Tag Archives: boycott divestment sanctions

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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Filed under People, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations, US Policy, Video

Final exam #GreatReturnMarch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) the electromagnetic sphere,

4) the population registry, and

5) life and death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Occupation, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations

BDS Movement shines

The global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005, is receiving a lot of attention these days.

The stated goals of BDS are: the end of Israel’s occupation and settler colonization of Palestinian land and the Golan Heights, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and promotion of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Netanyahu and Israel’s government want to kill the BDS Movement

On January 7, 2018 Israel published its list of NGOs that support BDS — with the intention of preventing leaders of those organizations from entering Israeli territory — and thus Palestinian territory.  A U.S. Quaker group that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 is on the list. Even Jews who support BDS are targets for Israel’s ire.

Israel, the homeland for the Jews, only wants Zionists apparently, not just any Jew.

A joint team from the Strategic Affairs and Interior ministries has already determined the parameters that will serve as a basis for barring activists from coming into the country. Those who hold senior or important positions in blacklisted organizations will be denied entry, as well as key activists, even if they hold no official position.

Mayors and establishment figures who actively and continually promote boycotts will also be prevented from entering, as will activists who arrive to Israel on behalf of or as part of a delegation initiated by one of blacklisted groups.  See the full article here.

The “Anti-BDS Law”, passed by the Knesset in March 2017, has already been used against Americans (including American Jews) traveling to Israel and against elected representatives of the French republic (MPs, MEPs, and mayors of major French cities) who wished to visit Israel and occupied Palestine, with a particular aim to meet their Palestinian counterparts. In response, the Israeli government invented a new offence: that of applying for permission to visit! (Check out this article in the Middle East Eye).

The list of organizations now banned by Israel includes:

AFPS (The Association France Palestine Solidarité)
BDS France
BDS Italy
ECCP (The European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine
FOA (Friends of Al-Aqsa)
IPSC (Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
Norge (The Palestine Committee of Norway)
Palestinakomitee
PGS (Palestine Solidarity Association in Sweden)
Palestinagrupperna i Sverige
PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
War on Want
BDS Kampagne
AFSC (American Friends Service Committee)
AMP (American Muslims for Palestine)
Code Pink
JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace)
NSJP (National Students for Justice in Palestine)
USCPR (US Campaign for Palestinian Rights)
BDS Chile
BDS South Africa
BNC (BDS National Committee)

I was questioned for five hours by three different Israeli security officials in March 2016 when I was crossing into the West Bank from Jordan. And what did they want to know? Their chief concern was whether or not I supported BDS. One security official found photos I had posted on Facebook from my visit to Paris a few months earlier, including pictures of a BDS rally. She accused me of being the organizer of this BDS rally. I told her I support BDS because it’s a peaceful, nonviolent form of protest against the occupation but I was not the organizer of this BDS rally in Paris. She responded: “You’re a liar!”

King Hussein bridge

I’m allowed into the West Bank after 5 hours of questioning 

I was eventually allowed to enter, thanks (I believe) to the support I received from my Jewish Israeli friend who invited me to visit her kibbutz. The Israeli security officials had called her twice that afternoon — her responses must have been my ticket in.

But what is the government of Israel afraid of when it appears to be waging a global war against the BDS movement? Most undergraduate Psych majors would interpret Israel’s public relations campaign against BDS as a sign of Israel’s fear of the movement’s growing success.

If the BDS movement achieves its goal, Israel as a Jewish-majority homeland for the Jews will cease to exist, and the occupation will also end. It worked in South Africa; it realistically has every chance of working in Israel-Palestine.  THAT’S what Israel is afraid of — the end of the status quo.

Now it’s incumbent on BDS activists to share a narrative of what life in Israel-Palestine will look like for both Israelis and Palestinians after the occupation ends. Even though Israel is by far stronger than Palestine today, it is far weaker in spirit and imagination.  And fear among Israelis obscures their vision of a world beyond occupation.  Palestinians and international supporters of BDS must provide this alternative vision to replace their fear.

