It’s a nonviolent, rights-based movement that represents the concerns of all Palestinian stakeholders—and the reasons for its existence are increasingly urgent.
By Yousef Munayyer JULY 9, 2015
It represents the concerns of all Palestinian stakeholders. Unlike other recent Palestinian movements that have had to deemphasize certain stakeholders in the outcome of the Palestinian national question like Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian refugees, the BDS movement’s three pillars place the rights of all Palestinian stakeholders on equal footing. The traditional Palestinian leadership, which had accepted the Oslo process, will likely never admit to forgoing the interests of Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel, but the Oslo process undoubtedly compromised the interests of those two groups. BDS, which remains laser-focused on rights, does not have to worry about threats to the legitimacy of the movement emerging from dangerous and unjust compromises. Recent public opinion polling among Palestinians shows that support for boycott efforts against Israel (86 percent) is greater than the support for Fatah, Hamas, and all other political parties combined.
It is decentralized. The BDS movement is based on a set of principles and tactics and operates largely among global civil society. No one person runs the movement, and anyone can engage in BDS activity. A community in North Carolina, Egypt, Malaysia, or Scotland can independently and spontaneously start a BDS initiative to address their own community’s complicity in Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights. The decentralized nature of the movement makes it far more difficult to anticipate and to repress.
It gives concerned people a plan of action. People around the world who are concerned about the rights of Palestinians have often wanted to do something to change the situation, but found few ways to do that. BDS offers an answer. In the United States in the past, countless legislative advocacy efforts have been made on Capitol Hill, which is as occupied by Israeli interests as a hilltop in the West Bank. People grew tired of banging their heads against the wall that is Congress. Grassroots fervor never dissipated, however, and instead took off in the direction of BDS organizing. But interestingly enough, these BDS efforts have contributed to a shift in US public opinion, particularly among progressives, which is laying the foundation for reengaging Congress in the future.
Its reason for being still exists and is getting more urgent.This is perhaps the most important driver behind the BDS movement’s growth and success. BDS exists as a response to Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights, and with an occupation as entrenched today as ever before now nearing its 50th year and a right-wing government insisting on continuing it, more and more people are realizing that BDS is the only worthwhile place to invest their energy and activism. When the “peace process” was dominating action, even as it became a parody of itself over the years, many argued that the process should be allowed to play out. But now even this is gone, and all that remains is de facto apartheid, necessitating pressure on Israel to bring it down. Of course, this means Israel truly has in its grasp the single most important weapon it can use to bring an end to the BDS movement—it can take away the movement’s raison d’être by choosing to end its abuses of Palestinian rights. But this would require bold, honest, and visionary Israeli leadership, something very different from what exists today.
For all these reasons, the BDS movement has grown by leaps and bounds over the past ten years and is set to continue on this pattern in its second decade.
Ali Abunimah – Lobby Watch – 28 June 2015
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has distanced itself from comments attributed to the former director of its US office that it sought to assist Israeli government propaganda against the movement for Palestinian rights and accountability for Israeli crimes.
Uri Zaki, who was initially identified by Ynet as the director of B’Tselem USA, told the Israeli publication that his organization’s efforts to help combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement had been rebuffed by the government, which only wanted to work with more right-leaning organizations.
“Uri Zaki’s term of employment at B’Tselem USA ended in May 2013,” B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli told The Electronic Intifada in response to an inquiry about the Ynet report. “If quoted accurately, his comments were not expressed on behalf of either B’Tselem or B’Tselem USA, nor do they reflect the policies of either.”
Ynet later updated its article to describe Zaki as the “former” director of B’Tselem USA.
Michaeli did not elaborate on why Uri Zaki left the organization but the former staffer’s comments nevertheless raise troubling questions about how B’Tselem’s US advocacy arm has functioned, even after his departure.
Driving a wedge
The 28 June Ynet article titled “Rift in Foreign Ministry prevents effective fight against BDS” looked at philosophical differences within Israel’s state hasbara, or propaganda, apparatus on how best to block the momentum of the Palestinian rights movement.
In a 2010 strategy paper that shaped the approach of Israel and its international lobby, the Reut Institute, a think tank with close ties to the government, argued that Israel should work closely with mild, liberal critics of the country’s policies the better to isolate so-called “delegitimizers” – those who support BDS.
According to Ynet, Reut’s director of policy and strategy Eran Shayshon “has been explaining to government representatives over the past few years that it is important to divide and drive a wedge between the leaders of the BDS campaign, but they were unable to reach a consensus on the issue, especially when it came to the political echelons.”
“To achieve this goal,” Shayshon says, “we explained to the government representatives that we have to operate with as large a base as possible; meaning, recruit not only right-wing agencies and groups to the fight, but also left-wing groups who criticize the government.”
B’Tselem and the US Israel lobby group J Street are offered as prime examples of such “left-wing” assets in Israel’s fight against BDS.
“Among other things, meetings were held in Washington and in Israel between representatives of the Foreign Ministry and the Strategic Affairs Ministry with J Street (which represents the Jewish left in the US), B’Tselem and others,” Ynet reports.
B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli did not respond to The Electronic Intifada’s question about the group’s participation in such meetings.
The Ynet report continues:
“It’s a major missed opportunity,” B’Tselem’s former US Director Uri Zaki says. “I went to universities in the United States, specifically on Apartheid Week, in order to explain that I was an Israeli patriot, and to oppose the boycotts. Like the Jewish left-wing groups in America who joined the fight against the boycott, our position has great influence. It is true that we will not fight a boycott of settlement products, but our efficacy in the fight over sovereign Israel’s good name is very obvious, much more than that of right-wing groups.
“It’s a shame that those who took over the hasbara efforts are excluding us for political reasons,” he adds.
Incidentally, B’Tselem has already proven its contribution when it strongly criticized the Goldstone Report, which greatly embarrassed South African jurist Richard Goldstone. Even now, after the release of the UN report on Operation Protective Edge, the fight against the boycott would surely be more effective if a way can be found to include Israeli human rights groups.
The Goldstone report, an independent inquiry commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, found evidence of extensive war crimes and crimes against humanity by Israel during its 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza.
In 2012, B’Tselem and its US office came under strong criticism from Palestinian human rights organizations for proclaiming that it was a “proud sponsor” of a J Street gala featuring former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert as a keynote speaker.
Olmert had been in charge during Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon and the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza which, together with other actions by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank and Gaza during his term of office, killed more than 3,000 Lebanese and Palestinians.
In an effort at damage control, B’Tselem’s then executive director Jessica Montell had claimed that the email announcing the organization’s sponsorship of the Olmert gala had been a “mistake.”
But Montell also angrily scolded Palestinian human rights organizations for their “conduct” in speaking out against B’Tselem’s participation in the gala.
Yet B’Tselem did not apparently learn anything from the “mistake.” In September 2013, B’Tselem USA once again openly aligned itself with Israel lobby efforts to defeat the Palestinian rights movement.
It touted its “strategic cooperation with J Street” and promoted its participation in the J Street conference. “We are encouraged to know that this conference will feature remarks by US Vice President Joe Biden and many other distinguished partners and allies and proud [sic] to share the stage with them,” B’Tselem USA proclaimed.
Biden, a staunch defender and abetter of Israeli crimes as part of the Obama administration, was joined at the conference by Israeli war crimes fugitive Tzipi Livni.
This was four months after Uri Zaki’s departure, indicating that B’Tselem’s “strategic” alignment with anti-Palestinian groups was not the product of a lone individual’s vision.
J Street has a long record of staunchly supporting Israeli military attacks on Palestinians including all the major assaults on Gaza, opposing key Palestinian rights including the right of return, and proclaiming itself a leader in the battle against BDS.
Signs of change?
Jessica Montell stepped down as the director of B’Tselem in March 2014 and was replaced by Hagai El-Ad.
Nonetheless, B’Tselem USA continues to count among its advisors such figures as “liberal” Zionist pundit Peter Beinart, who is on record opposing “full, equal citizenship” for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
There is no doubt that over the years B’Tselem has done important documentation of Israel’s crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. But such work is entirely incompatible with taking any sort of role in Israeli state propaganda and requires explicit condemnation of such whitewashing.
