Is Israel’s occupation of Palestine ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’?

LEGAL OPINION by Dr. Ralph Wilde (https://bit.ly/ralph-wilde-oPt) November 29, 2022

Israel has occupied Palestine (including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip) since 1967. FULL STOP. No debate, no counter factual, no denial. Palestinians have been living under a military occupation for 55 years. Several generations have been born and died under military rule.

Map of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip), marked by the Green Line. Based on Reference Map: occupied Palestinian territory: Overview Map, as of December 2011. Published by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHAoPt), 25 January 2012

The previous U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, S. Michael Lynk, argued (persuasively in my mind) that Israel has crossed a red line with its decades-long occupation in his report to the U.N. General Assembly in October 2017 which I summarized here. He urged the General Assembly to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the question of the legality of the occupation. Lynk posited a four-part legal test that should be applied to the question of the legality of Israel’s lengthy occupation. (1) Prohibition against annexation, (2) Occupations must be temporary, and not indefinite or permanent, (3) Best Interest/Trust Principle, and (4) Good Faith.

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

In September 2022, the current Special Rapporteur, Francesca Albanese, noted that the three main approaches commonly used to examine Israel’s occupation of Palestine (namely, the humanitarian approach, the political approach, and the economic development approach) are inherently flawed because “they conflate root causes and symptoms, and focus on Israel’s lack of compliance with international law as a siloed phenomenon, rather than a longstanding structural component of the prolonged disenfranchisement of the Palestinians under occupation.” Albanese spelled out Israel’s actions during the past 55 years of occupation, including the territorial fragmentation of Palestine – preventing unity, the exploitation of natural resources – preventing economic prosperity for Palestinians, erasing Palestinian cultural and civil rights – preventing identity, preventing political existence (and resistance), and preventing statehood – “negotiating the illegal”? Her report is a must read, available online here.

Special Rapporteur Albanese called for a paradigm shift, starting with —

the recognition of the current reality in the occupied Palestinian territory as that of an intentionally acquisitive, segregationist and repressive regime, which has enabled, for 55 years, the disenfranchisement of the Palestinians, caging them into Bantustans of disrupted memories, broken ties and hopes, pursuing the ultimate goal to consolidate minority rule over a native majority on lands usurped through force, abusive and discriminatory policies and pillaging of resources. A prolonged occupation maintained for ostensible “security reasons” disguising Israeli settler-colonial intentions to extinguish Palestinian people’s right of self-determination while acquiring their receding territory as its own, as explicitly indicated by Israeli political figures, is something that the international community can no longer tolerate. This must be addressed in a holistic fashion. (Link to report.)

Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese

The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations in September 2022 included — 1) Israel complies with its obligations under international law and ceases to impede the realization of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, ends it settler-colonial occupation immediately and make reparations. 2) All states condemn the intentional violations by Israel of the Palestinian right to self-determination; deploy an international protective presence to constrain the violence routinely used in the occupied Palestinian territory and to protect the Palestinian people; investigate and pursue accountability through both the ICC and universal jurisdiction mechanisms; prevent, investigate and redress human rights abuses by all business enterprises in their jurisdiction, including disengaging from the colonies. 3) The High Commissioner for Human Rights should immediately release the updated database of businesses involved in the settlements. 4) Encourage the Independent International Commission of Inquiry to investigate the status of the right to self-determination and Israeli settler-colonial endeavors in more depth. (Full Report)

Just like clockwork, the messenger faced a horrific smear campaign following the release of her report. Illustrating the perverse and damaging role of the U.S. in Israel’s occupation of Palestine, several Democratic and Republican members of Congress have called on the U.N. Secretary General to fire Special Rapporteur Albanese. (Here and here.)

Lynk opined that Israel’s long-term occupation is illegal because of its duration (50+ years). Albanese urged a paradigm shift in how the international community examines the occupation. In November 2022, Dr. Ralph Wilde issued a legal opinion that explains why Israel’s occupation as a system of control and domination is without a valid legal basis from its inception.

