In God We Trust -draft

Wednesday, November 10, 2010




I’d like to thank the Interfaith Council for giving me the opportunity to share my interfaith experiences. I could not have had this opportunity without a Sabbatical from Berry and a generous grant from Rotary International.

I would also like to acknowledge the life and death of Professor Amber Prince, a good friend and colleague.

Harvey Hill in his Carden Award address several years ago raised an fascinating question. In higher education we teach critical thinking about science, mathematics, literature, history but what about religion? Do we teach you to think critically about what you believe?

All my life and I daresay the lives of most Jewish people the land and the nation of Israel were synonymous. It was simply the Promised land or the Holy Land. It was simply an unquestioned and unconscious truth. How do you question a truth you don’t know you have?

Why would such an educated group of people like the Jews a people who have earned more Nobel Prizes by percentage that any other people be part of an open and illegal theft? Stealing the land of another peoples? How could that be?

This is an article describing and analyzing my research beginning in 2005, culminating with four months of living and working in the Occupied Territories known as the West Bank, Palestine.

  Insert figures 1-7

 The paper will explain the occupation and theft of Palestinian lands as a  lethal cocktail of  Biblical, Zionist, Messianic and economic ingredients. While I am a reform Jew, prior to reading The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, then spending a month in the West Bank and Israel followed by four months in 2010 I was a dove who sprouted Hawk wings when it came to Israel. I was raised Conservative; my parents were both presidents of Beth Israel Synagogue in Camden, New Jersey; I served two terms as president of my synagogue, Rodeph Shalom in Rome, Georgia; and I am a Professor of Psychology at Berry College in Mt. Berry, Ga., USA.

“Next year in Jerusalem” has been said by my family and Jewish people  all over the world  at the end of the Passover Seder and the Yom Kippur High Holy Day service for more than 2,000 years. I now understand how that phrase adds to the current illegal egregious Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, Palestine. When I sing the Israeli National Anthem, Hatikvah, I understand how that song adds to the occupation.

התקוה בת שנות אלפים,

The hope of two thousand years,

להיות עם חפשי בארצנו,

To be a free people in our land,

ארץ ציון וירושלים.

The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

When I hear the phrase, “How do I know? The Bible tells me so.” Much of the Torah speaks to God’s imperative to claim the Promised Land. I understand.

When I sing the third verse of the Star Spangled Banner, “Then conquer we must for our cause it is just and this be our motto In (our) God is our Trust.”  I understand.

All of these verses and phrases explain how 10% of the population of Israel, the settlers population can dictate to the Government and Army the continued expansion of illegal  settlements in someone else’s country. We will talk about Lawrence Kohlberg’s model of moral reasoning later.

As a child, one truth and one tradition informed my understanding of “the holy land.” The tradition was vocalized in every Passover Seder: “Next year in Jerusalem.” The truth I grew up was that Israel was “a land without people for a people without a land,” a phrase coined by William Blackstone, a Christian Restorationist clergyman, in 1843.  My truth changed after five weeks in the West Bank and Israel in the summer of 2007. My new truth was” Israel was a thief –stealing land while systematically boxing in an indigenous people. My truth became more balanced after four months in the West Bank as I learned new information, e.g., Jordan allowed no universities whereas Israel allowed seven. I saw the 4,000 fired rockets and I stood in the bomb shelters in the Israeli city of Siderot.

                                    -insert figures 8-12

Israel has been attacked five times since 1948. Truths I heard: All Americans are from the United States. Zionists, Israelis and Jews are all the same. All Arabs are Muslims. Men are entitled to more rights than women. Going to prison is good. Openness is bad. Corruption is manly. All Terrorists are Arab.

We are all so busy. How do I get your attention when so many other legitimate needs demand your time and resources? Take the advice of Michael Corleone in Mario Puzo’s, The Godfather. “Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer.” If you are a Jew or a Christian,  there are 1.57 billion Muslims in the world.  If you are Muslim, Israel has one of the most powerful armed forces in the world with a high probability of possessing nuclear weapons.

