Category Archives: Book Review

Israel and Annexation by Lawfare

by Michael Sfard — an Israeli human rights lawyer and the author of The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine and the Legal Battle for Human Rights (2018).

The following excerpts are from a longer commentary published in the New York Review of Books — April 10, 2018

I always thought that if Israel were to unilaterally annex the occupied Palestinian territories, it would come under an international spotlight, with denunciations and protests around the world. I was wrong. Annexation is underway, but out of the spotlight, away from international attention. In the dismal offices of the fortified Justice Ministry in East Jerusalem, in the cramped meeting rooms of the Knesset, and in the august chambers of the Supreme Court, Israel’s finest lawyers are working around the clock to shape the biggest paradigm shift since the West Bank was conquered in 1967. The government’s lawyers are busy giving their counsel, drafting laws, and defending Israel’s efforts to expand the jurisdiction of its law and administration beyond the 1949 ceasefire lines to serve the interests of Jewish settlers at the expense of the occupied Palestinians, whose civil rights are suspended. Knesset committees are drawing up legislation to expand and entrench the dual legal system that already exists in the West Bank: one code for settlers, another for Palestinians. These new laws are to be applied in a setting in which the colonized are dominated by the colonizers, with a clear intention of maintaining that domination. Even the Israeli judiciary is joined to the task, allowing the exploitation of Palestinian property for the benefit of Israeli settlers.

This epic transformation is taking place after close to fifty years of occupation. During that time, Israel made profound changes to both the landscape and the demography of the territory it conquered. Palestinians were subjected to a military government that denied them participation in the political process that shaped the rules applied to them and determined their future. Israel used the authoritarian powers that international law gives an occupying force to exploit the territory in a way never envisaged by the framers of those laws. It unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem, a move that was widely condemned abroad. The international community does not recognize the unified city as Israel’s capital; even Trump’s declaration on moving the US embassy to Jerusalem stops short of acknowledging the annexation of the city’s eastern parts.

…. 

The policies that evolved over decades—a creeping process of de facto annexation—stopped short of a wholesale application of Israel’s sovereignty over the Occupied Territories; the legal and political distinctions between the West Bank and Israel were preserved.

Now, this crucial legal-political status is being dismantled. The government is peeling away the last remnants of loyalty to the notion of the occupation as temporary and to any obligation to negotiate with the Palestinians. The goal is clear: a single state containing two peoples, only one of which has citizenship and civil rights.

….

Justices in the Supreme Court, housed in a hilltop building that faces the Knesset, have set precedents of their own: last November, three judges ruled that the settlers constitute a “local population” in the West Bank, and that therefore, under certain conditions, private Palestinian land can be “temporarily” allocated to serve their needs. Their judgment overturned a principle, upheld for over forty years, that barred the use of private Palestinian land for settlement expansion. Within days of the ruling, the attorney general authorized the army to consider the expropriation of private land owned by Palestinian farmers to pave a settlement road.

Israel’s charade of adhering to the principles of international law is over. Every branch of government is contributing to this overhaul, with jurists taking the lead. In another set of buildings, some even shabbier than the dingy Ministry of Justice, a different group of lawyers, myself among them, wield the legal tools at our disposal with an opposite aim. We enlist the law to fight oppression and dispossession: in one case, we have challenged the confiscation law (also known as the Settlements Regularization law); in another, we have petitioned for a further hearing on the November ruling that allows (temporary) use of Palestinian lands for settlements. We have launched countless petitions, on behalf of our Palestinian clients, demanding that the settlers be evacuated from private land and the structures they have built be demolished. Our legal struggles, which often seem Sisyphean, take years first to liberate, then to restore access to, the occupied lands on which more than a hundred settlers outposts, such as Migron and Amona, have sprung up since the 1990s. We have invoked legal principles to win the lifting of restrictions placed on the movement of Palestinians, fighting to overturn orders that the army frequently issues to deny Palestinians access to their farm lands as an easy way to avoid friction with violent settlers. And we have demanded countless times that the court end its disgraceful failure to enforce the law against settlers: astonishingly, construction companies, settlers associations, and even heads of settler municipal councils, which are all involved in illegal construction on private Palestinian lands, have never been charged for their role in this huge collective crime. We are filing petitions to secure a remedy that sounds simple but is extremely difficult to get: to force the police to investigate these violations and the prosecutors to prosecute them.