Even if it has yet to make a clean break, B’Tselem’s new leadership may have become more reluctant to align itself so publicly with Israeli war criminals and anti-Palestinian lobby groups.
There is no doubt B’Tselem must do more if it is to retain any credibility.
WEEKEND EDITION JUNE 5-7, 2015
by DOUGLAS VALENTINE
Lia Tarachansky’s heart-wrenching documentary, On the Side of the Road, reveals the Big Lie at the heart of the myth of the creation of Israel.
Tarachansky had to break through a lot of personal and social barriers to produce this often infuriating film about the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of 1948, when approximately 750,000 Palestinians (a number that has grown to 1.5 million refugees living in camps over the ensuing 67 years) were expelled from their homes and forced into squalid camps, where they are denied basic human rights.
Tarachansky’s toughest challenge was overcoming her own deeply ingrained assumptions. Born in Kiev in 1984, her youth, as she described it in a previous interview, was “a shifting, uncertain reality. While I was only learning to read, my parents split, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor blew up, and the Soviet Union collapsed. I was too young to understand what was happening when we evacuated the city and prepared for what would turn into years of economic uncertainty.”
A Zionist, her mother took Lia and her sister to Israel where, she told her children, “banana-eating monkeys sit in palm trees,” and “everyone is Jewish.”
Those were among the first myths to fizzle out. A computer engineer, Tarachansky’s mother found work changing diapers in a retirement home, while Lia went from “being the only Jew in my Soviet kindergarten to being the only Russian in my Israeli elementary school.”
“We went from the façade of ‘equality for all comrades’,” Tarachansky said, “to the façade of ‘equality for all Jews’.” As she discovered, “Israel is a striated society, even among Jews, in terms of access to economic justice and rights.”
As she grew into adolescence in the settlement of Ariel in the occupied West Bank, Tarachansky also heard rumors of non-Jews inhabiting the land. As strange as it may seem, the settlers had no contact with the Palestinians living all around them. The Arab inhabitants of Israel were stereotyped as “terrorists” intent on slaughtering Jewish settlers, to be avoided at all costs.
Unfortunately, these stereotypes resonate as indisputable truth in America, which officially backs Israel’s war of attrition against the Palestinian peoples. Witness Illinois’s recent, unanimously passed law making it illegal to invest state pension funds in organizations that support the Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement.
As in America, racial, cultural, class and religious prejudices dictate unjust social norms in Israel and determine its government’s repressive policies. The result is that Jewish Israelis celebrate and legalize their ethnic superiority and moral right to discriminate against Palestinians.
Crashing the Party
Having been a Zionist settler, Lia Tarachansky empathizes with Israeli Jews. Instead of condemning them, she examines and tries to understand her personal transformation, and that of other Israelis who are seeking to escape from embedded but false assumptions. Tarachansky’s film is about people who are struggling to deal honestly with the Nakba. This capacity for critical thought and self-examination is what enables Tarachansky to show so convincingly how and why the Zionists have locked themselves in a prison of their own making.
As she explains, the film is shot from the point of view of “return.” Perhaps even a return to sanity.
The documentary begins on balmy May 15th, Independence Day, with fireworks exploding in the night sky and Eitan Bronstein from Zochrot (an NGO dedicated to exposing the truth and raising awareness about the Nakba) posting signs and handing out fliers that show an Arab holding a key to his former home.
Recoiling in horror at what she views as a mortal threat, an Israeli woman proudly proclaims, “I’m a racist.”
She says to Bronstein, “It’s a pity people like you are even alive.”
What Bronstein is doing isn’t popular. And it’s not just public opinion he is challenging. At the time the documentary begins, the Israeli government is enacting a law to repress the true history of the Nakba, and in the process, wash away Israel’s sins. The proposed law will make it illegal to mourn ‘the catastrophe” on Independence Day. It will turn what Bronstein is doing into a crime. It’s an anti-democratic, racist, and discriminatory law, but, as we learn, Dov Yermiyah was the only Jewish member of Knesset to speak against the law, which passed by a vote of 37-25. The full 48 members of the opposition at the time did not vote against this bill, most simply abstained.
Going against society is never easy, even when the society embraces immoral positions. But heroic individuals do exist, and Tarachansky’s documentary also features Tikva Honig-Parnass. Raised in a Jewish community in Palestine, Honig-Parnass fought in the 1948 war and later served as the secretary of the Unified Workers Party in the Knesset (1951-1954). Over 30 years ago she broke with Zionism and joined the Socialist organization known as Matzpen. Since then she has played an active role in the movement against the second phase of the occupation that began in 1967, as well as in the struggle for Palestinian national rights.
Tarachansky films Honig-Parnass while she visits a village she helped destroy, and records her while she speaks about her personal struggle to overcome denial. Tikva explains why she and her comrades were prepared to believe the lies they were told by their leaders in 1948. As the deputy mayor of Kedumim settlement, Shoshana Shilo, says later in the film, they were told it was an “empty land” consisting only of “Arabs and malaria.”
The cause was said to be just, but Jews were a substantial minority in Palestine prior to 1948, with most arriving in 1948 only after the purge. Moreover, the Anglo-Americans who ruled the United Nations partitioned Palestine without consulting most Palestinians, while those who were consulted, rejected the plan. Although the UN plan was not implemented, as Gary Leech explains, “the Jewish population in Palestine unilaterally announced the creation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948.”i
“By the end of 1949,” Leech said, “Israel had destroyed more than 400 Palestinian villages, massacred thousands of civilians and forcibly displaced almost a million Palestinians, who ended up in refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries. In other words, with the Jewish people having just endured the horrors of the Holocaust, the Zionists were now carrying out, according to Pappe, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”
“We didn’t care where they went,” a veteran who fought with the Palmach tells Tarachansky. ‘Ruhu el Gaza, Go to Gaza,’ we told them, as we expelled them.” Referring to the massacre at Burayr, a village in the south of the country, he says remorsefully, “We killed 70 people there.”
Facing the Facts
Lia Tarachansky began her own research into the Nakba after her mother remarried and the family moved to Ottawa, Canada. Lia was 16 at the time. In Canada, half a world away from settlements and Israel’s closed society, her personal transformation began. She met anti-Zionist Jewish students, read many books, including Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and, as she told Sarah Levy in a previous interview, met a Palestinian for the first time.ii
“The strongest thing for me was having a conversation with a Palestinian for the first time, when I was at school in Canada. I was standing somewhere in the university and this guy comes up to me and asks for directions. And we start talking and he says, “You have a strong accent, where are you from?” and I say, “Oh, I’m Israeli,” and he says amiably, “Oh yeah? I’m a Palestinian!”
“So he asks for directions and then he goes on his way. And as he walks away I realize that I’m holding my purse just a little bit tighter, that my whole body is kind of uptight, and it takes me a couple minutes to calm down from being terrified for my life. But then out of that brief interaction I realized: he knows I’m an Israeli, he told me he’s a Palestinian, and he didn’t try to kill me. That was revolutionary for me because, I’d been told my whole life that Palestinians are just brainless, emotional, primitive murdering anti-Semites who just want to kill Jews all the time. And here was this totally polite sensible nice guy and yet he was a Palestinian.
“I know it sounds horrible, but for me, that was something that didn’t fit with anything I had known before. So it actually began a very violent process of tackling a lot of the mythology that I thought was true about the conflict.”
While a student at the University of Guelph, Tarachansky read Stanley Cohen’s monumental book, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. As her awareness grew, she shifted her career path from medicine to journalism and eventually got a job with The Real News Network. She eagerly became its correspondent in Israel and Palestine, where her research became a part of her job. She went to archives, looked at maps, and located villages that had been abandoned and destroyed during the Nakba. She also located veterans of the 1948 expulsion, one of whom, Amnon Noiman, she interviewed over a period of four years for the documentary.
