Category Archives: Occupation

UN Special Rapporteur urges Israel be held accountable

michael_lynk

Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk

The community of nations should start using some of the legal sticks available in its basket to push the State of Israel into ending the occupation of Palestine.  That’s the bottom line according to the U.N. Special Rapporteur who is calling for global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel.

Professor S. Michael Lynk, a Canadian law professor, is no newbie to Israel’s occupation. As the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories, he asked  — When is enough, enough under international law?  He answered it in his report to the U.N. General Assembly in October 2017. I summarized his report here.

In the 22 page report, which should be required reading for everyone interested in the future of Israel and Palestine, Professor Lynk opened a new (legal) chapter in Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. He made the case for recognizing Israel as an illegal occupier, and called on the international community to use all of the tools in its toolbox to end this illegal occupation.

The next year, EJIL: Talk! …. the Blog of the European Journal of International Law published Professor Lynk’s commentary where he urged the international legal community to consider whether or not Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestine has crossed some legal red line, resulting in an illegal occupation. Professor Lynk posited a 4-part test to determine the answer. His commentary was reprinted on my blog here.

The Great MarchIn the Spring of 2018, when Palestinians in Gaza launched the Great Return March and protested at the fence line between Israel and Gaza, Israel responded with lethal force. Lynk said the killings reflected a “blatant excessive use of force by Israel” and likened them to “an eye for an eyelash.” The protesters appeared to pose no credible threat to Israeli military forces on the Israeli side. Under humanitarian law, he said, the killing of unarmed demonstrators could amount to a war crime, and he added that “impunity for these actions is not an option.” (I wrote about that here.)

Although Professor Ilan Pappe wants the world to jettison the term “occupation” in favor of “colonization” in the context of Israel – Palestine, Professor Lynk has taken a different tack. He recommends that the U.N. declare the occupation illegal. See more about that here.

In March 2019, the UN Commission of Inquiry issued its findings and recommendations on the deadly protests in Gaza. Professor Lynk agreed and warned that —

As the one-year anniversary of the “Great March of Return” on 30 March 2019 draws closer, and in view of the ever-deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over possible rising levels of violence if no firm action was taken to pursue accountability and justice. “Continuing to suffocate Gaza is a blot on the world’s conscience and a recipe for more bloodshed,” Lynk said. “Restoring Gaza and ensuring justice and accountability would give the region hope that a better Middle East is possible.”

ACCOUNTABILITY

For many years, Palestinians and human rights activists have been beating the accountability drum urging the world to hold Israel accountable for its responsibilities as an occupier and its flagrant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Beyond the many non-binding resolutions at the U.N. over the years, there has been no credible and sustained effort to hold Israel accountable. (The U.S. is a very big reason why the U.N. has failed — but that’s for another blog post.)

2013-05-05-21-01-541On his most recent tour to the Middle East, Professor Lynk held meetings in Jordan because Israel refuses to allow him to visit Palestine. He believes that unless Israel is pressured to do the right thing, it will continue to deepen and further entrench the occupation.

Professor Lynk recommends that the UN members should consider everything from cutting cultural ties with Israel to suspending its membership in the world body.

He emphasized the role of the EU, which accounts for some 40 percent of Israel’s external trade and could make the flow of Israeli goods and services to the 28-nation bloc contingent on policy shifts that help Palestinians.

Furthermore, Lynk urges the speedy publication of a long-awaited blacklist of Israeli and international companies that profit from operations in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. He also wants prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to hasten its preliminary investigation of allegations of rights abuses by Israel and Hamas on Palestinian territory, which began in 2015.

Although Professor Lynk’s role as UN Special Rapporteur carries no enforcement power or authority, he’s certainly using his responsibility to examine and report on the occupation to the fullest extent possible. Now civil society and solidarity activists must amplify his call for accountability. 

 

Mr. Michael Lynk was designated by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the then UN Commission on Human Rights. Professor Lynk is Associate Professor of Law at Western University in London, Ontario, where he teaches labour law, constitutional law and human rights law. Before becoming an academic, he practiced labour law and refugee law for a decade in Ottawa and Toronto. He also worked for the United Nations on human rights and refugee issues in Jerusalem.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

 

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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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Naila and the Uprising

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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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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.

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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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The Power of Filmmaking – Mend the Gap

Films can be a powerful catalyst for awakening change. Remember Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth“?  I suspect many Americans were launched off their sofas to make a difference on climate change as a result.

Maurice and Lora on High Road to Taos

Lora and Maurice in northern New Mexico

I came to appreciate the hard work that goes into filmmaking when I spent several weeks this summer in a cabin in a remote part of northern New Mexico with filmmaker Maurice Jacobsen who was editing a new documentary about Gaza. A lot of work, patience and love go into every minute of a new film. Watch for Maurice’s new documentary to be released very shortly. Here’s a snippet. 

