Friday, December 03, 2010

The "peace process"

PIAG's dispatch for December reports on the status of the Israeli Palestinian peace process, and comments on some suggested solutions to the current impasse.

A bit of background: The Obama administration has been trying all year to bring both sides to the negotiating table, but Palestinians have refused to talk as long as Israel allows the construction of illegal, "Jewish-only" settlements to continue unabated. To understand why the settlement issue is so critical to Palestinians, see PIAG's map cards http://www.fosna.org/content/mapcards which detail the loss of Palestinian lands to Israel since 1948.

To encourage Israel to agree to at least a three-month settlement freeze, the Obama administration recently came up with a bright idea: the US would sell Israel $3 billion worth of fighter jets and veto any anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/15/AR2010111506596.html

PIAG wonders why the Obama administration believes that weapons of war will promote the atmosphere of trust that is so necessary for peace talks to succeed. Is this a blatant "bribe," as some columnists claim? Or does the US really think that a conflict of this magnitude and depth can be solved by threat and intimidation?

Neve Gordon, professor of political science at Israel’s Ben Gurion University bluntly comments on Obama's offer: "Imagine a sheriff offering the head of a criminal gang the following deal: ‘If you agree to stop stealing from your neighbours for three months, I’ll give you cutting edge weaponry and block any efforts by other law enforcement authorities to restrain your criminal activities.’ http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2010/11/15/neve-gordon/one-sided-deal/

If this is the best that the U.S. can come up with, we might think what’s needed are some new ideas. But so many good ones have already have been proposed. The Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) has published a collection of a dozen proposed solutions by Palestinian and Israeli authors: http://www.passia.org/ The U.S.-based J Street has come up with a “borders and security first” approach: http://www.jstreet.org/ And Yuval Rabin, son of assassinated Israeli prime minister Itzak Rabin, crafted a peace plan that he believes will "minimize the impact of the spoilers." http://bitterlemons-api.org/inside.php?id=5

But Jeff Halper, who has studied the conflict for decades, says it is relatively easy to come up with proposals that incorporate all seven elements that are critical for a just and lasting peace: the terms must be inclusive of both peoples, allow each their national expression, provide economic viability to all parties, be based on human rights, international law and UN declarations, squarely address the right of return, be regional in scope (rather than limited to Palestine and Israel), and address the security concerns of both sides. Any number of solutions that include these elements would be viable. The problem, Halper says, is that Israel will never agree to end its Occupation: “There will be no negotiated settlement, period.” While PIAG is not quite that pessimistic, we note that signs do point in that direction.

So how will the conflict be resolved? The Palestinians, fragmented and suffering from weak leadership, are unlikely to organize strong, non-violent tactics that could break the deadlock. Nor can the international community force Israel’s right wing government to bargain in good faith, given the unshakable, "pro-Israel" position of the U.S. Congress. Yet Halper believes that as early as next year, something will happen to break the impasse, creating a context in which a just peace is possible.

This "game-changing break" could come in the form of a unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinian Authority along the 1949 armistice lines – unlikely, Halper thinks, because of the leadership vacuum. The other possibility Halper sees is the resignation or complete collapse of the Palestinian Authority. If that happens, Israel, not wanting Hamas to gain control over the West Bank, would use its military might to re-take all of the Territories, and then be obliged under international law “to economically support four million impoverished Palestinians with no economic infrastructure whatsoever,” an impossible burden. Strangely enough, this nightmare scenario would put Palestinians and their supporters into the driver's seat, especially if the international community intentionally refrains from providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, who would inevitably suffer in the violence and chaos of the re-Occupation. http://www.middleastpost.com/2523/palestine-2011-jeff-halper/

As Quakers, we view this scenario with alarm. While a game-changer is surely necessary to break the stalemate, urging an even greater disaster onto the Palestinian people is neither moral nor pragmatic. Even if Israel were forced to negotiate on Palestinian terms to avoid its own economic collapse, we do not see how the resulting "peace agreement" would promote justice, security, or economic cooperation, not to mention reconciliation.

PIAG urges you to speak out before the situation degenerates further. Visiting members of Congress, appealing to FCNL to lobby on Capitol Hill, writing letters to the editor, joining the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, vigiling, educating, all are principled ways to insist that peace is possible.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The arts, religion, and culture

As the stalemate in the peace talks continues, with the Israelis refusing to stop settlement construction, the Palestinians refusing to talk until the theft of land and resources is halted, and the Americans preoccupied with November elections, PIAG’S dispatch for November reports on issues in the arts, religion, and culture.

CULTURAL PRESERVATION
In Gaza, concern is mounting over the difficulty in preserving important archeological sites and artifacts, as Israel continues to ban materials that Palestinian curators need to pursue their scientific work. Indiscriminate bombing during the seige of Gaza has also threatened sites important to Palestinian history and the world storehouse of cultures: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11588.shtml

CULTURAL CONFUSION
Journalist Ali Abunimah expresses his frustration with Barack Obama, who had no qualms about wearing the religiously mandated head convering when visiting Israel's Wailing Wall, but has turned down an invitation to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, a site sacred to Sikhs, on the grounds that the required head covering would make him look like a Muslim. Of course, Sikhs are not Muslims, but Americans have been known to confuse the two, perhaps because Sikh turbans remind them of Hollywood depictions of Arabs in film: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-223210418534585840# While Abunimah's anger at Obama over this issue may seem petty, it reminds us of the danger, both physical and political, of U.S. Islamophobia, and the willingness of many Americans to downplay or excuse our own or our allies' aggression against Muslims.
http://aliabunimah.posterous.com/obama-expands-his-islamophobia-to-include-sik#more

