Bearing Witness

Week Two in Gaza > Endorsements > Products > Solidarity

Well my second week in Gaza has come to an end and it’s official, I now have my permit to stay > got to love Palestine, it’s the only place on earth where my criminal record and deportation in regards to my solidarity actions are appreciated on a visa application.
This week has mainly been spent meeting with civil society organisations to seek support for the Gaza’s Ark [GA] http://www.gazaark.org/ project. I have met with the Palestinian Non Government Organisation [PNGO] http://www.pngo.net/, which is an umbrella group for over 60 NGO’s working through out Gaza and the West Bank and the Palestinian  Agricultural Relief Committee [PARC] http://www.pal-arc.org/index.html, whose main goals are to protect Palestinian land from confiscation by the Israeli occupation and to improve the Palestinian agricultural sector. I am honoured to say they now both now endorse the GA project. Although most of the credit for the ease in which these endorsements have been granted must go to the committed and visionary GA Steering Committee, with a special mention to David “the conscience of humanity” Heap – whose visit to Gaza at the end of last year laid an incredibly strong foundation to be built on.
In addition to this I have been chasing up information from several producers whose products are going to be sold through GA. We now have three producers on board, excuse the pun. Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children http://www.atfaluna.net/, Al-Ahlyia Association for the Development of Palms & Dates, as well as a Women’s Group from Gaza who make some amazing cross stitched and embroidered products. Watch the GA website for the first announcement of products to be sold through the project and exported from Gaza aboard the Ark.
I also took my first trip to the buffer zone, The buffer zone is a 300 meter area between Israel and the Gaza Strip, it is a military no-go zone that extends along the entire northern and eastern perimeter of the Gaza Strip adjacent to Israel, but inside Palestinian territory. Its enforcement by the Israeli Occupation Force has resulted in loss of Palestinian lives and land, and to add insult to injury is some of the most fertile land in the Gaza Strip. For more information on the buffer zone check out the Diakonia analysis http://www.diakonia.se/sa/node.asp?node=4090. Saturday was a day of international action in support of Palestinian Farmers and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees [UAWC] in Gaza organised a march into the buffer zone to plant olive trees in an act of defiance to the IOF, see how it went down here > http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=442402179163066&set=a.442402012496416.98962.158095294260424&type=1&theater
This week I also attended and spoke at a protest organised by the Palestinian Peoples Party [PPP] Youth Wing. The protest was in solidarity with the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails, many of whom have never been charged with any offence > let alone convicted ! See my photos from the protest here >http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=442879619115322&set=a.442879529115331.99038.158095294260424&type=1&theater
Speak next week, my salaam.

My turn on the mic at the Palestinian Peoples Party Prisoners Protest

My turn on the mic at the Palestinian Peoples Party Prisoners Protest

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February 13, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Kayaktivist Rides Again

Well I’m back in the Middle East and I have to say it almost feels like coming home. The first morning in Cairo I woke to the sound of the call to prayer and from that moment on I have felt welcomed and supported. I am in Cairo to sort my entry into the Gaza Strip to assist with the Gaza’s Ark <www.gazaark.org> project.

WHY ?

That is a question I have been asked time and time again and if I am honest I have asked myself on several occasions, especially over the last couple months as I have traveled through the Americas. Leaving idyllic places and amazing people to travel to a part of the world that is under such violent oppression by the Israeli state, so much so that William Madisha (a South African trade union leader) has stated: “As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of Israel’s actions make the actions of South Africa’s apartheid regime appear pale by comparison.”

I guess I personally have several motivating factors. Firstly, the sense of social justice that was instilled in me by my wonderful parents. Secondly, the fact that I have witnessed first hand the brutality of the Israeli state, while I volunteered with Project Hope <http://projecthope.ps/nablus/> in Nablus. After the joy of experiencing a new culture and meeting incredible Palestinian people, whose lust for life under such oppressive circumstance is truly remarkable, I realised that what I was witnessing in the West Bank was a systematic and methodical ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine… there is no other way to describe it. Thirdly, that this oppression of the Palestinian people, more often than not, goes unreported in the western media and is unfortunately even supported by my very own Government. Lastly, but definitely not least, my time in Palestine ended with Operation Cast Lead where I saw the very worst effects of the Israeli Military Doctrine of “Disproportionate Force”, which killed over 1400 Palestinians – most of whom where civilians.

Since then I have become a member of Free Gaza Australia <http://freegazaoz.org/> . FGA is an organisation that stands in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza by directly changing the illegal blockade of Gaza, that has been in place (officially) since 2007. However, the restriction on the movement of Palestinians in Gaza dates back to 1991, when Gaza was first cut off from the West Bank and Israel. This blockade is clearly an act of collective punishment, which is outlawed under the Fourth Geneva Convention and has resulted in what was once the economic centre of Palestine becoming home to a population of aid dependant civilians. With at least 70% of the population of Gaza now reliant on aid to provide the basic essentials of life – food, shelter and medical care. I have been honoured to be a part of both recent Australian delegations that have attempted to break the blockade, firstly with Freedom Flotilla Two <https://occupiedterritories.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/stay-human-the-story-of-freedom-flotilla-2-from-the-kayaktivists-perspective/> and then Freedom Waves <https://occupiedterritories.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/freedom-waves-1413831/>. Lets hope it is third time lucky in FGA’s attempts to break this brutal blockade.

My belief in the Gaza’s Ark <www.gazaark.org> project is also a motivating factor for me. While the Ark will challenge the blockade physically in the tradition of previous flotillas, our focus has shifted from sailing aid in, to sailing trade out. There has been a debate in recent times in Palestine and throughout the international solidarity movement about the effectiveness or otherwise of aid delivery to the Palestine people. Has aid merely maintained an unacceptable status quo? This is a question which is above my pay grade, however it is clear that if the Palestinians of Gaza were allowed to trade their products with the rest of the world, their reliance on aid would greatly diminish. The other benefit of this approach is that as the Ark is being built in Gaza, the process of construction is as important as the action of challenging the blockade – as we can show the difficulties of everyday life in Gaza under the blockade.

How ?

The movable feast that is the process of gaining legal entry into the Gaza Strip has been a difficult one to navigate. When I left Australia three months ago the process had to be undertaken in Cairo, however since leaving that changed to people wanting to enter Gaza needing to inform the Egyptian Embassy in their home country when applying for their visa. At this point there are three main options, firstly through getting an invitation from an NGO in Gaza and then working with your embassy and the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo to get approval to enter through the Rafah Crossing. The second option is to be an accredited journalist and apply through the Press Office in Cairo and finally the third option is to attach yourself to a delegation that already has approval. I have been trying all three. Two weeks in I feel I am getting nowhere, if nothing else it has been a lesson in patience. I naively thought that while the Muslim Brotherhood’s election victory has no doubt been a blow to the hope of Egyptians for a secular democracy, that it would make entry into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing easier. However it appears that Morsi – like most politicians – has mastered the art of talking the talk, but has failed learn how to walk the walk.

However the delay in my entry into the Gaza Strip has meant that I have had the chance to meet some incredible Egyptian activists and that I will be around to stand in solidarity with them on the second anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. Their passion and courage has truly inspired me, while their stories have helped put my concerns over living in Gaza into perspective. To me the Egyptian revolution is proof that the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”, is as true today as it ever was.

What ?

While our strategy has changed focus from aid to trade our main goals are still the same as the Free Gaza Movement’s first attempt to break this illegal and brutal blockade: solidarity and awareness. I hope to show the Palestinian people that my Government does not speak for me on the issue of Palestinian human rights and to generate awareness in Australia and throughout the western world about the plight of the Palestinian people. It is my hope that people in the west will understand that this is not an Israeli/Palestinian conflict, rather it is the oppression of Palestinians by Israel.