-insert figure 13

 At the invitation of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, I was to work in the Teacher Education Program at Berzeit University.

The Gross National Income (GNI) of the United States was $44,710, compared to the World GNI of $7,448, with the West Bank (and Gaza) having a GNI of $1,230. Complicating existing poverty was a lack of resources taken for granted in the USA. Infuriatingly, in the West Bank, there are many egregious, dedeveloping forces insidiously and systematically at work: a 47 year military occupation blocking free movement in a multitude of ways within the country, interfaith religious tension, and a government based on tribal rather than democratic principles and, of course, piled on – a drought.

One of the primary lessons I learned (the hard way) was that the culture in which I grew up was not the culture in which I found myself living and working. You may ask, did I not know I would be in a different culture and did I not prepare for that immersion. The answer is yes and yes. However, there is often a sad and surprising gap between preparing for something and actually doing it.

Cultures are typically divided into two somewhat discrete categories: Collectivist and Individualist. While relatively large numbers of individuals vary from the norm, generally, people in individualist cultures, such as ours in the USA emphasize personal achievement at the expense of group goals. In the USA, our deeply ingrained individualism can be illustrated by our aversion to car pooling – forcing us to reward it by creating High Occupancy Vehicle lanes in large cities.

In a Collectivist culture each person is encouraged to conform to do what is best for the group. The family’s obligations for the common good are seen as more important than the rights of individuals – in my experience the rights of mothers to have some private life away from family obligations. In extreme conditions wanting to be independent or stand out is seen as shameful. Everyone must rely on others (nuclear family first) for support.

I was working in the Collectivist culture of the Israeli Occupied Territories, getting my chance to be a full-time Counseling-School psychologist again.  Mostly, given the populations I was serving, I used sociodrama and a form of behavior modification (BMod) known currently as Applied Behavior Analysis.


During my four months, worked or lived in Beit Sahour, a suburb of Bethlehem.

Insert figures 15 and 16

I also worked Jericho, Ramallah,  East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem,. In fact as a result of an emergency dental procedure in the compact space of just 90 minutes I traveled thousands of years in the flash of 90 minutes – from the modern city of West Jerusalem, through the narrow (15 foot wide), 30 foot high walled streets of the Old City to the west Bank of Palestine’s Beit Sahour which looked like the early 1900’s USA: There was a Bedouin woman grazing her goats and sheep outside my bedroom window.

Beit Sahour has a population of 12,367; is 80% Christian and 20% Muslim.

Daily life

Compared with the day-to-day life of the Palestinians in Beit Sahour, I had it pretty good. For one thing, I could easily leave whenever I wanted. This awareness, I think is one of the principles that kept me there, for my host family could not leave.  During the dark, wet and cold January and February, I had no heat. This meant sleeping in most of my clothes. Some nights (it seems like a lot more) there was a single mosquito in my bedroom. In the morning there would be welts on my forehead (the only skin not covered!). I missed my wife and family.

-insert figure 17

Fortunately, Friday and Saturday’s by and large found me enjoying my one hot weekly shower while staying at the YMCA in West Jerusalem.

-insert figures 18 and 19


During the six day work week, I happily lived above a restaurant in the Beit Sahour which meant phenomenal meals.

-Insert figures 20-22

My activities.