CULTURAL BOYCOTT AS NONVIOLENT TECHNIQUE
Palestinians have called on the international community to engage in a cultural and academic boycott of Israeli artists and intellectuals whenever and wherever they appear abroad: http://usacbi.wordpress.com/ In Ann Arbor last month, a group of activists joined this international effort by protesting the Jeruselem Quartet at Rackham Auditorium: http://www.annarbor.com/community/neighborhoods/um_campus/two_groups_merge_to_protest_jersusalem_quartet/
While it may seem unfair to target a small group of Israeli musicians who themselves may have qualms about their government's actions, boycotts of academic and cultural institutions are time-tested nonviolent techniques that exert political pressure on oppressive regimes, and are especially effective against countries that attempt to project a benevolent, cultured image, in contrast to their targets, who, they claim, are unworthy or of no consequence.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The settlement freeze and its aftermath

PIAG’S dispatch for October reports on the latest developments in the struggle for peace with some kind of justice in Palestine. Political analysts, diplomats, and activists “on the ground” give their perspectives on the settlement freeze, which expired on September 27th:

THE POLITICAL ANALYST:
U-M Professor Juan Cole is alarmed that Israeli PM Netanyahu could so blithely “blow off” President Obama’s plea to extend the settlement freeze. This “bespeaks diplomatic amateurism on Obama’s part,” says Cole. “Obama should not have put himself in a position where he had to plead with Netanyahu! Now that the United States has been arrogantly blown off by Tel Aviv, it just looks weak and pathetic, a helpless giant — a posture that could well encourage its enemies to attempt to inflict their own humiliations on it.” http://www.juancole.com/2010/09/netanyahu-blows-off-us-mahmoud-abbas-pleads-for-settleme-freeze.html

THE DIPLOMATS:
“Adding to the pressure,” says the New York Times, "is a meeting in Cairo next week of the Arab League, at which the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmood Abbas has promised to deliver a speech in which he will 'declare historical decisions.' That sparked rumors that he might threaten to resign, something he has done before."
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/01/world/middleeast/01mideast.html?th&emc=th

Rumor also has it that the Arab League may bring the settlement freeze issue to the United Nations, reports the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/arab-league-may-bring-settlement-freeze-debate-to-un-1.316513

THE ACTIVISTS:
While politicians wrangle, David Shulman of Jewish Voice for Peace reports from the West Bank village of An-Nabi Salih, where he is participating in a demonstration on International Peace Day. “Take a helmet,” his friends had advised. The Jewish settlers, the IDF, the Palestinians -- they’re all violent there. Yet despite the passions on all sides, Shulman hears “tough words of peace and hope” from Palestian leader Ali Abu Awad of the Palestinian Movement for Non-Violent Resistance at “the bravest and most dignified demonstration” he has ever seen. “I bow my head to all the volunteers who came to An-Nabi Salih today, who struggled past the soldiers and the roadblocks and didn’t turn back,” Awad tells the crowd. “Our struggle is complicated and hard, a struggle that we all share—local leaders of the villages, women, children, families—the first large-scale Palestinian non-violent movement on the ground, aimed at building a just peace with Israel. When I see Israeli activists coming here to the village, my heart cries with happiness; I am honored to have these people with us. To all the Jews I say: you are not my enemy. The occupation is your enemy, as it is ours. . .” http://networkedblogs.com/8nQH4

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Red and Green

Uri Avnery's Column
Ha'aretz, August, 2010

Channel 10, one of Israel’s three TV channels, aired a report this week that surely frightened a lot of viewers. Its title was “Who is Organizing the World-wide Hatred of Israel Movement?”, and its subject: the dozens of groups in various countries which are conducting a vigorous propaganda campaign for the Palestinians and against Israel.

The activists interviewed, both male and female, young and old - quite a number of them Jews - demonstrate at supermarkets against the products of the settlements and/or of Israel in general, organize mass meetings, make speeches, mobilize trade unions, file lawsuits against Israeli politicians and generals.

According to the report, the various groups use similar methods, but there is no central leadership. It even quotes (without attribution, of course) the title of one of my recent articles, “The Protocols of the Elders of Anti-Zion” and it, too, asserts that there is no such thing. Indeed, there is no need for a world-wide organization, it says, because all over the place there is a spontaneous surge of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli feeling. Recently, following the ”Cast Lead” operation and the flotilla affair, this process has gathered momentum.

In many places, the report discloses, there are now red-green coalitions: cooperation between leftist human-rights bodies and local groups of Muslim immigrants.

The conclusion of the story: this is a great danger to Israel and we must mobilize against it before it is too late.

THE FIRST question that arose in my mind was: what impact is this report going to have on the average Israeli?

I wish I could be sure that it will cause him or her to think again about the viability of the occupation. As one of the activists interviewed said: the Israelis must be brought to understand that the occupation has a price tag.

I wish I believed that this would be the reaction of most Israelis. However, I am afraid that the effect could be very different.

As the jolly song of the 70s goes: “The whole world is against us / That’s not so terrible, we shall overcome. / For we, too, don’t give a damn / For them. // … We have learned this song / From our forefathers / And we shall also sing it / To our sons. / And the grandchildren of our grandchildren will sing it / Here, in the Land of Israel, / And everybody who is against us / Can go to hell.”

