Helen Thomas: The sin of silence
April 29, 2011 § 1 Comment
by Helen Thomas
Hats off to Richard Forer, who courageously and truthfully examines an alternate viewpoint in his book, Breakthrough: Transforming Fear Into Compassion — A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict.
Forer, who grew up in a secular, unaffiliated Jewish home, is the identical twin of a prominent member of an ultra-Orthodox sect of Judaism, and was himself a member of AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby. He knew where his allegiances used to lie — anything Israel did was justifiable in his mind.
During summer 2006, Forer visited the Middle East and underwent a profound spiritual transformation. He saw destroyed villages, displacement, land confiscation, imprisonment without trial, torture and other inhuman treatment of the Palestinians and knew he needed to share his truth.
So many Americans of Hebrew heritage cannot face the truth of the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians in the land they conquered and now occupy. Forer emerged from the struggle to realize that he could have been wrong. It takes brave people who are willing to abandon long-held beliefs that the Israelis could do no wrong. Somehow their victimhood justified their ruthless behavior toward the Palestinians.
The trouble is the Israeli military have taken their revenge out on those who are only defending their land and rights. Revenge has been inflicted on the helpless and the innocent. The power of the Israeli government is one-sided because no American president has dared to speak out against their inhuman tyranny, except for former President Jimmy Carter. For this he has been demonized and called anti-Semitic by supporters of Israel.
Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, posted a book review of Carter’s Palestine Peace Not Apartheid on the ADL website, shortly after it was published.
Forer meticulously discusses Foxman’s review, saying “The review illustrates how unexamined fear and prejudice occlude natural intelligence. It also illustrates how insensitive to the suffering of others a man can become when faced with an issue that directly challenges his identity, even when that man has been an undeniable champion of human rights in other areas of his life.”
Forer isn’t afraid to speak out in his book. Forer recounts the story of 10-year-old Palestinian Ahmed Musa, who asked after drawing a picture of two flags, one Israeli the other Palestinian, “Why can’t we live together in peace?” His fellow students all cheered. “On July 29, 2008, at a peaceful demonstration against the separation wall, Ahmed was playing with a camera. An Israeli border police officer shot him in the head. He died a few days later,” Forer writes. The Israelis did indict the officer for negligent manslaughter. But only a small fraction of violence toward Palestinians is ever investigated. The Israeli record of brutality is overwhelming.
Forer comments, “The condemnation of Israel is not a product of anti-Semitism. Rather, the behavior that elicited the condemnation fans the flames of anti-Semitism worldwide. Israel has been maintaining an illegal occupation, replete with land seizure, collective punishment and settler-instigated and military-enabled violence for over forty years. Yet, it continues to deny that it has violated international humanitarian law. By persisting in ‘acts of madness’ Israel will alienate itself more and more from the global community.”
People need to be informed so we can make good decisions regarding our involvement in the Middle East and ultimately support the right governments. Forer offers a viewpoint that is not available in the mainstream.
I personally have experienced the backlash of publicly speak out against Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. The president of Wayne State University in Detroit took my name off of a scholarship fund because I denounced Israel’s brutality against Palestinians. The Society of Professional Journalists, headed by an Israeli-born president, has retired a lifetime achievement award given in my name, because of my pro-Palestinian views. The White House Correspondents Association firmly dissociated itself’ from comments I made last May to a rabbi at the White House — these were my opinions, I wasn’t asking anyone to endorse my statements. All of these organizations have bowed to pro-Israeli lobbyists such as Ari Fleischer and Foxman, who have displayed incredible influence against our right to speak freely.
A rabbi who spoke at the Martin Luther King March on Washington said the greatest sin during the Nazi era was “silence.” He had been in a German concentration camp.
I admire Forer’s courage to not being silent. He openly shares his personal transformation, and encourages the reader to be willing to “assess one’s beliefs with honesty and to follow wherever the facts lead.” For all of that, we are witnessing great courage in the Middle East and North Africa these days. The truth cannot be silenced.
Legendary journalist Helen Thomas writes a column for the Falls Church News Press, where this piece first appeared.