Sunday, December 28, 2008

Talking Points: Israeli Airstrikes in Gaza

Talking Points #63
The Gaza Crisis: December 2008

By Phyllis Bennis
Institute for Policy Studies
28 December 2008

The death toll in Gaza continues to rise. The carnage is everywhere - city streets, a mosque, hospitals, police stations, a jail, a university bus stop, a plastics factory, a television station. It seems impossible, unacceptable, to step back to analyze the situation while bodies remain buried under the rubble, while parents continue to search for their missing children, while doctors continue to labor to stitch burned and broken bodies back together without sufficient
medicine or equipment. The hospitals are running short even of electricity-the Israeli blockade has denied them fuel to run the generators. It is an ironic twist on the legacy of Israel's involvement in an earlier massacre - in the Sabra and Shatila camps, in Lebanon back in 1982, it was the Israeli soldiers who lit the
flairs, lighting the night sky so their Lebanese allies could continue to kill.

But if we are serious about ending this carnage, this time, we have no choice but to try to analyze, try to figure out what caused this most recent massacre, how to stop it, and then how to continue our work to end the occupation, end Israel's apartheid policies, and change U.S. policy to one of justice and equality for all.

- The Israeli airstrikes represent serious violations of international law -including the Geneva Conventions and a range of international humanitarian law.

- The U.S. is complicit in the Israeli violations - directly and indirectly.

- The timing of the air strikes has far more to do with U.S. and Israeli politics than with protecting Israeli civilians.

- This serious escalation will push back any chance of serious negotiations between the parties that might have been part of the Obama administration's plans.

- There is much work to be done.

Violations of International Law
The Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip violate important tenants of international humanitarian law, including violations of the Geneva Conventions. The violations include both obligations of an Occupying Power to protect an Occupied Population, and the broader requirements of the laws of war that prohibit specific acts. The violations start with collective punishment - the entire 1.5 million people who live in the Gaza Strip are being punished for the actions of a few militants.

Israel's claim that it is "responding to" or "retaliating for" Palestinian rocket attacks is spurious. The rocket fire as currently used is indeed illegal -Palestinians, like any people living under a hostile military occupation, have the right to resist, including the use of military force against the occupation. But that right does not include targeting civilians. The rockets used so far are unable to be aimed with any specificity, so they are in fact aimed at the civilians who live in the Israeli cities and towns, and so are illegal. The rocket fire against civilians should be ended - as many Palestinians believe, because it does not help end the occupation, but also because it is illegal under international law. However, that rocket fire, illegal or not, does not give Israel the right to punish the entire population for those actions. Such vengeance is the very essence of
"collective punishment" and is therefore unequivocally prohibited by the Geneva conventions.

Another Israeli violation involves targeting civilians. This violation involves three aspects. First, Israel claims the airstrikes were targeted directly at "Hamas-controlled" security-related institutions. Since the majority Hamas party controls the government in Gaza, virtually all the police departments and other security-related sites were hit. Those police and security agencies are civilian targets - not military. They are run by the Hamas-led government in Gaza, an institution completely separate from Gaza's military wing that has carried out some (though by no means the majority) of the rocket attacks. Second, some of the attacks directly struck incontestably civilian targets: a plastics factory, a local television broadcasting center. And third, the incredibly crowded conditions in Gaza, one of the most densely populated sites in the
world, mean that civilian casualties on a huge scale were an inevitable and predictable result. Such targeting of civilian areas is illegal.

The U.S. is also directly complicit in the violations of the Geneva Convention inherent in Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel's actions - keeping Gazans locked in the Strip; closing the border crossings to almost all fuel, food, equipment and other basic humanitarian goods; preventing UN and other international human rights monitors and journalists from entering, and more - have all been backed and supported by the U.S. and others in the international
community. The resulting humanitarian crisis - reaching catastrophic
proportions even before the current air attacks - is partly the responsibility of the United States.

Still another violation involves the disproportionate nature of the military attack. The airstrikes have killed at least 270 people so far, injured more than 1,000, many of them seriously, and many remain buried under the rubble so the death toll will likely rise. This catastrophic impact was known and inevitable, and far outweighs any claim of self-defense or protection of Israeli civilians. (It should be noted that this escalation has not made Israelis safer; to the
contrary, the one Israeli killed by a Palestinian rocket attack on Saturday after the Israeli assault began, was the first such casualty in more than a year.)

Key human rights officials, particular the UN's Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Professor Richard Falk, as well as Father Miguel d'Escoto, President of the General Assembly, have issued powerful statements identifying Israeli violations of international law as well as the UN's obligations to protect the Palestinian population. Falk statement:

But so far there has been no operative response from the UN Security Council. The Council statement, issued 28 December, was completely insufficient, essentially equating the culpability of the Occupying Power and of the occupied population for the violence that has so devastated Gaza. And the statement makes no reference to violations of international law inherent in the Israeli assaults, or in the siege of Gaza that has so drastically punished the entire
population. There is a clear need for the General Assembly to step in to reclaim the UN's role of protecting the world's people, certainly including the Palestinians, and not just responding to the demands of the world's powerful.

U.S. Complicity
The United States remains directly complicit in Israeli violations of
both U.S. domestic and international law through its continual provision of military aid. The current round of airstrikes have been carried out largely with F-16 bombers and Apache attack helicopters, both provided to Israel through U.S. military aid grants of about $3 billion in U.S. taxpayer money sent to Israel every year. Between 2001 and 2006, Washington transferred to Israel more than $200 million worth of spare parts for its fleet of F-16's. Just last year, the
U.S. signed a $1.3 billion contract with the Raytheon corporation to provide Israel with thousands of TOW, Hellfire, and "bunker buster" missiles. In short, Israel's lethal attack today on the Gaza Strip could not have happened without the active military support of the United States.

