An open letter to Mazin Qumsiyeh

from <> in Oaxaca, Mexico 2008-12-15

this page is at

Mazin Qumsiyeh is a Palestinian American medical researcher born on the outskirts of Bethlehem. He was Assoc. Prof of Genetics at Duke Univ. and Yale Univ., is now Biology Prof at Bethlehem Univ. An active, passionate advocate of non-violence in the struggle for human rights, his effectiveness in efforts for the Palestinians is testified to by the scurrilous attempts to defame him mounted by misguided Jewish organizations. Info about him is in "The Cucumber and the Cactus", at

Dear Mazin,

      Today is 11 January, 15 days since the aerial bombing of Gaza began and the 8th day since Israeli ground troops attacked in a massive invasion. I am adding to my open letter an ‘iconic photograph ’ used by Khalid Amayreh in an article.

This photograph is part of Khalid Amyreh’s powerful open letter
of 10 March 2008 to the Jews. Mr. Amyreh is a journalist I
have come to trust, who writes about the harsh reality
he is experiencing in Israel’s colonized territory.

      Your anguished appeal of December 3 crying out for humane treatment of the people of Gaza is horrifying in its awful truthfulness. If ever there were actions calculated to generate massive generalized (i.e. unfocussed indiscriminate) anti-semitism, the grinding, deliberate destruction of the indigenous Palestinian society by the Jewish state of Israel must surely stand in first place. Cruel to an extent that ought to be beyond belief, and proceeding as rapidly and brazenly as they dare, the dominant Israeli Jews and all their supporters, particularly among the English-speaking Jews of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are even more despicable than were the German supporters of the Nazi Judeocide. We Jews know very well what the Israeli government is doing. We are far better informed than many Germans were during the Hitler regime. The internet has largely opened up and supported a flood of honest, non-corporate, non-government news sources. Moreover, Germans who criticized and/or more actively opposed the Nazi extermination of Jews and other untermenschen (subhumans) placed their own lives at risk. We English-speaking Jews in the half-dozen countries mentioned can voice our criticisms of Israeli policies at no risk to our lives, and yet a great many of us, perhaps even a majority, either remain silent or overtly support Israeli destruction of Palestinian society.

      Unless someone is a rabid Jew-hater, an anti-semite who believes that Jewish people are deeply and irrevocably evil – true untermenschen – simply because they are Jews, he or she, as a rational human being, would want an explanation for this horrendous sustained policy of the Jewish state. Joel Kovel in his book Overcoming Zionism [1] attempts to give the answer. In brief, he sees the root problem in the belief – widespread among religious Jews – and among a disturbingly large number of secular liberal Jews as well, that being Jewish makes us very special, an ethnic group apart from the rest of humanity. The religious fanatics among us believe we are god’s chosen people, a tribe with a covenant from the almighty. They believe fervently that all of so-called greater Israel is our rightful property. It is on this ideology, which is the basis of Zionism, that Kovel focuses his attention. I think he quite successfully demolishes that ideological structure. From Kovel’s perspective, resolution of the conflict will require renunciation of Zionism (hence the title of his book) and replacement of the Jewish state by a single binational secular state of Jews and Arabs. A move in this direction would, I believe, be a giant step in the right direction.

      Kovel challenges the position held by the still dominant Jewish organizations, namely that Jews should be seen as victims of history, that is as objects on which other historical forces act rather than also having a role as subjects who act to influence historical processes. Seeing Jews as victims is the primary alleged grounds for Israeli actions against Palestinians. In the name of the Nazi Holocaust Israel justifies as security measures all its aggressions against Palestinians. Security for Jews is the Israeli government’s claimed objective in its actions, in most cases so blatantly false as to be absurd were it not tragic for the indigenous people affected.

      A somewhat different historical understanding is that of Raul Hilberg, whose work, The Destruction of the European Jews [2], is generally regarded as the most authoritative, meticulous study of the Nazi Holocaust. Hilberg’s study does not deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, in his view the root cause of anti-semitism lies firmly in the religious conflict between Judaism and Christianity with, I think, most of the onus falling on Christian intolerance and dogmatic missionary zeal. He thus sees Jews more as objects than subjects of history, at least for purposes of his study. There’s no doubt however that in regard to the suffering inflicted on the Palestinians he was in agreement with Kovel’s condemnation of Israeli policy.