Our petitions against the confiscation law, filed on behalf of some forty Palestinian local councils, sixteen Israeli human rights NGOs, and several individual land owners, will be heard in June before an unusual tribunal of nine justices (the Supreme Court usually sits in panels of three). It will be a significant test for the highest Israeli court, which over the years has approved many practices that strengthened Israel’s military and civilian presence in the Occupied Territories.

….

Much could be said about the integrity of a jurisprudence that sustains such internal contradictions.

….

The activist bench of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, which saw a steady majority of justices who professed allegiance to liberal legal philosophy, became the number one target of the Israeli right. The generational turnover on the court’s bench gave successive Netanyahu-led governments the opportunity to liquidate its liberal wing. The new appointments of conservative, illiberal, and nationalistic judges, two of them settlers, changed the balance in favor of justices who emphasize nationalism rather than universal values.

….

The battle for the future of Israel’s dominion over millions of Palestinians and the colonization of their land is at a critical juncture. Will the current reality of repression and discrimination through “temporary” control of one nation over another be reinforced and institutionalized by official annexation into one permanent state?

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Filed under Book Review, Israel, Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized

One Country – A Bold Proposal To End The Israeli-Palestinian Impasse

By Ali Abunimah (2006)

One Country

“Crazy!” my Jewish friends and family might say, but this small book (a quick read in two nights) spells out a very strong argument for ending the status quo in Israel-Palestine which few think is good for anyone.

This might have been “bold” in 2006 but the one-state idea has received much more attention in recent years.

The status quo isn’t working for anyone.

Israeli Jews live in constant fear of the “other” and discomfort that the realities of the occupation don’t match up with their religious ideals of justice, fairness and טוֹב.

Palestinians live under the daily grind and humiliation of the occupation, the unrelenting violence and death, the brutal treatment at the hands of the “other”.

The exalted two-state plan has been the ostensible goal of the international community and U.S. Administrations for decades. Presumably, Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” envisions two states. But that idea is dead and it’s time for a formal burial.

For most observers familiar with the “facts on the ground” and the rapid settlement expansion on Palestinian territory in recent years, the notion of two states existing side-by-side evaporated 10-15 years ago.  But then what?

Ali Abunimah (a Palestinian-American) proposes urgent action on two fronts: dialogue and resistance. “One is in the realm of dialogue, imagination, and construction of an inclusive vision,” Abunimah says.  “At the same time, there is a pressing need for resistance to the outcome Israel is trying to impose on the Palestinians, one that can only lead to greater bloodshed and suffering on all sides. These appear to be contradictory mandates, but they mist go hand in hand.”

Ali-Abunimah

Ali Abunimah – author

Chapter One, An Impossible Partition, is a good history lesson for anyone who needs a refresher.  I would add, ten years after the book was written, that Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk has recently called for the international community to recognize the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories as unlawful under international law, a fairly new development which adds more fuel to Abunimah’s call for dialogue about alternatives.

Chapter Two, “The State of Israel is Coming to an End” focuses on the demographic realities which pose an insurmountable hurdle for Israel to remain as a democratic Jewish state.

In 2004, Professor Arnon Soffer, chair of geostrategic studies at the University of Haifa, predicted that by 2020 there would be 6.3 million Jews and 8.8 million Palestinians due to the high Palestinian birth rate. Sergio Della Pergola, a demographer at the Hebrew University, noted that even using the lowest possible credible estimates for the Palestinian population in the occupied territories, the trends are “incontestable” : Within a few years Palestinians will form a clear majority.

Israeli planners and government officials have been engaged in all sorts of contortions to redraw the lines of Jerusalem proper to grab as much land with as few Arabs as possible to address this demographic challenge.    EastJerusalemMap

Chapter Three, It Could Happen Here is a chilling warning. Many might turn away and prefer not to look, just as many Germans did in the 1930s. Israeli Professor Zeev Sternhell, a world specialist on fascism, who headed the Dept. of Political Science at Hebrew University, puts it best in his op-ed in Haaretz on January 19, 2018. “In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism“.  In the very same issue, Jeff Halper, an Israeli-American Jew, shares his opinion.  “The ‘Two-state Solution’ Only Ever Meant a Big Israel Ruling Over a Palestinian Bantustan. Let It Go.”

