Tag Archives: Kerry

The Choir Cheers

Josh Ruebner ended his talk Wednesday with a standing ovation from the 50-75 members of the choir who showed up at the Mennonite Church in Albuquerque.

Josh Ruebner

Josh Ruebner

He was in town to promote his new book — Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Verso Books 2013). He certainly has the cred to speak and write about this topic. He’s the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and before that was an Analyst in the Middle East Affairs at the Congressional Research Service. And former President Jimmy Carter attended Josh’s High School graduation! (Carter’s grandson was a classmate.)

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By the nods throughout the room, Ruebner clearly had a friendly audience. They were probably well-informed about the atrocities that Israel perpetrated in Gaza this summer. No need to recite the facts, although Ruebner shared many.

Did you know that Israel killed 500 children in just 51 days in Gaza — more than the # of all Israelis killed by Palestinians in the past 10 years?

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Israel demolished more than 18,000 houses in Gaza this summer, leaving about 6% of the population homeless. By way of comparison, if the City of Albuquerque was occupied and the occupier made 6% of us homeless, approximately 33,000 of my neighbors would be on the streets.

The Israel Defense Forces (more appropriately the Israel Offense Forces or Israel Occupation Forces) knocked out the sole power plant in the Gaza Strip; with no power there is no sewage treatment plant and more than 15,000 tons of raw sewage was flowing onto the streets in Gaza. Some estimate it will take $7.8 Billion to rebuild Gaza, less than 3 years of U.S. military aid to Israel. Ruebner believes Americans owe Palestinians compensation because our active support of Israel enables these atrocities to occur. I agree.

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What was the U.S. response to Israel’s acts of aggression (aka massacres) in Gaza this summer? President Obama called it “self-defense” but what about Palestinians’ right to self-defense? When a reporter posed that same question to a State Department spokeswoman, she said the “idea was offensive.” Secretary Kerry labeled Israel’s actions “appropriate” and “legitimate” . . . this from the man who was trying to be an honest broker between the parties in the peace negotiations last year! And members of Congress passed resolutions cheering Israel’s attacks and condemning Hamas and its use of human shields. Obviously, Congress was a bit misinformed. There’s no evidence that Hamas or anyone else on that side used human shields, but there’s clear evidence that the IDF used a Palestinian teenager as a human shield for 5 days to search for tunnels.

Obama can’t say he’s concerned about civilian casualties and then turn around and re-arm the aggressor (Israel) when its stockpile of weapons runs low.

Ruebner has been criticized for picking on Obama, but he says Obama has perpetuated the failed policies of past Presidents and is fair game.

The type of brutality the world saw in Gaza this past summer is not new. We’ve seen it before — in 1948, 1982 and 2008-2009. Israeli politicians are demanding Netanyahu finish what was begun in 1948 with the ethnic cleansing and destruction  of 531 Palestinian towns and villages.

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Why did Kerry’s “so-called” peace negotiations fail? We must buy Ruebner’s book to get that scoop, but he pointed to this article in the New Republic, an expose about why the negotiations fell apart. Palestinians understand the big picture, Ruebner said, and they know they’ll never get a fair shake. What Israel and the U.S. are trying to do is impose “bantustans” South Africa-style on the Palestinians. Why are Israel and the U.S. surprised when the Palestinians reject this idea?

Ruebner says we’re seeing the end of this paradigm of imposing bantustans in Palestine. Israel can go down 1 of 2 paths in the next few years. The first, with a Knesset member calling this summer for the genocide of the Palestinians, what we witnessed in July/August could be the prelude to something much worse.

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However, there’s a more hopeful path — ending Apartheid and recognizing Palestinian human rights. Ruebner says the time has come for getting into the faces of our politicians. We must make them understand these two paths. At this point, Ruebner circulated a petition around the room calling on Obama to hold Israel accountable. The BDS movement (economic, cultural and academic) must be our rallying cry because Palestinians say they want our help to “lift the boot of oppression from their necks.”  The occupation and system of oppression could “topple in a blink of an eye.”

He finished to a rousing standing ovation and then took questions. The audience was engaged and wanted to know more. Questions about the Palestinians going to the ICC and how the military industrial complex in the U.S. and Israel are intermeshed (check this out). Ruebner said that the only demographic in the United States that supported Israel’s assault on Gaza this summer were the older, white, male, Republicans.

Watching the Presbyterians debate BDS this summer was amazing. While the vote passed by only a slim margin, no one stood up to support Israel’s actions in Gaza. Instead, they argued the efficacy of the BDS movement.

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Another bit of good news. The Jewish Voices for Peace email list jumped to more than 200,000 this summer. Every time Israel attacks Gaza and the Palestinians, Israel loses American support.

