What Price Middle East Peace?

by Dr. Alfred M. Lilienthal


[Ed. Note: This is an address given by Dr. Lilienthal, an ardent advocate of a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine, on April 23, 1992 at the University Club, in Washington, D.C. -- that is just about 10 years ago. What's fascinating about his lecture is its relevance in 2002. It could be given today; only the figures would change. More settlements, more killings and destruction, more "revenge" and "retaliation," etc.; but the story and its narrative, even the actors, are frozen in time. Read this address. There is no better reminder and clearer explanation of what can only be defined as a path into self-oblivion. And yet, we all know it could be different...if reason prevailed.]

I consider it a real privilege to be speaking here before my fellow members of our fine University Club. With some of you, I've only had a locker room acquaintanceship and it's hard to recognize you with your clothes on. Few here will recall that in November, 1980 I came down from New York, where I was then living, and spoke to the Library Associates of the Club, under the title, "Where Goes the Middle East?" Basically, very little has changed in this eleven year period, save for the firm resolve of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza to be free from the Israeli-occupying yoke.

For a short time we witnessed on television and read of the intifadah, the insurrection of Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza. However, this coverage stopped completely with all attention riveted on the Gulf War. But one had to visit the occupied territories personally and see for oneself to understand how completely human rights have been flouted and why Palestinian children are now being brought up to learn to throw stones rather than reading and arithmetic.

During my eleven-day stay in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza three years ago, I witnessed the killings, shootings, clubbings, tear gassing and beatings of the Palestinians -- the continuous attempt to dehumanize the Palestinians in their homes in and outside the camps.

Those Palestinians have been subjected to pain and humiliation additional to that which they have undergone since the occupations in 1967 as they often face not only a curfew but a night of total darkness without gas or electricity. At the Jalazone Camp near the intermittently closed Beir Zeit University, I saw the victims of Israeli brutality and heard with my own ears the story of the sufferings of a family I have adopted and in which, naturally, I have a special interest.

In Ramallah, I was five minutes away from witnessing the killing of a 21-year-old youth, and saw for myself his brains strewn on the brick near where he was caught by the bullets of two Israeli soldiers. In Gaza at the Al-Ahli Hospital, I saw the victims of vicious and cruel attacks on Palestinian children and youths ranging in age from four to 25 years, including the prettiest little four-year-old girl into whose face an Israeli soldier threw scalding water intended for her older brother whom they were chasing.

I also visited in the north the Tulkharam Camps where I talked to a young couple whose 17-year-old son had been beaten to death by Israeli soldiers. They insisted on giving me the splintered club which had killed him: "Show it back home to Americans to indicate how we are suffering here."

On a Friday, the Muslim Holy Day, we went to Ramallah, a principal scene of continuous clashes between West Bank Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. As the worshippers came out of the Gamal Abdel Nasser mosque after prayers, they were chanting: "PLO yes, Israel no!" A number of youngsters with stones in their hands joined the group, and then all hell broke loose. From the rooftops of surrounding buildings, Israeli soldiers fired on them and shot down rubber bullets and gas canisters on the Palestinians below.

Just as I picked up a canister which had imprinted on it, "Made in Saltsburg, Pa," I was spotted by Israeli soldiers who had arrived in a jeep. An Israeli sergeant tried to grab the canister out of my hand, knocking me to the ground. I held on to it as I whipped out my passport and shouted, "I am an American! We are paying for this horrible mess!" I probably would have been beaten up, but fortunately just then an Israeli television film crew rolled up in their car and before I knew it, I was being filmed. That night, friends in Jordan saw me on Israeli television struggling with Israeli soldiers.

I managed to smuggle out of Israel past the security police at the airport, the metal gas canister, which was hidden between sixteen bars in a package marked "Nablus soap," and rubber bullets in my medicine kit. The club, which had killed the young Palestinian, was wrapped, marked as a walking stick from Scotland. I was scared to death, but I did get this evidence of Israeli brutality out of the country and showed it at lectures in the States.

