Category Archives: Israel

The “other” is so difficult to see

Living under aerial bombardment and threat of death year after year is a fact of life that most Americans cannot understand or appreciate.

Am I speaking of the Palestinians living in Gaza or the Israelis living in Sderot near Gaza?

Both.

But the value of life, and the righteousness of suffering, are often co-opted by each side to such a great extent that Israelis and their supporters are blind to the humanity of the Palestinians living a mere 7 miles away.  And many Palestinians and their supporters disregard,  discount or fail to even acknowledge the fact that the civilians living in Sderot are humans too.

When pressed about this lack of empathy or understanding for the “other” — the typical “But what about….?” responses surface reflexively without any thought.

An Israeli: “But what about the Hamas terrorists who want to destroy Israel?”

A Palestinian: “But what about Israel’s disproportionate firepower, the disproportionate numbers of Palestinian victims, and the fact that Israel is the occupier and oppressor for decades on end?”

An Israeli: “But what about that Israeli who was killed last night and the others who were wounded?”

A Palestinian: “But what about the pregnant mother and her infant toddler killed by an Israeli airstrike last night?”

An Israeli: “But what about Israel’s right to defend herself?  And the Palestinians started it with the rockets they are shooting at us.”

A Palestinian: “But what about international law and our right to fight the occupier in whatever way we choose?”

And the list goes on, with heightened rhetoric and memes shooting back and forth at ever greater speed on social media when the rockets and missiles are flying.

I don’t expect a Palestinian or an Israeli, sitting in an active blast zone with the threat of death hanging over them and their families, to ponder these thoughts about the humanity of the “other”.

I don’t expect them to agree with a word I’m writing.

But for those of us who are not in the blast zone, and have the privilege of thinking quietly about the “other” let me posit the following:

  • The “but what about?” questions are irrelevant to the fact of the other’s humanity.
  • Genuine solidarity requires us to see and acknowledge the humanity of everyone, even when each side can’t recognize the other’s humanity.
  • Although international law is relevant, both sides are violating it when they shoot into areas populated with civilians.
  • And the status quo isn’t working for either side, although clearly the occupier would prefer to remain in charge.

Six years ago, when I was living in Gaza, my sincerity as a solidarity activist was challenged.  I wrote a response which is as relevant today as it was then.  Check it out here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Peaceful, Uncategorized

Rep. McCollum is my super-heroine

Don’t let anyone tell you that one person can’t make a difference!  

Betty McCollum

Rep. Betty McCollum

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) is the embodiment of a one woman tidal wave washing over Congress.

For the past four years, she’s been raising the issue of the persistent and gross human rights violations perpetrated on Palestinian children by the Israeli military.

The arrest and detention of Palestinian children in Israeli jails has been well-documented by human rights organizations. Israel is the only country in the world that prosecutes children in military court, a stark example of its double standard and apartheid system of justice.

Children are taken from their beds and arrested in the middle of the night; they’re arrested on their way to school with their backpacks yanked from their shoulders; and they’re even pulled out of the arms of their teachers in classrooms. All of this has been documented and reported, thanks to Amnesty International and other Human Rights groups, but it hasn’t stopped Israel.  An estimated 500-700 children are arrested, detained and prosecuted in Israel’s military court system each year, according to Defense of Children International – Palestine.

UNICEF’s 2013 reportChildren in Israeli Military Detention, while somewhat dated still remains one of the most thorough reviews of the pattern and practice Israel employs against Palestinian children in detention.

No Way To Treat a Child — The No Way to Treat a Child campaign seeks to challenge and end Israel’s prolonged military occupation of Palestinians by exposing widespread and systematic ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system. It is a joint project of Defense for Children International – Palestine and American Friends Service Committee.

And we even have the personal interviews of 24 Palestinian child prisoners held in Israeli jails compiled in a 2016 book “Dreaming of Freedom“, edited by Norma Hashim and translated by Yousef Aljamal. I delivered a copy of the book to Rep. McCollum in January 2018 as a ‘thank you’ for her unwavering support and advocacy on behalf of Palestinian child prisoners. dreaming-of-freedom

The United States has a big stick it could use to bring pressure to bear on Israel —- it’s annual $3.8 billion appropriation to the Israeli military. Representative McCollum doesn’t believe that U.S. taxpayers want their dollars supporting gross human rights violations of children.