Noiman is the central character in the documentary. A droll octogenarian, he wonders if his marriage of 56 years will last. He’s smart and funny, but tormented. He grapples with his guilt as he and Tarachansky visit places where he and the Palmach (the strike force of the Hagana) massacred people and expelled them from their villages, later burning them to the ground.
“It’s been eating me up,” he says. “They ran away and we shot them… I was 19. I was a fool. That’s why I’m in such despair. Because there will always be new 19 year olds.”
When Arabs would return to prune vines their families had tended for centuries, the Zionist militias would wait in ambush and shoot them.
“Most people left on their own,” Eitan Bronstein explains, “because after a few massacres and after you shoot a few people in the head…you don’t need many for people to flee.”
“The main project since Forty-Eight,” he adds, “is to shut the door, to prevent their return. The Nakba is this central point of preventing return. And since then, we’ve prevented and denied their right of return.”
“Without understanding 1948 you simply don’t understand where you live, and we Israelis simply have no idea what the conflict we live in is all about.”
Palestinians were driven from land they’d lived on for thousands of years, so Jews could prosper. And while the film is not about Palestinians as much as it is about the self-delusions that pervert the collective Israeli consciousness, it does include the perspective of Khalil Abu Hamdeh, whose grandparents were expelled in 1948 and whose families have been living in the West Bank under the yoke of Israeli occupation ever since.
Tarachansky films Hamdeh after he gets a permit to leave the Asqar Refugee Camp where he lives, near the northern West Bank city of Nablus. The camp looks like bombed-out Belfast, with scrawny kids playing in rubble. Together they visit Qaqun, the village where his grandmother fled. Qaqun is now a national park. His grandfather’s village, near Jaffa, was razed to the ground.
“How can it be,” Tarachansky asks of one of the veterans in her film, “that three years after the Holocaust the Jewish people kill, massacre, steal, rape, and pillage what was left?”
Honig-Parnass responds: “It’s a mistake to think that a personal experience, such as losing family in the Holocaust, is motivation for a more humanitarian worldview. Quite the opposite, it’s not the personal experience but the ideology that you use to interpret it.”
The documentary ends a year after it began, with Eitan Bronstein crashing another happy Israeli Independence Day celebration. The police are irritated because he intends to distribute fliers with names of villages that were destroyed in the Nabka. The cops say his fliers are inciting materials and a disturbance to the peace.
A bystander IDF soldier watching the ruckus turns to Tarachansky’s camera and says “You’re lucky the cops are here. If we had the chance, we’d shoot you one by one.”
The cops smile.
I recently had the honor of interviewing Lia Tarachansky. She and I are not strangers. Lia contributed a poem to an anthology I edited, With Our Eyes Wide Open: Poems of the New American Century.iii Her poetry, like her film, deals largely with the contradictions of Israeli society. Before we begin the interview, I’d like to present a prose-poem she wrote about the on-going Nakba:
The Wife of the Accused
The wife of the accused is 23. She is eight months pregnant. She still has pimples on her face. She is very pale. She stands her elbow at a right angle against her back. Like an old, old woman. The day her husband went missing she left her house.
She knows too well the ways of the army. She doesn’t want to die when they come to demolish the home. They didn’t come with charges, or a warrant. They came with sledgehammers and broke everything. She stayed at her parents’ place. The next night they came with dogs. And sledgehammers. And broke the broken rubble. The next night they came with an army jeep to her parents’ place and took her. They drove to her home and made her watch. They blew up her house, and made them watch. The wife of the accused and her unborn baby.
DV – Hi Lia. Many thanks for answering some questions about this difficult subject. In a recent interview you said that the latest attack on Gaza brought a lot of the fascists out of the closet. How is fascism manifesting itself in Israel? Is the Nakba law a manifestation of Israeli fascism and racism?
LT – Israeli fascism is complex and manifests itself in many different ways. By the early 20th century understanding of fascism, meaning a social movement that forces all to align to one communal line of thinking, and bans all others Israel is not a fascist state because the State exerts little pressure on Israeli Jews to conform. However, the pressure comes from the society itself. In essence, it is easy to indoctrinate a people that wants to be indoctrinated. Since everyone is a part of the army, or at least knows and loves someone in the army, the army’s actions are considered outside of what is legitimate to criticize, and along with it, the bigger policies of the Israeli security echelon. There are many elements to it, from Israeli media to politicians, to school education. They all play a part in Israelis’ collective ignorance of the reality they impose on the Palestinians and the justifications for that reality. They also play a major part in reinforcing Israelis’ collective denial, as we talked in our interview. In this kind of environment it is easy for fascistic movements to arise, as we’ve seen they’ve come and gone throughout Israel’s history and are now getting stronger. During the Gaza attack this summer we saw people attacking anyone who speaks Arabic or looks Arabic on the streets of Jerusalem, mobs running through major streets in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv screaming “death to Arabs” and “Turn Gaza into a Cemetery” as you can see in my reports for The Real News Network. These people believe Israel is a Jewish state and should be Jewish-only, and that anyone who thinks differently must be silenced, if necessary, by force. I do not put the blame for their behavior at the feet of a few radicals, but squarely at the feet of the Prime Minister himself, who incites and allows politicians within his government to incite the masses in such a way. Further, I think since the very essence of Zionism has never been defined – what does it mean a Jewish state? A Jewish-religious state? A Jewish-majority state? A Jewish-only state? These ambiguities allow for all kinds of interpretations, including fascistic ones.
DV – What exactly is the Nakba law?
LT – The Nakba Law was proposed in 2009 and a diluted version of it passed in 2011. Essentially it forbids any body that receives any part of its budget from the government (such as funds, community centers, or schools) to commemorate the Nakba on the Israeli day of Independence. If they do, their budgets get slashed by a certain amount. The main impact of the law wasn’t so much the punishment that it legislated but the cooling effect that it had on the Palestinian (20% of the population) and other citizens of Israel from commemorating the tragedy that began in 1948 when two-thirds of the Palestinians who lived on this land became refugees. It basically criminalized history and the commemoration of the survivors’ pain and sent a clear message that only one version of history is legitimate, the version of the victor.
DV – What is life like in the various Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, as opposed to life in a Palestinian refugee camp?
LT – Living in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank is similar to any North American suburb. The town is even structured like American suburbs and usually serves a commuter town for people who work in the center of the country and want a bigger back yard than they would be able to afford living near their workplace. There are few jobs in the settlements themselves, except for the nine industrial parks (where the majority of jobs are staffed by West Bank Palestinians anyway). In a way, because these are gated communities surrounded by fences and walls, and checkpoints, and the military, they create a bubble in which generations are born and grow up in blissful ignorance of their surroundings. Until I left the settlement I didn’t even know the names of the Palestinian villages directly around Ariel, and have of course never met anyone who lived there. I was brought up to believe that we were on the frontier of defending the land of Israel from its unnatural, enemy inhabitants, and saw all those Palestinian communities as something dangerous and alien. I wouldn’t pretend to know what life in a refugee camp is like as I come from the privileged, Jewish population but from my many visits and friends in Palestinian refugee camps, I can tell you life there is very hard. In essence, whatever territory UNRWA was given for these camps when these people first became refugees, whether in 1948 or 1967 is the same territory they still have. Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus, in the Northern West Bank for example is one square kilometer. On this territory now three generations live, in intensely dense conditions, where streets look more like tiny alleyways. These communities have also limited access to electricity and are stuck in a legal limbo regarding their rights and are therefore left in a precarious situation. This is why it is no surprise that much of the armed resistance comes from these camps. When people are left with nothing to lose, they are willing to do the unimaginable.
DV – How do Palestinians earn a living in Israel?
