Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holiday Message from Jean Zaru in Ramallah

Ramallah Friends Meeting 
Advent Meditation 2015 

How Can I Keep from Singing?

Advent is upon us, my Friends.

Wherever we find ourselves and regardless of our circumstance, this season beckons us to pause, to prepare our hearts, and to appreciate the Giver’s gifts ever more deeply.  But how?  How to pause and open our hearts when life is so hard and death so close?

Today, the violent policies of a nearly half-century military occupation seem more closely coupled with overt racism and identity-based discrimination than ever before. These past few months have been very distressing for those of us living in Palestine.  So, too, is direct and indiscriminate violence being felt in an increasing number of countries around our world. Each day is like the ice of the hardest winter and we wonder how much longer we can go on.

Yet, is it not, at precisely such times as these, that we must heed the Advent call?

In such times as these we are invited to tap ever deeper into the wellspring of our common humanity. We are called to root ourselves ever-more firmly in a posture of gratitude.  Surely, when we do so our faith is refreshed and our Spirit renewed –no matter the state of our bodies and our surroundings.  And wide open are our lives to the expectant wonder of Advent and the coming of the Blessed Community where all are cherished without exception.

Although it is December, there are still a few olives left on the tree in my back courtyard.  For those of you who have visited my home, you may remember this beautiful olive tree.  What a joy it is to wake up to the sound of birds singing, as they sit perched in the tree. They seem to call other birds to share their food. It is as if their music invites the whole community of birds to gather together in celebration. Their joy is infectious and I bask in their sweet notes, appreciating both their beauty and the bounty of the season’s olive harvest. The birds and their seemingly unceasing optimism, remind me of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Mary certainly lived under the harsh realities of empire.  And many years later, in the same land I, too, live under the harsh realities of empire.  I feel that Mary, who I call Our Lady of Palestine, stands by me.  She witnesses day in and day out to the harshness of our experience, to the reality of life under a brutal and prolonged occupation.  She sees the rich oppressing the poor, the powerful lording their authority over society’s most vulnerable.

Mary witnesses to the seen and unseen walls of exclusion, to livelihoods stolen, homes demolished, lands confiscated, water rights violated, freedom of movement restricted, access to holy sites forbidden, human spirits being bent to the breaking point and lives extinguished. The disregard of human rights has become routine, as years roll into decades, and decades into generations. She watches and she knows.

Yes, Mary, Our Lady of Palestine, shares our lived reality even today.  She understands and she stands with us as we experience the heavy hand of empire.

Likewise, in her time, in the shadow of the Roman Empire, Mary bore witness. She sang to God, the Truth and the Light. She sang with full-throated confidence in God’s deliverance of the captives and release for those living under lawless oppression. She proclaimed through song that God will turn the world upside down --lower mountains, and raise valleys. God will bring down empire and raise a new human community of all God’s people. God will restore balance, equality, and well-being to humankind.

And yet I ask myself how, after 67 years of dispossession and 48 years of occupation and denial of all basic rights, can I continue to witness and sing joyfully, as did Mary?
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1: 46-49)

In Luke’s account, the unwed Mary seeks support from another woman: Elizabeth. Together, the two women rejoice in God’s liberating action of new life; they are filled with the Holy Spirit which will later work through their sons. John will, in his own ministry, call for an upturning of societal norms as he instructs people to share their abundance, to be fair in their dealings, and to uphold justice in their daily lives. Ultimately, he asks the people to repent from the evils and vanities of society.

John’s call is just as valid and hard-hitting today. We have plenty of reasons to repent: militarism, fanaticism, disregard for pluralism, and a lack of attention to refugees and other vulnerable children of God. John calls the crowd to prepare themselves for the One who will baptize them in the Holy Spirit. As he does so, he renews the prospect of hope for a new order where justice is abundant and the well-being of all life is assured.

The future that God promises of well-being for people of all faiths, races and identities without exception is not to be awaited passively. It is born in us today, from our flesh and blood, from our commitments and struggles for justice. It becomes the hope for those who do not have hope. A hope that abounds in Mary’s humble song.

