Dreaming of Freedom

dreaming-of-freedom

Dear Representative McCollum,

Thank you for sponsoring H.R. 4391, Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.  I want to help educate your colleagues in Congress about the serious abuses perpetrated upon Palestinian children by Israel, including military detention and torture.

Your legislation requires that the Secretary of State certify that American funds do not support Israel’s military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children. This measure should be a no-brainer, but I know that the Israeli lobby will fight tooth and nail to obfuscate the issues.

I highly recommend a book on this subject “Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak” (June 2016).  I hope the testimonies of Palestinian child prisoners who have been subjected to Israeli detention and torture will be part of the public record.

I will ask my member of Congress from New Mexico to cosponsor your bill. If there’s anything further I can do to help, please let me know.

Sincerely,

 

 

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When is “anti-Semitism” NOT anti-Semitism?

antisemitism

The program on Baltimore’s WYPR caught my attention because it was focused on a discussion about anti-Semitism with Ira Forman, a distinguished visiting professor at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the University’s Center for Jewish Civilization. Professor Forman, who has worked for more than forty years as a leading advocate for Jewish culture and community, is currently teaching a course in Contemporary Anti-Semitism. Previously, he spent four years as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

This 40 minute program is worth a listen, here.

I thought the host, Tom Hall, did a great job with the discussion about BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) but, unfortunately, his guest’s mischaracterization of anti-Semitism went unchallenged. I wrote him a letter to point out the problem.

Dear Mr. Hall,

I listened to your program today with Ira Forman and was pleased with your discussion about BDS.
However, Mr. Forman was incorrect with his 3Ds (Delegitimize, Demonize, Double Standards) to describe an anti-Semite.
Wikipedia notes that “the 3D Test of Antisemitism is a set of criteria put forth by Natan Sharansky to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from antisemitism. The three Ds stand for Delegitimization [of Israel], Demonization [of Israel], and [subjecting Israel to] Double standards, each of which, according to the test, indicates antisemitism. It was published in the Jewish Political Studies Review in 2004. The test is intended to draw the line between legitimate criticism towards the State of Israel, its actions and policies, and non-legitimate criticism that becomes antisemitic.”
Although the 3D test has been adopted by the State Department and has gained wide acceptance among Zionists and Israel lobbyists, it is a recent aberration which the State of Israel has been vigorously pushing.
The correct definition of anti-Semitism is “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group.”
The clear danger of the Israeli government’s definition is the chilling impact it has on legitimate free speech. The potential sting of being called an anti-Semite silences many (most?) people who have legitimate criticisms about Israel’s 50-year occupation of Palestine.
Shielding the State of Israel from criticism has been a major foreign policy objective for its government for decades, but recent efforts have intensified in response to the growing success of the BDS movement.
I hope there will be an opportunity to correct the record on your program sometime in the future.
Sincerely,
Lora Lucero

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Dystopia

A question for my friends who are history buffs.

Were there any journalists in Germany in the 1930s writing about the shocking and disgusting actions occurring in the concentration camps? I’m talking about contemporaneous reporting that provided the truth behind the barbwired fences.

Dachau

Inmates in Dachau line up. This photograph was on the cover of the Munchen Illustierte Press edition on July 16, 1933. Photo credit: USHMM Photo Arhives

Although I found this photo published in 1933, my hunch is that the German people were not informed about the atrocities occurring in the camps — the medical experimentation, the severe deprivations of food and other basics of life, and the gas chambers.  The Germans didn’t know about all of that, right?  (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

In Israel today, thanks to journalists like Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, the average Israeli has access to the brutal facts about Israel’s occupation and 10+ years blockade of Gaza, the largest open air prison on the planet.

Although Israel has prevented Israeli journalists from entering Gaza for many years, reports are getting out, like this report [Gaza Kids Live in Hell: A Psychologist Tells of Rampant Sexual Abuse, Drugs and Despair] from Israeli psychologist, Mohammed Mansour.

Mohammed Mansour

Mohammed Mansour, a psychologist who volunteers in Gaza with Physicians for Human Rights. Tomer Appelbaum – Hareetz

Gideon Levy writes: Mansour describes dystopia, a society that is falling apart. Devastation. Gazans demonstrate astonishing endurance, spirit and solidarity in their families, villages, neighborhoods and camps, after all the plagues they have suffered: refugees, children of refugees, grandchildren of refugees and great-grandchildren of refugees, are falling apart.