Dr. Ralph Wilde, Associate Professor, Faculty of Laws, University College London, University of London. (bio)

Dr. Wilde’s opinion reads like a legal brief intended for a court, certainly not for the general public. Having a legal education, reading Noura Erakat’s work, and completing a couple of international law classes online, I felt prepared to read the 79-page opinion. What I wasn’t prepared for was the comprehensive recitation of international humanitarian laws, international human rights laws, and international criminal laws all focused with laser precision on the question of whether Israel’s occupation of Palestine is legal or illegal? And the conclusion? The occupation is existentially illegal and must end immediately without preconditions. Every day the occupation continues is a violation of international law.

Listen to Dr. Wilde explain his legal opinion in his own words — minutes 25:40:00 to 39:00:00.

At the end of December 2022, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution to ask the the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a legal opinion on the legality of Israel’s occupation. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. voted against the resolution. Although the ICJ’s opinion, if it accepts jurisdiction, will be binding, the court has no enforcement mechanism.

Summary of Dr. Ralph Wilde’s Legal Opinion (full opinion available online here)

This Opinion clarifies what the terms ‘legal’/‘illegal’ mean, in relation to the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, according to the relevant, multiple areas of applicable international law. It explains how the different forms of ‘legality’/ ‘illegality’ relate to each other, and how they apply to the occupation. In each area of law, it explains what difference ending illegality would make (e.g., ending abuses, preventing annexation, ending the occupation itself). The meaning and significance of the following terms/areas of international law are explained: self-determination; settler colonialism; the jus ad bellum/law on the use of force/aggression; (belligerent) occupation/prolonged occupation; statehood; sovereignty; title to territory; annexation; apartheid; jus in bello/law of armed conflict/international humanitarian law (IHL)/laws of war/occupation law; international human rights law (IHRL); international criminal law (including the crime of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, the crime of apartheid, the crime of torture); United Nations law and the law of treaties.

Legality/illegality can refer to the existence of the occupation, or its conduct, or both.

As to existential legality/illegality, the occupation, simply by virtue of exercising control over the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, and consequently preventing the Palestinian people from full and effective self-governance, constitutes a fundamental impediment to the realization of the right of self-determination enjoyed by the Palestinian people in international law. The only basis such an impediment could be legally justified is according to the law on the use of force—the jus ad bellum.

Assuming, hypothetically, that Israel had a right of self-defence in 1967 that justified, legally, the introduction of the occupation then, this justification has not persisted, nor has an alternative legal justification arisen. There has been no actual or imminent armed attack justifying, as necessary and proportionate, the occupation as a means of self-defence. And the doctrine of preventative self-defence, justifying the occupation as a means of stopping a threat from emerging, has no basis in international law. Neither United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, nor the so-called Oslo Accords, provide an alternative legal basis for the existence/continuation of the occupation. Indeed, the Oslo Accords are themselves violative of international law, because ‘consent’ to them by the PLO was coerced through the illegal use of force, and, relatedly, they conflicted with norms of international law that have a special non-derogable/jus cogens status (the prohibition on the use of force other than in self-defence, and the right of self-determination). More generally there is no international law right to maintain the occupation pending a peace agreement, and/or as a means of creating facts on the ground’ that might give Israel advantages in relation to such an agreement, and/or as a means of coercing the Palestinian people into agreeing a settlement to the situation that they would not accept otherwise.

The consequence of the foregoing is that there is no valid international law basis for the existence of the occupation. In consequence, the occupation is an unlawful use of force, an aggression, and a violation of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, on the part of Israel and, in the case of aggression, also a crime on an individual level for senior Israeli leaders. As a result, the occupation is existentially illegal and must end immediately. Legally, the requirement of termination is not contingent on particular circumstances being present. Specifically, the following factors or conditions cannot be, by themselves, a pretext for delaying termination: willingness/consent by Israel; the adoption of a peace agreement; the adoption of standards within or the giving of undertakings by the Palestinian people; approval by the UN, the Quartet, other states etc. In consequence, every day the occupation continues is a breach of international law.