Some few of us have tried to write about the tragedy of the Palestinians, but the overwhelming majority of Americans know little about this story. American humorist Artemus Ward once quipped, "T'aint people's ignorance that does the harm. 'Tis their knowin' so much that ain't so." There is no area in the world about which we seem to know so much that ain't so. Our appalling lack of knowledge about the Middle East reminds me of a story about a Tennessee accountant making his first visit to Washington as a guest of an old buddy from Army days.

For three days he was wined and dined by his host and hostess, and then the last night they said, "Sorry, we have an office function, but you go to the Swedish Embassy. They are expecting you at a cocktail party they are giving." He'd never been to one of these fancy parties before. Every few minutes a waiter was offering him a drink and he felt obliged to accept. So after about three aquavits and two vodkas, he really was blind drunk. The music started to play, and he felt very much like dancing. Ahead of him he saw a figure in a long red garb to whom he went over and said, "Will you dance with me?" The party responded very haughtily: "For three reasons my answer must be no. One, you're intolerably drunk. Two, they're playing the national anthem. And three, I'm a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic church!"

When it comes to this region, and particularly Palestine, most of us are just as confused as was our Tennessee accountant. We have been seduced by the phrase-makers in the media and in public life. Long before 1984, George Orwell's "Big Brother" took over. We readily accept labels and pejorative adjectives as the answer to deep-seated, complex problems requiring judgment and study. We seem to have fallen victims to a scarcely known disease, "labelitis." Apply the word "communist" (until recently), "liberal," "reactionary" or "terrorist" to any complicated argument, and victory is yours.

Media Slanting

Under the influence of the press, television and other media instrumentalities, for a long time we have unfortunately come to judge everything in sweeping terms of black and white, the good guys and the bad guys, cowboys and Indians, victims of the Holocaust and terrorists. Through media coverage and myth-information, the Israelis have always been pictured as the "freedom fighters," the Palestinians the "terrorists."

The Israelis make "reprisals" while the Palestinians "commit atrocities." The Palestinians constantly stand vilified, the Israelis glorified. Neither sweeping assessments nor labeling are the answer to the complexities of the Middle East problem. Nor shall we ever be able to provide any kind of a fair or proper assessment without relating cause to effect.

Let me restate my personal perspective. For myself as well as a number of others who have followed my writings, heard my lectures or read my newsletter, Zionism is not Judaism, Judaism is not Zionism, and to be anti-Zionist is in no way to be anti-Semitic. Zionism is a political movement, first devoted to the foundation of the state, and then to the advancement of Israel, politically, diplomatically, financially and otherwise. On the other hand, Judaism, which gave birth to Christianity and Islam, is a relationship between man and God requiring no political loyalty -- only a belief in certain immutable universal principles of conduct, notably, righteousness and justice -- totally unrelated to any piece of land. Too often, religion and nationalism have been equated.

Media myth-information helped induce ready acceptance of Zionist claims to exclusive statehood in Palestine. In 1885, Austrian journalist, Theodor Herzl attended the trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, falsely accused of treason by French army officers and Catholic clerics. He was inspired then to write the book "Judenstaat" ("The Jewish State") calling for the establishment of a Jewish state in which Jews would be safe from anti-Semitism. He then brought into being the Zionist movement which promoted his idea for statehood.

But, contrary to mythology, history does not support the Zionist contention that Palestine belonged to them alone. Twelve tribes started in Canaan thirty-five centuries ago and not only did ten of them disappear, more than half of the other two never returned from exile in Babylon. How can anyone claim descendance directly from that relatively small community which inhabited the Holy Land at the time of Abraham's covenant with God whereby the land was given to his seed? If there was such a covenant, we tend to overlook the fact that the Arabs are part of that seed of Abraham, descended from Ishmael, the offspring of the handmaiden Hagar whom Abraham took unto himself.

Israelite, Judean, Judaism, Jew and the Jewish people are used by the myth-makers synonymously to suggest a historic continuity. In fact, they were different people at different times in history with varying ways of life who continually intermarried with the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Midianites and other Semitic ancestors of present-day Arabs whom they found there. And we should not forget also that Judaism was a proselytizing force before and even after the coming of Jesus.