You help make this happen by buying a symbolic share in Gaza’s Ark and the hope it will build <http://www.gazaark.org/2013/01/15/buy-a-symbolic-share-of-gazas-ark-a-share-in-hope/>

Image

The Kayaktivists in action

January 26, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Co-existence vs. Co-resistance: A case against normalization

This article by Omar Rahman makes one of the best cases against normalizing relations between Palestinians and Israeli’s under current circumstances I have ever read. It was first published on Tuesday, January 3 2012 in +972 Magazine

In his recent post on “normalization,” my colleague Aziz Abu Sarah was right about one thing, the topic is reaching a fever pitch within Palestinian society. What Aziz gets wrong is the logic of anti-normalization as he attempts to paint it as some form of unjustifiable reactionism, ignoring its most cogent and compelling arguments. In truth, projects that constitute “normalization” promote a false image of parity between the conflicting sides and foster a dangerous psychology within the minds of the oppressor that stifles progress towards a just resolution of the conflict.

Although the “anti-normalization” debate has been around a long time, its resurgence in public discourse can likely be attributed to two things: the rise of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement and the beginning of a transitional period in internal Palestinian politics.

Due to the very nature of the BDS movement, everything pertaining to Israel is put under the microscope and scrutinized. Subsequently, any relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is done so in spades. BDS encourages its adherents to look critically at everything they do and everything that is happening around them. It is important to distinguish what works in the service of achieving Palestinian rights and what does not, or even works against it. This is why the BDS movement has produced strict and coherent guidelines for what can be considered worthy of boycott and what constitutes normalization.

Secondly, the era in which Palestinians and Israelis engaged in dialogue under the wider auspices and example of governmental-led negotiations is coming to an end—at least for the time being. We are now at the cusp of a transitional period in Palestinian politics where the lack of a clear strategy and path forward on the diplomatic and resistance fronts is forcing Palestinians to look internally at the state of their own society and political situation. Reconciliation and reform within their fractured political system are desperately needed in order to move cohesively in a new direction. Thus many Palestinians have started to re-examine the logic of their relationships with Israelis and criticize those Palestinians who have benefited immensely from it over the years while others around them have suffered.

When we consider the resurgence of anti-normalization, we must also remember that the post-Oslo period witnessed an explosion in normalization programs and projects between Israelis and Palestinians. Any organization, group or program that had “joint” or “co-existence” in reference to Israelis and Palestinians was instantly given credibility and financing on the world stage. Such programs became extremely lucrative and many people profited with little regard to the actual state of the conflict and its overall deterioration. Even prior to the breakout of the Second Intifada, but largely afterwards, normalization programs lost their relevance. We were no longer in the post-conflict transitional period we thought Oslo had ushered in, and things got worse, not better.

FEELING COMFORTABLE WITH OPPRESSION

It has become senseless for Israelis and Palestinians to act like nothing is wrong with the status quo and carry-on with such projects. Normalization may be fine for those bridging the gaps between people in India and Pakistan or Venezuela and Colombia—where the two sides are on equal footing—but not in Israel/Palestine where one side lives under the yoke and chain of the other. When we seek to normalize this relationship by giving each other equal standing and equal voice, we project an image of symmetry. Joint sports teams and theatre groups, hosting an Israeli orchestra in Ramallah or Nablus, all these things create a false sense of normality, like the issue is only a problem of recognizing each other as human beings. This, however, ignores the ongoing oppression, colonization, and denial of rights, committed by one side against the other.

Moreover, normalization creates a false sense in the mind of Israelis that they are working for peace, while in actuality, though maybe unwittingly, they are contributing to the calcification of the status quo. Their energy is misdirected away from root causes and channeled into making the current situation more tolerable—largely for themselves—by helping them to cope with wider injustices occurring in their name. Many Israelis who participate in normalization projects believe that they are detached, that they are not part of the problem, because they have some Palestinian friends or colleagues, even if they are doing nothing to rectify the actual injustices that have been committed by their society daily for over half a century. In the words of Israeli architectural theorist Eyal Weizman in his monumental work on the architecture of occupation, Hollow Land: “The history of the occupation is full of liberal ‘men of peace’ who are responsible for, or who at least sweeten, the injustice committed by the occupation. The occupation would not have been possible without them.”

Likewise, these normalization projects are put on display for all the world to see, so that they may all feel comfortable and say: look, the moderates are resolving the differences in a civilized manner. This is probably why the largest contributors to normalization projects are not Israelis and Palestinians themselves, but rather the international community. These programs work in much the same way as endless negotiations, offering a semblance of progress so that the world may deceive itself without having to take real action.

I do not discount the authenticity of Israelis who desire to see a just peace. Nor do I overlook the importance of meeting your enemy on a human level, of the power of these efforts in defusing tension, mistrust, and misunderstanding. But we can’t ignore the negative impact of normalization given the ongoing occupation and colonial enterprise. We must ask ourselves, what did all the normalizing get Palestinians after Oslo except for deterioration in their circumstance? For all the money pumped into these programs why are there no statistics or data showing they work? Why does no one think to question the effectiveness of normalization, including its proponents, in the case of Mr. Abu Sarah’s article? We can sit back and comfort each other that we are not fanatics or extremists, and that may be all well and good, but the fanatics are determining the reality on the ground while liberals and moderates provide a veneer of normality and progress.

The truth is when we “normalize” relations with Israel and Israelis without bearing to the political situation, we legitimize Israel despite its continued oppression of Palestinians and its colonial policies on Palestinian land. We must remember that the greatest boon in Israeli history came after the Oslo Accords were signed. Many countries around the world that had refused to have “normal” relations with Israel reversed their policies. This false peace opened Israel up to the wider international community, spurring unprecedented growth and trade. By reversing the normalization trend, we strip the conflict of many illusions and niceties in favor of exposing the raw truth.

Mr. Abu Sarah portrays anti-normalization like it is based purely on hate for the “other.” In order to do this he ignores the strongest arguments against normalization in exchange for obscure notions that take anti-normalization to the extreme; such as any instance in which a Palestinian and an Israeli come together constitutes normalization. In my own experience meeting people who are against normalization, I came to understand that Israelis are valued and encouraged to take part in the resistance movement to occupation. As long as an Israeli is working for Palestinian rights and the end to occupation, the cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is perfectly legitimate and justified. This is the concept of “co-resistance” as opposed to “co-existence,” and should hardly be described as radical.

Yet, Mr. Abu Sarah’s article chooses to harp on these extreme cases at the expense of a serious argument over the topic. In what constituted an extensive blog post, there is little argument discussing why normalization activities are valid and beneficial; rather the entire piece is devoted to portraying anti-normalization as irrational. Some of his claims are true, such as those who use “normalization” as a character attack for dubious ends. But none of that still gets to the heart of the matter. I simply want to know, are we better off today because of normalization projects?

THE KIDS RETURN HOME

I wish to conclude this piece with an example of normalization from my own history. When I was fifteen years old, I was a participant in the Seeds of Peace program, which brings young teenagers from conflict zones together to a summer camp in the northeastern United States. Although originally set up for Israelis and Arabs, the program expanded over the years to include Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Indians and Pakistanis, and others. In each session there was also a delegation of American teenagers, of which I was a part. This was still prior to the breakdown of the Oslo Accords and the outbreak of the Second Intifada and most believed we were on the path to peace. Teenagers, who for the most part had never met someone from the other side before, would tell stories from their own experience in the hope of making their enemy understand them. Yet, I can still remember feeling at the time that the effort would be somehow wasted when these kids returned home because even I knew that, despite pretenses, there was no real peace on the ground. During my trips to the West Bank to visit my extended family, I would see and feel the military presence that continued to persist in the still-occupied territories. And in the “co-existence” sessions at Seeds of Peace, I would hear from those Palestinians what life still held for them.

The most poignant moment for me, however, was when a Palestinian teenager near the end of the program asked an Israeli teenager if he would still join the army and serve in the occupied territories, to which the answer was “yes”. To me, this said it all. What did this whole program mean if in a few years that Israeli teenager would be sitting at a checkpoint in the West Bank and shoving his M-16 in the face of a Palestinian while asking for his ID? Would it make him a more compassionate soldier serving in an inherently unjust system? When all the fun and games were over, we each returned to our respective societies and things stayed the same.