In 2015, she wrote a letter to then-Secretary of State John Kerry which 19 of her Democratic colleagues signed, asking him to make this issue a top priority.  But nothing came of it.

The following year she wrote a letter to President Obama which 20 of her colleagues signed, asking him to appoint a Special Envoy for Palestinian Youth to collect “vital information necessary to actively promote human rights.”  But again nothing happened.

So in 2017, she drafted a bill, H.R.4391, to prohibit any funds from being used by Israel to “support the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” It also required the Department of State either to certify that funds were not used in this manner or report how Israel expended them to ill-treat Palestinian children.

In July 2018, Rep. McCollum explained why H.R. 4391 was necessary.

When it didn’t pass in the 2017-2018 session, Representative McCollum strengthened the bill and reintroduced it on April 30, 2019 where it was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Check out the committee membership here, and if your representative is listed, consider calling and writing and telling him/her why you think H.R. 2407 is important and should have a hearing.

On May 1, her office issued a press release explaining the bill.

The Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation ActH.R. 2407 — amends a provision of the Foreign Assistance Act known as the “Leahy Law” to prohibit funding for the military detention of children in any country, including Israel.

The bill also establishes the “Human Rights Monitoring and Palestinian Child Victims of Israeli Military Detention Fund,” authorizing $19 million annually for non-governmental organization (NGO) monitoring of human rights abuses associated with Israel’s military detention of children. The Fund also authorizes qualified NGOs to provide physical, psychological, and emotional treatment and support for Palestinian child victims of Israeli military detention, abuse, and torture.

The full text of the bill can be found here. Additional resources can be found here.

“Israel’s system of military juvenile detention is state-sponsored child abuse designed to intimidate and terrorize Palestinian children and their families,” Congresswoman McCollum said. “It must be condemned, but it is equally outrageous that U.S. tax dollars in the form of military aid to Israel are permitted to sustain what is clearly a gross human rights violation against children.”

More than 10,000 Palestinian children have been arrested, detained, abused, and prosecuted by Israeli security forces in the Israeli military court system since 2000. Independent monitors such as Human Rights Watch and Israel’s B’Tselem have repeatedly documented that children are subject to abuse and, in some cases, torture — specifically citing the use of chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation. Just weeks ago, CNN broadcast video showing armed Israeli soldiers entering a primary school in Hebron to arrest a 9-year-old who was then “frog-marched away and taken to an army vehicle.”

“Peace can only be achieved by respecting human rights, especially the rights of children. Congress must not turn a blind eye to the unjust and ongoing mistreatment of Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation.

“I strongly believe there is a growing consensus among the American people that the Palestinian people deserve justice, equality, human rights, and the right to self-determination. It is time to stand with Palestinians, Americans, Israelis, and people around the world to reject the destructive, dehumanizing, and anti-peace policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump.”

McCollum is front in center on one of the most important human rights issues facing our country —- how we treat children. I’m going to have her back, and help her as much as I can.   Please write your member of Congress and ask him or her to cosponsor H.R. 2407.

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Filed under Israel, People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy, Video

Easter & Passover Travel

 

Ghetto Jewish store

Store window in the Venice Ghetto

Movement is on my mind.  Or the lack thereof.

A middle-aged American woman, married to a Palestinian from Bethlehem, was stopped at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport last week, interrogated for hours, and then put on a plane back to the United States. (The news is here.) The Israeli authorities denied her permission to enter Israel to reunite with her family in Bethlehem where she has lived and raised a family for over 30 years. Why this treatment?  She was told “because she married a Palestinian.”

A young Palestinian-American woman, originally from Gaza but now living in the United States with her husband and baby, was stopped at Istanbul’s new airport from boarding her connecting flight to Cairo where she planned to travel by bus to the Rafah crossing into Gaza. She and her young son were looking forward to spending Ramadan with her family but the airline authorities told her the Rafah border was closed, and she would not be allowed into Egypt to wait for the border to open.

Notre Dame interior 5

Notre Dame Cathedral

The news reports that Israel has imposed a week-long closure of the West Bank and Gaza ahead of Passover, and is preventing hundreds of Palestinian Christians from Gaza from traveling to Jerusalem or Bethlehem to partake in their Easter celebrations.

