Category Archives: Video

Meeting with Representative Lujan-Grisham (D-NM)

On Monday I’m meeting with my Congresswoman from New Mexico, Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM). This is quite an honor, and I’m especially thankful to be meeting her now because of her very busy schedule campaigning for Governor.

In April 2014, just a few months before Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Gaza, Representative Lujan-Grisham met with friends of mine from Gaza who were on a book tour in the US at the time.  Israel killed Refaat’s brother in its military assault soon after our meeting.

RefaatandRawan

Refaat Alareer and Rawan Yaghi meet with Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham (D-NM)

Representative Lujan-Grisham and her staff have always been accessible, and I appreciate that because I’ve heard that some other members of Congress are not so easy to connect with, especially on the issue that is important to me: Israel-Palestine.

I have three simple “asks” when I meet with her on Monday.

#1    Please cosponsor Rep. Betty McCollum’s H.R. 4391 (Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act).

#2    Please support UNRWA and pushback against H.R. 6451 (UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support Act).

#3    Please do not support any future Anti-BDS legislation if it comes to her desk as Governor.

McCollum’s H.R. 4391 addresses a serious human rights problem. 

An estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli security forces and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system since 2000. Independent monitors such as Human Rights Watch have documented that these children are subject to abuse and, in some cases, torture — specifically citing the use of chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation on children between the ages of 11 and 15.

In addition, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that Palestinian children are frequently held for extended periods without access to either their parents or attorneys. The United States Department of State and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child have also raised serious concerns about the mistreatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military custody.

Betty McCollum

Rep. Betty McCollum

In December 2017, Rep. McCollum wrote in The Nation:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has persisted for decades, including 50 years of Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands. To help sustain the occupation, Israel’s military and police forces have arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned thousands of Palestinian children, mostly for throwing stones. Israel’s military court and detention system is unique in the world in its systematic incarceration of children, in this case Palestinian children. It is a system that denies basic due-process rights and is cruel, inhumane, and degrading.

It should not require tremendous moral courage to stand up for the human rights of children. Sadly, the exception appears to be when those children are Palestinian. I firmly believe that Palestinian children deserve to be treated with the same humanity, dignity, and human rights as any child anywhere, including children in the United States or Israel.

For Israel, this means honoring its international commitments and ending the widespread and systematic cruel and inhumane treatment of Palestinian children. For the United States, it means prohibiting American funds from being used to support Israel’s abusive military detention of children and requiring the State Department to certify Israel’s compliance.

Rep. McCollum’s entire op-ed is here.  And she’s not alone in recognizing the damaging impacts that Israel’s military detention has on Palestinian children.

Representative McCollum provided a short explanation of H.R. 4391 in July 2018 on the Floor of the House.  See here.  As of September 2018, there are 29 cosponsors to H.R. 4391. I hope Rep. Lujan-Grisham will be #30.

UNRWA must be supported!

Trump’s assault on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is despicable and short-sighted. I wrote earlier about Trump’s decision to stop funding UNRWA here.  The New York Times’ Editorial Board agrees, noting that the “Trump administration’s decision to eliminate funding for the United Nations agency that aids Palestinian refugees is shortsighted.”

The Guardian noted that the impact [of Trump’s decision] will potentially be serious – and rapid – for the millions who rely on the agency. “Such a decision aims at closing schools, clinics, hospitals and starving people,” said Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator.

He said any vacuum in services could be exploited by extremists, and said the Palestinian Authority has been helping UNRWA fund camps in Syria and Lebanon for several years.

That spending, he said, was “in order not to allow terrorist organisations such as Isis to recruit our people there because of their needs. Now, with this cut, what does this mean? … Those elements that want to achieve peace based on a peaceful, two state solution, are being destroyed”.

I hope Representative Lujan-Grisham will voice her support for UNRWA by joining with her colleagues in the House who are pushing back against the Administration’s decision, and also oppose H.R. 6451 (UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support Act) which, like many bills in Congress, is cynically misnamed. H.R. 6451 purports to change the internationally-recognized definition of Palestinian refugee in order to magically erase millions of people who are refugees under international law and entitled to return to their homes and villages from which they were forcibly removed in 1948.

I’m also going to ask her to support my #Gaza5K campaign to raise funds for UNRWA to provide critical mental health services to Palestinians in Gaza.  Tax deductible donations can be made online here.

Anti-BDS Legislation in the States is Bad News!