Norwegian lawmaker wants to bestow the Nobel Peace Prize on BDS

A few days ago, a Norwegian lawmaker nominated the BDS Movement for the Nobel Peace Prize.  He said:

“This nomination reflects the growing international solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for justice, dignity and freedom from the Israeli occupation.”

“If the international community commits to supporting BDS to end the occupation of Palestinian territory and the oppression of the Palestinian people, new hope will be lit for a just peace for Palestinians, Israelis and all people across the Middle East.”

“My hope is that this nomination can be one humble but necessary step towards bringing forth a more dignified and beautiful future for all peoples of the region.”

Nobel_Prize

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Jewish Federation’s astonishing admission to New Orleans City Council

In an odd twist of events, on January 11, 2018, the New Orleans City Council approved a non-binding resolution to review the city’s investments and contracts to ensure that they are consistent with human rights; and two weeks later the city council unanimously withdrew the resolution. The stated reason was to correct a procedural flaw in its passage.

There’s more to this story than meets the public’s eye. But first, read the resolution, reprinted in full below.

RESOLUTION

NO. R-18-5

CITY HALL: January 11, 2018

BY: COUNCILMEMBERS CANTRELL, BROSSETT, GRAY, HEAD AND WILLIAMS

WHEREAS, the City of New Orleans (hereinafter the “City”) was declared to be a Welcoming City on October 1, 2015, to create a more inclusive, receptive city environment for all local populations; and

WHEREAS, the City commits itself to protect, respect, and fulfill the full range of inherent human rights for all, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous other international human rights instruments; and

WHEREAS, the City enshrined these values in Ord. No. 19278 M.C.S.; 25700 M.C.S.; Code of Ord. Sec. 86-4. (Safeguard all individuals within the city from discrimination because of race, creed, national origin or ancestry, color, religion, gender or sex, sexual orientation, gender identification, marital status, age, physical condition or disability in connection with employment, housing, public accommodations, financial practices, and credit transactions; to protect their interest in personal dignity and freedom from humiliation; to make available to the city their full productive capacities in employment; to secure the city against domestic strife and unrest which would menace its democratic institutions; to presevre the public safety, health, and general welfare; and to further the interest, rights, and privileges within the city); and

WHEREAS, the City has pledged to meet its commitments to rewarding workplace diversity, promoting local industry, protecting the environment, and promoting equity through compliance with civil rights; and

WHEREAS, consistent with its responsibilities to its residents, the City of New Orleans, has social and ethical obligations to take steps to avoid contracting with or investing in corporations whose practices consistently violate human rights, civil rights or labor rights, or corporations whose practices egregiously contradict efforts to create a prosperous, educated, healthy and equitable society; NOW, THEREFORE

BE IT RESOLVED, That the City Council encourages the creation of a process to review direct investments and contracts for inclusion on, or removal from, the City’s list of corporate securities and contractual partners, according to the values of the City as referenced in this Resolution.

THE FOREGOING RESOLUTION WAS READ IN FULL, THE ROLL WAS CALLED ON THE ADOPTION THEREOF, AND RESULTED AS FOLLOWS:

YEAS: Brossett, Gray, Guidry, Ramsey, Williams – 5

NAYS: 0

ABSENT: Cantrell, Head – 2

AND THE RESOLUTION WAS ADOPTED.

Not a word about Israel, Palestine, BDS, or human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories. Not a peep about which investments or contracts the city should review. But as soon as the ink was dry, the Jewish Federation of New Orleans was down at City Hall lobbying councilors to rethink their support for this pro-Palestinian resolution because they found the resolution’s “anti-Israel sentiment was offensive.” And the elected officials fell right into line.

latoya-cantrell-51c5550333bea9d5

New Orleans Mayor-Elect LaToya Cantrell ((Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) )

Mayor-Elect Cantrell explained her reason for rescinding the resolution.

Compounding the procedural deficiencies in the adoption of this resolution, [suspension of the rules is allowed via Rule 17] its passage has shrouded the city in an undesired and damaging falsehood. Statements from outsiders now claim that New Orleans is now one of the largest cities in the United States supportive of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), a movement aimed at delegitimizing the State of Israel. This is totally inaccurate, untruthful and does not reflect the values of New Orleans. We are a city that is welcoming, and open to all. Well intentioned actions can be taken out of context by others for their own political benefit, with negative connotations that overshadow any original motives; I believe that is what happened with this resolution.