In his book, "The Thirteenth Tribe," Arthur Koestler pointed out that today's Jews were for the most part descendants of the Khazars who converted to Judaism seven centuries after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. People who wished to follow one God became Jews in a colorful ceremony in the 8th century and then spread Judaism throughout the Rhine and Rhone valleys. This view of the non-ethnicity of the major portion of Jewry is sustained by prominent anthropologists such as Ripley, Weissenberg, Hertz, Boas Pittard, Fishberg, Mead and others. This of course refutes the claim of Israeli expansionists who refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, and claim exclusive possession of all of Palestine, "Eretz Israel" to them.

No Exclusive Connection

Aside from its alleged exclusive historic connection to Palestine, Zionism's other major legal underpinning for statehood rests in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which called for not the "establishment of Palestine as a Jewish state," but "a national home in Palestine," meaning that there was to be more than one home there. Furthermore, the Declaration contained this proviso clause: ". . . provided that the rights -- civil, religious, and political -- of the existing non Jewish community be safe-guarded."

Now just who was this "non-Jewish community?" Zionist propaganda claimed that Palestine, a land without a people, was being given to a people without a land. In fact, at the time of the Balfour Declaration, 93 percent of the people were Arabs -- Christian or Muslim, and but seven percent were Jewish. The phrase, "the existing non-Jewish community" was used by the British to hide this demographic fact from their own people and the outside world. It was as if one came into a room with 100 people and referred to 93 of the people there as the "non-seven."

Two people, given contradictory promises, were very soon on a collision course. The Zionist movement with nationhood in mind sought to buy up more land and to bring more emigrants into the Holy Land. The Palestinian Arabs kept reminding the British, now the Mandatory Power succeeding Turkish rule after World War I, of their promise of self-determination given to the Arabs when they joined, under Lawrence of Arabia, the great Arab revolt which helped bring the British victory over the Central Powers. The other Arab peoples concerned -- the Syrians, Jordanians, Iraqis and Lebanese -- all were given the right of self-determination.

Violence and terror racked the area as Arabs resisted incoming Jewish immigration which threatened to drastically alter the demographic makeup of Palestine. Britain, the Mandatory Power, threw the weight of its military force behind the Jewish Agency, the political arm of the Zionist movement, and by bringing in 20,000 soldiers, helped crush the Arab revolt (1935-39).

Problem Unresolved

World War II temporarily interrupted the struggle over Palestine, and in 1946 the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry failed to resolve the dispute. In 1947 the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), after due hearings, proposed to partition Palestine into a Zionist-Israeli state on the one hand, and the Arab Palestinian state on the other. The partition resolution was adopted by the U.N. at Lake Success on November 29, 1947 by a 33 to 16 vote -- two-thirds of the then membership. There are now 163 members.

That Zionist state came into being on May 15, 1948 as the state of Israel, but no Palestinian state has yet come into being in fact, although its existence was declared by the Palestine National Council in Algiers on November 15, 1988. With the creation of Israel, more than one million Palestinian Arabs immediately became refugees, and the Zionism of this Israeli state demanding and implementing exclusively proceeded since to expel other Palestinians who had not voluntarily fled in the face of the advancing Israeli army.

The 1967 war saw Israel, given only 53 percent of Palestine under the 1947 U.N. partition resolution, in full possession of all of Palestine, including the West Bank and Gaza plus the Sinai and the Golan Heights. Mind you, at the time of the U.N. vote on partition, Palestine was still 66 percent Arab and 33 percent Jewish, and less than 10 percent of the land was Jewish-owned.

Since 1967, the West Bank and Gaza have been under stringent oppressive military rule, even as Jewish settlements, encouraged by lower housing costs with mortgages and other advantages subsidized by the Israeli government, increased in numbers, encroaching on the rights and security of the indigenous population. Tel Aviv sought in every way to overcome the Arab population and birth rate preponderance. Today the question of settlements lies at the center of controversy and of the peace conference which will meet again in its fifth session here next week.

In May 1989, there were some 900 buildings which were being started in the occupied territories. By March 1992, thirty-four months later, there are some 13,650 dwelling units, according to the most recent Peace Now report, all in various stages of construction -- a 40 percent increase in less than three years. And this, despite promises there would be no new settlements, which were given by Israel in return for the U.S. 1991 loan guarantees of $400 million.

