Category Archives: Israel

Does Congress listen to average blokes?

Actually, it’s a fair question and I don’t have the answer.

In my long history of writing elected officials, I’ve rarely received anything more than a form letter in response, and more often then not, these form letters are nonresponsive.

dear_sir_formal_letter_istock_000004683049xsmall

But I keep writing because (1) the act of writing empowers me and I learn about the issue; (2) writing is a respectful way of telling my elected officials that I’m watching them and care about these issues; and (3) writing letters provides a paper-trail to share with other constitutents/voters/average blokes.

(I also routinely call the Congressional offices in DC to register my 30 second opinion on a current issue — their numbers are on speed dial.)

Given all the money flowing into Congress from special interests, drowning out our voices because corporations have free speech rights, ya’ know, it’s even more important for average blokes to write — write clearly and write often.

This week I wrote two letters to Congress — here’s the shorter one.

I’m writing on behalf of the members of the _____________ to ask you to reconsider your support as cosponsor of S.Res.6 – Objecting to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334.  A copy of UNSC Res. 2334 is attached.

With the passage of UNSC Res. 2334, every member of the United Nations Security Council, save the United States, is urging the State of Israel to meet its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and end the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories. UNSC Res. 2334 is even-handed and balanced when it speaks to both Israelis and Palestinians to “act on the basis of international law” and to return to the negotiating table.

The United States Congress is standing on the wrong side of history when it stands alone among the community of nations, to denounce well-established international law. The United States is not being a friend to the State of Israel by trying to shield it from criticism, just as a good friend doesn’t turn a blind eye to the destructive behavior of someone he/she cares about.

We believe President Obama’s decision to abstain in the UNSC Res. 2334 vote was both courageous and correct. We urge you to seek amendments to S.Res.6 to ensure that it supports international law, and supports negotiations between the parties in a balanced and fair manner.

 

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Filed under Israel, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations, US Policy

115th Congress: Israel’s BFF

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

In addition to H. Res. 11 mentioned in an earlier blog post, a number of other resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate regarding Israel.

Reject the 2-state solution once and for all is what Representative Steve King (R-IA) is urging the new Administration to do with his H.Res. 27. Frankly, most Palestinians would agree that the 2-state solution is infeasible. Ramzy Baroud goes further and writes:

If the US was indeed keen on a two-state solution, it would have fought vehemently to make it a reality decades ago. To say that the two-state solution is now dead is to subscribe to the illusion that it was once alive and possible.

That said, it behooves everyone to understand that coexistence in one democratic state is not a dark scenario that spells doom for the region. It is time to abandon unattainable illusions and focus all energies to foster coexistence based on equality and justice for all. There can be one state between the river and the sea, and that is a democratic state for all its people, regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs.

However, King’s proposal is not for one democratic state. Far from it, he again demonizes the Palestinians for a failed Palestinian state in “Judea and Samaria” (code phrase for “this land between the river and the sea only belongs to the Jews and anyone else should leave”) which he says threatens the people of Israel, and he urges the Administration to reject the “two-state solution” as the U.S. diplomatic policy objective and to advocate for a new approach that prioritizes the State of Israel’s sovereignty, security, and borders.

That pesky little problem of what to do about the legal, human, economic and moral rights of the Palestinians is not addressed.

Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL) has 57 cosponsors for his asinine H. Res. 14 scolding President Obama for abstaining on the UN Security Council’s passage of  Resolution 2334 adopted on December 23, 2016. (Note: Don’t mistake this Dennis Ross for the other Dennis Ross, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.)

What’s got Rep. Ross’s knickers in a bunch?  The community of nations reiterated well-established international law — that Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal. Period. There’s no debate among legal scholars about that fact, but AIPAC wants to make sure Israel’s supporters in Congress stand firm and denounce these “one-sided, anti-Israel” measures.

It will be interesting to see how many members of Congress jump to attention to reassure Netanyahu that they have his back. It will also be interesting to see how self-identified “progressive” Democrats in the Congress defend their support of H.Res. 14.  Since when did opposing international law become a progressive value?

Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) chastises the Obama Administration’s abstention decision at the U.N. in softer terms, but no less objectionable to any reasonable observer of politics in the Middle East. See, S.Res. 5.  Who can argue with bilateral talks – point 1?  Or with point 2? However, points 3 – 11 are so one-sided that they reveal the true intention of the sponsor. To illustrate the skewed nature of S.Res. 5, I’ve drafted some counter points.