Twenty-five states have passed some form of anti-BDS legislation. New Mexico has not and I’m going to ask Rep. Lujan-Grisham to pledge that she will oppose any attempts to pass similar legislation when she is Governor.

These bills don’t directly prevent Americans from boycotting Israel, but they are just as sinister because they usually include one of the following three components:

1)      Blacklists. Some of the anti-BDS bills/laws require the creation of blacklists of activists, non-profit organizations, and/or companies that are engaged in boycotts of Israel (including, in some cases, “territories controlled by Israel”). It’s 21st century McCarthyism.

2)      Prohibition on government contracts. Some of the anti-BDS bills/laws aim to punish individuals, non-profit organizations, and/or companies that support BDS by prohibiting the state or local government from entering into contracts with them. So, for example, under some anti-BDS bills, the United Church of Christ or the Presbyterian Church (USA) could be prohibited from contracting with the state to run social services like soup kitchens, homeless shelters, or youth programs because of actions they have taken in support of BDS.

3)      Pension fund divestment. Many of the anti-BDS bills/laws require state pension funds to divest from companies that boycott Israel (including, in some cases, “territories controlled by Israel”).

Esther Koontz Kansas teacher

Esther Koontz, Kansas teacher, credit to ACLU

These anti-BDS bills/laws are unconstitutional. The ACLU is challenging the Kansas anti-BDS law in federal court on behalf of a teacher who was denied employment when she refused to certify that she would not boycott Israel. I wrote about it here.

I hope Lujan-Grisham agrees that New Mexico must not pass one of these anti-BDS bills.

 

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Magical thinking

Donald (you know which Donald) wants to make the “deal of the century” in the Middle East and he’s assigned that task to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Here’s what we know about the “deal” thus far.

  • Make the issue of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future State of Palestine disappear by moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and declaring Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel. (See here.) No capital for Palestine, no problem.
  • Strip the more than 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan of their status as refugees, and pay Jordan to absorb them as new citizens of Jordan. That would solve the ‘right of return’ problem, at least for those 2 million Palestinians. (See here.)  No refugees in Jordan, no problem.
  • Dissolve the U.N. agency (UNRWA) that was created in 1949 to provide relief to the Palestinians displaced by the creation of the State of Israel. (See here.) No UN agency requiring funding to sustain the refugees, no problem.
  • Redefine who qualifies as a refugee to include only those individuals who were displaced 70 years ago, not their descendants. Of course, this would drastically reduce the refugee population which is around 5 million, nearly one-third of whom live in camps across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza. (See here.) No descendants of Palestinian refugees to be concerned about, no problem. JUST WAIT THEM OUT AND THOSE PESKY REFUGEES FROM 70 YEARS AGO WILL DIE.
  • Provide aid to the Palestinians in a way that makes clear that the international community does not recognize the vast majority of Palestinians who are currently registered as refugees are deserving of refugee status. (See here.) Again, no refugees, no problem.

Lest you think this is all magical thinking, H.R. 6451 – UNRWA Reform and Refugee Act of 2018 was introduced in July and would accomplish many of these points pushed by Jared Kushner.

By any objective measure, this is a war between the U.S. Congress and Palestinians with a clear goal to erase the impediments to the “deal of the century”. No refugees, no UNRWA, no capital in Jerusalem, no ‘right of return’ – such a headache for Israelis to contemplate – this deal will certainly fall right into place.

And Congress wants to ensure that the State of Israel maintains a military advantage which translates on the ground to Israeli snipers shooting and killing Palestinian journalists, nurses, doctors, women and children (some in the back, others who were merely standing and observing) — a total of 156 since the weekly protest marches at the Gaza fence began in March this year.

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

My delegation from New Mexico (Heinrich, Lujan-Grisham, Lujan and Pearce) have signed on as cosponsors to H.R. 5141 and S.2497 – United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 which states in part:

It is the policy of the United States to ensure that Israel maintains its ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military or emerging threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors, while sustaining minimal damages and casualties, through the use of superior military means, possessed in sufficient quantity, including weapons, command, control, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that in their technical characteristics are superior in capability to those of such other individual or possible coalition states or non-state actors.

(1) The quantity and type of precision guided munitions that are necessary for Israel to combat Hezbollah in the event of a sustained armed confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah.

(2) The quantity and type of precision guided munitions that are necessary for Israel in the event of a sustained armed confrontation with other armed groups and terrorist organizations such as Hamas.

