical student, jumps into the conversation:
“For sure, Israel does not anymore need to charade as a de-facto supra-national state solely for Jews; does not need to charade as a state with undefined borders; does not need to charade viewing itself as a pariah state still in exile (*Kindle Locations 1289-1291).”
My new friend, Jusuf, a Palestinian Christian and an Israeli citizen also studying medicine, adds:
“Israel is an amalgamation of people, a ‘state’ with a divided soul in search of itself. Its citizens (living inside the ‘Green Zone’), 4/5th Jews and1/5th ‘other,’ are not yet living in one nation.
There is no such thing as an Israeli nationality. I am an Israeli citizen. I am not Israeli.
Modern Israel is a country for Jews only. But most Jews are nationals of other nations.
I am a descendant of the original Christians whom Jesus has personally touched. My people have been part of the Israeli-Palestinian landscape not for centuries but for millennia.
The country, [if you could call a state without a Constitution and a Bill of Rights, a country eds.] is defined by its many contradictions, and these very contradictions may bust its structural seams and could tear the same fabric of its national [if there is one] soul apart. It is a ‘country’ with uncertain borders flaunting itself as the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ with an elected government that ignores its laws when responsible democratic choices must be weighed against paradoxes of ‘the end justifies the means,’ ‘what is mine is mine, what is yours is mine also.’”
Shimone: To survive, to become a thriving democracy, to become a light among nations, a heaven on earth instead of the present hell on earth, the people of Israel must 1) end illegal settlements, 2) end the grotesque occupation, and 3) partition the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, constructively and peacefully; and, become one democratic nation for all (*Kindle Locations 1291-1300).
The solution is EQUALITY, EQUALITY, EQUALITY.
For too long, militant and self-centered ‘sacred’ collective egotism has replaced the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Ultra-nationalism, characterized by superior race, cultural supremacy, blood dominance, obsessive possession of land rights, manifest destiny, chosen people, redemption, and power, together with arrogance stemming from ignorance, focuses on disdain and condescension against the other. (*Kindle Locations 2067-2069)
“Equal rights is the lesson I draw from Judaism, from two thousand years of Jewish history and the Holocaust,” says Robert A. H. Cohen.
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