Category Archives: Occupation

The world tomorrow: COVID-19 and the new humanitarian

ICRC building on the hill

International Committee for the Red Cross in Geneva

There’s a saying in Gaza (at least among some) that the Palestinians are living under THREE occupations.

The first, of course, is the Israeli military occupation. The United Nations and nearly the entire international community recognize this occupation. It’s been going on for so many decades that at least one scholar prefers to call it colonization, not an occupation. It’s perhaps the best documented occupation in world history.

The second is the internal political occupation.  Palestinians in Gaza are living under Hamas, and Palestinians in the West Bank are living under the Palestinian Authority (PA). “Living under” is the correct terminology in both cases because there haven’t been elections in more than a decade (no concept of “term limits” in the Arab world as far as I can tell) and both Hamas and the PA rule with an iron fist.

I learned about the third type of occupation when I was in Gaza in 2012-2013 and met with local city officials to discuss planning issues in the community. They told me bluntly, “What plans? It’s whatever the NGOs are willing to fund. Their plans get implemented, ours stay on the shelf.” So I call this the NGO occupation. Donors’ good intentions can actually backfire because they disempower the local communities they’re meant to serve. US-AID projects are a good example.

Amid the turmoil and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are new challenges and opportunities for both nation-states and the private sector attempting to address the serious needs of the most vulnerable. Things are changing rapidly.

ICRC Museum

ICRC Museum Entrance — Geneva

Focusing on humanitarian action, as it has since its beginning in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) asked the following question in this new COVID-19 world we’re entering:

How then should aid organizations anticipate and prepare for this new reality, still opaque in many ways, and balance it against the expected overwhelming needs? Better yet, rather than adapting and anticipating to this new reality, how can aid organizations lean in and embrace the present crisis as a conduit for radical change, proactively reshaping and repositioning an aid sector that is fit for purpose to protect and address the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized?

The question is important, the answers that follow may profoundly change the way NGOs address the needs of the most vulnerable.

This 18 minute audio of a blog posted by Raphael Gorgeu provides a good explanation of how the NGO landscape may be changing. The world tomorrow: COVID-19 and the new humanitarian.  Have a listen.

A public health crisis to begin with, the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly metastasized to nearly all fronts of society. Considered one of the biggest crises in modern history, the pandemic’s effects will deeply impact the lives of billions of people, shake the foundations of our solidarity models and redesign parts of the international humanitarian sector. The way aid actors move forward now will shape the future of the humanitarian landscape: pre-existing trends are speeding up as new ones are brought into play, all while the overall balance is placed under scrutiny. In a myriad of ways, many still unforeseeable, the intensity of the present period is accelerating change.

 

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Filed under COVID-19, Occupation, Politics, United Nations, Video

Palestinian Struggles for Rights and a Political End-Game

The status quo in Palestine & Israel is an interminable nightmare for Palestinians living under military occupation for 70+ years, and a shameful failure of the human rights framework adopted and promoted during that same time.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

The Israeli declaration of independence in May 1948 was the Palestinians’ Nakba (disaster, catastrophe).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948) was (is?) the world’s beacon of hope, an aspiration for a better life for every person.

 

Our failure (the international community’s failure) to secure a just and lasting resolution in Palestine & Israel cannot be swept under the rug and forgotten. It’s an indictment upon all of us.

Sam Bahour, a Palestinian American living in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, captured a succinct history of the military occupation and the current struggle when he spoke with his daughter. (He shares that beginning at 18:50).

How does the unbearable status quo change?

In reality, the status quo is bearable to Israel and that government has no incentive to change it.

In reality, the international human rights regime is impotent and won’t change the status quo.

In reality, the U.S. is a hindrance, not a facilitator, to ending the status quo.

In reality, the Palestinian political leaders (Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Fatah) have proven themselves to be incapable of rising to the challenge and have not earned the respect and recognition from the Palestinian people they purport to represent.

There are individuals within Palestine and Israel who are asking and answering that question: how does the unbearable status quo change?