The irony certainly does not escape me.

Jews worldwide celebrate Passover to mark their exodus from slavery in Egypt. Their freedom of movement is called Passover because, as explained by the Chabad Jews:

They were also instructed to take the blood of the lamb and smear it on their doorposts, a sign to G‑d that this was an Israelite home, to be passed over, while death was visited upon the firstborns in all other homes. This is what gave the Passover sacrifice (and holiday) its name.

Their exodus so long ago saved them from suffering and bondage, but what lessons were learned? What are Jews celebrating in the Twenty-First century as the State of Israel keeps millions of Palestinians oppressed and under occupation, preventing them from moving freely?

For those who are awake, I suspect their discomfort is growing.

As Cohen writes in Patheos:

But for a growing number of Jews around the world our relationship to the Palestinian people has become the greatest challenge to our Jewish identity and values. How can we celebrate our ‘feast of freedom’ and tell the story of our Exodus from the ‘narrow place’ of ‘Mitzryim’ while we deny, or stay silent, about the oppression of Palestine? It’s a profound challenge to our faith and the understanding of our own history.

Attempting to uphold a Jewish ideal of justice and freedom is not easy when you’ve just read that Israel has detained, kidnapped or jailed 1,000,000 Palestinians since 1948.

For those Jews who are not awake or prefer not to see, I think their journey must also be difficult because it takes a good bit of energy and struggle within to ignore the suffering of others.

I remember the wise words of a young Palestinian exchange student from Gaza who I met in Albuquerque, New Mexico over a Passover Seder many years ago. Reading from the Haggadah, a Jewish woman said “I don’t believe Jews are the Chosen People,” obviously to ease the discomfort she thought this young Palestinian Muslim might be experiencing. His response was genuine and thoughtful: “I believe Jews are the Chosen People. I believe God chose the Jews to be the people to show mankind how to treat one’s neighbors.”  (I wrote about Sami from Gaza here.)

If Sami is correct, then clearly the Chosen People have a steep learning curve. Israel’s occupation and subjugation of millions of Palestinians for the past 70+ years is merely a tick in humanity’s clock but it’s unbearable for those waiting for their moment of liberation, for their exodus.

Cohen concludes by saying:

“Tonight, we’ll conclude our family meal with this passage written by Aurora Levins Morales, a poet and activist. I discovered her writing in the 2018 Jewish Voice for Peace Haggadah.

“This time we cannot cross until we carry each other. All of us refugees, all of us prophets. No more taking turns on history’s wheel, trying to collect old debts no one can pay. The sea will not open that way. This time that country is what we promise each other, our rage pressed cheek to cheek until tears flood the space between, until there are no enemies left, because this time no one will be left to drown and all of us must be chosen. This time it’s all of us or none.”

May minds and hearts be moved this Passover and Easter, so that next year everyone has freedom of movement, a life of dignity with compassion, and we treat our neighbors as we wish they would treat us.

 

 

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Filed under Israel, Occupation, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

Naila and the Uprising

Naila and the uprising 3

The woman sitting at the front of the room facing the audience looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her and I certainly didn’t know anyone in Venice.

I’d taken a vaporetto (water bus), then switched to a regular bus, and then walked about ten minutes to the location advertised for the screening of Naila and the Uprising. Americans can watch it now on PBS or find a screening near you.

Julia Bacha’s militant documentary Naila and the Uprising is by turns startling and dismaying as it traces the central role Palestinian women played in the First Intifada of the late 1980s. Integrating animated scenes with interviews and archive footage, it paints an indelible picture of how, with many men deported or arrested, women stepped into the arena of political and social organizing, only to be told their role was over when Yasser Arafat returned from exile to form the Palestinian Authority in 1994 with a crew of all-male leaders.

I wasn’t concerned about watching the film in Italian because I’d originally seen it in Malaysia in October. I was more interested in seeing who attended, and how many? Does Venice have a strong Palestine solidarity network?