      Hilberg’s frame of reference is immediately and tersely put: “For many centuries, and in many countries, the Jews had been victims of destructive action.” “Throughout Western history, three consecutive policies have been applied.”

      “The first anti-Jewish policy started in the fourth century after Christ in Rome [when] Christianity became the state religion ... From this period, the state carried out Church policy. For the next twelve centuries, the Catholic Church prescribed the measures that were to be taken with respect to the Jews. Unlike the pre-Christian Romans, who claimed no monopoly on religion and faith, the Christian Church insisted on acceptance of Christian doctrine.” Among numerous measures, Jews were barred from public office, but the efforts of conversion failed. “The unsuccessful Church began to look on the Jews as a special group of people, different from Christians, deaf to Christianity, and dangerous to the Christian faith.” “From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, the Jews of England, France, Germany, Spain, Bohemia, and Italy were presented with ultimatums ... conversion or expulsion.”
      “Expulsion is the second anti-Jewish policy in history.” "The anti-Semites of the nineteenth century, who divorced themselves from religious aims, espoused the emigration of the Jews ... [They] took the idea that the Jews could not be ... converted, that they could not be assimilated, that they were ... inflexible in their ways ... fixed in their beliefs.”
      “The expulsion and exclusion policy was adopted by the Nazis ... until 1941 ... [when they instituted] ‘the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe’ ... the death of European Jewry ... This was the third anti-Jewish policy in history.”
      Hilberg summarizes “the three successive goals of anti-Jewish administrators. The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect: You have no right to live among us as Jews. The secular rulers who followed had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The Nazis at last decreed: You have no right to live.”[3]

      Neither Kovel’s Overcoming Zionism nor Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews is an easy or comforting book to read, yet both speak to the urgency of solving humanity’s major social problems. Hilberg makes clear the religious conflict that set in motion the centuries-long development of widespread European Jew-hatred. Kovel shows the nurturing of analogous Jewish Israeli hatred of Arabs. In each case, the dominant social group is led to believe that a particular ethnic group is irrevocably ‘different’ and despicable, a group of untermenschen that the society would benefit by being rid of. Hatred is a potent social weapon. The German rulers of the Third Reich used it as the major psychological engine for eliminating European Jewry. The Zionist rulers of Israel are using it as the major driving force to ‘cleanse’ greater Israel of its indigenous Arab popuation.

      The Zionist rulers of Israel and their English-speaking Jewish supporters are pursuing a course of action totally lacking any moral legitimacy, just as Hitler’s regime acted without any moral legitimacy. Of course Israel is not Germany. It cannot act on such a massive scale of barbarism as the Third Reich. But it is acting as barbarically as it dares, against ordinary people, civilians of Arab ethnicity, and that is unforgivable. Israeli Jews consider themselves, as did the Germans in Hitler’s time, a highly civilized people. ‘Frontier justice’ is not their modus operandi – the fanatical settlers excepted. The legality of their administrative actions against the Arabs can be, and is challenged in their law courts. Also in Germany the legality of administrative orders and the maintenance of a functioning judicial system were regarded with supposed respect. A bulldozer does not appear and demolish a tent sheltering Arabs without administrative instructions to do so.[4] The so-called Occupied Territories and Gaza are akin in their treatment to the calculated mutilation and death of prisoners imagined by Franz Kafka in The Penal Colony.[5] Both living enclaves are being slowly put to death in fulfillment of the Zionist dream of Eretz Israel (Greater Israel).

      Mazin, each of us lives in a particular locale. Naturally people tend to become most aware of the problems in their immediate surroundings. And to focus their efforts on resolving those problems. But as you well know, many local problems are intimately tied to much larger problems which, if not resolved, preclude the possibility of local solutions. Quite specifically, as long as the United States seeks hegemonic control over as much of the world as it can manage, including the world‘s major petroleum and gas reserves, and as long as the Israeli government serves that geo-strategic U.S. goal, it remains unthinkable to me that writing to Barak Obama and demanding a real change in U.S. policy that will end the Paletinians’ nightmare will impel him to deviate from current policy. You too surely know his role will be that of the top administrator of the American Empire, a role that rules out any conflicting compassionate actions. Barak will work to maintain the Orwellian world to which you correctly and painfully referred when you wrote:

It is only in an Orwellian “might makes right” world that 1.5 million people are kept in a concentration camp literally being starved to death while much of the world governments stand idly watching or occasionally issuing a useless statement or collaborating with the collective punishment (as in the case of Governments of Egypt and the US). 1.5 million are not numbers, they are people like you and me and 60% are children!! Terrorism is defined as punishing civilians to force a change in politics. As such this is the biggest act of terrorism since the end of WWII. It is also a war crime and a crime against humanity (as defined by International Law).