Chapter Four, A United, Democratic State in Palestine-Israel sketches out with broad strokes what a One State might look like, reminding the reader that this isn’t the first time in world history where different ethnic and religious communities came together as one. In fact, the idea isn’t even a new one for the Zionists and Palestinians. And Belgium offers some lessons.

Chapter Five, Learning from South Africa provides some comparisons between Israel-Palestine and apartheid South Africa. Israelis today will bristle at the mention of the two in the same breadth, but there’s no denying the similarities.  Although South Africa still has a long way to go, they have already come far in dismantling the apartheid regime that priviledged the white Afrikaners and treated the black Africans as subhuman.  What did it take for the Afrikaners to give up power? What will it take to get the Zionists to give up their power? Abunimah says the whites were able to dismount without being devoured because the ANC was ready with a vision that allowed them to do so. The Palestinians must begin providing a vision of one country with equal rights for all — Jews and Palestinians.

Living in what amounts to a self-contained moral universe in which the victors are the permanent victims and the “others” are invisible except as a threat allows Israel — as with apartheid South Africa — to justify to itself almost any measure.

Chapter Six, Israelis and Palestinians Thinking the Unthinkable 

Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli geographer and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, predicted more than twenty years ago that eventually Israel would be faced with the choice between extremist solutions to maintain its exclusivist “Jewish character” or binationalism.

Palestinians do not have the political or material strength to stop the settlements and walls that have rendered a two-state solution unworkable. But Israel’s might is useless in a struggle that is not about winning territory but securing democratic rights for all.

The PLO and its older leadership never appreciated the need to build international support; they were/are more concerned about statecraft and setting up embassies in foreign countries, and gaining recognition in the halls of power. But the younger Palestinians, both in Palestine and the diaspora, aren’t waiting. They are eagerly building the international connections and solidarity with people around the globe. That might explain why the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is spreading so rapidly, and why Israel is responding so harshly to BDS supporters.

Ali Abunimah’s book might have been ahead of its time, but it’s very important reading right now, today. I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

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Our Shared Disgrace

Lands of the Indigenous Peoples confiscated by the colonial power of the United States

The bonds that tie the United States and Israel together are tighter than most Americans understand and appreciate. Even President Obama needs a history lesson.

Affirming that the United States could be an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama told Al Arabiya television in Dubai a few days after his inauguration in January 2009: “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power.

Say it again?!

Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz spells out the sordid history of our colonial conquest of the Indigenous peoples who lived on this land centuries before the Anglos arrived in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. She notes that “[t]he affirmation of democracy requires the denial of colonialism, but denying it does not make it go away.”

From the day Columbus set foot in what is present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1492, and returned to Spain with Indigenous slaves and gold, the putrid stench of colonialism has wafted over these lands we call the United States, and it lingers to this day.

Colonialism: the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.

Our forefathers, and many historians, have tried to obscure this stench with noble explanations of “manifest destiny” and the “doctrine of discovery” but the reality of our founding story and its legacy is catching up with us on the streets of Ferguson, in Baltimore, and in the huge protests today in the Dakotas and beyond.

“Our nation was born in genocide … We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Obviously, Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t know (or forgot) that the State of Israel is trying as a matter of national policy to follow our lead and wipe out its Indigenous population.loss-of-landDunbar-Ortiz’s history of the United States doesn’t talk about the State of Israel, but the similarities are too striking to ignore.