How then, my Friends, can we keep from singing?

May this Christmas season be a time of renewal of our commitment to one another and hope in Christ!

Jean head shot

Jean Zaru
Clerk, Ramallah Friends Meeting


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Talking Points on Current Violence in Israel/Palestine

Please write, comment, tweet, or call the media on their one-sided coverage of the current violence in Israel/Palestine. Here are some talking points:

Whether it's FOX News, CNN, or the New York Times, most U.S. news reflects a right wing Israeli point of view. Ironically, Israeli media, notably Ha'aretz, cover many sides to the story.

According to a Jewish Voice for Peace report ( over 50% of New York Times headlines have depicted Palestinians as the instigators of violence, while no headlines depicted Israelis as aggressors. Palestinians were referred to as terrorists 41 times, while the term was used four times (including quotes from Palestinians) to refor to violent Israeli actions intended to terrorize Palestinians. The terms "attack/s" or "attackers" were used 110 times to describe Palestinian actions and people, and 17 times to desribe Israelis. This is important since no media organization is more influential in shaping the way American policymakers and news outlets think about Israel and Palestine than the New York Times.

Eight Jewish Israelis have died in attacks by Palestinians. 64 Palestinians have been killed (as of 10.30.15) by Israeli fire and over 7200 injured, many of whom were only suspected of engaging in violence.

Attacks by disaffected Palestinian youth are the inevitable result of decades of occupation, dispossession and state violence.

The emotional violence of humiliation at check points, imprisonment without trial, and seeing one's children snatched from their beds at night by heavily armed soldiers; the violence of words when racist mobs are allowed to roam the streets, or when Palestinian suffering is denied, diminished, or belittled, or when youth are forced to sign confessions in a language they do not understand; the violence against personal property when Palestinian homes, orchards, and water storage tanks are demolished; the violence of the deliberate destruction of critial infrastructure, such as Gaza's electrical grid and water treatment plant during Israeli bombing attacks in 2014; the physical violence of beatings, tear gas, and shooting with live fire; and the sadistic violence of all-out war against a population (in Gaza) that is not allowed any means of escape.

Knife attacks on Israelis by Palestinian youth are uncoordinated. None of the youth were recruited, indoctrinated, or controlled by others.

The Palestinian Medical Relief Society reports that Israeli security has targeted medical professionals, first aid providers, nurses, and ambulance drivers with live fire and metal bullets. Forty one journalists have been injured.

Under the current arrangement, Israel is receiving $3 billion in U.S. military aid per year, most of which is used to purchace U.S. military hardware such as fighter jets and missle defense systems. The U.S. has offered to increase military aid to Iarael by another $1.5 billion per year to ease tensions over the nuclear deal with Iran.

Heed the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. Spread the word about the biased news coverage of the current violence. Write to U.S. administration officials. Visit your members of Congress. Sign on-line petitions. Write or tweet questions to presidential candidates during debates. Support campus student groups and faculty who are targeted by right-wing, pro-Israel organizations. Post articles on Facebook and Twitter. 

REMEMBER, as in all struggles for justice and human equality, “the oppressor” is not monolithic. Many thoughtful Israelis and American Jews support Palestinian freedom. (Photo courtesy Jewish Voice for Peace)

Some References:
•          972 (Jewish/Israeli writers who oppose the occupation)
•          Ma’an News Agency
•          Ha’aretz (Israel’s liberal newspapter)
•          Mondoweiss (U.S. analyses of US foreign policy)
•          Electronic Intifada  (Independent online news)

•          PIAG’s blog

Thursday, October 22, 2015

In the War of Information, Truth is the Loser

Since mid-September, violence in Israel/Palestine has spiraled out of control. 

Threats to the religious integrity of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque have prompted a spate of stabbings by disaffected Palestinian youth on Israeli police, military personnel, and random citizens.

