Category Archives: Settlers

Michael Sorkin – planning Jerusalem

COVID-19 is an equal opportunity grim reaper, claiming many lives — famous and not so famous. As of this writing, there are more than 1,170,000 infected and nearly 64,000 dead worldwide.  Last week, architect Michael Sorkin fell victim to the Coronavirus in New York City.

The thoughtful obituaries here, here and here won’t be repeated but please honor Michael Sorkin and read them.  (Dammit, obits have become a new normal for me, like wedding announcements many decades ago.)

Michael Sorkin

If we need labels to understand who this man was, then Sorkin was an architect, urbanist, writer, teacher, humanitarian, rabble-rouser, non-conformist, community organizer, anti-fascist, fearless and he probably disdained any such labels.

In Jacobin, David Madden captured the point I suspect Sorkin would want the public to remember.

Sorkin’s columns and books will remain relevant and readable because he started from a position anathema to mainstream architectural culture: that, as he put it in All Over the Map, “All architecture is political.” Sorkin relentlessly highlighted the politics of urban space and the social functions of architecture. “All architecture distributes: mass, space, materials, privilege, access, meaning, shelter, rights,” he wrote in a column collected in the 2018’s What Goes Up“In the main, architecture only abets the transparency of capital’s inequities.”

It was precisely this architectural complicity in capitalist inequality and social violence that Sorkin spent his career attempting to change.

Sorkin participated in the preparation of the first comprehensive plan for Jerusalem  which included the entire city, both the West and East sides. He must have been very knowledgeable about the simultaneous policies that Israel has promoted: Judaization (building and supporting the expansion of Jewish only settlements and neighborhoods) and de-Arabization (squeezing natural growth into tighter and denser blocs and forcing Palestinians out of the city to maintain the magical 70-30 demographic split in the city). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything that Sorkin wrote about that master plan.

All Ovder The Map

I did find a short piece that Sorkin wrote nearly 20 years ago about planning in Israel. I’m going to keep looking, and hope to find his more current thoughts on the topic.

Urbanism is Politics – by Michael Sorkin (2002)

During their recent “incursion” into the West Bank, Israeli forces were sent on a search-and-destroy mission to the Jenin refugee camp. Confronted with a labyrinth of streets far too narrow to permit tanks and armored vehicles, the Israelis elected to adopt a house-to-house approach. When a number of Israeli troops were ambushed and killed, bulldozers were introduced to topple houses and clear the site for safer access. The destruction of the refugee settlement was, among other things, an act of urbanism, Haussmannization raised to a flash-point. Although the consequences of the great boulevardization of Paris in the nineteenth century were not immediately lethal to those whose houses were destroyed to make way for Napoleon III’s great axialities, the impetus to demolish was motivated in part by military needs. The broad boulevards were meant to expedite troop movements around town and provide clear fields of fire in case of insurrection. 

Nowhere today is the political use of urbanism more glaring than in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This is true of the Palestinian suicide attacks on the benign settings of urban conviviality–the murder of Israelis as they sit in the cafes or shop in markets–and of the more bureaucratic styles of apartheid and occupation engineered by the Israelis. Both sides clearly understand the relationship of the patterns of the city and urban life to the politics of struggle for rights and privilege. And both clearly understand how to make cities into places of fear.

In this supercharged atmosphere, no urbanism can be spoken of outside its political dimension. Here in the U.S., our most pressing urban issue is sprawl, which we largely understand as an environmental question. In Jerusalem, sprawl has a different flavor. Israeli policy to “Judaize” has resulted in the construction of a ring of settlements–housing close to 200,000 people–that a more growth-sensitive approach would never countenance. By building beyond the boundaries of the existing conurbation, however, a ring of population has been imposed–like a wall–both to control the city and to thwart any potential division. Sitting in their arrogance on the tops of hills, the settlements represent an almost medieval style of planning, prompted by aggression and machismo.

The suburban sprawl of the West Bank settlements has been produced by the same means that generated our own suburbs. Like the cheap loans for returning veterans, the construction of the interstates, the accelerated depreciation of suburban commercial development, and the disproportionate subsidies for infrastructure, the Israeli settlements are the direct outgrowth of government policies meant to create a particular environment for particular people. In the settlements, the tools of planning produce their usual product: benign-looking clusters of Mediterranean-style, white-washed houses with red-tiled roofs, backyards, and pools. Here, too, is the idyllic atmosphere of suburbia, a rankling obliviousness that surely drives Palestinian villagers below to distraction. 

But the picturesque view can only be sustained until the frame is slightly enlarged. This picture shows the barbed wire, soldiers on patrol, and a striking contrast with more indigenous styles of building and of life. In this view, nearby Palestinian villages and towns come to constitute–in their morphological and economic difference–a kind of dispersed “inner city.” The familiar contrast between the city and its suburbs is played out in a tiny territory as the Israelis pursue simultaneous policies of urban renewal and ghettoization–urban renewal in the sense of the demolition and devaluation of the original inhabitants, and ghettoization not only for the Palestinians, but also for the Israelis, electively ensconced in their pleasant but beleaguered settlements. 

The political sprawl of the settlements–and the murderous rage of the Palestinians–reflect the impossible physics of a situation in which two hostile populations attempt to occupy the same space at the same time. Even nominally shared space–streets and highways– becomes a battleground.  The horrendous bus bombings are both murder clear and simple and an assault of the most fundamental freedom of the city, just as the construction by the Israelis of their private road networks on the West Bank are designed both to allow settlers to commute to Israel proper without passing through Palestinian towns and to divide the West Bank into a series of cantonments. Thus the traffic planner’s language of convenience and speed takes on an oppressive dimension that cannot be escaped.

On a visit a few years ago to the school of architecture at Bir Zeit University outside Ramallah, I was wandering the corridor of the civil engineering department when I came across a plan for a “bypass road” around a village. My immediate thought was that this was a part of the Israeli road network in the West Bank. Closer inspection revealed, however, that it was simply a traffic management scheme designed to avoid slow going in town for Palestinian motorists. The alternative road, in itself, is a somewhat questionable enterprise: witness the number of American towns that, bypassed by through traffic, have seen their economies whither.  While the bypass may be a foolish piece of modernization, it lacks the sinister dimension of the Israeli network, which has strong parallels with the historic effect of American inner-city highways in isolating and destroying poor communities of color.

The extreme politics of planning in Israel and Palestine results in a situation that is separate and unequal at many levels. Systems of water supply, sanitation, energy, transportation, greenspace, and other elements of infrastructure are–despite many decades of pieties on the part of the municipal administration in Jerusalem about equalizing services–totally skewed to Israeli benefit.  While Israeli Jerusalem has a reasonably integrated system of transportation, including highways, bus lines, airports, a train to the coast, and a good collective taxi system, the Palestinians are highly constrained in their ability to move, a product of both draconian and humiliating security arrangements that can extend a twenty-minute commute to hours and of a fundamental lack of transport services.