  • Origin myth. While all modern nation-states claim a kind of rationalized origin story upon which their citizens can fashion patriotism and loyalty to the state, the U.S. is one of the few states founded on the covenant of the Hebrew Torah, or the Christian borrowing of it in the Old Testament. Other covenant states are Israel and the now-defunct apartheid state of South Africa, both founded in 1948. According to the myths, the faithful citizens come together of their own free will and pledge to each other and to their god to form and support a godly society, and their god in turn vouchsafes them prosperity in a promised land. (p.47)
  • Exceptionalism and the chosen people. Most Americans believe our country is exceptional among all nation-states, and this exceptionalist ideology has been used to justify appropriation of the continent and then domination of the rest of the world. (p.47)  The Zionists believe they are the Chosen People. I don’t know if that equates to the Americans’ belief in exceptionalism but both strains have a connotation of entitlement which permeates throughout their actions in both the domestic and international spheres.
  • Create laws to support land confiscation. Many laws and programs in the United States encouraged settler squatters to take the land of the Indigenous people for their own, such as the Land Ordinance of 1785. The Zionists did the very same thing with their Absentees Property Law.
  • Ethnic cleansing aka as forced relocations. The U.S. government forced the Indigenous population off of their ancestral lands and onto reservations. The early Zionists forced the Indigenous population off of their ancestral lands in Palestine, refused to allow them to return, and cast them into small bantustans in the West Bank and a large open-air prison in the Gaza Strip.
  • Violence against the civilian Indigenous population. “The Anglo settlers organized irregular units to brutally attack and destroy unarmed Indigenous women, children and old people using unlimited violence in unrelenting attacks.” (p.58)  Scalp hunting for bounties became a means of exchange, a form of currency, and the mutilated corpses left in the wake of the scalp hunts were known as the redskins. The violence of the early Zionists against the Indigenous population in Palestine has been well-documented by historians, such as Ilan Pappe. The forced expulsion from their lands, which the Palestinians call the Nakba, is seeping into the mainstream consciousness of the Israeli public. Jewish settlers continue to perpetrate violence against the Indigenous population to this day.

 

The similarities go on and on……confiscation of natural resources, humiliation and racist laws, treatment of the Indigenous population as subhuman, and failure to recognize, apologize and begin a meaningful truth and reconciliation process. In fact, both countries actively ignore and dismiss their brutal colonial past.

Times are changing, too slowly, but people are beginning to recognize the stories they’ve been told are false. Many Americans and Israelis need to make peace with their true origin story before their communities can heal.  For Americans on that journey, I recommend An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Beacon Press 2014).  For Israelis, I recommend The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe (Oneworld Publications 2006)

defend_the_sacred_-_courtesy_indigenous_environmental_network

 

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Filed under Book Review, Israel, People, Uncategorized, US Policy

Lawfare – Using Law as a Weapon of War

Professor Orde F. Kittrie (Professor of Law at Arizona State University) has made a strong contribution to the field of international law with his new book “Lawfare – Law as a Weapon of War” published by Oxford University Press (2016).  Order information available here.

Lawfare is “the strategy of using—or misusing—law as a substitute for traditional military means to achieve a warfighting objective.” — Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., USAF (ret.)

Everyone can agree that fighting our battles in the courtrooms, boardrooms, and national & state legislatures is far preferable than on the kinetic battlefield.

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The author asserts that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is foreshadowing lawfare strategies and tactics that will soon be replicated in other conflicts.

As a relatively new legal strategy —(I don’t recall “lawfare” even being mentioned in my international law class 30 years ago)— and also because Israel and Palestine appear to be leading the way in developing lawfare strategies —(four of the nine chapters of this book are focused on the Israel/Palestine conflict)— this book caught and held my attention from cover to cover. I highly recommend the book to both lawyers and lay people interested in this new arena where the Israel-Palestine conflict is being fought. It should definitely be on the shelf of every law school library.

With that said, the book has a gaping hole. The author never explicitly asks “why are the two sides engaged in lawfare?”  Very subtly, the western U.S./Israeli narrative surfaces.

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Palestinian Bar Association – new offices in May 2013

I would never expect an academic book, such as this, to advocate for one side or the other, and Professor Kittrie very carefully presents these various lawfare strategies from both sides, Israel and Palestine. He also describes the strengths and weaknesses of each side. However, the context within which these lawfare strategies are deployed is a valid inquiry which he apparently has chosen to avoid.