As mayor-elect, I am committed to leading a city that champions civil and human rights, democratic engagement, and transparency. While I will continue to examine issues of civil rights and fair contracting, I want to unequivocally reiterate that I am neither supportive of the BDS movement nor in any way hostile to the Jewish community or the State of Israel.

Clearly, the Mayor-elect did not hear from the UN Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk (Canada), who recently called on the international community to recognize Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestine as unlawful under international human rights law and to use the tools in its toolbox to bring an end to the occupation. (Photo on Left)

The Mayor-elect didn’t hear from Amira Hass, the Israeli journalist who has written extensively about the occupation and its impact on both Palestinians and Israelis, and most recently about Israel’s decision to blacklist people and organizations that support BDS. See her Jan. 8 column.  (Photo top right).

I suspect the Mayor-elect might not know Gideon Levy, another Israeli journalist, who has written for many years about Israel, Palestine, the occupation and BDS (photo middle right), nor Rabbi Arik Ascherman (photo bottom right) who lives in Israel and after 21 years leading Rabbis For Human Rights, recently founded “Torat Tzedek Torah of Justice,” dedicated to the human rights of Israeli single parent moms and Palestinians alike, because the Torah teaches Jews that every human being is created in God’s Image.

That a non-binding resolution — calling for the city to review its investments and contracts to ensure they’re consistent with the city’s support for human rights — might impact the State of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, is a damning confirmation by the Jewish Federation of New Orleans that at least some American Jews know that Israel’s dehumanizing treatment of Palestinians is contrary to international human rights law.

THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MOMENT!

I hope New Orleans Mayor-elect and the full City Council will reflect on this unintended admission by the Jewish Federation, and take it upon themselves to learn more about the non-violent BDS movement whose goal is not to “delegitimize Israel” (as the Mayor-elect seems to believe) but to focus the world’s attention on the human rights of Palestinians who have lived under Israel’s occupation for half a century. The City of New Orleans needs to get on the right side of history.

Loss of Land

 

 

 

 

 

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al-Nakba Day on Capitol Hill

Lora squinting in front of the US Capitol

Lora squinting in front of the US Capitol

Today I visited Washington, DC where the Capitol Building is getting a facelift. My goal was to connect with staff in each of the offices of the New Mexico delegation to talk about al-Nakba.  It went something like this . . .

Staffer: Welcome to the office. We always like to hear from our constituents.

Lora: Thank you for taking time to meet with me. I have a personal interest in the Middle East (and I proceeded to share a bit about my background to set some context).  Have you heard of al-Nakba?

Staffer: Nope!

Lora: Maybe you know about Israel’s Independence Day which was celebrated yesterday.

Staffer: Oh sure.

Lora: When the Zionists declared the new State of Israel in 1948,  they began to forcibly expel over 750,000 indigenous Palestinians from their homes, businesses, and land. Many were killed. Over 500 Palestinians villages were destroyed. That expulsion is referred to as al-Nakba or “Catastrophe” in English, which continues to this day.

Staffer: <furiously scribbling notes>

Lora: What does the Senator / Congresswoman think about Israel & Palestine?

Staffer: Well, Israel has a right to defend herself, but we think Israel’s bombing of schools and hospitals last summer was over the top.

Lora: The situation in the Gaza Strip is dire. More than 2,000 Palestinians (most of them civilians) were killed last summer. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds of families remain without shelter today. The status quo cannot continue. In fact, the U.N. issued a report in the summer of 2012 that said the Gaza Strip would be unlivable by 2020!

Staffer: Yes, but the situation is complex. What do you think the Senator / Congresswoman should do?

Lora: Well, we could begin by recognizing the State of Palestine.  “Direct negotiations” between Israel and Palestine will not be fruitful if the international status of the parties remains unequal. This week Pope Francis recognized the State of Palestine.  And as of October 2014, 135 of the 193 member states of the United Nations have recognized the State of Palestine.  I think it’s long past time for the U.S. to recognize the State of Palestine too.