If these teenagers had returned to a cold peace, it may have been different. They could continue to work to establish more friendly relations between their respective peoples. But for Palestinians and Israelis, they live everyday in a system of imbalance and injustice where one side is oppressing the other through an engineered structure of superiority and subjugation. That is it. Normalization can try to make you forget that fact, but the next time a gun barrel is pointed in your direction, or a cousin is arrested and thrown in prison, or the home of a neighbor is bulldozed, or your relatives in Gaza fall under the bombs, you will be hard pressed to do so.

February 7, 2012 Posted by | Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Line in the Sand

MAHMOUD ABBAS is fed up. The day before yesterday he withdrew his candidacy for the coming presidential election in the Palestinian Authority.

I understand him.

He feels betrayed. And the traitor is Barack Obama.

A YEAR ago, when Obama was elected, he aroused high hopes in the Muslim world, among the Palestinian people as well as in the Israeli peace camp.

At long last an American president who understood that he had to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only for the sake of the two peoples, but mainly for the US national interests. This conflict is largely responsible for the tidal waves of anti-American hatred that sweep the Muslim masses from ocean to ocean.

Everybody believed that a new era had begun. Instead of the Clash of Civilizations, the Axis of Evil and all the other idiotic but fateful slogans of the Bush era, a new approach of understanding and reconciliation, mutual respect and practical solutions.

Nobody expected Obama to exchange the unconditional pro-Israeli line for a one-sided pro-Palestinian attitude. But everybody thought that the US would henceforth adopt a more even-handed approach and push the two sides towards the Two-State Solution. And, no less important, that the continuous stream of hypocritical and sanctimonious blabbering would be displaced by a determined, vigorous, non-provocative but purposeful policy.

As high as the hopes were then, so deep is the disappointment now. Nothing of all these has come about. Worse: the Obama administration has shown by its actions and omissions that it is not really different from the administration of George W. Bush.

FROM THE first moment it was clear that the decisive test would come in the battle of the settlements.

It may seem that this is a marginal matter. If peace is to be achieved within two years, as Obama’s people assure us, why worry about another few houses in the settlements that will be dismantled anyway? So there will be a few thousand settlers more to resettle. Big deal.

But the freezing of the settlements has an importance far beyond its practical effect. To return to the metaphor of the Palestinian lawyer: “We are negotiating the division of a pizza, and in the meantime, Israel is eating the pizza.”

The American insistence on freezing the settlements in the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem was the flag of Obama’s new policy. As in a Western movie, Obama drew a line in the sand and declared: up to here and no further! A real cowboy cannot withdraw from such a line without being seen as yellow.

That is precisely what has now happened. Obama has erased the line he himself drew in the sand. He has given up the clear demand for a total freeze. Binyamin Netanyahu and his people announced proudly – and loudly – that a compromise had been reached, not, God forbid, with the Palestinians (who are they?) but with the Americans. They have allowed Netanyahu to build here and build there, for the sake of “Normal Life”, “Natural Increase”, “Completing Unfinished Projects” and other transparent pretexts of this kind. There will not be, of course, any restrictions in Jerusalem, the Undivided Eternal Capital of Israel. In short, the settlement activity will continue in full swing.

To add insult to injury, Hillary Clinton troubled herself to come to Jerusalem in person in order to shower Netanyahu with unctuous flattery. There is no precedent to the sacrifices he is making for peace, she fawned.

That was too much even for Abbas, whose patience and self-restraint are legendary. He has drawn the consequences.

“TO UNDERSTAND all is to forgive all,” the French say. But in this case, some things are hard to forgive.

Certainly, one can understand Obama. He is engaged in a fight for his political life on the social front, the battle for health insurance. Unemployment continues to rise. The news from Iraq is bad, Afghanistan is quickly turning into a second Vietnam. Even before the award ceremony, the Nobel Peace Prize looks like a joke.

Perhaps he feels that the time is not ripe for provoking the almighty pro-Israel lobby. He is a politician, and politics is the art of the possible. It would be possible to forgive him for this, if he admitted frankly that he is unable to realize his good intentions in this area for the time being.

But it is impossible to forgive what is actually happening. Not the scandalous American treatment of the Goldstone report. Not the loathsome behavior of Hillary in Jerusalem. Not the mendacious talk about the “restraint” of the settlement activities. The more so as all this goes on with total disregard of the Palestinians, as if they were merely extras in a musical.

Not only has Obama given up his claim to a complete change in US policy, but he is actually continuing the policy of Bush. And since Obama pretends to be the opposite of Bush, this is double treachery.

Abbas reacted with the only weapon he has at his command: the announcement that he will leave public life.

THE AMERICAN policy in the “Wider Middle East” can be compared to a recipe in a cookbook: “Take five eggs, mix with flour and sugar…

In real life: Take a local notable, give him the paraphernalia of government, conduct “free elections”, train his security forces, turn him into a subcontractor.

This is not an original recipe. Many colonial and occupation regimes have used it in the past. What is so special about its use by the Americans is the “democratic” props for the play. Even if a cynical world does not believe a word of it, there is the audience back home to think about.

That is how it was done in the past in Vietnam. How Hamid Karzai was chosen in Afghanistan and Nouri Maliki in Iraq. How Fouad Siniora has been kept in Lebanon. How Muhammad Dahlan was to be installed in the Gaza Strip (but was at the decisive moment forestalled by Hamas.)  In most of the Arab countries, there is no need for this recipe, since the established regimes already satisfy the requirements.

Abbas was supposed to fill this role. He bears the title of President, he was elected fairly, an American general is training his security forces. True, in the following parliamentary elections his party was soundly beaten, but the Americans just ignored the results and the Israelis imprisoned the undesirable Parliamentarians. The show must go on.

BUT ABBAS is not satisfied with being the egg in the American recipe.

I first met him 26 years ago. After the first Lebanon War, when we (Matti Peled, Ya’acov Arnon and I) went to Tunis to meet Yasser Arafat, we saw Abbas first. That was the case every time we came to Tunis after that. Peace with Israel was the “desk” of Abbas.

Conversations with him were always to the point. We did not become friends, as with Arafat. The two were of very different temperament. Arafat was an extrovert, a warm person who liked personal gestures and physical contact with the people he talked with. Abbas is a self-contained introvert who prefers to keep people at a distance.

From the political point of view, there is no real difference. Abbas is continuing the line laid down by Arafat in 1974: a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The difference is in the method. Arafat believed in his ability to influence Israeli public opinion. Abbas limits himself to dealings with rulers. Arafat believed that he had to keep in his arsenal all possible means of struggle: negotiations, diplomatic activity, armed struggle, public relations, devious maneuvers. Abbas puts everything in one basket: peace negotiations.

Abbas does not want to become a Palestinian Marshal Petain. He does not want to head a local Vichy regime. He knows that he is on a slippery slope and has decided to stop before it is too late.

I think, therefore, that his intention to leave the stage is serious. I believe his assertion that it is not just a bargaining ploy. He may change his decision, but only if he is convinced that the rules of the game have changed.  

OBAMA WAS completely surprised. That has never happened before: an American client, totally dependent on Washington, suddenly rebels and poses conditions. That is exactly what Abbas has done now, when he recognized that Obama is unwilling  to fulfill the most basic condition: to freeze the settlements.

From the American point of view, there is no replacement. There are certainly some capable people in the Palestinian leadership, as well as corrupt ones and collaborators. But there is no one who is capable of rallying around him all the West Bank population. The first name that comes up is always Marwan Barghouti, but he is in prison and the Israeli government has already announced that he will not be released even if elected. Also, it is not clear whether he is willing to play that role in the present conditions. Without Abbas, the entire American recipe comes apart.

Netanyahu, too, was utterly surprised. He wants phony negotiations, devoid of substance, as a camouflage for the deepening of the occupation and enlarging of the settlements. A “Peace process” as a substitute for peace. Without a recognized Palestinian leader, with whom can he “negotiate”?