To get around, Palestinians must rely either on the Israeli systems–when available to them–or on their own network of cars, buses, and a collective taxi system of great potential efficiency, thwarted only by oppressive security delays. What is frustrating about all of this from the point of view of planning is that an efficient system for both Israeli and Palestinian Jerusalem is easy to imagine in purely technical terms. Jerusalem is a node on a linear urban system that runs from Nablus in the north through Ramallah, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, to Hebron in the south–a classic linear city, considered in purely physical terms. 

For transportation planners, the logic of a north-south system would seem clear-cut. Given the density of settlement and the relatively small distances, such a system might be highly efficient and profitable, and an instrument of accommodation, convenience, and peace. Unfortunately, politics stands in the way.

Still, there are precedents for cooperation. There is one part of the urban infrastructure where all of Jerusalem works together: the municipal sewerage system is joined. Perhaps this is an earthly harbinger of greater possibilities should justice and reason ever prevail.

2002 – excerpted from ALL OVER THE MAP: Writing on Buildings and Cities, by Michael Sorkin (2011)

 

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Filed under COVID-19, Israel, People, Politics, Settlers

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.

 

UK Parliament 11

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

Whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide is not a political question; Al-Tamimi’s case can proceed.

On February 19, 2019, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the lower court, and ruled that the case brought by Palestinians against Sheldon Adelson and other Americans can proceed.  Al-Tamimi v. Adelson, 2019 WL 660919 (C.A.D.C., 2019)

“The plaintiffs, both Palestinian nationals and Palestinian Americans, claim the defendants, pro-Israeli American individuals and entities, are conspiring to expel all non-Jews from territory whose sovereignty is in dispute. They sued in federal district court, pressing four claims: (1) civil conspiracy, (2) genocide and other war crimes, (3) aiding and abetting genocide and other war crimes and (4) trespass. Concluding that all four claims raise nonjusticiable political questions, the district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We now reverse.”

Martin McMahon

Martin F McMahon, Attorney for the Palestinians

The Palestinians’ complaint is over 200 pages and and the Court’s summary is chilling:

The plaintiffs are eighteen Palestinians who mostly reside in the disputed territory and a Palestinian village council. The defendants, all American citizens or entities, are eight high-net-worth individuals, thirteen tax-exempt entities, two banks, eight construction and support firms and a former United States deputy national security advisor. The complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to expel all non-Jews from the disputed territory. Specifically, the individual defendants (excluding Abrams) funneled millions of dollars through the defendant tax-exempt entities and banks to Israeli villages called “settlements.” Armed with this financial assistance, the settlement leaders hired full-time security coordinators who trained a militia of Israeli settlers to kill Palestinians and confiscate their property. The defendant construction and support firms destroyed property belonging to the plaintiff Palestinians and built settlements in its place and, here in the United States, the deputy national security advisor publicly endorsed the settlements. All defendants knew their conduct would result in the mass killings of Palestinians residing in the disputed territory. 

The lower court dismissed their complaint because it decided that five political questions were raised, and the courts typically avoid political questions which are better resolved by the Executive or Legislative Branches. 

Baker, the fountainhead of the modern political question doctrine, did not definitively resolve whether the doctrine is jurisdictional. Indeed, at one point, the Supreme Court suggested that the doctrine is not jurisdictional.

The political question doctrine arises from the constitutional principle of separation of powers. The “doctrine excludes from judicial review those controversies which revolve around policy choices and value determinations constitutionally committed for resolution to the halls of Congress or the confines of the Executive Branch.” Japan Whaling Ass’n v. Am. Cetacean Soc’y, 478 U.S. 221, 230 (1986).

The DC Court of Appeals found that only two questions presented in the complaint are potentially political questions which might prevent the judiciary from considering the case. The first is who has sovereignty over the disputed territory? The other can be restated as: are Israeli settlers committing genocide?  To determine if these two questions are jurisdiction-stripping political questions, the Court of Appeals turned to the Baker factors. [Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962)].

The first potential political question presented—who has sovereignty over the disputed territory—plainly implicates foreign policy and thus is reserved to the political branches. As the Supreme Court has explained, in our constitutional system questions regarding the “legal and international status [of Jerusalem] are … committed to the Legislature and the Executive, not the Judiciary.” Zivotofsky ex rel. Zivotofsky v. Kerry (Zivotofsky II ), 135 S. Ct. 2076, 2081 (2015). What is true of Jerusalem specifically is true of the entirety of the disputed territory. In fact, the Executive Branch recently addressed the question who has sovereignty over the disputed territorySee Statement by President Trump on Jerusalem (Dec. 6, 2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-president-trump-jerusalem (“We are not taking a position [on] any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.” (emphasis added) ).  On the other hand, the second potential political question presented—are Israeli settlers committing genocide—is a purely legal issue.  And it is well settled that genocide violates the law of nations. Simon v. Republic of Hungary, 812 F.3d 127, 145 (D.C. Cir. 2016)

 

Genocide has a legal definition. See United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide art. 2, Dec. 9, 1948, 78 U.N.T.S. 277, 280 (defining genocide, in part, as “[k]illing members of [a national, ethnic, racial or religious group]” “with intent to destroy [the group], in whole or in part”). Thus, the ATS—by incorporating the law of nations and the definitions included therein—provides a judicially manageable standard to determine whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide. We recognize that the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C.A. Sec. 1350 “enable[s] federal courts to hear claims in a very limited category defined by the law of nations and recognized at common law.” Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 712 (2004)

Naturally, the Department of Justice didn’t want the courts involved in this case and argued that the complaint could create an inter-branch conflict because, “[g]iven the level of political and military support provided Israel by the American government, a judicial finding that the Israeli armed forces had committed the alleged offenses would ‘implicitly condemn American foreign policy by suggesting that the [government’s] support of Israel is wrongful.’ ” Gov’t Appellee’s Br. 16.

However, the DC Court of Appeals concluded this concern, although entitled to deference, is now moot as the plaintiffs have waived any theory of liability based on the conduct of the Israeli military.

Ultimately, we believe that the court would create an inter-branch conflict by deciding who has sovereignty over the disputed territory. By answering the question—regardless of the answer—the court would directly contradict the Executive, which has formally decided to take no position on the question. We do not believe, however, that the court would necessarily create an inter-branch conflict by deciding whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide. A legal determination that Israeli settlers commit genocide in the disputed territory would not decide the ownership of the disputed territory and thus would not directly contradict any foreign policy choice. 

In the final analysis, the DC Court of Appeals concluded that the question who has sovereignty over the disputed territory does present a “hands-off” political question, but the question whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide does not.

If it becomes clear at a later stage that resolving any of the claims requires a sovereignty determination, those claims can be dismissed.

So Al-Tamimi and the others who brought this case climbed a very steep mountain to reach the courthouse doors. They have been admitted in, and now must climb Mt. Everest if they are going to prevail on their claims.