The existential illegality of the occupation arises out of the simple fact of the occupation as a system of control and domination without a valid legal basis. This is then compounded by the occupation’s prolonged duration, its link to de jure and de facto annexation, and the egregious abuses perpetrated against the Palestinian people. The use of military force to annex territory is also an independent basis for existential illegality: also a violation of the international law on the use of force, and so also an aggression at both a state level and in terms of individual criminal responsibility. (By contrast, the prolonged length of the occupation, and its abusive nature, are not independent bases for existential illegality, but are relevant, as aggravating factors, to the question of existential legality as a matter of the law on the use of force; the abusive nature is also relevant to the separate matter of legality/illegality of conduct). Any purported annexations are also without legal effect, because in international law Israel is not and cannot be sovereign over any part of the West Bank or Gaza, including East Jerusalem, through the assertion of a claim to this effect based on the exercise of effective control enabled through the use of force, and in the absence of consent to such annexation freely given by the Palestinian people.

As to the legality/illegality of the conduct of the occupation, there are multiple, egregious breaches of the relevant areas of applicable international law: the laws of war/law of armed conflict/jus in bello/international humanitarian law including occupation law, international human rights law generally, and, within this, the prohibition of racial discrimination generally and the prohibition of apartheid in particular. These are breaches at the level of the state of Israel, and also, in some cases, individual crimes—war crimes, crimes against humanity, the crime of apartheid and the crime of torture.
The occupation is thus illegal in both its existence and its conduct, and in both cases this gives rise to both state and individual criminal responsibility.

(All the main areas of international law violated—the prohibition on the use of force other than in self-defence/the prohibition of aggression; the right of self-determination; the prohibition of racial discrimination generally and apartheid in particular; a sub-set of the protections in IHL; the prohibition of torture—are norms that have the special non-derogable/jus cogens status mentioned above in connection with the Oslo Accords. Jus cogens is not a separate category of substantive international legal rules but is, rather, a way of characterizing certain rules as being of a special character when it comes to their interaction with other rules of international law.)

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Erasing history and context

The official U.S. response to the escalating violence in Palestine and Israel demands condemnation for its clear and obvious attempt to rewrite history. Seen side-by-side, there’s no better example of the U.S. government’s utter failure to be an independent broker of peace in the Middle East.

On January 26, in a Press Statement entitled The Situation in Jenin, the U.S. Department of State spokesman, Ned Price, announced:

“Today in Jenin, at least nine Palestinians, including militants and at least one civilian, were killed and over twenty injured during an Israeli Defense Forces counterterrorism operation against a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell.  We recognize the very real security challenges facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority and condemn terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks against civilians.  We mourn the loss of innocent lives as well as injuries to civilians and are deeply concerned by the cycle of violence in the West Bank.  We underscore the urgent need for all parties to de-escalate, prevent further loss of civilian life, and work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.  Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely.”

The following day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, issued a Press Statement entitled Condemning the Terrorist Attack in Jerusalem:

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the horrific terrorist attack that occurred today outside of a synagogue in Jerusalem.  We mourn those killed in the attack, and our thoughts are with the injured, including children.  The notion of people being targeted as they leave a house of worship is abhorrent.  It is particularly tragic that this attack occurred on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On behalf of the United States, I express our deepest condolences to the families of the deceased and wish those injured a full recovery.  We are in close contact with our Israeli partners and reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”

Jenin refugee camp. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Dominiek Benoot

The facts must not be recast to support a false narrative.

The Situation in Jenin was initiated by Israel when its leaders sent the military into the crowded Jenin Refugee Camp in the Occupied Palestine Territories. Palestinian fighters responded and the Israeli soldiers killed 9 Palestinians, including a 61-year old woman. Many news outlets are referring to the action as a “raid.” Almog Cohen, a member of the Israeli parliament and “Jewish Power” party, celebrated the operation, tweeting: “Nice and professional work by the fighters in Jenin. Keep killing them.” The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that they were looking for terror suspects connected to the Islamic Jihad. The army confirmed that three of them were “neutralized” during an exchange of gunfire. Sick children in the hospital in Jenin were suffocated when the soldiers fired teargas into the hospital. A 10th Palestinian was shot and killed during a confrontation with Israeli troops in the town of al-Ram, near Jerusalem, as residents protested against the Jenin raid.