Israel's attack violated U.S. law - specifically the Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits U.S. arms from being used for any purpose beyond a very narrowly-defined set of circumstances: use inside a country's borders for self-defense purposes. The Gaza assault did not meet those criteria. Certainly targeting police stations (even Israel did not claim Gazan police forces were responsible for the rockets) and television broadcast centers do not qualify as self-defense. And because the U.S. government has confirmed it was fully aware of Israeli plans for the attack before it occurred, the U.S. remains complicit in the violations. Further, the well-known history of Israeli violations of international law (detailed above) means U.S. government officials were aware of those violations, provided the arms to Israel anyway, and therefore remain complicit in the Israeli crimes.

The U.S. is also indirectly complicit through its protection of Israel in the United Nations. Its actions, including the use and threat of use of the U.S. veto in the Security Council and the reliance on raw power to pressure diplomats and governments to soften their criticism of Israel, all serve to protect Israel and keep it from being held accountable by the international community.

Timing of Israel's Attack on Gaza
The Israeli decision to launch the attacks on Gaza was a political, not security, decision. Just a day or two before the airstrikes, it was Israel that rejected Hamas's diplomatic initiative aimed at extending the six-month-long ceasefire that had frayed but largely stayed together since June, and that expired 26 December. Hamas officials, working through Egyptian mediators, had urged Israel to lift the siege of Gaza as the basis for continuing an extended ceasefire. Israel, including Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni, of the "centrist" (in the Israeli context) Kadima Party, rejected the proposal. Livni, who went to Egypt but refused to seriously consider the Hamas offer, is running in a tight race for prime minister; her top opponent is the further-right Benyamin Netanyahu of the officially hawkish Likud party, who has campaigned against Livni and the Kadima government for their alleged "soft" approach to the Palestinians.
With elections looming in February, no candidate can afford to appear
anything but super-militaristic.

Further, it is certain that the Israeli government was eager to move militarily while Bush was still in office. The Washington Post quoted a Bush administration official saying that Israel struck in Gaza "because they want it to be over before the next administration comes in. They can't predict how the next administration will handle it. And this is not the way they want to start with the new administration." The Israeli officials may or may not be right about President Obama's likelihood of responding differently than Bush on this issue - but it does point to a clear obligation on those of us in this country who
voted for Obama with hope, to do all that's necessary to press him to make good on the "change" he promised that gave rise to that hope.

Obama and Future Options
The escalation in Gaza will make it virtually impossible for any serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at ending the occupation. It remains uncertain whether sponsorship of an immediate new round of bilateral negotiations was in fact on Barack Obama's initial post-inauguration agenda anyway. But the current crisis means that any negotiations, whether ostensibly Israeli Palestinian alone or officially involving the U.S.-controlled so-called "Quartet," will be able to go beyond a return to the pre-airstrike crisis period. That
earlier political crisis, still far from solved, was characterized by expanding settlements, the apartheid Wall and checkpoints crippling movement, commerce, and ordinary life across the West Bank, and a virtually impenetrable siege of Gaza that even before the current military assault, had created a humanitarian catastrophe.

So What do We Do?
The immediate answer is everything: write letters to Congress members and the State Department, demonstrate at the White House and the Israeli Embassy, write letters to the editor and op-eds for every news outlet we can find, call radio talk shows, protest the U.S. representatives at the UN and their protection of Israeli crimes. We need to engage with the Obama transition process and plan now for how we will keep the pressure on to really change U.S. policy in the Middle East. We should all join the global movement of outrage and solidarity with Gaza. There are a host of on-line petitions already - we should sign them all. The U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation is compiling action calls on our website -

We have to do all of that.

But then. We can't stop with emergency mobilizations. We still have to build our movement for BDS - boycott, divestment and sanctions, to build a global campaign of non-violent economic pressure to force Israel to comply with international law. We have to challenge U.S. military aid that scaffolds Israel's military aggression, and U.S. political and diplomatic support that prevents the UN and the international community from holding Israel accountable for its
violations. We have to do serious education and advocacy work, learning from other movements that have come before about being brave enough to call something what it is: Israeli policies are apartheid policies, and must be challenged on that basis.

We have a lot of work to do.


Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer in FAQ format
which many will find useful for education work in this urgent period.

Thanks to Josh Ruebner of the U.S. Campaign for some of the background
on U.S. military aid.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Israeli Conscientious Objector Jailed

From the Israeli peace group, NEW PROFILE

CO Avichai Vaknin, 18, a pacifist conscientious objector from the town of Yehud, near Tel-Aviv, has been sentenced on 20 Aug. to 21 days in military prison.Avichai was not in contact with any organisation supporting objectors.

Having developed a pacifist outlook, he tried to appeal to the military authorities. Eventually, he was instructed by people in the Conscription Bureau to prepare a declaration of refusal, but this declaration was ignored by the authorities; he has not even appeared before the military so-called "Conscience Committee".

Avichai Vaknin's enlistment date was set to 14 Aug. Having received no response to his declaration of refusal, he did not report, writing to the military authorities that he still awaits a decision on his request for exemption. He was then summoned to a talk with a military officer, who made it clear that the army is not taking any steps on the matter, and that Avichai is considered officially to be AWOL.

Avichai then decided to report at the Induction Base and refuse orders to enlist, for which he was sentenced to 21 days in prison.Fortunately, while in detention and awaiting trial Avichai met CO Udi Nir, on whose case we have reported yesterday, and through Udi we were able to establish contact with Avichai himself and his family.