Today, 102,000 Jews live in Judea, Samaria, the Gaza strip, and the occupied territories. Six thousand of the 12,000 apartments under construction will be inhabited by this September, adding an estimated 27,000 to the Jewish population there. By 1993, this will mean 141,000 in occupied territories, or a 40 percent increase over a two-and-a-half year period.

According to plans announced by Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, a multi-year construction will see another 106,000 apartments on the West Bank covering an area of 90,000 dunums -- 22,500 acres -- at a cost of $14 billion.

More and more land is being submitted to various expropriation procedures as the Palestinians on the West Bank are being separated from one another by new or enlarged Jewish settlements, and worst of all, being separated from their water supply. A new network of roads is both bringing the Jewish population together and at the same time separating the Palestinian communities. A few years back, ABC showed Israelis luxuriating in their swimming pools in Jewish areas, and parched lands in Palestinian areas. The shrinking of Palestinian space and the concomitant expansion of Jewish settlements goes forward.

Reject Loan Guarantees

We, the American people, are asked to support and sustain this kind of injustice through $10 billion in loan guarantees to bring in more Soviet Jews. This, at a minimum, will cost U.S. taxpayers several hundred million dollars and further enflame the area. That would tie down a great deal of money which could better be used elsewhere. I saw on Easter Sunday, Washington homeless huddling together and shivering outside my apartment just across from Watergate.

President Bush should be supported on the settlements. On this, the 428th birthday of William Shakespeare, we might recall these words from "Hamlet": "To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the day the night, thou canst not then be false to any man."

The Bush Administration has thus far stood firm against this. However, under the impact of the coming elections, with the Democratic Party taking advantage of the recession, gaining strength and playing to the Jewish vote and the Jewish lobby, as strong as it is, who knows what will happen in the coming months? No one knows as yet how Ross Perot, the third candidate, stands on this problem. The other evening he was evasive on television on this issue.

Of course, one cannot discuss Middle East policy without bringing up the question of the Holocaust. Nazi genocide was a gross tragedy. It matters little whether six million or three million, or but three Jews, were killed simply because they were Jews. It was one of the worst abominations committed against humanity, but other peoples than Jews were victimized. However, that is no reason why today, 47 years after the end of World War II, we must constantly look back over our shoulders and dwell infinitely on the tragedy of that time, rather than to move forward and seek remedies for our many current ills.

The only reason for this continuing backward look is to make all of us feel guilty -- Christians and Jews alike -- and silence us in the face of what has been going on in Palestine's occupied territories, the West Bank and Gaza.

Day in and day out, the media, led by The New York Times and The Washington Post and the television networks, in stories and headlines aim to make us feel guilty as hell. It is either the reunion of Holocaust survivors if not a gathering of the grandchildren and even the great grandchildren. "Borman is Alive!" ran the headlines five years ago, and more recently the bones of the killer Mengele were again exhumed to see whether in fact the Nazi had been buried there -- these stories always appear in booming headlines.

Just last week a bold six-column headline on page five of The New York Times read, "French Angered at Ruling on Nazi Collaborator," providing the excuse for bringing up the Klaus Barbie trial and details of other atrocities against Jews deported to Nazi death camps from France. Not that one should forget the Holocaust but the manner in which it has been treated leads to greater evils.

Concentrate the attention of public opinion molders and the American people on the many sins of mankind committed against Jews through genocide and anti-Semitism in its many forms -- inject the Holocaustomania into every possible aspect of daily life, politics, religion, the arts, the entertainment world, and then no one will ever be able to make a reasoned, logical judgment on how best we can bring about peace in the harassed Middle East.

Out of the repression felt by so many who are afraid to speak out lest they be labeled "anti-Semites," I sense a growing, stirring and latent ugly anti-Semitism which deeply concerns me.

The policies of the state of Israel, as well as Zionism and Jews, must be open to constructive criticism. I do not believe the Holocaust saga should be sanctified as if it were our third holy book along with the Old and New Testaments, and even they ought be open to scrutiny in the search for truth. Thomas Jefferson once asked the Virginia legislature: "For God's sake, why can't we fully hear both sides!"