The writer of this song, Yoram Taharlev (“pure of heart”) has succeeded in expressing a basic Jewish belief, crystallized during the centuries of persecution in Christian Europe which reached its climax in the Holocaust. Every Jewish child learns in school that when six million Jews were murdered, the entire world looked on and didn’t lift a finger to save them.

This is not quite true. Many tens of thousands of non-Jews risked their lives and the lives of their families in order to save Jews – in Poland, Denmark, France, Holland and other countries, even in Germany itself. We all know about people who were saved this way - like former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who as a child was smuggled out of the ghetto by a Polish farmer, and Minister Yossi Peled, who was hidden for years by a Catholic Belgian family. Only a few of these largely unsung heroes were cited as “Righteous among the Nations” by Yad Vashem. (Between us, how many Israelis in a similar situation would risk their lives and the lives of their children in order to save a foreigner?)

But the belief that “the whole world is against us” is rooted deep in our national psyche. It enables us to ignore the world reaction to our behavior. It is very convenient. If the entire world hates us anyhow, the nature of our deeds, good or bad, doesn’t really matter. They would hate Israel even if we were angels. The Goyim are just anti-Semitic.

It is easy to show that this is also untrue. The world loved us when we founded the State of Israel and defended it with our blood. A day after the Six-day War, the whole world applauded us. They loved us when we were David, they hate us when we are Goliath.

This does not convince the world-against-us people. Why is there no world-wide movement against the atrocities of the Russians in Chechnya or the Chinese in Tibet? Why only against us? Why do the Palestinians deserve more sympathy than the Kurds in Turkey?

One could answer that since Israel demands special treatment in all other matters, we are measured by special standards when it comes to the occupation and the settlements. But logic doesn’t matter. It’s the national myths that count.

Yesterday, Israel’s third largest newspaper, Ma’ariv, published a story about our ambassador to the United Nations under the revealing headline: “Behind enemy lines”.

I REMEMBER one of the clashes I had with Golda Meir in the Knesset, after the beginning of the settlement enterprise and the angry reactions throughout the world. As now, people put all the blame on our faulty “explaining”. The Knesset held a general debate.

Speaker after speaker declaimed the usual clich├ęs: the Arab propaganda is brilliant, our “explaining” is beneath contempt. When my turn came, I said: It’s not the fault of the “explaining”. The best “explaining” in the world cannot “explain” the occupation and the settlements. If we want to gain the sympathy of the world, it’s not our words that must change, but our actions.

Throughout the debate, Golda Meir – as was her wont – stood at the door of the plenum hall, chain-smoking. Summing up, she answered every speaker in turn, ignoring my speech. I thought that she had decided to boycott me, when – after a dramatic pause – she turned in my direction. “Deputy Avnery thinks that they hate us because of what we do. He does not know the Goyim. The Goyim love the Jews when they are beaten and miserable. They hate the Jews when they are victorious and successful.” If clapping were allowed in the Knesset, the whole House would have burst into thunderous applause.

There is a danger that the current worldwide protest will meet the same reaction: that the Israeli public will unite against the evil Goyim, instead of uniting against the settlers.

SOME OF the protest groups could not care less. Their actions are not addressed to the Israeli public, but to international opinion.

I don’t mean the anti-Semites, who are trying to hitch a ride on this movement. They are a negligible force. Neither do I mean those who believe that the creation of the State of Israel was a historical mistake to start with, and that it should be dismantled.

I mean all the idealists who wish to put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people and the stealing of their land by the settlers, and to help them to found the free State of Palestine.

These aims can be achieved only through peace between Palestine and Israel. And such a peace can come about only if the majority of Palestinians and the majority of Israelis support it. Outside pressure will not suffice.

Anyone who understands this must be interested in a world-wide protest that does not push the Israeli population into the arms of the settlers, but, on the contrary, isolates the settlers and turns the general public against them.

How can this be achieved?

THE FIRST thing is to clearly differentiate between the boycott of the settlements and a general boycott of Israel. The TV report suggested that many of the protesters do not see the border between the two. It showed a middle-aged British woman in a supermarket, waving some fruit over her head and shouting: “these come from a settlement!” Then it showed a demonstration against the Ahava cosmetic products that are extracted from the Palestinian part of the Dead Sea. But immediately after, there came a call for a boycott of all Israeli products. Perhaps many of the protesters – or the editors of the film - are not clear about the difference.

The Israeli right also blurs this distinction. For example: a recent bill in the Knesset wants to punish those who support a boycott on the products of Israel, including – as it states explicitly - the products of the settlements.

If the world protest is clearly focused on the settlements, it will indeed cause many Israelis to realize that there is a clear line between the legitimate State of Israel and the illegitimate occupation.

That is also true for other parts of the story. For example: the initiative to boycott the Caterpillar company, whose monstrous bulldozers are a major weapon of the occupation. When the heroic peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death under one of them, the company should have stopped all further supplies unless assured that they would not be used for repression.

As long as suspected war criminals are not brought to justice in Israel itself, one cannot object to the initiatives to prosecute them abroad.

After this week’s decision by the main Israeli theaters to perform in the settlements, it will be logical to boycott them abroad. If they are so keen to make money in Ariel, they can’t complain about losing money in Paris and London.

THE SECOND thing is the connection between these groups and the Israeli public.

Today a large majority of Israelis say that they want peace and are ready to pay the price, but that, unfortunately, the Arabs don’t want peace. The mainstream peace camp, which could once bring hundreds of thousands onto the street, is in a state of depression. It feels isolated. Among other things, its once close connection with the Palestinians, which was established at the time of Yasser Arafat after Oslo, has become very loose. So have relations with the protest forces abroad.