S. Res. 5 –

(1) urges the President and the international community to join in supporting bilateral talks between the Israelis and Palestinians;

(2) expresses support for individuals and organizations working to bring about peace and cooperation between the Israelis and Palestinians;

(3) opposes the use of the United Nations as a medium to unfairly impose external remedies to challenges between the Israelis and Palestinians;

(3a) Lora writes: supports the United Nations as the appropriate venue for resolving international conflicts, including the challenges between the Israelis and Palestinians.

(4) objects to the December 2016 abstention and declination to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 by delegates of the United States at the United Nations;

(4a) Lora writes: supports the December 2016 abstention and declination to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. 

(5) regrets and seeks to reverse the negative public criticism of Israel by United States diplomats;

(5a) Lora writes: applauds Secretary Kerry’s “Separate and Unequal” message on December 28 warning both sides that the end of the two-state solution is at hand.

(6) urges the President-elect to adopt a policy of opposing and vetoing if necessary one-sided United Nations Security Council resolutions targeting Israel;

(6a) Lora writes: urges the President-elect to adopt a policy of thoughtful review and consideration of all United Nations Security Council resolutions that address international law and the rights and responsibilities of the Israelis and Palestinians;

(7) rejects international efforts to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist;

(7a) Lora writes: rejects any efforts that undermine the rights of Palestinians to self-determination;

(8) supports Israel’s right to self-defense;

(8a) Lora writes: supports the right of all people in the Middle East to live in peace and harmony;

(9) condemns acts of terrorism and violence targeted at Israeli civilians;

(9a) Lora writes: condemns acts of terrorism and violence targeted at any civilians, regardless of ethnicity, race, or religion;

(10) reiterates that Palestinian political goals will never be achieved through violence; and

(10a) Lora writes: reiterates that the political goals of the Israelis and Palestinians will never be achieved through violence; and 

(11) calls on all parties to return to negotiations and without preconditions, as direct discussions remain the best mechanism to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

(11a) Lora writes: calls on the State of Israel to end its illegal settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, so that all parties may return to negotiations, as direct discussions remain the best mechanism to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

S. Res. 6, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is similar to the others but probably has more steam with its bipartisan list of 59 cosponsors.  The take-away messages from S.Res. 6 are (1) damn the United Nations for meddling in the Middle East, (2) damn everyone else for unfairly boycotting or ostracizing Israel, and (3) lets return to the status quo of endless talking and searching for a two-state solution while Israel continues to build its settlements in the occupied West Bank. Sounds like Senator Rubio and his colleagues favor allowing Israel to eat the pizza while urging the parties to talk about how to divide the pizza.

S. Res. 6 also mentions the Paris Conference scheduled on January 15th – more about that in a later blog post.

The points itemized in S. Res. 6 are:

(1) expresses grave objection to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016);

(2) calls for United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 to be repealed or fundamentally altered so that it is no longer one-sided and allows all final status issues toward a two-state solution to be resolved through direct bilateral negotiations between the parties;

(3) rejects efforts by outside bodies, including the United Nations Security Council, to impose solutions from the outside that set back the cause of peace;

(4) demands that the United States ensure that no action is taken at the Paris Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict scheduled for January 15, 2017, that imposes an agreement or parameters on the parties;

(5) notes that granting membership and statehood standing to the Palestinians at the United Nations, its specialized agencies, and other international institutions outside of the context of a bilateral peace agreement with Israel would cause severe harm to the peace process, and would likely trigger the implementation of penalties under sections 7036 and 7041(j) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016 (division K of Public Law 114–113);

(6) rejects any efforts by the United Nations, United Nations agencies, United Nations member states, and other international organizations to use United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 to further isolate Israel through economic or other boycotts or any other measures, and urges the United States Government to take action where needed to counter any attempts to use United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 to further isolate Israel;

(7) urges the current Presidential administration and all future Presidential administrations to uphold the practice of vetoing all United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to insert the Council into the peace process, recognize unilateral Palestinian actions including declaration of a Palestinian state, or dictate terms and a timeline for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;

(8) reaffirms that it is the policy of the United States to continue to seek a sustainable, just, and secure two-state solution to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians; and

(9) urges the incoming Administration to work with Congress to create conditions that facilitate the resumption of direct, bilateral negotiations without preconditions between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of achieving a sustainable agreement that is acceptable to both sides.