Then I received an invitation to attend and speak at the Freedom Film Fest in Malaysia. This is the 16th year of the annual fest, which showcases award-winning social justice and human rights films. Appropriately, the theme this year is a call to action to “Mend the Gap”, which draws its inspiration from the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which says that “no one should be left behind.”FFF

The organizers of the film festival note that “despite progress in science, technology and democracy, the gaps between the rich and poor, the have and have nots, the powerful and the powerless are getting deeper and wider.” I might add that the gap between the occupier and the oppressed in Palestine is obscenely grotesque. 

Film Festival

In 2012, the United Nations reported that Gaza may be unlivable by 2020.  Israel’s seige and blockade of the Gaza Strip is deliberately stripping Palestinians of their dignity and their basic needs for survival. While Israelis have clean water, 24/7 electricity, and everything else we take for granted in a first world country, the Palestinians suffer 60%+ unemployment, 2 hours of electricity per day, no drinkable water unless they can afford to purchase bottled-water from Israel, and vanishing healthcare services. The gap between the occupier and the oppressed grows wider.

“Gaza has continued on its trajectory of de-development, in many cases even faster than we had originally projected,” said Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, in July 2017.

“When you’re down to two hours of power a day and you have 60 percent youth unemployment rates … that unlivability threshold has been passed quite a long time ago.”

Israel’s new “nation-state law” — adopted this summer — has formalized the ugly truth that has existed in Israel-Palestine since the 1948.  The law does three big things:

  1. It states that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.”
  2. It establishes Hebrew as Israel’s official language, and downgrades Arabic — a language widely spoken by Arab Israelis — to a “special status.”
  3. It establishes “Jewish settlement as a national value” and mandates that the state “will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.”

The gap between Jews and Palestinians (Muslims and Christians) has just been formalized into the basic laws of the State of Israel. 

Perhaps the gap is nowhere better illustrated than at the fence between Israel and Gaza where the Palestinians have been protesting each Friday since March 30, demanding their human rights and their right to return to their homes and villages from which they were expelled in 1948. Israeli sharpshooters have killed at least 174 Palestinians and wounded more than 18,000 people participating in the Great March of Return, according to health officials in Gaza.

The gap between the best-equipped army in the Middle East, and the Palestinians throwing rocks resembles David and Goliath. 

What can we do to mend these gaps?

  1. Educate ourselves about what’s really going on, on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank. Don’t rely on the mainstream media.
  2. Read about the injustices occurring in Palestine. The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights by Michael Sfard.
  3. Speak truth to power and speak up against injustices everywhere, including those perpetrated every single day in Palestine.

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Blue Lake

A few years ago, a Palestinian man from Gaza visited me in New Mexico. In addition to the typical tourist sites, I wanted him to see the indigenous people in Taos Pueblo, thinking he might draw some connections, or simpatico as we say in New Mexico.

Quite by accident, we happened to visit Taos Pueblo on a Feast Day, and we witnessed the music, dancing and solemn ceremonies involved in the tradition of these people. My Palestinian friend didn’t say much, and I’m not sure if he felt any kinship or connection with Taos Pueblo. Maybe I had assumed too much.

I wish I had told him the story about Blue Lake.

Blue Lake

Taos Pueblo members believe that their tribe was created from the sacred waters of the Blue Lake, or Ba Whyea. From the 1600s, the Spanish and Mexican authorities recognized the Taos Pueblo land rights. And when the U.S. government took control of the Southwest, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) also recognized the Pueblo’s sovereignty over their land and Blue Lake.

Then in 1906, by Executive Order President Theodore Roosevelt placed Blue Lake and the surrounding watershed into the hands of the Forest Service as part of the Carson National Forest.  For the next 64 years, Taos Pueblo leaders struggled to regain their sacred land and waters. They traveled to Washington, DC many times to try and convince Congress to return Blue Lake to them.

In testimony before Congress in 1969, Paul Bernal explained, “In all of its programs the Forest Service proclaims the supremacy of man over nature; we find this viewpoint contradictory to the realities of the natural world and to the nature of conservation. Our tradition and our religion require people to adapt their lives and activities to our natural surroundings so that men and nature mutually support the life common to both. The idea that man must subdue nature and bend its processes to his purposes is repugnant to our people.”

A good history of the Blue Lake controversy can be found here. Finally, in 1970, President Nixon approved a bill that returned full sovereignty of Blue Lake and its watershed to Taos Pueblo.

In speaking of the Bill’s significance, President Nixon stated, “This is a bill that represents justice, because in 1906 an injustice was done in which land involved in this bill, 48,000 acres, was taken from the Indians involved, the Taos Pueblo Indians. The Congress of the United States now returns that land to whom it belongs … I can’t think of anything more appropriate or any action that could make me more proud as President of the United States.”

The Palestinians have been struggling since 1948 to regain sovereignty over their lands, by negotiation, by violence, and most often by nonviolent Sumud, or steadfastness. There are certainly big differences between the struggle for Blue Lake and the occupation of Palestine, but I also see some similarities.