Correction: Nearly avoid.  On page 275, the author lets slip that he believes Hamas is using lawfare to “promote the destruction of Israel.”  On another page, he writes about the “armies of terror” in reference to the Palestinians. He has adopted the “terrorists” lens through which the U.S. government and others from the West view the conflict. There’s no mention of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; nor the economic, political and travel siege on Gaza which might provide the context in which Hamas, the PA and the Palestinian NGOs are waging a lawfare battle.

Our Western colonialist narrative of the Israel/Palestine conflict is so deeply ingrained in our psyche that most of us can’t step out of it, be apart from it, and actually acknowledge it. In all fairness, however, the author was an attorney in the U.S. Department of State for over a decade and so was likely steeped in the “terrorism” perspective of the Israel/Palestine conflict from his earlier career.

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Legal aid office in Gaza.

Would I have a bias, in reverse, if I wrote a book about lawfare strategies in the Israel/Palestine conflict? Yes, probably I would. Hopefully, my colleagues would gently point out my bias. Is it possible to step away from the conflict and write completely objectively? Maybe not, because we go in search of information that confirms our bias. Suspending our disbelief is hard to do.

However, in the study and practice of law, it’s doubly important that we challenge ourselves and each other about our blind spots. For what’s even more important than being right or wrong is the ability to learn to think like a lawyer.

Thinking like a lawyer is thinking like a human being, a human being who is tolerant, sophisticated, pragmatic, critical, and engaged. It means combining passion and principle, reason and judgment.   “On Thinking Like A Lawyer” Anne-Marie Slaughter,  Harvard Law Today, May, 2002.

So if I had the chance to sit with Professor Kittrie and talk about the gaping hole in his book, I would ask him to suspend his disbelief and consider the following questions:

  1. Does the offer of an extended ceasefire (hudna) as proposed by Hamas and the other Arab nations contradict your conclusion that Hamas wants to destroy Israel?
  2. Is there any evidence, aside from what the New York Times and the State of Israel report, that Hamas actually advises Palestinians to martyr themselves by staying in homes that Israel has threatened with demolition?  I lived in Gaza during Israel’s attack in November 2012, and never heard any such declarations by Hamas. Based on the members of Hamas that I know personally, I can’t fathom them asking anyone to risk their lives or the lives of their children. But I’ll suspend my disbelief if there’s any factual basis other than the New York Times or the State of Israel.
  3. If Hamas issued a five-minute warning to the people living in Siderot about their plans to launch a rocket, would that exonerate Hamas as the knock-knock attempts to exonerate the IDF?
  4. Is your comparison of Israel’s fight against Hamas with the U.S. fight against the Taliban and ISIS an accurate comparison?
  5. Your description of Hamas’ deployment of “compliance-leverage disparity lawfare on the kinetic battlefield” is based on your stated assumption that Israel is the more law-sensitive adversary of the two, but couldn’t the Palestinians make an argument in reverse that the State of Israel has little regard for international law?  Collective punishment, which is prohibited under international law, is ongoing. Noura Erakat’s law review article is another example.
  6. You write that there are many shades or interpretations of international humanitarian law, and that Israel is trying to build support for its interpretation of international law. Is it beyond the realm of imagination to factor in the occupation into the equation and consider how the battlefield (both lawfare and kinetic) would be changed if Israel ended the occupation of the Palestinian territories? That’s the elephant in the living room that warrants serious discussion by the politicians, as well as by the lawyers advising them.

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The book’s take-away message for me:  Governments and NGOs can use lawfare strategies both offensively and defensively to accomplish goals that might otherwise be played out tragically in the battlefield. So far, lawfare tactics used against Israel have been damaging but not disastrous, according to the author. Lawfare appears to hold the potential to become significantly more damaging. (p.279)

 

 

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#GoingtoGaza – June 2015

Keeping a daily journal of my efforts to return to Gaza helps me retrace my steps. This pilgrimage certainly isn’t easy and my gut tells me the path is just as important as the destination.  For previous months, check out my blog posts: September 2014, October 2014, November 2014, December 2014, January 2015, February 2015, March 2015, April 2015 and May 2015.  What follows are entries for the month of June 2015.