Staffer:   Hmmmm! OK.

Lora: You know that the official U.S. policy regarding Israel/Palestine has been consistent for decades and under the Administrations of both parties. Carrots haven’t worked, it’s time to use sticks. Expressions of “concerns” about Israel’s settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories (a violation of international law) have not resulted in any change.

Staffer: What kind of sticks?

Lora: Such as reducing the $3+ Billion/year the U.S. taxpayers give to Israel;  supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; and refusing to shield Israel from criticism at the United Nations.

Staffer: What’s BDS?

Lora: <exacerbated but remaining calm> You know, like what we did with South Africa to help end the apartheid regime? And since Congress heard Netanyahu speak in March, maybe an invitation  to Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s permanent observer to the U.N., and former President Jimmy Carter, to speak to Congress would be helpful. Shouldn’t Congress hear from both sides?

Staffer: When an important vote comes up, the Senator / Congresswoman always asks staff “who have we heard from in the District about this issue and what did they say?”

Lora in Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham's office sitting with the office dog - Mattie.

Lora in Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham’s office sitting with the office dog – Mattie.

Which leads me to the point of this blog post. Don’t take it for granted that your members of Congress understand the issues in the Middle East. Reach out to them, call or write, and tell them what you think. Although the AIPAC and J Street lobbyists are known to Congressional staffers, other groups (Jewish Voices for Peace) and individuals may be unknown. We need to be heard in Congress. It’s easy (check out this website) and there’s no excuse not to.

My hunch is that not a single member of Congress has heard of al-Nakba. I know the staffers of the New Mexico delegation hadn’t.

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Tipping points in Palestine

Scientists are issuing report after report after report after report warning us about the climatic tipping points which will very likely result in abrupt changes to the world we live in.  Think . . .

  • The complete disappearance of Arctic sea ice during the summer months could dramatically change ocean currents in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
  • The melting of permafrost could lead to a massive release of methane gas, thus greatly accelerating climate change.
  • A longer dry season, precipitated by a temperature increase of just 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit, could cause a rapid die-off of the Amazon rainforest.

Some believe we’ve already crossed tipping points, while others hope we can take swift action to prevent us from reaching them. With the exception of climate change deniers, every rational person believes we are living in momentous times!

These are momentous times in Palestine too. I wonder if we can identify any tipping points there (an irreversible change of state). I’m thinking of three specifically.

  • Political tipping point?
  • Violence tipping point?
  • International tipping point?

With this new unity government, and elections promised later this year, Palestinians could have a peaceful transition to a new democratically-elected government if Israel and the United States cooperated.  The Central Elections Commission in Palestine certainly provides the necessary infrastructure for a fair and transparent election. But let’s not forget what happened the last time Palestinians went to the polls. The Israelis and Americans didn’t like the voters’ choice (Hamas) and almost immediately penalized the Palestinians in Gaza with a suffocating siege which continues seven years later. I wonder how many Americans would be inclined to go to the polls to cast their vote if they had suffered under the same conditions as a consequence of their last election.

Palestinians desperately need a political tipping point. As an outside observer, it appears to me that the next generation of Palestinians are waiting for the opportunity to lead but they are stuck between old leaders who have long overstayed their welcome and no longer enjoy any political legitimacy — and the ideologues who are more keen in representing their small, limited base rather than rising to the challenge of being leaders for all Palestinians (ie. sorta like the American Tea Party folks) — and the corrupt politicians who only think of themselves.

Netanyahu promises to sabotage the elections by preventing the Palestinians from voting in East Jerusalem. In May 2013, 371,844 Palestinians, comprising 39% of Jerusalem’s total population, lived in East Jerusalem.  Can you say d-i-s-e-n-f-r-a-n-c-h-i-s-e-m-e-n-t?!?! (79.5% of East Jerusalem residents and 85% of East Jerusalem children live below the poverty line – the worst rate of all time.)

I hope Palestinians will thumb their nose at the Israelis and Americans, and show the world how a REAL democracy in the Middle East holds elections. Not like el-Sisi’s military coup cum election in Egypt; and not like al-Assad’s mockery in Syria. The Palestinians will create a political tipping point if the next generation of young and educated leaders take the reins and I predict there will be no turning back.