Jeff Halper, an American Jew who has lived most of his adult life in Israel, thinks the two state solution is no longer feasible. He and his compatriots are currently traveling around the world to build support for the One Democratic State program.

Sam Bahour frames the question differently. It’s not a matter of two states or one state, but a matter of political and individual rights in either case. What Sam fears is that more time will be lost (time measured in decades) as people and governments negotiate territorial jurisdictions while the rights of Palestinians continue to take a back-seat in those discussions. Sam writes:

We must get political. Civil society must build the necessary alliances to bring Palestinian rights to the forefront of the international agenda on Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution. Today, we have no choice but to accept the apartheid one-state reality that we are living in now, and keep the two-state door open, while simultaneously bringing the issue of rights to the forefront of our demands. Our strongest ally is international civil society, but we cannot stop at civil society; it would be stopping short of affecting change. Instead we must leverage the widespread support of civil society in all corners of the world to get states to act, politically and otherwise, to support our just and internationally aligned struggle for freedom and independence.

In May 2016, Mr. Bahour spelled out the dangers and opportunities available to the Palestinian civil society in changing the status quo.  (The paper is available here.) I hope the next generation of Palestinian leaders (whoever and wherever they may be) will read the paper.

In this paper, I will argue that a rights-based approach is the most conducive one to the current Palestinian national agenda and that a political end-game cannot be open-ended. Moreover, I will also argue that the struggle for national self-determination cannot come at the expense of the struggle for rights – and vice versa. I view these two processes as simultaneous dynamics: one process focuses on the rights of the individual (political, human and civil rights), while the second focuses on the rights of the nation (national rights, specifically self-determination). My argument is based on the mutuality of these two processes: the ‘individual’ sphere centered on rights, and the ‘national’ sphere focused on independence.

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Filed under Israel, Nakba, Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations, Video

One Democratic State

About ten or twelve years ago I had an interesting conversation with an American Jew in Albuquerque, New Mexico about the future of Israel and Palestine. He expressed the view shared by many Americans at the time that the Palestinians were getting the short end of the stick but Israelis really had no choice but to maintain the occupation in order to protect themselves.

He knew I’d visited Gaza for a week or two in 2004, and had traveled through the West Bank and Jerusalem as a tourist.  So he asked me what I thought the future held in store for both peoples, intimating that his vision of two states with a permanent occupation of one was inevitable.  Without a moment’s hesitation, I replied “one country between the river and the sea where every person is treated equally”. I’m not sure where I got that idea, whether reading or talking with someone more knowledgeable than me.  But even then I knew that a big part of the problem was a failure of imagination.  My Jewish American friend thought I was nuts; we haven’t talked since.

Now, thankfully, there are many so-called nuts traveling around the world promoting the idea of a one democratic state in Israel – Palestine.  Last week I listened in to a Zoom meeting with some of the leaders of the One Democratic State Campaign. Check out their website in Arabic and English. I learned that this one state idea is not new. The Palestinian liberation movement, before the Nakba of 1948 and after, had promoted this vision in the PLO’s National Charter, abandoning it for the two-state solution only in 1988.Loss of Land

The proponents of the One Democratic State (ODS) campaign believe that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a good strategy but the Palestinians lack an end goal. To paraphrase what I heard on the Zoom call: “If you don’t have a political goal, all of the strategies in the world won’t accomplish anything.” The One Democratic State campaign provides the goal.

“The only way forward to a genuine and viable political settlement is to dismantle the colonial apartheid regime that has been imposed over historic Palestine, replacing it with a new political system based on full civil equality, implementation of the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return and the building of a system that addresses the historic wrongs committed on the Palestinian people by the Zionist movement.”

