#GazaUnlocked #HeartlandtoGaza

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

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

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

Gaza Unlocked

Jehad Abu Salim

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

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

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

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Inching towards ethnocracy

inchworm

Inchworm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only conclusion:

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Why Israel is a Sacred Cow for America

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

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

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

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

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Israel and Annexation by Lawfare

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

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

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

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

…. 

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

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

….

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

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

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

….

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

….

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

….

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

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Fact or fiction? #GreatReturnMarch

Yaser Murtaja

Yaser Murtaja – Palestinian journalist (killed April 6, 2018)

As the #GreatReturnMarch enters into its ninth day (of an expected 6 weeks of protest at the Gaza border), the Israeli propaganda (aka hasbara) is flying fast and furiously around the globe, almost as effectively as the Israeli military’s bullets are flying from the sharpshooters laying on their bellies on an earthen berm overlooking the protesters in Gaza.

A gullible American told me today that the “so-called peaceful protests” in Gaza are actually very violent — including balloons filled with acid and kites flying with razor blades — and Israelis have every right to defend their borders. (Sadly, I kid you not.)

While the New York Times isn’t this gullible, it’s still spouting the Israeli line that Hamas is effectively controlling the protests.  The organizers and civil society in Gaza have tried to set the record straight but with limited success given the entrenchment of the Israeli narrative.

The truth — there are burning tires, but no balloons filled with acid.

The truth — there are flags and kites, but no razor blades attached.

The truth — there are boys throwing rocks, but no guns or military weapons are present on the Gaza side of the border.

The truth — there are Israeli sharpshooters targeting and killing Palestinians in the back as they run away from the border.

The truth — there are Israeli sharpshooters targeting and killing professional journalists clearly identified as media by the vests they are wearing.

The truth — there are Palestinian families (old, young, and even a wedding party) participating in the #GreatReturnMarch on the Gaza side of the border.

The truth — there are Israeli civilians picnicking on the hill overlooking Gaza, celebrating Passover (the celebration of freedom) and watching the Palestinians demonstrating for their freedom.

Remember Yaser Murtaja, the Palestinian murdered by Israeli sharpshooters on April 6, 2018. He was trying to bring us the truth. It cost him his life.

 

 

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Leahy Law requires vetting of Israel’s gross violations of human rights

Many human rights lawyers and NGOs (here, here and here for example) believe that Israel committed gross human rights violations on Good Friday, March 30, when IDF sharpshooters killed 17 Palestinians and wounded hundreds more during the beginning of the #GreatReturnMarch.

Amnesty International called on Israel to immediately end its “heavy handed, and often lethal, suppression of Palestinian demonstrations.” Peace Now said that the casualties are “an intolerable result of a trigger-happy policy.” Shlomo Brom, a retired brigadier general at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, told The Times that while the military probably decided to use lethal force as a deterrent, “In my opinion they should have planned from the beginning to use minimal force and to prevent casualties.”

The United Nations and others have called for a credible investigation but Israel says it won’t investigate.

Even the Editorial Board of the New York Times (Israel Courts Catastrophe in Gaza Protests” – April 2, 2018) has called for an independent and transparent investigation. (I say “even” because I’ve found the NY Times editors to be highly deferential to Israel’s point of view in the past.)

Americans should be calling for an investigation too, especially given the enormous military support the U.S. provides to Israel.

US military aid to Israel

Thanks to the “Leahy amendments“, both the Department of State and Department of Defense are required to discontinue military assistance to units of foreign security forces that have engaged in “a gross violation” of human rights.

“No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” See 28 USC 2378d

“Of the amounts made available to the Department of Defense, none may be used for any training, equipment, or other assistance for a unit of a foreign security force if the Secretary of Defense has credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” See 10 USC 2249e

Amnesty International notes that the Leahy Law is a powerful, yet often overlooked tool to help prevent the U.S. government from directly arming human rights violators in the ranks of foreign security forces and to help the U.S. avoid complicity in the commission of human rights violations.  But it’s not a panacea!

In 2014, the Congressional Research Service published the “Leahy Law” Human Rights Provisions and Security Assistance: Issue Overview in 2014 available online here:

Implementation of Leahy vetting involves a complex process in the State Department and U.S. embassies overseas that determines which foreign security individuals and units are eligible to receive U.S. assistance or training.

Under the Leahy amendments, the US has reportedly cut off military assistance from security and military units in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey, Indonesia, Lebanon, and Saint Lucia.