In Jerusalem, there is still hope that Abbas’ announcement is merely a ploy, that it would be enough to throw him some crumbs in order to change his mind. It seems that they do not really know the man. His self-respect will not allow him to go back, unless Obama awards him a serious political achievement. 

* This article was written by Uri Avnery on the 07.11.09.

November 10, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dark Corners

Since returning from the Middle East I have set up The Dark Corners [TDC], a fundraising organisation to support small NGO’s around the world that have no existing support networks in Australia and are working with marginalised young people – giving them services, opportunities, skills and most importantly hope for the future. TDC will rase funds by putting on events “Music for the Dark Corners” and “Dinners for the Dark Corners”. Each event will promote awareness of the circumstances and issues facing the young people that the NGO works with, while also rasing funds to help with their valuable work.

It has been a longer process than I expected, setting up TDC, however it would have taken even longer with out the help of Anne Cregan from Blake Dawson. Anne has helped me navigate each step of the way and supported me through an incredibly step learning curve. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Anne and every one at Blake Dawson for their advice and support.

For more information on TDC and to stay informed about up coming events join “The Dark Corners” Facebook group @ http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=113511167451

In recent news the US has back flipped on its demand that Israel stop all expansion of its settlements in occupied West Bank before peace talks could resume. This is disappointing news as Barack Obama promised a change, not more of the same. As Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz, ”U.S. presidents seem to treat the settlements just like the weather: an interesting topic for conversation, but impossible to change”.

The need for a holt to settlement expansion is clear to anyone who followed the, so called “peace process”, during which Palestinians were willing to negotiate an end to the occupation, while Israel continued to change the demographics of the land under negotiation and annex more of the land planned for a future Palestinian state. That is how we have gone from 109,000 settlers – not including East Jerusalem – when the Oslo Accords were signed 16 years ago to more than 300,000 today.

The US backflip on settlement expansion has only strengthened my view that the best hope for an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine is the BDS campagin. The BDS campagin is modeled on the strategy that the anti-apartheid struggle used against South Africa very successfully in the 1980s.

“The way I see BDS is that this is a tactic that we are resorting to because of Israeli impunity. There is an absolute unwillingness to apply international law to the Israeli state. Our governments have failed, the United Nations has failed, the so-called international community is a joke. We have to fill the vacuum” – Naomi Klien.

For more information on the Global BDS campagin check out: http://www.bdsmovement.net/

November 9, 2009 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Attacks on human rights groups that probe Israel’s Gaza offensive are an insult to reasonable public debate

The despicable attacks on human rights organisations investigating Israel’s Gaza offensive in January confirm Churchill’s observation: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” The mission led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone to investigate international human rights and international humanitarian law violations during Israel’s offensive, established by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), is the latest victim. His findings are about to be made public. The knives have been out for the mission for months. Now they are being plunged into him and his colleagues. Until the report is out Goldstone can’t defend it. So the smears and misrepresentation are left free to pollute public discourse.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has assiduously responded to a deluge of scurrilous attacks on its credibility and staff, yet totally unfounded allegations – for example, about accepting Saudi government funding and failing to give a critical report to the Israel Defence Forces before releasing it to the public – are constantly being recycled. HRW messed up by failing to see that the nerdy and, to most people, disturbing hobby of its weapons expert Marc Garlasco (he collects German and American second world war memorabilia) could be used to discredit his role as author of highly critical reports of Israel’s military conduct in Gaza. But when this story broke last week, the equation implied in some allegations – “Nazi” object-collector plus “Israel-basher” equals “antisemite” – was baseless and defamatory. That he also worked on reports critical of Hamas and Hezbollah was ignored. As another excuse to attack HRW, and deflect attention from its reports’ findings, the Garlasco affair was a gift.

The human rights world is not beyond reproach. UNHRC has hardly been impartial on Israel. Goldstone accepted his role only after the council president agreed to the alteration of the mission’s mandate to cover all parties to the conflict, not just Israel. But mistrust alone does not explain the extraordinary scale of the attacks on human rights organisations, including all Israeli ones, for their reports on Israel.

In the 1970s, Jewish groups pressing the Soviets to allow Jews the right to leave the USSR worked with the human rights movement and based their arguments on human rights principles. But now the promoters of the concept of the “new antisemitism” – that Israel is the collective Jew persecuted by the international community – hold the international human rights movement largely responsible for it. Unable to face the fact that occupation and increasingly extreme rightwing governments turned Israel into the neighbourhood bully, and misreading the fallout for Jewish communities as abandonment by progressive forces and governments, many Jewish leaders and opinion-formers have become the human rights movement’s fiercest critics. With antisemitism framing this attack, reasoned argument becomes nigh on impossible.

Does it then come down to a matter of whose reputation you trust? If so would it be critics of human rights agencies like Alan Dershowitz, the prominent American lawyer who thinks torture could be legalised or Melanie Phillips, a columnist who calls Jewish critics of Israel “Jews for genocide”, and Gerald Steinberg, who runs NGO Monitor? Or Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, who is putting his considerable reputation on the line in taking the UNHRC assignment? Frankly, I don’t think there is a contest.

By declaring the reports of human rights agencies biased, the attack dogs are reinforcing the damage Israel is doing to itself. They put Israel in the company of serial human rights abusers that make the same complaint. And by refusing to respond to letters from HRW, denying the Goldstone mission entry to Israel, rubbishing testimony from Gazans unless it supports Israel’s version of the offensive, and allowing the army to investigate itself, Israel merely shows it cannot even tolerate reasonable criticism. This is a sign of weakness, not strength.

Goldstone, meanwhile, has attracted extra venom from some who label him a traitorous Jew. Would they say the same about another Jew, René Cassin, one of the prime drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Cassin was deeply influenced by the Holocaust, and the universal declaration was drawn up in direct response to it. It contains the bedrock principles upon which today’s human rights agencies base their work. Judge Goldstone is heir to Cassin’s legacy.

For NGO Monitor, Netanyahu and others attempting to discredit human rights agencies, Palestinian and Israeli human rights are in conflict. For Cassin, human rights were about morality; respect for the inherent dignity of all men and women. His vision, promoted by human rights bodies, offers hope for human progress. We owe it to Palestinian and Israeli alike to listen to Judge Goldstone with open minds – he might just bring us closer to the truth of what happened to human dignity in Gaza in January 2009.

* This article was written by Antony Lerman for  The Guardian, and was first pulished on Tuesday 15 September 2009.

September 19, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

UN says Israel should face war-crimes trial over Gaza

Report also censures Hamas but accuses Israelis of punishing entire population of the Palestinian Strip

Israel targeted “the people of Gaza as a whole” in the three-week military operation which is estimated to have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians at the beginning of this year, according to a UN-commissioned report published yesterday.

 A UN fact-finding mission led by the Jewish South African former Supreme Court Judge Richard Goldstone said Israel should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court, unless it opened fully independent investigations of what the report said were repeated violations of international law, “possible war crimes and crimes against humanity” during the operation.

Using by far the strongest language of any of the numerous reports criticising Operation Cast Lead, the UN mission, which interviewed victims, witnesses and others in Gaza and Geneva this summer, says that while Israel had portrayed the war as self-defence in response to Hamas rocket attacks, it “considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole”.

“In this respect the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support,” the report said. It added that some Israelis should carry “individual criminal responsibility.”

The 575-page document presented to yesterday’s session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was swiftly denounced by Israel. The foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the UN mission had “dealt a huge blow to governments seeking to defend their citizens from terror”, and that its conclusions were “so disconnected with realities on the ground that one cannot but wonder on which planet was the Gaza Strip they visited”.

The Gaza war began on 27 December 2008 and ended on 18 January 2009.

The UN report found that the statements of military and political leaders in Israel before and during the operation indicated the use of “disproportionate force”, aimed not only at the enemy but also at the “supporting infrastructure”. The mission adds: “In practice this appears to have meant the civilian population.”