The One Democratic State campaign has ten key points:

  1. A Single Constitutional Democracy. One Democratic State shall be established between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River as one country belonging to all its citizens, including Palestinian refugees who will be able to return to their homeland. All citizens will enjoy equal rights, freedom and security. The State shall be a constitutional democracy, the authority to govern and make laws emanating from the consent of the governed. All its citizens shall enjoy equal rights to vote, stand for office and contribute to the country’s governance.
  2. Right of Return, of Restoration and of Reintegration into Society. The single democratic state will fully implement the Right of Return of all Palestinian refugees who were expelled in 1948 and thereafter, whether living in exile abroad or currently living in Israel or the Occupied Territory. The State will aid them in returning to their country and to the places from where they were expelled. It will help them rebuild their personal lives and to be fully reintegrated into the country’s society, economy and polity. The State will do everything in its power to restore to the refugees their private and communal property of the refugees and/or compensate them. Normal procedures of obtaining citizenship will be extended to those choosing to immigrate to the country.
  3. Individual Rights. No State law, institution or practices may discriminate among its citizens on the basis of national or social origin, color, gender, language, religion or political opinion, or sexual orientation. A single citizenship confers on all the State’s residents the right to freedom of movement, the right to reside anywhere in the country, and equal rights in every domain.
  4. Collective Rights. Within the framework of a single democratic state, the Constitution will also protect collective rights and the freedom of association, whether national, ethnic, religious, class or gender. Constitutional guarantees will ensure that all languages, arts and culture can flourish and develop freely. No group or collectivity will have any privileges, nor will any group, party or collectivity have the ability to leverage any control or domination over others. Parliament will not have the authority to enact any laws that discriminate against any community under the Constitution.
  5. Moving from Decolonization to Post-Colonialism. The genuine liberation of Palestinians and Israelis requires a process of thorough decolonization through which we may reach collective justice, peace security and reconciliation. A new national narrative must be constructed that “writes the native Palestinians back in.” Israeli Jews must acknowledge both the national rights of the Palestinian people and past colonial crimes. In return, and based on an egalitarian democracy, Palestinians will accept them as legitimate citizens and neighbors, thereby ending Zionist settler colonialism and entering into a new postcolonial relationship of accommodation, normalization and reconciliation.
  6. Constructing a Shared Civil Society. The State shall nurture a vital civil society comprised of common civil institutions, in particular educational, cultural and economic. Alongside religious marriage the State will provide civil marriage.
  7. Economy and Economic Justice. Our vision seeks to achieve justice, and this includes social and economic justice. Economic policy must address the decades of exploitation and discrimination which have sown deep socioeconomic gaps among the people living in the land. The income distribution in Israel/Palestine is more unequal than any country in the world. A State seeking justice must develop a creative and long-term redistributive economic policy to ensure that all citizens have equal opportunity to attain education, productive employment, economic security and a dignified standard of living.
  8. Commitment to Human Rights, Justice and Peace. The State shall uphold international law and seek the peaceful resolution of conflicts through negotiation and collective security in accordance with the United Nations Charter. The State will sign and ratify all international treaties on human rights and its people shall reject racism and promote social, cultural and political rights as set out in relevant United Nations covenants.
  9. Our Role in the Region. The ODS Campaign will join with all progressive forces in the Arab world struggling for democracy, social justice and egalitarian societies free from tyranny and foreign domination. The State shall seek democracy and freedom in a Middle East that respects its many communities, religions, traditions and ideologies, yet strives for equality, freedom of thought and innovation. Achieving a just political settlement in Palestine, followed by a thorough process of decolonization, will contribute measurably to these efforts.
  10. International responsibility. On a global level, the ODS Campaign views itself as part of the progressive forces striving for an alternative global order that is just, egalitarian and free of any oppression, racism, imperialism and colonialism.

I personally know some Israeli Jews and many Palestinians who reject this notion of One Democratic State. In a nutshell, the Israeli Jews (the ones I know) believe it’s a security issue and (the hard core Zionists) believe their right to the land supersedes the Palestinians’ rights. On the other hand, the Palestinians (the ones I know) believe the past and present injustices are so horrendous that the occupation must be dismantled before they will even talk or entertain a One Democratic State.

Of course, I know many Israeli Jews and Palestinians who would gladly embrace the One Democratic State, but I don’t know if there’s a critical mass on either side to move this program forward.