Day #273 – Communicating about hot button issues (religion, politics, Israel-Palestine) is so challenging.  Rethinking my whole approach (especially after reading “The Righteous Mind” by Haidt). Going to write a book review today. Take away message—-we try to convince the “other” person with our rational arguments but the “other” person can’t hear or appreciate rational arguments when his/her opinions originate from intuition. Likewise, our opinions very likely originate from intuition, followed by strategic reasoning. Haidt says that conservatives understand this, but liberals typically don’t. #GoingtoGaza

Ballot-Box

Day #274 – Thinking electoral politics is for the birds!

Fact No. 1 – Palestinians haven’t had an election in 9 years and the old farts in office don’t seem eager to hold another.

Fact No. 2 – Israeli P.M. Netanyahu wins his election by warning Israelis that the “Arabs are coming to the polls in droves” thus proving Israel is a racist state.

Fact No. 3 – Millions of Palestinians living under occupation can’t vote in Israeli elections despite the fact that Israel has so much control over their lives.

Fact No. 4 – Elections in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, NM, USA run like clockwork but the elected officeholders prove like clockwork that they are corruptible or corrupted.

Fact No. 5 – My generation has screwed things up so royally that future generations will feel the full blunt force trauma of our actions, despite having no voice and no voting power.

I agree with Tracy Chapman — We’re Talking About a Revolution. #GoingtoGaza

Day #275 – News from Gaza. Some militants in Gaza fired something (rockets?) into southern Israel today. No fatalities or damage reported. ISIS claimed responsibility. Hamas has been battling ISIS operatives in Gaza. Tonight Israel’s jets scrambled; lots of noise and several air strikes were reported. No fatalities. I’m thinking of the young children who survived last summer’s assault on Gaza that lasted 51 days. While Bruce Jenner commands too many soundbites and photo spreads documenting his “freedom to be himself/herself” — these Palestinian children have no freedoms and can’t just be innocent kids. What a screwed up universe. #GoingtoGaza

Day #274 – Watching “activists” on FB and Twitter, I’m struck with our ineffectual communication skills. (I include myself.)

1) Some activists refuse to have an exchange with anyone who disagrees with them. “Unfriend” option is so childish.

2) Some activists prefer to lecture or “educate” but are clueless about what others think.

3) Some activists really believe that meaningful change can occur via social media alone, and it sounds like they are stuck on their divans.

Here’s a book I hope activists will pick up. If we want to change the status quo, which I presume we all do, we have to understand the other side. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt (2012)  #GoingtoGaza

Day #275 – On this day in 1967, Israel launched an attack against Egypt, known today as the Six Day War but to the Palestinians as the Naksah. I wonder how many of my American friends know about the attack on the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967. #GoingtoGaza

Day #276 – Here is a good account of the difficulties traveling across the Rafah Border from Egypt to Gaza, written in 3 parts. Part 1  –  Part 2  –  Part 3  Very discouraging!  #GoingtoGaza

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Days #277 – 278 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Zivotofsky family and said they will not get “Israel” marked as the place of birth on their son’s passport. Kennedy’s opinion said that the President has the sole responsibility for recognizing a sovereign nation. Time for Obama to recognize the State of Palestine. #GoingtoGaza

Day #279 – “Confirmation bias” … a new phrase that a psychologist-friend recently taught me. Confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. I clearly see it among pro-Israeli activists, pro-Palestinian activists, and with greater scrutiny, I can now see it with myself. We want to find the “facts” to support our world view, and we disregard facts that may negate our world view.  This is very interesting stuff….   #GoingtoGaza

Day #280 – Feeling very pleased that over 600 letters have been sent to members of Congress asking them to invite former President Carter to speak about his recent visit to Israel & Palestine.  I’m planning to visit Capitol Hill with these signatures once we reach 1000+ letters.  Check out the petition here. Add your signature!  #GoingtoGaza

Carter in DC

Day #281 – Netanyahu and his cabinet are doing everyone a favor by using blunt and vulgar language concerning their real intentions towards the Palestinians. Nothing new, of course, except that they aren’t pretending to hide behind a veneer of reasonableness any longer. Obama is going to find it increasingly difficult to side with the Israelis or pretend to be a peace broker. #GoingtoGaza

Day #282 – Palestinians in Gaza may be blockaded and under Israel’s lethal siege, but they are CONNECTED to the world.  Case in point. Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted on the “Fast Track” bill which many Americans opposed. I waited for news about the vote. I sat in Baltimore about an hour from the Capitol listening to public radio and watching news sites for the results. Finally, my friend in Gaza half way around the world posted a message on Facebook with the good news! The Fast Track bill was defeated! Thank you Internet. Thank you social media! Thank you friends!