If there is no political tipping point in Palestine, then there will surely be a violence tipping point. Contrary to the Israeli hasbara (media spin), Palestinians have been waging a campaign of nonviolence for more than a decade.

In the West, we only hear about the rockets from Gaza (not the missiles from Israel), and the suicide bombers from the Second Intifada (not Israel’s targeted assassinations of Palestinians which continue to this day). We have this very odd notion that only one side is provoking the violence (Palestinians) while the other side is defending itself from violence (Israel). Nothing could be further from the truth.

The low level violence that persists week after week is unsustainable (an odd term but that’s how Netanyahu and Obama talk about it). I suspect there will come a tipping point in the not too distant future when the young people rise up and decide enough is enough. A perfect storm is brewing with population growth, unemployment, and rising indignation in the West Bank and Gaza. “What do we have to lose?”

I shudder to think what full-scale violence will look like in the Middle East when one side has the sophisticated weaponry bought and paid for by American taxpayers, while the other side has rocks, some rockets, and ingenuity.

Without a doubt, the international tipping point will occur when the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement reaches a critical mass. I see it growing before my own eyes …. as one university after another in the United States decides to divest from Israel’s occupation. Most recently, the Gates Foundation decided to divest from the British security company G4S. Bravo Gates!!

Israeli leaders should keep an eye on these tipping points. Change is in the wind!

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#UNMDIVEST

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Money speaks. It always has, it always will.

So it’s completely logical to me that if you target the wallet of the recalcitrant  person, businesses, government or country, you’re bound to get their attention. If your action hurts them enough, they may change their bad behavior.

In a nutshell, that’s exactly what the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement is all about. This Wednesday evening, BDS comes to Albuquerque.

UNM Students for Justice in Palestine (UNMSJP) is asking the university to divest from Israel.  There’s a campus divestment movement all across the country, and it appears to be building steam.  The goal is to pressure Israel to end its illegal occupation!

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In addition to divestment actions, there’s a growing academic and cultural boycott gaining international attention. In February, the Academic Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli universities.

We believe that the ASA’s endorsement of a boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA.

The ASA’s vote raised the stakes considerably; its members were either condemned or praised.

Our resolution understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the Association in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions, or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.

The student government at the University of Michigan recently voted 25-9 against an Israeli stock divestment proposal but the proponents of the measure considered their action a success. A student noted:

What I was witnessing was the first true campus-wide discussion of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its alleged violations of Palestinian human rights. And it was a discussion that had grown to involve hundreds, and maybe thousands, of students.

The students at Loyola University in Chicago succeeded on March 18th to pass a student government resolution to divest from companies complicit in aiding the Israeli Occupation, calling on the University to remove its holdings from eight specific companies that play active roles in Israel’s human rights abuses.

Harvard, Princeton and the California university system have also considered Israeli divestment resolutions this year, with faculty as well as students getting involved in the debate.

What will University of New Mexico do?  We’ll know very shortly.

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Olives and Occupation: An Evening with Noam Chomsky

Professor Noam Chomsky is visiting Gaza, his first trip to this “open air prison.”  A few days ago he was in NYC speaking, along with Anna Baltzer and Norman Finkelstein, about The Jewish-American Relationship with Israel at the Crossroads.  I wonder how this 83-year old manages this schedule!

Professor Noam Chomsky in Gaza
October 19, 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.  I first met Dr. Sarraj in 2004 when Israel would not allow him to leave Gaza to travel abroad to accept an international award for his work as a psychologist.  A friend and I brought the award to Gaza and presented it to Dr. Sarraj at his Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.   Tonight Dr. Sarraj was sitting next to Professor Chomsky — two intellectual and moral giants.   I felt honored to be in the same room with them.

Dr. Eyad Sarraj (l) and Professor Noam Chomsky (r)

Chomsky spoke for more than 2 hours with simultaneous translation.  He started by drawing parallels between the Western Sahara, the last official colony under oversight by the United Nations, and Palestine.  Both are occupied.  In November 2010, the Sahrawi in Western Sahara rose up and resisted the occupation, perhaps the true beginning of the Arab Spring, but the French intervened to stop the UN from implementing a resolution calling for a referendum.   Sound familiar?