You ask, “Please take some time to act and especially write to Obama and ... Demand real change instead of appointments of people whom AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] approves As a symbolic appeal, if written publicly to Barak, it can and hopefully will raise the consciousness of others, an important effort. Your appeal acknowledges implicitly the connection between U.S. policy and the plight of the Palestinians, i.e. the fact that the suffering of Palestinians is not merely a local problem. The same is true of the suffering of many peoples – Iraqis, Lebanese, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Indians and, yes – Americans. Everywhere that the social structure denies basic needs to particular population groups, people are made to suffer. The criteria for defining the target groups are widely variable – skin color, religion, nationality, cultural patterns – but the criteria are significant only for defining the allegedly ‘different’ people. What I believe is significant, and nearly universal in today’s world, is that invariably the supposed ‘differences’ are used for the creation of class societies, that is societies in which relatively privileged groups have at their disposal a very large portion of the real wealth of that society and the large majority of the population is forced to live in conditions that are far below meeting their minimal needs for healthy fulfilling lives.

      The horrifying conditions in the world today cannot, I am convinced, be eliminated without making fundamental changes universally. Once enough people understand that the impoverishment of much of the world’s population is not a consequence of any laws of nature (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) but rather is the result of a false system of values propagated and enforced by a small minority of the world’s population – the ruling classes – there will be no compelling reason for humanity to continue along the same deadly path, in submission to the current dominant ideology. Demolishing that false ideology ought therefore to be a high priority activity – an activity done openly and boldly, without timidity. We, the world’s peoples, must demolish that fatal ideology before the current dominant social sectors succeed in destroying our hopes for a better world and, by their merciless actions many more millions of us are killed. It’s a gigantic task that requires challenging practically every aspect of the prevailing social arrangements, because the dominant ideology is pervasive, influencing practically every aspect of our consciousness. Doing away with that deadly system of values, replacing it with a humane system will require the conscious work of millions of us.

      Mazin, I am limiting this note to a few considerations inspired by your appeal for humane treatment of the Paestinians. It’s beyond argument to condemn the killing of children and other ordinary people. There are other considerations of a more general nature that I believe we need to deal with, but these include aspects of the dominant culture that are likely to be controversial, and instead of burdening this response I’ll save them for a followup discussion.

Renunciation of my Jewish heritage – the deadly part of it
      As I stated earlier, a move to replace the Jewish state by a single binational secular state of Jews and Arabs would, I believe, be a giant step in the right direction, a step Joel Kovel correctly sees as necessary, a step which would ‘overcome Zionism’. But it would not be adequate to strike at the fatal cleavage between the self-defined Jewish people and the rest of humanity. For that it is necessary, borrowing Kovel’s construction, to ‘overcome Jewishness’. Specifically, it is the belief on which Kovel focusses, namely the false belief that among all humans Jews are special, an elite tribe that occupies a unique place (among the faithful, in God’s eyes; among the secular, in their own eyes) that must be abandoned. That belief, which I know is widely nurtured among Jews, is not only false; it supports a completely unjustified sense of superiority. Jewish people must come to see themselves as ordinary people, fundamentally not different from other human beings. As destructive, inhumane and intolerable as was Hitler’s notion of how to solve ‘the Jewish problem’, so too is the Zionist’s notion of how to solve ‘the Arab problem’. And we note with foreboding that Israel is at the second stage of Raul Hilberg’s progression, which can be recast, substituting Arabs for Jews, etc. as follows:
“Expulsion is the second anti-Arab policy in [Israel’s] history.” “The anti-Arabs of the twenty-first century, who divorce themselves from [purely] religious aims, espouse the emigration of the Arabs ... [They] take the idea that the Arabs can not be ... assimilated, that they are ... inflexible in their ways ... fixed in their beliefs.”