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Occupation or Colonisation? Ilan Pappe

Pappe talkThis talk at Queen Mary University in London interested me for two reasons.

I learned about Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians  and the history of the Nakba from this man when I read his book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” and I really wanted to see Professor Pappe speak in person.  (More about Ilan Pappe here.)

I also wanted to challenge Professor Pappe.  Last year he suggested (recommended?) that we jettison the term “occupation” in favor of “colonisation”. (Check out his comments and my response here.) Although I understood his argument, I disagreed with him but never had the opportunity to tell him directly. So I imagined I might be able to tell him in London — face-to-face — because it was the subject of his talk.

The event was clearly billed as a “students only” gathering with a warning that student ID would be checked at the door, but that didn’t deter me. I found my way to Queen Mary University on the East Side of London and the students who were gathered outside encouraged me to attend.

Thankfully, the room monitor waved me in without any questions. I was clearly several decades older than the students around me.

Pappe headshot

The evening’s talk was not what was billed in the title for the event. Professor Pappe’s presentation focused on Settler Colonisation as it challenges basic Zionist ideology.  He did not argue, as he has in the past, that the term “colonisation” should replace “occupation.”  I had no desire to challenge him on that point, especially when the students had so many good questions to ask him. It felt as though I would be usurping their time with Pappe if I had raised my hand too.

Pappe explained the difference between “classical colonisation” and “settler colonisation” where the settlers are looking for a place to redefine themselves, a national movement. The settler sees himself as indigenous, and sees the genuine indigenous people as a threat (a hurdle) to be overcome.

“The Palestinians are fighting an anti-colonialist war of liberation.”

He drew parallels to South Africa several times, and said the logic of dehumanization is firmly embedded in he Zionists’ DNA as well as Israel’s DNA.  Otherwise, they couldn’t do what they’re doing to the Palestinians and live with themselves.

“The Bible is not an action plan for colonisation.”

Sitting in a university in London, Pappe noted that the Zionists probably wouldn’t have succeeded with their settler colonisation plans without the help of the British. That acknowledgement helped me appreciate that the U.S. isn’t the only culprit in this tragedy.

Shivers went down my spine when Pappe mentioned that the Zionists’ massacres of Palestinians in 1948 was probably much, much worse than what he wrote about in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. We probably don’t know, and won’t know, the extent of the massacres until Israel opens up its archives to the public.  The documents from 1948 would have become public this year but Netanyahu approved an extension of another 20 years before they will be declassified. (What are they hiding?)

Pappe said that the settler colonialists in Israel have perfected two models — the open prison (West Bank) which was astonishingly approved in the Oslo Accords, and the maximum security prison (Gaza) where collective punishment is the norm and the Israeli military is using its might to carry out massacres.

Pappe and students

Academics around the world are collaborating on the issue of how to do decolonisation. Pappe supports the One Democratic State. He didn’t mention Jeff Halper, but I suspect Pappe must be collaborating in the same effort.

Pappe sounds optimistic for the future of Palestine, and believes the young Palestinians (both in Palestine and in the diaspora) will succeed, but it may not happen in his lifetime, he admitted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bridges

bridge-footbridge-path-2257

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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Allowing space for conflicting narratives

My son’s high school classmate, many years ago, recently visited the West Bank. Wajahat Ali has visited the Middle East many times and is quite knowledgeable about the history and the current political strife. His feature length piece in the June 2018 issue of The Atlantic reflects his insights from the people he met on his journey.

Wajahat Ali

Wajahat Ali

A Muslim Among Israeli Settlers — What happens when a Pakistani American writer goes deep into the West Bank?  is a gift and a pure joy to read.

The reader might immediately draw assumptions and put Wajahat, an American Muslim, into a box.  The box that describes how Muslims are suppose to feel about Zionists and which side (Palestinians, of course) they naturally can be expected to gravitate towards.  Wajahat doesn’t fit into any boxes.

I know he will receive criticism — probably from many different boxes (errr……sides) — dissecting the fine points in his long article. People won’t find fault with the facts — facts are facts and I’m pretty sure that Wajahat and his editors have fact-checked his paper thoroughly. Instead, they will argue about his emphasis or lack of emphasis, about his opinion or lack of opinion (“why didn’t you say this or that?”), and about his (gasp!) objectivity!

“As a result of engaging with Zionists, I found that once you allow a space for conflicting narratives, even those that might repulse you, the characters take up room in your mind and your heart. You can no longer unsee or unfeel them. You have to negotiate their presence without compromising your core principles.”

Of course, the same can and must be said about engaging with Palestinians, with Hamas, with anyone we consider the “other”.

If everyone in the region has a shot at interpreting God’s will, then I’ll offer my own vision. I believe that Jews and Palestinians are religious cousins, more alike than different. They have lived together in the past, eaten each other’s olives, worked each other’s fields, married each other’s family members. Learning to live together again should not be impossible. But this isn’t happening, not anytime soon.

Thank you, Wajahat, for your clarity of pen and clarity of heart. We need many more writers, and leaders, who have the courage to step outside of their boxes and allow space for the conflicting narratives.

Be sure to read Wajahat’s article here and watch this short 14 minute video.

 

 

 

 

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Israeli/Palestinian Conflict 2005 – 2017

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A well-informed friend (neither Palestinian nor Israeli) recently prepared this timeline of key events during the past 12 years with a particular focus on Gaza. He wishes to remain anonymous at this time, but I am very grateful for his time and effort in pulling this timeline together.  Its value is not only the timeline’s comprehensive treatment but also its impartiality.

2005

 

Government of Israel (GOI) starts implementation of the so-called “Disengagement Plan”, which consists of the voluntary and unilateral withdrawal from all military bases and soldiers from the Gaza Strip, as well as the dismantling of the 21 Jewish settlements located within the Strip, being Gush Katif the largest of all. The “Disengagement Plan” had been designed by the Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon.

 

GOI finishes the implementation of the “Disengagement Plan” successfully. Although facing some resistance from the young and more radical Jewish settlers there was no armed violence at all (unlike when Israel dismantled the settlement of Yamit in the Sinai Peninsula in compliance with the Camp David Accords from 1978). From there on, there has been no permanent Israeli presence or jurisdiction in Gaza. However, Israel retained control of certain elements, such as airspace, sea and borders, leading to an ongoing dispute as to whether Gaza is still “occupied territory” or not.

 

US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice visits Israel for the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Itzaak Rabin and mediates the “Agreement on Movement and Access” to facilitate the reopening of the Rafah Crossing (that connects the Strip to Egypt, and from there to the rest of the world) under the management of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the supervision of European border monitors. Rafah Crossing is reopened and becomes the first border crossing ever managed by the Palestinians (before they were in the hands of the Ottoman Empire, British Mandate, Egypt and Israel).