If people of goodwill want to speed up the end of the occupation, they must support the peace activists in Israel. They should build a close connection with them, break the conspiracy of silence against them in the world media and publicize their courageous actions, organize more and more international events in which Palestinian and Israeli peace activists will be present side by side. It would also be nice if for every ten billionaires who finance the extreme Right in Israel, there were at least one millionaire supporting action in pursuit of peace.

All this becomes impossible if there is a call for a boycott on all Israelis, irrespective of their views and actions, and Israel is presented as a monolithic monster. This picture is not only false, it is extremely harmful.

Many of the activists who appear in this report arouse respect and admiration. So much good will! So much courage! If they point their activities in the right direction, they can do a lot of good - good for the Palestinians, and good for us Israelis, too.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

50 Ways to Act for Peace With Justice

List initiated by Mazin Qumsiyeh, George Rishmawi and others at
The Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People

1) Educate yourself via reliable books. For example books by Ilan Pappe
(Ethnic Ceansing of Palestine), Edward Said (The Question of Palestine).

2) Educate yourself and track current information and key historical data
via websites (and disseminate it). For example look into
http://www.imemc.org/, http://electronicintifada.net/,
http://english.aljazeera.net/, Encyclopedia of the Palestine Problem,
Palestine Remembered, and similar websites.

3) Educate yourself by visiting Palestine and writing about it. There are
many organizations doing tours that inspire. Examples Siraj Center, Alternative Tourism Group, Holy Land Trust, Global Exchange, Birthright Unplugged, International Solidarity Movement, etc

4) Practice using clear and unambiguous vocabulary including language to
protest apartheid and colonization. See for example developing an anti-apartheid framework for the struggle (PDF File):
http://www.endtheoccupation.org/downloads/AAF%20curriculum%20training%20.pdf

5) Challenge media bias by first educating yourself and others about its
existence and the extent of the bias. See for example
http://ifamericansknew.org/

6) Write to the mainstream media. You can write letters to the editor (usually
200 words) and/or opinion pieces (700-900 words).

7) Start your own group or join an existing organization that works for
justice. Simply search/google your city with the word Palestine to identify
candidates.

8) Join the International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

9) Develop close working relationship with progressive parties and groups in your country.

10) Network and enhance groups working on sanctions and suspension of US aid to Israel. e.g. Suspend US Aid to Israel Now

11) Lobby. This is done individually or by supporting/joining one or more of the many groups doing it, e.g. Council for the National Interest, Citizens For Fair Legislation, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, and American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights (http://www.aaper.org/).

12) Hold a teach-in, seminar, or public dialogue. This is straightforward:you need to decide on a venue, speakers, and publicity. This can be facilitated through such groups as Palestine Media Watch which have speakers bureaus.

13) Send direct aid and support for people on the ground through transparent and trustworthy groups.

14) Use youtube and googlevideo to disseminate information

15) Challenge Israel in local and International courts.If you are a lawyer, donate your time and start networking and initiating cases (e.g. US Congress is violating US laws by sending money to Israel, US Citizens can bring cases against foreign governments that harmed them). Groups with great interest and activism on behalf of Palestinians includes Lawyers Without Borders, National Lawyers Guild, Al-Haq, Yesh Din, and Adalah - Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

16) Help coalitions work for Palestine and insist they do not leave this issue; example is http://CTUnitedforPeace.org.

17) If you work in a group, suggest formation of local or national coalitions to increase the power by association.

18) Join the campaigns for economic boycotts. See successful examples here: http://www.qumsiyeh.org/boycottsanddivestment/

19) Join or initiate a campaign for cultural and academic boycott; see also
http://pacbi.org/.

20) Host an art exhibit or other art performance (music, dabka etc) that highlight the rich Palestinian culture.

21) Engage in civil disobedience actions to draw attention and change policies.

22) Develop campaigns to support the right to enter: see www.righttoenter.ps
Israel Takes Aim At Palestinian Families By Ida Audeh
http://www.countercurrents.org/audeh110907.htm

23) Facilitate a visit by the Wheels of Justice bus tour to your area (in the US) or create a similar bus (e.g. in Europe). See justicewheels.org

24) Donate to aid Palestinian Children. For example, Palestine Children Relief Fund, and Playgrounds for Palestine

25) Develop campaigns to ban Political Junkets to Israel.Here is an example "In a challenge to one of the most powerful lobbying tactics used by the Jewish community, a county in Maryland decided last week that local legislators could no longer go on sponsored trips to Israel. http://www.forward.com/articles/11553/

26) Support the campaigns to end the siege on Gaza. See http://www.freegaza.org/

27) Work in your country against discrimination: Arabs Against Discrimination: http://www.aad-online.org/

28) Support Human Rights: Human Rights Watch: http://hrw.org/doc/?t=mideast&c=isrlpa
B'Tselem:The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories http://www.btselem.org

29) Support the Right to Education Campaign: http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/

30) Donate to United Nations Relief and Works Agency: http://www.un.org/unrwa/

31) Work against home demolistions: Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions: http://www.icahd.org/eng

32) Support empowering Youth from Palestine e.g. see http://www.yfppal.com/
and http://www.alrowwad-acts.ps

33) Write to and work with alternative mass media (like DemocracyNow, Public Access TV).