In his declaration of refusal, Avichai Vaknin wrote:
"Armies present themselves as providing the solution to civilians' security problems, but in fact armies are the ones that bear the responsibility for imperiling civilians' lives. Armies form the greatest threat to our lives. The violent and militant nature of these organisations is what threatens the security of civilians [...] Armies bear the responsibility for the invention of even newer and more effective ways of killing, for the fact that every day we see newer and more lethal weapons. Armies are responsible for the daily killing of children, women and men. As a pacifist, my worldview, my principles, and above all - my conscience - will not allow me to serve in such an organisation."

Avichai is due to be released from prison on 7 Sept. but may well be imprisoned again after his release. His prison address is:

Avichai Vaknin, ID number 030146277
Military Prison No. 6
Military Postal Code 01860,
Fax: ++972-4-9540580

Since the prison authorities often block mail from reaching imprisoned objectors, we also recommend you to send your letters of support and encouragement to Avichai via e-mail to, and they will be printed out and delivered to him during visits.

In addition, you may want to follow some of our recommendations for action below.

Recommended Action
First of all, please circulate this message and the information contained in it as widely as possible, not only through e-mail, but also on websites, conventional media, by word of mouth, etc.

Other recommendations for action:
1. Sending Letters of SupportPlease send Avichai letters of support (preferably postcards or by fax) to the prison address above.
2. Letters to AuthoritiesIt is recommended to send letters of protest on Avichai's behalf, preferably by fax, to:
Mr. Ehud Barak, Minister of Defence
Ministry of Defence
37 Kaplan St.
Tel-Aviv 61909, Israel

E-mail: or
Fax: ++972-3-696-27-57 / ++972-3-691-69-40 / ++972-3-691-79-15

Copies of your letters can also be sent to the commander of the military prison at:
Commander of Military Prison No. 6
Military Prison No. 6
Military postal number 01860
IDF Israel
Fax: ++972-4-9540580

Another useful address for sending copies would be the Military Attorney General:
Avichai Mandelblit, Chief Military Attorney
Military postal code 9605
IDFIsraelFax: ++972-3-569-43-70

It would be especially useful to send your appeals to the Commander of the Induction Base in Tel-HaShomer. It is this officer that ultimately decides whether an objector is to be exempted from military service or sent to another round in prison, and it is the same officer who is ultimately in charge of the military Conscience Committee:
Gadi Agmon, Commander of Induction Base, Meitav, Tel-HaShomer
Military Postal Code 02718
IDF Israel
Fax: ++972-3-737-60-52

For those of you who live outside Israel, it would be very effective to send protests to your local Israeli embassy. You can find the address of your local embassy on the web.

Here is a sample letter, which you can use, or better adapt, in sending appeals to authorities on the prisoners' behalf:

Dear Sir/Madam,
It has come to my attention that Avichai Vaknin, ID num. 030146277, a conscientious objector, has been imprisoned for his refusal to perform military service, and is held in Military Prison No. 6. The imprisonment of conscientious objectors such as Avichai Vaknin is a violation of international law, of basic human rights and of plain morals. I therefore call for the immediate and unconditional release from prison of Avichai Vaknin, without threat of further imprisonment in the future, and urge you and the system you are heading to respect the dignity and person of conscientious objectors, indeed of all human beings, in the future.


3. Letters to media in Israel and in other countries
Writing op-ed pieces and letters to editors of media in Israel and other countries could also be quite useful in indirectly but powerfully pressuring the military authorities to let go of the objectors and in bringing their plight and their cause to public attention.

Here are some contact details for the main media outlets in Israel:
2 Karlibach St.
Tel-Aviv 67132Israel
Fax: +972-3-561-06-14

Yedioth Aharonoth
2 Moses St.
Fax: +972-3-608-25-46

Ha'aretz (Hebrew)
21 Schocken St.
Tel-Aviv, 61001 Israel
Fax: +972-3-681-00-12

Ha'aretz (English edition)
21 Schocken St.
Tel-Aviv, 61001 Israel
Fax: +972-3-512-11-56

Israel Hayom
2 Hashlosha St. The B1 Building

Jerusalem Post
P.O. Box 81
Jerusalem 91000
Fax: +972-2-538-95-27
e-mail: or

Radio (fax numbers):Kol-Israel +972-2-531-33-15 and +972-3-694-47-09
Galei Zahal +972-3-512-67-20

Television (fax numbers):
Channel 1 +972-2-530-15-36
Channel 2 +972-2-533-98-09
Channel 10 +972-3-733-16-66

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Methodists and Quakers

Significant actions have been taken by the United Methodist Church in their strong, principled responses to human rights abuses of Palestinians and other oppressed groups. PIAG's Anne Remley has put together a comprehensive (and continually updated) list of Methodist actions supporting Palestinian human rights, several of which are described below.

The Methodists' vigorous discussions around human rights in Palestine/Israel and the actions they have agreed to take bring up a central set of questions that Quakers have wrestled with throughout their history:

Does Quaker faith and practice require us to be a-political, that is, to concentrate on relieving immediate suffering rather than "taking sides" in a conflict?

If we are not to take sides, what does it mean to "speak truth to power"?

Shall we hold that "truth" is always partial and relative, and that each person, group, or nation, has one version of the truth, that all versions should be respected and taken into account?

Or should we align ourselves with human rights advocates who insist there is a bottom line of fair, humane treatment that every human being deserves, and that those who violate human rights should be called out and, through nonviolent action, restrained from violence and oppression?

Or shall we imagine a third way, one that persuades aggressors to change by addressing fundamental needs and grievances and fears that they themselves have, while at the same time seeking to say, "We will not cooperate with your actions in any way, and we will speak up about the wrongness of those actions"?