 

2006

 

The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas (which is registered in the list of terrorist organizations of both the United States and the EU) unexpectedly wins a clear majority in the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (Parliament), after Fatah can’t politically sell the “Disengagement” as its own achievement through negotiations due to its unilateral character. The PNA´s bilateral relations with Israel deteriorate a lot, even though its President Mahmoud Abbas, remains a member of the secular party Fatah.

 

Following a Gaza beach blast, in which seven members of the same family were killed, the armed wing of Hamas called off its 16-month-old truce. Although GOI claimed its Army was shelling 250 mts away from the family’s location; Palestinians claimed that the explosion was Israeli responsibility. An Israeli internal investigation report claimed the blast was most likely caused by an unexploded munition buried in the sand and not by shelling. This investigation was criticized by human rights organizations.

 

After crossing the border the Gaza Strip into Israel in the South, the Palestinian “popular Resistance Committees” attacked an Israeli Army post, killing 2 soldiers, injuring 4 and capturing Corporal Gilad Shalit. GOI orders the Army to launch military operation “Summer Rains”. The kidnapping of Shalit leads to several collective punishment measures against the Strip, among them the reduction of the fishing space and the regular closure of the Rafah Crossing. This is considered to be the first stage of the blockade of the Strip.

 

Second Lebanon War starts after Shiite militia Hezbollah members infiltrated Israel in a cross-border raid, captured two soldiers and killed three others. Israel attempted to rescue the captured, and five more soldiers were killed. Israeli Army responded, attacking Lebanon from earth, air and sea. The conflict resulted in the deaths of 1,191 Lebanese people and 165 Israelis. Simultaneously, the Army launched a counter-offensive to deprive cover to militants firing rockets into from Gaza, killing 23 Palestinians.

 

A UN study declared the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip “intolerable”, with 75% of the population dependent on food aid, and an estimated 80% of the population living below the poverty line. The Palestinian economy had largely relied on Western aid and revenues, which had been frozen since Hamas’s victory in the legislative elections.

 

Brokered by Egyptian mediators, Fatah reached a deal to end fighting between the Hamas and Fatah factions, both groups agreeing to refrain from acts that raise tensions and committing themselves to dialogue to resolve differences. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas brushed off comments by President Mahmoud Abbas, head of Fatah, who indicated he could dismiss the Hamas-led cabinet. Abbas unsuccessfully urged Hamas to accept international calls to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

 

2007

 

Fatah-Hamas negotiations in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) produced an agreement on a Palestinian national unity government.

 

After the increasing of intra-governmental tensions within the PNA Hamas launches an strike against Fatah loyalists in Gaza, taking control of all the Strip within a few days of intense fighting. Since then the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have remained fragmented, both geographically and politically.

 

US Administration under George W. Bush promoted the Annapolis Conference, a peace conference marked the first time a two-State solution was articulated as the mutually agreed-upon outline for addressing the conflict. The conference ended with the issuing of a joint statement from all parties.

 

2008

 

Israeli Army launches Operation “Hot Winter” in response to rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The operation resulted in 112 Palestinians and three Israelis being killed.

 

Israeli Army raids the Gaza Strip without a clear and direct reason for it, killing six members of Hamas. Hamas cancels the truce agreement that it had respected most of time. The armed wing of Hamas responds with rocket attacks on southern Israel.

 

Israeli Army launches Operation “Cast Lead”, a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip.

 

2009

 

Operation “Cast Lead” continues until January 18. After 22 days of fighting, Israel and Hamas each declared separate unilateral ceasefires. Casualties of the so-called “first Gaza War” are disputed. According to Hamas, they included as many as 1,417 Palestinians including as many as 926 civilians. According to Israeli Army, 1,166 Palestinians were killed, and 295 were non-combatants. “Cast Lead” is criticized by the Goldstone Report under the auspices of the UN.

 

Although Kadima wins the legislative elections its candidate for Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, doesn´t get enough support in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and the candidate of the Likud party Benjamion Netanyahu is appointed as new Prime Minister.

 

2010

 

Turkish and international activists of the “Freedom Flotilla” try to break Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, but were intercepted by the Israeli Army. When the Israeli naval commandos boarded the main ship (Mavi Marmara) the activists attacked them with knives and metal rods. 9 Turkish activists are shot dead after a quite negligent crisis management by GOI.

 

U.S. launches direct negotiations between GOI and PNA in Washington D.C.

 

GOI decides not to extend the construction moratorium in the settlements of the West Bank that had been agreed by the Obama Administration as a confidence-building measure with the PNA. A second round of Middle East peace talks between GPI and PNA takes place in Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt).

 

2011

 

Two young Palestinians with no previous security offenses infiltrate the settlement of Itamar and murder five members of the same family in their beds. This incident creates a lot of mistrust on the Israeli public opinion about re-launching the Peace Process.

 

Egyptian and Palestinian militants perpetrate a cross-border attack in southern Israel and killed 8 Israelis, 2 soldiers and 6 civilians. 40 injured. 5 Egyptian soldiers are also killed. This incident becomes an example of the militarization process and chaos in the Sinai Peninsula during the “Arab spring” taking place in Egypt.

 

Palestine applies to the UN General Assembly for recognition of Palestine statehood, calling it a “Palestine Spring”.

 

Hamas liberates soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for the liberation of 1.000 Palestinian prisoners (with very diverse backgrounds) by Israel.

 

Palestine wins membership in UNESCO while UN vote on statehood is put on hold. In the Security Council, Palestine gets no support from France and UK while US threatens to veto it.

 

2012

 

Gaza militants launch over 300 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel, wounding 23 civilians. Israeli Army retaliates with air strikes on Gaza targets, killing 22 militants and 4 civilians.

 

Israeli Army lunches Operation “Pillar of Defense” after perpetrating a “targeted killing” against Hamas´ armed wing head, Ahmed Jabari. Gaza officials said 133 Palestinians had been killed in the conflict of whom 79 were militants, 53 civilians and 1 policeman. Around 840 Palestinians are wounded. Hamas fires over 1,000 rockets at southern Israel, killing 6.

 

UN General Assembly upgrades Palestine to “non-member observer State” status in the United Nations, was adopted by the 67th session of the UNGA, coinciding with the celebration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinians People. Vote: For: 138; Abs.: 41 Against: 9.

 

In response to the UN approving the Palestinian UN bid for non-member observer state status, GOI announces the approval of building of housing units in the E1 Area that connects Jerusalem and Israel settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, while effectively cutting the West Bank in two pieces.

 

2013

 

Likud party wins the legislative elections in coalition with Israel Beitenu and Benjamin Netanyahu is re-elected as Prime Minister.

 

2014

 

Three Israeli youngsters are kidnapped and assassinated while hitchhiking home from their religious schools in settlements on the West Bank. GOI blames the assassination on Hamas, and claims it was ordered by one of its leaders in exile, Salah Al Arouri, who lives in Turkey.

 

Israeli Army rounds up more than 150 Palestinians, including Parliament speaker Abdel Aziz Dweik and several members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (who are supposed to enjoy Parliamentary immunity).

