State Department’s Double Standard on Killing Civilians

Kill Team Afghanistan

Afghan farmer killed by U.S. soldiers, 2010.

The U.S. condemned Israeli missile strikes that killed civilians, saying that “this heavy-handed action does not contribute to peace.” Yet the White House rejected comparisons to U.S. attacks in Afghanistan that killed hundreds of civilians.

These statements were made by the Bush administration in 2002. And now in 2015, the U.S. once again killed civilians in Afghanistan and once again refuses to apply the same standard to Israel that it applies to itself.

So should we harshly condemn both countries for committing what in hindsight were grievous errors, or should we shrug our shoulders in both cases and say “stuff happens”?

We have to ask ourselves why two administrations as dissimilar as the Bush and Obama administrations behave similarly in these situations. Maybe both administrations were especially sensitive to the misuse of American-supplied weapons by an ally that the U.S. consistently defends in international forums, especially when it creates difficulties with our other allies. That might be the real reason, but it is still troubling, even though neither administration took any concrete action against Israel and remained supportive of Israel. We should rather be harder on ourselves and more understanding of Israel. American parents do not have to worry about rockets fired from Afghanistan hitting their kids in playgrounds. Israeli parents worry every day about rockets fired from Gaza.

(We might also ask ourselves why the Bush and Obama administrations, sometimes using identical language, consistently urge both side to refrain from violence when it is so clear to us that the Palestinians are more to blame, but that is a subject for another article.)

The Israelite Connections of the Taliban

— by Dr Shalva Weil

It is difficult to believe that over a decade has passed since the 9/11 attacks, in which nearly 3,000 innocent people died in four coordinated suicide attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda. The United States reacted by invading Afghanistan and declaring war against the Taliban, an extremist Islamic terrorist movement, which had harbored al-Qaeda.

One of the more extraordinary aspects of the attacks is the connection with Israel. In 2004, al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden blamed the United States’ support of Israel as one of the causes for the movement’s terrorism. However, the fact that the majority of the Taliban, who make up the backbone of al-Qaeda, themselves claim Israelite origin, is relatively unknown.

More after the jump.
The Taliban operate in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. They are fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, who wish to impose their brand of Islam and their interpretation of Sharia law on others. They despise western democracy and secularism, are notorious for their treatment of women and ferociously oppose the US and Israel.

The Taliban are largely made up of members of the Pashtun or Pathan tribes, who constitute the largest single tribal grouping in the world, numbering over 15 million. They are divided into distinct local tribes reminiscent of the names of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. According to the Bible, the Ten Lost Tribes were taken captive by the Assyrians in the eighth century BCE, while the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah remained in Israel. The Ten Tribes were exiled to “Halah, Habor, the cities of Medes and the River Gozan”, in the very geographical and cultural area in which the Pashtuns live. The fate of the Lost Israelites has always been something of an enigma, and discussed throughout the ages in the Talmud and other Jewish texts, but Jews and Christians alike have generally believed that at the “end of days”, they would eventually be reunited with the descendants of the tribe of Judah.

The second president of Israel, Itzchak Ben-Zvi, in his book, The Exiled and the Redeemed, devoted a whole chapter to the purported Israelite origins of the Pashtuns. He explained that the Pashtun tribe Rabbani could be the lost Israelite tribe of Reuben; Shinwari could be Shimon; Daftani could be a corruption of Naftali; Jajani – Gad, Afridi – Ephraim, and so on. He quoted local Jews from Afghanistan who had reported to him in the early 1950s that these fierce tribesmen wore an embroidered Hanukka lamp on their backs. He had heard that they wrapped themselves in a tallith, and lit candles on Friday night. They also wore, and to this day, insist on keeping their pe’ot (sidecurls). Abraham Benjamin, a Jew from Herat in Afghanistan, reported that “According to the tradition current among the Afridis, they are descendants of the Israelites, more particularly, the sons of Ephraim.”