We encourage readers, Quakers and otherwise, to give their own views on these questions using the comment function below.

The United Methodist Church General Conference has established a "socially responsible investment task force" focusing on Sudan, China, and the Middle East to examine how church investments may avoid linkage with companies involved in human rights abuses in all of these lands.

Some regional conferences now expect to continue their own ethical investment action to end corporate support for the Occupation under long-standing guidelines in the Methodist Book of Discipline that ask churches, regions, and agencies to avoid "investments that appear likely, directly or indirectly, to support violation(s) of human rights."

For example, in June, 2007 the Baltimore-Washington Conference "join[ed] a significant number of regional Methodist bodies in calling for a vigorous response to the occupation. Their declaration states that "our General Rules hold us first accountable to 'Doing no harm.'" But "financing the oppression and violence caused by the military occupation . . . with our investments harms every Israeli and Palestinian, including Christian, child, woman and man." The Conference joined "a proven means of non-violent protest to actively promote a peaceful resolution to the political violence [that is] harming, maiming and killing Israelis and Palestinians" -- violence that in fact "violates Christian principles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international law." The Conference called upon Methodist boards of pensions and health benefits, administrators, and financial councilors to determine which corporations supported by Methodist investments profit from the Occupation, as by demolishing homes, constructing the wall, or supporting violence against Israelis or Palestinians. They are to engage such corporations to end such practices and, if they fail, they are to sell the investments and notify all member churches. The Conference concluded with the prayer that these actions "will give hope to Palestinians and Israelis . . . including our Christian brothers and sisters in the region who have not been forgotten."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Psychiatrist in Gaza

This piece is an excerpt from "The Grief Counselor of Gaza" written by Palestinian psychiatrist Eyad Sarraj for the July - August 2008 edition of The Link (Volume 41, Issue 3), published by Americans for Middle East Understanding. A link to the full article can be found at the end.

The Martyr as Suicide Bomber

One day, in my clinic, a boy of 16 came to see me. He said: I am not a patient. I need your help.

I said: What is it you need?

He said: I need a bomb.

I said: What do you need a bomb for?

He said: I lived all my life in Gaza. I’ve read all the books on Palestine that I can get my hands on. And I’ve figured out a solution. And the solution is this: each one of us should kill a Jew and kill himself. And this is why I want a bomb.

I don’t know what happened to this boy. I didn’t give him his bomb. But it is a graphic example of how a Palestinian youth can feel after a long history of traumatization, victimization, and humiliation.

For a long time I, too, dreamed. I imagined myself attacking the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, rounding up its members and pinning them with my arrows to the ceiling.

A journalist once asked me to introduce him to a potential martyr.

“Why would you blow yourself up?” he asked the young man.

The young man replied: “Would you fight for your country or not? Of course you would. And you would be respected in your country as a brave man. So will I be remembered as a martyr.”

In the Koran, the most influential book in Arabia for the past 14 centuries, God promises Muslims who sacrifice themselves for the sake of Islam that they will not die. They will live on in paradise. Muslims, men and women, even secularists, hold to that promise. Heaven is the ultimate reward of the devout who have the courage to take the ultimate test of faith.

What the potential martyr did not say was that he was burning with a desire for revenge. What he did not say was that, at the age of six, he had witnessed his father being beaten by Israeli soldiers. The sight of his father being dragged away, blood running from his nose, never left him.

A 16-year-old boy in Gaza today is somebody who thinks of life as a prison. He’s not allowed to leave Gaza. He has seen bombings, and killings, and murders, and blood, and humiliation. He doesn’t think he has a future as a scientist, a doctor, an engineer. Sadly and tragically, many of them think that the best thing to do is to become a martyr.

As a psychologist, I look at this as a product of our environment. People are not born to become martyrs. People are not born to become heroes. If you have an environment of hope and joy, people will do everything to deter death, and killing, and murder. If you have an environment of hopelessness and despair, you have a martyr, someone who thinks death is the beginning of life.

There is a moment for any potential martyr when he or she decides to be one. But there is a process that takes them through this path, a process of a kind of internal transformation. Then the moment comes when the would-be martyr meets somebody—in a mosque, or on a street, or in a school, wherever—and that person introduces him to others who are prepared to help him attain heaven.

I have been asked over the years to explain to Western audiences why anyone in their right mind would want to kill themselves along with innocent people. Six years ago Paula Zahn of CNN asked me that question. I responded that today’s suicide bomber—or martyr, as we call them—are the children of the first intifada, many of whom, at the age of 6 or 7, witnessed soldiers beating their fathers or spitting at them in contempt. So much revenge has been bottled up within them. Now teenagers, their identity has become molded with the identity of their people who have been suffering for over a half century, since the uprooting from their homes in Palestine.

Zahn then played a video clip of United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claiming that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was giving thousands of dollars to the families of Palestinian martyrs.

Our interview continued:
Zahn: So Dr. Sarraj, how much of a motivating factor is this big money? We all know the economy in the Occupied Territories is in shambles.

Sarraj: Yeah. Well, in fact, from all the cases I have observed myself, in the clinic and outside the community, money or financial situation has never been a motive for anybody to kill himself really in such a way at all. The economy factor, or the education factor even, was not a significant one. What was very significant, in our research, was the personal history of trauma. The culture in which the people are brought up in and the type of—or the degree of faith these people have and their own interpretation of themselves, the nation, the conflict and Islam itself. That is the most—these are the most important factors.

With that, our interview came to an end.

I have said that the struggle of Palestinians today is how not to become a bomb and that the amazing thing is not the occurrence of suicide bombings, rather the rarity of them.