The deaths of eight Jewish Israelis from these attacks have led to an extreme crackdown by Israeli security forces.

According to the Ministry of Health, since October 1, 2015, 64 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire and 7200 injured in the West Bank and Jeruselem, many of whom were only suspected of engaging in violence. See stats here. The Palestinian Medical Relief Society reports that Israeli security has targeted medical professionals, first aid providers, nurses, and ambulance drivers with live fire and metal bullets. Forty one journalists have been injured.
In the Israeli street, fear and rage have taken over. Racist mobs roam the streets of Jerusalem shouting "Death to Arabs." Video footage circulating on social media in mid-October showed 13-year-old Ahmad Manasra, whose limbs lay at unnatural angles after being run over following a knife attack in the Pisgat Zeev settlement near East Jerusalem (here). As he attempts to rise, onlookers taunt him: "Die! Son of a whore, die," and exhort police to "give him one in the head." Other videos show young people being shot with their hands raised, apparently in surrender, or shot in the back as they try to flee.

Instead of calming the population and reining in the police, some Israeli politicians and senior police officers have openly called for the extrajudicial killing of suspects and have urged civilians to carry weapons. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently added more fuel to the fire by claiming, bizarrely, that it was Jerusalem’s Grand Mufti who persuaded Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jews. It took German Chancellor Angela Merkel to correct Netanyahu’s distorted view of history.

Despite the mayhem, mainstream US media continue to ignore Palestinian deaths and injuries and the decades of repression, isolation, and enforced poverty that have brought Palestinian youth to the breaking point. As Jewish Voice for Peace reports, “no media organization is more influential in shaping the way American policymakers and news outlets think about Israel and Palestine than the New York Times. But with some notable exceptions, the Times has done a shamefully poor job of including the historical and political context readers need to understand the roots of the current uprising.”

Some examples: Over 50% of New York Times headlines depicted Palestinians as the instigators of violence, while no headlines depicted Israelis as aggressors. Palestinians were referred to as terrorists 41 times, while the term was used four times (including quotes from Palestinians) to refer to violent Israeli actions intended to terrorize Palestinians. The terms “attack(s)” or “attackers” were used 110 times to describe Palestinian actions and people, and 17 times to describe Israelis.

Nor has the U.S. media reported the coalitions of Palestinians and Israelis who are marching together, vowing, "We will not surrender to despair!"

Peace Now
Please join PIAG in responding to one-sided media reports by calling, writing, or posting comments that add missing information and context, which can be found on alternative media such as Democracy Now, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, the American Friends Service Committee and other posts on PIAG's blog.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Frustration and Fear

What do the majority of Palestinians and Israelis think about prospects for a just and secure peace in the region? Here are some results of recent polls conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in theWest Bank and Gaza Strip and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem:

After the formation of the right wing government in Israel in May 2015, 79% of Palestinians were pessimistic about the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. 

Sixty-five percent of Palestinians said that they no longer believe a two-state solution is a practical possibility due to the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements across the occupied Palestinian territory.

Only 32 percent of Palestinians believe an independent Palestinian state can still be achieved.

An overwhelming 85% of Palestinians believe Israel’s long-term aspiration is “to annex the lands occupied in 1967 and expel their population or deny them their rights,” with only 15% believing that Israel intends to withdraw from the occupied territory. Israelis are suspicious as well: Forty-three percent think that Palestinian aspirations in the long run are to conquer the State of Israel and destroy much of its Jewish population.

On a personal level, too, each side perceives the other as a threat. Among Israelis, 56% are worried and 41% are not worried that they or their family may be harmed by Arabs in their daily life. Among Palestinians, 79% are worried and 21% are not worried that they or a member of their family could be hurt by Israel in their daily life or that their land would be confiscated or home demolished.

It is not surprising that among Palestinians, Gazans are experiencing the worst conditions and the most pessimism about the future. 

Fully half of Gazans polled said they are considering emigration from the Gaza Strip. This is the highest percentage ever recorded in these polls.