Day #283 – As much as I want to return to Gaza, this weekend I’m praying that my young friend in Gaza will exit the Rafah gates when they open for 3 days. He was accepted abroad to pursue graduate studies but Israel has treated him like a prisoner all of his life in Gaza. May Allah protect him in his travels! #GoingtoGaza

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Day #284 – Al-hamdulillah! My young friend made it out of Gaza through the Rafah border crossing. He said there were many military checkpoints through the Sinai, and the place looked like a military zone with all of the tanks, etc. But his bus made it to the Cairo Airport. Now I’m saying prayers that he makes it on to a plane. I can’t imagine what his family back home must be feeling. #GoingtoGaza

Day #285 – Lots happening this week. Yesterday Israel released its 250-page report about its investigation of Operation Protective Edge last summer … as a preemptive move against the pending release of the UN Human Rights Council investigative report. This week marks the 8th anniversary of Israel’s siege on Gaza. Ramadan begins Sundown on Wednesday, I think. Denny Cormier and my young Palestinian friend both left Gaza. #GoingtoGaza

Day #286 – What is the difference between me wearing my “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt and Rachel Dolezal changing her hair, eye color and skin pigment to look like she is African American? Answer: I’m not trying to be someone I’m not. I’m standing in solidarity with African Americans. I’m acknowledging the injustices. But I’m not pretending to step into their shoes and understand their life experience, their reality, their oppression. Same goes for the Palestinians. I won’t pretend to stand in their shoes, but I wonder if some zealous activists have tried to cross that line. #GoingtoGaza

Day #287 – First day of Ramadan. I de-activated my Facebook page. Started listening to the audiobook The Haj by Leon Uris. #GoingtoGaza

Days #288-289 – Going cold turkey from Facebook might not be as hard as I thought.  I’m checking Twitter more often and don’t really miss the FB clutter. Today I submitted application for UN Human Rights Officer in Gaza.  I really, really, really hope I’m selected. #GoingtoGaza

Day #290 – The closer one is to realizing his Personal Legend, the more the Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: fear of failure. The Alchemist #GoingtoGaza

Day #291 – Felt very good today to talk with Basya and, later, Jeremy.  Connecting with family is the glue that keeps us all together! #GoingtoGaza

Day #292 – Spent the day reading the UN Human Rights Investigation into the war in Gaza last summer. Utterly devastating to read. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have felt to live through it. #GoingtoGaza

Days #293-294 – Taking a month off of Facebook is a good thing. But I may have substituted one addiction for another. Now I find myself checking Twitter every few minutes. Uh-oh! Finished reading the UN’s report on the Gaza 2014 war. Devastating words! #GoingtoGaza

Days #295 – 298 – Disconnected from Facebook is a really good thing.  But it also feels good when friends from Gaza and NM reach out to me to find out if I’m OK because they’re worried that I’m not on FB.  #GoingtoGaza

 

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شكرا اصحابي Thank you my friends

I’m spending Thanksgiving in Cairo this year, waiting for permission to enter Gaza through the Rafah border. It’s been a very long wait with no end in sight. I actively started my preparations for returning to Gaza 450 days ago.

The Egyptian government tells me “لا  لا” and the U.S. Embassy tells me “no no”. The Israelis are telling my friends who are trying to enter Gaza from the north through the Erez crossing “לא לא”. Why am I still trying?  Some tell me I should have given up a long time ago.

Along this journey to Gaza I’ve met many people and learned many things. One Egyptian friend gave me reading material about Islam, which I’ve been slowly making my way through. One thing I’ve learned, but not sure I really understand, is that Muslims have a belief in destiny — each person’s destiny is written by Allah — and this belief in their destiny (good and bad) helps them persevere through difficult times and crises. “Whatever will be, will be.”