Ruebner concluded with an observation. Both Israel and the U.S. are immature states that haven’t been able to own up to their enslavement and killing of the indigenous people. When are we going to own up to our responsibility to do restorative justice, here and in Israel?

As the crowd moved to the back of the room to buy copies of Ruebner’s book, my “non-political, Jewish” friend and I left. She had come to this event at my invitation even though she worried it was going to be outside of her comfort zone. And it was.

Not the content — she seemed to agree with most everything Ruebner said, and didn’t doubt that Israel was responsible for many injustices against the Palestinians, including the atrocities this past summer. However, she felt like an outsider, not part of the choir, and decided she won’t engage further in this issue.

I’ve been mulling over her comments, thankful that she came and also thankful that she felt she could honestly share her reactions.

We need people, like my friend, to engage if we’re going to turn this ship-of-state (Congress) around and correct the injustices that our government has enabled and encouraged Israel to commit against the Palestinians. The choir, alone, can’t do it.

How could we bring people like my friend into the choir? I’m not sure. The venue for this event was safe and welcoming. The organizers were friendly. The speaker was knowledgeable and well-versed.

Speaking to a supportive choir, however, takes on a different tone than talking to a room full of neutrals or skeptics. The art of persuasion is different. The assumptions are different. Even the body language, I think, might be different.

The very first thing I might try, if I have the opportunity to speak to an audience about Gaza, is to acknowledge that some in the room might be on the fence or unsure about how they feel about this issue. Then I might tell them that I value their opinion and thank them for taking the chance to push through the zone of discomfort to attend. Of course, I wouldn’t single anyone out.

Finally, I would invite members of the audience to write questions or comments on 3 x 5 cards in order to maintain some of that anonymity that newcomers usually seek. And I would tell the audience — “If you are on the fence or inclined to walk away after I’ve finished my presentation, then I’ve failed. Please help me understand how I could be more persuasive next time because there are lives in Gaza depending on it.”

Shujaya family

Shujaya 9

 

 

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Three Letters

What more can I do to stop the genocidal massacre occurring in Gaza today? Write letters, and more letters. Israel can only get away with this macabre slaughter of innocent civilians if the world remains silent.

The worldwide protests are encouraging, but are they enough? Take a look at these photos.

Today I sent the following three letters.

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Dear President Obama,

On July 12, the UN Security Council called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Neither side wants to back down and so the U.S. must step in and stop this massacre.

Your earlier offer to mediate a ceasefire might have been well-intentioned but you should know by now that the U.S. is not viewed by Hamas or the Arab world as a neutral party in this conflict. You cannot support a “right of self-defense” for the military occupier, and condemn the people who have been suffering under a brutal military occupation for 60+ years  the right to resist and use self-defense.

The only way Israel will have peace and security is by ending its military occupation. You know that, and most of the community of nations understands that, but the current government of Israel does not.

Regardless of what Congress says about the situation, as commander in chief, I believe you have the authority to do the following:

  • Use your bully pulpit and condemn Israel’s attack on the besieged Gaza Strip — the civilians, the hospital and clinics, the schools, the charity centers, the water desalination plant, the Mosques, the homes and the innocent civilians (men, women, children and the elderly).
  • Send a US Naval ship to the eastern end of the Mediterranean with a warning to Israel that the U.S. is facilitating access to the Gaza Strip from the Sea to bring humanitarian supplies.
  • Notify Al-Sisi of Egypt that the U.S. will not restore diplomatic relations with his country until there is evidence that the Rafah border crossing is open and accessible in both directions.
  • Notify Netanyahu of Israel that you are blocking financial aid to Israel until the bombing in Gaza ends, and he issues a statement that there will be no further settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The U.S. has the power to dramatically improve the situation in the Middle East for millions of people if you step outside of the box that Israel and AIPAC have forced you and your predecessors in for many years. This is your final term in office. Be bold. Be courageous. Do the right thing.

Sincerely,

Lora Lucero


Secretary of State John Kerry

Dear Secretary Kerry,

Many people, including myself, believed your peace negotiations between Netanyahu and Abbas were doomed to failure from the start, but I want to thank you for trying. My proposal for reaching an agreement might have been a bit out-of-the-box thinking, but we desperately need creative ideas.

Palestinians have been waiting for 60+ years for the State of Israel to end the military occupation and treat them with respect, dignity and equal rights. The failure of the latest “peace talks” confirmed their belief that Netanyahu and the current leaders in Israel do not want a viable State of Palestine created side-by-side with Israel. They don’t want to acknowledge the injustices that have been hurled on Palestinians for generations.