In the West Bank, however, popularity of Abbas and Fatah has improved, and people show support and satisfaction with the Palestinian Authority’s new membership in the International Criminal Court.

Nevertheless, cynicism about government remains high. Seventy nine percent of Palestinians believe that corruption exists in Palestinian Authority institutions. Only 33% say people in the West Bank can criticize the PA without fear. 

Most troubling for the future of the region, Palestinian support for armed resistance to Israel has risen from 36 percent three months ago to 42 percent today, with a startling 57 percent now supporting a return to an armed intifada, or uprising. 

Still, support for nonviolent resistance remains high. An overwhelming majority of Palestinians – 86% -- support the campaign to boycott Israel and impose sanctions on it, and 64% believe that the boycott of Israeli products will be effective in helping to end the Israeli occupation.

Two thirds of the public support Hamas-Israel indirect negotiations over a long term Hudna, or truce, in return for ending the siege over the Gaza Strip.

But a majority believes that these negotiations will not succeed.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

An Open Letter to the American Friends Service Committee

From: Palestine Israel Action Group (PIAG) 
Re: AFSC’s position on the expulsion of Alison Weir from the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation

The Context: The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is a coalition of social justice groups working for a just peace in Israel/Palestine. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the social justice "arm" of the Religious Society of Friends, is a member of the U.S. Campaign, and in that capacity, agreed to the expulsion of Alison Weir and her organization, If Americans Knew, from the coalition The reason, apparently, was that an unnamed individual or organization within the coalition had prepared a dossier of Weir's actions, some dating back five years or more, which, in the accusers' opinion, did not sufficiently contest the racism or anti-Semitism of the individual hosting her talks. The idea of discrediting a long-time activist's effectiveness by seizing on a "flaw" in her work was worrisome not only to PIAG, but to many other defenders of Weir's activism. Mike Merryman-Lotze, speaking for AFSC, defends its actions by saying that as anti-racist activists, we "must" confront oppression directly wherever we find it. It has even been insinuated that PIAG members' questioning of AFSC's position is racist in and of itself. This open letter is a reply to these claims. More details of the controversy can be found here and here.

As a Quaker organization, PIAG has always worked against all forms of oppression. 

Individually and/or collectively, we are members of anti-racism groups such as the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace, and #Black Lives Matter.

Ann Arbor Friends Meeting
As a subcommittee of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, PIAG
has engaged in educational efforts with our Monthly and Yearly Meetings over the last twelve years, and have convinced both groups to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

We have distributed over a half million map cards nationally and internationally showing the loss of Palestinian lands to Israel’s Occupation.

In short, we are knowledgeable, seasoned activists who are strongly committed to working for justice and equality wherever that work may lead us.

It is in the spirit of our anti-oppression work that we take issue with the message in AFSC’s online communication, IMPACT; specifically, the post by Mike Merryman-Lotze on AFSC’s Acting in Faith blog, “Palestine Activism in an Anti-Racism Framework” (8/10/2015). We find a disturbing disconnect between the statement: “At AFSC, our work is guided by the Quaker belief that all people are equal in the eyes of God” and the participation of AFSC in the denunciation of one particular person, Alison Weir, and her longstanding work for justice inIsrael/Palestine – work which PIAG deeply respects.

We are also troubled by the insistence that “we” (that is, we presume, Quakers engaged in anti-racism work) “must” act in particular ways, choosing certain tactics, methods, analyses, and goals over others. We cannot agree, as Quakers, that everyone must see the truth in the same way, analyze human behavior in the same way, and agree to work according to principles put forth by any social justice organization, however well-intentioned.
George Fox 

Quakerism's founder George Fox was pretty clear about the idea that everyone has the ability to listen to the voice of God, to think about the meaning of that voice, and above all, to speak for themselves.

As Fox told the assembled at Ulverston steeple-house, “You will say ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this,’ but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?"