1.      Helped create life skills center for Moderately Intellectually Disabled (MOID) adults (Al Malatha)

2.      Worked with West (Israeli) Jerusalem YMCA nursery schools to help with socialization of a three year old

3.      Consulted at the Al Zachra Medical Center, an East (Arab) Jerusalem Pediatric clinic with Autistic children

4.      Helped write the curriculum, lectured and created Internship program for the first Master’s Degree in Special Education at Hebron and Ber Zeit Universities

5.      Worked with three families using behavior modification to increase language and self help skills

6.      Served as Psychologist setting up task analyses and doing group therapy (sociodrama) for the 30 clients at the Al Basma Vocational Training Centers


-insert figures 23 And 24


Law and Infrastructure. The Municipality of Beit Sahour made a Christian owned businessman place the walls of his establishment four meters from the road but allowed a Muslim builder to construct his only one meter from the road. Governance: According to Viktoria Wagner’s (2000) analysis of the Palestinian Judiciary while there is serious external threat to the Palestinian desire for autonomy and national sovereignty that equally there is much work to be done internally namely a functioning judiciary, and a security/police force which serves the rule of law. It seems family and tribe trump democracy, with no recourse through the courts. I was told “in so many words” by neighbors that “money and resources are misdirected from the needs of everyday Palestinians to individuals in power or their loyalists.”

I had no car, so mostly walked, had friends drive me or took taxies. Mostly, I kept my eyes shut while in the taxies. One-way and stop-signs are ignored. Speed limits are enforced only by staying just slightly below the axle-breaking speed of cement humps in the roads. The primary method of communication is “standing on the car horn.” My host stay father summed the traffic situation perfectly: “We should be living 200 years ago riding camels and donkeys.”           

I saw no post offices. My host stay family received no mail. There were no water tanks.

Yet, who’s the dinosaur? A comment was made to me by the Palestinian Arab principal of while standing on the school’s roof surrounded by multiple solar panels connected to their water tanks. “Here,” he said wryly, “everyone uses the sun. In Texas, they use oil.

Personal safety. At no time traveling, working or living in the West Bank did I ever feel unsafe. Here is an example. I spent several hours among thousands of people at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Nativity – in one place I saw, smelled and heard more different expressions of cultures: dress, music, and language than in my entire life. At no time did I feel fearful of the Arabs. Contrarily, at check points and walking behind heavily armed settler teens and geriatrics in the German Quarter of Jerusalem at night some trepidation was present.

Religion. I continually heard stories about the friction between the Muslim and Christian communities; being awakened at 5:00 AM every day by loud speakers on five minareted mosques chanting the Call to Prayer. This Call will loudly echo four more times during the day.

The tension between the Muslim and Christian communities is putting additional pressure on the Orthodox Christians. The military occupation’s stranglehold of commerce and education creates a tension and  loss of continuity between older generation’s steadfastness (samud) and the younger generation’s desire for identity and individuation (similar of the Hmong discussed in Mary Pipher’s (2002) The Middle of Everywhere. A Palestinian father told me if his two sons wanted to immigrate to a country like the USA where they might be paid ten times the salary they make in the West Bank, he would forbid them to leave!

Amazingly, last year, the Islamic leaders made a remarkable decision. Before they would sign off on a marriage document, the prenuptial couple was obliged to have a blood test. From a political perspective, this totalitarian religious power can make really good things happen quickly for the population. Consider the value if the religious leaders could be persuaded to also make obligatory, banning marriages between first cousins! Employing such preventative approach would eliminate so much suffering.

Education.  The Government school in which my neighbor’s eldest grandson attends 11th grade has little or no access to computers, in fact, his computer teacher uses the blackboard. Sections of the Koran are regularly studied even in Math classes. Even in some private schools the science labs meet only one time a month. The town of Beit Sahour has over 12,000 inhabitants and no library. I saw inadequately trained preschool staff as seen in the large recreation area with hard, 25 foot long roped, heavy plastic swings in middle of a play room.: a concussion waiting to happen as toddlers wove in and out of the swinging maze.


Special education. Unlike the United States, there is no public law requiring school systems to offer educational opportunities or rights for handicapped children to even attend school.

There are next to zero services for the disabled in the Bethlehem area. The Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation is professional with a well trained but highly overworked, staff. The only “public” opportunities I saw were for some speech and language, and few self-contained classes for intellectually disabled children within which autistic children were placed as well. The only systematic services focused on the Moderately Intellectually Disabled from 14 to 35. Before 14 and after 35 these folks go back to their families for full time care.