The mission also had harsh conclusions about Hamas and other armed groups, acknowledging that rocket and mortar attacks have caused terror in southern Israel, and saying that where launched into civilians areas, they would “constitute war crimes” and “may amount to crimes against humanity”.

It also condemned the extrajudicial killings, detention and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees by the Hamas regime in Gaza – as well as by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – and called for the release on humanitarian grounds of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal abducted by Gaza militants in June 2006.

While the Israeli government refused to co-operate with the inquiry – or allow the UN team into Israel – on the ground that the team would be “one-sided”, Cpl Shalit’s father, Noam, was among those Israeli citizens who flew to Geneva to give evidence.

That said, the much greater part of the report – and its strongest language – is reserved for Israel’s conduct during the operation. Apart from the unprecedented death toll, the report says that “the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces”. The purpose was “to make the daily process of living and dignified living more difficult for the civilian population”.

The report also says that vandalism of houses by some soldiers and “the graffiti on the walls, the obscenities and often racist slogans constituted an overall image of humiliation and dehumanisation of the Palestinian population”. Hospitals and ambulances were “targeted by Israeli attacks.”

Amid a detailed examination of most of the major incidents of the war – albeit an examinations carried out five months after the incidents took place – it says that:

* The first bombing attack on Day One of the operation when children were going home from school “appears to have been calculated to cause the greatest disruption and widespread panic”.

* The deaths of 22 members of the Samouni family sheltering in a warehouse were among ones “owing to Israeli fire intentionally directed at them”, in clear breach of the Geneva Convention.

* The firing of white phosphorus shells at the UN Relief and Works Agency compound was “compounded by reckless regard of the consequences”, and the use of high explosive artillery at the al-Quds hospitals were violations of Articles 18 and 19 of the Geneva Convention. It says that warnings issued by Israel to the civilian population “cannot be considered as sufficiently effective” under the Convention.

* On the attack in the vicinity of the al-Fakhoura school, where at least 35 Palestinians were killed, Israeli forces launched an attack where a “reasonable commander” would have considered military advantage was outweighed by the risk to civilian life. The civilians had their right to life violated as under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). And while some of the 99 policemen killed in incidents surveyed by the team may have been members of armed groups, others who were not also had their right to life violated.

 * The inquiry team also says that a number of Palestinians were used as human shields – itself a violation of the ICCPR – including Majdi Abed Rabbo, whose complaints about being so used were first aired in The Independent. The report asserts that the use of human shields constitutes a “war crime under the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court.”

* This article was written by Donald Macintyre for The Independent and was first published on Wednesday, 16 September 2009.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tel Aviv Party Party Stops Here

This column by Naomi Klein was first published in The Nation www.thenation.com

When I heard the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was holding a celebratory “spotlight” on Tel Aviv, I felt ashamed of Toronto, the city where I live. I thought immediately of Mona Al Shawa, a Palestinian women’s rights activist I met on a recent trip to Gaza. “We had more hope during the attacks,” she told me. “At least then we believed things would change.”

Al Shawa explained that while Israeli bombs rained down last December and January, Gazans were glued to their TVs. What they saw, in addition to the carnage, was a world rising up in outrage: global protests, as many as 100,000 on the streets of London, a group of Jewish women in Toronto occupying the Israeli Consulate. “People called it war crimes,” Al Shawa recalled. “We felt we were not alone in the world.” If Gazans could just survive, it seemed that their suffering could be the catalyst for change. But today, Al Shawa said, that hope is a bitter memory.

The international outrage has evaporated. Gaza has vanished from the news. And it seems that all those deaths-as many as 1,400-were not enough to bring justice. Indeed, Israel is refusing to cooperate even with a UN fact-finding mission headed by respected South African judge Richard Goldstone.

Last spring, while Goldstone’s mission was in Gaza gathering devastating testimony, the Toronto International Film Festival was making the final selections for its Tel Aviv spotlight, timed for the Israeli city’s hundredth birthday. There are many who would have us believe that there is no connection between Israel’s desire to avoid scrutiny for its actions in the occupied territories and the glittering Toronto premieres. I am sure that Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s co-director, believes that himself. He is wrong.

For more than a year, Israeli diplomats have been talking openly about their new strategy to counter growing global anger at Israel’s defiance of international law. It’s no longer enough, they argue, just to invoke Sderot every time someone raises Gaza. The task is also to change the subject to more pleasant topics: film, arts, gay rights-things that underline commonalities between Israel and places like Paris, New York and Toronto.

After the Gaza attack, as the protests rose, this strategy went into high gear. “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits,” Arye Mekel, deputy director-general for cultural affairs for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told the New York Times. “This way, you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” And hip, cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, which has been celebrating its centennial with Israeli-sponsored “beach parties” in New York, Vienna and Copenhagen all summer long, is the best ambassador of all.

Toronto got an early taste of this new cultural mission. A year ago, Amir Gissin, Israeli consul-general in Toronto, explained that the “Brand Israel” campaign would include, according to a report in the Canadian Jewish News, “a major Israeli presence at next year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand.” Gissin pledged, “I’m confident everything we plan to do will happen.” Indeed it has. Let’s be clear: no one is claiming the Israeli government is secretly running TIFF’s Tel Aviv spotlight, whispering in Bailey’s ear about which films to program. The point is that the festival’s decision to give Israel pride of place, holding up Tel Aviv as a “young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity,” matches Israel’s stated propaganda goals to a T.

Gal Uchovsky, one of the directors in the spotlight, is quoted in the festival catalog saying that Tel Aviv is “a haven [Israelis] can run away to when they want to forget about wars and the burdens of daily life.” Partly in response, Udi Aloni, the wonderful Israeli filmmaker whose film Local Angel premiered at TIFF, sent a video message to the festival, challenging its programmers to resist political escapism and instead “go to the places where it’s hard to go.” It’s ironic that TIFF’s Tel Aviv programming is being called a spotlight, because celebrating that city in isolation – without looking at Gaza, without looking at what is on the other side of the towering concrete walls, barbed wire and checkpoints – actually obscures far more than it illuminates.

There are some wonderful Israeli films included in the program. They deserve to be shown as a regular part of the festival, liberated from this highly politicized frame. It was in this context that a small group of filmmakers, writers and activists, of which I was a part, drafted The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration Under Occupation. It has been signed by the likes of Danny Glover, Viggo Mortensen, Howard Zinn, Alice Walker, Jane Fonda, Eve Ensler, Ken Loach and more than a thousand others. Among them is revered Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, as well as many Israeli filmmakers.

The counterattacks-spearheaded by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the extremist Jewish Defense League – have been at once predictable and inventive. The most frequently repeated claim is that the letter’s signatories are censors, calling for a boycott of the festival. In fact, many of the signatories have much-anticipated films at this year’s festival, and we are not boycotting it: we are objecting to the Tel Aviv spotlight portion of it. More inventive has been the assertion that by declining to celebrate Tel Aviv as just another cool metropolis, we are questioning the city’s “right to exist.” (The Republican actor Jon Voight even accused Jane Fonda of “aiding and abetting those who seek the destruction of Israel.”) The letter does no such thing.

It is, instead, a simple message of solidarity, one that says: We don’t feel like partying with Israel this year. It is also a small way of saying to Mona Al Shawa and millions of other Palestinians living under occupation and siege that we have not forgotten them.

September 14, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Naomi Klein Shows You Can Boycott Israel Without Cutting Off Dialogue Over Palestine

* Article written by Cecilie Surasky for AlterNet, posted on September 1st, 2009.

 Few global-justice campaigns are more polarizing, even explosive, than the effort to use international boycotts, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to end its 42-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Just ask Neve Gordon.

Recently, Gordon, head of the political science department at Ben-Gurion University and a longtime peace activist, published a wrenching op-ed in the Los Angeles Times endorsing the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

After initially opposing the tactic, he became convinced, he wrote, that outside pressure “is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.”