I hope no one closes the door on the One Democratic State campaign until they’ve read the Ten Points mentioned above, and talked about the future they want to leave their children.

I suspect it will take a lot of friends from the international community to help, but InshAllah it will happen.

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The Anti-Normalization Shroud Descends

By now we’re all familiar with the new world of physical distancing, stay-at-home orders, and the feeling that everything has come to a standstill.

Palestinians in Gaza have experienced a similar (not the same) life since June 2007 when Israel severely tightened the restrictions on the Gaza Strip after Hamas took control.  Palestinians can’t exit except with approval from both Israel and Hamas, turning the Gaza Strip into the largest open air prison in the world. Palestinians can’t export their produce except under very limited strictures. Palestinians can’t import many essential products, and they remain reliant on Israel to determine what things can and can’t be brought into Gaza. Many times the Palestinian fishermen can’t safely bring home their catch without being fired upon by the Israeli gunboats. And the list of restrictions goes on and on.

Gaza is tiny. At 139 square miles, it’s about the same size as Detroit (138.8 square miles), Philadelphia (134.1), Las Vegas (135.8), or Portland, Oregon (133.4). We’re talking about more than two million people, the largest majority being youth under the age of 30, confined to a Very. Small. Place.

Any Palestinian in Gaza older than 12 years has lived through three devastating Israeli military operations: Operation Cast Lead (in 2008-2009 Israel killed 1391 Palestinians in Gaza in 23 days); Operation Pillar of Defense (in November 2012 Israel killed 167 Palestinians in Gaza in 8 days); and two years later Operation Protective Edge (Israel killed 2,251 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded more than 11,000 between July 8 and August 26, 2014). Since March 2018, Israeli sharpshooters have killed and maimed hundreds of Palestinians participating in the Great Return March every Friday at the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel.

This violence and physical separation has occupied the Palestinian souls in Gaza for a very long time, a deliberate military strategy pursued by the State of Israel. There’s little doubt among human rights lawyers that it amounts to collective punishment, a war crime under the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

So this happened recently.

A Palestinian in Gaza connected on Zoom with an Israeli in Tel Aviv about 40 miles away but they could have very well been light years apart because it’s official government policy on both sides that there will be no communication “with the enemy.” The Zoom meeting included friends on both sides. It went on for over an hour. I watched part of it but the audio quality and heavy accents prevented me from understanding the entire exchange.

A young Palestinian woman later saw the video of the Zoom meeting and tagged Hamas leaders. They arrested the organizer in Gaza on grounds that his conversation with the Israelis was a form of normalization.

I’ve heard different definitions of normalization; it appears to sweep the gamut from the very denunciation of any contact between any Israeli and any Palestinian to a more tailored and nuanced criticism of people-to-people programs.

The definition I find most helpful is:

Within Palestine, normalization is generally defined as any project; initiative; or activity in Palestine, Israel, or internationally that aims to bring together Palestinians and Israelis without addressing structural and power inequalities and/or without having its goal be opposition and resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Read this article published two years ago in the Friends Journal, a Quaker publication, by Mike Merryman-Lotze for a deeper understanding of a very complex subject. He writes:

It should be understood that the push against normalization is not about closing off communication because of issues of identity. Rather it is about identifying the principles and processes through which discussion and communication occur so as to not reify power imbalances or do harm to those who are already vulnerable or abused. It is about ensuring that when people come together, the focus is co‐resistance to the structures that oppress people, and not coexistence within oppressive systems.

The woman who alerted Hamas to the Zoom meeting appears to ascribe to a very blunt definition where any communication between Palestinians and Israelis is verboten. Here’s what she later posted on her Facebook account. She’s received a lot of support from Palestinians inside Gaza and outside.

As a Palestinian born and raised in the Gaza Strip, under endless blockade, survived two aggressive wars, covering the Great March of Return I believe that the worst sin any Palestinian can commit is Normalization; which is any joint activity between Palestine and Israel.