There were some excellent private programs but most were underfunded with poorly trained staff and an unrecognizable curriculum. Many looked good on paper (for external donors) but failed to deliver on their promises.

The top special education category is Moderate Intellectual Disabilities, next is Vision with 5% and Hearing also with 5%: these rates are amazing considering in the U.S. the incidence is about one-tenth of a percent! How can the difference for Vision and Hearing be 50 fold? The answer, intermarriage! Given the choice of marrying a first cousin or another male from outside the family; the cousin “gets the nod.” Why? Intermarriage keeps the money in the family and the family can trust the cousin! As dismal as this sounds, there is hope.

Attitude toward handicaps. 

During an eight or so hour field trip from Bethlehem to Jericho to a public amusement park filled with teenagers (mostly male) I neither saw nor heard one disparaging remark or gesture toward the 30 or so Al Basma adult Moderately Intellectually Disabled clients. Our clients’ handicaps included very obvious physical and verbal disabilities: walking and running awkwardly and haltingly, yelling, stuttering and taking much longer getting in and out of the crowded bumper cars.

A Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an OK diagnosis because something was done “to” you; but disabilities intrinsic to the individual such as physical handicaps or Moderate Intellectual Disabilities (MOID) are to be hidden because it is a black mark on the family’s honor, genetic strength and pedigree which could affect marriage ability. Similar problems exist in the world of Orthodox Jewry as seen in Naomi Regan’s Sotah.

Health. Typical medical treatment in the West Bank for any ailment is—pain killers; for a tooth ache: extraction. There are no appointments, it is first come first serve which means arriving at 6:00 in the morning. There is no healthcare.

Food. I remember the 12 different salads at the Tent Restaurant, Shabbat in Jerusalem at the Seligman’s and last but not least, my host stay mother’s dishes: quartered spiced chicken cooked in an airtight: (door is covered with wet clay) Zarb, spinach pastry, humus dripping with home- pressed olive oil, egg plant soup, stewed tomatoes and garlic, a whole cabbage soaked in brine for 10 days, and finally homemade Arak made from grains and anise seed. My upper lip then nose and lower lip were completely numb in the first 25 seconds!

Culture.  No va”

The collectivist culture in Palestine has many wonderful qualities, for instance: The old and very young live with their family; pita bread made on glowing embers; long conversations; gardens and home cooked meals; manual labor; wisdom of the elderly, breast feeding and board games with their families.

Arabs have the notion of Common land owned collectively or by one person, but over which other people have certain traditional rights, such as to allow their livestock to graze upon it, to collect firewood, or to cut turf for fuel. This notion tends to conflict with the Western idea of marking off and fencing in “my land.”

The issue can be seen just across the valley north of Beit Sahour in the Israeli settlement built in 1997 by clear cutting the top of  one of the last forested hill-tops called Har Homa (in Hebrew). The International Community sees the illegal settlement of Har Homa as a barrier between the southern West Bank and East Jerusalem surrounding the city with Jewish neighborhood.

-insert figures 25 and 26

As of 2008, there were approximately 4,000 families in Har Homa. This publically supported and militarily protected  upper middle class neighborhood has 12 kindergartens, 6 day care centers, 2 elementary schools, 3 medical clinics, and 3 shopping centers. While sitting in the “Biblical” Shepherd’s Field, the acoustics were so perfect I could hear the disconcerting and intrusive hammering and drilling as if they were a few feet away. When one adds to the many “calls to prayer” from the mosques the Christian- Arab-Palestinian ears must have been ringing.