Predictably, Gaza fighters fired rockets into Israel in response to the massacre in Jenin. A day following the massacre, seven Israelis were killed outside a synagogue in Jerusalem, and then a 13-year-old Palestinian boy opened fire in east Jerusalem on Saturday, wounding two Israelis. The AP reported the attack in Jerusalem was the deadliest attack in the city since 2008. I’m reminded of Chalmers Johnson (1931-2010) explaining blowback but I don’t think he considered it in the context of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.  

Killing to preserve the occupation.

More than 170 Palestinians, including at least 30 children, were killed across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem last year. In January 2023 alone, at least 29 Palestinians including five children have been killed. The UN said that 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2006, but 2023 is already on course to surpass that, if the number of deaths stay at the same level, and there is now the potential for a full-scale uprising among Palestinians, particularly in the wake of Israel’s new far-right government, which came into power at the end of December.”

People of conscience must resist attempts to obscure the histories and experiences of oppressed people, including the Palestinians. [1] One crucial step is to recognize the erasure of context. The U.S. State Department calls Israel’s actions in Jenin “a counterterrorism operation against terrorists,” without a peep about the 1948 Nakba, the decades-long military occupation of Palestine, or the present-day indignities, depravation and brutality which the Palestinians are subjected to by Israel.

Jehad Abusalim writes: “Regimes of oppression work tirelessly to render the historical context of oppressed people irrelevant and obscure. Their final goal is to portray oppressed people and their struggles for reclaiming their rights as irrational and, at worst, reduce them to a threat against those who built their privilege at the expense of others.” [2]

The U.S. Department of State is erasing the context of the current violence and selectively condemning the violence perpetrated by the Palestinians (the victims of this illegal military occupation) while patting the Israeli government (the occupier) on the back. The U.S. government has demonstrated over the years that it’s incapable of serving as a neutral mediator or power broker in ending Israel’s occupation and bringing peace to all people in Palestine and Israel. I’m writing to President Biden, Secretary Blinken and the New Mexico delegation in Congress and requesting them to (1) enforce the Leahy Act which prohibits the U.S. Government from using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights; and (2) to formally withdraw from any role in negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

[1] Light in Gaza – Writings Born of Fire, Edited by Jehad Abusalim, Jennifer Bing and Michael Merryman Lotze, American Friends Service Committee (2022) available at https://www.afsc.org/newsroom/afsc-and-haymarket-publishes-light-gaza-writings-born-fire

[2] Id.

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Everything is so predictable!

What difference does a rally make? Even a noisy and well-attended rally in mid-town Manhattan where we gathered to protest Israel’s bombardment of Gaza?

(Rally in midtown Manhattan August 8, 2022)

Everything is so predictable. The “precision” missiles and airstrikes killing “terrorists” in Gaza along with scores of innocent children. Just witness 2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2021 and now again, the latest operation (Operation Breaking Dawn) began August 5th.

Everything is so predictable. The crude, home-made rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, and Israel’s Iron Dome knocking the vast majority of them out of the sky.

Everything is so predictable. U.S. officials spout the “Israel has a right to defend itself” bullshit to provide an excuse for the inexcusable, and urge both sides to “restore calm” while at the same time arming Israel’s military. A grotesque picture comes to mind — a master telling a slave to lay still and take the abuse and rape calmly.

(Rally in midtown Manhattan, August 8, 2022)

Everything is so predictable. An army of social media activists frantically try to wake up the world to what’s happening (again) in Gaza with hashtags like “GazaUnderAttack”. Israel has its own social media activists trying to reframe the damaging reality and cleanse Israel’s reputation from all the spilt blood.