 

Israel Air Force launches dozens of air strikes across the Gaza Strip overnight, just hours after the bodies of three abducted Israeli teenagers were found in a shallow grave near the southern West Bank city of Hebron. Following the discovery of the bodies, Netanyahu issues a statement once again blaming Hamas. Hamas denies involvement.

 

In retaliation to the abduction of the 3 Israeli teenagers, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir is grabbed off the street after leaving his home in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhood of Shuafat, is beaten up and burnt alive, provoking a wave of riots in East Jerusalem.

 

Israeli Army launches Operation “Protective Edge” against the Gaza Strip. More than 2,200 Gazans are killed and 10,000 injured –from them around 70% civilians according to the UN– after almost two months of shelling from earth, air and sea. 73 Israelis get killed, from them 66 soldiers and 7 civilians. This “third Gaza war” becomes the most lethal and destructive of all military operations launched by the Israeli Army against the Gaza Strip.

 

The international community, under the auspices of Egypt and Norway, celebrates a donor Conference for Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. The PNA presents its National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan, for which so far has not even 50% of the funding that was pledged by the donors at the Cairo Conference from 12 October 2014.

 

2015

 

Likud Party wins the early elections and Benjamin Netanyahu gets reelected as Prime Minister for his third term in a row and fourth term altogether (at the end of his current mandate he will become Israel´s longest serving head of Government). The ruling coalition becomes Israel´s most right-wing Government ever.

 

All UN agencies release a joint report under the name of “Gaza 2020” stating that if current trends remain (population growth, lack of drinking water, lack of natural resources, energy restrictions, etc.) the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020.

 

The recurrent provocations by right-wing Members of the Knesset visiting the Haram Al Sharif in the old city of Jerusalem (third most important religious site for Islam, but also the most important for Judaism, as it is believed to be the site of the Temple Mount, where both Jewish Temples were erected before their destruction leads to the so-called “Knife Intifada” (sequence of attacks with knives against Israeli policemen and civilians).

 

2016

 

After several months of quiet the Jewish High Holiday season (New Year, Yom Kippur, Sukkot) leads to more visits to the Temple Mount by right-wing members of Knesset and even a couple Government ministers, provoking more riots and turmoil in Jerusalem.

 

2017

 

Yahya Sinwar replaces Ismael Haniye as head of Hamas for the Gaza Strip. Haniye replaces Khaled Meshal as head of the Political Office of Hamas in exile.

 

Three young Israeli Arabs manage to smuggle fire arms into the Haram Al Sharif and kill two Israeli Policemen at one of the entrances. GOI installs metal detectors and CCTV cameras at different entrances to the Holy Explanade, detonating a new wave of riots. After the killing of two Jordanian citizens by an Israeli security guard in Amman (Jordan) GOI finds the way out of the crisis, removing the detectors and the cameras after two weeks of violence.

 

Hamas announces it will allow the PNA to retake over some ministries, executing effective control over them and cancelling the “administrative committee” it had created last April after the PNA cancelled the payments for fuel (stopping the power station in Nuseirat) and reducing the payments for electricity (that it buys from Israel). It also announces that the Ramallah Government lead by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah can call for both legislative and presidential elections (the Legislative Council doesn´t work since 2007 and President Abbas rules by decree since 2010 as his mandate expired) creating new expectations for national reconciliation.

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Filed under Elections, Gaza, Hamas, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Politics, Settlers

Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint?

Rabbi Arik Ascherman originally presented these remarks at a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.  They were subsequently published in The Times of Israel on Sept. 20, here. I share them on my blog to find an audience that might not have seen or read his plea earlier.  Shana Tova to my Jewish friends and family.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Presentation for Senate Briefing – September 19th, 2017

My name is Rabbi Arik Ascherman, and I am here to plead for the life of Aysar’s village. After 21 years leading Rabbis For Human Rights, I recently founded “Torat Tzedek Torah of Justice,” dedicated to the human rights of Israeli single parent moms and Palestinians alike, because the Torah teaches us that every human being is created in God’s Image. I come before you without a political agenda. Defending human rights does take place in a political context. What I mean is that, while we believe that the Occupation must end because it inevitably leads to human rights violations, it is beyond our mandate as a human rights organization to take a position on a one state versus two state versus ten state solution, or where borders should be.

This year, September 21st is both International Peace Day, and Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new year. Also known as Yom Hadin, the day of judgment, in two days we will pray, “On Rosh HaShanah it is written. On Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who will live, and who will die… Who will be content, and who will suffer.” Many of you know this prayer because the late Leonard Cohen put some of the words to music, “Who by fire, who by water” In Susya’s case, “Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint? Who by direct force, and who by slow strangulation? Who by Jerusalem, and who by Washington?”

Arik at US capitol

I’m here, rather than home in Israel preparing for Rosh HaShanah, because the fate of Susya will in all likelihood be determined in Washington. I will explain, but first a bit of background:

The Palestinian residents of Susya lived on both sides of what became the 1948 border. They fled or were expelled, depending on your narrative, from their lands on the Israeli side. Their village on the side under Jordanian control was Susya. In 1967 they again came under Israeli control. In this age of alternative facts, some say that Susya never existed. The truth is that there are pictures of a visit by representatives of the U.S. Consulate, it appears in British records, and there are signs in the archeological site that used to be Susya pointing out the caves that were once homes. There is a 1982 report from the Israeli government lawyer, Plia Albeck. She is known as the “mother of the settlements.” She certainly did not accept the idea that most experts on international law who are not over the top pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian adopt, that the Fourth Geneva convention applies in the West Bank, and forbids the creation of settlements even on so called State Land. She proudly explained in her memoirs that she did everything she could to find lands to establish settlements. In her 1982 report, she is trying very hard to establish a settlement in the area. However, she writes that she has a problem. There is a Palestinian village called Susya, surrounded by 3,000 dunam (750 acres) of privately owned and registered land. It would take me all day to explain the ins and outs of determining land ownership. Suffice it to say that it is highly unusual for Israeli officials to acknowledge Palestinian lands as privately registered, certainly in the South Hebron Hills.

Albeck indicated that there was one hill where a settlement could be set up, and the settlement also called Susya was established in 1983. Several years later the settlers asked Albeck for help, and she wrote to them that they had so clearly built beyond the area she said could be built upon that any attempt on her part to help them would only get them in more legal trouble. More recently, a report by the pro-Settlement NGO “Regavim” noted that there were some 23 homes in the settlement of Susya built on private Palestinian land. Nevertheless, Israel maintains that there is no issue of eifa v’eifa (discriminatory double standards), but simply maintaining law and order.

