MEMO TO JOHN KERRY: ‘PALESTINIANS WON’T TALK PEACE UNTIL ISRAELI OCCUPATION ENDS’

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Palestinian activist Sam Bahour was interviewed by RT yesterday about the possibilities of  restarting Peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Below you will find  why this is not possible as long as the occupation continues.

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Kerry arrived in Israel on Monday, in a direct move to end the four-year stalemate between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

But activist, Sam Bahour, believes the US official’s attempts are likely to fail as the Palestinians are firm about not starting any peace talks while they remain under Israeli occupation.

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‘Palestinians won’t talk peace until Israeli occupation ends’

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Palestinians are ‘fed up’ with peace talks and demand action, which the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, is unlikely to provide on his Israeli visit, argued Palestinian activist Sam Bahour, in his interview with RT.

Kerry arrived in Israel on Monday, in a direct move to end the four-year stalemate between the Israelis and the Palestinians. 

But activist, Sam Bahour, believes the US official’s attempts are likely to fail as the Palestinians are firm about not starting any peace talks while they remain under Israeli occupation.  

RT:  President Barack Obama was in Israel just last month and barely even mentioned the stalled peace talks with the Palestinians. Is John Kerry doing all the dirty work?  

Sam Bahour: It’s not clear yet. It seems as if John Kerry’s mission is a continuation of the last 45 years of US policy, which is trying to force the people under occupation, the Palestinians, to come to the table and negotiate their freedom with their occupier. It’s a model that failed for 20 years now during the peace process. And to be honest with you, the Palestinians are fed up with trying to be forced to have to negotiate bilaterally with those who are occupying them. The only thing we should really negotiate now is how the settlements will be dismantled and when the last Israeli soldier is going to leave Palestine. 

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US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks to US Foreign Service workers during a "meet & greet" at the US Counsulate General on April 8, 2013, in Jerusalem, Israel (AFP Photo / Pool Paul J. Richards)

 

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks to US Foreign Service workers during a “meet & greet” at the US Counsulate General on April 8, 2013, in Jerusalem, Israel (AFP Photo / Pool Paul J. Richards)

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RT: Many people in the Middle East put all hope in the Obama administration’s ability to breathe new life into peace negotiations, yet they are still in collapse. Is the American administration running out of solutions?  

SB: Yes, as long as the American administration – whether it’s Obama’s or previous administrations – refuse to apply international law to this conflict, they can pull solutions out of the hat until they’re blue in the face – nothing will be successful. At the end of the day, this is a military occupation. Even the US recognizes it as a military occupation. That means the Fourth Geneva Convention applies. What needs to happen is for this occupation to end. Once it ends, the Palestinians – in good faith – could start negotiations with Israel to be able to find a final status solution. But to ask the Palestinians to negotiate while they’re under the boot of occupation is no longer acceptable and it’s rather disingenuous. 

RT:  Reports on Sunday say that Hamas arrested Westerners it claims were spying inside the Gaza strip. Was this a deliberate signal to the US and why was it sent?  

SB: I haven’t received enough information to know, but I can tell you for a fact that on the ground things are very messy right now. Not only is there a forced separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but also Israel has forced separation between the west bank and Jerusalem. This continued fragmentation of our land and separation of the Palestinian people is causing our own society’s fabric to come apart. And this latest episode is one of those sad links in a long chain that has been created by the pressures of this occupation over 45 years. 

And that’s one of the reasons the Palestinian community is no longer willing to accept the ‘talk of peace’. We’re now willing to see, who’s willing to walk the ‘walk of peace’. And that means to start ending this occupation tomorrow morning instead of continuing to talk about it, while the Palestinians are under that boot of occupation.

 

Click HERE to see original source and video

FROM ‘ETHNIC CLEANSING’ TO ‘GENOCIDE’

 In my list of Associates there is a name Chippy Dee. That is a nickname that my cousin Fran was given many moons ago when we were teenagers. I still call her that, but she’s all grown up now and making headlines on Mondoweiss’ Blog. Here is the article and video that appeared there today…. Now you can put a face to her name :)  Her husband Bud is at her side (in the yellow raincoat).
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Why Fran Korotzer stopped saying ‘ethnic cleansing’ and started saying ‘genocide’

by Philip Weiss
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Yesterday afternoon in the rain, a group of protesters stood outside Google headquarters in Manhattan to leaflet against Google’s partnership with the Israeli university the Technion (providing classroom space to students in the years till Cornell and the Technion are scheduled to open a new campus on Roosevelt Island).