He was braced for a backlash, but nothing like what he has faced over the past few weeks — members of the Israeli Knesset from a range of political parties called for his immediate sacking, the education minister called his article “repugnant,” and his university president threw him under the bus saying, “Academic personalities who feel this way are invited to look for an academic and personal home elsewhere.” She then hinted that his statement might have been an act of treason.

Clearly, BDS, part of the so-called South Africa strategy, crosses a line in the sand for many who believe that putting economic pressure on Israel is necessarily anti-Jewish.

But for proponents, BDS is a proven, nonviolent tactic that can pressure Israel to abide by international law, making an impact where various government efforts have failed and failed miserably.

Although Palestinian Civil Society made the BDS call in 2005, it gained momentum after Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza this past December and January.

Now it is undeniably growing, particularly in the arts world. Respected writers such as John Berger, Eduardo Galeano and Adrienne Rich have all endorsed it; and Israeli film festivals have faced a string of boycotts.

Most recently, the Toronto International Film Festival’s announcement of a special “city-to-city” celebration of Tel Aviv is threatening to turn the second most important film festival in the world (after Cannes) into a site of angry protests.

One of the most high-profile figures to endorse the call for BDS is Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein, who typically enjoys overflow crowds, extensive media coverage and brisk book sales when she goes on international book tours.

When it came to publishing her latest best-seller, The Shock Doctrine, in Hebrew and Arabic, Klein decided the political situation in Israel and Palestine called for an entirely different approach.

In opposition to Israel’s occupation, she chose not to sign a traditional book deal with advances and royalties. Instead, she donated the book to Andalus, a publishing house that works actively against the occupation. It is the only Israeli publisher devoted exclusively to translating Arabic writing into Hebrew, something its founder Yael Lerer describes as “publishing as an act of resistance.”

Klein and Lerer also set out to craft a book tour that would honor the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel while also showing that boycotts need not cut off much-needed communication and dialogue.

With this in mind, Klein and Lerer, used the tour to draw attention to the boycott and the Palestinian struggle and to spark an internal Israeli dialogue about boycott as a way to pressure Israel to live up to international law.

Last month in Tel Aviv, I sat down with Klein and Lerer to ask about the goals, meaning and nuts and bolts of implementing a cultural boycott, and also why Lerer, a Jewish Israeli, is telling the world, “Please, boycott me.”

Here are some excerpts from that interview. — Cecilie Surasky

* * *

Cecilie Surasky: What is the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions? Why are you supporting it?

Naomi Klein: Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions: It’s a tactic with a very clear goal, to force Israel to comply with international law.

The call [for BDS] was made in 2005 by an extraordinarily broad range of Palestinian civil society groups, political parties, and trade unions. But it didn’t really start to gain an international profile until the Israeli attack on Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

In the midst of the war, the writer John Berger sent out a letter, signed by many prominent artists, mostly European, declaring their support for the boycott strategy. When that letter surfaced, I was in the middle of writing The Shock Doctrine, and I made a personal decision at the time that when the book came out, I wouldn’t do what I had done with the Hebrew translations of my previous two books, which was to publish with a fairly traditional commercial publisher.

Instead, I planned to do what John Berger was calling for, which was to find a way to publish in Hebrew that directly supports groups that are working to end the occupation. So that’s how I met Yael, who is anything but a traditional Israeli publisher, and who has been outspoken in her support of BDS, at genuine professional cost.

Surasky: You must have grappled with this idea of a cultural boycott. Many critics would say that it shuts down communication rather than opening it up. What brought you to take this step?

Klein: Well, it has to do with the fact that the Israeli government openly uses culture as a military tool. Though Israeli officials believe they are winning the actual war for land, they also feel that the country suffers because most of what the world hears about the region on the news is about the conflict: militarization, lawlessness, the occupation and Gaza.

So the foreign ministry launched a campaign called “Israel Beyond the Conflict,” which involves using culture, film, books, the arts, tourism and academia to create all kinds of alliances between Western countries and the state of Israel, and to promote the image of a normal, happy country, rather than an aggressive occupying power. That’s why we are always hearing about film festivals and book fairs with a special “Israel spotlight.”

And so, even though in general I would totally agree that culture is positive — books are positive and film is positive and communication is wonderful — we have to understand that we are dealing with a state strategy to co-opt all of that to make a brutal occupation more palatable.

There are other things that also fall into that category: the state of Israel has an open strategy of enlisting gay and lesbian rights and feminism into the conflict, pitting Hamas’s fundamentalism against Israel’s supposed enlightened liberalism as another justification for collective punishment of Palestinians (never mind the ever-growing power and intolerance of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jews). It’s a very sophisticated strategy.

That means we have to come up with equally sophisticated strategies that defend culture and human rights on the one hand, but that, on the other, reject all attempts to use our work and our values to whitewash the ugly reality of occupation and segregation.

Surasky: You’ve done a book tour unlike any other book tour. Yael Lerer, your company, Andalus, published the book in Hebrew. On the face of it, there’s an inherent contradiction in coming to Israel-Palestine and doing a book tour while supporting a boycott. Yet you’ve managed to make that work. Can you explain?

Yael Lerer: Andalus has been dealing with this contradiction from the very beginning. We publish Arab writers that oppose “normalization” of the occupation — like we do. And we always try to find ways to deal with these contradictions.

Actually, this is the first time we have had a book tour, because our normal way of dealing with these contradictions is to translate the books but not hold any celebrations. Our writers never come here. So here we had this challenge for the first time.

We made the big launch of the Hebrew edition not in Tel Aviv but in Haifa, at an Arab theater, where our hosts were not Israeli official institutions, but Palestinian minority institutions. (As you know, there is a minority of 20 percent Palestinian within Israel.)

But this event was not aimed only at this community — we invited Israeli Jews to come as well. One could read everywhere in Hebrew, “Naomi Klein is coming to Haifa, come and hear her.”

At the same time, it was important to have the first book events in East Jerusalem and Ramallah, with the Arabic edition, and that before all the book events, Naomi participated in a demonstration in Bi’lin against the separation wall.

So we spoke to the Israeli public at the events and through the Israeli media. The book is available in Hebrew. But, at the same time, we expressed a strong anti-normalization position. We were not doing it like everything is normal.

Klein: And that’s the point. This is not a boycott of Israelis. It’s a boycott of pretending that everything is normal in Israel, because that’s what cultural producers are usually invited to do.

There has been a huge amount of misrepresentation about the boycott campaign, claiming that it is a boycott of Israelis, or Jews, or that it’s anti-Semitic. We are trying to address those misconceptions with this tour. There are some clear rules: We’re not going to work with a state-sponsored book fair, for instance. I have refused invitations to come to Israel, to speak at state-sponsored film festivals and things like that.

But If I were boycotting Israelis, I wouldn’t be in Israel engaging with Israelis. I would have stayed home.

One of the things we are trying to draw out with this tour is that for foreigners like me, however you choose to come to Israel, you are making choices, and you are taking a side. It’s possible to pretend that you are not, but that’s only because of Israel’s success in making the conflict invisible inside a carefully constructed bubble.

In my book there is a long chapter about Israel and the construction of the homeland security state. It looks closely at the companies that build the high-tech walls and fences and checkpoints and that keep Palestinians in the Occupied Territories in a state of constant surveillance.

It is because of the effectiveness of the homeland security sector that it’s possible to come to cities like Tel Aviv and be almost completely oblivious to what is happening in Ramallah, in Gaza. This state is like a giant gated community. It has perfected the art of constructing a security bubble, and that is, in a sense, its brand.

It’s a brand that is sold to Diaspora Jews like me. It says: “We can keep you safe, we can create, in a sea of enemies, a bubble of safety for you to enjoy, to have a wonderful beach holiday, to go to film festivals and book festivals — even as we bomb Gaza, even as we turn the West Bank into a chain of mini-Bantustans, surrounded by walls and expanding settlements, and roads Palestinians don’t have access to.”