H. Res. 23 sponsored by Rep. David Price (D-NC) has 101 cosponsors, including my Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM), so it likely has alot of momentum. Although H. Res. 23 seems more benign than the others, it’s problematic for 2 simple reasons: it (1) opposes BDS, (“Whereas the United States steadfastly opposes boycotts, divestment campaigns and sanctions targeting the State of Israel”); and (2) favors the U.S. using its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to thwart the overwhelming global consensus on issues that impact Israel. H. Res. 23 provides:

(1) the United States should continue to support a durable and sustainable two-state solution to resolve the long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians;

(2) a viable and sustainable two-state solution can only be achieved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians;

(3) the United States should continue to oppose, and if necessary, veto future United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to impose solutions to final status issues, or are one-sided and anti-Israel; and

(4) the United States should continue to work with Israelis and Palestinians to create the conditions for successful final-status peace negotiations.

Three other measures focus on Jerusalem. Both the Israelis and Palestinians consider Jerusalem their capital, and that city has been the focal point of much of the conflict. Members of the U.S. Congress want to bully their way into this hot pot by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to the detriment of any legitimate claims the Palestinians might have.

H.R.265 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to relocate to Jerusalem the United States Embassy in Israel, and for other purposes.

H.R.257 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer to Jerusalem the United States Embassy located in Tel Aviv.

S.11 – Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act

Time to write and/or call your member of Congress and let them know what you think about these resolutions.

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Filed under Israel, People, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations, US Policy

Congress genuflects again

Just like clockwork, the U.S. Congress has disgracefully genuflected again to the State of Israel.

Every January, one of the first resolutions introduced in our august Capitol is AIPAC‘s loyalty test to determine which members of Congress might be straying from Israel’s tight leash.

Just like clockwork, the majority of both Republicans and Democrats lined up this week, including New Mexico’s three members of Congress. Representatives Steve Pearce (R-NM), Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM), and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) each want you to know they are unwavering in their loyalty to Israel.

This week, H. Res. 11 provided the litmus test. H. Res. 11 condemns the United Nations for passing Security Council Resolution 2334 in December which stated:

Israel′s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity”. It demands that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The substance of the U.N. resolution was not remarkable because the international community has recognized the illegality of Israel’s settlement activity for decades. What WAS notable is that the United States did not exercise its veto to thwart the Security Council’s resolution.

In a remarkable display of independence, President Obama broke with our country’s track record of providing diplomatic protection for Israel at the United Nations. The news sent shock waves on both sides of the Atlantic. Netanyahu gave the U.N. his proverbial finger and said Israel would continue to build settlements in the occupied West Bank, while the Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) expressed support for Obama’s abstention.

Statement by Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson on UN Security Council vote to condemn Israeli settlements.

There is an increasing understanding among U.S. political leaders, thanks to ongoing grassroots pressure, of the need to hold Israel accountable to international law.

The U.S. abstention from this resolution is a welcome sign in that regard. As the only country that abstained, the evidence of the U.S.’s isolation from the global consensus during the vote was stark.

Unfortunately, JVP’s optimism about U.S. political leaders was premature, as we learned on Thursday, January 5, 2017.  The final vote on AIPAC’s creepy resolution was 342 to 80.

Why is it creepy?  Because the votes of a clear majority of both Republicans and Democrats (including the three from New Mexico) indicate they oppose international law, oppose holding Israel accountable for breaking international law, and oppose President Obama’s tepid action (a mere abstention) which only reflected the official U.S. foreign policy of past Presidents.

Fortunately, there are some thoughtful members of Congress (both Ds and Rs) who rejected AIPAC’s H.Res. 11, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), and others. The messages from constituents who want the U.S. government to break with its lapdog fealty to Israel are finally making a difference.

Now it’s time to turn our attention on the other AIPAC-sponsored measures introduced in the first week of the new Congress.  Constituents need to be heard loud and clear.

H.Res. 27 – Rejecting the “two-state solution” as the United States’ diplomatic policy objective and calls for the Administration to advocate for a new approach that prioritizes the State of Israel’s sovereignty, security, and borders.

S.Res.6 – A resolution objecting to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 and to all efforts that undermine direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for a secure and peaceful settlement.

H. Res.14 – Disapproving of President Obama and his administration’s refusal to veto the anti-Israel resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council on December 23, 2016.

S.Res.5 – A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate in support of Israel.

S.15 – Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act

H.R.265 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to relocate to Jerusalem the United States Embassy in Israel, and for other purposes.

H.R.257 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer to Jerusalem the United States Embassy located in Tel Aviv.