Early Quaker Meeting
This message was one of the earliest and most radical challenges to the dogmatism and demands for obedience required by the Christian Church in 17 th century England. The statement was so compelling that it later formed the basis of Quakerism: There is no dogma. There are no “musts” in Quaker belief and practice. It is enough that Quakers be inspired by the values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality, and that we work to incorporate these abstract, but profound Quaker values into our lives and the lives of others as we see fit.

We agree that anti-racism efforts that counter prejudice and bigotry on every possible occasion can be meaningful work. We agree that oppressions are linked and widespread and that opposing only one form of bigotry may not be enough. But we do not agree that everyone must accept these insights as the only way to see and be guided by the light. As Quakers, we strive for inclusion of ideas and perspectives. We have faith in Quaker process in resolving disagreements, rather than removing individuals and groups from the family when their beliefs and practices threaten our vision of the truth.

We do not dispute the “right” of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation to remove any member of the group as the leadership sees fit. But we have seen the effects of that removal: fear and silencing (“Who among us will be next?”) discord and schism, and a loss of focus on Palestinian freedom. Unfortunately, as we have come to understand, righteous zeal creates its own oppression.

PIAG continues to promote vigorous, open debate, a multitude of paths toward justice, and a focus not on transgression, but on the Inner Light, the spirit of the Divine that resides in every human soul.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Water is a Human Right

In Stockholm at the end of August, World Water Week focused on the needs of impoverished communities for clean water – or any water at all. A United Nations report in March said the world faces a 40 percent shortfall in water supplies in the next 15 years due to urbanization, population growth and growing demand for water for food production, energy and industry. But the root cause of water shortage is often political. Occasionally, it is deliberately inflicted.

Swimming pool in Eilat
In the West Bank, while Israelis water their lawns, irrigate crops and swim in Olympic-sized pools, Palestinians living a few kilometers away are sweltering and thirsty. A report from the United Nations found that the average Israeli settler uses 300 liters of water per day. But Israeli restrictions ensure that the average Palestinian in the occupied West Bank gets only about 70 liters, well below the 100 liter daily amount advocated by the World Health Organization.

Watering the stock: Palestine
Despite its location in a region thought to be perennially dry, Israel-Palestine actually has ample natural freshwater resources in the form of underwater aquifers and the Jordan River. Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli settlers live in equal proximity to these resources, which should allow for equal consumption. But ever since its foundation, Israel has controlled the water supply for the region, first by military edicts, and later through Mekarot, the Israeli national water company. 

To this day, Israel requires Palestinians to obtain permits from the military to build new water infrastructure. If they build new wells, springs, or even rain-collecting containers without Israeli permission, soldiers confiscate or destroy them, often without prior notification.

Settlers vandalize Palestinian water tanks
Israeli settlers, emboldened by government indifference, cruelly vandalize Palestinian community water storage tanks. Fifty-six water springs near Israeli settlements have become the target of “systematic settler activities.”

Even when Palestinians attempt to go through the ‘proper’ Israeli channels, they’re met with innumerable obstacles. Israeli regulatory organizations have created a bureaucratic nightmare for West Bank residents attempting to acquire permits to either build new instillations or repair the region’s infrastructure.

The most striking inequality lies in the division of the Mountain Aquifer, the only underground water source that Palestinians in the West Bank are allowed to access. Despite it being the sole water source for the territory, Israeli regulations ensure that 80% of the rain that falls on the West Bank flows underground to Israel, while Palestinian extraction is limited to 20% of the aquifer’s total capacity.

Palestinian boy totes water for his family
As for Gaza, the UN estimates the crowded, blockaded region will be uninhabitable by the year 2020 if the current water restrictions continue. Although the West Bank is relatively well-off in comparison, the water crisis there has resulted in severe economic hardship for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, a situation that is not conducive to long-term stability in the region.
Water, a life-giving natural resource, is both a human need and a human right. Whether in Detroit, or California, or Palestine, deliberate policy should not deprive the most vulnerable 
of a region’s ample resources.