Two of those protesters are Fran and Bud Korotzer. I talked with Fran, a retired clerical worker at Baruch College, about what she was doing there, and was moved by her softspoken but firm statements, by her appearance, and by her dignity in a humble service. Maybe you will be too. 

The interview’s long, so a guide: Korotzer describes the importance of explaining Israel’s actions to people on the street in New York; speaks of the strains in her relations with other Jews, some of whom can be nasty; describes diversity of opinion in the Jewish community; and tells me why it does not matter that she has never been to Israel. The blog on which she’s depended for information is Steve Amsel’s, Desert Peace.

The action was organized by New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT). It goes on every two weeks. Alex Kane wrote about it here.

STÉPHANE HESSEL; “IT IS GOOD FOR US TO FEEL OUTRAGE”

 Stephane Hessel who passed away last week at age 95 was a former French resistance fighter. He is seen here urging young people to take to the streets and show their outrage. Ray Suarez and Hessel discuss his book, “Time For Outrage,” which is also titled “Indignez-Vous!” in French.
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Order the book online AT

PEACE SHOULD BEGIN IN JERUSALEM, NOT END THERE

Jerusalem is at the heart of the Palestinian cause. East Jerusalem should be the capital of the Palestinian state. If Jerusalem is lost, the whole concept and idea of Palestinian statehood is lost, and the possibility of peace is lost. And Jerusalem is an important place for all of humanity, a holy place for Muslims, Christians, and the Jewish people. It should be the place where peace begins.
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Mustafa Bargouti: Jerusalem is at the heart of the Palestinian cause

by Elsa Rassbach* 
mustafa barghouti Mustafa Barghouti at a demonstration in Bil’in, 2010. (Photo: Dan Halutz)

Every year on March 30th Palestinians around the world celebrate Land Day, which commemorates a general strike and marches in 1976 against Israeli land appropriation, an event that was a pivotal event in bringing about Palestinian national unity. This year Palestinians throughout the Middle East and in the Diaspora will commemorate Land Day by calling attention to the dangers facing Jerusalem.

The Israeli government has long denied most Palestinians – whether Muslim or Christian – access to Jerusalem, even to visit holy sites. The organizers of the Global March allege that through methods of ethnic cleansing, Israel has been forcing Jerusalem’s remaining Arab inhabitants out, thus endangering the multi-religious, multi-ethnic character of the city that is the intended capital of Palestine.

On March 30th, the Palestinians will attempt to get as close to Jerusalem as they can: whether at the borders of Lebanon and Jordan, at checkpoints in the West Bank, or at the Erez crossing in Gaza. There will also be a demonstration in Jerusalem itself. The Palestinians will be joined by supporters from five continents. An eminent Advisory Board includes the Nobel Peace Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire. Solidarity vigils and actions are also planned on March 30th at Israeli Embassies and other locations in sixty cities around the world.

The Palestinian coalition organizing this Global March to Jerusalem is perhaps unprecedented in its breadth. Equally unprecedented is the Israeli campaign against the March, which has included faux Websites and Facebook pages to mislead participants regarding gathering places. After seventy supporters from India, Malaysia, Pakistan and other Asian countries visited Iran on their way to Lebanon to join the March, the Israeli press alleged that the March is directed from Iran and that violent “clashes” with Israeli forces are planned.

Among the most outspoken Palestinian supporters and organizers of the Global March is Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, 58, the well-known nonviolence advocate. As General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, Dr. Bargouti played a key role in recent attempts to bring Hamas and Fatah together. He is medical doctor educated in the former Soviet Union, the US and Jerusalem; he founded and leads Palestinian Medical Relief society, which provides health care in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In 2005 Dr. Bargouti ran for presidency of the Palestinian National Authority and won 19% of the vote. He resides in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Elsa Rassbach: You have joined with Palestinians from many different political perspectives and many places in the world to call for a Global March to Jerusalem. What is this initiative about?