LT – About a quarter of a million Palestinians work inside Israel. Many get permits from the Israeli administrative body in charge of the West Bank, known as COGAT. This body works with Israel’s various security agencies in deciding whom to give permits and whom to deny. Primary on the list of people denied are anyone whose home was demolished or whose relatives have been killed by Israeli forces as they are at “a higher risk to seek revenge”, according to COGAT’s regulations. Most, therefore, sneak into Israel to work in precarious work without a permit. This attests to two things, the first is that the so-called Security Wall, or Segregation Wall has not helped in preventing suicide attacks, as the Israeli government claims, because if anyone can just sneak in, so can terrorists. This goes to prove that the Wall is indeed used to cement Israel’s land grab, as attested to its route going deep into the West Bank in most places, and not running along the 1967 “Green Line”. The second thing that this proves is that the vast majority of Palestinians simply want to live in dignity, to earn money and raise their children, something that should give the Israeli people hope.
Most Palestinians who work in Israel either work in construction or in the lowest positions in the service industry, such as dishwashing or cleaning. They leave the West Bank for weeks at a time, sleeping either at their workplace (if they work construction) or three/four people to a bed in rented apartments and returning to their families every few weekends to give them the money they make. I have to add here that according to the Oslo Agreements, Israel collects these workers’ taxes and is supposed to then transfer these taxes to the PA to be returned to the workers, but this has never happened, so in essence these workers work pay taxes to Israel, yet are not citizens of Israel, and do not benefit from the government’s use of their taxes, which in many cases go to support the Occupation infrastructure.
DV – Are there economic reasons for the oppression of the Palestinians? Do they serve as a source of cheap labor for Israelis?
LT – Yes, but that’s not the main reason: as we’ve seen since the Second Intifadah, their use as a cheap labor source can be easily replaced with migrant workers from Asia and Eastern Europe. The economic benefit is more complex than that. First of all, the Palestinians are a captive market for many Israeli goods, both in the West Bank and in Gaza. Secondly, Israel’s number one industry is the arms industry, which benefits immensely from having a population on which it can routinely test its inventions, be they crowd-dispersal weapons, drones, or other weapons, and especially technologies developed for Homeland Security, which Israel exports around the world. These are Hi-Tech surveillance and intelligence gathering tools with which the various Israeli intelligence agencies monitor the Palestinian population and which are then sold around the world.
These are just two ways Israel benefits from the Occupation. If you want to know more about the economic element of it, I recommend the work of Shir Hever, who wrote The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation, the database Who Profits, the research centre Al Shabaka, or the work of Dr. Neve Gordon, whose website http://israelsoccupation.info has a ton of great resources.
DV – Do you feel the BDS movement will help force Israel to moderate its oppressive policies toward Palestinians?
LT – I don’t know, but I think the tactics used so far haven’t helped in bringing the powerful to the table to negotiate in good faith. Perhaps this kind of pressure will work as it did in Apartheid South Africa, but I hope that our “day after” will be far better than theirs.
DV – Short of Israel giving back everything it’s stolen from the Palestinians, what is the solution to this problem?
LT – Well, I wouldn’t simplify this conflict like that, but there are many solutions on the table. As I’m sure you know there is the well-known Two State Solution, but also the One State Solution, and more recently, variations of the Swiss Solution, meaning a multi-national federation or confederacy. I shy away from the kind of thinking that believes that every problem has a solution, or that everything that breaks can be made whole again. I think the work that we have to do to repair the massive damage that was done is a multi-generational and extremely complex work, but of course the first step is equality, from the river to the sea.
DV – Will Palestinians ever be allowed to return to their homes?
LT – I don’t know how to read the future, but I think that any solution that doesn’t include the Palestinian refugees will be refused by a Palestinian leadership that wishes to survive to the handshake at the end of the agreement.
DV – There is a huge information war going on to rationalize international support for Israel. How does Israel manage to successfully define itself as a victim when it is openly racist and the aggressor?
LT – I think that Israel is a different context than the colonial regimes in Africa, in the sense that it was created because of oppression. If it was not for European anti-Semitism, Israel would not exist. It was therefore created as a result of centuries of crimes against the Jewish people, and that has created a sense of victimhood in our collective psyche that’s going to take longer than a few decades to repair. That, however, is separate from Israel’s policies. The Israeli government plays on that psyche, on that consciousness both at home and abroad to recruit the Israeli people and to enlist the support of its friends abroad. I think that more importantly than that, however, is that Israel serves as a convenient laboratory for those said friends, and its collapse (largely due to the racist and aggressive policies you’ve alluded to) will be the end of a long experiment both in colonialism but also in the idea that you can have a state for one group, at the expense of others. That you can have an “Ethnocracy”, a term defined by Oren Yiftachel as the kind of state Israel is, and the kind of state many Europeans wish their countries were. Right now we’re seeing this idea battle itself out in the laboratory that is Israel, and there are many victims of it, the Palestinians of course but also the African refugees, the migrant workers, and I would argue the Israeli Jewish people themselves as they are increasingly incited against living in a multicultural and therefore stronger society that is based on the values of democracy and equality and not perpetual war.
DV – People who advocate BDS are often slandered as anti-Semitic. Is it an unstated but intentional Israeli policy to publicly slander people as anti-Semitic if they criticize Israel?
LT – I don’t know what the Israel government does intentionally or unintentionally but it is a perversion of real anti-Semitism to claim that criticism of the state of Israel is anti-Semitic. I think that it blinds us from deciphering what real anti-Semitism is (and I have seen that it is still alive and well) and is in my opinion this kind of perversion is very dangerous.
DV – In an attempt to limit the free speech of US citizens, representatives in Illinois voted unanimously to prevent state pension funds from participating in BDS. The US Congress sends $3 billion of US tax dollars to Israel every year, over the objections of an increasing number of its citizens. How does Israel manage to retain the unconditional support of US and Canadian politicians?
LT – I think you should ask American and Canadian journalists that question.
DV – You have toured the US, Canada, Europe and Israel with your film. How has it been received? How and why are reactions different in different regions? Are non-Israelis aware of the Nakba? Do they care?
LT – I have been very lucky to have screened my film in Europe, Canada, and the US, as well as in Israel/Palestine and I would have to say that the reception has been incredible. Most people find the film thought-provoking, which is the highest honor a filmmaker can hope for from her audience. Many people of course find it very hard to watch, as it reflects a certain reality in Israel that many wish either wasn’t there or wasn’t seen. I have been doing my best to continue my communication with the folks who found the film particularly hard, but it’s a full-time job to be in so many communications at once. I invite people to go visit and see the reality for themself, and hope that my film will help them, in as much as it can, understand what they see when they get there.
DV – When will your audience be able to buy DVD’s of your documentary film, “On The Side of the Road”?
LT – This summer. I invite your readers to check atwww.naretivproductions.com for the exact release date of the DVD.
DV – Are you working on a new project? Can we look forward to another documentary from you?
LT – I have recently completed another documentary with Canadian journalist Jesse Freeston. You are welcome to read more about it on our site www.naretivproductions.com It is a film entitled ETHNOCRACY IN THE PROMISED LAND: ISRAEL’S AFRICAN REFUGEES, and as the title says it profiles the kind of state Israel is, and why it refuses to give asylum even to those who have never been in conflict with it, and who seek refuge from war and hunger. The film was a commission of TeleSUR TV and will be screened in Spanish and English this summer.
DV – Thank you very much.
LT – You are very welcome.
Douglas Valentine is the author of The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs, and The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics, and Espionage Intrigues that Shaped the DEA.
For anyone who wants a simple proof that Palestine existed before 1948, here’s a coin from 1927 worth 10 Mils (this currency is no longer used). Also note that the word “Palestine” is written in both Arabic and Hebrew indicating not only a Jewish presence, but a prominent one. Jews and Arabs DID live side by side in peace. The Zionist idea that they cannot coexist is an absolute fallacy.
MON MAY 18, 2015
Madonna is fond of controversy, and she knows how to stir it up pretty well. Now, the “material girl” has posted a photo of a (presumably) gay Jewish man and a gay Muslim man about to kiss on Instagram.
Jewish news agency JTA describes the image as showing “a Jewish man with side curls and wearing a large white knitted kippah of the Breslover Hasidic movement and an Arab man wearing a traditional Arab keffiyeh.”
Regardless, the Material Girl knows how to spark controversy, discussion, and debate, and what a great way to do it.