Mansour described an all-out struggle for survival, with addiction to painkillers as the last refuge. Nothing is left of the Gaza we knew. Nothing reminds us of the Gaza that we loved. “It will be difficult to restore Gaza’s humanity. Gaza is hell,” says Mansour.

This is a man-made, evil catastrophe just as Hitler’s concentration camps were …. there is no difference, and no justification.

Maybe Germans didn’t know what their leader was doing to an entire generation of Jews secreted away in those concentration camps. The Israelis today have no excuse for the state’s inhumane cruelty perpetrated on several generations of Palestinians. History will judge Israel, its leaders and its people harshly, as it should.

 

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Why we pretend to know things*

*Thanks to Sean Illing for writing about Steven Sloman‘s work as a cognitive scientist in “Why we pretend to know things, explained by a cognitive scientist” published on Vox.com on November 3, 2017 here. I encourage you to read it.

This is my response to Illing’s provocative article mentioned above.

Most of us know that we’re living in information bubbles, especially those of us who frequently rely on social media (Facebook and Twitter) for our news diet.

But Steven Sloman, a cognitive scientist, provides a thoughtful explanation about our bubbles.

The author of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think AloneSloman’s research focuses on judgment, decision-making, and reasoning. He’s especially interested in what’s called “the illusion of explanatory depth.” This is how cognitive scientists refer to our tendency to overestimate our understanding of how the world works.

The decisions we make, the attitudes we form, the judgments we make, depend very much on what other people are thinking,” he said.

So let’s take Donna Brazile’s “bombshell” that she dropped on Americans about the “secret agreement” in 2015 between the Clinton campaign and the DNC as an example.  Clinton agreed to make serious infusions of cash into the bankrupt DNC in exchange for control on certain DNC hiring and other decisions during the primary.

I watched the furor unfold on Facebook.  Bernie Sanders’ supporters roared “We knew the primary was rigged, and Donna’s disclosure has proven it.” Many heaped praise on Brazile for her “courage.”

Clinton’s supporters yelled “Treason” and “Foul play!” and quickly condemned both the message (“a lie” “every candidate signs the same agreement”) and the messenger as a self-promotional, treasonous bitch.

Steven Sloman says:

I really do believe that our attitudes are shaped much more by our social groups than they are by facts on the ground. We are not great reasoners. Most people don’t like to think at all, or like to think as little as possible. And by most, I mean roughly 70 percent of the population. Even the rest seem to devote a lot of their resources to justifying beliefs that they want to hold, as opposed to forming credible beliefs based only on fact.

Damn right, Steven.  I was shocked by the vituperative attacks against Donna Brazile, most led by Clinton’s supporters or Dem Party loyalists. I understood the self-congratulatory tone that many Bernie supporters took, but even they were disconnected from any facts. They don’t know (still don’t know) what kind of influence the Clinton campaign actually wielded on the DNC during the contested primary season.

I’d just finished reading Clinton’s memoir “What Happened” the night before Brazile’s “bombshell” landed. I wanted to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt and hoped that she, or her spokesperson, would provide a quick and thorough explanation to put the whole controversy to rest. I waited. And waited. Her spokesperson finally issued an unresponsive press release. Guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I watched as everyone formed their opinions about this “bombshell” and it was clear no one knew what they were talking about. Steven Sloman explains:

One danger is that if I think I understand because the people around me think they understand, and the people around me all think they understand because the people around them all think they understand, then it turns out we can all have this strong sense of understanding even though no one really has any idea what they’re talking about.

No shit, Sherlock!

But some people do try to rise above the crowd: to verify claims independently, to give fair hearing to others’ claims, and to follow the data where it actually leads. In fact, many people are trained to do that: scientists, judges, forensic investigators, physicians, etc. That doesn’t mean they always do (and they don’t always), just that they’re supposed to try.

Well, I pride myself for being an “independent thinker” — at least trying.  But I catch myself and kick myself for falling into “group think” and so I know it’s impossible to disentangle oneself completely from the sway of public opinion.

I applaud Steven Sloman’s goal and share it.