The conflict between the two cultures centers on this difference of cultural traditions . It is true from a Western perspective that the land was unoccupied and undeveloped prior to the current construction; it is also true that both Jewish and Arab landholders (80%) were compensated for the land. Yet, this huge settlement is a microcosm of a large part of the Palestinian anger with Israel. My family host father was telling of his childhood. He said he would spend afternoons playing and hunting in the heavily forested hillside of Jabal Abu Ghneim. His collectivist concept of common ownership conflicts with the individualistic Western concept of specific owners. In the first photo you see Har Homa today, and in the second, the view and the memory of the father of my host family. The Western concept of polite conversation allows for one person to talk while the other remains silent. In the Arab world conversation includes interrupting and yelling. There is a selective (when in the West) concept of waiting in line either with respect to a group of people or a group of cars. I never saw a “line” of either cars or people.

.  In “their culture” going to jail is equivalent to attending an Israeli college with jail time a p[lace to learn Hebrew; and  a mark of manhood critical to joining the leadership of the culture. There is the Tacitus Roman idea that “he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”. As the Israeli, Meir Feinstein said “it is better to die with a weapon in hand than to live with hands raised.”

The Religious settler’s creation of the Military Occupation of the West Bank  

Zionism, a secular vision was kidnapped by Messianism of which it has little interest. Travel in or out of Palestinian is controlled by the Israeli military requiring passes which often take weeks (or denied). Travel within Palestine can be blocked for 15 minutes or all day. The unpredictability negatively affects education and commerce – leading a gradual, systematic, egregious dedevelopment of this country. The settlers believe themselves to have a mandate from God to liberate the Land of Israel (remember their national anthem?) allowing them to rise above International law (which by the way created the nation of Israel in the first place.


I spent a day on a field trip with my Al Basma Center from Bethlehem through Ubeidya and Eizariya to Jericho and back. We had to pass through two (going and coming) Israeli military check points (the Arabs call them “containers” manned by uniformed, heavily armed Israeli soldiers.  These check points are within the West Bank. They are not border check points; therefore, those living (or as they would say, “Imprisoned”) in the West Bank call it a military occupation. It took us two hours to travel 20 miles.

-insert figures 27 and 28

Here’s a photo I took of the “booming” Hebron Market. You may ask, “why the cyclone fencing above the street”. And, “what is in the bulge”? The answer is the fencing was put up by the Arab merchants. Why, to keep all the garbage being thrown on the market store fronts by the illegal religious Zionist “settlers” living above.


-insert figures 29-31


Daily, I walked past neglected and half empty olive orchards filled with debris. I saw empty palatial stone villas with the owner’s copper sulfate blue tarp-covered cars still in the driveway. The homes were owned by Christians who chose to abandon rather than sell their houses to Muslims. I worked with agencies whose primary source of income was focused on the unpredictable tourist trade. I saw huge swathes of the best land walled off by some of the Churches.

The Palestinian West Bank is slowly and systematically being taken over by what Jeff Halper calls, The Matrix of Control. This matrix includes house demolitions, Israeli only highways, check points and the wall which in 2006, was 436 miles. In 2008, construction had not yet begun on the remaining 33% of the barrier.

-insert figures 32-36

Who is the enemy? In this Middle Eastern womb tensions between the Abrahamic three faiths and the two nations struggle inside her. There are extremists on both sides constantly blaming the other side with broadsides and barrages of generalizations: all the Jews…all the Arabs. There is a silent majority trying to live their day-to-day lives and a one-sixth doing what they can do to make their society stronger. It is the one-sixth fanatics of both populations which are keeping the peace process from moving forward toward justice for both nations. I believe there are totalitarian Arab regimes in the greater Middle East and the American Israeli lobby here in the USA who are keeping the Israeli-Palestinian pot boiling for their own benefits and fears. Both Israel and Palestine are victims of the repeated tactic of fueling animosity among indigenous peoples by purposely favoring one over the other to provoke fear or envy weakening them both as was seen in India by Britain-Muslim and Hindu; and with the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda by Belgium.