These are two sides of the same coin: the bubble of normalcy, the brutality of enclosure. So it is not a politically neutral act to partake of that bubble.

This is a very important dialogue to have, and that’s why it was so important for us to publish the book in Hebrew — both to get the information out there, and to challenge people who are misrepresenting this tactic as being a boycott of Jews or a boycott of Israelis. We’re not doing that at all.

I donated the royalties to Andalus so that I’m not personally profiting from this, and I chose to work with Andalus because it is an activist publisher with a clear anti-occupation stand.

If the book does well, then it helps them to continue their work. The boycott campaign doesn’t ask people not to come to Israel or the Occupied Territories to share ideas and art — it asks that we do so in clear opposition to occupation and discrimination.

Surasky: And how has the Israeli media responded to the first pro-boycott book tour?

Klein: Not well. One of the contradictions we’re facing is that we really wanted to spark a debate in Israel, because while BDS is being debated in Europe and Canada, it’s almost invisible inside Israel; there’s real censorship around this issue.

Virtually the only perspective you hear is, “Oh, they’re just a bunch of anti-Semites, they hate Israelis, they hate Jews” — very, very distorted.

So our idea was to make it harder to distort by putting some facts on the ground and saying: “Look, we’ve translated this book, I’m here in Israel. Let’s have some of that dialogue and communication Israel is supposedly so intent on defending.”

What we’re finding is a lot of interest from Israelis but a huge amount of resistance from the Israeli media to just having the debate — both about the role of the security sector in lobbying against peace and the possible role of a boycott movement in creating new lobbies for peace.

Once I made my boycott position clear in Ha’aretz, a lot of media canceled on us, which doesn’t say much for the spectrum of debate, but it’s not all that surprising either!

Surasky: What is the objective of this campaign? What would you like to see coming out of this?

Klein: It’s modeled on the South Africa strategy that the anti-apartheid struggle used against South Africa very successfully in the 1980s. It had academic boycotts, cultural boycotts, consumer boycotts.

But the really big key economic lever was universities and municipalities divesting from companies that were doing business in apartheid South Africa. The campaign started to be too costly for both South African firms and for Western multinationals with major investments in South Africa.

There was also a situation a little bit similar with Israel where you had a white minority in South Africa that very much saw itself as being part of Europe, of being part of the West. And suddenly they weren’t getting the American and European concerts they wanted, they weren’t getting the book fairs they wanted, and they didn’t like that.

So they put pressure on their government to make it stop, even though white South Africans felt self-righteous and enormously enraged by the boycotts and sanctions.

The hope is that these sorts of dynamics can work in Israel, because it is so important to the Israeli self-image that the country be seen as an honorary member of the E.U. or an adjunct to the United States.

When writers and artists stop participating in the Israeli government’s strategy to use culture to hide what’s on the other side of the concrete walls, Israelis may eventually decide that those walls are a liability and decide to take them down

Lerer: I completely agree. As an Israeli citizen, I need boycotts for two reasons.

First, I want Israelis to feel more strongly that everything is not normal. It means nothing for many self-identified left-wing Israelis to say, “It’s awful, what’s going on in Gaza and in Hebron,” while continuing their daily lives like everything is fine.

They go to the shows and they go to the concerts. These people are the elites in this country. These are the journalists that work at the newspapers. I want to move them. I want to shake these people up and make them understand they cannot continue their normal life when Palestinians in Qalqiliya [a West Bank city completely surrounded by the separation barrier] — only 15 minutes away from Tel Aviv — are in prison.

The second reason I need the boycott is because I lost the hope of creating change from within, which was what I tried to do as an activist for many years.

Twenty years ago, I could never have imagined this semi-apartheid situation. I care about the future in this place. I care about my fellow Israelis. I have a huge family here and many, many friends.

I know many people who don’t have any other passports and who don’t have any other options. I think that the solution for this place, the only possible future, is living together. Unfortunately, at this stage, I don’t see how this future can be achieved without international pressure.

And I think that boycott is a nonviolent tool that has already shown us that it can work. So I’m asking: Please boycott me.

Klein: I also think we need to be very clear: This is an extraordinarily asymmetrical conflict where the Israeli state is the biggest boycotter of all. The economy in Gaza and the West Bank has been utterly destroyed by closures.

Beyond shutting down the borders so producers in Gaza couldn’t get fruits and vegetables out, you had [over 200] factories in Gaza hit during the attack in late December and January. It was a systematic destruction of that economy to try to “teach Gaza a lesson” for having voted for Hamas. So, boycotts are happening.

The way I see BDS is that this is a tactic that we are resorting to because of Israeli impunity. There is an absolute unwillingness to apply international law to the Israeli state. Hamas has committed war crimes, but there is absolutely an international response to those crimes. [There is no response to Israeli war crimes, which are on an exponentially larger scale.]

We were just in Gaza. The thing that really struck me was the sense of shock among so many people that, even after the December/January attacks, even after hundreds of children were killed, there have been no actions taken by the international community to hold Israel accountable.

I mean, this was a display of utter impunity and disdain for international law, for the laws of war — which, by the way, were created in direct response to the Nazi atrocities of the second World War. And yet, not only are there no consequences for those crimes, but the illegal siege of Gaza is still on.

What BDS is saying is our governments have failed. The United Nations has failed. The so-called international community is a joke. We have to fill the vacuum.

I also believe this movement could be a game-changer in the United States. Let’s remember that a huge part of the success of the anti-apartheid struggle in the ’80s was due to popular education.

Once you said, “Our school or town should divest from apartheid South Africa,” you immediately had to have a big teach-in where you had to explain what apartheid was, and you had to make your case persuasively. And people were persuaded.

The Palestinian BDS call could play that kind of movement-building role today, giving people something concrete they can organize around in their schools and communities.

Whether he recognizes it or not, [President Barack] Obama needs the Palestinian struggle to be a popular, grassroots issue like the South African struggle was. He has taken very small steps to forge a new kind of deal with Israel, but he’s facing enormous push-back from the right. There has to be a counterpressure on Obama saying, “Actually, you’re not going far enough. Excuse me, no new settlements? How about no settlements, period?”

So the only hope of not just having him hold to this tentative position, but actually improving this position, is if there’s a popular movement that is very clear in its demands for Israel to abide by international law on all fronts, and that’s exactly what BDS is.

Surasky: How are Israelis on the left responding to the idea of a boycott?

Lerer: Something happened in the last war in Gaza in January. Five hundred and forty Israelis — including prominent academics, actors and filmmakers — signed a petition asking for international pressure on Israel.

One paragraph in this petition said that only boycott helped in the South Africa case. It was not yet a direct call for boycott, but it was a very important step. Now we are forming a new group of Israeli citizens who support the Palestinian call for boycott — Boycott From Within (BFW).

In 2005, we tried to arrange a group of artists to support the Palestinian call for academic and cultural boycott, and we failed. People told us, “How can we boycott ourselves? It is too difficult, it is too radical.” Many of these people have now signed the Gaza petition, and they are joining our new BFW group.

They understood that it’s not about boycotting ourselves, but about asking the international community, asking our fellow citizens everywhere in the world for action: Please help us by boycotting us.

Surasky: Let’s talk about specific examples of other people who are supporting this call.

Klein: Most artists do not know about the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions, even though it comes from hundreds of Palestinian groups. We’re working within a context where Palestinian voices are virtually inaudible in the West.

So people will come to Israel to accept an award or agree to play a concert in Tel Aviv, and they don’t know that they are essentially crossing a picket line. Most don’t even know a call has been made for nonviolent resistance by a people who, let’s remember, have been utterly vilified for using any kind of armed resistance. I mean come on: If you reject armed resistance, and you reject boycotts and sanctions, what’s left? Online petitions? Do we really think that’s going to end the occupation?

But yes, some filmmakers who are politically active have decided not to participate in Israeli or Israeli-sponsored film festivals.