For millennia the Middle East has been a war zone of intellectual, spiritual, and physical battles between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and their adherents, followers, and advocates.
For millennia, and increasingly, homosexuality has been part of this debate.
Commenters on the image took all sides, but seemed overwhelmingly positive.
The responses have been mixed, but mostly positive. I think it’s wonderful and sweet myself.
And, check out this video.
THURSDAY, MAY 14, 2015
Members of Congress want to ignore international law and recognize illegal Israeli settlements. Bad, bad idea…
It used to be that Israel was the only global player who refused to admit that its settlements in Palestine were illegal under international law. Now there is a danger that Congress could be added to the list. Members of both the House and Senate have recently introduced at least six different pieces of legislation attempting to legitimize these Palestinian land grabs by shielding them from increasing international trade pressure. In doing so, Congress is essentially requiring the U.S. to punish trade partners for adhering to international laws and for the first time in its history, endorse and defend the settlements by treating them as a part of Israel.The train wreck began when Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the AIPAC-backed United States-Israel Trade Enhancement Act in March. The following month, pro-settlement amendments were added to the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill and the House versions of each bill. In addition, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Reinforcement Act was also introduced with pro-settlement language in both chambers. Congress will be considering these bills in the coming weeks.
The Obama Administration has not commented on these bills and amendments so far, but Senator Portman’s and others’ claims that they will stand against “politically motivated boycotts of Israel” are misleading. It is already against U.S. law to boycott Israel, but settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights are not legally a part of Israel. The European Union’s exclusion clause, one of the main drivers behind these Congressional efforts, limits sanctions to Israeli entities with links to the settlements – not Israeli businesses as a whole. But members who introduced these amendments, such as Rep. Roskam (IL), essentially conflate the two, not even mentioning the word “settlements” in the language, and instead using the phrase “Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories.”
It would behoove Congress to seriously consider the ramifications of their actions. These bills are not about countering the diverse Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement or supporting Israel. Rather, they are trying to make it U.S. policy to treat Israel and the territories they occupy as one and the same and penalize trade partners that don’t back that problematic stance. This sets up an extremely dangerous impediment to the peace process, which current and previous administrations have heavily invested in. In fact, it “actually encourages illegal settlement building”, according to Rabbi Joseph Berman, Federal Policy Organizer at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). JVP and several other Jewish American organizations, including some who oppose BDS, have all issued statements urging Congress to reject these alarming pieces of pro-settlement legislation.
Now is the time for Americans who support peace to take a stand on this critical issue and make their voices heard on Capitol Hill. If it is not addressed now, not only do we put the peace process and lives of Palestinians under occupation in further jeopardy, but we also open the door to seeing similar legislation reappear, perhaps in more extreme forms, in the future. Our representatives’ offices should be flooded with calls, emails, and visits demanding statements of opposition before these bills reach the House or Senate floors. And when they are brought to the floor, we should have their guarantee that they will do everything in their power to prevent our country from obstructing the path to peace.
Wardah Khalid is a Scoville Fellow in Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation Education Fund. Follow her on Twitter @YAmericanMuslim.
THURSDAY, MAY 14, 2015
EXCLUSIVE: Dionne Warwick called me out by name in asserting she’d play Tel Aviv. Here’s what she misunderstandsSinger and U.N. global ambassador Dionne Warwick recently released an interesting if puzzling statement asserting that she would, and I quote, “never fall victim to the hard pressures of Roger Waters, from Pink Floyd, or other political people who have their views on politics in Israel.”“Waters’ political views are of no concern,” I assume she means to her, the statement read. “Art,” she added, “has no boundaries.”
Until today, I have not publicly commented on Ms. Warwick’s Tel Aviv concert or reached out to her privately. But given her implicit invitation, I will comment now.
First, in my view, Dionne Warwick is a truly great singer. Secondly, I doubt not that she is deeply committed to her family and her fans.
But, ultimately, this whole conversation is not about her, her gig in Tel Aviv, or even her conception of boundaries and art, though I will touch on that conception later. This is about human rights and, more specifically, this is about the dystopia that can develop, as it has in Israel, when society lacks basic belief in equal human value, when it strays from the ability to feel empathy for our brothers and sisters of different faiths, nationalities, creeds or colors.
It strikes me as deeply disingenuous of Ms. Warwick to try to cast herself as a potential victim here. The victims are the occupied people of Palestine with no right to vote and the unequal Palestinian citizens of Israel, including Bedouin Israeli citizens of the village of al-Araqib, which has now been bulldozed 83 times by order of the Israeli government.
I believe you mean well, Ms. Warwick, but you are showing yourself to be profoundly ignorant of what has happened in Palestine since 1947, and I am sorry but you are wrong, art does know boundaries. In fact, it is an absolute responsibility of artists to stand up for human rights – social, political and religious – on behalf of all our brothers and sisters who are being oppressed, whoever and wherever they may be on the surface of this small planet.
Forgive me, Ms. Warwick, but I have done a little research, and know that you crossed the picket line to play Sun City at the height of the anti-apartheid movement. In those days, Little Steven, Bruce Springsteen and 50 or so other musicians protested against the vicious, racist oppression of the indigenous peoples of South Africa. Those artists allowed their art to cross boundaries, but for the purpose of political action. They released a record that struck a chord across the world. That record, “I Ain’t Gonna play Sun City,” showed the tremendous support of musicians all over the world for the anti-apartheid effort.
Those artists helped win that battle, and we, in the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, will win this one against the similarly racist and colonialist policies of the Israeli government of occupation. We will continue to press forward in favor of equal rights for all the peoples of the Holy Land. Just as musicians weren’t going to play Sun City, increasingly we’re not going to play Tel Aviv. There is no place today in this world for another racist, apartheid regime.
As I’m sure you know, Lauryn Hill canceled her gig in Tel Aviv last week. She did not explicitly cite Israeli oppression of Palestinians as her reason for canceling, but the subtext of her actions is clear and we thank her for her principled stand.
Dionne, I am of your generation. I remember the road to Montgomery, I remember Selma, I remember the struggles against the Jim Crow laws here. Sadly, we are still fighting those battles, whether here in the USA in Ferguson or Baltimore, or in Gaza or the Negev, wherever the oppressed need us to raise our voices unafraid. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, our brothers and sisters, until true equality and justice are won.
Remember, “Operation Protective Edge,” the Israeli bombing of Gaza last summer, resulted in the deaths of over 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including more than 500 Palestinian children. It is hard for us over here to imagine what it is like to be exiled, disenfranchised, imprisoned, rendered homeless and then slaughtered, with no place to flee. Hopefully, in the end, love will triumph. But love will not triumph unless we stand up to such injustice and fight it tooth and nail, together.
Dionne, your words indicate that part of you is set on going through with your concert. I am appealing to another part of you, to implore that other part to join us. We will welcome you. It is more than likely that you harbor reservations in your heart about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, that when you see a mother’s child in ruins you wonder what if that child were mine? It is not too late to hear those reservations, to listen to that other voice, to value freedom and equality for all over the value you place on your concert in Tel Aviv.
When global pressure finally forces Israel to end its occupation, when the apartheid wall comes down, when justice is served to Palestinian refugees and all people there are free and equal, I will gladly join you in concert in the Holy Land, cross all the boundaries and share our music with all the people.
SUNDAY, MAY 10, 2015
Our government’s unbending allegiance to Israel has blinded us to the horrors of its military occupation in Gaza
SANDY TOLAN, TOMDISPATCH.COMThis piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.
The SUV slows as it approaches a military kiosk at a break in a dull gray wall. Inside, Ramzi Aburedwan, a Palestinian musician, prepares his documents for the Israeli soldier standing guard. On the other side of this West Bank military checkpoint lies the young man’s destination, the ancient Palestinian town of Sebastia. Fellow musicians are gathering there that afternoon to perform in the ruins of an amphitheater built during Roman times. In the back seat, his wife, Celine, tends their one-year-old son, Hussein, his blond locks curling over the collar of his soccer jersey.Ramzi is in a hurry to set up for the concert, but it doesn’t matter. The soldier promptly informs him that he cannot pass. “Those are the orders,” he adds without further explanation, directing him to another entrance 45 minutes away. Turning the car around, Ramzi then drives beneath Shavei Shomron, a red-roofed Israeli settlement perched high on a hill, and then an “outpost” of hilltop trailers planted by a new wave of settlers. Finally, he passes through a series of barriers and looping barbed wire, reaching the designated entrance, where another soldier waves him through. He arrives in time for the concert.
