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By Linda S. Heard

  "This house believes the international community must accept Hamas as a partner" was the motion of a recent Doha Debate monitored by Tim Sebastian and screened on BBC World.

  Leading the panel against the motion was former White House speech writer David Frum, an American Jewish neo-con and the originator of the term "Axis of Evil". No surprise there.

  Speaking passionately on behalf of giving Hamas a chance was another American Jew Stanley Cohen a New York lawyer.

  The sight of two American Jews with very different opinions battling it out on air over Hamas was refreshing.  Frum warned the audience that if they voted for the motion they would be voting for terrorism and the ultimate demise of their region. Cohen was the most persuasive with the motion carried by an incredible 89 per cent of voters.

  I decided to give Stanley Cohen a ring to congratulate him on his just stance and the first thing he did was lay into me for terming the new Palestinian National Authority as "a Hamas-led government". "Hamas is a party," he said. "You wouldn't say a Republican-led government or, in the case of Britain, 'a Conservative led government" would you?" I was suitably chastised.

  Stanley Cohen has the courage of his convictions even when those convictions are liable to offend his co-religionists. Listening to him I as reminded that there are many other Jews who risk being ostracized by their communities, and, in some cases, even their very lives so as to stand up for justice in Palestine.

  One of the most notable is Uri Avnery an Israeli peace activist, author, and the founding member Gush Shalom.

  Avnery, a German Jew, and the son of committed Zionists, immigrated to Palestine in 1933 and joined the Irgun before becoming a commando with the Israeli Defence Forces. But somewhere along the road, he changed ideological course and began to work for peace and the rights of Palestinians.

  In 1974, Avnery made headlines by becoming the first Israeli ever to establish contact with the PLO leadership. Some eight years later, he met with Yasser Arafat, the first Israeli ever to do so. Since, he has worked tirelessly to champion a Palestinian State and to expose atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinian people.

  For eight years, Avnery was a popular Knesset member but his constant criticism of the Israeli establishment led former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to shout from the Knesset rostrum: "I am ready to mount the barricades in order to expel Avnery from the Knesset".

  Another Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion considered Avnery "Public Enemy Number One", while many politicians have labeled him "a traitor" or a "self-hating Jew".

  Today, Uri Avnery is awash with international peace prizes and is a greatly respected global figure, although his status at home is just as controversial as it has always been.

  Following Israel's storming of a Palestinian jail in Jericho during which Ahmed Sa'adat - a man Israel says was involved in the assassination of its former minister Rehav'am Ze'evi – was abducted,  Avnery described the killing of Ze'evi as a Palestinian "targeted killing". This he equated to the IDF's assassination of Palestinian political figures with the caveat that all assassinations are abhorrent. 

  His comment provoked outrage in some Israeli quarters with the head of the 'Jewish National Front' Baruch Marzel calling for Avnery's murder. 

  A child of Holocaust survivors Amira Hass is another Israeli who fearlessly battles on behalf of the Palestinian cause. A longtime correspondent for the left-wing Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Hass reports from the occupied territories exposing IDF atrocities whenever she can and is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Bruno Kreisky Human Rights Award and the UNESCO Press Freedom Award.

  The Independent newspaper's Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk refers to Hass as being "among the bravest of reporters, her daily column in Ha'aretz ablaze with indignation at the way her own country, Israel, is mistreating and killing the Palestinians.

  In her book "Drinking the sea at Gaza", Hass makes this evocative statement:

  "My desire to live in Gaza stemmed neither from adventurism nor from insanity, but from that dread of being a bystander…To me, Gaza embodies the entire saga of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, it represents the central contradiction of the state of Israel – democracy for some, dispossession for others; it is our exposed nerve."

  There is little doubt that the evolved sense of fair play which Hass displays in all her columns comes from her parents. "My parents came here to Israel naively," she says. "They were offered a house in Jerusalem, but they refused it. They said: 'We cannot take the house of other refugees'. They meant Palestinians."

  Gideon Levy, another Israeli journalist who shines light on his government's mistreatment of the Palestinians, writes for the same paper as Hass. Like Hass, Levy doesn't pull any punches, as you can see from the following excerpt from one of his columns titled "The victory of brutality".

  "A new species of officer is achieving greatness in the Israeli Defence Forces. These people did most of their service as occupation officers and their excellence is a function of the degree of violence and brutality they exercise against the Palestinians."

  One of his latest columns "Who is a terrorist?" in which he condemns his fellow Israelis for their apathy is particularly poignant. 

  "The sight of the Aben family from Beit Lahiya mourning its 12-year-old daughter Hadil last week did not stir any particular shock in Israel. Nor did anyone take to the streets and protest over the sight of her wounded mother and little brother lying in shock on the floor of their shanty in Gaza".

  This is how this compassionate man is described on the right-wing Zionist website www.masada2000.org:

  "Gideon Levy is one of the most fanatic anti-Zionist columnists working for Ha'aretz the daily info-mercial for the Israeli extremist left…"

  Without doubt, one of the most courageous supporters of the Palestinian rights in occupied Palestine was a 23-year-old American Jew called Rachel Corrie, who lost her life trying to prevent an Israeli army bulldozer from tearing down the home of a Palestinian doctor.

  The Israeli military described her death as an accident yet even after the bulldozer mowed her down, it backed up and did the same again.

  The story of Rachel's life and tragic death has been portrayed in a theatre play but although the play was scheduled to open in the US, at the last minute the theatre owner changed his mind fearful of upsetting the Jewish community.

  Rachel Corrie's mother Cindy Corrie is determined to continue her daughter's legacy and is today a director of the Global Campaign to Rebuild Palestinian Homes.