The outside world still finds it hard to grasp why this is so. It’s so much easier to say they do it for the money. They do it because for them martyrdom is a form of power, the power over death and life. In an environment of absolute despair, the model of the martyr tells you exactly what you feel, that life and death are equal. So the bomber becomes the model. And, yes, this is very sad.

Beyond Martyrdom
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter recently visited Gaza. In an article for The Guardian (May 8, 2008) he wrote: “The world is witnessing a terrible human rights crime in Gaza, where a million and a half human beings are being imprisoned with almost no access to the outside world. An entire population is being brutally punished.”

In his article, President Carter makes reference to a report by B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights group, which says that 106 Palestinians were killed between February 27 and March 3 of this year. Fifty-four of them were civilians, and 25 were under the age of 18.

The president could have also cited an earlier report from B’Tselem showing that, after the Israeli disengagement on September 12, 2005, through July 25, 2007, 668 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip by Israeli security forces. Over half were non-combatants and 126 were children. During this same period, Qassam rockets and mortar shells fired by Palestinian militants killed eight Israelis, half of them civilians.

As Professor Sara Roy and I concluded in our Boston Globe article (Jan. 30, 2008), Gaza is no longer approaching economic collapse. It has collapsed. Given the intensity of repression it is facing, can the collapse of its society—family, neighborhood, and community structure—be far behind? If that happens, we shall all suffer the consequences for generations to come.

I have listened to so many stories of children who have been traumatized by what they have seen and heard, who suffer from loss of appetite, insomnia and fear of going out of their homes. For years parents have had to give their children sleeping pills at night because otherwise they cannot sleep. Now, we are running out of sleeping pills. And the question is: Are we running out of hope?

I agree with President Carter’s condemnation of Hamas’s rocket attacks on the Israeli town of Sderot. I concur with his urging Hamas to declare a unilateral ceasefire or to orchestrate with Israel a mutual agreement to terminate all military action in and around Gaza for an extended period.

Hamas leaders told the president they have made such overtures in the past that Israel has rejected, but that they were prepared to support a mutual ceasefire restricted to Gaza. This offer, too, Israel has rejected.
I have spent many years observing Hamas at close range and debating politics with its leaders. I believe it has an incentive to halt its terrorist activity. Following its astounding victory in Gaza’s municipal elections in May 2005, it now has a guaranteed political future when and if it chooses to abandon the armed struggle.

I believe, with President Carter, that the time has come “for strong voices in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere to speak out and condemn the human rights tragedy that has befallen the Palestinian people.”

My hope is that the new American administration will seek the path of diplomacy, not confrontation, in the Middle East. I believe that if you sit with Hamas and recognize that it is a major player, the question of the rockets can be resolved. If you don’t, and you continue to isolate the movement, the rockets will continue. There is no popular movement against the firing of rockets. How can people oppose this kind of resistance, if there is no hope of ending the occupation? People cheer rockets against Israel and will continue to do so until there is hope that Israel will end the occupation and give Palestinians back their land, their rights and their freedom.

To be sure, the chances of some kind of Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation are remote. Even if Palestinians want reconciliation, I think there is strong American resistance to the idea of any dialogue with Hamas.

The real player in the game today is the fundamentalist regime in America, and I doubt it is ready to talk to Hamas. Washington will simply collude with Israel to continue the siege. Our hope is that the next American administration will see things differently. Reconciliation is possible only if there are leaders of courage and wisdom on both sides.

I do see some hope on the Israeli side. Three years ago, I was stopped at a Gaza border crossing along with some colleagues. Inside the fortified post was an Israeli soldier, his face appearing every few minutes through a small opening in the concrete. To my surprise he called me over to ask, “Your friend says you are a psychiatrist. Can I ask you something?” “Yes,” I replied warily. The soldier said, “I have a problem, doctor. I live in a settlement in Hebron, and I want to leave.”

I hid my surprise and played the psychiatrist, listening calmly as this young man with his baby face and thin beard continued: “My parents want me to stay, but I know it will only lead to more killing. I don’t like it there, but I don’t want to anger my father and mother who have devoted their lives for me.”

After a moment, I said, “I think it is best if you talk about your feelings with your mother and your father. It will be best if you convince them of your decision. But I want to tell you something else, my friend. The soldier smiled in anticipation as I continued: “By choosing to talk to me about yourself, you made me feel proud of humanity and sure of its future.”

He stretched his arm through the hole to shake my hand, saying, “I trust you."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Letter to Barack Obama and John McCain

This letter to presidential candidates was approved by Lake Erie Yearly Meeting last weekend, June 14-15. The sample is addressed to Barack Obama, but it will also be sent to John McCain, and local Quaker Meetings are asked to distribute it to state legislators and to the media.

June 17, 2008

The Honorable Barack Obama

Obama for America
P.O. Box 8102
Chicago, IL 60680

RE: Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

As part of your campaign for President, you have recently pledged support for Israel, and for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Lake Erie Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) shares your desire for a resolution to the conflict so that both Israelis and Palestinians can live together in peace.

Friends and Friends organizations have a long history of involvement in this region of the world and have worked with both Palestinians and Jews. We encourage you to carefully consider the actual situation on the ground and the necessary preconditions to achieve such a just and lasting peace.