I witnessed the checkpoint incident, one of thousands of small daily indignities suffered by Palestinians, from the front seat of Ramzi’s SUV in 2010. We had met 12 years earlier when posters of Ramzi, pasted all over Ramallah, had captured my imagination. In a photo taken in 1988 during the first Palestinian intifada, eight-year-old Ramzi was hurling a stone at an unseen Israeli soldier. Juxtaposed behind it, on the same poster, was another photo taken 10 years later of 18-year-old Ramzi pulling a bow across viola strings.
The poster was an advertisement for the National Conservatory of Music in Palestine and a metaphor for the hopes of many Palestinians at the time: that the era of the Oslo Peace Accords would bring an independent Palestinian state. In the story I produced at the time for National Public Radio, Ramzi expressed a double wish: to perform in the first national symphony orchestra of Palestine and someday to open music schools for Palestinian children.
“I want to see many conservatories opening up in all of Palestine,” he told me. A lovely dream, I thought, though an unlikely one for a teenager from a refugee camp who had been raised by his impoverished grandparents. Still, shortly thereafter, a determined Ramzi landed a scholarship to study the viola in France. A year or two later, we lost touch.
Then, in late 2009, in a chance encounter at a West Bank Italian restaurant, I saw Ramzi again. “What are you doing here?” I asked him. “I thought you were still in France.”
“No, I’m back,” he replied. “I’ve opened a music school here in Palestine.” (It also has branches across the West Bank and in refugee camps in Lebanon.) In other words, exactly what he had told me he wanted to do as a teenager in the al-Amari refugee camp. Six months later, in June 2010, I began to document his dream — now a reality — to build a music school in occupied Palestine.
Now, his SUV bound for Sebastia is cutting through the West Bank, a land smaller than the state of Delaware but dotted with more than 600 checkpoints, earthen barriers, and other obstacles to normal travel. His detour and the incident that accompanied it are part of a system that hems Palestinians into ever more confined enclaves surrounded by Jewish settlements over which looms Israel’s military presence. Yet this kind of everyday humiliation and confinement remains unknown to most Americans. Despite the torrents of press coverage here about Israel and its relationship with the United States, the daily reality of half the people in a century-old conflict is essentially off the American radar screen.
The reasons for this are rooted in culture, politics, and money. Millions of Americans were raised on the Leon Uris version of Israeli history, as told in his novel Exodus. In that story, the focus was on the heroic birth of the Jewish state out of the ashes of the Holocaust. “Arabs” — that is, Palestinians — remained on the sidelines of the tale, pathetic, obstructionist, and violent. That long ago became the American media’s basic narrative of the struggle in the region: that Israel, surrounded by a sea of enemies, must be secure. But like the narrative that dominated media discourse before the U.S. invasion of Iraq — that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction – the facts on the ground are often ignored.
Money clouds the picture even more. Millions of dollars from billionaire casino magnate and Israeli settlement advocate Sheldon Adelson (who has also advocated using nuclear weapons against Iran) and billionaire Paul Singer, on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition, as well as from the bankrollers of neocon William Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel,have further distorted the conversation. In the process, such funders have helped elevate war hawks like Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton to prominence.
The money and political leverage of backers of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has had a similar effect on some Democrats. It helps explain, for instance, the growing challenges from New York Senator Charles Schumer and New Jersey’s recently indicted Senator Robert Menendez to the Obama administration’s framework nuclear agreement with Iran. But the problem has been around for so much longer. For years, as journalist Connie Bruck revealed last September in the New Yorker, AIPAC has strong-armed elected officials, the recipients of the lavish campaign donations it facilitates, into drafting legislation favorable to Israel. Such bills are often written by AIPAC staff and then introduced under the name of some member of Congress.
All of this has had a ruinous effect on debate in this country about Israel and Palestine. Almost invariably left out of any discussion here is the devastating impact on Palestinian lives of Israel’s military occupation, which goes hand-in-hand with relentless settlement expansion that undermines any prospect of a just and lasting peace in the region.
American politicians frequently declare that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Seldom does anyone ask if Palestinians have that same right, or even the right to enjoy freedom of movement in their own homeland.
I have spent the last five years documenting both the harsh realities of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Ramzi Aburedwan’s dream of building a music school that could provide Palestinian children with an alternative to the violence and humiliation that is their everyday lives. I sat with children in the South Hebron hills, who had been stoned by Israeli settlers and set upon by German shepherds as they walked two miles to school. I met a 14-year-old girl who was forced to play a song for a soldier at a checkpoint, supposedly to prove her flute was not a weapon.
Farmers in villages shared their anguish with me over their lost livelihoods, because the 430-mile-long separation barrier Israel has built on Palestinian land, essentially confiscating nearly 10% of the West Bank, cuts them off from their beloved olive groves. I’ve seen men crammed into metal holding pens before being taken to minimum-wage jobs in Israel, and women squeezed between seven-foot-high concrete blocks, waiting to pray at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque. I’ve spoken with countless families who have been subject to night raids by the Israeli military, including one young mother, home alone with her one-year-old boy, who woke up to the sight of 10 Israeli soldiers breaking down her door and pointing guns at her. They had, it turned out, raided the wrong apartment. The baby slept through it all.
Ramzi and the teachers at his school, Al Kamandjati (Arabic for “The Violinist”), see it as an antidote to the sense of oppression and confinement that pervades Palestinian life. And it’s true that the students I talked to there regularly reported that playing music gave them a transformative sense of calm and protection — and not only in the moments when they picked up their instruments and disappeared into Bach, Beethoven, or Fairuz.
Rasha, the young flute player detained and forced to perform at an Israeli checkpoint, told me that music enabled her to face previously overwhelming difficulties. “I felt like I was in a forest, all by myself in a little cottage with no people, no noise, nothing,” she recalled. “Mountains, sea, something pure blue, not like the Dead Sea. It was an escape to another world, a better world. I owned that world.” Her teachers reported that an angry, traumatized girl was growing into a self-aware, self-respecting, and assertive young musician.
Nevertheless, creative expression, however personally transformative, can’t alter the reality of the increasing confinement of Palestinians or of Israel’s creeping militarization of their lands, all of which is a direct result of settlement expansion. At the time the Oslo Peace Accords were signed in 1993, just before I first started traveling to the Holy Land, about 109,000 Jewish settlers had claimed West Bank Palestinian lands. They were encouraged by Israeli incentives that made it cheaper to be a settler than a city dweller.
In the years that followed, a network of new West Bank roads reserved only for settlers and VIPs began to crisscross land supposedly set aside for a Palestinian state. Each year, despite the ongoing “peace process,” thousands more settlers arrived and with them came more Israeli military bases. Sixty percent of the West Bank remains directly controlled by the Israeli military, which guards the settlements, the surrounding “buffer zones,” and the exclusive roads that whisk Jewish settlers into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for work, prayer, shopping, and the beach.
More than two decades after the beginning of the Oslo era, 350,000 Jewish settlers live mostly on the hilltops of seized West Bank lands, and Palestinians are increasingly confined to an archipelago of “islands” within a sea of Israeli military control. In reality, what now exists in the Holy Land is a single state controlled by Israel in which some enjoy full rights as citizens and others next to none.
Ironically, the reelection of the hyper-nationalistic Benjamin Netanyahu to a fourth term as Israeli prime minister only clarified the essential truth on the ground. His election-season pronouncement that a Palestinian state would never be on his negotiating table (whatever his post-election backtracking) said it all: Israel’s 48-year-long settlement-building project and military occupation is now and will remain the preeminent fact of the conflict. In other words, the two-state solution is dead. If Americans grasp that, the conversation here can now shift to one focused on human, civil, and voting rights. However, Palestinians living under occupation have understood this one-state reality for a long time and are not waiting for Americans to come to grips with the obvious facts on the ground.
In recent years, Palestinian civil society and its supporters internationally have moved in new directions, embracing direct nonviolent confrontationwith Israel. Last summer, when negotiations on a new peace settlement led by Secretary of State John Kerry collapsed spectacularly and the Obama administration uncharacteristically blamed Israeli intransigence, Palestinians and their supporters cited the need to embrace a new strategy that included the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS. With it came a renewed push by the Palestinian Authority to win U.N. recognition as an independent state and membership in the International Criminal Court, which could result in war crimes charges against Israeli leaders.
The BDS campaign has claimed some modest victories. In May 2013, physicist Stephen Hawking canceled a visit to a conference in Israel. In early 2014, actress Scarlett Johansson was forced to resign as an Oxfam global ambassador after she refused to cut her ties as a pitchwoman to the beverage maker SodaStream which operates a factory in the occupied territories. The boycott of the company appeared to significantly affect its bottom line.
Last June, the Presbyterian Church USA narrowly voted to divest from Caterpillar, makers of the D-9 bulldozer responsible for demolishing thousands of Palestinian homes and plowing under tens of thousands of Palestinian olive trees. Late last year, the European Union announced a ban on importing food from Israeli settlements; and earlier this year, after reportedly losing a $4 billion Massachusetts commuter rail contract due to pressure from Boston BDS activists, the French infrastructure conglomerate Veolia sold offmuch of its operations in Israel.
Supporters of BDS believe they are building momentum from these victories as part of a strategy of shaming Israel in the international arena. In the process, economic pressure and international condemnationhave replaced the Oslo-era approach of well-intended dialogue. That, activists say, created an impression that all was getting better on the ground, while actually facilitating the building of more settlements and the ever-greater confinement of Palestinians. In recent years Palestinian groups, including Ramzi’s Aburedwan’s music school, have embraced BDS.
Life in the Fast Lane
After the concert in Sebastia — part of an Al Kamandjati “Music Days” festival — Ramzi drove through the darkness toward Ramallah. His wife and baby son slept fitfully in the backseat. The SUV curved along West Bank Highway 60, passing again beneath Shavei Shomron, glowing yellow in the night sky.
He chatted with me about what it meant that Al Kamandjati had recently joined the BDS campaign. He viewed it as an assertive step toward Palestinian freedom. “Because we believe in pacific resistance and in our right to be here,” declared the school’s Music Days program, “we ask all people who believe in human rights and in freedom to boycott Israeli products as well as cultural and academic institutions until Israeli understands that it cannot kill a people’s will by force, respects the international laws, and ends the occupation.”
In this way, Ramzi, like many of his students and teachers, sees himself as part of a larger movement of nonviolent action to protest the occupation and support Palestinian independence. “You have to insist on the positive energy,” he told me, his eyes fixed on a white necklace of lights that represented Palestinian villages to the south. He stroked his bearded chin. “The more you believe in what you are doing, the more you keep going on. It’s like a snowball.” Light pooled in an orb in front of the SUV as it cut through the darkened land. “I see it in the young, who are living in just a whole world of music.”
To the east, the lights of the Palestinian village of Beit Wazan came into view. Of his students, he said, “Their world is music now. Their life is now committed to the music.”
He slowed down for the two-lane Zatara checkpoint. On the left was the express lane for the vehicles of settlers and VIPs with their telltale yellow license plates. On the right, the Palestinian lane, where all the plates were white with green lettering, and a long line of cars already were idling for a seemingly endless wait.
Ramzi took one look at that dismal line and quickly decided on his own version of nighttime direct nonviolent confrontation with Israeli rule. He swung his white-plated SUV into the empty left lane and pulled up at the guard post reserved for settlers, other Israelis, and the few privileged Palestinians who had special connections.
“Why do you come here?” the soldier asked indignantly. “You wait in the other line.”
“I would like to know,” Ramzi replied in English, “if there is a difference between Israeli babies and Palestinian babies.”
“What?” the startled soldier replied.
“I said,” Ramzi repeated, his tone sharpening, “is there a difference between Israeli babies and Palestinian babies? Between your babies and my babies. I would really like to know the answer to this question.”
The soldier peered in at Celine, awake now beside their blue-eyed toddler snoozing in his car seat. The French soccer jersey with Hussein’s name on the back — a gift from Celine’s sister — was still on him. The young soldier hesitated, glanced back at Ramzi, then waved them through: one tiny victory in a long struggle with no end in sight.
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Sandy Tolan, author of “The Lemon Tree,” is associate professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. His new book is “Children of the Stone: A Music School in a Hard Land” (Bloomsbury), about one Palestinian’s dream to build a music school in the midst of Israel’s military occupation. He blogs at Ramallahcafe.com. Follow @sandy_tolan or https://www.facebook.com/SandyTolanAuthor
NB: Posting of this piece does not constitute endorsement of the sentiments expressed in the final paragraph. While I share a widespread suspicion of the true motivation behind the Swedish extradition request, the women involved in this affair have not withdrawn the allegations and Assange has not been cleared in a court of the allegations in a court of law.
March 27th, 2015 | by CoNN
Washington might hope that it has Assange cornered, but despite the man’s inability to physically move anywhere, it would seem that it is he who is doing all the cornering.
He explained to an Argentinian paper how US intervention in Ukraine had led to civil war, how the West had helped ISIS, and why Israel supported Hamas.
The United States has spent “A lot of time Trying to Bring Ukraine to the West,” the WikiLeaks Founder said in an Interview to Pagina / 12, Argentinian newspaper on Monday.
“If it cannot be with a NATO membership, at least it becomes independent from Moscow’s sphere of influence, to reduce Russian industrial-military complex and its naval bases in Crimea.”
Kiev’s first step closer to NATO was in December 2014, when President Petro Poroshenko signed a law cancelling the Ukraine ‘non-bloc status’ and promised to hold a national referendum on joining up with NATO in the next five to six years.
In January, Kiev began taking ever bolder strides away from Russia and announced that the Ukrainian army would take part in 11 international military drills in 2015…. to bolster “NATO” standards in troops.
America had long tried to ‘bring Ukraine closer to the West’ by spending “Billions of dollars on the creation of NGOs,” Said Assange, he added that “through These Institutions, the West Promised to end corruption in Ukraine.”
The intervention of Western countries in the Middle East had also led to the creation of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), an Islamist group that is currently gaining a massive following across the wider Middle East and Africa, Assange said.
“The IS is A Direct result of the adventurism of the West,” Said Assange.
He says the “adventurism” of Western countries has already destroyed the Libyan and Syrian society and now is “destroying Iraq for oil and other geopolitical reasons.”
He said that most people are aware of the fact that arms are being funneled into Syria, and that the same agitators who provide these are also focused on reducing Iran’s influence on Iraq. But “what we don’t know is that in recent years in recent years Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have increased their power and managed to gain certain independence form the US.”
As a result, Washington stopped being “the only geopolitical actor “pushing developments in the Middle East, claims Assange.
Assange claims that Israeli authorities had supported the Hamas group at its early stages in order to divide the Palestinian resistance.
“Our cables reveal that Israel supported Hamas in its infancy, that Hamas was used as an instrument to divide the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] and the Palestinian resistance,” Assange said.
In a nutshell, the West destroyed Syria, Iraq and Libya. For no good reason. This helped other American allies in the area grow in power, and BOOM instant ISIS, one part guns and two parts mercenaries hired by American allies. Israel helped Hamas, its “worst enemy” in order to divide Palestinians, and so that it can say “but mum, they launched ANOTHER rocket over to our side of the fence. It blew up my favorite patch of dirt. Can I go over there and slaughter all of them now?” and “I killed the women and children in the UN buildings. But MUM, it was self-defense! Stop judging meeeee!” as the world condemns their actions verbally and proceeds to do….. Absolutely nothing about it. Whatever happened to all that promised aid?