Holocaust No Justification

I do not believe that questioning certain exaggerated details of this grossest act of inhumanity is tantamount to asserting that there was no Holocaust. Only a big fool or greater villain takes such a view. When I questioned the authenticity of The Diary of Anne Frank, I was widely assailed. But there is a great difference between saying that there was no Holocaust and insisting that the Holocaust not be used continuously as a justification and as a cover-up to win sympathy for the Zionist position and Israeli excesses. Unfortunately, it is no exaggeration to sadly note that worship of the state of Israel and of the Holocaust -- the new golden calves of Judaism -- is supplanting the worship of Yahweh. Chief Rabbi of Britain Jacobovits has stated that the Holocaust has become "an industry far from the soul of Judaism."

When I spoke at this Club in 1980, I pleaded for the prime necessity for a free, open debate on US. Middle East policy -- a discussion in which both speaking out in favor of the Palestinian right to self-determination and against accepting chapter and verse the oft repeated tale of Nazi genocide and anti-Semitism would not draw the label "anti-Semite." Unfortunately, as an eminent journalist, who is with us today, recently quipped, "It used to be that an anti-Semite was anyone who hated Jews; now it is anyone whom Jews hate."

Let us face it: The Middle East peace negotiations are going nowhere, principally because Israel does not really want peace. As the Old Testament notes, "They have peace on their lips but not in their hearts." Israel has no intention of removing its occupying military -- in fact they have stepped up this force and are sending in soldiers disguised as Palestinians to beat up or shoot Palestinians. While a New York Times story two days ago headlined the possibility of giving Palestinians the right to vote in some part of the occupied territories, the same article quoted Prime Minister Shamir as telling Jewish settlers: "The areas of Judea, Samaria and Gaza will remain ours forever and ever. They will not be returned. We are not settling to return them. We are settling to live there."

Back in the 60's, a well-known political scientist, Georges Friedmann, wrote a book, "Israel en Danger de la Paix" (Israel in Danger of Peace). Peace will interrupt the flow of money from the United States, leaving the Israelis with their perpetually non-viable state.

Two-State Solution

Only a two-state solution -- the state of Israel co-existing side-by-side with the state of Palestine and the holy city of Jerusalem internationalized -- it belongs equally to the three monotheistic faiths -- can bring a just and lasting Middle East peace.

What is too visionary about such a goal? These two Semitic people once lived side-by-side for centuries, most recently under the yoke of the Ottoman Empire. The Koran talks of the Jews as "people of the book, our cousins." Palestinians and Israelis can resume their long-time peaceful living together if only we, the American people through our Government, exert the correct kind of leverage on the recipients of so much of our bounty as flows to Israel -- almost half a million dollars every hour, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

You must also find the courage to tell your Jewish friends exactly your thinking on this vital subject. They certainly cannot approve of Tel Aviv's "administrative detention" which permits the Israeli police to hold Palestinians suspected of terrorist acts for six months before bringing charges.

Serious thought should be given by all of us to finding ways to end the subordination of foreign policy to domestic politics. A change from the Electoral College system to direct elections of our presidents, who would serve only one six-year term, and limiting the terms of office a Senator or Representative may serve, would help considerably. This, plus a return to Senator Vandenberg's concept of bipartisan foreign policy could help end the noxious bartering for votes.

Jewish Americans themselves have a role to play in helping bring about a just peace by speaking up and indicating that the continued blank check given by Jewish American organizations to Israel is not to their liking. It imposes on them a growing shadow of dual loyalty, and it is not in the national interest of their country. And above all, the continued oppression and repression of other peoples is certainly not in line with aged Judaic belief and thought. Through January of this year, 1,012 Palestinians, including 259 children, were killed and 120,126 wounded in the intifadah.

Between the supine Congress, the controlled media and the strongest Washington lobby, U.S. foreign policy in the national interest has been crushed. The recent Congressional check-bouncing scandal brings to mind Mark Twain's observation: "It could probably be shown by fact and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress."

