Category Archives: Politics

When the superpower soils his pants

Have you read it, the Iran Nuclear “deal”?  I haven’t.

I don’t intend to either.

President Trump says it’s a bad deal for the U.S. …. the “worst deal he’s ever seen.”  One commentator agrees, and notes that the agreement contained the seeds of its own destruction. And, of course, Israel’s Netanyahu praised Trump’s decision to withdraw from the “deal.”

World leaders from around the globe disagreed. The UK, France, and Germany all tried to dissuade Trump from his dangerous course of a “mix of unilateralism and isolationism” — “unisolationism” — by withdrawing unilaterally from the Iran “deal”.

Even Russia and China support the agreement and scolded Trump.

China’s special envoy to the Middle East, Gong Xiaosheng, said in a press conference in Iran the agreement promoted peace. “Having a deal is better than no deal. Dialogue is better than confrontation.” he said according to Xinhua news agency.

Yevgeny Serebrennikov, first deputy head of the defense and security committee in the Russian Upper House of Parliament also told RIA news agency Trump’s decision could put the nuclear talks between the US and North Korea at risk

Putin warned of the threat of “aggressive nationalism” and “claims to exceptionalism” at a World War II victory parade in Red Square on Wednesday. “All humankind and countries need to recognize that the world is very fragile,” he said.

And Stephen Zunes, a political commentator from the University of San Francisco, opined that Trump’s decision to withdraw is a “win” for the Iranian hardliners.  “We told you so! You can’t trust those Americans.”

As a mother with years of experience cleaning up after toddlers with soiled diapers, my response to Trump’s mess is to give some parental advice to the rest of the world.

It’s time now to send the child to his room.

You can do that by boycotting the United States (and Israel too).  Don’t visit or vacation in the U.S. — don’t buy U.S. exports (predominantly weapons) — don’t invite U.S. leaders to speak or engage with your country — don’t talk about the U.S. in any forum. And certainly don’t entertain any discussions about the Trump brand.

I know it will be difficult because the U.S. has played such an out-sized role in the global economy and politics since WWII, but now it’s time to send the child to his room. Time out might knock some sense into him.

 

 

 

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#GazaUnlocked #HeartlandtoGaza

The American Friends Service Committee organized an expert panel of witnesses to provide testimony about the current situation in Gaza as part of its Gaza Unlocked campaign. Check out the campaign here.

The expert testimony was held in Indianapolis, Indiana on Saturday, April 21, 2018 in the format similar to a formal hearing in Congress. The delegation from Indiana was invited to attend, including Vice President Pence, but they didn’t show up. Representative Andre Carson was unable to attend, but one of his staff members was able to attend in his place and he sent his regrets.

I showed up and watched the livestream testimony and Q &A that followed from my perch in the library at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

Gaza Unlocked

Jehad Abu Salim

The three experts were certainly very well qualified to speak about Gaza. Jehad Abu Salim is from Gaza and currently studying for his PhD at NYU.  Laila El-Haddad has lived in Gaza and written extensively about Gaza. She’s the author of Gaza Kitchen. Dr. Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies specializing in the Palestinian economy, Palestinian Islamism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They each spoke about the current conditions in Gaza as well as the political dynamics of Israel’s siege and long-term blockade on the Gaza Strip. The take-away message for me was that we must educate ourselves, our family, friends and communities, and especially our members of Congress.

Social media armchair activists are not making a difference if they stay within their bubbles and comfort zones behind the computer screens. We must get out into our communities and wake Americans up to the realities of the Israeli occupation. I hope a condensed and edited version of this testimony will be made available to help us educate others.

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Inching towards ethnocracy

inchworm

Inchworm

Slowly, methodically, step-by-step, just like an inchworm, the State of Israel will reach its destination in 2018, on its 70th birthday.

The State of Israel will officially discard its trappings as a western democracy, and cloak itself proudly as the newest Ethnocracy in the Middle East.

A political regime that facilitates expansion and control by a dominant ethnicity in contested lands. It is neither democratic nor authoritarian, with rights and capabilities depending primarily on ethnic origin and geographic location.

The biggest lie — repeated so often that few question it — is the statement that “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.” It’s a necessary lie from Israel’s perspective to gain legitimacy and support from its #1 fan club in the United States, the Congress.