Ken Loach has pulled out of the Melbourne International Film Festival because it was sponsored by the Israeli government. The Canadian filmmaker John Greyson pulled a terrific film called Fig Trees from this year’s gay and lesbian film festival in Tel Aviv.

More recently, the Yes Men wrote a really thoughtful letter to the Jerusalem Film Festival explaining why they decided to pull their new film, The Yes Men Save the World, from the festival.

And now there is some talk of organizing a pro-BDS film festival in Ramallah, once again to boycott normalcy but to still get these films out there.

Surasky: I just read a criticism of BDS that said, “You’re not calling for a boycott of North Korea, or the United States for that matter because of Afghanistan or Iraq. So, that makes this anti-Semitic.” How do you address this criticism?

Klein: I’ve heard that too, but I’m not calling for a boycott of anyone. I am respecting a call for a boycott that has been made by hundreds of Palestinian groups.

I believe in the principle that people under oppressed circumstances have a right to self-determination. That’s at the heart of this struggle. This is a nonviolent tactic that has been selected by a broad range of civil society groups.

Iraqis, so far as I know, have not called for BDS tactics against the United States, though it would certainly be their right. And yet some people act as if I sort of made it up in my bedroom like, “who should I boycott today? Eenie-meenie-miney-mo, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Burma, Israel!”

Once again, the only reason this can happen is because Palestinian voices are so effectively marginalized in the Western press.

By the way, most of the examples that are trotted out in these debates are examples where there are very clear state sanctions against these countries. So we’re not dealing with impunity as we are with Israel.

In this case, you need a grassroots project to fill in where governments have completely abdicated their responsibility to exert pressure on behalf of international law.

Lerer: But not only that — these countries don’t have these film festivals, and Madonna is not going to have a concert in North Korea.

The problem here is that the international community treats Israel like it was a normal, European, Western state. And this is the basis of the boycott call — the special relationship that Israeli universities have with European universities and with universities in the United States, which universities in Zimbabwe don’t have.

I do believe that Israel could not continue the occupation for one single day without the support of the United States and the European Union. The Western community supports the occupation. Like Naomi was saying, not doing something is the active thing.

Surasky: Some say, “This is not going to help. Israelis see themselves under siege, we Jews see ourselves under siege. It’s actually going to make Israelis less open to peace.”

Klein: It’s inevitable that, at least in the short term, it’s going to feed this Israeli feeling of being under siege.

It’s not rational, because in fact, what we’re dealing with is a context where Israel has been rewarded. If we look at these key years since the election of Hamas, when the siege on Gaza became utterly brutal and just undeniably illegal, trade with Israel has actually increased dramatically. There have been new special agreements launched with the European Union and Israel, with Latin America. Last year, Israeli exports to Canada went up 45 percent.

Even though Israel is being rewarded for this criminality and is getting away with just extraordinary violence, the feeling among many Israelis of being under siege is increasing.

The question is, do we just cater to this irrationality? Because if we just cater to it, that means we do nothing, we voluntarily surrender the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal.

Israel, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, believes that the whole world is against it and that all the criticism it faces flows from anti-Semitism.

This is simply untrue, and as activists, we can no longer allow one nation’s victim complex to trump the very real victimization of the Palestinian people.

 

Cecilie Surasky is the deputy director for Jewish Voice for Peace.

September 5, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The real Israel-Palestine story is in the West Bank

Israel’s targeting of civilian resistance to the separation wall proves the two-state solution is now just a meaningless slogan.

It is quite likely that you have not heard of the most important developments this week in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the West Bank, while it has been “occupation as normal”, there have been some events that together should be overshadowing Gaza, Gilad Shalit and Avigdor Lieberman.

First, there have been a large number of Israeli raids on Palestinian villages, with dozens of Palestinians abducted. These kinds of raids are, of course, commonplace for the occupied West Bank, but in recent days it appears the Israeli military has targeted sites of particularly strong Palestinian civil resistance to the separation wall.

For three consecutive days this week, Israeli forces invaded Jayyous, a village battling for survival as their agricultural land is lost to the wall and neighbouring Jewish colony. The soldiers occupied homes, detained residents, blocked off access roads, vandalised property, beat protestors, and raised the Israeli flag at the top of several buildings.

Jayyous is one of the Palestinian villages in the West Bank that has been non-violently resisting the separation wall for several years now. It was clear to the villagers that this latest assault was an attempt to intimidate the protest movement.

Also earlier this week, Israel tightened still further the restrictions on Palestinian movement and residency rights in East Jerusalem, closing the remaining passage in the wall in the Ar-Ram neighbourhood of the city. This means that tens of thousands of Palestinians are now cut off from the city and those with the right permit will now have to enter the city by first heading north and using the Qalandiya checkpoint.

Finally – and this time, there was some modest media coverage – it was revealed that the Efrat settlement near Bethlehem would be expanded by the appropriation of around 420 acres land as “state land”. According to Efrat’s mayor, the plan is to triple the number of residents in the colony.

Looked at together, these events in the West Bank are of far more significance than issues being afforded a lot of attention currently, such as the truce talks with Hamas, or the discussions about a possible prisoner-exchange deal. Hamas itself has become such a focus, whether by those who urge talks and cooption or those who advocate the group’s total destruction, that the wider context is forgotten.

Hamas is not the beginning or the end of this conflict, a movement that has been around for just the last third of Israel’s 60 years. The Hamas Charter is not a Palestinian national manifesto, and nor is it even particularly central to today’s organisation. Before Hamas existed, Israel was colonising the occupied territories, and maintaining an ethnic exclusivist regime; if Hamas disappeared tomorrow, Israeli colonisation certainly would not.

Recognising what is happening in the West Bank also contextualises the discussion about Israel’s domestic politics, and the ongoing question about the makeup of a ruling coalition. For the Palestinians, it does not make much difference who is eventually sitting around the Israeli cabinet table, since there is a consensus among the parties on one thing: a firm rejectionist stance with regards to Palestinian self-determination and sovereignty.

During the coverage of the Israeli elections, while it was clear that Palestinians mostly did not care which of the candidates for PM won, the reason for this apathy was not explained. Labor, Likud and Kadima alike, Israeli governments without fail have continued or intensified the colonisation of the occupied territories, entrenching Israel’s separate-and-unequal rule, a reality belied by the false “dove”/”hawk” dichotomy.

Which brings us to the third reason why news from the West Bank is more significant than the Gaza truce talks or the Netanyahu-Livni rivalry – it is a further reminder that the two-state solution has completed its progression from worthy (and often disingenuous) aim to meaningless slogan, concealing Israel’s absorption of all Palestine/Israel and confinement of the Palestinians into enclaves.

The fact that the West Bank reality means the end of the two-state paradigm has started to be picked up by mainstream, liberal commentators in the US, in the wake of the Israeli elections. Juan Cole, the history professor and blogger, recently pointed out that there are now only three options left for Palestine/Israel: “apartheid”, “expulsion”, or “one state”.

The path of the wall, and the number of Palestinians it directly and indirectly affects, continues to make a mockery of any plan for Palestinian statehood. Jayyous is just one example of the way in which the Israeli-planned, fenced-in Palestinian “state-lets” are at odds with the stated intention of the quartet and so many others, of two viable states, “side by side”. As the World Bank pointed out (pdf), land colonisation is not conducive to economic prosperity or basic independence.

In occupied East Jerusalem meanwhile, Israel has continued its process of Judaisation, enforced through bureaucracy and bulldozers. The latest tightening of the noose in Ar-Ram is one example of where Palestinian Jerusalemites are at risk of losing their residency status, victims of what is politely known as the “demographic battle”.

It is impossible to imagine Palestinians accepting a “state” shaped by the contours of Israel’s wall, disconnected not only from East Jerusalem but even from parts of itself. Yet this is the essence of the “solution” being advanced by Israeli leaders across party lines. For a real sense of where the conflict is heading, look to the West Bank, not just Gaza.

This article was written by Ben White for the Guardian and was first published on Friday 20th February 2009.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment