In Israel, a Nation of Laws Is Tested

ThemisViolence continues to escalate in Israel, with the knife as a weapon of choice, and fear is spreading as attacks come from seemingly out of nowhere.

The natural and proper inclination is for law enforcement to become even more vigilant in order to prevent attacks rather than only respond. But the police however must be judicious in how they protect the citizens of Israel.

Israel is a nation of laws. She prides herself on having a legal system similar to the American ideal founded on the principle of equal protection under the law. Now this system is being severely tested and Israel’s heart and soul are at risk.

If Israel permits the profiling of people and the preemptive assault on individuals outside the prescribed due process of the legal system, then it loses and the terrorists win. Israel cannot be democratic if it limits the application of law to select privileged classes, such as Jews, while others, such as Arabs, fall outside that sphere. A crackdown on terrorism cannot come at the price of the fundamental principles of Israel.

The violence and barbaric nature of these attacks on civilians (police included) are certainly not random acts. Is this a mass response to “occupation” or are these individual actors perpetrating crimes as copycats? It certainly seems to not be the latter. Even if not expressly ordered by a central control, the attacks are coordinated.

The first order is to restore calm. The second order is to cool the boiling over of the cauldron. Repression of an entire group, such as the Arabs of East Jerusalem, and sealing off of that portion of the city, will provide a temporary subduing of these attacks. A closer and deeper look at the grievances that encourage this violence as a legitimate response is required. Then deliberate steps must be taken to create a society that is fair and just.

Both the Israeli government and its citizenry must balance the need for security and safety against the fair application of law to all.  It is very tempting to let fear drive the reaction to violence. The harsh and repressive measures of which politicians speak, that deprive people of protections under the law, and penalizing suspects and whole segments of society, will not solve the problems but foment them instead.

Israel is at its best when it strives to attain the ideals upon which the state was founded as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and basic laws. Israel must hold on to these guiding principles more tightly than ever before.

I do not condone or legitimize the violence. Those that have perpetrated these attacks should be duly punished for breaking the laws of the State and of civilized society. Now it is up to the State and civilized society to solve the problems that have contributed to fomenting such deep discontent with a system of justice that speaks to everyone.

CeaseFirePA To Hold Day Of Action Against Gun Violence

— by Rabbi David Straus and Adam Kessler

The horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary was a tragedy that has been a jarring reminder of the disturbing prevalence of gun violence in our country and culture. Our outrage has stirred us from our complacency and we will not wait for the next atrocity to finally act.

As the nation mourns, we must also look forward and dedicate ourselves to preventing a future massacre. Yet, despite the media attention given to such mass shootings, we must remember that nearly 1200 Pennsylvanians lose their lives, and thousands are injured due to gun violence every year. Nationally, over 31,000 people die from gun violence each year. If the civil rights movement was the moral issue of the ’60s for our community, eradication of gun violence in our society ought to be the moral issue of our time.

More details after the jump.
We ask that you join us and CeaseFirePA at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg on Wednesday, January 23, 12:00 PM for a Day of Action as we take a stand against gun violence. This is the first joint session in Harrisburg since the shooting in Connecticut.

There will be a noon rally and press conference in the East Wing of the Capitol. After the rally and press conference we will visit the offices of our State Representatives and Senators to make our presence felt and our opinions heard.

If you have special ties with either your State Senator or Representative, please contact Robin Schatz, our Director of Government Relations, so that we can let them know that you will be coming by their office on Wednesday afternoon.

CeaseFirePA advocates for sensible laws like more effective background checks for those legally purchasing guns, mandatory reports of lost or stolen legal firearms, national sharing of relevant data, closing loopholes that enable evasion of our laws, and working to remove assault weapons from being sold in Pennsylvania.

Please RSVP to Salena Camara by Wednesday, January 16 with your name, address and phone number, and please indicate if you would like to travel by bus or would prefer to go on your own. Based upon your response we would like to order a bus and travel together for a very minimal fee.  

What Would YOU Do? Violence in Philadelphia

Cross-posted from Democratic Convention Watch

A friend recently signed me up for a subscription to Philadelphia Magazine (thanks Doug!) I opened the issue and on the first page was a letter from the Chairman (who knew magazines had chairs?) about an incident on a Philadelphia trolley. The basic story is that there were about 20 people riding a trolley, and a mother started hitting her 2 and 4 year old children. All but one person said nothing. One person said “If you hit that child one more time, I will call the police and follow you home and make sure they arrest you.”

I put the magazine and asked myself what I would do in that situation. Take a moment and ask yourself what you would do….

Back to the Chair's letter, which went on to talk about the aftereffects of violence on young children. About how we, as a society, tend to look the other way. 

Magazine went down again…how many things do we see every day and do nothing about? The SOPA and Komen uprisings of the past few weeks took very little for people to do: Facebook and Twitter posts, a few phone calls, some checks. One-time deals, for a lot of us, and in a lot of ways an abstraction. There was no immediate threat to our internet access, no woman with a breast lump asking us what to do since Planned Parenthood was her sole option for a mammogram. How many of us stand up and really rail at what the right is doing on their march to take America back to the 1850's? How many would say something when a parent is beating a child?

There are a few other things in the story. The original post from the person who stood up is here. Turns out that the mother, and all the other riders, were black and the author was white. You can use the links in the post to see that a lot of people thought the author did the wrong thing: that he is a racist, and that had the parent hitting the child was white, the situation would have been different.

EEWWW….Is this really a racist thing? I read the comments and wondered if people thought it was somehow okay to hit black children but not white children. I read about the “kindness cure” and wondered…had the author picked up the girl, how many people would have accused him of kidnapping, or pedophilia, or something in that vein?