In recent years, Israeli leaders have not been shy about proclaiming their true intention. The contradictions between being a Jewish state and a democratic state are now resolved —- dropping any pretense of democratic values in favor of a Jewish-only state that favors Jews, claiming all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, giving only the Jewish people the right of self-determination, allowing Jewish legislators to throw out Palestinian legislators from the Knesset, removing Arabic as an official language of the State along with Hebrew, and neutering the Israeli judiciary from overturning any laws passed by the Knesset regardless if they violate international human rights norms or not. (Israeli Parliament Endorses ‘nation-state bill’ for first reading – by Jonathan Cook – April 9, 2018 – AlJazeera)

Even scholars in Israel, such as Alexander Kedar, Shlomo Sand, Asaad Ghanem, Haim Yakobi, Nur Masalha and Hannah Naveh, have recognized Israel as an ethnocracy. 

What does this mean for the 20% of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish, but Palestinians?  What about the Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and occupied Gaza Strip?

The only conclusion:

  • They will live and die as second-class citizens, non-citizens and refugees with no hope of helping Israel to become a “consensual democracy” as envisioned by Palestinian leaders in 2006 in “Future Vision.”
  • They and their children will live in an apartheid state. “If being an apartheid state means committing inhumane acts, systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another, then Israel is guilty, a United Nations panel has determined in a new report.” Washington Post, March 16, 2017
  • The U.S. Congress must recognize that their alliance with the State of Israel contravenes our country’s democratic values, and we must distance ourselves from this undemocratic State.
  • Someone needs to make a new YouTube video repeating the following mantra over and over again so that the new reality and truth finally sink in.

Israel is an Ethnocracy and Apartheid State in the Middle East. <repeat>

Israel is an Ethnocracy and Apartheid State in the Middle East. <repeat>

Israel is an Ethnocracy and Apartheid State in the Middle East. <repeat>

 

 

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Why Israel is a Sacred Cow for America

Professor Noam Chomsky has been educating Americans about Israel-Palestine for many years, most recently in his talk in Oakland in March 2018.

Thanks to my friend, Mohammed Awad, I met Chomsky in Gaza in 2012.

An American Jew traveling in Palestine might raise the eyebrows of some people who believe the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is a hotbed of anti-semitic barbarism, but clearly Chomsky has been receiving the royal treatment here.  Quite the contrast to the reception he received two years ago when Israel denied him entry to the West Bank where he was scheduled to lecture at Birzeit, a Palestinian university.  Professor Chomsky’s visit to Gaza was sponsored by TIDA, a new homegrown institution founded by Dr. Eyad Sarraj. 

In this 12-minute video posted in 2015, Noam Chomsky answers the question: Why is Israel a sacred cow for America?

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Israel and Annexation by Lawfare

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

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

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

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

…. 

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

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

….

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

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

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

….

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

….

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

….

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

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Final exam #GreatReturnMarch

The final exam in my International Human Rights Law course included an essay on the issue of extraterritorial human rights. I’ve copied my answer below.

#10 — Consistent with the development agenda that accompanied the establishment of the post-war Bretton Woods order, article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights referred to the need to move towards an international order that enables countries’ efforts to implement economic, social and cultural rights at home, stating that “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized”. Is the emergence of extraterritorial human rights obligations, which have been increasingly recognized in recent years, sufficient to ensure that this promise is fulfilled?

“Sufficient” is the operative term in this question, and the answer must be NO.

The Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (adopted in 2011) are a very important milestone in building the “international order” envisioned in article 28, but as current events clearly demonstrate, the nations of the world have not effectively acknowledged or fulfilled their extraterritorial human rights obligations.

The Great Return March initiated by the Palestinian civil society in Gaza on March 30, 2018 illustrates the failure of Israel and other nations to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights guaranteed to everyone, including Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

Despite the fact that the State of Israel doesn’t acknowledge that it is a belligerent occupying force maintaining effective control over the Palestinians in Gaza (for the purposes of this discussion, I’m limiting the focus to Gaza and not the West Bank), the facts clearly demonstrate the contrary. The State of Israel strictly controls:

1) the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza,

2) the territorial air space, waters and land borders,

3) the electromagnetic sphere,

4) the population registry, and

5) life and death.