Mustafa Bargouti: It’s an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people. It will take place on Land Day, March 30th, a day that symbolizes the unity of Palestinians in the struggle for freedom and dignity and against theft of their land. We hope to bring to the world’s attention the very grave violations that Israel is committing against Jerusalem. Both the UN and The International Court of Justice hold that annexation of East Jerusalem, which is part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is a violation of international law.

ER: But there is illegal Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land throughout the Occupied Territories and also within Israel. Why the focus on Jerusalem?

MB: Jerusalem is at the heart of the Palestinian cause. East Jerusalem should be the capital of the Palestinian state. If Jerusalem is lost, the whole concept and idea of Palestinian statehood is lost, and the possibility of peace is lost. And Jerusalem is an important place for all of humanity, a holy place for Muslims, Christians, and the Jewish people. It should be the place where peace begins.

Today in Jerusalem you see the Israeli system of segregation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing in the sharpest possible way. If a Palestinian man from Jerusalem marries a woman in Ramallah, only sixteen kilometers away, he will not be able to live with her. The Israelis will never grant her the right to move to Jerusalem, but if he moves to Ramallah, he will lose his ID and his residency permit in Jerusalem. And the permit may be withdrawn for political reasons as well. Though I was born in Jerusalem and worked there as a medical doctor for fifteen years, after I ran for president in 2005, the Israeli Army thereafter has refused to allow me in. Most Palestinians including Christians and Muslims, also cannot enter.

But any Jewish person from anywhere in the world who decides to immigrate to Israel, whether from Siberia or the United States, will immediately be granted the right to live in Jerusalem or anywhere else in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Jerusalem is accessible to every Jewish person. It should be accessible to everybody. Many Jewish people from Israel and other parts of the world agree and are participating in and even organizing the Global March.

ER: Among the demands of the March is “the right of return.” Why would Palestinians who live in historical Palestine support such a demand? 

MB: This demand means a lot to us, too, because there are huge numbers of refugees living in Gaza and West Bank who are denied access to the place they were forced to leave. Even Palestinians living in Israel who carry Israeli citizenship are not allowed to return home to their villages in Israel like Iqrit and Kafr Bir’im. The right of return is a right recognized by international law under a special UN resolution, 194. We do understand that its implementation will have to be negotiated, but the right itself has to be respected.

ER: Last year on May 15th, Nakba Day and also Israeli Independence Day, Israeli soldiers killed dozens and wounded hundreds of unarmed Palestinians who tried to cross over the borders of Lebanon and Syria. Could the Global March lead to a repeat of such violence? 

MB: The March will be an act of peace, an act of nonviolence, and that’s why Palestinians everywhere are united in supporting it. It reflects the consensus of Palestinians today on adopting nonviolence totally. We know that Israel is capable of terrible violence. All the organizers in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Israel/Palestine are aware of this risk. We hope that the U.S. and the European countries will pressure Israel not use violence against our nonviolence.

*Elsa Rassbach is a filmmaker and journalist. Member of CodePink living in Germany.  Part of the European organizing committee of Global March to Jerusalem.

 


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“THEY HAVE LIES TO SPIN; WE HAVE TRUTHS TO TELL”

Interview with the co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement
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Also see THIS DesertPeace Editorial from the archives.
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Huwaida Arraf with kids in Khan Younis.
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Huwaida Arraf: ‘They have lies to spin; we have truths to tell’

by Yousef M. Aljamal

Yousef M. Aljamal of Gaza’s Center for Political Development Studies interviews with Huwaida Arraf, cofounder of the International Solidarity Movement:

Aljamal: First, could you please give us a brief introduction about ISM?

Arraf: The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent, direct-action methods and principles. We founded this international coalition to support and strengthen the Palestinian popular resistance by providing the Palestinian people with a resource — international protection and a voice — with which to resist, nonviolently, an overwhelming military occupation force.

The resources the Israeli government has at its disposal are well-known – over $3 billion in military aid from the U.S., hundreds of millions of dollars in private funds, and the unquestioned diplomatic support of the only superpower in the world exercised through its veto in the UN Security Council of any resolution that would compel Israel to abide by international law. The Palestinians also need strong resources.

