Category Archives: United Nations

Cognitive dissonance at the United Nations

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

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

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

COI_Commissioners_HP

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

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

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

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

Osmar_Schindler_David_und_Goliath

Osmar Schindler (1869-1927)

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

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

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

Who is David and who is Goliath?

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

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

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

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

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

Selfie at the park

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

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

Thank you, Madam Vice President,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Demonstrators Shot in Violation of their Right to Life

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

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

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

Ms Fatou Bensouda

Ms Fatou Bensouda – Prosecutor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was Israel testing new weapons on the civilian population?

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

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

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

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

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

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Accountability needed to end excessive use of force against Palestinian protesters in Gaza, says UN expert

The following press release copied verbatim emphasizes ACCOUNTABILITY but who will hold Israel accountable?

GENEVA (5 March 2019) – The international community must take immediate and decisive action to ensure that Israel cease its violations of international law when responding to the ongoing demonstrations at the Gaza fence, a UN human rights expert said.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, welcomed the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into the deadly 2018 Palestinian protests in Gaza.

The Commission, which was mandated to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws, presented its findings on 28 February 2019.

“It found reasonable grounds to believe that, in all but two of the 189 fatalities investigated, the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces against demonstrators was unlawful,” Lynk said. “Accordingly, I support the Commission’s call for accountability with respect to those who used lethal fire unlawfully, and for those who drafted and approved the rules of engagement which permitted this illegal use of lethal fire.”

Among the dead were 35 children, 3 paramedics and 2 journalists. Another 6,106 demonstrators were wounded during the demonstrations.

The Special Rapporteur noted that, since the start of 2019, Israeli security forces have continued to respond to protests along the fence with tear gas, rubber coated bullets and live ammunition. As a result, a further five children have been killed in the past two months.

One such incident saw the killing with live ammunition of two boys (aged 14 and 17) on 8 February 2019, and following the protest, the death on 12 February 2019 of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy who was hit by a tear gas canister in the head. According to human rights organisations, the three boys posed no threat to Israeli forces. More recently, on 22 February 2019, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by live ammunition during a protest east of Gaza city. 

Lynk reiterated that international human rights instruments pertaining to law enforcement provide that firearms may only be used against persons if there is an imminent threat to life or risk of serious injury. He added that, in the context of an occupation, the killings at the Gaza fence resulting from the unlawful use of force might well constitute willful killings of the protected population, which constitute a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and potentially a war crime under the Rome Statute.

“We must ensure legal accountability and end impunity for the excessive use of force against largely peaceful Palestinian demonstrators, and the resulting arbitrary deprivation of life,” said the Special Rapporteur. “This is a grave violation of their right to life and it abrogates their guaranteed freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”

Lynk also endorsed the recommendations of the Commission that the de facto authorities in Gaza failed in their duties to prevent the indiscriminate use of incendiary kites and balloons, which caused economic damage and civilian fear in southern Israel. 

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the attention given by the Commission of Inquiry to the dire living conditions in Gaza, which have fueled the large demonstrations over the past year. He endorsed the Commission’s call for an immediate lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has repeatedly been described by recent UN Secretary-Generals as a prohibited form of collective punishment of the people of Gaza. In particular, he noted the dire impact of the blockade on the Gazan health system, which has significantly contributed to the deteriorating quality of health in the Strip. 

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

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

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

 

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The gift of quiet self-reflection

I grew up in a mixed family (Christian and Jewish). As a child, I loved opening a gift each evening of Hanukkah, and then on Christmas morning, opening a whole bunch more. As a spoiled, middle-class brat, both holidays for me were all about the gifts, with a smattering of religious ceremony and reflection thrown in for good measure.

Nearly half a century later, when I was living in Gaza for a few months (2012-2013), many new friends asked me “What are you? A Christian? A Jew? Something else?” Labels help us make sense of each other, but my standard response to my inquisitors was not so simple.

After explaining my family traditions, I told my new friends that I don’t consider myself a member of any organized religion today, followed by their expressions of  astonishment or disgust. Then I would explain that I try to live my life by one simple (yet not so simple) rule — to treat others as I would want them to treat me. The Golden Rule in the Christian faith is also a bedrock principle in Judaism and Islam.

Last night I wished my Jewish family, friends and colleagues a quiet time of reflection on this first night of Hanukkah 2018. Here’s what I wrote on social media:

I believe tonight is the beginning of Chanukah. I was going to wish my Jewish family and friends a “Happy Chanukah” but instead will wish each of you a time of self-reflection about what it means to be a Jew after 50 years of Israel’s military occupation. How is that working for you? How does it make you feel? I hope you have quiet time to reflect.