In a recent email from a member of the Pashtun tribes, the enquirer (anonymous for obvious reasons) wrote: “I have always been curious about my ancestry… I was told very early on in my life that we are like the Jews and that our customs and rituals are the same… I would be amazed to find out whether there is a gene link in my ancestry to Israel”.

The Pashtun, even if they are virulently anti-Zionist, accede that they are the “sons of Israel”. When I interviewed members of the Yusuf-Zai (sons of Joseph) tribe years ago in the orchards of Kashmir, they related their origins with pride. Even today, many Pashtun agree that they are Israelites, even if they generally disassociate themselves with the modern state of Israel.

Some write that the Pashtun “look” Jewish

According to Pashtun tradition, King Saul bore a son by the name of Jeremy, whose birth is not recorded in Jewish texts. Jeremy fathered a royal prince called Afghana, whose descendants fled to Jat in Afghanistan. In 662 CE the descendants of Afghana were converted to Islam at the explicit request of Mohammed. The mission was accomplished by his emissary Khalid ibn al-Walid, who returned to his master with “proof” of his activities — 76 converts and seven leaders of the “Children of Israel”, including a descendant of Afghana named Kish. Kish subsequently changed his name to Ibn Rashid, and he was entrusted by Mohammed with the task of spreading the Islamic word. Many of today’s Taliban terrorists claim descent from Ibn Rashid.

Many Afghan and western scholars alike have made detailed investigations into the subject from historical, anthropological and philological points of view, and provided “proofs” of the Israelite origins of the Pashtun. Some write that they “look” Jewish. They have sallow skins and dark hair and eyes, are of medium stature, wear beards and sidecurls and have a typically “Jewish” profile. Others claim that they also observe Israelite/Jewish practices. They perform circumcision on their boys near the eighth day; the women observe purification laws prescribed in the Torah; and they wear amulets, which some people claim contain the words of the Shema — “Hear O Israel, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”

For some, the Pashtuns’ ancient code of hospitality, known as Pukhtunwali, by which generosity (khegara) and protection of guests are paramount, is sufficient proof that they are affiliated with Israelites and hence Jews. This code lays down the guiding principles behind the Pashtuns’ refusal to give up bin Laden, who sought sanctuary in Pakistan, until he was eventually shot down by U.S. gunmen in May 2011. Similarly, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, killed by U.S. forces on 22 August 2011, had sought refuge and was operating out of traditional Pashtun territory in north Waziristan in Pakistan.

Like the ancient Israelites, revenge (badal) is one of the driving forces of Pashtun society. If attacked, or pride wounded, the Pashtun, who make up the rank and file of the Taliban, will partake in a jihad (holy war) against the invaders. They succeeded with the British in the 19 th century. They repulsed the Communists; and they are still resisting the American coalition.

The older generation of Pashtun did not hide the fact of their Israelite descent, but recently some (though certainly not all) of the younger generation have suppressed this fact, which could render them highly unpopular in the present political constellation.

Dr Shalva Weil is a Hebrew University anthropologist and a specialist on the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

This article was reprinted with permission from ISN.

The Outpost: Jake Tapper on Colbert and at TBHBE

Jake Tapper. Photo by Richard Chaitt.

CNN anchor and chief White House correspondent Jake Tapper talked about his new book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor at Temple Beth Hillel Beth El. At 5:58 AM on October 3rd, 2009, Compound Outpost Keating, located in frighteningly vulnerable terrain in Afghanistan just 14 miles from the Pakistani border, was viciously attacked. Though the 53 Americans there prevailed against nearly 400 Taliban fighters, their casualties made it the deadliest fight of the war for the U.S. that year. Four months after the battle, a Pentagon review revealed that there was no reason for the troops at Keating to have been there in the first place.