The Maastricht Principles (#18) spell out that a “State in belligerent occupation or that otherwise exercises effective control over territory outside its national territory must respect, protect and fulfill the economic, social and cultural rights of persons within that territory. A State exercising effective control over persons outside its national territory must respect, protect and fulfill economic, social and cultural rights of those persons.”

For more than 10 years, the State of Israel has imposed an economic, social and cultural blockade on the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. As a result of the blockade, and three military operations which have directly targeted the civilian population and infrastructure in Gaza (2008-09, 2012 and 2014), the United Nations has reported that the Gaza Strip is expected to be unlivable by 2020. (Some would argue that the Gaza Strip is unlivable today.)

Few objective observers would argue that the Palestinians’ human rights are not being violated on a daily basis, but no one has been able to hold the State of Israel accountable under international law. No one has found any effective remedies for the Palestinians. In fact, when the United Nations General Assembly speaks with a nearly unified voice condemning Israel’s violations of international norms and laws, the United States steps in to condemn the United Nations.

In light of this history and current events, what does the principle that “All States have obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, both within their territories and extraterritorially” mean in practice?

What are Israel’s obligations? What obligations does the United States have as a primary financial sponsor (providing more than $3 billion to Israel every year) and supporter of Israel’s blockade and military operations? What obligations do other nations have to step in and take affirmative action to protect and fulfill the Palestinians’ human rights? Each of the three entails extraterritorial obligations. Perhaps, the answer is different for each.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Maastricht Principles, human rights treaties and international common law provide important and laudable goals but they can’t function in a vacuum. They represent the collective desires of the human community, and reflect U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone’s famous quote: “We all do better when we all do better.”

Human rights treaties are promises that States have made regarding the interests of individuals, as opposed to interests of the States themselves, and therefore holding States accountable for fulfilling those promises is challenging. Even more challenging is holding states accountable for protecting the human rights of people outside of their borders.

When and how can States intervene within the borders of another sovereign State to protect the human rights of individuals? Refraining from acts that may cause harm to individuals (#13 of the Maastricht Principles) in another country may be easier than taking affirmative actions, but there are serious hurdles nevertheless. For example, in the case of the U.S.’s responsibility to protect the human rights of the Palestinians in Gaza, withholding political support for Israel at the United Nations and reducing military aid to Israel might be actions that the U.S. could take unilaterally without infringing on Israel’s sovereignty, but domestic politics in the U.S. render those ideas very unlikely.

Ultimately, extraterritorial human rights obligations will gain traction when the actions of the human community leads or shames their States to do the right thing. The people must lead and the governments will follow. In the case of the Palestinians in Gaza:

1) Education – There are complex reasons for the human rights violations perpetrated by the State of Israel against the Palestinians, but it may stem from a fear that one side gains human rights at the expense of the other. Us vs. Them. Israeli society must learn that human rights are not a zero-sum game. In fact, their security is greatly enhanced when every man, woman and child within Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories have secured their basic human rights. Maintaining the belligerent occupation is not only contrary to international law but impedes the security and fulfillment of many human rights that Israelis seek for themselves.

2) Communication with decision-makers – Americans have a responsibility to communicate with our leaders about the long-standing human rights violations occurring in Gaza with our government’s complicity. International human rights are strongest when they are understood viscerally at the local level. The link between the Palestinians in Gaza, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Standing Rock Water Protectors, the climate justice movement, and others, must be made clear to all because everyone’s actions to enforce human rights norms reinforces the human rights of others.

3) Changing the narrative – Israel’s hasbara has controlled public opinion in Israel and around the world for many years. Although it’s increasingly being met with skepticism, especially among the younger generation, Israel’s power and influence in controlling the narrative of the human rights violations in Gaza can even be traced back to the New York Times which refuses to denote Gaza as “occupied” since Israel removed its settlers and military from the Gaza Strip in 2005.  Palestinian voices must be given greater attention by the mainstream media if the world is going to understand the human rights issues involved in the occupation. Until the mainstream media fulfills that role, social media activists and others must elevate the Palestinian voices.

4) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – Palestinian civil society launched the BDS movement about 10 years ago, very similar to the BDS movement which toppled Apartheid South Africa. There’s little doubt that the BDS movement has gained traction in the past few years, and has had a significant impact. Israeli leaders recently passed a law to prevent BDS activists from traveling to Israel and Palestine. In December 2017, Israel’s government approved a plan setting aside $72 million to fighting the campaign to boycott Israel. Tying human rights to the State’s treasury and bottom line is helping move Israel towards recognizing and fulfilling Palestinian human rights by ending the occupation.