I like to live in communities that put a premium on getting things right even when they fly in the face of social norms. This means living with constant tension, but it’s worth it.

Now, what does this have to do with Israel / Palestine and Gaza, the subject of my blog?

Many self-described activists for Palestine will easily condemn Zionists and everyone else who cheers for Israel as thoughtless dupes who don’t know the “truth” about the 50-year occupation.

Many self-described Zionists will condemn the activists for being Hamas stooges and bleeding heart leftists.

Neither side will give the other any credit for exercising independent judgment and analysis. And now it appears, based on Steven Sloman’s work, both sides may have a valid point.

The Zionists stay within their circles chanting their mantras about the Palestinians, and Arabs generally, having a murderous intent to destroy Israel.

The Palestine activists remain within their “small” networks to prop up their feeling of “rightness” and “righteousness” in the firm belief that they know the truth.

The internet is clearly making it worse in the sense that we can reach out and form these online communities of fellow believers. And the fact that our news is getting individualized makes it much worse. So, even if I want to understand what the other side sees, Google is constantly feeding me the things I want to see.

And that’s bad for all of us.

In 2011, I decided to get out of my bubble, to visit Palestine and see for myself where the “facts on the ground” might lead me. I didn’t actually make it into Gaza until September 2012, but for the next nine months I learned a lot. I tried to keep an open mind. I questioned everyone, and more importantly, I questioned myself.

Now I’m writing a book about that experience.

Steven Sloman concludes:

People who are more reflective are less susceptible to the illusion. There are some simple questions you can use to measure reflectivity. They tend to have this form: How many animals of each kind did Moses load onto the ark? Most people say two, but more reflective people say zero. (It was Noah, not Moses who built the ark.)

The trick is to not only come to a conclusion, but to verify that conclusion. There are many communities that encourage verification (e.g., scientific, forensic, medical, judicial communities). You just need one person to say, “are you sure?” and for everyone else to care about the justification. There’s no reason that every community could not adopt these kinds of norms. The problem of course is that there’s a strong compulsion to make people feel good by telling them what they want to hear, and for everyone to agree. That’s largely what gives us a sense of identity. There’s a strong tension here.

My colleagues and I are studying whether one way to open up discourse is to try to change the nature of conversation from a focus on what people value to one about actual consequences. When you talk about actual consequences, you’re forced into the weeds of what’s actually happening, which is a diversion from our normal focus on our feelings and what’s going on in our heads.

Maybe Steven Sloman has the answer. Lets try to change the nature of the conversation and focus on the consequences in the Middle East of no justice, no peace, no resolution to the conflict.

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Israel has crossed the red line – no longer the lawful occupant of the Palestinian Territories

When is enough, enough under international law?

michael_lynk

Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk

That’s the question that the UN rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories, S. Michael Lynk, asked and answered in his report to the U.N. General Assembly in October 2017.

Lynk is a Canadian professor of law and human rights expert. His words should carry some umpf! in the international community, if not with Israeli officials who have persistently refused to accept more than 40 UN resolutions over the past half century pertaining to the occupied territories.

To summarize this 22 page report, which should be required reading for everyone interested in the future of Israel and Palestine, Professor Lynk is opening a new (legal) chapter in Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

He is making the case for recognizing Israel as an illegal occupier, and calling on the international community to use all of the tools in its toolbox to end this illegal occupation.

Israel denies that it’s occupying Palestine, despite the contrary opinion of the rest of the world. (Israeli deputy foreign minister denies Palestinians live under occupation: ‘This is Judea and Samaria’)

Loss of Land

“The Israeli occupation has become a legal and humanitarian oxymoron: an occupation without end,” Professor Lynk writes. It is the longest-running military occupation in the modern world.

The inability to end the Israeli occupation has been an abject failure of international diplomacy, a darkening stain on the efficacy of international law and the source of multiple broken promises to the Palestinian people. Nor does the prolongation of this occupation serve the people of Israel, for it corrodes their society and their public institutions by entangling them in their government’s drive to foreclose a viable and just solution to the half-century of occupation and the century-long conflict, and makes them the benefactors — unwittingly or not — of a profoundly unequal and unjust relationship.

