Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Direct Action from Birmingham to Gaza: Uncomfortable but Inevitable

Dear friends,

Here are some excerpts from a sermon I delivered in Minneapolis last Sunday, combined with some recent events:

This week, our country celebrated Martin Luther King Day and the official end to segregation and racial discrimination in this country. As we celebrate certain historic advances, we mustn't forget that these policies are far from over in this country, and that as we struggle against one injustice we are perpetuating another system of discrimination and segregation on the other side of the world in Occupied Palestine, a land where there are separate roads, schools, hospitals, neighborhoods, and legal systems, access to which depends on one's ethnicity or religion.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King "wept" from disappointment with the laxity of the church and its leaders in taking action against the status quo for fear of being considered "nonconformist. " I recently met a young Palestinian Christian dancer (one of those censored in New England last December) who echoed similar frustration with churches around the world who are doing nothing to ease the suffering of Christians and others in the Holy Land. She spoke to a group of church-goers in Old Lyme, Connecticut:

"My name is Mary Qumsiyeh. I am an English teacher from the little town of Bethlehem. My husband works in tourism and I have met many groups that said `We are here to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.' But are they acting the way that Jesus did?

"Our churches are now like museums. Tourists visit, take pictures, and leave. What about the living stories? Jesus in his time was living under the Roman occupation. Today, after 2000 years, we are still living under occupation—now the Israeli occupation that has confiscated 88% of Bethlehem's land. If Jesus were alive today, would he permit this to happen? Jesus helped the oppressed and the ones in need. He made the blind see.

"I ask you all to see how many times in the Bible the word justice is mentioned. And remember that Jesus did not avoid politics. Please spread our message, a message of joy, happiness, and justice, a message from youth full of life, willing to live and die in the little town of Bethlehem."

Thankfully, churches eventually stepped up to play a large and historic role in the civil rights movement, and it's worth remembering how: It was not simply by hoping for change, or by praying for change, or even by voting for change. It was by making change happen, by Christians stepping out of their comfort zones and challenging the status quo even if it meant going to jail or being ostracized.

Making change happen is never comfortable. It's what Dr. King called "tension." He confessed, "I am not afraid of the word `tension.' I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth."

Notice the word "necessary." This necessity is often hard for people of privilege to grasp. We think, "if only we educate our leadership, or the Israeli government, they'll come to their senses..." How much more comfortable it would be if it were just a matter of waiting, and listening, and sharing! But we forget Dr. King's clear wisdom:

"We have not made a single gain without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges [until they have to]
... Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

Today in Gaza, Palestinians demanded freedom from the Israeli siege that has endured for years since the so-called "disengagement" and before. After several days under even tighter isolation by Israel, which had sealed the borders of the small strip and cut off electricity, food, medical supplies, and other lifelines, Palestinians blasted through a wall of their collective prison and flooded into Egypt in search of medicine, soap, fuel, cement, and other desperately needed supplies.

Some might call blowing up a wall "extreme." In fact, just about any action taken unilaterally for Palestinian liberation is portrayed as such. Martin Luther King was also called an "extremist," and eventually embraced the word, calling on others to join him in creative extremism. Criticism of the status quo will always be dismissed as ideological or extreme, and that's what makes challenging power structures so uncomfortable. We would prefer to affect change through consensus and the blessing of communities that have traditionally supported the status quo, like mainstream Jewish temples and US legislators. But, my friends, this is unrealistic; these groups will hopefully become a part of the movement someday, but they will not lead the movement today. And while it would be nice to wait until a day when it feels more convenient, remember that change will never be convenient for those who are profiting off of the way things are. Let us not forget that Palestinians, like people of color in Dr King's time (and still today), have not had the luxury waiting and choosing a convenient time... Indeed, there is no convenient time. But inconvenience and discomfort are a small price to pay for justice. Remember that prophets have always been scorned in their own time.

In Palestine, that inevitable discomfort—or tension, as Dr King calls it—has taken the form of popular nonviolent resistance met with army brutality, checkpoints, roadblocks, invasions, curfews, house demolitions, and mass imprisonment. In this country, that inevitable tension has taken the comparatively mild—but admittedly unpleasant—form of moral blackmail: anyone who dares criticize Israel's violations of human rights and international law is labeled anti-Semitic. But this is absurd. Occupation, oppression—these things have nothing to do with Judaism, and to oppose them in Israel, Palestine, or anywhere else in the world is simply not anti-Semitic. On the contrary, it is in line with the Jewish tradition of critical thinking, open debate, and social justice, which have been a source of pride for Jews through history.

The Israel/Palestine struggle is portrayed in our media and elsewhere as an endless religious rivalry, but it is no more a war between Jews and Muslims than the civil rights struggle was one between African-Americans and Whites. This is a struggle for justice, one that affects us all and in which we all play a part. In the words of Dr. King, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

This mutuality is clear in the collaboration today between Palestinians and the Israelis who support their struggle, working together towards an end to discrimination and the Occupation, towards a common future of integration and coexistence. In the United States, churches are once again taking the lead. The United Methodists, the Presbyterians, and others have started campaigns calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the Israeli government until it complies with international law. This is a crucial campaign not only because it has the potential to be successful in conjunction with Palestinian resistance (after all, it was Black South African resistance supported by international solidarity and divestment that ultimately contributed to the end of Apartheid there), but also because it was called for by Palestinian civil society. This is a Palestinian struggle, and we need to be taking our lead from Palestinians. They have been reaching out for support through the years, particularly this week in Gaza as they were cut off even further from the world. We need to reach back.

Here are just a few reports, calls to action, and a petition regarding Gaza this week:

For more information about Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions, visit
For a list of companies profiting off of the Occupation, visit

For organizing ideas, campaigns, and to get more involved in the
movement, visit

Thanks for reading,


Anonymous said...

The Arab occupation of Jewish land is coming to an end, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Justice is on its way.

Anonymous said...

Interesting site and agree with you on alot of things. Except using Martin Luther King as an example or a comparison role model of the Middle East. Martin Luther King was a murdering, rapist comunist and it didnt matter who he stepped on. he raped and killed and burned his own black kinds many times because they didnt agree with him and his demons.If they didnt agree or want to go along with him he would burn there stores and house and rape and kill and these were black folk he did this to not just blacks but he did it to whites to. And My Dad and mom seen him do it and we are black.

Anonymous said...

You really believe that boycotting Israel is the best way to bring about peace? What do you have to say about Hamas, all they wish for Israel and the Jews?

Anonymous said...

"Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality." - MLK, March 25, 1968

Anonymous said...

Another self-hating jew?

Anonymous said...

Heard about this anna baltzer for the first time today.After rolling my eyes i wonder what her true moitivations r here.Is it finnancial getting paid alot by the arab propaganda money machine or when she was tounger getting dumped by an israeli guy or maybe some arab boyfreind making you a useful jew.I google her name and the word jewish is evrywhere like its her second name.Very strange to say the least this anna baltzer.

CochiseandSpurLethr said...

The Hebrews of Israel

of Israel

Israel is a small country about the size of Lincoln, Giles, Limestone,
Madison and Morgan counties combined. The population is roughly Seven
Million with about Four and half Million Jews and about Two Million Arab,
the other half Million comprise of mainly Oriental workers whether they be
from China, Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, Singapore etc. The Hebrews of
Israel are from all over the globe, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa,
which is predominately Semitic, India and North and South America. By the
way speaking of the Americas the American Indian are a Hebraic,Berber,
Arabic people meaning Semitic. They came from the Middle East area. The
term Hebrew is the proper term that should be used but in some cases the term
Jew is used. But the term Jew is the religion which is short for Judaism and
that came from the term Judah one of the twelve Hebrew tribes. Today
Hebrew and Jew are usually interchangeable. But a thing to remember is that a
person who practices Judaism can be any race or ethnicity just like a
Christian or Muslim can be. But a Hebrew can't, you see the Hebrews are
from the Caucasoid or i.e.; white race. There ethnicity is Semitic and to break
it down further there tribe is Hebrew etc. People say well what about the
Ethiopians, well as far as being Jews there are some but when referring to
Hebrews there aren't any. Let me make this blunt there are no such people
as black Hebrews. But now when referring to the Ethiopian Jews we need to
realize and remember the original Ethiopians were Semitic meaning a
Caucasoid people. Just the past couple to few hundred years has the Nubian
influence moved in to Ethiopia and especially since the twentieth century
with the negative influence of the civil rights movement. But enough on
that tanjin, back to the real topic of discussion. Israel is a country that
God gave to the Semitic peoples and I mean the seed of Abraham meaning Arab,
Hebrew, Armenian etc. Now you people are probably wondering well what
about the German, Russian, and the Polish Jews i.e.; Hebrews. Well those peoples
from those countries that are Jews or i.e. Hebrew are Semitic, but there
are a lot of converts from those countries that are just plain converts and
not Semitic. You see there are people out there who are converts and that's
it, they don't have a drop of Semitic blood in them and they say that they are
Gods chosen people, and if you say anything against them they scream
anti-Semitic. Well how can you be an Semite if you don't have any Semitic
blood, all you are is an convert and that's it. People you can not become
Semitic by just simply converting to Judaism you have to be Semitic
Ethnically, meaning a blood Jew or I.e. Hebrew . You can not simply
convert and become a Semite. People need to realize that converting to a religion
does not change you racially or ethnically etc. So the Jewish converts
that have converted to Judaism that do not have any Semitic blood that think
they are Gods chosen people they are not. They are strictly converts and that's
it. They are Jew by religion only not blood Jews. About a Million of the
Jews in Israel are converts and that's it they are not blood Jews. People
say that what is going on in the Middle East is a Holy war in some ways it
is, but deep down it is a blood feud, I mean between brothers and cousins.
The Arabs that are in Israel right now and the blood Jews have the right
to that land of Israel more than some convert who doesn't have a drop of
Semitic blood running through his veins. Wake up people! Christians, Jews,
and Muslims if you're not of Abraham's seed you have no business in this
struggle. It's a family feud.

The Writings of Moshe Historian of Latin and Middle Eastern Studies

Anonymous said...

I just want to tell you that i m happy you exist.
Keep doing your good work.
Greetings from Greece