In other words, no form of joint activity, cooperation or dialogue with Israelis is unacceptable, even engaging with Israeli “Peace Activists”.

These actions are collaboration with enemies of us, the Palestinians.

No one ever taught me that Israel is my enemy, but every airstrike I heard told me that.

No one ever told me that talking with Israeli’s is unacceptable but every single body shattered into pieces covered with blood said it all.

It is not my intention to make an argument in support of normalization. Normalization is a matter writ large for the Palestinian community to explore and decide for itself collectively and as individuals.

But if the shroud of anti-normalization can be stretched so far and wide as to smother any communication between Palestinians and Israelis, I fear for the future of everyone in the Holy Land. 

I would never have met Sami, a Palestinian from Gaza who was a high school exchange student in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I wrote about Sami and his meeting with an Israeli security official in that U.S. high school many years ago.

I would never have read the Palestinian doctor’s book from Gaza, I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish.

I probably would never have traveled to Gaza in 2012 and learned so much about life under occupation, and the beautiful culture of sumud and determination, because my opportunity was sparked by Sami, Izzeldin, Mohammed and many others who connected with me.  I’ve had my difference of opinion with some in Gaza over the years, but if they choose to shroud themselves in darkness by condemning any connections between Palestinians and Israelis as haram, then I must part ways with them. My voice and actions in solidarity with Palestinians will fall on deaf ears.

For the time being, I’m hoping that there are many more Palestinians inside Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora who reject this mindset. I suspect they may feel it is safer to remain silent.

I also hope there are Israelis who recognize that “it’s the occupation, stupid!”  Speaking with Palestinians may be an important first step, but it’s certainly not the last. Israelis must have the courage to take action to dismantle the occupation.

 

 

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, nonviolent resistance, Occupation, People, Politics, Video

Crazy dream or a possible reset?

Gaza beachA naive and fantastical idea came to mind as soon as I thought about the coronavirus pandemic and my friends in Gaza “Since Israel and Egypt have sequestered, blockaded, imprisoned the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip going on 13 years now, making it nearly impossible for most to travel in or out, maybe the coronavirus pandemic will have a difficult time getting in and wrecking havoc.”

Yes, I know it’s a crazy notion. As of the date of this writing, there are 263 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the West Bank and Gaza. (Check these current Coronavirus photos from Gaza thanks to Aljazeera.)

However, this absurd idea was immediately followed by a second thought which shouldn’t be so crazy.

“This invisible microscopic virus has the power to upset the status quo, reset the human response to our most perplexing challenges, and open our hearts to the subatomic truth that WE ARE ONE.  Maybe the Israel & Palestine status quo will be upset, reset and opened up to a new reality for everyone.”

I’m watching for signs that this second notion might come to pass. Gaza camel

Come on. If the Saudi Royal family can seriously consider closing Mecca and suspending the annual hajj pilgrimage — one of the five pillars of Islam for every devout Muslim –something unthinkable just a few weeks ago, then the leaders in Israel and Palestine can certainly have their version of a “come to Jesus” moment when their hearts and minds open up to the “other.”

Even sworn enemies can call a truce.  Saudi Arabia, concerned about the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, declared a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen, the first truce in this five-year war.

Is Bibi a big enough man to do the same with respect to the occupied Palestinian territories? A unilateral end of the occupation with no preconditions.

Are Abbas and Haniya big enough men to recognize they can seize the moment and reach out to the Israelis as brothers to build a common future together?

I can already hear the howls from the Jewish zealots who don’t want to share the Holy Land with any Palestinians; and the screed from the Palestinians who don’t want to share the Holy Land with any Zionists. Maybe the coronavirus pandemic will work a miracle on all of them.

But one thing I’m certain of —- everyone in the Holy Land will go through convulsions of personal and collective tragedy and loss.  The coronavirus pandemic is an equal opportunity grim reaper.

And I’m also sure there are opportunities galore, if only the blind will remove their blinders.