(Rally in midtown Manhattan, August 8, 2022)

Everything is so predictable. I’m debating whether attending another rally is worth my time and effort. It’s hot and humid in NYC. Holding my sign “I stand with Gaza” really makes no difference in the big scheme of things. I write letters to Secretary Blinken, to President Biden, to the local newspaper, but even those small gestures feel so futile.

Then the unpredictable happened!

I arrived at the rally and was handed a picture of Mohammed Salah Naijm, 17 years old, one of 46 Palestinian martyrs, including 16 children since Friday. I don’t know Mohammed or his family but tears welled up and I was filled with grief. A week ago, Mohammed was going through the routine of a difficult life in Gaza with some expectation of a future. Israel took his dreams, his hopes and future away. He had survived each of Israel’s military operations (2008-09, 2012, 2014 and 2021) and likely believed he would survive another.

I held Mohammed’s picture and saw others holding pictures of child victims. At that moment, I realized that I don’t attend these predictable rallies to change the world or to “educate” Americans about our complicity in these atrocities. I don’t attend these rallies to express anger or outrage, although I feel both.

I attend rallies such as this one to stand in solidarity with the victims and their families. To share their grief and to let them know they’re not alone. If I could travel to Gaza and stand with them in person, I would. But my spirit is with them. Today and forevermore.

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My Letter to Secretary Tony Blinken

My letter to US Secretary of State Blinken (it’s easy to do online)

Antony J. Blinken, speaks during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 19, 2021. (Photo by Alex Edelman / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Dear Secretary Blinken,

Predictably, everything remains the same.

The U.S. confirms that Israel has a “right to defend itself” while that country is engaged in a preemptive military campaign in Gaza. https://www.reuters.com/…/us-says-it-supports-israels…/ And then you predictably urge the parties to “avoid further escalation” while our country provides Israel the military arsenal to use against 2 million Palestinians locked in the Gaza Strip with nowhere to flee for safety.

Israelis living in towns near the border with Gaza are offered free vacations abroad to Cyprus, Greece or Bulgaria during this “difficult time” while airstrikes killed five Palestinian children in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. https://ussanews.com/…/israeli-airline-offers-free…/

I want you to see the grotesque imbalance of power. The U.S. is aiding and abetting this slaughter. Your predictable words are absurd and a callous disregard to the reality on the ground.

I urge you to (1) comply with the requirements of the Leahy Act which forbid the U.S. from giving military financial assistance to countries suspected of human rights abuses, (2) urge an independent investigation of the killing of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and (3) end your predictable one-sided statements attempting to cleanse Israel’s actions from international scrutiny and scorn.

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Killing the “other”

In my hometown, Albuquerque, there’s a shooter (or shooters) targeting and killing Muslims. The Governor calls the recent 4 victims “targeted killings” and has promised to send State Police to assist local law enforcement in the investigation and capture of the perpetrator, along with the help of the FBI.

I wish to point out that there are other Muslims being targeted and killed today in Gaza. The perpetrator is known, and might claim that the religious denomination of the victims is of no consequence. But the fact remains that the victims are Muslims and they are being targeted. The perpetrator is not Muslim. The victims, like the four men in Albuquerque, are unable to defend themselves.

Is there any connection between the slaughter of Muslims in Albuquerque and Gaza?

Yes! And it’s long past time that the world woke up and investigated and held the perpetrator accountable just as the NM Governor has done.

The connection between these atrocious acts is a learned and cultivated defect in the human spirit. When we educate our children to treat people — who don’t look like them, don’t talk like them, don’t pray like them — differently and with disdain, we are setting them on a path which ultimately leads to the murders in Albuquerque and Gaza.

Palestinian-American journalist killed by Israeli sharpshooter in the occupied West Bank in May 2022.

The State of Israel (and the U.S. Secretary of State) claim that Israel has a “right to defend itself“. That justification is an old and threadbare excuse for the inexcusable. Israel is the long-term occupier who has all the tools available to end the occupation and accept the inevitable — living side-by-side with Palestinians (the “other”) with equal rights and dignity.