  • Both indigenous peoples have a spiritual connection to the lands that were taken from them.
  • Both cases involved Anglo settlers moving in and pushing out the indigenous people with an arrogance and sense of entitlement that makes me cringe.
  • Both Palestine and Taos have generations of younger people who learned the stories and lessons passed down from their elders about the injustices perpetrated years ago; and memories don’t die.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine will have to end before there is justice in the Middle East, but I have no doubt that the Palestinians will find their justice, as Taos Pueblo did in 1970.

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Bridges

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A Muslim-American journalist has recently been the target of serious anger and hostility by some other Muslim-Americans who claim he was wrong to visit the West Bank and sit down with Jewish settlers to hear their side of the story, the Zionists’ perspective. They claim he was a stooge for the Zionists, manipulated into presenting the two sides (Israel and Palestine) as equal and equally justified. The term of art is a “false equivalency”.

Wajahat AliWahajat Ali’s article in June 2018 issue of The Atlantic is long, but well worth the time to read carefully before delving into the controversy. I read it two times and was starting on my third time around when my attention was redirected elsewhere. Maybe I’ll go back to it.

 

I found his story interesting, illuminating and nuanced. I’ve heard that some pro-Palestine activists on the other hand consider Ali’s article “problematic,” one-sided (the Zionists’ side), normalizing the occupation, and promoting false equivalencies. Read the article for yourself and be the judge.

(I first heard that term “false equivalency” from a Zionist family member in 2001, complaining about something I said about Palestinians. I came to realize that people who hear two very disparate perspectives/sides discussed in the same breath might be offended because they don’t believe the other perspective deserves to be included or they believe their side was unfairly treated in the discussion.)

The unintentional beauty of this current ‘controversy’ — Muslims attacking a Muslim for meeting and writing about Jewish settlers in the West Bank — is that it highlights the challenge of understanding the ‘other’ (whether the ‘other’ is a Jewish settler, a white nationalist, a refugee or a migrant).

If half the energy expended by many who are dissecting The Atlantic article was directed, instead, to building bridges with the ‘other’ (whoever that may be in your life) …. the energy might have made a real difference.

Some may object and say “[t]he problem is that one cannot build a bridge to those who have consistently demonstrated in actions that there are no bridges to even be considered. Zionists will not change their attitude in the same way as those who endeavor to support justice will not change their’s. They are not, however, equal. Justice does not equate with continued, unmitigated oppression. It is fantasy to believe that this can be done.”

  • My notion of bridge-building does not envision a bridge expanding the wide divide separating us so that I can drag the ‘other’ back to my side.
  • My notion of bridge-building does not require me to accept or believe the ‘other’ perspective, it only gives me a channel to learn more about the ‘other’.
  • My notion of bridge-building does not weaken my convictions and beliefs; in fact, it may strengthen them because I will have the opportunity to examine my beliefs in the context of the ‘other’.

In my first year of law school, I took a criminal procedures class with 100+ other students. One day, Professor Kreitzberg asked me to stand up and argue in favor of the death penalty. (She knew I strongly opposed the death penalty).  I was shocked but I did as I was asked and mumbled through some half-baked ideas in favor of the death penalty. Then she turned to another student and asked him to speak in opposition to the death penalty, knowing full well that he personally supported it. He also did as he was instructed.

The lesson that my classmate and I both learned (and maybe some of the other students picked up on it too) was (1) it’s really tough to get in the shoes of the ‘other’ and (2) we are stronger advocates when we understand and can express the position of the ‘other.’ The same may be true in the Palestine-Israel conflict. Since Wajahat Ali is a lawyer by training, this lesson has probably been drilled into him too. His article in The Atlantic helped me understand the perspective of the Jewish settlers in a way that I never could have on my own. I don’t have access to the settlers. I can’t sit in their kitchens to talk with them, as Ali did.

Some argue that Wajahat Ali’s article about the Jewish settlers speaks over (perhaps drowns out) the voices of the Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans who are the ‘legitimate’ voices that the West needs to hear. I simply don’t buy it. The whole notion of ‘legitimate’ voices (implying that others’ are illegitimate) is very problematic in itself.

In the marketplace of ideas, competing voices and ideas are valuable and should be valued. Certainly, the Western narrative of Israel-Palestine has been heavily skewed by Israel’s Hasbara for many years, and push-back is warranted to influence and educate public opinion in the U.S. and elsewhere. But let’s not fall for the mistaken belief that there’s a monolithic Palestinian narrative, or a monolithic Muslim narrative. There isn’t. Maybe this fact is creating some angst for those who would like to control the Muslim narrative.

Wajahat Ali’s article has done a great service in furthering the art of bridge-building. Sadly, many on his own side of the bridge may not appreciate that fact yet.

 

 

 

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