34) Create your own content and post it to the web

35) Utilize social networking sites to reach a mass audience (e.g. Facebook)

36) Go into chat rooms, email discussions, etc. and spread the word.

37) Buy Palestinian Products, for example from www.palestineonlinestore.com,
www.canaanfairtrade.com, www.palestinefairtrade.org.

38) Pray for Peace and Justice or if you are not religious, take time out to
think and meditate on what can be done to achieve Peace with Justice

39) Make a podcast or public service announcement and spread it

40) Drop a banner from a traffic bridge or any other publicly visible location

41) Put out an information table in a university student center, public gathering, festivals, or other places where people congregate.

42) Host a fundraising party or dinner at your home.

43) Show a documentary in a public setting and then have a discussion about it.

44) Organize a public debate between those who support Zionism and those who support equality and justice

45) Learn Arabic or if you are an Arab learn another language (including Hebrew) so that you can communicate better

46) Do street theater

45) Engage in Civil disobedience acts (this may entail getting arrested).

46) Reach out to Christian religious leaders and ask them to act based on the Kairos Palestine document www.kairospalestine.ps

47) Challenge the Zionist attempts to doctor Wikipedia (ie. imposing a Zionist distorted version on this free web encyclopedia).

48) Start a genuine interfaith dialogue based on acting for justice rather than chatting to hide injustice.

49) Find a way not to pay taxes to governments that violate human rights and use your taxes for war and oppression.

50) Host a dinner with Arabic food and show people the rich cultural traditions like embroidered dresses that go back to Canaanitic times.

Write to us to remind us of other ways to act.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Resumption of Peace Talks

PIAG is cautiously optimistic about the announcement of the resumption of direct talks between Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian Authority broke off direct talks with Israel in December 2008, when Israel launched its three-week assault on Gaza. President Obama has spent the last 18 months trying to persuade both sides to restart the dialogue. You can read about the resumption of negotiations in both the New York Times and Aljazeera, each of which presents a slightly different perspective:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/21/world/middleeast/21diplo.html?_r=1&hp
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/08/201082012452252467.html

One of the difficulties with restarting face to face negotiations has been the issue of Jewish-only settlements that Israelis continue to build with impunity on Palestinian land. A self-imposed settlement freeze has been in place since November 2009, yet the freeze did not include East Jerusalem and has been routinely violated in the West Bank. Although the result has clearly been better than no freeze at all, 492 violations have been reported by the liberal Israeli group Peace Now: http://www.peacenow.org.il/site/en/peace.asp?pi=61&docid=4747&pos=0

Mr. Netanyahu has refused to extend the settlement freeze past September 26, its expiration date, claiming that doing so would cause his right-wing government to collapse. http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/netanyahu-extending-settlement-freeze-will-cause-government-to-collapse-1.304671 Such is politics!

In the past, Mr. Abbas has insisted that all Israeli settlement construction be stopped before peace talks resume. Yet it appears that Abbas has conceded this point under intense pressure from the U.S. and the European Union. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/21/world/middleeast/21diplo.html?hp

Of course, all these decisions have ignored the people of Gaza entirely. Hamas, the duly elected ruling party, has never recognized Abbas’s government in the West Bank, and predictably has criticized the decision of the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table. According to Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, “nothing has been achieved” to warrant the resumption of talks. There have been no gestures of good faith, no thawing of relations, no assurances that a new Palestinian state will be based on the 1967 borders, no guarantee that Palestinian lands will not continue to be expropriated while talks drag on over the next year.

We agree. Yet Quakers put their faith in dialogue, and believe that discussion in hopeless circumstances can sometimes yield surprising results.

So it is with hope mixed with a certain degree of skepticism that we report this very small step toward a just peace. Despite the difficulties, most close observers of the conflict agree that these talks may be the last chance for a two state solution.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A Time for Quakers (and everyone) to Act

Dear All,
Last night, the Israeli army attacked the humanitarian flotilla to Gaza in international waters, killing between 10 and 20 peace activists on board. The international community is in an uproar. Please read the New York Times and/or Aljazeera accounts below. And please, now is the time to act. Letters to the editor, op-eds, talking to friends, sending mail to your Senators and Representatives as well as the President, all can help.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/world/middleeast/01flotilla.html?ref=world
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/05/201053133047995359.html

While individual actions are essential, it is time for Quaker Meetings to take a more visible stand on the difficult, controversial, yet crystal clear issue of Palestine. A recent story in Friends Journal on another controversial issue, slavery, makes a similar point. Here is the jist of it.

322 years ago, four Quakers living in Germantown PA, wrote a Minute decrying the Quaker practice of slavery (see attached for the full text).

The signers made several arguments, the first and most prominent being the Golden Rule: "There is a saying that we shall doe to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are." The authors ask, in a tone of anguish, if their fellow Quakers would like to be treated as they treat their slaves, for "Quakers doe here handel men as they handel there ye cattle."

The four Dutch Quakers who wrote the Minute presented it to their monthly Meeting in 1688. It was judged too controversial, and sent to the Quarterly Meeting, where it was judged too weighty. It was then sent to the Yearly Meeting, where "it was adjusted not to be so proper for this Meeting to give a Positive Judgment in the case, It having so General a Relation to many other Parts, and therefore at present they forbear It."

Why was this Minute so controversial? Slavery, by 1688, had become quite profitable, and profit, as well as freedom from oppression, was a draw for new immigrants. And although various forms of slavery were quite widespread at the time (in Russia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe), slavery in the "New World" had become color-coded (slave=black), which made it easier for the people who saw themselves as "white" to consider blacks as less than human. There are always "reasons" to ignore the Golden Rule.