Julian Assange had spoken to the Argentinian paper from the Ecuadorian embassy which has been his home for more than three years now. In what amounts to house arrest, he is not allowed to leave, or risk repatriation to an intermediary country and then probably to the US. Staking out the building, in case the Australian should leave the premises, has already cost British taxpayers a hefty £10 million, according to govwaste.co.uk. Assange has not been charged with a crime, but is wanted for questioning in Sweden regarding allegations of sexual misconduct brought against him in 2010.
An arrest warrant was issued for Assange in 2010 in the of wake sexual assault allegations leveled against him by two Swedish women. He denied the allegations of sexual misconduct and rape and managed to avoid extradition to Sweden by seeking refuge in the embassy in 2012.
He repeatedly announced that he is ready to answer all questions concerning his sexual assault allegations within the embassy. However, Swedish prosecutors were reluctant to do so until March this year.
“If Assange gives his consent, the prosecutor will promptly submit a request for legal assistance to the British authorities to further continue the investigation,” the Swedish Prosecution Authority said in a statement.
Assange’s Swedish lawyer welcomed the Swedish prosecutors’ request to interview Assange in London, but added that the whole process of questioning could take time.
“We welcome [this] and see it also as a big victory … for Julian Assange that what we have demanded is finally going to happen,” Per Samuelson said.
Assange supporters fear that if he is deported to Sweden he will likely face espionage charges in America over his role in publishing sensitive, classified US government documents.
However, even if Sweden drops the case, he faces arrest by UK police for jumping the bail granted to him.
In June 2014, 56 international human rights and free media organizations signed a letter calling upon the US government to end all criminal investigations into Assange’s actions and to cease harassing the organization for publishing materials in the public interest. Even Women Against Rape (WAR, how militant) have come out in support of him.
Yet still the police want him arrested, and are willing to waste millions on this one man, ignoring the calls of the PEOPLE. More effort was spent on this one whistle-blower than all the recent pedophile investigations, with some even being dropped at the behest of powerful individuals, and that should tell you something about their priorities… Even REAL rapists (as opposed to men who have consensual sex, as admitted by the women themselves) don’t get this much moolah spent on them.
THURSDAY, MAY 7, 2015
Amendments in the House and Senate target the BDS movement. It must be doing something right
Most people understand how politicians use the amendment process to tack on seemingly unrelated, but politically potent, messages, to otherwise routine and innocuous legislation. Who would have imagined that an ordinary trade bill would be used to take a controversial, even radical position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and in particular the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement? And yet that’s exactly what has happened.Recently, the House and the Senate passed similar amendments to the bill authorizing negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe that in one stroke of the pen attempt to make legal the Israeli settlements that are recognized as illegal by both the U.N. and international law. Conversely, the amendments punish companies for adhering to international laws intended to protect against colonization.
The House amendment, co-sponsored by Peter Roskam of Illinois and Juan Vargas of California, inserts language declaring that the “principal negotiating objectives of the US” would now include discouraging both “actions by potential trading partners that directly or indirectly prejudice or otherwise discourage commercial activity solely between the United States and Israel,” and “politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel and to seek the elimination of politically motivated non-tariff barriers on Israeli goods, services, or other commerce imposed on the State of Israel.”
The Senate amendment does largely the same; both amendments clearly target the burgeoning Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement launched in 2005, a perfectly legal, nonviolent effort to honor international law and human rights conventions, and grant and restore rights to Palestinians. Both amendments also attempt to erase the inconvenient truth that the Occupation is illegal, and so is doing business with companies on the West Bank.
These amendments seek not only to facilitate, but also to normalize trade with West Bank and East Jerusalem settlement companies, under the guise that such trade is effectively as legitimate as trade with Israel itself. This move seeks to elide the actual, internationally recognized illegality of the Occupation and the specific illegality of doing business with settlement companies. Using the phrase “in Israel or in territories controlled by Israel,” the amendments merge the two as if they were one and the same. And eerily, as J. J.Goldberg points out, the phrase is “identical to the language of an Israeli anti-boycott bill that was adopted by the Knesset in 2011 and upheld by Israel’s High Court of Justice days ago, punishing Israelis who advocate either type of boycott.”
At the level of the states, we find a similar effort to defeat BDS. In Tennessee, the Algemeiner reports that Senate Joint Resolution 170 declares that the BDS movement is “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.” Furthermore, the resolution states that the BDS movement and its agenda are “inherently antithetical and deeply damaging to the causes of peace, justice, equality, democracy and human rights for all the peoples in the Middle East.”
If this language sounds familiar, that’s because it is: The virulent attacks on BDS in Congress and in Tennessee precisely ventriloquize the words of Benjamin Netanyahu. In a 2014 speech before AIPAC Netanyahu criticized BDS no fewer than 18 times: “Attempts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on Earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti-Semitism. Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned.” Netanyahu’s comments simply rehearse the by-now-familiar equation between critics of Israeli state policies and anti-Semites in order to grant Israel immunity from reasonable questioning — like, for instance, contesting the claim that Israel is the “most threatened democracy on Earth,” when now we have coupled to that quote Netanyahu’s alarmist evocation of “droves” of “Israeli Arabs” coming to vote in the recent elections. We now know who he feels is the greatest threat to “democracy,” and it’s not BDS. In a double-move, then, we find the collapsing of the distinction between Israel and its settlements, and between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. The question is, do people buy this, and if so, for how long will they continue to do so?
And now the Indiana state Legislature has followed Tennessee’s in condemning BDS with its own resolution, in response to the success of students at the Quaker institution,Earlham College, who passed a divestment bill, and on Friday Illinois lawmakers will take up two anti-boycott measures:
According to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Illinois House Bill 4011 and Senate Bill 1761 contain a provision that requires state pension funds to “create blacklists of companies that boycott Israel because of its human rights violations, and mandates that they withdraw their investments from these companies.”The measure passed on the House floor and in the Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday.
CCR says that these bills “must be opposed in order to protect the right to engage in boycotts that reflect collective action to address a human rights issue, which the US Supreme Court has declared is protected speech and associational activity.”
It is clear that pressure from students on campuses across not just the United States, but also worldwide, along with boycott movements in professional organizations and unions, is drawing these reactive measures. And as these measures are presented for votes, this is creating a dilemma for Democrats and liberals.
It is notable that after Netanyahu’s controversial appearance before Congress, which openly alienated the Obama administration and many congressional Democrats, and after his remark during the recent election that there would be no two-state solution under his watch, there was a supposed wedge driven in American politics with regard to the formerly solid support for Israel. Now, while Republicans are staunchly continuing or even increasing their support for Israel, grass-roots Democrats are beginning to split on the issue. Yet the congressional amendments seem to indicate that an appreciable change has yet to occur at the leadership level, with even a Democrat such as Vargas signing on to this outlandish shell game.
Despite this, while in our Congress and statehouses we can see such efforts as testifying to the power of the Israel lobby, from outside these spaces we can see even more the tremendous effectiveness BDS actually has (why else center so much attention on it?). It is indisputably the single most identifiable and powerful alternative to conventional diplomacy, which has for decades proven to be utterly ineffective in addressing the issues of Israel’s long-standing violations of international law and human rights conventions and covenants. There is no doubt that with Netanyahu at the helm, any change will have to emanate from outside Israel, via an international consensus. And that is what Israel is afraid of when it sees the successes of BDS.
In a statement released by Jewish Voice for Peace, Rabbi Joseph Berman noted: “This legislation, which actually encourages illegal settlement building while strengthening the far right in Israel, shows that BDS is an increasingly powerful means to challenge Israel’s impunity when it comes to Palestinian rights. We urge Congress to reject this legislation.”
What we find here is a battle for the political will of Democrats, and Democratic congressional leaders are increasingly likely to find themselves out of step with constituents unhappy with legislative support for colonization of the West Bank.
David Palumbo-Liu is the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford University. Follow him on Twitter at @palumboliu.