S.11 – Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act

H.Res.23 – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives and reaffirming long-standing United States policy in support of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

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Filed under Israel, People, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations, US Policy

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

We don’t have to choose violence

In a follow-up to my post on September 6, Choosing Violence, I’m mailing letters to the President, and my members of Congress, with a copy of the article from the Boston Review.

(L to R – President Obama, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Martin Heinrich, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham)

September 14, 2016

An Open Letter to President Obama, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Martin Heinrich and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham:

We need to address someone who might actually listen, even if at present they cannot hear. They might be distant, but we must believe, if our conviction is to make sense to us, that there is a real chance they will receive our message. Conviction relies on a community, real or really possible, that subscribes to different standards than those of the majority.” — Oded Na’aman in Choosing Violence (Boston Review, August 15, 2016)

This letter is about choosing a different path.

I am writing because I believe each of you may hear my message. If you can’t hear it today, I’m convinced you will in the near future because each of you has shown intelligent compassion mixed with creative thinking in actions that you’ve taken in the past.  Those are the qualities we need today more than ever before.

I’m referring specifically to the tragedy in Israel-Palestine unfolding for all sides there, but my message is just as germane in every conflict the U.S. is engaged in abroad, as well as conflicts at home.

Oded Na’aman, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University, was a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces in the early 2000s, and he’s written an insightful article entitled Choosing Violence which I’ve enclosed and encourage you to read.

The take-away message from Mr. Na’aman’s article is that violence and war are not tragedies that befall us but rather a choice we make. We choose war as a tool to respond to difficult challenges. I’m convinced we can make other choices using our compassionate intelligence and creative thinking.

The common wisdom in the United States, in Congress, and in the mainstream media, is that we must use violence to fight the terrorists. We must defend ourselves and our values with violence. We believe that our violence, as abhorrent as we may agree it is, is not by choice but by necessity.

I’ve wondered (especially after returning from my 9-month teaching sabbatical in Gaza three years ago) whether I’m a kook for believing that we can choose another path. In 2012-2013, while I was teaching young people about climate change in Gaza, I didn’t find the terrorists that my government warned me about before I traveled. I met with Hamas officials at their offices and in their homes, and I found humans struggling to lead under a long-term siege and occupation. I found humans making mistakes, as all leaders do, but trying to make life better for their people. Hamas’ tactics might be ill-advised, just as I would argue that many of Israel’s tactics are ill-advised, but I didn’t meet any terrorists.

Certainly each side argues why its use of violence is one of necessity and is justified. I’ve heard justifications ad nauseum from people in both Israel and Palestine. The truth, however, is that regardless of which side initiates the violence or defends itself against violence – both are trapped in a cycle of violence which must stop. Neither can get off the treadmill by himself. The United States must help.

Given our significant military aid to Israel, the U.S. has leverage to hold each side accountable for choosing a different path.  Why aren’t we using our leverage?

this-way-that-way-signpost

The MOU expected to be signed this week embodies our decision to choose violence once again by pledging to give Israel $38 billion in military aid over ten years. The agreement might speak about “security” but the weapons do not represent future security for Israel but rather prolong Israel’s illegal occupation and humiliation of Palestinians.

Israel’s “qualitative military edge” undermines the possibility of building a just and long-term peace with its neighbors. Instead, we should be helping Israel build a “qualitative peaceful edge.” Israel must remain strong militarily but even stronger as a role model for respecting human dignity and human rights. What path would the U.S. be forging if our financial aid to Israel was directed towards sustainable development projects for both Israel and Palestine?

There may be quiet, private reasons for Congress’s decision to add fuel to the fire in the Middle East. I understand the historical relationship between Israel and the United States; the powerful influence that AIPAC wields in Congress and in elections. I understand how the military aid package to Israel benefits our laboratories and jobs in the U.S., which translates into votes each election cycle. There is no justification, however, for the tremendous pain and destruction perpetrated by the violence we support.

We have a choice.  Violence doesn’t choose us, we choose violence.  

I may sound like a “deluded crank” to you, but I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that true justice and the moral high ground will prove me right, hopefully sooner rather than later.