  Another young American Jew Adam Shapiro risked his life by slipping into Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound at a time when it was under Israeli military siege. Shapiro was welcomed by the former Palestinian President and thanked for his support but upon his return to his Brooklyn home, he and his family were vilified by their fellow Jews and forced to move away.

  Avigail Abarbanel is a former Israeli citizen who now practices psychotherapy in Australia. Her message is one of healing and the wish to bring Israelis and Palestinians together.

  Since September 2001, when the second Intifadah began, Abarbanel has been "speaking out in support of the Palestinian people. I want to reach the Palestinian people in the hope of providing some comfort," she says. "I cried many tears for my people all my life but now it is time to cry for the Palestinian people," she says.

  Israeli-born musician Gilad Atzmon terms Zionism as a "very singular political method aimed at perfecting the transformation of world disasters and human pain into Jewish gain. Somehow Zionists always volunteer to serve the colonial interests of any leading power," he says.

  Conductor Daniel Barenboim co-authored a book together with the late Palestinian intellectual and writer Edward Said. So as to publicize the book he agreed to an interview on the Galei Zahal radio station but refused to proceed when he discovered that the female interviewer wore an IDF uniform.

  Orthodox Jew Joseph Cohen moved to Israel from the US in 1998 and wasn't impressed with what he found there. Within a short period, Cohen converted to Islam becoming Yousef Mohammed Khatib. Today he supports Hamas and is a devout Muslim.

  A Boston-based rabbi Ben-Zion Gold tells his congregations this: "American Jews, who are the largest Diaspora community, have to discover their focus independent from Israel. We have to reject the notion that we are failed Zionists or that our role is to support, submissively and uncritically, the policies of the Israeli government."

  Gerald Kaufman, a British parliamentarian has been a vocal critic of Israeli policies throughout his career going as far as to term Ariel Sharon "a war criminal" and Israel a "pariah state". Kaufman has regularly called upon the British government to impose economic sanctions on Israel and to terminate weapons sales to that country. 

  This article would be incomplete without mention of the late Israeli author and university professor Israel Shahak, a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

  Following the 1967 War, Shahak chaired the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights and consistently worked to bettering the lives of Israel's Arab citizens and Palestinians.

  Shahak believed that any form of bigotry was despicable. "Any form of racism, discrimination and xenophobia becomes more potent and politically influential if it is taken for granted by the society which indulges in it," he wrote.

  Sadly, Shahak was treated as an outcast by many Israelis due to his defense of human rights for the Palestinians. Worse, he was often insulted, spat upon and was the regular recipient of death threats. Few in Israel mourned his death.

  Besides numerous Jewish individuals divorced from Israel due to their inherent sense of morality, there are several organizations. These include 'Women in Black', formed in Israel in 1988 by women protesting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Today, this group umbrellas a major international peace movement.

  Gush Shalom founded in 1993 by Uri Avnery seeks to "influence Israeli public opinion and lead it towards peace and conciliation with the Palestinian people based on certain principles that include an end to occupation and the acceptance of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

  An important organization is B'TSELEM the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. This was established in 1989 by academics, attorneys, journalists and Knesset members so as to educate Israelis on human rights violations in the occupied territories and to "combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public and help create a human rights culture in Israel".

  Since 1990 The Compassionate Listening Project - founded by Leah Green, a young American Jew - has organized visits to Israel and Palestine with the aim of working towards Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation. The trips billed as "transformative and unforgettable journeys of the heart" encompass meetings in homes and offices throughout the area.

  The oldest Israeli peace movement is Peace Now, which according to its website boasts a broad public base within Israel. This group was founded in 1978 "during the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks" when 348 Israeli reserve officers and soldiers published an open letter to the Prime Minister of Israel "calling upon the government to make sure this opportunity for peace not be lost."

  The letter elicited the support of tens of thousands of Israelis. Today the movement champions and end to occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state. An important arm of this organization is Settlement Watch, which monitors and protests the expansion of settlements and the growth of news ones.

  Prominent on the world stage is the Neturei Karta (Aramaic for 'Guardians of the City') a group of orthodox Jews who refuse to recognize the existence or authority of "the so-called State of Israel".

  Naturei Karta was founded in "Jerusalem, Palestine" in 1938 and struggles against Zionism. The group says it opposes Israel "not because it operates secularly but because the entire concept of a sovereign Jewish state is contrary to Jewish Law".

  Its mission statement includes this: "Jews are not allowed to dominate, kill, harm or demean other people and are not allowed to have anything to do with the Zionist enterprise, their political meddling and their wars".

  In a world that is increasingly plagued by divisions based on race, ethnicity and religion many of us tend to lump people together, slap them with superficial labels and credit them with holding opinions based on those labels.

  Nowadays, arguably more than ever, people are being judged according to handy stereotypes, such as the ugly American, or the Moslem extremist, the decadent and consumerist Westerner, the standoffish Scandinavian, while Jews are often viewed in the context of an aggressive Zionist state. Such stereotypes are used to incite blanket hatred between members of races and religions and prevent us from seeing individuals as they truly are.

  There is another way we can divide the peoples of the world: those who know right from wrong, are able to feel compassion and empathy for the less fortunate no matter who they are; and those who suppress their humanity in favour of racism, bigotry or will to power.

  Let's allow the Welsh poet Stevie Krayer to have the last word.

  "Israel is perpetuating a long-drawn-out crime against the Palestinian people. Because I'm Jewish, I feel somehow complicit in this crime, which is, after all, being committed in my name.

  As a Jew, I can't help feeling that Jews, of all people, should not be behaving like this. The Jewish people have, often come to believe that they are the only ones who can suffer. They are in denial about the pain they inflict upon others," she says. 

  Thankfully, not all!


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