In The Outpost, Jake Tapper gives us the powerful saga of COP Keating, from its establishment to eventual destruction, introducing us to an unforgettable cast of soldiers and their families, and to a place and war that has remained profoundly distant to most Americans. A runaway bestseller, it makes a savage war real, and American courage manifest.

Tapper exposed the origins of this tragic and confounding story. He explored the history of the camp and detailed the stories of the heroic and doomed soldiers. After his presentation he took questions from the audience and signed copies of his book. He was introduced by his father Temple Beth Hillel Beth El member and founding member of Philadelphia Jewish Voice Dr. Ted Tapper.

It was announced December 20, 2012 that Jake Tapper will join CNN and anchor a new weekday program and serve as the network’s chief Washington correspondent

Video of Jake Tapper on the Colbert Report follows the jump.

Our Forgotten Warriors

On MSNBC, Iraq war veteran and former Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA 7) discussed Mitt Romney’s decision not to mention Afghanistan in his speech at the Republican National Convention and the passing reference he made to the war in his speech at the American Legion. President Obama ended the war in Iraq and will end the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Romney called the end of the Iraq War “tragic” and has failed to lay out a plan to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home.

Friday, Murphy rebuked Pat Toomey and 39 of Mitt Romney’s other allies in the Senate Republican caucus for killing the Veterans Jobs Corps Act that would create jobs for veterans and put in place programs to help our brave men and women reenter the work force when they come home:

These Senate Republicans should be ashamed of themselves. They are a disgrace. To put their political priorities ahead of veterans who risked their lives to protect our country is the lowest form of cowardice. I understand that their number one priority is not jobs or veterans or seniors. I know their number one priority is to deny the President a second term. But I never thought they would take it this far. We’re talking about helping to put tens of thousands of our nation’s heroes to work, and Republicans can’t set aside the political games for 5 minutes to support our troops when they come home from war? Helping our warriors settle back into civilian life is the least we can do. We’re talking about job training programs and priority hiring for first responder jobs, police officers, firefighters or rescue workers – but Republicans would rather kick up their heels and do nothing. It’s pathetic.

It’s particularly disappointing to hear Senator Toomey joined in the political gamesmanship immediately after holding public events with Pennsylvania veterans. Our veterans don’t need more lip service from opportunistic politicians, they need action.

Speaking of opportunistic politicians, where was the Republican Party’s alleged leader Mitt Romney during all this? Not a word.  After neglecting to mention veterans or our troops fighting in Afghanistan during his convention speech, it’s no surprise Romney took the easy way out and stood silent as his Republican colleagues killed an important jobs program for our nation’s heroes.  Apparently, veterans are an even lower priority for Romney than previously thought.

Video transcript follows the jump.

ANCHOR: Former Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy is a Democrat, also the first Iraq war veteran to serve in Congress. Patrick, good morning to you. Let’s note here first of all what Mitt Romney did say at the American Legion. This was a speech he gave on August 26th. Let’s put it up on the screen here. He said in part, “of course, we are still at war in Afghanistan. We still have uniformed men and women in conflict risking their lives just as you once did. How deeply we appreciate their service. We salute them, we honor them, we respect and love them.” Now, that’s a 16-second quote out of about a 16-minute speech, but again no specifics about policy there. Why do you think that there’s been such a fear or reluctance to get specific?

MURPHY:  Because then he has to take a stand, Craig, and he refuses to do that. I mean, it’s like what John Kerry said in his speech the other night: You know, Mitt Romney has to debate himself before he actually debates Barack Obama in a couple weeks. I mean, Craig, the quote that you played where Mitt Romney said, “I talked in my speech about the things that I thought were important.” We know that there’s 68,000 sons and daughter of American families that are fighting for us in Afghanistan. That’s not important to Mitt Romney? I mean, he wants to be Commander-in-Chief. And not just a Commander-in-Chief as President, but a wartime Commander-in-Chief – what Barack Obama has been and a true friend to our veterans. I mean the contrast couldn’t be more clear.