No one, least of all you, should be surprised that an oppressed population would defend their rights through acts of resistance. Peaceful, nonviolent actions have been the cornerstone of this resistance for many years, but have gone virtually unacknowledged by the West. It appears that Israeli leaders only understand terms of strength and violent resistance.

Surely, your advisers must have forewarned you about the consequences of a failure in the peace negotiations. Netanyahu doesn’t want to see the Palestinians unified. If he can’t win on the diplomatic front, he can prove his strength on the battlefield. Strength and violence are the only messages he values.

As a concerned American who deplores the fact that the U.S. is subsidizing this belligerent occupation to the tune of over $3 billion/year, I urge you to break the impasse by doing the following:

  • Call your counterpart in Israel and tell him that the U.S. government will not sit on the sidelines. Israel must understand not only our concern about the escalating violence but, more importantly, the actions we will take to intervene in this humanitarian crisis. Your words thus far have been unhelpful.
  • Call former President Carter and seek out his advice. No U.S. President has more knowledge and experience in the Middle East than does Jimmy Carter.
  • Shine a light on the atrocities occurring in Gaza by speaking publicly about the failure of the peace talks and condemning this slaughter of innocent civilians. “Never again” means never again will the free world turn its back as innocent civilians are indiscriminately murdered, as is occurring today in Gaza.

Please use your final months in office to show the world that the United States is a moral leader for what is right and just. Be bold. Be courageous. Do the right thing.

Sincerely,

Lora Lucero


Representative Lujan-Grisham

Representative Lujan-Grisham

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Representative Lujan-Grisham,

Thank you for meeting with me and my friends from Gaza, Palestine in your office in March. We appreciated the opportunity to share with you information about the Israeli military occupation that few members of Congress understand.

When Netanyahu launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8, he claimed he was protecting Israeli citizens from Hamas’s rockets launched from the Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces spokesman stated in a tweet at the beginning of the operation that “IDF has commenced Operation Protective Edge in Gaza against Hamas, in order to stop the terror Israel’s citizens face on a daily basis.”

Israel cannot bomb its way to peace and security. The only way to end terror in Israel is for that country to end the military occupation that has terrorized 3+ generations of Palestinians for 66 years. With no end of the occupation in sight, it should come as no surprise that the oppressed would resist. Peaceful, nonviolent resistance has been the hallmark of their actions for years, but has largely gone unacknowledged in the West. With the failure of the peace talks, and continued extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinians by Israel, and a suffocating 7-year siege, we should really be asking how the U.S. can play a more constructive role in ending the occupation.

H.Res.657 is not a constructive message, in my opinion. Reaffirming that Israel has the right to defend itself is a ludicrous statement given the fact that Israel is the occupying power over land (the occupied west bank and Gaza) that doesn’t belong to it. The right of self defense belongs to those whose lives and land are being threatened by the occupier. If Israel agrees to end its belligerent occupation, then it will have the right of self-defense if attacked in the future. Here is a primer about the history of the occupation which I have found very helpful in understanding current events.

Please use this opportunity to raise questions about the military occupation with your colleagues in the House. If I can answer any questions, or put you in touch with people who can answer your questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Lora Lucero

 

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The Nakba – Part VI

The Catastrophe — or Nakba — occurred in 1948 when the British left Palestine and David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s “Independence.”  Most Americans don’t know about the Nakba.  See Part 1, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V.  I confess I am only beginning to understand the magnitude of the atrocities that occurred, and continue to occur, in Palestine.

The forcible expulsion of the Indigenous population and the appropriation of their lands and property would be a fascinating journey through the legal machinations employed by the Zionists (yesterday and today) if it was not so tragic for so many people.

Amjad Alqasis, a legal researcher at BADIL Resource Center, has written an excellent review of some of the laws that Israel has used to confiscate the property of Palestinians, available here.

Wall mural in Gaza

Wall mural in Gaza

Although the Israeli government refuses to acknowledge the Nakba, recent polling suggests that Israeli citizens may be ahead of their leaders in this regard.  See this article.

Both sides will need to exorcise their demons regarding the other, not to gloss over the present but in order to unlock the door to the future. Here are the fundamental questions for the Israel side: first, can the Right’s frenzied efforts to stifle consciousness of the Nakba succeed? The results seem to say no. Activism recalling the Nakba has only heightened and the data here implies that the Israeli public is ahead of its leaders in acknowledging not only history, but the implications of history on conflict resolution.