Shakir, L. (2015, August 24).  Palestine: “Dying of Thirst.” The Drought is Deliberately Inflicted by Israel. Global Research.  

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory. (2012, March). Special Focus: How Dispossession Happens.

Vatican Radio. (2015, August 24). Stockholm World Water Week Focuses on Development.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"No Way To Treat A Child"

Each year, an estimated 700 Palestinian children are prosecuted in two Israeli military courts operating in the West Bank. Their crime? In most cases, simply throwing stones. According to UNICEF and Defense for Children International, Palestinian children picked up by the IDF are routinely ill-treated, even tortured, with impunity.

They may be pulled out of bed in the middle of the night by heavily armed soldiers. They may be blindfolded and handcuffed, separated from their parents, denied access to a lawyer, and threatened with physical and emotional abuse, including violence to family members. They may be placed in isolation, beaten, choked, and coerced into a confession in Hebrew, a language they do not understand. 

This treatment is not carried out by a few “bad apples,” but “appears to be widespread, systemic, and institutionalized,” according to a 2013 UNICEF report. 

This abuse must stop.

Why single out Israel for its mistreatment of children in military detention? 

Because we expect “the most humane army in the world” to do better. And because Israel’s practice of routinely trying children in military courts is unprecedented. As UNICEF says: “It is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.”

International civil society is coming together to say: “NO WAY TO TREAT A CHILD.” The campaign is supported by AFSC and FCNL as well as Jewish Voice for Peace, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Friends of Sabeel North America, and many other human rights organizations.

Even U.S. Congress members are taking action. In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, nineteen Congress members urged the Department of State to “elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority status in our bilateral relationship with the Government of Israel.” Citing UNICEF’s “profoundly disturbing” report regarding the “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment” of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, the officials emphasized that “progress to ensure Palestinian children’s rights are not abused is in the interest of the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian people.”

You can add your voice to the “No Way To Treat A Child” campaign by logging on to There you can read the letter to Secretary Kerry and find out who signed it – and who didn’t. You can find talking points, download graphics, watch videos, and read case studies of individual children. With this information you can write your members of Congress, post information on email, Facebook and Twitter, or talk to your friends over the garden fence. 

Children’s rights are human rights. Palestinian children need our advocacy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Assault on Gaza, One Year Later

"Operation Protective Edge"
 One year ago, on July 8, 2014, Friends were horrified to learn that Israel had launched an all-out assault on Gaza resulting in over 2100 Palestinian dead and 11,000 wounded. The U.N. reports that 1000 wounded children will suffer a life-long disability. At least 142 Palestinian families lost three or more members killed in a single Israeli attack, and nearly 1500 children were orphaned.

Flooded street in Gaza

In addition to the human devastation, “Operation Protective Edge” destroyed homes, schools, municipal buildings, and power, water, and sewer systems – the basic infrastructure so many of us take for granted. Israeli attacks caused widespread damage to Gaza’s already frail and dilapidated electrical grid, run down and in disrepair after nearly 9 years of siege and blockade. In last summer’s attack, Israel intentionally bombed Gaza’s only power plant, knocking it out of commission indefinitely, prompting Amnesty International to condemn the attack as an act of “collective punishment” against the entire population. Without electricity, water treatment plants could not function, leading to the release of raw sewage into open pools, farmland, and the Mediterranean Sea. By last August, 15 tons of solid waste had leaked into the streets of Gaza.

How are the living conditions in Gaza today? In the 11 months since a ceasefire agreement was signed between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has refused to allow in the building materials needed to reconstruct Gaza’s infrastructure. Tens of thousands of Palestinian families continue to live among the rubble of their houses without electricity or running water. Aid agencies report that malnutrition is spreading.