Chomsky discussed the West’s response to the Arab Spring, and the historical support for dictators in the region.  “Secular nationalism is considered dangerous by Western governments” whose agenda is to secure the region’s resources for the West.

Polls show that the country most feared in the world is Israel, and the US is the second most feared.  Some people think that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons, Chomsky said.

Chomsky turned to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and drew a sharp distinction between proposals “which are easy” and “sketching a way to get there” which requires serious advocacy.  There is only one alternative — the two-state solution — which is supported by the entire world except Israel and the United States.   He acknowledged the challenges presented by the “facts on the ground” and the settlement expansion.  In February 2011, Obama vetoed a resolution at the UN Security Council calling for an end to Israel’s settlement expansion, which also happens to be the official policy of the US.  That took some explaining.

When asked if the two-state solution is still a realistic alternative, Chomsky replied that there is no other proposal.  The one-state solution requires that Israel take the keys and implement civil rights for all equally.  There is no discussion about how to get there.  “Israel will not take the keys.”

We have to distinguish between proposals and advocacy.  People who say they support one state will undermine the two state solution, he said.  There’s only one proposal to get to a solution.  Supporting one state plays right into Israel’s hands, “an illusion that intellectuals often fall into.”

This is not an anti-Apartheid struggle in Palestine, which is very different from South Africa.   South Africa needed the blacks, Israel doesn’t need the Palestinians.  Israel just wants the Palestinians to leave.   “Palestinians need to deal with the world as it is, not as they want it.”

Chomsky said he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) but noted that BDS is just a tactic, not a principle, and it is important to ask how the tactic impacts the victim.  Amnesty International is calling for an arms embargo.  Human Rights Watch is calling for the end of all aid that supports settlements.  Both are strong examples of BDS, he says, even if they’re not called BDS.

Can the Arab Spring help Gaza?  Chomsky said it depends in what direction the Arab Spring goes.  Too soon to tell, but Egypt could be a big help.

What about the current U.S. elections?  Chomsky said that both parties are the same, but it would be disastrous if Romney is elected.  Chomsky doesn’t see any changes in the U.S. position regarding Israel whomever is elected.  70% of the American public has no political influence, they are disenfranchised. The top fraction of the 1% get what they want.  However, Chomsky noted that there has been a “diffusion of power” around the world and what could change in the United States is a rise in popular pressure.

He mentioned the PLO and a meeting in NYC many years ago when he and other Palestinian supporters met with Arafat.  Chomsky was very critical of the PLO at the time, and believes the Palestinians suffered as a result from the PLO who had a different idea of politics.  Chomsky and others were urging them to build a grassroots movement to support the Palestinians, but the PLO thought politics was having coffee at the White House with Kissinger.

Chomsky was asked tonight about Kissinger’s recent statement that “Israel will cease to exist in 10 years”.  Chomsky said people misunderstood that statement.  What Kissinger meant was that Israel should not accept the keys (the one-state proposal) because if it did, it would not exist.

On a positive note, Chomsky thinks young Palestinian intellectuals will have many opportunities to collaborate with others around the world to advance the Palestinian issues and agenda.  Now the most engaged groups on US university campuses are those that support Palestine, a big difference from 20 years ago.

Any advice to Abbas?  Chomsky said he thinks getting recognition at the UN General Assembly could change things for the better, but Abbas and Hamas need to find a way to work together.    At that point, Chomsky received a big applause and the evening ended.

I wish I could hand both Abbas and Haniyeh an olive branch.  I helped a family this morning pick olives from their trees, the beginning of this special season in Palestine.  That family and all Palestinians need Abbas and Hamas to rise above their personal agendas and show new leadership for a very troubled part of the world.

Lora helping with the olive harvest in Gaza

An olive branch.

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Occupation, People, Politics, United Nations, US Policy

Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American from Olympia, Washington was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003 as she stood in front of a Palestinian doctor’s home in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip.