Naila and the uprisingThere were no signs to direct people to the screening once I found my way to the shopping center. My first attempt was unsuccessful when I asked at the shopping center’s information desk and was informed there was no screening planned that evening. Walking out dejected and a bit annoyed, I overheard “Palestina” from a woman walking past me. I stopped her, and asked “Palestina”? She nodded and I learned through hand signals that the screening was on the fourth floor. Alhamdulillah!

By the time the lights went out and the film started, nearly every seat was filled. I’m guessing 100-125 people attended. Sitting near the back, I watched the film with Italian subtitles (most of the speaking was either in Arabic or English).  The film grabbed me again — the power and determination of women. Not just Naila but so many Palestinian women who rose to lead the Intifada when Israel imprisoned or banished many of the men from the West Bank and Gaza, probably hoping to bring the uprising to its knees.

Hearing again about the PLO’s usurption of the role of the Palestinian women when they secretly negotiated with the Israelis in Oslo, Norway angered me. Is it just Arab men, or males worldwide who so often sabotage the progress made by women?  I wish the film had better documented the women’s reaction and response to the PLO.

Naila and the uprising 2When the lights were turned on and the Q & A began, I realized the woman I faintly recognized earlier was Naila herself. She and her husband were in Venice!

Concerned about making my way back to my hostel before dark, I left soon after the Q & A began. I noticed that Naila’s husband frequently interjected comments or interrupted her when she was responding to a question. Perhaps we were witnessing the male-female dynamic that may be pervasive in Palestine. It annoyed me and reminded me that I still have a lot to learn about Palestinians and the Arab culture.

If you haven’t seen Naila and the Uprising, I hope you will.  The message is clear — women are the leaders of the future.  Check this link for a short trailer.  https://www.imdb.com/videoembed/vi2743842841

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, nonviolent resistance, Occupation, People, Uncategorized, Video

Cognitive dissonance at the United Nations

Cognitive dissonance — “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.”

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. … For example, when people smoke (behavior) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition), they are in a state of cognitive dissonance.

I may have a couple of examples of cognitive dissonance from today’s (3/18/2019) UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

COI_Commissioners_HP

Legal experts and delegates from around the world all said in unison “Israel must be held accountable for its gross human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory” (behavior) but they know that Israel has never been held accountable in the past 51 years of occupation (cognition) despite annual demands for accountability. Furthermore, there are no discernible plans to hold Israel accountable at the international level.

Another example might be the Israeli supporters and cheerleaders demonstrating outside of the United Nations.

They condemned the United Nations Human Rights Council  for its criticism and “bias” against Israel while holding the State of Israel up as the paragon of virtue (behavior) although they must know that Israeli military sharpshooters have killed nearly 200 Palestinian protesters since the #GreatReturnMarch began in March 2018, and there’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza that threatens the lives of 2,000,000 Palestinians (cognition).

Maybe the UN Human Rights Council really believes that the State of Israel can be held accountable, although there’s no objective evidence to support that belief.

Osmar_Schindler_David_und_Goliath

Osmar Schindler (1869-1927)

And maybe Israeli supporters really believe that Israel is a victim unfairly targeted by the rest of the world and the Palestinians threaten their existence — a true David and Goliath story — but there’s no objective evidence to support that belief either.

Israel is the occupier with a first-world military.  Palestinians have some rockets that might sputter over Tel Aviv until the Iron Dome intercepts them.

Israel has a first-rate economy, a technology giant, and is not hurting for job growth. Palestinians in Gaza are experiencing the highest unemployment in the world (54%) and high food insecurity (68%) due to Israel’s 12 year blockade.  The report released today by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry is a fact-filled compilation of the tragic events surrounding the #GreatReturnMarch protests, not speculation or conjecture.

Who is David and who is Goliath?

I suspect each side will continue this charade for years to come. Israel isn’t motivated to change the status quo (end the occupation) because it believes the benefits of the occupation accrue to Israel.

I’ll hazard a guess that the occupation will end when there’s a magical convergence of three elements:

The United Nations regains its credibility and steps in forcibly to take action to end the occupation (legal, economic, or maybe something else).

The Palestinians manage to change the dominant narrative that exists today (which is that Israel is a victim and the Palestinians are terrorists wanting to destroy Israel).

Advocates and activists on both sides are willing to sit down and listen to each other.