World War II, Montebourg, France
Imagine the ruins of World War II in Europe: cities reduced to rubble, children hungry and homeless, families decimated. Like those Europeans, Palestinians are resilient, creative and ready to work to rebuild. The children of Gaza still have hopes and dreams for their future. Take a look at this sweet little video of Palestinian children against the backdrop of devastation: 

WWII Marshall Plan
Yet unlike post-WWII Europe, where the U.S. launched a massive Marshall Plan to help countries on both sides of the conflict rebuild, Gaza remains under a strict military blockade. Its export sector has virtually disappeared and the manufacturing sector has shrunk by 60%. Even prior to the assault, Gaza’s unemployment rate was 46% -- the highest in the world. 35% of the available agricultural land is now unsafe for Gazans to use. 97% of the water supplied through the municipal networks is still unfit for human consumption.

Fortunately, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) has been delivering aid through it all to Gaza as well as to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – five million in all). Despite incredible challenges, UNRWA is providing schools and teachers, primary health care, emergency food aid, psychological counseling, vocational training and microfinance loans, and is leading the efforts to import vital construction materials. We can support UNRWA online:

Yet the people of Gaza do not want to rely on this critical international aid for the long term.  They’re not even hoping for a Marshall Plan. What will help Gaza the most is our work toward the larger goals: peace and security throughout the region, the resettlement of refugees, an unconstrained economy, the reopening of schools and hospitals, just compensation for confiscated lands and properties, an end to racist assaults and illegal imprisonment – in short, a return to “ordinary life.”  Who would ask for more – or less? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Where Movements Converge

Question: What do environmentalists, labor unions, family farm supporters, consumer groups, Internet freedom advocates, and Palestinian human rights organizations have in common?

Answer: Opposition to Fast Track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership

In an unprecedented show of unity, over two thousand organizations, including the progressive Jewish Voice for Peace, have signed a joint letter to the U.S. Congress urging opposition to Fast Track legislation that has been making its way through the legislature this spring.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, offers the reasons why so many progressive groups are leery of fast track authority for the TPP: “While we are not currently permitted to see the terms of the new trade deal, what we do know is the Fast Track process enables trade deals that hurt everyday Americans and stack the deck in favor of corporations. It limits public and congressional oversight and does not allow effective enforcement. We need trade policy that strengthens our country — ensuring the rights of workers, and protecting consumers and the environment. We need a democratic and transparent trade process that offers a fair shake for American workers. Fast Track fails these standards and should be rejected.”

But Fast Track authority for the TPP would not only threaten the quality of life of ordinary Americans. Amendments have been tacked on – amendments backed by AIPAC, the powerful right-wing “pro-Israel” lobby that would discourage and penalize boycotts against Israel and erase the distinction between Israel and the Palestinian territories it occupies. 

As Jewish Voice for Peace federal policy organizer Rabbi Joseph Berman explains: “JVP opposes ‘Fast-Track’ not only because it is anti-democratic and bad for workers and the environment, but because it will also legitimize support for illegal Israeli settlements and impede efforts to apply non-violent pressure to hold Israel to the standards of international law and human rights norms.” In fact, these amendments make discouraging the BDS campaign “one of the principal U.S. trade negotiating objectives.”

These anti-BDS amendments suggest common interests between those who would grant ever more authority to powerful corporations and those who would privilege Israeli control at the expense of Palestinians. This fact alone should provide us with food for thought.

Yet the attempt to delegitimize BDS through binding international legislation also suggests that the BDS movement has grown to become a powerful nonviolent threat to the Israeli right. Public opinion is changing.

Says JVP: Across the U.S., millions of people inside and outside of the Jewish community are taking a long hard look at Israel's human rights abuses. Elected leaders who'd been too scared to speak out are raising their voices.

Academics and students are building power on campuses, where once it simply wouldn't have been possible.

Even Pope Francis has added the moral voice of the Vatican to the fray by signing a treaty that recognizes the "state of Palestine."