Rachel Corrie

She was trying to prevent the home demolition by standing in front of the house wearing a bright red vest and waving her arms to alert the driver.  She had no weapons other than her body.  He ran over her, not once but twice.  Rachel was not alone.  Her friends watched in horror, trying to stop the driver.

Home demolitions are a common strategy used by Israel in maintaining the Occupation.   Israel asserts that home demolitions are necesaary for security reasons or because the owner never obtained proper permits to build (failing to mention that it’s nearly impossible for a Palestinian to get a building permit from Israeli authorities).  The infamous Caterpillar bulldozer  that killed Rachel Corrie came from the US and is now included in the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign.

In October 2004, I visited the site where Rachel was killed.  There wasn’t much to see — just a barren, weed-covered lot.   Rachel’s emails and journal vividly describe her experience.  They’re available here.

Rachel Corrie

Today an Israeli court in Haifa, in a civil wrongful death case brought by Rachel’s parents, ruled that Rachel was responsible for her own death and absolved the driver of the bulldozer and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from any wrong-doing.    The family’s attorney, Hussein Abu Hussein, made a statement after the verdict was read.

I haven’t read the court’s decision yet, but I’m concerned with this ruling.   Regardless of what one thinks about the wisdom of this form of peaceful protest (and I can reassure my children, family and friends that I have no intention of putting myself in harm’s way when I’m in Gaza), I am disturbed that the IDF has been exonerated from any culpability in Rachel’s death.

Will the court’s decision embolden the IDF to act with greater impunity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)?   What impact will this ruling have on international humanitarian law?  Will visitors and aid workers be further discouraged from traveling to the OPT?

I believe the Corrie family will appeal the decision.  I certainly hope so.   Check out The Rachel Corrie Foundation that her parents established after her death.   Rachel lived her life fully and completely — more than most people three times her age.

Rachel Corrie’s parents in the Haifa courtroom waiting for the decision August 28, 2012

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Filed under Gaza, Israel Defense Forces, nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, People

BDS and Coca Cola

A legal opinion  prepared by a professor of international law concludes that Britain and other European governments can safely ban trade with Israel’s settlements in the West Bank without breaching any laws or agreements. Professor James Crawford from Cambridge argues

that, by executing such a ban on trade with settlements, the EU would not be in breach of its World Trade Organisation obligations since, “as a matter of international law, the West Bank and Gaza cannot be considered to be Israel’s territory”.

This green light is good news for supporters of boycott, divestment and sanctions.   The BDS movement, which began 7 years ago, is really gaining steam this year. Recently, the well-known pension fund TIAA-CREF decided to divest $72 million in funds from Caterpillar, in part due to Israel’s use of this equipment in the West Bank and Gaza.  This divestment dwarfs previous divestitures by liberal religious groups such as Friends Fiduciary, a Quaker group that divested $900,000. I’ve been following the Presbyterians closely and was pleased to see this news.

Last week, the Presbyterian general assembly voted overwhelmingly—457-180—in favor of boycotting products made in illegal West Bank settlements. A similar measure passed at the Methodist general assembly earlier this year. The church resolution that passed calls for “the boycott of all Israeli products coming from the occupied Palestinian Territories” and for “all nations” to prohibit settlement imports. The resolution also singled out AHAVA, an Israeli cosmetics company that has a main factory in a West Bank settlement, and the Hadiklaim Israel Date Growers, also made in an illegal settlement.

There’s been much BDS debate (pro and con) but the most surprising comments have come from Norman Finkelstein, a pro-Palestinian advocate, who slams the BDS movement as a cult out to destroy Israel.   Watch some of the controversy here.

This is the best source of information on the BDS movement.  But I still haven’t found a comprehensive list of products that consumers should be boycotting.   The UK Boycott Israel Campaign 2012 has a list here.

I’m going to do my small part by boycotting McDonalds, Starbucks and Coca Cola.   The last might be the hardest for me.  I’m addicted to cokes.   Ugh!

John Pemberton, inventor of Coca Cola

And I have a distant family connection to the original Coca Cola drink.   A pharmacist by the name of Pemberton is credited with inventing the formula. Oh, how I wish I had that formula today.

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Filed under Economic Development, Israel, People