(3) The resources the Government of Israel can plan to dedicate to acquire such precision guided munitions.

(4) United States planning to assist Israel to prepare for the sustained armed confrontations described in paragraphs (1) and (2) as well as the ability of the United States to resupply Israel in the event of such confrontations described in paragraphs (1) and (2), if any.

Read this language carefully and it’s clear that the U.S. Congress wishes to re-write the rules of war, and international humanitarian law, by authorizing the State of Israel to preemptively strike anyone (civilians included) who, in their sole discretion, poses a threat.

I suspect that many members of Congress don’t understand what they’ve signed onto, and they trust AIPAC’s propaganda. But the words speak for themselves, and anyone who values the rule of law must remove their name as a cosponsor.

That’s the message I’m sending to my delegation from New Mexico.

Palestinian President Abbas condemned the ‘deal of the century’ as the ‘slap of the century’.

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Ammar Campa-Najjar

Can a “tall, skinny brown kid” unseat a five-term Republican Congressional incumbent in San Diego? “Si, se puede!”  Getting young Democrats to the polls in November will be the key.

Campa Najjar

Ammar Campa-Najjar (Democrat running for Congress in San Diego County)

Ammar Campa-Najjar (check out his website) is the son of a Mexican-American mother and a Middle Eastern immigrant father who was born and raised in San Diego. What caught my attention is the fact that he and his family lived in Gaza for four years until war broke out, and his mother brought her two sons back to the U.S.

Ammar never had anything handed to him on a silver platter (unlike Rep. Duncan Hunter whose father, Duncan Hunter Sr, bestowed his seat in Congress to his son in grand dynastic fashion).

Duncan Hunter, Jr. needs to go quietly into the sunset, just ask the FBI agents investigating him and his wife. Duncan has already spent more than half a million dollars on legal fees trying to avoid an indictment. (Read more here.) Duncan is vunerable and Ammar is just the person to unseat him.

Campa veterans

Look who’s endorsed Ammar — Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, Democracy for America, J Street, Progressive Caucus, Move On, National Nurses United, Working Families, labor groups and a ton of others. (The full list of endorsements is here.)

Campa endorsements

No surprise why Ammar has racked up these great endorsements. His platform and positions reflect the needs of working families, students, the elderly, the disenfranchised, and those who haven’t had a voice in Congress from CD-50 in San Diego County for decades. Read his positions on jobs, immigration reform, healthcare reform, environmental protection, election reform, and education.

Campa-Najjar is not accepting any corporate money for his campaign. He needs our contributions, small and large, to get his important message out.  Please contribute here.

 

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Truth in the New York Times

Truth

The New York Times has been waging a not-so-subtle war on Trump’s “Fake News” campaign with its full page messages, such as the one above.  Or this one.

Facts new york times

Clearly, this is a very thoughtful campaign by the Editors at the New York Times to discredit Trump’s war on facts and on the news media. Good for them.

We should be asking ourselves, however, why the NYT Editors chose to focus on “truth” and not “facts.” Some might argue that “truth” and “facts” are synonymous, there is no difference. In an ideal world, I might agree.

The wise ones know we don’t live in that utopia.

We live in a world where the media giants, the consolidated empires like the Sinclair Broadcast Group, massage and filter and repeat ad nauseum the “truth” they deem fit to share.

Few media sources disseminate outright lies and fabrications. There’s an element of “truth” in every story, whether you find it on Fox News, Rachel Maddow’s show or The New York Times.  (I can hear my liberal friends howling “you can’t compare Fox News and The New York Times in the same breath!”)

What’s new is the relatively recent attack on the “truth” our commander-in-chief doesn’t like.  He prefers the way Fox News massages the “truth” rather than the mainstream media that criticizes him, even trying to punish journalists with whom he disagrees.

But don’t be fooled.  Both Fox News and The New York Times massage the truth to fit a worldview that they want you, the news consumer, to digest and accept.

One small example.

In the Spring of 2014, I read a New York Times story online that referred to the Gaza Strip as “occupied.” This story was published years after the State of Israel had formally removed its settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and Israel’s position was that it no longer “occupied” Gaza.

I was shocked and pleasantly surprised that The New York Times was not parroting Israel’s line, but instead acknowledging international law in a back-handed sort of way. Under international law, since Israel maintains “effective control” over the people of Gaza, it occupies the Gaza Strip.