5) Freedom Flotillas and the Great Return March – Some people believe physical action is necessary to force States to recognize and fulfill their basic human rights. People from many different countries have joined together in several Freedom Flotillas to try to break Israel’s maritime siege, costing a number of them to lose their lives when the Israeli military boarded their boat and fired on them. On March 30, 2018, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza launched a peaceful march towards the border with Israel to highlight their determination to obtain their right to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled in 1947-48 when the State of Israel was created. On the first day of the Great Return March, 16 or 17 Palestinians were killed by Israeli sharpshooters at the border.

Physical actions such as these, when combined with all of the actions described above, move world opinion and action closer to fulfilling the human rights obligations set forth in the UDHR, treaties and other formal legal mechanisms.  States will move in the right direction when individuals create the parade for them to lead.

 

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Two lives, two deaths, highlight Congress’ willful blindness

Taylor Force

Taylor Force

Taylor Force, 28 and a first-year student at Vanderbilt, was stabbed to death while visiting Tel Aviv in March 2016.  He was with 29 students and four staff members from the university who had gone to Israel to study global entrepreneurship.

Rachel Corrie, 23 and a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, was crushed to death in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, in March 2003. She was standing with other ISM volunteers in front of a Palestinian home slated for destruction by Israel, along with other homes in the neighborhood.

Rachel Corrie
Rachel Corrie

 

The similarities in their deaths are striking.

Both Taylor and Rachel were Americans. Both were victims of deliberate attacks. Both were young, intelligent and, by all accounts, had tremendous gifts to give the world.  Both were unarmed and engaged in peaceful activities — Taylor was studying and Rachel was exercising Gandhian nonviolence resistance.

Taylor was killed by a knife-wielding Palestinian in the heart of Israel. Rachel was killed by an Israeli soldier driving a bulldozer in the occupied Palestinian territory outside of Israel.

Both families grieved their inexplicable losses, and sought some measure of justice.

This week, (March 2018) Congress will pass S.1697 and H.R.1164 — the Taylor Force Act. The bill ends $300 million in direct US funding to the Palestinian Authority if it does not halt payments to the families of “terrorists” who are either in jail or were killed carrying out their crimes.

In March 2003, Rachel’s parents asked Congress to help them get a full, fair and expeditious investigation into their daughter’s death, but Congress took no action on H.Con.Res.111. They also sued Caterpillar, Inc. alleging liability for Rachel’s death because the company supplied bulldozers to Israel knowing that they would be used in contravention of international law. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the lawsuit in 2009 based on the political question doctrine.

In 2005, the Corrie family also filed a civil lawsuit against the state of Israel. The lawsuit charged Israel with not conducting a full and credible investigation into the case and with responsibility for her death, contending that she had either been intentionally killed or that the soldiers had acted with reckless neglect. They sued for a symbolic one US dollar in damages.

In August 2012, an Israeli court rejected their suit and ruled that the Israeli government was not responsible for Corrie’s death. Former U.S. President Carter and some human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, criticized the ruling. 

I met Rachel’s parents in Gaza in November 2012 and asked if they were going to file an appeal. They both looked weary and said they didn’t know because of the costs and emotional toll it might entail. However, they did appeal and learned in February 2014 that it had been rejected by the Supreme Court of Israel.

The Corrie family established The Rachel Corrie Foundation to honor her memory, and to spread the values that their daughter embodied in her short life. In 2006, Alan Rickman’s play “My Name is Rachel Corrie” debuted in New York City. And every year, Palestinians remember Rachel and honor her as a martyr.

Congress continues to perpetuate the cycle of violence and trauma in Israel-Palestine that ultimately ended the young lives of Taylor Force and Rachel Corrie.*

They can’t stand back and view Israel-Palestine objectively, primarily because of the outrageous influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington (AIPAC). This is not in the best interests of the U.S., and I wonder how many more Americans, not to mention innocent Palestinians and Israelis, will pay the ultimate price by Congress’s willful blindness.

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

* Enacting Israel’s legislative agenda, funding Israel’s military to the tune of $3 billion+ each year, parroting Israel’s framing of the occupation which is contrary to international humanitarian law, and

 

 

 

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