In 1986, the residents of Palestinian Susya were expelled from their homes in order to make an archaeological site out of an ancient synagogue located there. Make no mistake, we Jews do have ancient roots in our homeland. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians should try to establish their root in our shared land by denying the roots of the other. However, rather than make the synagogue alone an archaeological site, the residents were forced to abandon their entire village. Some of them moved on to their nearby agricultural lands, living again in simple caves. Harassment began in the mid-90s. The villagers were again expelled after a settler was murdered in 2001 (Not by somebody from Palestinian Susya, and no actions have been taken against the settlements where settlers who murdered Palestinians live.) Settlers accompanied the soldiers, who demolished the caves and filled in water cisterns.

The Israeli High Court ruled that this was an illegal expulsion, and returned the Palestinians to their lands. However, they were left “Nisht aher, un nisht aher,” (Yiddish-neither here nor there), because the Court neglected to address how they could replace their demolished homes. In 1971 the Israeli army, in contradiction to the Hague Convention that requires leaving civilian affairs in the hands of the civilian population unless there is an overriding military necessity, abolished Palestinian local and regional planning and zoning committees. The army assumed all planning responsibilities. For the most part, they either inadequately plan for Palestinian building, or don’t plan at all. All of Susya’s applications to build legally were rejected. In the most recent attempt, the army committee ruled in 2013 that it would be “unfair” to force the Palestinians to live in an isolated area without infrastructure. There are of course many isolated settlements. Electrical lines and water mains actually run right by Susya from settlement to settlement, but Palestinian Susya isn’t given access to this infrastructure. The real reason, as a representative of the U.S. Consulate who attended the meeting of the army planning commission with us heard, was expressed by a representative of the local settlement council, “We all know that this hearing is a joke. You would never approve a Palestinian village so close to our settlement.”

In 2011, the local settlement council and Regavim initiated a Court appeal to have Palestinian Susya wiped off the face of the earth. They demanded that all the structures that Palestinians were forced to build “illegally” be demolished.

Here Washington comes in. Contrary to what Israel tells many foreign governments, the Israeli High Court has never ruled that Susya must be destroyed. In fact, the case is still in court. However, neither has the Court prevented the demolitions. Currently, the decision to demolish or not demolish is a government prerogative. The court is interested in an agreement, and will not order the destruction of Susya if the Israeli government objects. It’s therefore legitimate and crucial for the international community to express an opinion. Given the settlement movement’s intense pressure on the government to demolish, the only reason that Susya is still standing today is because of international concern led by the U.S. As a result of that concern, Israel budged in 2015. They agreed to meet with the residents of Susya.

I was present at those meetings. The army offered to recognize and help build Palestinian Susya on their lands. The only disagreement was over which part of their lands the village would be built. Defense Defense Minister Lieberman then replaced Defense Minister Ya’alon. In August 2016, Lieberman asked the Court for more time to study the issue. He requested a postponement until just after the U.S. elections. He has continued to ask for postponements.

Frankly, the common wisdom in both Washington and Jerusalem, was that the current U.S. administration would quickly give the green light for Susya’s demolition. Apparently, that hasn’t happened until now. It seems that in Washington there was an understanding that there will be no chance for a renewed peace process if the U.S. backs down on elementary issues of fairness and justice.

Susya’s residents must be allowed to live on their lands, whether or not there will ever be peace, and no matter who will eventually be sovereign over this area. If we take our Prime Minister seriously when he declares that there will not be a Palestinian state on his watch that only increases our responsibility towards the Palestinians who will remain under our control for the foreseeable future. However, let’s be clear. The obstacle to peace is a lack of hope. Polls show that both Israelis and Palestinians want peace, but neither believe that the other side wants peace. If you allow Susya to be destroyed, hope will be diminished. The Palestinian trust in the ability of the U.S. to be an honest broker will be further compromised.

We are extremely concerned that Washington’s position has now changed, or that Israel believes that Washington has no intent continuing to vigorously engage Israel on behalf of Susya. While we are waiting for the next scheduled court deadline in late October, Minister Lieberman recently declared that the Ministry is working on plans to destroy Susya and the community of Khan Al Akhmar in the coming months. (Khan Al Akhmar is one of the West Bank communities of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, intimidated into leaving Israel in the early 1950s. Along with Susya, Khan Al Ahmar is a very symbolic test case, because all the sides have drawn lines in the sand. Up until now, the international community has protected the school Rabbis For Human Rights helped build there.)

My questions to you are, “What can each of you do to ensure that the U.S. continues to vigorously lead international support for Susya. How many members of Congress will make personal phone calls to the President, his advisors, and the State Department?” I would prefer that human beings do not play God, deciding “Who shall live and who shall die.” But, that’s the reality. In two days I will stand before God to plead for a sweet and good year for myself, for my loved ones, for my people, for my country and for our world. I will pray for Susya, for Khan Al Akhmar, for Israelis in need of public housing and also for Israeli Bedouin communities such as Umm Al Hiran and Al Araqib. They too won’t exist in another year if Israeli government policy doesn’t change, or if there isn’t salvation from another quarter. However, our tradition teaches us that we cannot ask for God’s forgiveness and blessing before making every effort to make amends with our fellow human beings. In the same vein, I cannot come cleanly before the heavenly tribunal without standing first before you. You in this room and in this city are the tribunal with the ability to determine whether Aysar’s village will live or die. With power, comes responsibility. Please do not shirk your responsibility. If you do, this boy will not have a home. It is really that simple.

Some say that Israel’s democracy should make these decisions. That is disingenuous. Palestinians cannot vote for the Knesset. They cannot sit as judges on the courts that determine their fate, nor serve on the planning committee for their communities. Israelis cannot claim a democratic right to determine the fate of those not part of their democracy. Because Israel doesn’t have a constitution or a Bill of Rights, even Israeli Bedouin villages such as Umm Al Hiran or Al Araqib don’t have the protections that democracy is supposed to provide. Although Al Araqib existed before the State of Israel, and Umm Al Hiran exists where Israel placed its residents in 1956, they are a minority. The majority has “democratically” decided to destroy them. Al Araqib has been demolished nearly 120 times since 2010. Israel is currently seeking to complete the expulsion of the non-Jewish residents of Umm Al Hiran, in order to continue the building of Jewish “Hiran” on the rubble of Umm Al Hiran. As a Jew, an Israeli, a rabbi and a Zionist, it pains me to share with you these truths, but they are the truth.

Finally, it is not popular in Israel today to be a human rights defender. If you google, “Ascherman, knife,” you can watch me being attacked by a young knife wielding settler in October 2015. It wasn’t the first time I was physically attacked, nor the last. At the recent sentencing hearing, I said I was not interested in punishment, but rehabilitation. Every young person, whether or not I agree with him or her, and whether they are Jewish or not, should have their entire life ahead of them to fulfill dreams and contribute to society. Having expressed that to an Israeli court on behalf of my attacker, I certainly feel qualified to make the plea in the court before which I now stand -You. “Do not take from Aysar his dreams and his future.” The power is in your hands. Not to make a decision is to make a decision.

Thank you. Shana Tova. I wish you a good and sweet new year. Gmar Khatima Tova-May the final seal for Susya, Umm Al Hiran, Khan Al Akhmar, Al Araqib and for all of us, be the seal of life.