The proposed Minute, never passed, was filed away in the archives of the Philadelphia Meeting House until it was "rediscovered" by Quaker abolitionists 156 years later, and used to promote the national anti-slavery cause. Pennsylvania abolished slavery 92 years after the Minute in Germantown pointed out its inconsistency with the Golden Rule.
http://www.friendsjournal.org/here-slaverys-death-began

Dear Friends, let us not be like the early Pennsylvania Quaker Meetings, that were unable to take a principled collective stand on the Golden Rule. If Palestinians are human beings like ourselves, and if our own government supports their oppression through monetary and military support of Israel, we cannot in good conscience stand by silently.

In peace with justice
Helen Fox
for the Palestine Israel Action Group
of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting

Friday, May 28, 2010

Please support International Flotilla to Gaza

PIAG’s monthly dispatch for June, 2010 focuses on ten humanitarian ships with 700 peace activists on board bringing 5000 tons of aid to Gaza this Memorial Day Weekend, with all the celebration and trepidation that nonviolent action entails. This video clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkNmwohwSeE shows the joyful send off of The Rachael Corrie, one of the ships in the "Freedom Flotilla" which will converge in the Meditarranean and set sail toward Gaza, where the Israeli military is determined to stop them.

Described as "a force more powerful" by Ewa Jasiewicz in the Electronic Intifada, "this flotilla represents radical solidarity and a force that can be realized when people from all over the world act on their conscience. It's a force made real through stepping out onto the streets or into occupation-supporting businesses, through speaking out, through fundraising in mosques, churches, synagogues, schools; through writing, singing, sharing, relaying and promoting, and packing and driving boxes of materials and cement, and cheering on and praying for and protesting any attack."
http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11266.shtml

We conclude with an appeal from the Shalom Center: A Prophetic Voice in Jewish, Multireligious, and American Life: Support Humanitarian "Ship-In" to Gaza: Urge Israeli Government to Let Ships Land:

From the Shalom Center:

"According to Israeli news reports, half the Israeli Navy has been deployed to intercept these ships instead of letting them proceed to deliver food, medical supplies such as wheelchairs, and materials for reconstructing homes that were destroyed during the Israeli government's attack on Gaza a year ago.

The ships are being sent because the Israeli government has imposed a blockade on many civilian goods from entering Gaza. The ships are intended as a nonviolent way of breaking through the blockade.

In Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights has urged the government to allow the ships to pass and to end its blockade of civilian goods from entering Gaza. The Shalom Center joins in this plea and invites our readers and members to join in it as well by writing or calling Secretary of State Clinton, the Israeli Embassy to the United States, and the Israeli consulates near where they live.

This nonviolent approach to achieving political change is both profoundly ethical and profoundly practical. It echoes, for example, the work of the civil rights movement in the United States in the early 1960s. Sit-ins, freedom rides, freedom schools, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party all operated on the principle of carrying into practice in the present the vision that its activists had for the future.

Their vision was that restaurants, buses, and schools should be open to all, and that the Democratic Party in Mississippi should reflect the voting rights of all citizens of Mississippi, black and white.

What civil rights activists faced was racially segregated society and culture. They did not begin by petitioning Congress for new laws; they did not attack segregationists or segregated institutions. Instead, they embodied the future that they hoped for -- in the present when they were living.

Since they hoped to achieve integrated restaurants, they went in integrated groups to the restaurants. That left the burden of response on the owners and officials. They could arrest sit-in activists; they could even kill them; or they could let the restaurants become integrated.

Over time, so many Americans were moved and drawn by these nonviolent protests that they joined the demonstrations, and insisted that Congress change the laws.

These ten ships approaching the coast of Gaza are doing the same thing. They want the blockade of civilian goods to end; so they are ending it by bringing humanitarian supplies. They are putting the burden on the Israeli government of choosing to attack them or choosing to let the supplies through.

For years, many of us have urged Palestinians to turn to nonviolent action. Now they and their supporters are doing this. And they are doing it not by boycotting or divesting from Israel but by a positive rather than a negative action -- affirming the simple justice of allowing Palestinians in Gaza to receive what human beings need. I hope that many Americans, many Jews among them, will respond as Northern whites responded to the sit-in movement 50 years ago.

Below you can find three items: the English translation of the letter sent today by Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel to Defense Minister Ehud Barak; a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to the Israeli Embassy; and the telephone, fax, and e-mail addresses of Secretary Clinton, the Israeli embassy to the United States, and consulates around the country.

Supporters are encouraged to draw on these letters as they like, to phone, e-mail, or fax their own comments to Secretary Clinton and the Israeli government -- -- urging them to welcome, rather than attack, these ships bearing humanitarian supplies.

Below is the English translation of the letter sent today by Rabbis For Human Rights to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

To Defense Minister Ehud Barak,

Rabbis For Human Rights believes that, instead of viewing humanitarian aid as a provocation, Israel ought to let the Gaza flotilla reach the Gaza port, along with the cargo and those on board, after a thorough but quick inspection.

Rabbis For Human Rights supports the people of conscience from around the world who have sent humanitarian aid to Gaza. We also welcome Israeli government's announcement that it will allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. We are hopeful that, after years of the blockade that has caused great suffering to the Gaza's civilian population, violated international law and prevented Gazans from rebuilding their lives after the Gaza War, Israel will carry out the Jewish tradition's demand that, even when a town is under siege, a side must be left open. (Mishna Tora; Hilchot Malakhi 6:7)

However, Israeli statements hedging on what will be allowed in and denying that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, along with the list of goods denied in recent years, whose only connection with security is that they allow the civilian population to exist, causes doubt as to Israel's true intentions.