A few hours later I returned to that same article online and found that the Editors had removed the term “occupied” and “occupation,” followed by a short disclaimer at the bottom noting that the original version had been a mistake. Over the next month, I engaged in a volley of letters back and forth with the Editors about this change. The New York Times Editors’ response to me is here.

Anyone who has been following The New York Times’ coverage of Israel-Palestine for any length of time understands that the paper massages the facts, at times more subtly than at other times, to favor Israel’s perspective.

If Americans are interested in the “truth” as presented by Israel and The New York Times, then some facts will be highlighted and other facts ignored or deliberately buried, as in the case of Gaza.

The Gaza Strip is occupied; the State of Israel is the occupation power; the future of the Palestinians and Israelis depends on Americans understanding the facts.

A good place to begin is by watching The Occupation of the American Mind, Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States. (The video link is here.)

Then let’s tell The New York Times and every media outlet that we want the FACTS. With the facts we will be the judge of what is the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Occupation of the American Mind

“Over the past few years, Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territory and repeated invasions of the Gaza strip have triggered a fierce backlash against Israeli policies virtually everywhere in the world — except the United States. The Occupation of the American Mind takes an eye-opening look at this critical exception, zeroing in on pro-Israel public relations efforts within the U.S.”

“Narrated by Roger Waters and featuring leading observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. media culture, the film explores how the Israeli government, the U.S. government, and the pro-Israel lobby have joined forces, often with very different motives, to shape American media coverage of the conflict in Israel’s favor. From the U.S.-based public relations campaigns that emerged in the 1980s to today, the film provides a sweeping analysis of Israel’s decades-long battle for the hearts, minds, and tax dollars of the American people in the face of widening international condemnation of its increasingly right-wing policies.”

Narrated by Roger Waters / Featuring Amira Hass, M.J. Rosenberg, Stephen M. Walt, Noam Chomsky, Rula Jebreal, Henry Siegman, Rashid Khalidi, Rami Khouri, Yousef Munayyer, Norman Finkelstein, Max Blumenthal, Phyllis Bennis, Norman Solomon, Mark Crispin Miller, Peter Hart, and Sut Jhally.

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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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All People Have Value

 

Kids and signsTrump’s policy of separating young children from their parents when they cross the border has galvanized Americans of all stripes to stand up and fight back.

Governors (Democrats and Republicans) are refusing to deploy their state’s National Guard to the border; television journalists are shedding tears on camera; mental health professionals are telling us about the long-term trauma these children will suffer; and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are telling the Administration to end this outrageous policy while proclaiming that “America is better than this!”

Marchers gathering 3

Protests were organized in many U.S. cities this week. I joined 500+ people in El Paso to March about 1.5 – 2 miles to the detention facility where many immigrants are being processed through the system after their children are removed and taken somewhere else. We chanted, yelled and some swore while the national and international media captured our stories.

By every measure, this action was successful, and Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso must be recognized for its effective organizing efforts.  Within 24 hours, President Trump had signed an Executive Order ending the separation policy.

Was it the media attention, or the Governors’ actions, or Congress, or a combination of many actions that caused Trump to reverse course? We may never know. But I have no doubt that when Americans are aroused and angry, we can move mountains.

All People in All Countries Have Value

Then why aren’t Americans aroused and angry over our government’s funding and support for Israel’s systematic killing, maiming and traumatizing of Palestinian children in Gaza?

If “All People in All Countries have Value” — how do Americans not recognize and become incensed with our government’s complicity in Israel’s war crimes?

[This isn’t the blog post to explain or convince anyone about Israel’s war crimes, but I acknowledge that lack of education may be part of the answer to my question.]

If Rachel Maddow and other journalists started crying on camera when reporting about American-made (and American financed) bombs falling on Palestinian children in Gaza, would that move anyone?

If a few Governors proclaimed their distaste for U.S. priorities, such as allocating $3+ billion each year to Israel’s war machine while cutting social programs at home, would that move anyone?

If there were simultaneous demonstrations and marches in large U.S. cities protesting Israel’s willful and deliberate killing of Palestinian children, would that move anyone?

Probably not.

Most humans (not just Americans) have a finite wellspring of empathy which seems to be doled out sparingly, as though we’re fearful that the well might run dry.  Immigrant families crossing the southern border with their children? That we can get our hearts and minds around. Palestinian families half way around the world, not so much, even though our government is directly responsible for the suffering of both.

Love Thy Neighbor

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