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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Gaza

07/26/2005

There's an irony in the warm embrace which the anti-disengagement movement has extended to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1988, during the first intifada, a group of Israelis organized a program at the International Cultural Center for Youth in Jerusalem in memory of the assassinated U.S. civil rights leader The occasion was the opening of "Hand in Hand for Justice," a U.S.-produced exhibit on King's relationships with Jews and Israel.

The organizers decided to invite as one of the speakers a rabbi from a settlement outside the Green Line. Before immigrating, the rabbi had taken part in U.S. civil-rights activity.

Sponsors of the program included the education ministry and the foreign ministry. A U.S. diplomat and former President Yitzhak Navon, then minister of education, were among the speakers.

The principal speaker, Dr. Alonzo A. Crim, chose as his topic "The moral and ethical elements in Martin Luther King's philosophy and their significance today." An outstanding. educator, Crim was widely respected for his performance as Atlanta's school superintendent during the desegregation upheaval of the 1970s. His son-in-law, Lavon Mercer, then a basketball star in Tel Aviv, helped the organizers arrange Crim's appearance.

While this may seem to have been a pretty good lineup, it turned out that the rabbi from beyond the Green Line did not take part. The reason, as explained by the person through whom the organizers extended the invitation, was concern that such an event in King's memory could attract someone who might try to disrupt the rabbi's talk.

This explanation, at which a thin-skinned organizing committee might take offense, seemed to say that King's heritage belonged to ill-mannered people with anti-settlement sentiments.

Times have changed. Ruth Matar of Women in Green reported that her daughter-in-law, Nadia Matar, instructed the Palm Beach hotel occupants, about to be evacuated June 30 by Israeli soldiers, "that there should be no resistance whatsoever, as per the example of Martin Luther King."

More recently Pinchas Wallerstein, who heads the Binyamin Regional Council, has been announcing to the media that the anti-disengagement march on Gush Katif would be "like the march led by Martin Luther King."

"A million people marched on Washington against the racist laws dictating that blacks had to sit in the backs of buses and in the end the law was nullified because it was immoral," Wallerstein said.

Contrary to what Wallerstein keeps telling the Israel media, King never led a march on Washington.

A few facts. King did take part in a big Washington event. The organizers called it a march, but it was really a demonstration, aimed at prodding Congress to pass a law for job rights. Other people, not King, organized the event. Some 250,000 people, not one million, attended. King was the final speaker and gave his memorable "I have a dream" address. The organizers went to great lengths to avoid any confrontation with the authorities. As to seats on buses, Wallerstein probably had in mind another time, another place. Almost seven years before the Washington rally, King led a 381-day boycott that defeated segregated seating on buses in Montgomery, Alabama.

Neither the 1963 Washington demonstration nor the 1955-56 bus boycott can properly be likened to what is going on today in Gaza. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s operated by taking advantage of court decisions and getting new laws passed. The aim was to change longstanding practices of U.S. society. King's latter-day followers in Gaza are trying to overturn a recent decision of the national government. Their aim is to forestall change, which appears as a threat not only because of the disengagement but also through the possibility that the Road Map will not disappear.

What looks like a common element between then and now is the tactic of non-violent resistance to law authorities. Despite the garbled reference to King, it is evident that Wallerstein and other foes of withdrawal from the settlements have sensed that this Baptist preacher achieved results through nonviolence and passive resistance.

The nonviolence which King preached was both a tactic and a matter of principle. For success it depended on a belief in the openness and basic decency of the other side. It fit with King's aspirations to universal brotherhood and his view that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. It was a way to change society.

"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue," King wrote. "It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word 'tension.' I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth."

"The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation," he summed up.

Violence on the part of others was an element of two marches which King actually did lead .

On March 7, 1965, while King was in Washington, 525 of his followers set out in Alabama on a 54-mile march to the state capital to promote voting rights. Alabama state troopers attacked them at Selma with clubs, bullwhips and teargas. Media coverage of the violence aroused revulsion and drew support to King's plans. Two weeks later, the march set out again, this time with King leading 3,000 protesters including some religious leaders and celebrities under the protection of several thousand U.S. soldiers. Congress passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act in August.

On March 28, 1968, King led a march of several thousand people in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, in support of a trash-collectors' strike A group of militant young black men known as the Invaders broke away from the march and began breaking store windows. King lost control of the march and had to flee as police arrived with teargas to put down a developing riot.

This was the first time demonstrators led by King had committed violence. "Maybe we'll just have to let violence have its chance," an aide quoted King as saying over and over in the hours immediately after the riot. "Maybe we'll have to let violence run its course. Maybe the people will listen to the voice of violence. They certainly won't listen to us." The next morning the Invaders came to King's hotel room and apologized.

One week later, on April 4, a sniper assassinated King. Deadly rioting broke out around the country, spreading to more than 100 U.S. cities.