I have to have faith that my return to Gaza is in Allah’s hands, even though the governments of Egypt, Israel and the U.S. might think they control my journey.  And I don’t control it either.

(OK, I just wrote that but I’m not sure what it means.)

Many friends around the world (America, Canada, France, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel, Palestine and Egypt) have helped me on this journey.  A big “thank you” to each of you!

As the Christmas – Hanukkah holidays approach, many will be thinking about how to help others in need. Our common humanity has been sorely tested in 2015 and we want to reach out. I urge you to consider Palestinians in your gift-giving plans, and I’m sharing some suggestions and links to help.

#1 – Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah. This year he started Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy, [a 501(c)(3)].  Instead of focusing on political activism, Sam wants to branch out and engage in more economic activism, something that tends to get sidelined in the Palestine solidarity community. Sam frequently provides independent commentary on Palestine and serves as a policy adviser of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He blogs at www.epalestine.com

#2 – We Are Not Numbers is the brainchild of an American writer and solidarity activist, Pam Bailey, to connect aspiring Palestinian writers with experienced writers and editors to mentor them on an individual basis. Read about the genesis of this new project here. In a very short time, WANN has connected many mentors and mentees, and the project is giving a voice to the voiceless.

#3 – UNRWA-USA [a 501(c)(3)] is the American arm of the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Lora finishes the #Gaza5K in 2015.

Lora finishes the #Gaza5K in 2015.

Needless to say, the challenges that UNRWA faces on the ground in Gaza are enormous, even more daunting following Israel’s 51-day assault in 2014. Each year, UNRWA-USA organizes #Gaza5K walk/runs in the US to raise $$. They also take donations year-round.

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Children are the primary beneficiaries of MECA’s work.

#4 – Middle East Children’s Alliance – has been doing good work on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza for 25 years.  Read about some of their great projects here. MECA has a proven track record of success.  I saw some of their good work at the Afaq Jadeeda Association in the in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, in Gaza in 2012

#5 – Just World Books – Give yourself, family and friends a gift from Just World Books. The publisher, Helena Cobban, has released some important new titles about Palestine, and many are written by Palestinians.  On the top of my list is Gaza UnSilenced edited by Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad.

Gaza Unsilenced

شكرا اصحابي Thank you my friends!

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Day #40 – August 15, 2014 – Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World

Arrived in Albuquerque today.

This day a year ago, I was watching Israel’s bombardment of Gaza while sitting in Gilroy, CA.  My eyes glued to CNN. My heart very heavy. No one knew when the killing might end.  Forty days and forty nights seemed endless. I felt hopeless. There was nothing I could do for my friends in Gaza but call, email and write Obama, Kerry and members of Congress.  I also wrote letters to the newspapers. Never sure if any of my letters made any difference.

Book event at the Center for Spiritual Living in Albuquerque, NM

Book event at the Center for Spiritual Living in Albuquerque, NM

Today, I attended a book event for a new author, Megan Feldman Bettencourt. Her book — Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World (Hudson Street Press, 2015) — has a pretty sappy title actually. My reading list is too long already. I didn’t need to add another title.

But I did.  An hour later, I purchased the book and the author signed it. How can a successful pilgrim carry so many books on her journey?

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FORGIVENESS = GIVING UP RESENTMENT

Bettencourt talked about her journey to figure out the contours of forgiveness from the individual to the collective. She connected forgiveness to the practice of mindfulness, something my friend in Baltimore has been teaching me. She shared stories of some of the people she’s met along her journey, but when she mentioned Israel & Palestine, my ears really perked up.

The take away message for me —- forgiveness is a process, a continuum, that can benefit both sides (the person forgiving and the person who is being forgiven). You can be angry and forgive.  Self-forgiveness and self-compassion are just as important as forgiving another.

I haven’t read the book yet, and I’m not sure if there’s relevance to Israel/Palestine. Honestly, I found the author’s answer to a question about forgiveness in the context of the Middle East a bit unsatisfying.

However, she’s clearly given alot of time and thought to forgiveness, and so I’m going to read her book.

Her 10-minute TedTalk summarizes what she shared today at the Center for Spiritual Living in Albuquerque.

 

 

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