On April 7, Al Quds University President, Professor Imad Abu Kishek announced that his university has “succeeded in producing a fully computerized ventilator capable of saving lives and providing a viable alternative to the shortage in Palestine and beyond in the standard commercial ventilators and other respiratory support machines”. The Palestinian Ministry of Health had reported that only 250 medical ventilators are available throughout all Palestinian hospitals and that two-thirds of these machines are already in use. The ventilators should be ready for production as soon as the Palestinian Standard Institute (PSI) gives its final approval to the prototype.  

I hope this time of Passover and the upcoming Ramadan will be potent reminders that We Are One.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under COVID-19, Gaza, Islam, Israel, Occupation, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion

“What are Trump and Netanyahu afraid of?” — New York Times editorial board asks

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

The New York Times Editorial Board, so often an apologist for Israel’s brutal occupation of the Palestinians, opined (August 15, 2019) that Trump’s and Netanyahu’s actions denying two U.S.  Congresswomen the opportunity to visit Israel-Palestine was a sign of weakness.

There are not many traditions of decorum that President Trump has not trampled on since entering the White House. But to put at risk, so cynically, America’s special relationship with Israel solely to titillate the bigots in his base, to lean so crassly on a foreign leader to punish his own political adversaries, to demonstrate so foul a lack of respect for the most elemental democratic principles, is new territory even for him.

America’s special relationship with Israel” translates to $3+ Billion every year from US taxpayers to Israel; an unquestioning veto at the UN Security Council to prevent any measure critical of Israel’s occupation; a willful blindness to the undemocratic, apartheid state that flaunts its “successes” while shielding from public view its grotesque human rights violations; a mindless deference to Israel’s hasbara and security mantra; and a chilling indifference to the suffering, killing and dehumanization of the Palestinians barely surviving under Israel’s military occupation. The N.Y. Times Editorial Board asks: “What are Trump and Netanyahu afraid of?” My answer is simple.

The Truth

Anyone who has lived, worked, volunteered or spent any bit of time with the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, occupied East Jerusalem, or the occupied Gaza Strip knows that the State of Israel has been wildly successful at spinning a righteous tale of its victimhood, its struggle for survival and security in a “dangerous neighborhood,” and its “peace-loving” liberal values.

The State of Israel has succeeded in creating this mirage by carefully pushing its hasbara  (promoting its version of the facts) to the exclusion of contrary facts which undermine Israel’s preferred reality.  And the New York Times, as well as some other western media, have been complicit in this charade.

Israel has also succeeded in keeping the U.S. Congress duped by indoctrinating them into Israel’s version of the facts with carefully orchestrated junkets to Israel that highlight the “special relationship” between our two countries; by keeping AIPAC (Israel’s Washington lobbyist) in the offices of freshman members of Congress so they are honed to the “correct path” from the beginning; and by unseating those members of Congress who won’t follow AIPAC’s direction. (Read about former Congressman Paul Finley who died August 9, 2019).

There are so many examples, books could and have been written about it.  My first education about the myths and propaganda came from one of the new Israeli historians, Professor Ilan Pappe, which I wrote about here.

My correspondence with the editors of the New York Times in 2016 is one small example of trying to break through Israel’s alternative reality. When the editors refused to label the Gaza Strip as “occupied” territory, I challenged them.  I wrote about it here. After several communications back and forth, my query finally ended up in the deep, dark hole within the bowels of the New York Times. Even the Democratic National Committee has apoplexy with the term “occupation”, as I wrote about here.

The four congresswomen — Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — the “Squad” as they’re known on Capitol Hill — are a threat to anyone who fears the truth. They’re challenging the powerful lobbyists, the accepted orthodoxy of the Democratic Party, and even the State of Israel’s hasbara.

I can only imagine that the New York Times Editorial Board must be sniffing the same scent that the Emperor who wore no clothes sniffed when it began to dawn on him that his reality didn’t match what everyone around him knew.

The truth — that’s what Trump and Netanyahu fear.

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Filed under Israel, Media, Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy

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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Filed under Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations

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

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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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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Filed under Israel, Occupation, People, Politics, Settlers, Uncategorized