Israel. In many ways Israel has been a good neighbor: opening her medical centers and allowing the development of universities to name a few. Further, I am not saying Israel has no reason to be wary. Quoting Lew (2003, p 49) “Israel was attacked first, in 1948, 1967, 1973 and in each of the recent Intifadas. They want acknowledgement that they only took the lands from which they were attacked during these conflicts, and offered to return them on one and only one condition-the acknowledgement of their right to exist. And they want acknowledgement that there are many in the Palestinian camp who truly wish to destroy them, who have used the language of peace as a ploy to buy time until they have the capacity to liquidate Israel and the Jews once and for all. They want acknowledgement that they have suffered immensely from terrorism, that a people who lost six million innocents scarcely 70 years ago should not have had to endure the murder of its innocent men, women and children so soon again. And they want acknowledgement that in spite of all this, they stood at Camp David prepared to offer the Palestinians everything they claimed to have wanted – full statehood, a capital in East Jerusalem – and the response of the Palestinians was the second Intifada, a murderous campaign of terror and suicide bombings.”

Palestine. Neither Fatah nor Hamas always have the People’s best interests at heart. The Palestinians would like the world to acknowledge that they lived in the land now called Israel for centuries that they planted olive trees, shepherded flocks, and raised families there for hundreds of years. They would like the world to acknowledge that when they look up from their villages, their trees and their flowers, their fields and their flocks, they see the horrific, uninvited monolith of western culture-immense apartment complexes, like Har Homa, shopping centers and industrial plants on the once-bare and rocky hills where the voice of God could be heard and where Muhammad ascended to heaven. And they would like the world to acknowledge that it was essentially a European problem that was plopped into their laps at the end of the last Great War, not of their own making. And they would like the world to acknowledge that there has always been a kind of arrogance attached to this problem, that it was as if the United States and England told them: Here are the Jews, get used to them. And they would like the world to acknowledge that it has been a great indignity, not to mention a significant hardship, to have been an occupied people for so long, to have to submit to strip searches on the way to work, and intimidation on the way to the grocery store, and the constant humiliation of being subject – a humiliation rendered nearly bottomless when Israel, with the benefit of the considerable intellectual and economic resources of world Jewry, made the desert bloom, in a way that had never been able to do. And they would like the world to acknowledge that there are those in Israel who are determined never to grant them independence, who have used language of peace as a ploy to fill the West Bank with settlement after settlement until the facts on the ground are such that an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank is an impossibility. They would like the world to acknowledge that there is no such thing as a gentle occupation -that occupation corrodes the humanity of the occupier and makes the occupied vulnerable to brutality.”

Rabbi Alan Lew, 2003 in This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared.

-Insert figures 37-39


If you would like to see the accompanying figures please let me know through the comments section

Published in: on November 12, 2010 at 5:38 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Steve, you do it again. It’s not “a land without people for a people without a land,”. It’s “a land without A People for a people without a land,”. People being a nation not inhabitants. This is why the letter “A” is before the word “people”. (link to a research paper below)

    In the 1800’s the region was under Ottoman rule and the was no “Nation” living on the land. The population there was made up of tribes, clans, and nomads. The Jews were and are a nation (common history/heritage, common religion, common language being Hebrew, common connection to the Land of Israel) for over 3000 years. For sure in the 1800’s there was no Palestinian Nation.

  2. Steve, you do it again. It’s not “a land without people for a people without a land,”. It’s “a land without A People for a people without a land,”. People being a nation not inhabitants. This is why the letter “A” is before the word “people”. (link to a research paper below)

    In the 1800’s the region was under Ottoman rule and the was no “Nation” living on the land. The population there was made up of tribes, clans, and nomads. The Jews were and are a nation (common history/heritage, common religion, common language being Hebrew, common connection to the Land of Israel) for over 3000 years. For sure in the 1800’s there was no Palestinian Nation.

  3. Steve, shame on you for thinking or writing the following:

    Why would such an educated group of people like the Jews a people who have earned more Nobel Prizes by percentage that any other people be part of an open and illegal theft? Stealing the land of another peoples? How could that be?

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