When I was twenty years old I got my first tattoo—it says “We Will Not Be Silent” in Arabic. It is located on the back of my right shoulder—just small enough to be discreet and easily covered around family, but just large enough to start conversations were my sleeve or strap to slip slightly off of my shoulder.
Among the world’s Jews, a gender war looms at Judaism’s holiest site.
The Women of the Wall are a group of Jewish women who have been holding monthly services at the Kotel, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem. Though this might seem innocuous, the group has attracted arrests and worldwide media attention for their peculiar form of religious civil obedience. The Women of the Wall pray in traditionally male garb – that is to say, they wear the same tallit (prayer shawls) and tefillin (phylacteries) to pray. Among liberal Jews, such practices are common, unremarkable, even. But this, however, is Jerusalem.
The Women of the Wall have been butting heads with Israeli law – a 1967 Protection of Holy Places Law which bars “any religious ceremony that is not performed according to the custom of the place.” At the Kotel, where Haredi (ultra Orthodox) religious practice reigns supreme, this has meant the defacto criminalisation of egalitarian liberal religious ceremonies at the Kotel.
An April 24th ruling granted women the right to pray wearing tallit and tefillin, but the conflict is far from over. The May service was marked by conflict, with the area flooded with Haredi girls.
Heeding calls from their rabbis, religious teenage girls turned up in large numbers to protest the group’s insistence on praying at the wall in religious garb traditionally worn by men. The girls crammed the women’s section directly in front of the wall by 6:30 a.m., forcing the liberal women to conduct their prayer service farther back on the plaza. There, hundreds of police officers locked arms in cordons to hold back throngs of black-hatted Orthodox men who whistled, catcalled, and threw water, candy and a few plastic chairs.
Even after losing the legal fight, the Haredim continue to intimidate the Women of the Wall. Such a scene might suggest a widespread public disapproval of the Women of the Wall, but a recent study by the Israel Democracy Institute found that the majority of Israeli Jews support the Women of the Wall, with support strongest among secular Israelis. Among the diaspora, especially in North America, support for the Women of the Wall appears even stronger.
To understand the ideological flashpoints that the Women of the Wall have raised, we must first understand the differing demographics in conflict, and the relationship between diasporic Jews and those in Israel. In North America, the vast majority of Jews are liberal Jews – Reform and Conservative (Masorti). In Israel, however, the official state Judaism is Orthodox, and an increasingly ultra-Orthodox one at that.
In Israel, liberal Judaism is undoubtedly a second-class citizen. While the state pays the salaries of Orthodox rabbis, it is only recently that the first Reform rabbi, rabbi Miri Gold, won the right for the same. And while the state accepts Orthodox conversions, Reform converts are not considered officially Jewish. In short, Orthodoxy maintains a gatekeeping approach to Judaism in Israel, one which was eventually bound to lead to a conflict between diasporic and Israeli Jewries. While this pales in comparison to the restrictions on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, it is nevertheless an injustice.
As Judaism’s holiest site, the Kotel belongs to all Jews… including, y’know, women. The minhagim, the customs, of the small minority of ultra-Orthodox should no longer be allowed to rule over the world’s Jews. Though Israeli legislators are scrambling to find a solution, the longer the situation continues, the more relations between Israel and the diaspora will fracture further.
“Free, Free Palestine!”
I used to lead the chants at protests as a teenager, but I was never entirely sure of what they meant. Of course, I knew my history. I knew that in 1948 the state of Israel was established leading to the expulsion of 100s of thousands of Palestinians to villages and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. I knew that many more had fled the country, creating a diaspora of Palestinians larger than the amount of Palestinians that remained in Palestine. I knew that it seemed that at the slightest flinch from Hamas that Israel bombarded the Gaza Strip with F16s and drones, raining missiles from the skies over a strip of land that was already described as the largest open-air prison in the world.
What just happened?
First, President Barack Obama landed in Tel Aviv—he stepped onto the tarmac, said “Shalom” and the crowd went wild. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers saluted him and religious leaders greeted him. “It’s good to be back in the land of Israel,” he continued, in Hebrew.
Judith Butler, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism. Columbia UP, 2013
Having made her name in the early 90s with Gender Trouble, a densely-written look at the ways in which gender is culturally performed, the American cultural theorist Judith Butler has over the last decade turned her eye towards ethics and violence. 2004’s Precarious Life began her evolution with an in-depth meditation on the ethical resources of the Judaism in which she was raised, with her analysis of the Iraq war and the charge of anti-Semitism levelled at critics of the state of Israel.
“What is the purpose of your stay in Israel?”
For outsiders, the Israeli occupation of Palestine starts at Ben Gurion Airport.
If you are Israeli, welcome home. Go through customs, get your luggage and be on your way to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa or any number of Jewish settlements that you might call home. If you are Palestinian and live in the West Bank, you are probably not here. Even though it is only a 45 minute taxi ride to Jerusalem and from there an even shorter bus ride to Ramallah, Ben Gurion Airport is in Tel Aviv and Tel Aviv is in Israel—to be here, you need a travel permit from the Israeli authorities, which is difficult to obtain.
by Anna Lekas Miller
On Monday night, Egypt brokered a tentative truce between Israeli and Palestinian factions—who, after five days of cross-border clashes that killed 6 Palestinians and injured 50, came to an agreement that they would not resume fighting unless the other side attacked again. If there was no more Hamas rocket fire, there would be no more Israeli airstrikes—and the two notorious enemies would resume their normalized, yet peaceful animosity towards one another.
On Sunday, 35 militants attacked a border post with automatic gunfire and grenades in the Sinai Peninsula—killing 16 Egyptian soldiers, and injuring seven others. After attacking the soldiers, the militants hijacked two Israeli armored tanks, which were then destroyed—one exploding, and the other targeted by Israeli fire—killing eight of the militants as they tried to infiltrate the Israeli border.
It is suspected that the militants are Islamist and Salafi jihadists from Gaza and Sinai—though their exact identities are still unknown. Certain sources claim that the militants hijacked the armored vehicles to abduct an Israeli soldier. Some claim that the smuggling operations between besieged Gaza and Sinai are the structural cause for frequent bouts of regional violence. Still others claim that the militants were deliberately trying to incite war between Egypt and Israel.
If someone were to have a heart attack in Gaza, the ambulances might not come. Due to the current fuel crisis in Gaza, one third of the ambulances have completely run out of fuel—the other two-thirds are relying solely on the fuel in their tanks.
Over the past year, Gazans have routinely smuggled fuel in from Egypt through underground tunnels that run between the two countries. These tunnels have long served as an economic lifeline for Gaza, importing black-market goods that would be otherwise banned due Israel’s blockade on Gaza—a blockade that bans the import of “anything that could be construed as a weapon.” On this list is everything ranging from pipes—making repairing factories and sewage treatment plants difficult, fertilizer—which makes farming and food production difficult, and of course, diesel and petrol.
Khader Adnan is a 33 year-old Palestinian baker and master’s candidate in economics at Birzeit University. He lives in Arrabeh—a small village in the Occupied West Bank, just outside of Jenin with his wife and two—soon to be three—children. On December 17th, 2011 at 3:30 in the morning, Israeli Authorities raided his home, arresting Adnan in front of his family and taking him away to be interrogated, and later detained for alleged involvement with the Islamic Jihad.