How should we characterize this occupation in 2017? Professor Lynk proposes that Israel is no longer the lawful occupant of the Palestinian territory, but has now crossed a red line and has become the unlawful occupier. His argument goes like this:

  1. “Two decades into the 21st century, the norm that guides our global community is that people are citizens, not subjects, of the state that rules them. … Colonialism, occupation and other forms of alien rule are very much the exception to this norm.”
  2. The right of self-determination, and economic, social and cultural rights — are to be interpreted broadly, while the exceptions to these fundamental rights — such as military necessity, significant threats to national security or public emergencies — are to be interpreted narrowly.
  3. Three core purposes of modern international humanitarian law related to foreign military occupation are: (a) closely regulate the occupation to ensure that the territory achieves, or is restored to, a state of sovereignty, (b) prevent the territory from becoming a fruit of conquest, and (c) safeguard the protected people under occupation.
  4. The International Court of Justice has affirmed that international human rights law continues to apply in times of conflict and throughout an occupation.
  5. The right to self-determination is a right that applies to everyone living under occupation, and the court has specifically recognized the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.
  6. Israel has occupied the Palestinian territory – the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza – since June 1967, and therefore the Fourth Geneva Convention applies in full. 
  7. Palestinians are “protected persons” under international humanitarian law and are entitled to the protections of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The international community has widely rejected Israel’s assertions that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply.

So what should the international community do?

Professor Lynk proposes that the U.N. General Assembly seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the question of the legality of the occupation.

ICJ

International Court of Justice

Courts and lawyers favor tradition and precedent (stare decisis), and Professor Lynk finds ample precedent in the ICJ’s 1971 Namibia opinion, where the court decided that South Africa’s continued presence in the territory of Namibia was illegal.  (On a side note, I’ve just completed a couple of online courses in International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, and really appreciate how Professor Lynk’s report connects all of the dots that I’ve just learned.)

Application of the Legality Test to Israel’s Occupation

The ICJ should consider four elements, Professor Lynk writes, to determine if Israel is now an illegal occupying force.

  1. The prohibition against annexation: Israeli officials have made their intentions crystal clear. There are now 210,000 Israeli settlers living in occupied East Jerusalem, and another 400,000 settlers live in approximately 225 settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel has been establishing its “facts on the ground” for a de facto annexation of the occupied lands that belong to the Palestinian people under international law. “The settlers live under Israeli law in Israeli-only settlements, drive on an Israeli-only road system, and benefit greatly from the enormous sums of public money spent by Israel on entrenching and expanding the settlements. … What country would invest so heavily over so many years to establish many immutable facts on the ground in an occupied territory if it did not intend to remain permanently?”
  2. Occupations must be temporary, and not indefinite or permanent. “Modern occupations that have broadly adhered to the strict principles concerning temporariness, non-annexation, trusteeship and good faith have not exceed 10 years, including the American occupation of Japan, the Allied occupation of western Germany and the American-led coalition’s occupation of Iraq.” Israel’s occupation is 50 years old. “The only credible explanation for Israel’s continuation of the occupation and its thickening of the settlement regime is to enshrine its sovereign claim over part or all of the Palestinian territory, a colonial ambition par excellence.”
  3. The Best Interest/Trust Principle. “Under international law, Israel is required to administer the occupied Palestinian territory in the best interests of the Palestinian people, but the social and economic impact of the occupation on the Palestinians in the occupied territory, which had always been disadvantageous, has become increasingly dire in recent years.” Professor Lynk’s report spells out in no uncertain terms how Israel has taken advantage of the natural resources, and ruled the Palestinian Territory as an internal colony, to create a “strangled economy, mounting impoverishmet, daily impositions and indignities, and receding hope for a reversal of fortune in the foreseeable future.”
  4. Good Faith. Professor Lynk says that Israel has not been acting in good faith because it hasn’t complied with the 3 elements above, and it hasn’t complied with specific directions issued by the United Nations pertaining to the occupation. The enumeration of Israel’s noncompliance with international law is damning and shocking when it’s all spelled out in one place. Israel (and it’s best friend the United States Congress) might argue that the United Nations is bias against Israel, but what Israel really means is that the community of nations has not accepted Israel’s blatant attempt to unilaterally rewrite international law to suit its own self-interest.
checkpoint

Israeli checkpoint for Palestinians posted by Husam Jubran on Facebook Nov. 2, 2017

Professor Lynk’s concluding observation is an alarm bell that every lawyer should take seriously, regardless of personal opinions about Israel / Palestine and the occupation.