At the heart of much of the discussion of conditions for a peaceful resolution of the conflict is the idea of a “two-state” solution, an Israeli state and a Palestinian state side by side on the territory of historic Palestine. There are a number of obstacles, however, that together make such a solution well-nigh impossible. The central impediment is the massive settlement process, whereby in contravention of international law Israel has built settlements exclusively for Israeli Jewish citizens throughout the territories occupied in the 1967 war, on land expropriated from Palestinian inhabitants. These settlements together with the network of “bypass roads” which connect the settlements with each other and with Israel proper and are off-limits to most Palestinian traffic make up what one Israeli analyst refers to as “the matrix of control.” As long as this matrix of control is in place, cemented by a military occupation with its checkpoints and a myriad of other regulations that govern every aspect of the Palestinians’ lives, there can be no viable Palestinian state. What is more, Israel has declared that East Jerusalem and the rings of settlements surrounding Jerusalem constitute part of a Greater Jerusalem, and are thus part of Israel, and not part of the West Bank.

Another impediment to any lasting solution to the conflict is the Wall/ Separation Barrier currently being built — both along the 1967 de-facto borders [Green Line] and deep inside the occupied territories. This wall/barrier effectively makes the territories encompassed by it — primarily the large settlement blocs -- a part of Israel by creating “facts on the ground” prior to any negotiations as part of a comprehensive peace agreement. In addition, in large part the effect of this barrier is to cut off Palestinian farmers from their land either by denying them access altogether, or by making it extremely difficult for them to get to a crossing point that is anywhere near and where any permit they might have will be honored (even if the gate is open when they need to get to and from their land). The net effect of the barrier along with the numerous Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the occupied territories is that the Palestinian economic infrastructure is undermined, further increasing the Palestinians’ economic dependence on Israel and reducing any prospect of a viable Palestinian state.

Tied in with this issue is another central dilemma. If a two-state solution is no longer possible, in what way can Israel preserve its character as a Jewish nation-state? Israel already has a sizable Palestinian Arab minority living as Israeli citizens inside the boundaries of pre-1967 Israel, and many more Palestinians live in the occupied territories.

If all of these inhabitants of the land become part of a bi-national state, then Israel’s definition as Jewish national state is called into question. Alternatively, if Israel is defined as a Jewish national state encompassing formally or de-facto all of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River then Palestinians there (inside pre-1967 Israel and outside) have an ambiguous future. Already there have been calls for Israeli Arab citizens to be deported to a Palestinian state (possibly even to Jordan) and if as a result of the “matrix of control” there is no such state in any meaningful sense of the word, then Israel would continue to rule over a mass of Palestinians, among whom would be those stripped of what status they now have as Israeli citizens.

There is one other issue that impacts on the possibility of a just and lasting peace. All groups representative of the Palestinian interests must be included in the negotiating process, not just the Palestinian Authority. In addition, ALL sides to the conflict must renounce the use of violence, thereby cutting through the recurring cycle of violence and justifications for the use of force.

It is our belief that unless the above issues are comprehensively addressed there can be no peace in this conflict, nor in the region as a whole. Also, unless the United States facilitates this process it will lose any semblance of its claim to be an honest broker in ending the conflict. We hope that you will keep these considerations in mind, both as a candidate and as the one who ultimately is elected President.


Shirley Bechill

Presiding Clerk

Lake Erie Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)

(LEYM includes Monthly Meetings and Worship Groups in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia)