We can only speculate about how King would view events in the Gaza and the Holy Land today.

From his statements and writings opposing violence and urging peaceful solutions, it seems clear King would be an outspoken foe of suicide bombing and other forms of terrorism. He would be an advocate of reconciliation. He would seek nonviolent alternatives to the bloodletting that has been going on between Arabs and Jews for the past 85 years or so.

From his insistence on relieving suffering and oppression, it seems evident he would have long since lost patience with the occupation that began shortly before his death. If for no reason other than the findings of the Sasson report, he would not look favorably on what the settlement enterprise has become. On the other hand, his rejection of all forms of prejudice could make him a rare voice condemning the bigotry that resides in the widely accepted view that Jews have no right to live in the areas where they have built settlements.

Not only in Gaza but elsewhere in the region, King would find little sign that anyone is fulfilling his hope of helping people "rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood."

It seems clear King would have opposed the U.S. war in Iraq from the start. On April 4, 1967, one year before his death, King gave a major speech opposing the U.S. war in Vietnam and calling for a radical shift in U.S. values. "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death," he said.

"There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war," he added.

Throughout his career, King expressed support for Israel and peace in the Middle East.

"Israel's right to exist as a state is incontestable," King wrote in September 1967 to Adolph Held, president of the Jewish Labor Committee. "At the same time the great powers have the obligation to recognize that the Arab world is in a state of imposed poverty and backwardness that must threaten peace and harmony."

"The solution will have to be found in statesmanship by Israel and progressive Arab forces who in concert with the great powers recognize fair and peaceful solutions are the concern of all humanity and must be found," King wrote to Held.

King discussed the situation again 10 days before his death. "I think it is necessary to say that what is basic and what is needed in the Middle East is peace. Peace for Israel is one thing. Peace for the Arab side of that world is another thing. Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all of our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land almost can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy," King said March 25, 1968, at a birthday celebration for Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

---Joseph M. Hochstein

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000366.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Joseph M. Hochstein @ 08:41 PM CST [Link]

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Replies: 2 comments

Yes, there are interesting parallels between Dr. King and the opponents of the Disengagement Plan. Yes, they are also dedicated to non-violent tactics. Yes, they have also been beaten up by the authorites. On the other hand, they are not opposing laws which have been enacted democraticly but those which have been enacted by a self-interest appointed gov't which replace the one voted in, as well as the "democratic" policy as practiced in Israel. I fail to see parallels between the democracy practiced in the US and that which exists in Israel which allows detaining ANY citizen in jail, WITHOUT FORMAL CHARGES, entirely on the officer's claim that "they were interefering with my job/the neighbor / disturbing the peace", etc. for up to 24 hours. It also allows them to place juvenile protesters in institutions, away from their (functioning and loving) families and diametrically opposed to their value systems. The actual plans for disengagement actually differ greatly from the law as passed in the parliament. The American support is based generally on Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East. Maybe this should be re-assessed.

Posted by rg @ 07/28/2005 01:44 PM CST

How disgusting! There is no comparison to Martin Luther King's famous march to Washington DC on August 28, 1963. The anti-disengagement marchers are certainly no freedom fighters nor are they stalwarts of democracy. Many are religious fanatics whose aim is to maintain their right to settle in Gaza and not make any sacrifices for peace, which is for the well-being of Israel in the end. Their religious zeal is occupation of lands and not a march for human rights and democracy. This is a march of abuse of human rights

The comparison to Martin Luther King jnr's aspirations could not be further from the truth. These right-wingers are NOT democrats nor have they any aspirations to be such. They are religious Zionist fanatics of the worst kind whose ideology is not very distant from fascism. They take the law into their own hands. Now some are giving support to the assassination of PM Ariel Sharon in macabre "pulsa denura" ceremonies. Where does this compare with the late Martin Luther King jnr? It takes a rather twisted and sick mind to make this ridiculous comparison. Apart from that, Martin Luther King's March was legal whereas the anti-disengagement demonstrations are not. They have created havoc towards those who were not involved by blocking roads and burning tires not to mention damage done to private property.

The settlers in Gush Katif have made very little contribution to Israel. Perhaps their contribution is to increase the population according to the first commandment in Genesis (Bereshit). They have complicated the negotiations for peace with the Palestinians, which is not straight forward as it is. They have a fanatic religious zeal to conquer Palestinian land and pay any price to remain there.

They make cynical use of democracy to attain that goal of settlement expansion amongst a population that does not want them on their doorstep. These settlers are not fighting for democracy or human kind but for their own selfish and racist interests. They wish to keep the Palestinians under occupation and a cheap source of labour for working in their hot houses. There is nothing democratic or liberal in their ideology. One must also remember that fanatic, orthodox Judaism which these people follow is not democratic and is bound up with conquering territory and subjugating the Palestinians.

Posted by Shimon Z. Klein @ 07/29/2005 12:08 PM CST


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