The responses ranged from disappointment tinged with anger, to support and agreement. (I’ve copied several below without author identification.

Wow, I have reflected on your post and am saddened. We always celebrated this holiday in the spirit of hope for humanity and kindness. None of us free from association with a country that has committed acts of brutality and sometimes barbarism. As Americans, we can point to any number of atrocities. To use the actions of a government to issue such a wish to a people, such as the Jews, is inappropriate.

And then this —

I absolutely agree [with the previous comment]. This is like asking those who observe Christmas how they feel about celebrating a holiday associated with a religon that committed the worst brutality and atrocities ever in the name of furthering its creed.

Writer #1 offered further —

We do not succeed in changing people’s hearts and minds through insulting them. I have worked on many campaigns, invested time, money, and effort to influence policies toward justice. I feel it is dangerous to say that Jews who are citizens of other countries are responsible for the Israeli government’s atrocities. The occupation needs to end, but we will not build a coalition by this approach.

And then a third writer chimed in —

I was going to wish my white American family and friends a “Merry Christmas” but instead will wish each of you a time of self-reflection about what it means to be white American, with access to all of America’s privileges, after a century of U.S. imperialism from death squads in Latin America to Vietnam to drones, the NSA, and support for Saudi Arabia. How is that working for you? How does it make you feel? I hope you have quiet time to reflect.

How does that sound to you Lora? It sounds very condescending and patronizing to me. To say that, I would be setting myself above the people I’m talking to, saying “*I* have reflected on these issues and obviously you haven’t so I’m asking you to do so”.

What you said is worse because, while Americans do have some responsibility for America (to the extent that our democracy works, which is not very well), you are assigning to all Jews responsibility for Israel. I do think it’s especially important for us as American Jews to oppose what Israel is doing, because the position of American Jews plays at least some role in American policy toward Israel (though again, in practice, there is not much democratic power). But that doesn’t mean we are responsible for Israel’s actions simply because we are Jews.

hanuka1Others felt I was conflating Jews with Zionists, which I’m clearly not.  Surprisingly, no one has called me an anti-Semite, usually the default position for many who disagree with my words.

A time of reflection is what I wish — and I hope the reflection is focused on Israel’s half-century brutal and dehumanizing military occupation of the Palestinians.

Why should American Jews reflect on Israel’s actions?

  • Because Israel’s government officials have declared ad nauseum that they represent Jews worldwide, and have even invited Jews living anywhere on Planet Earth to come make their home in Israel. (That will certainly help with the “demographic threat.”)
  • Because the U.S. government has aided and abetted this 50 year occupation with the largest financial aid appropriations made to any country (most recently $38 Billion over the next 10 years). The U.S. consistently shields the State of Israel from being held accountable at the United Nations. The U.S. Congress gives Israel’s leader standing ovations when he speaks at the U.S. Capitol, and it is certainly clear that the vast majority of Congressmembers are at the beck and call of AIPAC, Israel’s lobbying organization in the U.S.
  • Because Israel’s three military campaigns against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, its 12+ years of economic, political and cultural siege on Gaza, and its deliberate killing of men, women, children, paramedics, and journalists at the #GreatReturnMarch at the fence between Israel and Gaza since March 2018, has occurred without any reprecussions, and no Israeli leaders have been held accountable. The killings will surely continue.
  • Because American Jews can and are playing a very important role in educating Congress that “Israel doesn’t speak for us” and younger American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel by greater numbers every year. Some personal reflection must have helped move these particular Jews to speak up and against the occupation.
  • Because when an American Jewish constitutent has an opinion to share about Israel with their member of Congress, I believe it carries much greater weight than my opinion (no matter how informed or eloquent I may sound.)

My Hanukkah wish casts no blame on Jews as a group or as individuals, despite what some writers above might have felt. That’s perhaps the biggest reason why my Jewish family, friends and colleagues should spend some time this Hanukkah in self-reflection on the issue I’ve raised. They may be carrying the weight of Israel’s horrific human rights abuses but they shouldn’t.  Quiet reflection may do the soul some good.

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Eloquent truth-telling at the United Nations

International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People Special Meeting at UN Headquarters November 28, 2018

Professor Marc Lamont Hill at the United Nations calls for “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea” to chorus of applause.  This 20-minute video says all that needs to be said about Israel’s long-term, illegal occupation of Palestine, about human rights, about the facts on the ground today in the West Bank and Gaza.  CNN fired Professor Hill the day after he spoke the hard truth at the UN.