A decade ago, New York's Congressman Stephen Solarz informed his constituency in a letter headed "Delivering for Israel" that he has chosen to serve on the Foreign Relations Committee because there he could thus best serve the cause of Israel. He certainly pushed vigorously to get the U.S. into the Gulf War. Solarz's name, incidentally, was near the top of the list of check bouncers.

I vividly recall a post mortem in the old Audubon lounge down the hall after my 1980 lecture over a drink with former Senator Miller of Iowa, Don Baldwin and the late Claude Pepper amongst others. The Florida Congressman and former Senator, said to me, "Dr. Lilienthal, even if I believe what you said in your fine speech, do you think I would ever take the risk of bringing such opinions to my constituency?"

Lilienthal's critics call him a "self-hating Jew." Am I self-hating because I seek justice for the Palestinians, and remind both my co-religionists and co-nationalists that the tenets of universal Judaism require the very highest respect for justice and righteousness? The Hebrew Prophet Amos expressed this universality thus: "Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel?" Were Amos here today, he would surely say, "O ye are to me, O children of Israel, as are the Palestinian Arabs."

Love Truth More

In the eyes of the Lord, all of His children are equal, and in the whip of God, the substitute worship of political and military power is unacceptable.

The road I have chosen for more than forty years in struggling to bring about an understanding of this thorny problem has been a most difficult one. It is far from easy to fight the overwhelming consensus of ones own co-religionists and co-nationals as well, and the Establishment to boot. It is not given to all of us to repeat with equanimity the words of Socrates: "I love you men of Athens, but I love truth more."

But all of us can follow the guidance of our first President who, with uncanny perspicacity in his Farewell Address, warned against the pitfalls of a policy which too many succeeding presidents have unfortunately allowed themselves to follow:

"So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils because it leads to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others. This is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concession, both by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained and by exciting jealousy, ill will and a disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld."

Along with these words of George Washington, I was encouraged to continue on the march to truth by what another President, John F. Kennedy, wrote in a "Dear Alfred" letter on September 30, 1960: "I wholly agree with you that American partisanship in the Arab-Israeli conflict is dangerous to both the U. S. and the Free World. I am trying to bring the parties to the conflict to the negotiating table."

In closing my 1983 book, The Zionist Connection II, I described an apocryphal meeting in heaven attended by Andropov, Reagan, Begin and the Lord. The Soviet leader asked God: "Do you think there will ever be détente between the Soviet Union and the U.S.?" The Lord replied: "Yes, but not in your lifetime."

Then Reagan queried: "Do you think that we will ever be able to balance the budget and still be strong enough to sustain the challenge of Communism?" The Lord replied: "Yes, Mr. President, but not in your lifetime."

Begin then put this final question to God: "Do you think there will ever be peace between Arabs and Israelis?" To this, the Lord answered: "Yes, but not in my lifetime!"

However, we can help make it happen in our lifetime. We can end the suffering of the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza and ensure the security for Israelis, if each of us only resolutely follows the course taken by Alan Paton in his Cry The Beloved Country:

"I shall no longer ask if this or that is expedient, but only if it is right. I shall do this, not because I am noble or unselfish, but because life slips away, and because I need for the rest of my journey a star that will not play false to me... a compass that will not lie. I do it because I am no longer able to aspire to the highest with one part of myself and deny it with another."

Then, like Don Quixote, by reaching for those "unreachable stars" and making the "impossible dream" come true, we can still bring peace to the harassed millions of Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs and gain for all peoples Woodrow Wilson's elusive "peace in our time."



This address was given at the University Club, Washington, D.C., on April 23, 1992.


Dr. Alfred M. Lilienthal, a graduate from Cornell University and Columbia Law School, served with the U.S. Army in the Middle East as consultant to the American Delegations at the organizing United Nations Conference in San Francisco and in the State Department. He's the author of several books on the Israeli-Palestinian issue (e.g., What Price Israel? and The Zionist Connection I and II). He's spent the past five decades advocating for a two-state solution to the Middle East quagmire.

Published under the provision of U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107.


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Published April 8, 2002
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