Secondly, how can the large swath of the Israeli public that is prepared to reconcile with its past in the present be expanded and leveraged? How can this political maturity be brought to bear on future negotiation efforts or any other effort to resolve the situation? Surely, beating a guilt-fatigued population with more historic guilt will backfire (if it hasn’t already). Is there a less threatening way to address and redress history that does not undercut Jewish identity in this land? This is one of the vital challenges of the day, that the Nakba (and perhaps the “Jewish state” definition, for Palestinians) symbolizes for all parties in the conflict: can each side acknowledge the most sensitive and frightening aspects of the other party’s identity without losing its own, and then lashing out violently to protect it?

Now listen carefully . . . Secretary Kerry, President Obama, everyone . . . here’s the most important lesson from the Nakba that you mustn’t forget.

Wall mural in Gaza

Wall mural in Gaza

If you begin negotiating with Netanyahu and Abbas with the assumption that the conflict began in 1967, you will fail.  You might as well save your breath and travel expenses.

The injustices occurred in 1948, and have continued every year since, and your negotiations must begin from the Nakba.

Germany’s postwar reparations program has become such a matter of fact that many Germans are not even aware that their country, after paying $89 billion in compensation mostly to Jewish victims of Nazi crimes over six decades, still meets regularly to revise and expand the guidelines for qualification. The aim is to reach as many of the tens of thousands of elderly survivors who have never received any form of support.

  • Israel must acknowledge the Right of Return and make plans to allow Palestinians who wish to live peacefully with their neighbors, the right to return to pre-Israel lands, or pay compensation to those who decide they do not want to return.

I know the current leadership in Israel flatly rejects these points, but Israeli citizens deserve to live in peace — just as Palestinians deserve to live in peace — and neither side will achieve it until the Nakba is on the negotiating table and these points are addressed openly and honestly.

Wall mural in gaza

Wall mural in gaza

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Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry

Dear Secretary Kerry:

Welcome to the Middle East.  I understand you are planning some shuttle diplomacy between the Palestinians and Israelis over the next few days.  May Allah, God, Jehovah, HaShem and the Holy Spirit be with you.

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I am an American living in Gaza who has witnessed first-hand the pernicious impacts of 65 years of occupation.   Israel’s near total blockade of the Gaza Strip over the past 5 years has strangled the economy, directly causing the unemployment to exceed 30% and by some reports, it’s near 60% for youth aged 20-24.  There is a humanitarian and environmental crisis in Gaza that likely will make Gaza unlivable by 2020!

Since you are not planning to visit Gaza, I hope your briefing papers are keeping you informed about these facts.  There are so many more facts that I could share to explain the dire circumstances here.

I have been working with a group of bright, talented environmental engineers in Gaza who understand the magnitude of the problems and how to solve them.  Their biggest challenge is the Israeli occupation, and THAT is what I hope will be on the top of the agenda for your meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas.  Security, final borders, settlement expansion, rockets fired from Gaza and all of the other issues must be put in the context of the 65 year occupation, but rarely is “occupation” even mentioned in the news reports about Israel and Palestine.

Please try saying “occupation” out loud slowly 3 or 4 times.  Let it sit on your tongue and in your mind.  If you practice meditation, please focus on “occupation” during your meditation.  Once it seeps into your core, and you have a deep sense of the reality of 65 years of “occupation” — you will be a more credible emissary from the United States.

Honestly, the Palestinians with whom I speak do not trust the United States to be an honest and neutral peace broker, and who can blame them?  The U.S. provides Israel, as you know, with over $3 Billion each year, mostly for Israel’s military and weapons which are then used viciously against the Palestinians.  I know.  I was in Gaza last November.  I heard the drones and F-16s and large explosions everywhere.  I felt the house shake and the windows shatter.  All with the help of American tax dollars.  186 Palestinians were killed in 8 days of Israel’s bombardment, 43 of them children.   You can see some of my pictures of the assault’s impact here.

I am also very skeptical of the U.S. involvement in these negotiations.  The U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East seems to be largely tilted to Israel’s favor, following Israel’s wishes, courting Israel’s favor, and mostly concerned with Israel’s security but not the security of Palestinians.  Being Israel’s sycophant is not in America’s best interests, and it’s ultimately not being a good friend to Israel.  I shared some of these concerns with President Obama last month, available here.

I am convinced the status quo will not change until there is some concrete action seen on the ground.  President Abbas has taken the first step by suspending his unilateral actions at the United Nations for the time-being, but now Israel must reciprocate clearly by suspending all settlement expansions in the oPt.  If Netanyahu doesn’t make this announcement in the next couple of days, the world will know your efforts in the Middle East are doomed to fail.

Use your leverage ($3 billion worth of leverage) and your charm —– whatever it takes —– but please keep repeating “occupation” throughout your negotiations.

Shukran!

Sincerely,  Lora Lucero

P.S.  And back home, please do NOT approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.  I’ll write you another letter about that.

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