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UNRWA AND PALESTINE REFUGEE RIGHTS – New Assaults, New Challenges

By Francesca P. Albanese (Published in Institute for Palestine Studies, November 2018)

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Francesca Albanese

Although most Americans may not be aware of President Trump’s assault on the U.N. agency responsible for the Palestinian refugees, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) — those of us who keep our attention focused on Israel & Palestine have been watching his Administration’s pronouncements this year with a mixture of alarm, disgust and disdain.

In her monograph (available here) Francesca P. Albanese has clearly summarized Trump’s actions vis-a-vis UNRWA and the Palestinians, spelled out how his actions are contrary to historical facts and international law, and concluded with a commonsense recommendation: if the U.N. General Assembly believes that UNRWA needs to be reformed, then bring it up for discussion within the framework of UN rules and procedures. The United States and Donald have no authority (much less competence) to unilaterally reform any U.N. agency.

It’s very unlikely that anyone in the current U.S. Administration will take the time to read or digest Albanese’s points, but I’m going to forward it to members of Congress (especially the new ones taking office in January) because their staff needs to have this information in their arsenal. It might come in very handy when drafting speeches or arguments against Donald’s destructive notions of reforming UNRWA.

Access and read her full monograph here.

And today is always a good day to make a tax-deductible donation to UNRWA-USA to help provide critical mental health services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza.  Check out my fundraising page here. Thank you.

Francesca Albanese is a human rights lawyer (LL.M, SOAS) who spent 12 years working in the field of human rights, including with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and more recently with the UN Agency for Relief and Work of Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Her legal expertise includes research, policy advice and capacity building on various human rights issues -mainly in Asia and the MENA region. This includes the protection of refugees and migrants,  interaction with the international human rights system, the establishment of national human rights institutions and mechanisms for the prevention of torture.

 

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“It’s complicated!”

The two magical words — “It’s complicated!”

They diminish any inquiry or argument; they absolve the need for an explanation; they give a convenient pass for the rest of us to remain ignorant; and they obfuscate rather than enlighten.

The next time you hear — “It’s complicated!” — be offended and push hard for the explanation.  

You might hear that climate change is complicated, leading to feelings of despair and disempowerment.

I most frequently hear — “It’s complicated!” — with the topic of the Middle East and Gaza.

Why is Israel confining 2 million Palestinians in the largest open air prison in the world, preventing them from traveling, and enforcing a 12 year economic siege against them that has resulted in de-development of the Gaza Strip?  “It’s complicated!”

Why are Palestinians of every age and background spontaneously rising up and participating in the #GreatReturnMarch every Friday, risking death and dismemberment?  “It’s complicated!”

Why are Israeli sharpshooters stationed at the Gaza fence killing unarmed protesters, medics, journalists and children every Friday like clockwork?  “It’s complicated!”

Why are the parents of these young children allowing them to join the #GreatReturnMarch?  “It’s complicated!”

NONE OF IT IS COMPLICATED.  It’s actually very simple.

Israel removed its Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and created the open-air prison for the Palestinian refugees there because it’s easier to dehumanize, control and kill the “other” when they are physically separated from us.  We have experience with that methodology from the Warsaw Ghetto. “It’s simple!”

In 2012, the United Nations predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020.  Since then, Israel has launched two military operations against Gaza in 2012 and 2014, killing thousands, maiming tens of thousands, and destroying the infrastructure and key economic sectors in the Gaza Strip. Gaza is unlivable today (2018). That’s why Palestinians of every age and background are spontaneously rising up and participating in the #GreatReturnMarch every Friday, risking death and dismemberment. “It’s simple!”

Israeli sharpshooters are killing Palestinians demonstrating at the Gaza fence every Friday because they have received orders to shoot to kill, in clear violation of international law. There have been no reprecussions. No one has been held accountable.  “It’s simple!”

Why are parents allowing their children to join the #GreatReturnMarch? Rather than blame the victims, the question needs to be clearly recentered — why are Israeli sharpshooters killing children? Let’s not obfuscate the facts and absolve the perpetrators of this gross inhumanity.

We need leaders with moral clarity who will speak the simple truth as Representative Betty McCollum is doing with her bill to protect the human rights of Palestinian children held in military detention by Israel.  (H.R. 4391)

We need soldiers in every battlefield telling us the simple truth.

And we need to keep our hearts and minds open to be able to hear the truth.  It’s not complicated!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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