Three Moments of Horror: Kaddish, Kaddish, Kaddish

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

  • For Trayvon Martin, murdered February 26 in Sanford, Florida;
  • For Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons, Gabriel and Arieh, and Miriam Monsonego, murdered March 19 at Ozar Hatorah in Toulouse, France;
    Master Sergeant Imad Ibn-Ziaten, murdered March 11 in Toulouse, France; and
    Corporal Abel Chennouf and Private Mohamed Legouad, murdered March  15 in Montauban, France; and
  • For the families murdered in March 11 in Balandi and Alkozai, Afghanistan:
    • Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah,
    • Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma,
    • Nazar Mohamed,
    • Payendo,
    • Robeena,
    • Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed,
    • Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid,
    • Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed,
    • Masooma, Farida, Palwasha, Nabia, Esmatullah daughters of Mohamed Wazir,
    • Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir,
    • Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain, and
    • Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali

— we grieve and we try to learn how to prevent such killings in the future.

After the jump, an English version of the Mourners’ Kaddish in Time of War and Violence; then, my thoughts on the causes and the meanings of these deaths.  I urge that in synagogues, churches, and mosques, memorial prayers be said this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for all those killed in these three moments of horror.
Mourner’s Kaddish in Time for War & Violence

Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash shmei rabbah: May Your Great Name, through our own expanding awareness and our fuller action, lift You and us to become still higher and more holy.

For Your Great Name weaves together all the names of all the beings in the universe, among them our own names, and among them those who have touched our lives deeply though we can no longer touch them —(Cong: Amein)

Throughout the world that You have offered us, a world of majestic peaceful order that gives life through time and through eternity — And let’s say, Amein

So may the Great Name be blessed, through every Mystery and Mastery of every universe.

May Your Name be blessed and celebrated, Its beauty honored and raised high, may It be lifted and carried, may Its radiance be praised in all Its Holiness —  Blessed be!

Even though we cannot give You enough blessing, enough song, enough praise, enough consolation to match what we wish to lay before you —

And though we know that today there is no way to console You when among us some who bear Your Image in our being are killing others who bear Your Image in our being —

Still we beseech that from the unity of Your Great Name flow a great and joyful harmony and life for all of us.   (Cong: Amein)

You who make harmony in the ultimate reaches of the universe, teach us to make harmony within ourselves, among ourselves —  and shalom, salaam, solh, peace for all the children of Abraham — those from the family of Abraham & Sarah through Isaac and those from the family of Abraham & Hagar through Ishmael — and for all who dwell upon this planet. (Cong: Amein)

Killing Jews, Killing Muslims, Killing Blacks

Three recent incidents:

  • A Frenchman kills a Jewish family and several French soldiers (some of them Muslims) who had served the French government’s interests by using violence against Muslim societies.
  • An American soldier kills several Muslim families in  Afghanistan, the second Muslim country in which he has been ordered into four tours of violence.
  • An armed Euro-American kills an unarmed African-American for looking suspicious inside a gated community in Florida.

Three utterly different news items? Merely, as a Secretary of Defense once euphemistically said, “Stuff happens”? Just dots, no connections?

I don’t think so. For one thing, I think all three killers were operating within a framework of what seemed like legitimate violence. Even though there was widespread condemnation of their acts, afterwards. Afterwards.


The Florida killer was operating under a basic American cultural “rule” (once felt by almost all white Americans, then by a majority, and still by a large proportion of them): The lives of black folk are far less valuable than the lives of white folk.

The Florida killer said he felt fearful. And Fear in a white person is far more urgent to end than Life in a black person is important to save.

Why did he feel afraid? Because the domination of other human beings, the willingness to enslave one class of them, lynch them, segregate them, impoverish them, imprison them, can only be undergirded by coming to believe that this class of them are dangerous. The oppression — which benefits the oppressor – precedes and gives rise to the Fear.