Selfie at the park

It happened to me tonight when a 24-year old man from Brussels came up to me at the hostel in Geneva and wanted to talk about the UN Watch protest he attended today in solidarity with Israel. He asked sincere questions because he overheard me talking about Gaza, and listened deeply to my responses. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything but we shared a common concern about climate change, and he now knows the environmental engineering students in Gaza are also concerned about climate change.

Dr. Tarek Loubani (a Canadian physician) spoke at the UN Human Rights Council’s 40th session today. Here’s what he said:

Thank you, Madam Vice President,

I am here with Dr. Mahmoud Matar on behalf of our colleagues from the hospitals of Gaza. I am an emergency physician in Canada and Gaza and associate professor of Medicine at Western University in Canada.tarek.loubani

On 14 May 2018, I was at the protests delivering trauma care on the field. I saw only peaceful protesters, and none posed any threat to the soldiers. When protestors were shot, me and my team of medics would treat and evacuate them. Due to the blockade I did not have the materials or medics to care for my patients.

I was one of the 19 medics shot that day. I wish I could tell you I was in the midst of some chaos when it happened. I was not. The skies were clear, with no gas and no burning tires. I was standing among a group of medical professionals away from the main protest area wearing full hospital green uniform.

We were not close to protesters and there was no Israeli gunfire at the time. I heard a loud bang, felt an incredible pain and found myself on the ground.

I was treated, stabilized and discharged within an hour. I sewed my own legs because of the number of wounded. Like hundreds of others that day, I did not receive the care I needed. Still, I was lucky.

When I was shot, paramedic Musa Abuhassanin treated me. He was my rescuer. About an hour after, he was shot in the chest during a rescue. Musa died. Medical teams are not political actors, but humanitarians. We simply want to ensure that if people get into trouble, we’re there to help them.

Some 600 health workers have now been wounded at the protests and three killed. Thirty-nine were killed between 2008 and 2014. We are still under fire. Four paramedics were wounded last week. International law is clear on the duty to protect health workers, and to facilitate our life-saving work.

When I return to my work in Gaza, I should not worry that next year I will have to speak to you again about what I saw. I should not worry that my name will be added to the list of dead health workers doing their jobs. When you here do not act meaningfully, it is more likely that injuries and deaths to medics occur – more likely that I will be injured or killed. Madam Vice President, I ask you and members of the council to do all you can to ensure we are protected in line with international law.

 

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, People, Uncategorized, United Nations

Demonstrators Shot in Violation of their Right to Life

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On 7 January 2018, Ahmed Abu Artema, a 34-year-old Palestinian poet and journalist, posted on Facebook the idea of a non-violent march at the separation fence, to draw attention to General Assembly resolution 194 and to the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. In the post, ending #GreatMarchofReturn, he wrote, “what if 200,000 demonstrators marched peacefully and broke through the fence east of Gaza and entered a few kilometres into the lands that are ours, holding the flags of Palestine and the keys to return, accompanied by international media, and then set up tents inside and established a city there.”  The idea evolved into a movement of Palestinians. Within weeks, Abu Artema, civil society activists and other stakeholders drew up a charter of 12 principles, envisaging a national march by Palestinians of all ages, genders, political and social groups. (para. 22 and 23)

I’ve been following the #GreatReturnMarch since the beginning, watching its preparations, and studying it from the perspective of my international human rights law course that was occurring at the same time.

23472746_1518214138214284_7274524142973981851_nAn Israeli woman shared her thoughts about the protests. The New York Times adopted the Israeli framing of the protests.  The protests continued.  With grim predictability, the killing of unarmed protesters continued too.

Ms Fatou Bensouda

Ms Fatou Bensouda – Prosecutor

Throughout the summer and fall of 2018 I followed the protests and took heart when the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court warned Israel that it might be subject to prosecution for its crimes committed against the protestors.

The United Nations appointed an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate.  Predictably, Israel refused to cooperate in the investigation, and Egypt wouldn’t let the commission enter Gaza because of security concerns in the Sinai. However, in this small and interconnected world we live in, with Skype and other technology, the commission interviewed many participants in the protests, as well as families of the victims, the medical personnel in Gaza, as well as viewed much of the video documentation from the protests. COI_Commissioners_HP

The three member commission released its report and findings on February 28, 2019. The Israeli government immediately condemned it, saying that the commission was blinded by hatred,  but everyone else I’ve read has received it favorably.

