Mark Braverman's Love of Israelis & Palestinians

by Paul Olson & Rich Little

The Palestinian Rights Task Force of the NFP Omaha Chapter recently did Nebraskans a great favor by bringing Mark Braverman, executive director of “Kairos USA,” to the state. The following article summarizes and expands on the views expressed in Braverman’s talks.

Mark Braverman has the credentials, describing himself as follows on his website:

Braverman’s roots are in the Holy Land—his grandfather, a fifth-generation Palestinian Jew, was born in Jerusalem, emigrating to the U.S. as a young man. Growing up in the United States, Mark was reared in the Jewish tradition, studying Bible, Hebrew literature and Jewish history. Trained in clinical psychology and crisis management, Braverman devoted his professional career to working with groups and individuals undergoing traumatic stress. Returning to the Holy Land in 2006, he was transformed by witnessing the occupation of Palestine and by encounters with peace activists and civil society leaders from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities. Since then, Mark has devoted himself full-time to the Israel/Palestine conflict, supporting Palestinian land rights and peaceful coexistence in historic Palestine… [He] has been closely involved in the growth of the international church movement to support the cause of Palestinian rights, [and] in 2009… participated in the launch of the Kairos Palestine document in Bethlehem, [eventually becoming] Executive Director of Kairos USA, a movement to unify and mobilize American Christians to take a prophetic stance for a just peace in Israel and Palestine.

Braverman’s resume does not give you the marrow of his position: that the Palestinian-Israel conflict is, in essence, not a religious conflict but a human rights one. Israeli colonialism has endeavored to wipe out a people by taking their land, forcing them to flee to refugee camps or live in penury, and imposing a Bantustan-style apartheid rule on them.

Braverman often began his presentations in Nebraska with the story of the Lutheran bishop whom he met in Bethlehem and who was about to visit Hebron, the city held captive by Israeli soldiers guarding several hundred fanatical settlers who have taken over the center of this city. When Braverman saw the bishop after the trip to Hebron, the bishop was white as a sheet. He had observed in Hebron a huge sign saying “There is no Palestine and there never will be.” Mark told the bishop the sign is no surprise; what it says is the unspoken official Israeli policy; Menachem Begin told Jimmy Carter the same thing back in the 1970s; and Zionism from its start, at the turn-of-the-century, had the objective of taking over the entire Holy Land, always wondering what to do with the inconvenient reality of over 1 million native Palestinian inhabitants.

Braverman will no longer argue about the ‘one-state’ versus the ‘two-state’ solution. For him, there exists only one state, the apartheid state of Israel; there is no Palestinian Authority in power, only a ‘Vichy-style’ WWII occupation government which functions as a tool of U.S. and Israeli policy. Indeed, the notion that the U.S. is an honest broker for peace in the region and that Israel is working toward a Palestinian state is false. There is no serious peace process.

Having come to these conclusions, Braverman developed at length the analogies between the apartheid situation in South Africa and that in Israel, reminding us that when the churches, through their ecumenical bodies, insisted that the U.S. and its allies delegitimize apartheid South Africa, South Africa’s system fell within nine years. The same thing could happen in Israel if churches will only realize that the great burden of guilt that they bear for centuries of persecution of Jews will not be absolved by supporting a tyranny in the Holy Land, but through changing radically their attitude toward Jews throughout the world and toward Judaism itself. Opposing injustice requires a kind of love and compassion for all peoples and a refusal to enable the continuation of tyranny by failing to speak out against it regardless of who perpetrates it. Far from being anti-Jewish, submits Braverman, opposing Israel’s policies is an act of love toward the Jewish people. Ending tyranny liberates the oppressors as well as the oppressed.

Presently Israel, as Braverman sees it, is imprisoned by its own apartheid mentality—a a military state locked in by walls of its own creation. That is not Judaism. The Torah provides a code for a compassionate society that takes care of widows, the homeless and the stranger. Historically, Jews throughout the world have been in the forefront of fights for human rights, except in Israel.

Braverman argues that it is not too late for Israel to become a multiethnic state, a multi-religious state, containing many rich cultures and theologies and observing traditional human rights which Jews have always supported. The separation wall could be torn down, dialogues could begin, and the empty places left where hundreds of villages were destroyed in the creation of Israel could be opened for resettlement by Palestinian refugees. Ultimately churches have to recognize that supporting Israel will not assuage the guilt of 1500 years of Christian anti-Jewish sentiment; the notion that opposing what Israel is doing in destroying human rights and colonizing the former Palestinian area is not anti-Semitism (though a rabbi, defending Israel at a national United Methodist conference, told conference delegates that the denomination’s debates on divestment felt like anti-Semitism). What is happening to Palestinians controlled by Israel represents neither Judaism, nor Christianity, and though the shift will be hard, perhaps pitting father against son, brother against brother, it must come.

Those of us in the U.S. are complicit in the oppression of Palestinians because of the huge amounts of aid given by our country to Israel. We will not have control over exactly how change occurs in that country, but what is fully within our control is our unquestioning support for Israel as it destroys itself.

[Editor’s Note: As this Nebraska Report issue was in production, we learned of the slaying of four Jewish religious leaders. NFP of course condemns these senseless murders.]

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