You can overcome fear by connecting, communing, with the people you fear. (But then how can you keep the benefits you get by oppressing them?) Or you can overcome fear by being willing to suffer and die for a principle. Or you can overcome fear by being willing to kill.  

In France, a marginalized  Frenchman put meaning in his life by enlisting in a one-man army. An army to avenge all the killings of Muslims by the French and Israeli armies. Anyone wearing a French uniform, and anyone wearing not only an Israeli uniform but the “uniform” of Orthodox Judaism, was dangerous. Even their tiny children.

He might have overcome his fear of these “dangerous” people by connecting, communing with them, trying to affirm his own humanity so that they would be more likely to affirm his. Or he might have overcome his fear by risking suffering and even death,  directly and nonviolently challenging the governments he saw as dangerous and frightening.  Or he could overcome his fear by killing.

And the third killer, an American soldier. He had been taught, not only in the brain but with every muscle and blood vessel in his body, that his job, and more than that his moral task, his sworn duty, is to kill Iraqis and Afghans. And certainly he fears them. They have damaged his brain, distorted his life.

He could have transcended his fear by trying to connect, to commune, with the Afghans he feared, whom he had been ordered to kill. If his officers had prevented his doing that, he could have transcended his fear by putting his freedom, maybe even his life, on the line by nonviolently challenging them. Saying the fourth tour of duty was too much. Laying down his machine-gun. Demanding to be discharged, to be able to make love with his wife and parent his children.  

Or he could transcend his fear by killing.

No wonder the Army that had taught him to kill brought him home after he killed, lest he be tried by the Afghans whose community he had shattered. After all, that same Army has time after time killed civilians, murdered wedding parties, broken the brains and bones of children — claiming all the while these dead were merely “collateral damage.” That same Army has taught such fear and hatred of Islam that its soldiers could piss on the bodies of dead human beings because they were Muslim, they could casually burn the book that to Muslims is the very Word of God.

So one soldier went beyond the Army’s expectations. If they were honest, they might give him a medal. Not the Medal of Honor, not the Medal of Courage, but the Medal of Fear Transcended.

In every one of our traditions, religious and secular, there are streaks of blood. In the Torah, proclaiming genocide against the Midianites.  In the Gospels, pouring contempt upon the Jews. In the Quran, calling not only for the inner jihad, the struggle against arrogance and idolatry, but on occasion for jihads of blood against some communities. In the Declaration of Independence, with its denunciation of “the merciless lndian savages'” who were the indigenous peoples of this land.

Let us not turn our rage, our fear, and then our violence against those “others” who have such bloody streaks amidst their wisdom, while pretending there are no such streaks amidst our own.

Let us instead remember that these streaks are only streaks in the many fabrics woven of connection and community, woven of a “decent respect to the opinions of Humankind.”   A fabric woven by all human cultures and by all the life-forms of our planet. A fabric of fringes, where every thing we call our “own” as if we own it came into being only through the Interbreathing of all life.

Shalom, salaam, solh &nmdash; Peace!  Healing! Wholeness!

The Traveling Rabbi

Photo by Sgt. Christine Samples
U.S. Army Chaplain Lt. Col. Avi Weiss wears a prayer shawl during Shabbat, a service held at the beginning of Sabbath, in the camp’s chapel Feb. 24, Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. He made his first visit to Leatherneck since his December arrival in theater.

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – There’s just not enough rabbis to go around. That’s why the only U.S. military rabbi currently serving in Afghanistan travels regularly from his base at Kandahar Airfield to other military camps here and uses the Internet to reach his congregation. It’s not a conventional role for a rabbi, but it helps him reach more people.

Army chaplain, Lt. Col. Avi Weiss of Chicago, a father of three and grandfather of 11, recently made his first visit to Camp Leatherneck since his December arrival in theater.

He looks younger than his 61 years and has a friendly, approachable manner. His attire consists of the Army uniform and a black yarmulke that miraculously stays on his shaved head with the help of some bobby pins. His eyes rest on each person individually when he’s talking in a group, like an unspoken invitation for each one’s thoughts.