Israel has spent the past 70+ years inculcating its youth and society to fear the Palestinians, the “other”. The Western media has bought into that framing of the “other” — so obvious with a casual reading of the New York Times. One side is given the moral high ground while the other is condemned as terrorists.

It won’t change until the world, like the New Mexico Governor, recoils in horror and commits to investigate and hold the perpetrator accountable. Until that happens, perps think they can get away with their deeds against the “other”.

If you’re still reading, you probably already have a hunch that something is not right with Israel’s attack on Gaza. Criticizing the State of Israel is hazardous, and I have no doubt that charges of anti-Semitism will be leveled against me. But if we don’t acknowledge the inhumanity we witness, and do everything we can to end it, are we any better than the perps?

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Some moral clarity . . . please!

Today I wrote a letter to President Biden. (It’s easy online with this link.)

My letter to President Biden:

I hope Israel’s attack in Gaza today was included in your daily briefing.

I’m sure you’ve been informed about the killing in May 2022 of Shireen Abu Akleh, the acclaimed Palestinian-American journalist, by an Israeli military sharpshooter. Today’s military action came without warning and was apparently a preemptive strike to kill Tayseer al-Jabari, a top Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza. The deaths of a 5-year-old child and other civilians were “collateral damage.”

And then there was the U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan earlier this week which killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s leader.

Each of these killings – a journalist, and a child, and a military strategist (ie., a terrorist) – were premeditated and the result of military action. My question to you, as the commander in chief of the U.S. military, is there a difference between lawful and legitimate murder, and unlawful terrorism? If there is a difference, does it depend on who the target is? What factors distinguish between lawful and legitimate murder, and unlawful and despicable acts of terrorism?

If the answer is — “it depends on the eye of the beholder” — would a military strike in the heart of Tel Aviv or New York City be lawful if the target was deemed legitimate by the military strategist perpetrating the attack?

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Poor People’s March = Call to Action

The personal testimonies of people from around the country who have endured the indignities and the injustices that come from poverty, hunger, homelessness, unjust incarceration, loss of life to suicide and lack of health care were compelling and heartrending. I attended the Poor People’s March on Washington in DC on Saturday, June 18th and was grateful for the organizing, the people who showed up, and the good weather. I was grateful that these voices and issues were uplifted. I HEARD YOU!!

The multitude of signs hinted at the creative energy and the intersection of many issues. Sadly, there were probably more signs than people. Selfies and amateur photography captured the spirit of the day, but the mainstream media was MIA (missing in action).

I didn’t disagree with any of the messages I saw and heard but when the event concluded, I felt despair.

Perhaps it’s unfair to make comparisons with the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 when some 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, and more than 3,000 members of the press covered that event. It was a different time.

“King agreed to speak last, as all the other presenters wanted to speak earlier, figuring news crews would head out by mid-afternoon. Though his speech was scheduled to be four minutes long, he ended up speaking for 16 minutes, in what would become one of the most famous orations of the civil rights movement—and of human history.” (link)

Almost 60 years later, there is reason for my despair. The gap between the poor and the wealthy has grown wider; there are now 2,668 billionaires in the world commanding our attention, controlling much of the public discourse, and demanding allegiance from elected officials.

Democracy and democratic values are more fragile today than perhaps they were in 1963. Yes, there were madmen killing our leaders in 1963 but there are madmen plotting a coup in the halls of the Capitol Building today; and the level of voter manipulation and distortion of reality seems so much greater today. There’s not only disagreement about the way forward, there’s rejection of truth and facts and reality. How does a country move forward under such circumstances?

I don’t know the answer, but I know what I’m gonna do the next 4 months. I’m going to work my tail off to get people registered to vote and to the polls in November. I believe our votes can make a difference. What are you going to do?

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Largest Open Air Prison

The first time I visited Gaza was in 2004 before Israel’s siege and lockdown. In fact, I remember seeing Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and many checkpoints manned by Israeli soldiers. After the election in January 2005 (which the Carter Center said was conducted in a manner consistent with international standards) and Hamas came to power, Israel declared Hamas (and by implication everyone who voted for Hamas) a terrorist, and severely restricted movement into and out of the Gaza Strip.