I simply ask that you step on the right side of history.  Please choose a different path away from violence.

albert_einstein_quotes2

 

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Filed under Hamas, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Occupation, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy

Choosing Violence

Sometimes, the best laid plans get side-tracked when something more pressing comes along. That happened today when a friend shared an article with me from the Boston Review.  Choosing Violence by Oded Na’aman (August 15, 2016). I dropped everything, read it from beginning to end, more than once, and then printed several copies to send to friends and to my members of Congress.

naaman0915

Oded Na’aman

The author, Oded Na’aman, is a Jewish Israeli who grew up in Israel and served in the Israeli Defense Forces in the early 2000s. My hunch is that his insights are shared by many more veterans, certainly by the Israeli soldiers in Breaking the Silence.

As the title suggests, Mr. Na’aman believes that Israel chooses violence, rather than the common ethos that violence chooses Israel. He writes:

I believe that we, Israelis, did and do have choices. But how might a whole society be mistaken about such a fundamental aspect of its existence? Conversely how can individual members of society, such as me, come to doubt widespread, deeply seated belief? Sometimes actions most see as entirely reasonable are, in fact, abhorrent. At times, imperatives to which whole societies subscribe amount to mere prejudice; communities commit grave injustices while fully believing they are in the right.

These questions, perhaps not stated quite so clearly, have been rummaging around in my head ever since I returned from Gaza in May 2013.

How could my previous assumptions and understanding about the “conflict” between Israel and Palestine be so wrong? How did I come to doubt the “truth” that my country’s leaders, my family and many colleagues, and most everyone in the U.S., have absorbed as easily as the sun’s rays on a beautiful afternoon?

Am I a kook? ———- Seriously, I have wondered sometimes.  Oded Na’aman writes:

How, then, could men and women who face moral isolation tell whether they are, to use [Bernard] Williams‘s phrase, solitary bearers of true justice or, instead, deluded cranks? Put another way, how might such persons be not only just but sane, not only moral but reasonable?

He doesn’t actually answer his question —- my question —- but I’m rejoicing that someone has so eloquently given voice to my fear.  And I know I’m not a kook.

Please read his article.

Consider Israel’s ongoing campaign in Gaza, which continue to escalate in spite of obvious errors. Any reasonable review of these engagements reveals a consistent, perhaps obsessive, repetition of mistaken estimates, failures of foresight, unjustified use of force, and lack of clear objectives. If anything, strategic mistakes and moral failures have worsened with every campaign. The number of casualties illustrates this most poignantly. In the Gaza War (December 2008 – January 2009), more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. During the last campaign, the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict (July – August 2014), more than 2,200 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed. A comparison helps to clarify just how disproportionate Israeli actions were: in the first three weeks of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the American military destroyed 1,600 armored vehicles; in Gaza in 2014, Hamas had no armored vehicles, yet, on average, an Israeli tank fired seven times more shells per day than did an American tank in the invasion of Iraq. Israeli helicopters loosed twiced as many Hellfire missiles as American helicopters did in those three weeks of 2003. Yet no one in Israel doubts that another war in Gaza, probably harsher than the last, is in the offing.

I read those words and my heart rate jumps, I feel a silent scream rising inside, and I want to shake everyone out of their complacency.

Indifference to pain and loss — one’s own and others’ — is a prerequisite to war. Entire societies must grow numb to suffering.   … [War] punishes sanity and rewards insanity.

In the second half of his article, Mr. Na’aman writes about conviction, and maybe that IS the answer I’m looking for.

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a-Shuhada Street in Hebron, also called Apartheid Street.

He shares a true story of an incident when he and two of his friends were walking late at night up a-Shuhada Street in Hebron towards the home of a Palestinian friend. They passed a group of Jewish teens who asked them where they were going. They replied “Tel Rumeida” – the Jewish neighborhood next to their friend’s home – and walked on. One of them yelled, “Are you crazy? What are you doing walking here, in Hebron, in the middle of the night, without any protection? The Arabs will kill you! You will be slaughtered!”

They were not worried and continued walking. Observing the reaction, the kid turned to his friends and exclaimed victoriously, “I told you they are leftists!”

You see, as young as he was, the boy understood that, within Israeli society, only settlers and activists know Hebron for what it really is. Neither group subscribes to the Israeli ethos of necessary violence. The settlers condone violence and choose violence in the service of religious and ethnic causes; the activists condemn and reject it for moral and religious reasons. But both settlers and activists act from conviction rather than fear. For only conviction—the inward and full persuasion of the mind—can withstand the capriciousness of politics.

I must find a way to give voice to my conviction that the violence we see in the Middle East — Israel and Palestine — in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — is and has always been a violence of choice. And we can choose another path. I’m convinced.

 

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Filed under Gaza, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, People, Settlers, Uncategorized

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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