      And, also recast, Hilberg would summarize “the three successive goals of Israel’s anti-Arab administrators. The religious fanatics of Judaism said in effect: You have no right to live among us as Arabs. The secular rulers proclaim: You have no right to live among us ...” And finally, the Jewish Nazis must not be permitted to adopt Hitler’s ‘final soution’ “You have no right to live” for the Palestinian Arabs.

Some of my premises – and some consequences
1. No one is born with ethnic identity, i.e. no one is born e.g. an Irish Catholic or an Indian Hindu. A newborn infant bears no such stamp. The particular ethnic group in which the infant grows forces its identity on the child. I think this is usually partly undesirable, particularly if a religious identity is included. Obviously a child learns its mother tongue, also part of its identity, as well as the social behavior of the group.
2. Every child should, from a very early age, be respected as a full human being, accorded all the rights of a member of the group, as appropriate to his or her age, and likewise given suitable responsibilities for the wellbeing of the group. By fully integrating the child a sense of self-respect and belonging is inspired, a sense of identity as belonging fully to the group, an individual but not in isolation..
3. Of course every child needs to be loved in order to develop a healthy personality, but this ought not pose any difficulty in a world where people are not living in deprivation and struggling desperately for mere survival.
4. Our spiritual needs, our wonder at the immensity and grandeur of the universe, our joys from music, dancing, the creative plastic arts, literature, and from the sheer pleasures of being alive in the richness of the natural world ought to be accepted for what they are – as facts of reality, not gifts from some supernatural being hypothesized to be the great creator. A world without religious institutions will be a better world, one without dogmatic battles over faith. I think we all need faith in order to avoid nihilism, and that our faith ought to be in the basic decency of most all people, that is, faith in ourselves, in our ability to shape good lives for everyone in communities where cooperation, not competition is the norm, communities that practice mutual aid.
5. Organization of the lives of communities should be at the local level. Communities ought to enjoy autonomy.
6. Instead of thinking about money, as though it has inherent value, we ought to consider our real needs – adequate healthy food, potable water, clothing, shelter, access to health care when required, uncontaminated air, clean safe places to play and relax, an environment free of toxic chemicals, means for conserving and/or recycling all potentially useful materials, broad access to news, information and education with the use of all means of communication. It is meeting our real needs, not money, that has inherent value.
7. Everyone ought to have the right to take part in activities judged by the community to be useful for contributing to strengthening communality.
– George Salzman, 2008-12-15

[1] Overcoming Zionism, by Joel Kovel, first published by Pluto Press in 2007, London and Ann Arbor, and by Between the Lines in 2007, Toronto.

[2] The Destruction of the European Jews, by Raul Hilberg. Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1985, New York and London. My references are to the Student Edition, which asserts that it is “based on the three-volume revised and definitive edition.” The scholarly edition was published by Yale University Press, originally in 1961, then the revised edition in 2003. However, my copy of the Student Edition, which I bought new in 2005, is dated 1985, presumably based on the revised and definitive edition at that time.

[3] The Destruction of the European Jews, Student Edition. The quoted selections are from pp. 5-8.

[4] Demolition of a tent. I received the following e-mail:

From: Rabbis for Human Rights <>
Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2008 10:48 AM

Currently bulldozers are demolishing the tent in which Um- Kamal (El-Kurd) has been living since she was evicted from her home in Sheikh Jarakh. Although attorney Muhamed Dahle thought he had an understanding with the Jerusalem Municipality to postpone this action and although the tent is located on privately owned property, the tents are being demolished for the third time and the fence around the property is being demolished as well. The El-Kurd family are three times refugees. They were refugees in 1948 settled in Sheikh Jarakh by Jordan, they were evicted from their home in Sheikh Jarakh last week and now Um-Kamal is being evicted from the tent she has been living in. (Abu-Kamal El-Kurd is sick and has been staying with a brother since the eviction.)

Rabbi Arik Ascherman 050-5607034

[5] Franz Kakfa's novels The Castle and The Trial and his short story In the Penal Colony are masterful and morbid depictions of the cruelty of institutionalized, bureaucratized punishments.


To contact Mazin Qumsiyeh, <>
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George Salzman is a former American Jew living in Oaxaca, Mexico, an Emeritus Prof of Physics, Univ of Massachusetts-Boston.

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