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Filed under Israel, People, Politics, Settlers, Spiritual - Religion, US Policy, Video

Stuck on the wrong side of the Wall

I’ve been sharing the stories of Palestinians from OCHA’s 50 Years of Occupation project. All of the stories are available online here.

I decided to divide them into 5 stories each day spread over a couple of weeks because I hope Americans will spend the time to read each and really feel what life is like under military occupation. OCHA has done an excellent job of compiling all of these stories. Please share them.

ABBAS YOUSEF 

Abbas

Abbas Yousef from AL JANIYA | RAMALLAH

Abbas owns land located inside the perimeter fence of an Israeli settlement, with two plots of olive trees.

An understanding with the Israeli authorities that allowed him to continue accessing his land was suspended between 2000 and 2006, during which time most of the trees were reportedly vandalized or uprooted.

Since 2011, farmers from Al Janiya have been allocated 3-4 days during the olive harvest season, and 1-2 days during the ploughing season, to access their land, following prior coordination with Israeli officials.

The authorities prevent some farmers from using tractors to plough their land, citing potential damage to the settlement’s sewage network.

In 2016, Abbas reported that the 50 olive trees that remained in this area had yield an average of ten gallons of olive oil per season, generating an income of approximately US$1,000, down from 30 gallons generating US$3,000 prior to 2000.

Map

REMAS AL GHOFARY

Remas

Remas al Ghofary and her sister from AT TUFAH | GAZA CITY (photo by UNDP)

Remas was three years old when the 2014 escalation broke.

Back then, she lived with her family in an apartment building, but it was destroyed in the hostilities.

Her mother, Afnan, told UNDP: ❝It has been almost three years now since we lost our home, our memories and my children’s first moments. Every day I wake up thinking it is a dream, but it is not. It is no longer my home.

Remas’ parents have no steady income. It has been difficult for the family to cover their basic living costs, especially now that they also have to pay for the house they are renting.

❝Our rent was covered by UNDP support for two years,❞ said Afnan. ❝Now we need NIS700 [US$190] every month to cover our rent. This has been going on since June 2016 when the funding stopped,❞ she added.

❝I am aware of the political situation and delays in funding, but it is becoming much more difficult to meet the needs of my children and my family. We did not get a grant to reconstruct our home, even though my husband’s family did. So, we are here with no cash assistance or hope to rebuild our home.

❝I do not envy anyone, but I am jealous of families like my husband’s who have the opportunity to go back to their homes.

I know one thing: unless my home is rebuilt, I am just counting the days with no purpose. I really miss my home!❞

Displaced girl

Displaced Palestinian girl in Gaza. (Photo by OCHA in February 2015)

Restrictions on the import of goods, including basic construction materials, imposed by Israel as part of its blockade, have complicated, delayed and, in some cases prevented reconstruction and repair of destroyed or severely damaged homes.

In other cases, where goods are available, families lack the financial resources to purchase them due to the poor economic situation in Gaza caused largely by the years-long blockade.

RIMAZ KASABREH 

Rimaz

Rimaz Kasabreh in BEIT HANINA | EAST JERUSALEM (Portrait photo by JC Tordai, 2010)

❝My name is Rimaz Kasabreh, I am 33 years old, and I’m from the northern West Bank. In 1996, I married my husband who is a resident of Jerusalem and moved to Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem.

❝We have three children. My husband and I were aware that family unification application was not going to be easy, which is why we didn’t submit an application for a few years. When we did, it took years for the Israeli authorities to process our application.

❝At the time I was working at a private school in the centre of the city although I didn’t have a Jerusalem ID card or a permit.

❝I needed to cross the Ar Ram checkpoint, located in Beit Hanina, to get to work and over the years, this became more difficult with my West Bank ID card: it happened many times that the soldiers at the checkpoint turned me back.

❝The school issued me a card to show I was employed by them but it didn’t help much. To avoid the checkpoint I used dirt roads and climbed over hills. I rarely made it to school in time. In winter I would arrive completely wet and cold, in the summer hot and sweaty.

❝In 2003, with the new (Nationality and Entry into Israel) law it became more difficult. It’s illegal for taxi and bus drivers from Jerusalem to take passengers from the West Bank. Taxi and minibus drivers would ask every passenger about their ID card. It became more and more difficult for me to go to work or anywhere in Jerusalem.

I couldn’t go shopping, I couldn’t visit my friends, I couldn’t take the children to school, or to a doctor or to summer camps where other children their age went. This affected my children. They were too young to understand why their friends’ mothers did things with them while I couldn’t…

❝Very often I took risks. One day, when I was nine months pregnant, the police stopped the mini bus I was on and when they found out my status they took the driver’s name and license number and warned him next time he was caught with someone from the West Bank they would confiscate his vehicle. I was released after they checked my records and found out I was married to a person from Jerusalem. They made me sign a piece of paper pledging I will not move or work within the State of Israel, which of course according to their definition includes East Jerusalem.

❝In October 2003, I was caught again in a taxi. It was the third time the driver was caught driving a West Banker so the police confiscated his taxi for three months and took away his driving license. The taxi driver blamed me and demanded compensation.

❝He used to wait for me outside the school gate and shout at me that if I didn’t pay him the money I would be in trouble. In the end, my husband paid him money. After this incident I quit my job. Most taxi drivers in Jerusalem recognized me and refused to take me. I was confined to the house and hardly ever left except to go to the neighbours’ house. It was very hard for me. I was not used to staying at home. My family could not visit me because they’re from the West Bank. They only come at Christmas and Easter, when Christians are given special permits to celebrate the feasts in Jerusalem.

❝About three-and-a-half years ago the Ministry of Interior finally accepted my application for family unification. They gave me a paper valid for one year, with which I could apply for a permit to stay in Jerusalem.

❝Although this didn’t mean I was a resident yet, at least it meant I could take a taxi and go places.

❝I’ve renewed this paper four times now. Each time my husband and I have to provide evidence that we’re living together in Jerusalem. We have to show that we pay water and electricity bills, the municipal tax and that our children go to schools in Jerusalem. It takes weeks, even months, just to get through to the Ministry of Interior for an appointment. They don’t pick up the phone. When delays in the permit renewal occur I

live in Jerusalem illegally all over again. I often took the risk and ask my husband to drive me around. I wouldn’t ask for rides from friends and relatives, as I know the consequences if they’re caught with me in their car

❝The third permit expired in December 2008. Although I requested an appointment in time and submitted all the evidence they requested, it took them months to get back to me. During this time I was confined to the house once again. They told me they were checking my security record and that of my family, including my parents, my brothers and sisters and their families, as well as my husband’s family.

❝The same happened in May 2009, when I applied to renew my permit, which I didn’t get until August. My husband and I employed a lawyer to speed up the family unification process.

❝After we paid him a large amount of money he told us the Ministry of Interior is not approving applications any more. I have no idea how long this situation will go on for.