RHR also calls on those responsible for the flotilla to change their decision, and to agree to the request of Gilad Shalit's father to take a package and letter to his son.

B'Vrakha (In Blessing),
Rabbi Arik Ascherman
Executive Director
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Dear Ambassador/ Dear Secretary,

As a rabbi, I am deeply committed to the physical safety and the moral and ethical legitimacy of Israel. Both would be enhanced by welcoming, rather than halting and arresting, the ships bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza -- and by ending the Israeli government's blockade of civilian goods.

Ten ships, over 700 international passengers, and some 5,000 tons of reconstruction materials, representingover 50 countries, are represented on this Flotilla, including parliamentarians, medical professionals, and peace activists. These individuals have every right - indeed,. Obligation -- to sail into Gaza's sea port and deliver the much needed humanitarian, medical, and construction materials necessary for Palestinians in Gaza to rebuild their lives.

Media sources report that Israeli naval forces are allegedly in training to prepare to interdict the Flotilla and prevent the arrival of the ships at "any price". According to news reports, about half of the Israeli naval forces will participate in an operation to prepare to seize the boats in the flotilla and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will supervise the operation.

Israel has stopped at least three Free Gaza sailings since January 2009, including one ship which almost sunk after being deliberately rammed by an Israeli vessel and another ship which Israel intercepted in international waters and arrested all of its passengers. Another ship was forced to turn back after the Israeli Navy threatened to shoot the civilian passengers on board.

I am writing to ask you to do everything possible to prevent Israel from using military force to launch an attack or naval blockade on the Flotilla and it's peaceful, unarmed, international citizens. Please do the right thing and stand with the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza by calling on Israel to ensure that all threats to attack the Freedom Flotilla are withdrawn and its safe passage is guaranteed. I remain hopeful that you will take to heart your role in this and will do everything in your power to ensure their safety.

Signed,
Rabbi Arthur Waskow
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Phone (Office of Public Affairs): 202/647-5171.

Embassy of Israel to US
Phone: (202) 364-5500
Fax: (202)364-5429
Email: info@israelemb.org

Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta
1100 Spring St. N.W. Suite
440 Atlanta, Georgia 30309
Phone: (404) 487-6500
Fax: (404) 487-6555
Email: information@atlanta.mfa.gov.il

Consulate General of Israel in Boston
Phone: (617) 535-0200
Fax: (617) 535-0255
Email: cultural@boston.mfa.gov.il

Consulate General of Israel in Chicago
Phone: 312-297-4800
Fax: 312-297-4855
Email: contactus@chicago.mfa.gov.il

Consulate of Israel to the Southwest
Phone: (713) 627-3780; (713) 622 4924
Fax: (713) 627-0149
Email: consular.dep@houston.mfa.gov.il

Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles
Phone: (323)852-5500
Fax: (323)852-5555
Email: info@losangeles.mfa.gov.il

Consulate General of Israel in Miami
Phone: 305-925-9400
Fax: 305-925-9455
Email: info@miami.mfa.gov.il

Consulate General of Israel in New York
Phone: (212) 499-5400; (212) 499-5000
Email: consular@newyork.mfa.gov.il

Consulate General of Israel in San Francisco
Phone: 415 - 844-7500; (415) 844-7510
Fax: 415-844-7555
Email: consulardep@sanfrancisco.mfa.gov.il

Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia
Phone: 215-977-7600
Fax: 215-977-7611
Email: info@philadelphia.mfa.gov.il

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Settlement Issue

Dear All,
PIAG’s monthly dispatch for April, 2010 reports on the current impasse in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and suggests how nonviolent direct action can address the deadlock.

The U.S. insists that Israel must halt the expansion of Jewish-only settlements on disputed lands in order for negotiations to begin. Here is a cool, interactive map that shows how settlements have expanded in and around Jerusalem:
http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/ht/display/ContentDetails/i/9823/pid/3584

Israel refused to stop expanding its settlements, and in fact, announced the building of even more at the very moment Vice President Joe Biden paid Israel a diplomatic visit. Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu then visited Washington and was deliberately snubbed by the White House.

Meanwhile, Meron Benvenisti, a “dovish” Israeli historian known for his study of Israeli building on land it captured in the 1967 war, made the startling pronouncement that Israeli settlements have “buried the two-state solution.” He is now advocating a bi-national state, an idea that Israel is very unlikely to accept. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE62M3FY20100323

In the US, a new Zogby poll has found that the majority of the public agrees that the settlements are wrong and should be stopped, and are “deeply concerned that the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict puts US interests at risk across the Middle East.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-zogby/new-poll-on-american-atti_b_515835.html

What to do? Economic actions have a long, respected history of moving powerful governments from intransigence to productive negotiation. For many years, PIAG has been compiling a list of bold initiatives around the world to end the Israeli occupation. The report, entitled “Global Actions to End Israel's Occupation of Palestinian Land,” contains hundreds of actions taken by governments, businesses, labor unions, NGO's, academic and religious organizations, and other groups, and is now disseminated and updated regularly by the Interfaith Peace Initiative. www.interfaithpeaceinitiative.com/globalactions.pdf

Monday, January 18, 2010

Israeli Military Rule and Incarceration Procedures in the West Bank

by Alice Rothchild
January 17, 2010

Dr. Rothchild, author of "Broken Promises Broken Dreams," reports from Ramallah, where she was visiting as part of a health and human rights delegation.