Friday, June 06, 2008

An experiment in building a better world

Natasha Tsangarides, The Electronic Intifada, 4 June 2008
Freedom Clothing Project Ltd is a UK not-for-profit cooperative founded in 2005, comprising a small handful of friends and relations. The Electronic Intifada contributor Natasha Tsangarides spoke to project director Joe Turner about his work and the current trading obstacles:
Natasha Tsangarides: Could you tell me a little bit about Freedom Clothing and what it seeks to achieve?
Joe Turner: Freedom Clothing Project is an experiment in building a better world -- I know that sounds a bit grand, but we wanted to try to make a clothing company unlike any other. It is a cooperative, so there are no shareholders, and [we are] a non-profit so we're not primarily motivated by making money and the dream is of products that benefit those people that others ignore. It has been a long and bumpy road, but basically we went to Palestine and got a factory there to make organic cotton clothing. Later, we took another brand there, and they're now also exporting from Palestine. It is quite a small success in the scheme of things, but we're still dreaming and still struggling to make our dreams come about.
NT: From your experience, what are the sorts of obstacles facing suppliers when it comes to trade, exports and access to markets?
JT: Well, we all know about the checkpoints, travel restrictions and so on. These all make trade extremely difficult. But I'd say the primary barrier is emotional fatigue. For example, in the clothing sector, there used to be hundreds of small factories in the Bethlehem area alone. Of those, there are now less than a couple of dozen that survive, and a handful that are profitable. In total, there are very few sectors of the Palestinian economy that are operating as they should, and the result is high unemployment and lack of opportunity. Few now have the strength of imagination or finances to think of ways to keep going.And the fact is that all of us who claim to be supporters of [the] Palestinians share some responsibility in that -- Palestinian products should be like gold-dust around the world, we should make it a priority to support their economic intifada in any way we can. Most working businesses in Palestine are dependent directly or indirectly on Israeli trade because they have no other options to trade with. Two examples: I once went to a factory which was making dark green uniforms. In talking to the owner, he said he thought it was eventually going to the IDF (he was subcontracting the work from an Israeli clothing company). I asked why he was doing it if that was true, and he shrugged and said he needed work to pay his employees.[The second example, are] Jerusalem gold tiles [which] are well known in the international market. They are almost all marketed by Israeli wholesalers. Yet all the quarries are in Hebron and are Palestinian owned. This has meant that the businesses are insulated from the international market and find it extremely difficult to work directly with customers. Most do not understand the quality and customer service expected by international customers. To be fair, this is changing.
NT: On a wider scale, how has the building of the wall in the West Bank affected trade and private employment opportunities?
JT: The wall has cut off many people from their jobs in Israel. In terms of trade, it has often meant long delays in the transportation of products and the loss of customers, particularly in Israel. Given that so much of the Palestinian economy is in agriculture delays have been catastrophic. In Gaza, whilst there is a large strawberry crop, it is impossible to sell it to anyone other than the Israeli-owned monopoly Agrexco, who have special security arrangements to allow export of their products. In the West Bank, difficulties of movement mean that it is conveniently easier for shops to [stock] Israeli or foreign products than to attempt to stock products produced in other West Bank towns.
NT: Inflation is the latest problem to afflict Palestinians, with food prices rising by around five percent. How is this going to affect the private sector?
JT: Palestinian products are already very expensive on the world market due to relatively high [labor] costs. Extra costs are going to make them even less competitive. Given the stranglehold that Israel has on trade going in and out of Palestine and the extra costs of raw materials and travel, I'd say the future is bleak.
NT: Douglas Alexander, British Member of Parliament, sees the recent Bethlehem Investment Conference as a "key milestone," arguing that "aid and development bolster the peace process." Do you see this conference as a progressive step?
JT: It is fair to say that there are mixed feelings about the investment conference. On a very basic level, investors are going to try to limit their risk by putting money into sound businesses. Given that there are so few profitable businesses, this is likely to just make the richest men in Palestine even richer. I am not convinced that it will really help those at the bottom -- who is going to invest in Palestinian handicrafts or olive oil? I guess we will have to wait to see the long term outcomes, but -- along with many Palestinians -- I'm not really holding out much hope. NT: Means of resisting economic colonization are extremely difficult. How is Freedom Clothing affecting change and what responsibilities should purchasers overseas have?
JT: This is an important question and I'm not sure I can really answer adequately. Our attitude has been that it is important to bring ongoing work to Palestinian businesses and that we will try to do that in a way that helps not hurts those at the bottom of the economic pile. But the reality is that those things can be in conflict -- and in an uncertain market with so few people actively attempting to buy Palestinian [products], there is little leverage to apply to affect change. I'd like to force increases in pay in the places we work, but recognize that without ongoing orders, that is unlikely to happen.I think the main responsibility of overseas purchasers is to hold on to the hope of a better life for the Palestinians, particularly those forgotten at the bottom -- which so many seem to have given up believing in -- and to generate creative ideas about how to produce and sell things from Palestine that have a competitive edge. There must be many people around the world with expertise and knowledge of various markets which Palestinians could work in if they knew about it, but need help to change and help to gain knowledge of them. I often lie in bed at night and dream of a magic idea which would suddenly give Palestinians a competitive edge and [revitalize] the economy. But it hasn't come yet.
Natasha Tsangarides is a freelance journalist based in London.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On Dialogue

This piece is excerpted from an op-ed by Stephen Mutoro, in the Kenyan newspaper, "The Standard" (2/11/08). Although it was written to address the international attempts to calm the post-election violence in Kenya, the piece has implications for the Israel Palestine impasse as well. Everyone talks about dialogue, says Mutoro, but few stop to think what useful dialogue should be about.

"A dialogue to write home about is one in which parties to a given dispute do not aim at merely winning their respective goals. It is about achieving a "common ground" through careful understanding of both positions. It is also about accommodating the other party without overly compromising one's strongest principles.

Common ground is a position at which warring parties derive genuinely shared values, beliefs, concerns and interests. Debates are neither about empathy nor connective listening to the other party. They are about detecting and zeroing in on the purported weaknesses and errors on the opposing side.

When protagonists accuse and counter-accuse each other, point fingers and appear to intimidate their opponents under the guise of winning favour, they are simply debating.

But what exactly are weaknesses of dialogue as a process? The first pitfall of dialogue is that it assumes that both parties are actually wrong or right on a matter under dispute. That assumption is largely deceptive.

According to Jonathan Kuttab, an experienced dialogue expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict, individuals engaged in dialogue tend to gloss over basic conflict issues. They appear rather "prone to be very reasonable, sensitive, wonderful people, and they feel a desperate urgency to have everybody agree with everyone else".

What is more? They have a natural tendency to avoid "tough and rough" issues. Most commonly, they would appear to worry more about the less pertinent issues.

Another dark side of those who switch into a dialogue mode is that they appear to succumb to pressure to compromise on issues of principle for which both sides passionately hold dear. To have to come together, such dialoguers must accept some necessary "moral evil".

Some people take dialogue for a substitute of action. To them a dialogue is too important that it is deemed an end in itself. As such, there is often too much unrealistic expectation pegged on dialogue. Even the media often moves its spotlight from the oppressed, victims and those vulnerable. The danger with such a development is that should the said dialogue collapse, all hell would break loose -with fewer available options.

Dialogue often calls for an unjust co-option. In political scenarios, it is called 'power-sharing'. In the example of the biblical case of King Solomon resolving the case of the two women laying a spirited claim to one child - "power-sharing" can be akin to literally splitting the proverbial child into two to be unduly 'shared' by the two when it actually belongs to one of them.

For these reasons, a proper model of dialogue is often elusive and the most difficult to call. But what exactly are the ingredients of a proper dialogue?

Firstly, genuine dialogue is premised on the need to seek nothing but the truth. Falsifying issues for the sake of a temporary accommodation often has severe reprisals.

In seeking the truth, it is better going for the real protagonists and not necessarily settle for 'moderates' or 'like-minded' negotiators for a quick fix. It never works that way. If it works, it won't last.

Secondly, a good dialogue process is one that is devoid of panaceas. It does not attempt to find a "magic" formula as a way out of the impasse. The need to have negotiators agree across the board -and have them consult their principals at every stage -cements the possibility of possible cracks in future.

Thirdly, one party should not manipulate the other for personal or short-term benefits.

Finally, having the 'bigger picture' in mind as either side engages in dialogue has the potential to shift hardliners from narrow selfish and partisan position to a society's or a country's national interest."

The writer is the chief executive officer, the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Let's get the candidates talking about Israel-Palestine

5 Questions On Israel For The Next Debate
01/18/08 2:06 PM

From Mother

As I've said before, there's been a vacuum surrounding Israel and Palestine this campaign season. Moderators have broached the issue only twice in the last 13 debates. And the most recent question, posed by Wendell Goler last week at the Fox News debate in South Carolina, was pretty weak. As Goler wound up—"Mayor Giuliani, President Bush is in the Middle East ... laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state"—there was, briefly, a glimmer of hope. Then he tossed this doozy of a softball: "I wonder, sir, how you would keep a Palestinian state from becoming a breeding ground for anti-American terrorism." One of several surreal assumptions behind the question seemed to be, "The Palestinians are prostrate, mightn't it be better if they're kept that way?" And that to the candidate with the Likudnik A-team advising him. Oh, well.

Since the debates have been so deficient in this area, I asked five well-informed Middle East observers what they would ask the candidates on the issue, if they could ask anything. The only ground rule was to keep it brief; no other boundaries. Here are their responses:

From Juan Cole of Informed Comment: Has Israeli colonization of the West Bank proceeded to the point where a two-state solution has become impractical? And, if so, isn't there now a choice between an Apartheid state or a one-state solution?

From Matthew Duss of TAPPED: Recognizing that Israel's settlements in the occupied territories are considered illegal under international law, and recognizing that their relentless expansion, which has continued over the last decade despite repeated Israeli assurances to the contrary, is both a source of Palestinian suffering and a major instigator of extremism and violence, as well as being deeply prejudicial to final status negotiations, are you prepared to take a firm stand against the settlements, and to carry through with real consequences if Israel does not cease settlement expansion?

From Trita Parsi, author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States: Since 1993, the United States has pursued a policy of seeking peace between Israel and Palestine by isolating Iran. As former Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk said, the two were symbiotic. Peace was necessary to isolate Iran, isolating Iran was necessary for peace. Fifteen years later, we can conclude that this strategy was an utter failure. Yet, the Bush Administration is following a similar path, seeking to create an alliance of Israel and Sunni Arab dictatorships to isolate Iran under the guise of peacemaking. In your administration, how would you approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? By repeating the Bush/Clinton policy or by pursuing a holistic approach aimed at giving all regional actors a stake in the outcome and process of peacemaking?

From Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss: Why is it that our last two presidents only made a major push on Israel/Palestine at the end of their 8-year terms, when they had nothing politically to lose? Doesn't this show that this is the big enchilada in foreign affairs and that our politics around this issue are unhealthy? What will you do differently, before your 8 years are up?

From Stephen Zunes of Foreign Policy in Focus: For Senator Clinton. During the 2006 war in Lebanon, you co-sponsored a resolution condemning Hezbollah for its alleged use of "human shields." Since then, detailed on-the-ground studies by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, while highly critical of Hezbollah's responsibility for civilian deaths in Israel, have challenged the claims by the Bush administration that Hezbollah's alleged use of "human shields" contributed to the high numbers of civilian deaths from Israeli bombardment in Lebanon. Similarly, the reports of these credible human rights organizations have placed responsibility for the vast majority of the 800 Lebanese civilian deaths on the government of Israel. Are you willing to acknowledge that Israel was culpable for most of the Lebanese civilian deaths? And, as president, would you belittle the findings of human rights groups in order to support violations of international humanitarian law by U.S. allies?

—Justin Elliott
- Mother Jones

Have a good question for the candidates on Israel? Put proposals on PIAG's comments.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"We are blessed -- or cursed -- to live with each other. I prefer the first."

Israeli pianist Daniel Barenboim takes Palestinian citizenship
By News Agencies Haaretz - 13 January 2008

Daniel Barenboim, the world renowned Israeli pianist and conductor, has taken Palestinian citizenship and said he believed his rare new status could serve as a model for peace between the two peoples.

"It is a great honor to be offered a passport," he said late on Saturday after a Beethoven piano recital in Ramallah, the West Bank city where he has been active for some years in promoting contact between young Arab and Israeli musicians. "I have also accepted it because I believe that the destinies of ... the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are inextricably linked," Barenboim said. "We are blessed - or cursed - to live with each other. And I prefer the first."

"The fact that an Israeli citizen can be awarded a Palestinian passport can be a sign that it is actually possible," he continued. Former Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouthi, who helped organize Saturday's concert, said the passport had been approved by the previous government of which he was a member and which was replaced in June. The passport had actually been issued about six weeks ago, he added.

Argentine-born Barenboim, 65, is a controversial figure in his adoptive homeland, both for his promotion of 19th-century composer Richard Wagner - whose music and anti-Semitic writings influenced Adolf Hitler - and vocal opposition to Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories.

Asked about U.S. President George W. Bush's remarks last week on a visit to the region that a peace could be signed this year, Barenboim warned of the danger of raising hopes too high. "It would be absolutely horrible if now, with good intentions, expectations are raised which will not be able to be fulfilled," Barenboim said. "Then we will sink into an even greater depression."

Though he dismissed any wish to play a political role, the former music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra took a dig at Bush's strikingly forceful call in Jerusalem last week for Israel to end, in the president's own words, "the occupation."

"Now even not very intelligent people are saying that the occupation has to be stopped," Barenboim said. Along with the late Palestinian academic Edward Said, he co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, made up of young musicians from Israel, the Palestinian territories and neighboring Arab countries.