The purpose of my visit was to accompany an American psychologist who was presenting an international award to Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj at the Gaza Community Mental Health Center. Israel forbade Dr. El-Sarraj from leaving the Gaza Strip to travel and accept the award himself. I clearly recall sitting across the room observing and taking photos as my friend made the presentation, and thinking: “This Palestinian reminds me of my grandfather, a kind and gentle professional in the medical field. Why on Earth would Israeli authorities prevent him from traveling?”

Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj

The next day, a driver took me to Rafah on the southern tip of the Gaza Strip to see the site where the young American activist, Rachel Corrie, had been crushed and killed by an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003. Those two experiences (Dr. El-Sarraj and Rachel Corrie) opened my eyes for the first time to the brutal and inhumane reality that Palestinians experience daily in the largest open air prison in the world.

When I returned to Gaza in 2012, I could see the horrific impacts on the economy and the lives of nearly 2 million Palestinians who were prevented from traveling. That year the United Nations predicted that the Gaza Strip would be unlivable by 2020.

Fifteen years after the 2007 closure, more than 2 million Palestinians remain locked down in the Gaza Strip. In a report just released by Human Rights Watch

“Israel’s sweeping restrictions on leaving Gaza deprive its more than two million residents of opportunities to better their lives, Human Rights Watch said today on the fifteenth anniversary of the 2007 closure. The closure has devastated the economy in Gaza, contributed to fragmentation of the Palestinian people, and forms part of Israeli authorities’ crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians.

Israel’s closure policy blocks most Gaza residents from going to the West Bank, preventing professionals, artists, athletes, students, and others from pursuing opportunities within Palestine and from traveling abroad via Israel, restricting their rights to work and an education. Restrictive Egyptian policies at its Rafah crossing with Gaza, including unnecessary delays and mistreatment of travelers, have exacerbated the closure’s harm to human rights.

‘Israel, with Egypt’s help, has turned Gaza into an open-air prison,’ said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. “As many people around the world are once again traveling two years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Gaza’s more than two million Palestinians remain under what amounts to a 15-year-old lockdown.”

TWO LESSONS

Israel has demonstrated that it can remove large settlement blocks and settlers from Palestinian territory, as it did in August 2005 when Israeli soldiers forcibly removed Jewish settlers from Gaza. Israel could remove the settlers from the occupied West Bank if there was political will and international pressure to do so. Obviously, there’s none of either.

Israel and the U.S. have been conjoined allies ever since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Israel is also the recipient of the largest amount of U.S. military aid, to the tune of $3.8 billion/year. After Israel so effectively labeled, demonized and punished Hamas and Palestinian men, women and children with years of imprisonment in the Gaza Strip, with U.S. complicity of course, I wonder today if the US government will take a lesson from that playbook and label, demonize and punish whichever political party is on the “outs” in this country? (Not such a far-fetch thought given the attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021.)

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My decision, my choice

I’m headed to DC and Baltimore in a few days. Here’s why I’m traveling on Amtrak, and not flying.

Flying is bad for our planet. For far too long, I ignored the facts. But the disconnect between my climate advocacy and my personal actions became unbearable. (I had serious misgivings about flying to Glasgow to attend COP26 as a delegate for the League of Women Voters US.)

Lora arrested in Washington, DC in August 2011 protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline

The Center for Biological Diversity notes: “If the aviation industry were a country, it would place sixth in emissions, between Japan and Germany. Left unchecked global aviation will generate an estimated 43 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions through 2050, constituting almost 5% of the global emissions allowable to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the United States, aircraft are one of the fastest-growing sources of emissions: Emissions from domestic aviation alone have increased 17% since 1990, to account for 9% of greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. transportation sector. Flights departing from airports in the United States and its territories are responsible for almost one-quarter of global passenger transport-related carbon emissions, the majority of which come from domestic flights.”