International law is the promise that states make to one another, and to their people, that rights will be respected, protections will be honoured, agreements and obligations will be satisfied, and peace and justice will be pursued. It is a tribute to the international community that it has sustained this vision of international law throughout its supervision of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory.

But it is no tribute that — as the occupation deepened, as the occupier’s intentions became crystal clear, and as its defiance grew — the international community recoiled from answering Israel’s splintering of the Palestinian territory and disfiguring of the laws of occupation with the robust tools that international law and diplomacy provide. International law, along with the peoples of Palestine and Israel, have all suffered in the process.

The challenge now facing the international community … is to devise and employ the appropriate diplomatic and legal steps that, measure by measure, would completely and fully end the occupation.

 

 

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Action, not more words

Lord Balfour

Lord Arthur Balfour

Most Americans don’t give a squat about diplomacy and history, so the 100th year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration won’t register much more than a tick in U.S. papers and social media.  The U.S. Congress will be quietly considering a resolution in support of this abomination in the next few weeks.

On the other hand, the history and import of Balfour’s infamous letter, giving a homeland to the Jews in the land of Palestine, is drawing a lot of attention in the UK and Palestine.

On November 2, 1917, Lord Balfour wrote:

“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The Zionists considered this short statement (which they drafted in large measure) their first and biggest diplomatic success. From these 67 words, sprang the Zionists’ dream and the Palestinians’ nightmare. Today, a century later, it is clear that the first part of Lord Balfour’s declaration has been realized, but not the second.

Many are calling attention to this failure, walking 3,400 km. from London to Jerusalem to drive the point home. 

Today (Nov. 2, 2017) a new declaration was presented to the Consulate-General in Jerusalem with a request that it be passed on to the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, and to the Prime Minister, Theresa May.

Preamble
We have walked more than 3,400 kilometres to be here today. We have walked in penance and in solidarity. We have walked in recognition that the Balfour Declaration led to one people’s freedom and another people’s oppression.

We have walked with our Christian, Muslim and Jewish partners in the Holy Land to hear their witness to the consequences of Balfour. Today, one hundred years after the original Balfour Declaration was made, we propose a new declaration. We offer a ‘new Balfour’ to Her Majesty’s Government, a new 67-word declaration written in the belief that peace will only come through justice and reconciliation.

“Her Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine/Israel of a safe and secure home for all who live there. The nations of the world should use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this objective, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil, political and religious rights of Palestinians or Jews living in Palestine/Israel or any other country.”

I understand and appreciate the sentiments expressed in this new declaration but it’s naive and, even if everyone agreed with it (especially leaders in the UK, Israel and Palestine), it’s too little, too late.

Rather, world leaders should take note of the report released this week by S. Michael Lynk, a Canadian professor of law and human rights expert, and the UN rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories. He’s calling for sanctions against Israel to pressure that government to end its military occupation. This is a critical and necessary step to secure justice for the Palestinians, but it’s also important to reaffirm our global commitment to international law and the rule of law.

The “duration of this occupation is without precedent or parallel in today’s world,” the report said. Israel has “driven Gaza back to the dark ages” due to denial of water and electricity and freedom of movement. There is a “darkening stain” on the world’s legal framework because other countries have treated the occupation as normal, and done nothing to resist Israel’s “colonial ambition par excellence,” which includes two sets of laws for Israelis and Palestinians.

Words will no longer suffice a century after Lord Balfour’s declaration. Palestinians need action, not more words.

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The Virtual Dinner Guest Project!

Open Roads Media is no ordinary media outlet. It was created a few years ago by a friend of mine with a very cool idea.  I wrote about its beginning here.

Bringing the media directly to the people — connecting people from very different parts of the world — is not only a super cool idea, but also opening minds and hearts in ways that the most experienced U.S. diplomats can only dream about.

Here are Eric Maddox’s latest videos connecting Palestinians in Gaza with people from Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Each side asks questions of the other side. Then they close by asking a global question to be shared with the average person on the street.

Listen to the Palestinians share their dreams, in the first video.  And in the second video, people in Rotterdam answer “what is the biggest problem in the world?”

I wish we could have virtual dinner guests in every community.


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