The whole societal, and political, issue to me has to do with standing up. If you're a long time reader, you know that I believe it is incumbent on decent people to stand up. Both in individual direct situations, and in the overall political realm. The sole time I was in a situation where there was a child in immediate danger I saw a father punch his boy in the face and send him into the canned goods on the supermarket shelf. Without thinking, I attached the boy to my leg (he came up to my knee), covered him with my coat, and told the father (who was twice my size) that he would have to hit me before he hit the boy again. The mother, who was pushing the cart with another child in the seat, started screaming that I was trying to kidnap her son. Things got loud, people came, police came, and then they watched the films from the security cameras. They were white people, but I live in an integrated neighborhood, and we all shop in the same supermarkets. I would have done the same thing had that child been black, or purple, or anything – to me, he was just a little boy with a fist impression on his face. 

But I fear there is truth in the idea that as a society, most of us are holed up in our houses, interacting through social media, and less involved in “the neighborhood” than we were a generation ago. I heard a pundit refer to Americans as “the silenced majority” as opposed to the silent majority – the idea being that even if we do things, media has so much power that our actions are kept silent from our fellow Americans. I don't know whether we are silent or silenced, but I'm leaning toward “both of the above” and we need to start thinking about changing that. But maybe you feel differently….

Faith Communities Organize Against Gun Violence


John O. Mason

Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence

On Sunday, February 13, 2011, the Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence, a group of religious communities organized to bring down handgun deaths, held its first meeting at First Presbyterian Church in Germantown. The group is based in the Northwest Philadelphia — including Germantown, Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill, Roxborough, Nicetown — and is affiliated with Heeding God’s Call, a religiously-based advocacy group against gun violence.

Congregations involved with NPGV include:

  • Mishkan Shalom Synagogue,
  • First Presbyterian Church in Germantown,
  • Chestnut Hill United Church,
  • Germantown Mennonite Church,
  • Mt. Airy Presbyterian Church, and
  • the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

The Reverend Linda Noonan, pastor of Chestnut Hill United Church, is one of the Co-Coordinators for NPGV. “The Northwest part of the city,” she says, “has the highest incident of gun-related violent deaths of the whole city… So it affects us very significantly in this corner of the city.” NPGV is a faith based organization, says Noonan, “that consists of churches, synagogues, faith-based organizations, and partnerships.”

Of the organization of NPGV, Noonan says, “Folk in the faith communities in the Northwest have been aware that we have the highest incident of gun related deaths in the city, and so we felt moved, as clergy and lay people and people of faith, to take action. Many of us are already connected with Heeding God’s Call, which is a broader citywide and national organization, and we wanted to focus specifically in the northwest corner and mobilize our congregations in this part of the city to take action with a specific gun shop in Philadelphia.”

More after the jump.
The illegal sale of guns, adds Noonan, “knows no neighborhood boundaries. Guns sold in one neighborhood are easily moved across the city and across state lines as well. While there are no gun shops in Northwest Philadelphia, we still have the highest incident of gun-related deaths.

“Our position,” Noonan goes on, “isn’t gun control, it’s reducing and eliminating the gun-related deaths in the city…Our mission is to pressure gun-shop owners to voluntarily sign on to the code of conduct which implements ten measures that would significantly reduce the likelihood that the guns they sell will not be resold illegally (a “straw purchase”) and used in violent crimes.”

The Code of Conduct for gun retailers, which NPGV and Heeding God’s Call advocates, includes videotaping the sale of guns at the point of transaction; a computerized crime gun trace system; a declaration by purchasers that they meet the legal requirements for purchasing a firearm; accepting only state and federally issued identification cards; signs alerting customers of the legal responsibilities; employee background checks for selling and handling firearms; employee responsibility training; daily and quarterly audits of inventory; no sales without background check results; and firearms in secure and locked cabinets.  

Bryan Miller, Director of Public Advocacy of Heeding God’s Call, says that HGC and NPGV are “explicitly non-legislative” (they do not participate in contacting state or federal legislators on firearms bills). “Although we will contact on specific legislation is moving, we’ll ask our members to make phone calls, but we don’t lobby in Harrisburg or Washington, we’re sort of behind the scenes if you will, but we do view our work as having an important long-term legislative effect. In order to pass legislation, you need to build grassroots support for it. That an important part of what we do.”

As for working with police, Miller says, “We contact the police before we do any public actions, like the ones we did at Colosimo’s (the gun store on Eighth and Spring Garden streets, since shut down), and soon at a couple of gun shops in Philadelphia. Although we obviously support law enforcement very strongly, we don’t work too closely together. Law enforcement’s goal is to deal with demand for illegal guns and the crimes that result. What’s we’re seeking to do is restrict the supply, it’s a whole different way of looking at it and a different set of activities… We focus on diminishing the likelihood of gun going from the gun shop to the street, and if there are fewer guns on the street, there are fewer people that are going to be able to use them.”

Bob Swenson worked as an internist and infectious disease doctor at Temple University Hospital for forty years. “That is the busiest emergency room in Philadelphia,” he says, “I think it’s the biggest in the United States. The level of gun violence was incredible, we were in the emergency room every day, trying to save somebody, many of which we couldn’t. The thing that got to me was seeing the people who survived — lives were altered forever. Fifteen-year-old kids who are now paraplegic or quadriplegic, I would see them over the years because of their infection, and they would die at twenty-seven. For me, the level of people maimed, it’s like a hundred and fifty thousand people a year in Philadelphia are shot and (they) survived. Many of those people are left with deficits that make their life difficult, and they eventually die at an early age because of complications.”

Swenson heard of the organizing of NPGV several months ago when he decided “that I wanted to be involved, to try to do something, because…(in foreign countries), it’s like a hundred people are shot in Japan a year, and maybe three hundred in Great Britain. It’s something that’s at least in theory preventable.”