Ala Joradat, the program manager of Adameer, a Palestinian human rights organization that focuses primarily on prisoners, legal aid, and monitoring, meets with our delegation and tries to unravel the complex civil and human rights issues that face Palestinians, particularly those who choose to protest the conditions of the Israeli occupation.

He explains that the prisoners are both a product of the conflict and a cause for the conflict. Since 1967, 800,000 Palestinians have experienced detention, representing more than 53% of the population over 18. Because mostly Palestinian males are targeted for arrest, 60-70% of adult males have been to prison. To me this feels somewhat parallel to the disproportionately large number of African-American males currently incarcerated in the US. I wonder if this reflects a huge number of militants and fighters in the OPT, or are there more subtle political forces at work.

Ala explains that arrest and detention are based on military orders that have been in effect since 1967. The military commander issues and cancels orders, heads the civil administration, and assigns the prosecutors, judges, translators, etc, so the entire "justice system" is collegial and the military court is a division of the Israeli Defense Force. Ala emphasizes that military orders are designed to control the population, ranging from what road a Palestinian can use to whether he can dig a well for water. I am stunned at the list of mind boggling potential security offenses which include:

1. Reading the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet who gave voice to the anguish of dispossession and exile

2. Reading "The Collection of UN Resolutions on the Question of Palestine 1948-1982"

3. Associations of parties, factions, charitable societies, NGOs, unions, and student associations. (After Oslo, defacto the PLO and Fatah were legitimized, but in Israeli law they are still listed as "illegal terrorist organizations.")

4. Wearing political symbols, including the cartoon character "Handala"

5. Carrying a Palestinian flag (which is the flag of the PLO which is technically still an illegal organization)

6. Protesting the seizing of your land

7. Throwing stones at the separation wall (destruction of state property)

8. Throwing stones at a soldier (attempted murder)

9. Assisting an injured person at a demonstration, including medical workers, (assisting a terrorist) and the list goes on.

Functionally what this means is that the IDF can control the lives of people and organizations and use the thousands of potential security offenses in an unpredictable and arbitrary manner.

According to Ala, an Israeli soldier, policeman, or even civilian can detain a Palestinian for 8 days without a specific reason, no legal review, and and at the end of this initial period, Palestinians appear before a military judge where they can be released, prosecuted and charged, placed in administrative detention, or most likely sent for interrogation for up to 180 days, with no access to a lawyer for up to 90 days. Ala notes that the interrogation centers are located in police stations or prisons, are controlled by the Shin Bet, and report to the prime minister without external monitoring.

Most of the torture that has been well documented by a variety of Israeli and Palestinian organizations occurs in these settings. The methods have changed over the years, but any statements obtained under torture are admissible in court, even if torture is proven.

The prisons are also rife with collaborators; if a prisoner denies he has committed any crimes, then other prisoners suspect he is a collaborator. If the prisoner boasts of criminal activities true or false, to prove himself to the other prisoners, this is all reported back to the Israeli authorities and held as evidence without any external investigation.These are the kinds of cases Adameer has represented for years.

Ala further explains that charges are also often so vague, without clear times and places, they are difficult to disprove. He cites an example of a case where three men were accused of shooting an Israeli vehicle north of Ramallah. Two confessed and one did not and Adameer took the case. During the trial, it was revealed that the event occurred in July, 2004. The prisoner stated he was in Jordan for the month of July. This information was brought to the attention of the military judge. Because the Israelis control all the borders, the judge could have easily accessed the security computer systems and determined if this man had left the country in July. Instead, the judge asked the Adameer lawyer to prove that the prisoner was in Jordan. The lawyers then brought evidence of stamps and papers that revealed that the prisoner was telling the truth. The military judge then demanded that the lawyers prove that the stamps were not fake. The man was subsequently found guilty in what sounds to me to be a kangaroo court.

Another dark side to this military justice system is the well documented use of collective punishment, demolition of the homes of prisoners, prohibition of family visitation, isolation of prisoners, and neglecting to provide adequate health care to prisoners. Ala also urgently wants us to understand administrative detention, an unlimited detention that can be renewed for months at the judgement of the military commander. If a military judge deems that a prisoner is a potential threat, his source of information is a secret file that neither the prisoner or the prisoner's lawyer has access to, and there is no limit to how often the administrative detention can be renewed.

Ala describes cases where the detention was renewed just as the prisoner was leaving the prison, or even once he got home. What this means is that all people "of suspicion" can be imprisoned without evidence indefinitely. In the past 21 years, one Palestinian man has spent 17 years on and off, in administrative detention, effectively destroying him as well as his family.The most significant point for me in this legally and ethically disturbing discussion is that the vast majority of people in administrative detention are nonviolent civil society activists. Additionally the IDF has a history of assassinating or imprisoning the more moderate Palestinian leadership.

So what are the implications of this system? Clearly the Israeli authorities are very threatened by nonviolent resistance and a powerfully organized civil society movement. This concept challenges the very idea of the unrelenting Arab threat that is the foundation of the Israeli security industry and foreign policy. Judging from the legal system in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, a tortured and unjust legal system is strangling the leadership as well as the foot soldiers in the nonviolent movements that continue to persevere and sometimes flourish under the most difficult of circumstances.

I can only wonder how many Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings, and Mandelas are rotting in Israeli jails today.