Flying is an obscene privilege. Thankfully, most people in the world cannot fly. We’d already be toast if everyone had the same carbon flight-print that Americans have. In 2019, the Guardian shared some aviation statistics that might shock you. Or might not. (See here).

“According to figures from German nonprofit Atmosfair, flying from London to New York and back generates about 986kg of CO2 per passenger. There are 56 countries where the average person emits less carbon dioxide in a whole year – from Burundi in Africa to Paraguay in South America.”

Check your carbon flight-print with this handy calculator. Whether it’s absolutely accurate or not, is not the issue. In order of magnitude, it clearly demonstrates that Americans and other air travelers from developed countries are responsible for rising CO2 measurements. If I flew from Minneapolis to Washington DC and back, I would be generating about 250 kg CO2. There are 19 countries where the average person produces less CO2 in a year.

Thinking long-term.  Many travelers and fossil fuel industry lobbyists minimize the impact of aviation by highlighting the fact that – in terms of decreasing or increasing surface temperatures – other things have a greater impact than aviation, such as fossil fuel production and distribution, followed by agriculture, waste management, residential and commercial, fossil fuel combustion for energy, biofuel use for residential and commercial, land transportation, open biomass burning, industry, and shipping. That may be true in the short-term, the next ten years. After 100 years, however, aviation’s impact is on par with that of other sectors, largely because the effects of CO2 on climate change tend to endure.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has been warning us for years about the impacts of aviation. (See here and here) But it’s not all bad news. I read recently that Delta Airlines and Airbus have signed an MOU to research and develop the first zero emissions commercial aircraft that runs on hydrogen fuel cells, by 2035 if all goes according to plans. Can you imagine?

Window is closing. In April 2022, the IPCC also warned us that the window is closing rapidly — the window that looks onto the future we say we want to leave our children.

We already knew the science in terms of the key things that we need to do: emissions must peak by 2025 and reduce by 43% by 2030. Our carbon “budget” to keep within 1.5C of global warming and therefore avoid the worst effects of climate change, equated to the amount we emitted in the last 10 years.

The good news is the rate of increase of emissions has decreased – we’re increasing at roughly 1.3% each year and in the previous decade it was around double that. So, we are almost reaching that peak but it needs to be achieved by 2025 and we need to reduce emissions by 45 to 50% by 2030. The bad news – our current policies, pledges and actions are not enough to avoid a catastrophic future. There’s a tremendous gap between where we need to be and where we’re headed. (IPCC report)

My decision, my choice. Everyone needs to make their own decisions about whether to fly or not. As for me, during these critical years (2022 – 2025) when our global CO2 emissions must peak, I’m going to be riding the train and avoiding air travel.

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The Prison Remains the Same

Premiered May 8, 2022

“The Prison Remains the Same is an intimate rumination of a Palestinian anthropologist who shares his journey of indoctrination under a Zionist colonial occupation and a lifelong quest to reclaim his cultural history and identity.

Mixing current and archival footage, the film weaves a tale of expulsion and return, through the origins of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict to the resistance and political acquiescence of an entire people. Filmed across various locations in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Israel, the film is a thoughtful, yet searing look at physical and psychological oppression.

Dr. Khalil Nakhleh is a Palestinian anthropologist from the Galilee, Israel/Palestine. His academic and applied occupations focus on how to transform Palestinian society and people from an occupied, colonized, and fragmented society to a liberated, productive, free, and self-generating society, not dependent on external financial aid.

Dr. Nakhleh has authored a number of academic books and articles on Palestinian society, development, NGOs, and education, including The Myth of Palestinian Development: Political Aid and Sustainable Deceit and Globalized Palestine: The National Sell-out of a Homeland.

THE FILMMAKER
Sharif Nakhleh is an independent filmmaker living and working in San Francisco with over 20 years of experience as a director, writer and editor. His body of work includes documentary and narrative films, music videos and commercials. The Prison Remains The Same is an homage to his father’s legacy and nod to his own identity as a Palestinian American.

http://www.sharifnakhleh.com

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