The Congressional Research Office continues:

The State Department and U.S. embassies worldwide have developed a system that seeks to ensure that no applicable State Department assistance or DOD-funded training is provided to units or individuals in foreign security forces who have committed any gross violations of human rights. This procedure, designed to comply with the Leahy laws, is known as “vetting” or “Leahy vetting.” Primarily a State Department responsibility with input from other agencies, Leahy vetting is a multi-step process that involves staff at U.S. embassies abroad; the State Department Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) in Washington, DC, which is the lead State Department bureau for vetting; State Department regional bureaus; and other government agencies as required. The State Department policy provides for two separate processes, one for training and one for equipment and other non-training assistance.

Now, it’s time for Americans to raise our voices in support of human rights.

  1. Write and/or call your two senators and your member of Congress with two specific requests, and ask for follow-up on each one:

a) they should join Senator Bernie Sanders to comment publicly on recent events in Gaza;

b) they must inquire of the State Department and the Defense Department if the department’s vetting procedures have cleared or implicated Israeli military unit in the deaths and wounding of hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza in the last few days.

2. Since the Leahy vetting process typically begins at the U.S. Embassy in the country where the alleged violations occurred, write the U.S. Embassy in Israel and request that they initiate a credible investigation into the shooting and killing of unarmed, peaceful Palestinian protesters on March 30, 2018 pursuant to the Leahy Law.

Ambassador David Melech Friedman

U.S. Embassy Israel

71 HaYarkon Street

Tel Aviv 6343229, Israel

Email: JerusalemACS@state.gov

3.  David M. Satterfield, Acting Assistant Secretary , Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, using this contact form for the U.S. State Department.  https://register.state.gov/contactus/contactusform

My message to Secretary Satterfield:

I’m writing as an American citizen concerned about the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shooting and killing unarmed Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip on Friday, March 30.

As you know, the Leahy Law says: “No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” See 28 USC 2378d

Israel has rejected calls by the United Nations and others to conduct an independent and transparent investigation. I urge you to initiate the vetting process required by the Leahy Law, to determine if the IDF has committed gross violations of human rights.

Sincerely,

Lora A. Lucero

 

 

 

 

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An Israeli shares her thoughts on #GreatReturnMarch

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 “LIFE AND HOPE ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BORDER”

Julia Chaitin, PhD, is holding the sign on the right. She lives on a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip and is affiliated with the School of Social Work, Sapir College, “Other Voice” and “Friendship across Borders“. Julia wrote the following on the first day of the #GreatReturnMarch.

How did we get here???

Imperviousness, imperviousness, imperviousness

Indifference, indifference, indifference

Hatred, hatred, hatred

Fear, fear, fear

What did we think???

That if we continue to imprison them

They would sit quietly

What did we think???

That if we control them from the land, sea and air

And we do nothing to show them

That we understand that people cannot be caged up without hope

For anything

They would sit quietly forever?

What did we think???

You’re right, you’re right, you’re right

The Hamas is not innocent

You’re right, you’re very right

They are responsible for the lives of the people they control

But it doesn’t excuse us from our responsibility to act humanely and to stop punishing an entire population with a collective punishment

The Gazans are demonstrating and some are violently demonstrating

Because we pushed them, and pushed, and pushed them more to the wall

We made sure that they would see that there was no sign of future for Gaza

That there is a reason to live

We made sure to pressure them more, and more

And we really helped push them more into the arms of the Hamas

That also abuses them

And prevents them from having the most basic things that all people deserve

You are right – Israel is not the only guilty party

There is enough blame to go around

The Hamas

Egypt, too

The rest of the world

That simply ignores them and what is happening in Gaza

And meanwhile

16 Palestinians killed and hundreds wounded

And there’s still time for more…

Perhaps they would not have gone to the fence full of rage if for years we had treated Gaza in a completely different way?

As our neighbor?

As a place to create ties, at least, of respectful neighbors?

If we understood that year after year after year

Of planting the understanding that Gaza is a place without hope and without a future?

That the rage and the frustration will try to break down the fences of despair and desperation?

Enough

It is simply enough

We have had enough

All of the violence and killing and range and power has proved only one thing

We are in a dark, sad, scary, awful, unnecessary, bad place

Very bad place

All of us

Now we have to change direction

180 degrees

To stop with believing in the scenario that violence and control and closure

Will solve the problem

The only solution that has a chance is a civil program that includes employment, education, health services and development

A program that promises the people in Gaza that they will have water, electricity, medicines

We are all in the abyss

About face

Retreat

Now

 

 

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