It’s a short (22 pages) read and I recommend it to everyone.

Some excerpts that added to my understanding of the #GreatReturnMarch —

Israel was prepared. The protesters were not trying to take anyone by surprise.

Prior to the first demonstration, Israeli forces reinforced their positions at the fence with additional troops, including more than 100 sharpshooters. They dropped leaflets in Gaza and contacted Palestinian bus companies to warn against participation. At the demonstration sites, they strengthened the separation fence and its underground barrier (to prevent and detect cross-border tunnels), installed kilometres of barbed wire coils on the Gazan side as additional barriers, cleared vegetation on both sides, dug deep trenches on the Israeli side and erected a battery of earth mounds or berms onto which snipers were positioned for better visibility and shooting accuracy.

When the rules of engagement were challenged, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental human rights organizations challenged the application of lethal force by Israeli forces at the fence in the Israel Supreme Court, contending that the rules of engagement violated international law because they were too permissive or were being applied permissively. The Court disagreed and approved the rules of engagement, holding that “the use of potentially lethal force for the sake of dispersing a mass riot – from which an actual and imminent danger is posed to life or bodily integrity – is, in principle, permitted, subject to proving necessity and proportionality.” The Court declined to examine how the rules were applied on the ground, deferring to the internal investigations of Israeli security forces.

Ten pages of this report describe the deaths and injuries during three specific days of protest (Sections V and VI — p. 7-16)

Was Israel testing new weapons on the civilian population?

According to an international doctor working at a Gaza hospital, interviewed by the commission, “It was striking the number of extremely similar injuries; massive open wounds in the legs, with skin and muscles ‘blown out’, bones smashed to pieces, and damage to blood vessels leading to vascular injury, putting the entire limb at risk.”

COGAT holds the power of life and death – no surprise here!

In early April, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories denied exit permits for wounded demonstrators, primarily on the basis of the policy of the Minister of Defense to deny passage to any person injured during the demonstrations.  Although the Supreme Court of Israel subsequently rejected the above-mentioned blanket policy, those injured in the demonstrations continued to face significant challenges in obtaining medical treatment outside Gaza, as illustrated by the case below:

 Zakaria Bishbish (14)
On 30 May, Israeli security forces shot Zakaria, from the Maghazi refugee camp, in the back at the demonstration site in El Bureij, while he was at least 100 m from the separation fence. The gunshot perforated Zakaria’s stomach and colon, splintered his vertebrae and damaged his kidney. His family sought a two-week exit permit to seek life-saving treatment at Saint Joseph Hospital in East Jerusalem, which had arranged a medical appointment for 4 June. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, however, denied the request, giving no reasons. His family then attempted to secure appointments for him in Egypt and the West Bank; the Coordinator did not respond to their requests. On 18 June, Zakaria died
of sepsis.

Will the State of Israel and/or any individuals involved in these killings be held accountable?

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Filed under Gaza, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, People, Uncategorized, United Nations, Video

UK Parliament briefing on Israel’s Nation State Law

UK Parliament interior

UK Parliament Hall

Briefings about Israel-Palestine for Legislators in the UK and US are very similar.

Organize-organize-organize.  Line up expert witnesses.  Secure a member of Congress or Parliament to sponsor the briefing.  Invite-invite-invite.  Hold your breath and see who shows up, praying for members of Congress and Parliament to attend or send their staff.

The Members of Parliament (MPs) might be forgiven for not attending the briefing on Israel’s new Nation-State Law on Feb. 26, 2019 given the current Brexit turmoil they find themselves embroiled in. About 30 people were there, hopefully some staff, and at least one Zionist who identified himself at the end of the meeting.

The seminar at the House of Commons in London was hosted by EuroPal Forum and  brought together experts in the legal, diplomatic and public policy fields.

Andy Slaughter

Andrew Slaughter – photo credit Chris McAndrew

MP Andy Slaughter convened the meeting and provided a strong introduction to the issue. Clearly, he doesn’t need an education on Israel-Palestine. (Slaughter’s interests include the Middle East and particularly Palestine. He is Secretary of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and Vice-Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East.)