Anyone who wants to jump in the conversation, however, needs to act quickly. Keeping up with Weiss’ train of thought isn’t easy. He jumps from one topic to another and back again. It’s a habit that his wife, Elcya, teases him about often. Fortunately, Weiss stays on topic during services.

Before Shabbat, the Friday evening service observing the Sabbath, Weiss sat on a bench in Leatherneck’s simple, wooden chapel to talk about his ministry.

“Attempting to keep traditional Jewish laws is difficult in this environment,” said Weiss, explaining the shortage of rabbis in the military. “It’s a credit to the military that it does a lot to help someone practice their faith, but it’s still not necessarily the choice environment for someone who wants to live a certain way.”

More after the jump.
It may not be a choice environment for some, but the military managed to attract Weiss in 1974 and keep him for 37 years as an active duty and Reserve chaplain. He first joined just for the job, but stayed for the unique opportunity to minister.

“I really enjoy the military,” said Weiss. “I don’t want to be a synagogue rabbi. I enjoy jumping out of airplanes (with the 82nd Airborne Division). I really enjoy being in Afghanistan. You can touch people’s lives in ways you can’t possibly do in other places.”

Weiss joked that because people can’t go downtown on Friday nights, they’re more open to attending services, which makes his job easier.

Although people can’t hang out downtown, Weiss still has his work cut out for him. Schedules here make it difficult for some to attend services. Five came to Shabbat, but Weiss said he concentrates on individuals, not numbers.

The Jewish population in the military falls well below 1 percent according to Department of Defense statistics, but Weiss believes the actual numbers are higher and some just need to know they’re not alone.

“I try to encourage individuals to think about being more involved in their faith,” said Weiss. “I’m not really involved with the Afghanistan war or the issues. I’m more concerned with the individuals here. I can make a little bit of difference in someone’s life; even one person.”

Because he can’t be everywhere, Weiss stays connected with the community through the Internet. He uses email to answer questions and give advice to lay leaders who perform services when no rabbi is available. He also started an online newsletter, Kol Torah, with the help of his wife in Heidelberg, Germany. The newsletter keeps the community here informed of events and educates them on Jewish culture.

So while there may not be enough rabbis to go around, Jewish service members aren’t left on their own. Weiss uses the Internet and travel to make sure they get as much support as possible.

Tax Calculators: Tax cut savings? How much is going to Afghanistan?

Check out the White House tax cut calculator to learn how the December tax deal will benefit you, both in your taxes for 2011 and in your paychecks right now.

Now, check out Derrick Crowe, Robert Greenwald and the Brave New Foundation’s tax calculator at… and find out how much of your taxes are being spent to prosecute wars in the Middle East.

Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke (1941-2010)

Richard Holbrooke died Dec. 13, 2010, from complications of the torn aorta. According to The Washington Post, his last words were: “You’ve got to end this war in Afghanistan.”

— David Street

Distinguished diplomat and longtime foreign policy icon Richard C. Holbrooke had the unique distinction of having worked in every Democratic administration since the 1960’s and was also a notable specialist in the affairs of multiple regions throughout the world. President Barack Obama said that during his long career in the Foreign Service, Holbrooke established himself as “simply one of the giants of American foreign policy.”

Holbrooke will be especially remembered for his ability to bring warring enemies to the peace table, as he did with the 1995 Dayton accords that ended the war in Bosnia. After such a distinguished and involved career, Holbrooke’s absence in Washington will be felt for years to come.

A detailed account of Holbrooke’s life is available from The New York Times. JTA reported that Holbrooke had a fondness for discussing and openly displaying his Jewish roots. One example is a column that he wrote for The Washington Post to commemorate Israel’s 60th anniversary. His column emphatically praised President Harry S. Truman for his recognition of Israel and urged all Americans to admire Truman’s courageous decision.