❝My husband and I have been married for over 13 years now and I’m still unable to live a normal life with him and the children. When we enter Jerusalem from the West Bank my husband is allowed to cross by car, while I have to cross on foot. I can’t benefit from Israeli health care, so I go to Ramallah whenever I need health services. Luckily I have never been in an emergency while I was living in Jerusalem ‘illegally’.

❝I still cannot apply for a job. Nobody will employ me knowing that I am in Jerusalem on short-term permits which I have to renew every year.

❝Everybody knows that renewal is not guaranteed. It could happen again that I will spend months without a permit before the authorities process my request. I feel I am losing the best years of my life sitting at home. Many of my friends are in the same situation.❞

MANAL ‘AYYAD 

Manal

Manal ‘Ayyad from ABU DIS | JERUSALEM Western side of the Barrier

❝The Separation Wall has had a negative effect on our lives, impacting all the residents here. Prior to the Wall, we were one community, but the Wall has cut our community in two.

❝After the construction of the Wall, I don’t like to go to Abu Dis anymore (e.g. the eastern side). It takes more than one hour, and if the checkpoint is closed, ❝I need two or maybe three hours. I need to use two cars: one from our house to the checkpoint, then walk through the checkpoint, and finally take another car from the checkpoint to Abu Dis on the other side.

❝Once we were going to a wedding in Abu Dis, one of our relatives was getting married. But the Israelis closed the checkpoint. We were all ready for the wedding, but they prevented us from going to Abu Dis.

❝We stayed for one hour at the checkpoint, talked to them, to convince them to allow us through. In the end, we all became stressed and returned home. We did not attend the wedding.

❝Our location is very difficult. No one can visit us. Really, it’s very difficult for us. My hope is to wake up one morning to find that there is no Separation Wall.❞

 

SAMI AS SURKHI

AS SAWAHIRA ASH SHARQIYA | JERUSALEM

Sami’s neighbourhood of East Jerusalem was cut in two by Israel’s construction of the Barrier in the early 2000s.

His home remained on the eastern side while his daughter’s is located on the western side.

Recorded in 2014, this video was part of OCHA’s interactive map project, which marked the tenth anniversary to the West Bank Barrier by illustrating its impact on Palestinian communities in and around East Jerusalem.

Today,❞ he told us, ❝we find ourselves surrounded by a wall, which can best be described as a continuously bleeding wound.❞

1 Comment

Filed under Gaza, Occupation, People, Settlers, United Nations, Video

Words matter! S.Res.176

Dear Senators Udall and Heinrich,

Disappointment and frustration.

A half-century after the Six-Day War which culminated in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, it is extremely disappointing that the U.S. Senate continues to succumb to Israel’s revisionist history (propaganda).

Your support for S.Res.176, A Resolution Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem, along with your colleagues, is further evidence that the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) may achieve by unilateral and incremental steps, what Israel failed to do in 1967-1968.

The Palestinians consider East Jerusalem the capital of their future state. The United Nations, the vast majority of countries, and international law, support this interpretation of history. Your resolution does violence to the truth and to international law.

Israel never “reunified” Jerusalem, as your resolution proclaims, but occupied East Jerusalem and then began drawing municipal borders to strengthen Israel’s sovereignty over the city by creating a Jewish majority. The legal status of the City of Jerusalem is clear. Under international law, Israel occupies East Jerusalem.

S.Res.176 fails to mention the occupation and the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem who are not even granted citizenship in Israel but rather permanent resident status. In a precedent-setting case, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled earlier this year that the permanent residents of East Jerusalem deserve better.

Last year I visited East Jerusalem. It’s like night and day between the Jewish settlements and the Palestinian neighborhoods. One has green lawns and swimming pools while the other struggles to live on about half the amount of water recommended by the World Health Organization.  One has new schools and playgrounds with equipment for their children, while the other hasn’t had any new classrooms built in many years. Mothers are now holding classes in their homes.

In 2011, the High Court of Justice ruled that over the next five years, the Education Ministry and municipality must build enough classrooms in the public school system for all East Jerusalem students.  … Yet the latest report by the Ir Amim organization says the problem has only gotten worse: East Jerusalem currently lacks 2,247 classrooms, compared to about 1,500 when the High Court petition was filed in 2007. Over the past five years, only some 35 classrooms a year have been built – less than the number needed to accommodate the population’s natural growth.”

The State of Israel has been creating its “facts on the ground,” moving Jewish settlers into East Jerusalem and forcibly displacing Palestinian families out of East Jerusalem.

I encourage you and your staff to watch these two short amateur videos about life in East Jerusalem. In the first, an Israeli activist talks about why she supports the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. In the second, children show how settlers have taken over the front part of their home, and the family continues to live in the back.  Other families were thrown out into the street. Israeli, international and Palestinian activists, Sara Benninga among them, have started a growing solidarity movement and demonstrate there weekly to oppose the injustice of Israel accepting pre-1948 ownership claims by Jews, but not by Palestinians.

S.Res.176 reaffirms that it is the longstanding, bipartisan policy of the United States Government that the permanent status of Jerusalem remains a matter to be decided between the parties through final status negotiations towards a two-state solution; and yet the very title and preamble clauses state unambiguously that Jerusalem is undivided and belongs to Israel, with no mention of Palestinians and their aspirations for East Jerusalem.

Words matter!  Even nonbinding resolutions matter!  Please take note of that fact and don’t add your name to such propaganda in the future.

Sincerely,

Lora Lucero

P.S. This Thursday, June 8, you have an opportunity to hear from experts at a briefing on Capitol Hill sponsored by Defense for Children International – Palestine & American Friends Service Committee. Congressional Briefing: 50 Years of Israeli Military Occupation & Life for Palestinian Children. Please plan to attend or send a staff person.

Thursday June 8, 2017
9:30AM – 11:00AM EST

Cannon House Office Building, Rm 122
27 Independence Ave, SE,
Washington, DC 20003

UPDATE – June 9, 2017 – Response received from Senator Tom Udall. I wonder if writing to our elected officials in DC makes any difference.

Dear Ms. Lucero,

Thank you for your comments regarding S. Res. 176, a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

On May 24, 2017, Senators Mitch McConnell (KY) and Charles Schumer (NY) introduced S. Res. 176. Upon introduction the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. On May 25, 2017, the resolution was passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. On June 5, 2017, the resolution was passed in the Senate by a vote of 90 to Zero, with my vote in favor. I value receiving feedback from my constituents, and I appreciate your taking the time to keep me informed. Your help allows me to more effectively represent you in the U.S. Senate.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me.  Please feel free to contact me with your concerns regarding any federal issue by visiting my website at www.tomudall.senate.gov.  For more information, you may also visit my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall and receive up to the minute updates through my Twitter page at http://twitter.com/senatortomudall.

Very truly yours,
Signature
Tom Udall
United States Senator

 

 

 

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