Our work is bearing fruit. The times they are a-changing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

NEW AFSC Screening Tool

Good news! The American Friends Service Committee has launched an online tool for screening companies that are complicit in ongoing severe violations of human rights and international law in Israel/Palestine. One may be surprised to find who is profiting from the suffering of others. Please have a look at

Many socially responsible funds screen out major weapons manufacturers and companies with poor records of environmental or labor protection. However, corporate complicity in severe human rights violations in Israel/Palestine is often not taken into account explicitly in these considerations. The new tool developed by AFSC identifies specific violations, lists relevant public campaigns targeting these companies, and provides information on initiatives taken by responsible investors around the world to influence and change that corporate behavior.

To check the status of your mutual fund investments go to the fund providers' website to obtain the latest report with a list of holdings and scan the report with our tool. Once you have completed your initial scan you can contact your fund providers to ask for an updated list of holdings and to share with them your specific concerns.

If your fund already advertises itself as socially responsible, ask your money managers if they screen for human rights abuses and violations of international law in Israel/Palestine. Suggest they use our tool to identify corporate violators and incorporate our information into their decision making process. Information about corporate violations in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory has not been readily accessible to investors until recently.

Finally, it is important to note that some of the companies engaged in problematic business practices in the occupied Palestinian territories are also involved in problematic practices elsewhere. As a result, a number of socially responsible funds are already Occupation-Free, meaning they currently have no investments in the main corporate violators in Israel/Palestine.

The following is a list of socially responsible mutual funds whose latest annual reports are Occupation-Free according to AFSC’s scans. However, this does not mean that any of these funds have actively screened for occupation-related violations, or that they will remain Occupation-Free throughout 2015.

American Trust Allegiance Fund (ATAFX)                   
Appleseed Fund (APPLX)
Ariel Fund (ARGFX)                                                    
Ariel Appreciation Fund (CAAPX)
Ariel International Fund (AINTX)                                 
Ariel Global Fund (AGLOX)
Azzad Ethical Fund (ADJEX)                           
Gabelli SRI Fund (SRIGX)
Green Century Balanced Fund (GCBLX)                     
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Friday, March 20, 2015

Bad News? Or Good News in Disguise?

After these elections
There will be
No peace-minded government.

After these elections
There can be
A strong
Peace-minded opposition
Of Jews and Arabs

The struggle
Has just begun

So goes a Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) advertisement that appeared in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on March 20, 2015, just after the results of the election were announced. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party had been declared the winner in an exceptionally close race with the Zionist Union, a centrist coalition led by Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog.

In a last-ditch attempt to gain the support of far-right voters, Netanyahu had made a fateful promise: As long as he serves as prime minister of Israel there will be no independent Palestinian nation. 

Perhaps even more troubling, Netanyahu had racialized the political process by warning Jews that Israeli Arabs were turning out “in droves” to cast ballots. 

His strategy seems to have worked. Right-wing, ultra-nationalist voters propelled the Likud party to an overwhelming victory.

Are these election results bad news or good news for a just peace in Israel/Palestine? On the one hand, Netanyahu’s promise to block a two-state solution scuttles any attempt at a U.S.-brokered peace process, and openly declares what Palestinians had suspected all along: Israel has no interest in easing the suffering of Palestinians in any meaningful way, much less ending the Occupation. 

But some Palestinians see this bad news as not so bad after all. The open declaration that they no longer have a negotiating partner could strengthen their case for full statehood and recognition in the United Nations. Already, Palestinians have j oined UNESCO and the International Criminal Court, and they are studying the possibility of signing a host of international treaties, increasing the credibility of their bid for a nation of their own.

In addition, the fact that a solution will not be found through the standard political process may open the way for a "strong, peace-minded opposition of Jews and Arabs" to work together with their international allies more closely and effectively. Nonviolent tactics such as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign are now in an even stronger position to challenge Israeli political and economic interests that benefit from maintaining the status quo. The Obama administration, already furious at Netanyahu's attempts to derail U.S. talks with Iran, might be persuaded to stop vetoing Palestinian efforts to engage the United Nations. 

And for Quakers with their growing commitment to boycott and divestment, more creative action may now be worth exploring. As Gush Shalom says, "The struggle has just begun.