He mentioned Amnesty’s new report (Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa – Review of 2018), and the 25th anniversary of the massacre in Hebron where Baruch Goldstein killed 29 worshipping Palestinians, and even mentioned that AIPAC is calling Israel’s new political party racist! (The New Right הימין החדש‎, HaYamin HaHadash was established in December 2018). He concluded his remarks by saying that Israel’s Nation State Law is institutionalizing Palestinians as second class citizens before he apologized and said he had to leave the meeting. The speakers who followed were just as pointed and passionate.

Parliament Nation State event

Orfhlaith Begley, the MP representing the Sinn Fein from northern Ireland, said that Sinn Fein believes an international peace initiative is needed. The party is going to work on the Irish Parliament to recognize the State of Palestine. She mentioned there was a bill in the House of Commons to require Israel to treat Jews and Palestinians equally but it failed with the religious parties voting against it!! The British government has said nothing publicly about Israel’s Nation-State law.

UK Parliament 3

 

Salma Kami-Ayyoub, a legal consultant with Al-Haq and other organizations, summarized the provisions of the Nation-State Law and its three major impacts on Palestinians.

(1) Only Jewish people have the right to self-determination in the Land of Israel. (2) Settlement of Jews is a national value. (3) The Nation-State law is a Basic Law, equivalent to the Constitution. All future laws will have to be consistent with it as a foundational law for Israel. It is now a legal obligation of the State of Israel to promote the settlements. The law is “extremely damaging” because it forces the right of return out of the negotiations.

Where does this Nation-State Law apply?  Over the whole of historic Palestine, Kami-Ayyoub said.  There is no other constitution in the world that has a similar provision. She mentioned the rise in settler violence and asked why aren’t the settlers in Hebron called terrorists? She believes the UK government should impose sanctions. At the least, Parliament should investigate whether UK arms sold to Israel are being used to kill Palestinians.

She also mentioned the Namibia decision in 1971 as precedent which must be followed now.  I remember reading the decision a couple of years ago in my Human Rights Law class.  The International Court of Justice wrote:

The member States of the United Nations are under obligation to recognize the illegality and invalidity of South Africa’s continued presence in Namibia and to refrain from lending any support or any form of assistance to South Africa with reference to its occupation of Namibia.

UK Parliament 6

The final speaker, Kamel Hawwash, is a British-Palestinian Professor who gave an impassioned plea for action.

A predictable Q & A followed until a Zionist stood up and introduced himself as a British Jew who attends pro-Israel meetings in London and wanted to hear the other side. He listed a number of Israel’s achievements in health and science, and then invited the panel to attend some meetings to learn about Israel’s positive contributions to the world.

Professor Hawwash gave the best rebuttal by asking the Zionist — “Are Israel’s scientific achievements incompatible with ending the occupation?” he asked. No response, and the meeting ended soon after.

The exchange at the end was symptomatic of the typical discourse with Zionists on the issue of Palestinians and the occupation. They refuse to talk about the occupation, they ignore the elephant in the room, and they deflect by turning the conversation to other points, such as Israel’s scientific achievements.

 

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Maurice on left, Zionist in the middle

After the meeting ended, filmmaker Maurice Jacobsen tried to engage with the Zionists but said they kept deflecting and refused to respond directly on the issue of the occupation.  Undoubtedly, it was frustrating for both but it summarized for me what the greatest challenge may be to ending the occupation.  Not Israel’s new Nation State Law, although that presents a huge obstacle.

The biggest challenge is finding a coherent and meaningful way to talk about the occupation with the occupier and with the Zionists around the world that support Israel. Some pro-Palestinian activists may not be inclined to talk with Zionists, but Palestinians and Israelis will never live together as equals in the Holy Land if they refuse to talk and listen to each other.

Obviously, the Zionists appear content with the status quo since they have the upper hand and all of the advantages of the occupation flow to the State of Israel. They have no incentive to change the narrative that “Palestinians are terrorists and Israel must defend itself”. Thus it’s incumbent on the Palestinians and their supporters to provide a framing of the narrative where both can live together, side-by-side, respectfully and peacefully, as their ancestors did centuries ago.

This isn’t a sign of weakness or capitulation. The right of return must remain on the table. But the occupation will only end when both sides are willing to talk about it and listen to the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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