We focus on providing support for the Palestinian unarmed resistance, not because we take a hostile view to the armed resistance, but rather because we believe that unarmed resistance is strategically more advantageous to Palestinians. Seeing as Israel is superior to us militarily, it’s better not to fight them in that arena, but rather in an arena where we are stronger, or at least where we have the possibility of building up our strength. This arena is that of the popular struggle, or the strategic unarmed resistance. I also must note, that while I, personally, and the ISM as an organization, recognize the Palestinian right to use armed struggle to resist occupation (even if we don’t engage in or actively support it), we strongly believe that armed resistance MUST adhere to international law. It is true that Israel frequently violates the laws that regulate armed conflict, but we do ourselves no service by doing the same.

The first ISM campaign was in August of 2001. At that time over 50 civilians from various countries came to the Occupied Palestinian Territory to engage in a 2-week, coordinated campaign of nonviolent direct-action against occupation forces and policies. Since that time we’ve had nearly 7500 civilians from all over the world come join us. Many of our volunteers come North America and Europe, but we’ve also had a number of volunteers from Latin America, Africa and various Asian countries. The socio-economic and age range of the volunteers is vast, with the average age being over 30. A number of volunteers have been over the age of 60 and we’ve even had people in their eighties join us.

Internationals joining the Palestinian struggle is important for 4 key reasons, and these form the foundation of the ISM:

1) Protection: an international presence at Palestinian civilian actions/protests can insure a certain level of protection for the Palestinian people engaged in nonviolent resistance. Palestinians acting/resisting alone are often met with harsh and even lethal forms of violence by Israeli occupation forces, including arbitrary, long-term arrest, beating, severe injury and sometimes even death. The Israeli occupation forces have succeeded to label every Palestinian man, woman and child as a potential terrorists and thereby justify their actions. No body holds Israel accountable for Palestinian lives, but foreign civilians do have governments responsible for them and are harder to label as “terrorists.” As such, when internationals are present with Palestinians at popular actions, lethal forms of violence are usually not used by most Israeli soldiers.

2) Message to the mainstream media:
The Palestinian struggle is not being accurately reported by the mainstream corporate international media. Example: When Israeli troops open fire and kill Palestinian civilians, it is often reported as “clashes” and very rarely by what it really is, Israeli forces opening fire on civilians. The mainstream media tends to show the Israeli – Palestinian conflict as one in which two sides are fighting over a piece of land and can’t live together, instead of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, dignity, and human rights that it is. Palestinians are inaccurately depicted as violent people who hate Jews and want to destroy Israel. Internationals of various social, national and religious backgrounds, joining Palestinians in the freedom struggle can help to dispel this notion. The ISM volunteers from all over the world that join us can reach out to their respective media sources and give Palestinians the voice that we don’t have.

3) Personal witness and transmitting of information:
International civilians joining Palestinians on the ground can bear witness and return home to talk to their communities about what is happening. We encourage volunteers to talk to their friends, family, and colleagues when they return home, as well as to organize larger speaking events where they can present what they experienced to community members and to the media. This information and education can then be used to lobby policy makers in an effort to change US foreign policy. Currently we have many ISM volunteers and groups actively engaged in local Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) efforts, which is a powerful form of nonviolent resistance that is having a psychological as well as a financial impact on Israel. The kind of eyewitness reporting that ISM engages in helps to generate more action in support of the Palestinian freedom struggle.

4) Break isolation / provide hope:
The occupation isolates Palestinians and cuts the Palestinian people off from the rest of the world and from each other. At the very least, international civilians have been able to raise the morale of the Palestinian people living under occupation by standing with them and saying, “you are not alone.” We feel that this helps create or return hope that is vital to our struggle – hope that Israel keeps trying to extinguish. Hope, that people acting together can change things, has been a cornerstone of our philosophy.

While the primary purpose of the ISM has been to engage in and support the Palestinian unarmed, civilian-based freedom struggle against occupation, at times when aggression of the Israeli military against Palestinian civilians has increased, the ISM took up a role in providing humanitarian assistance and protection by using their status as internationals to escort doctors, ambulances, schoolchildren and other civilians to work, hospital and school. We have also engaged in internationals only efforts to disrupt military operations. Prime examples of these include breaking through Israel’s military cordons to put internationals in the presidential compound as well as in the Church of the Nativity when they were both under siege in 2002.

Aljamal: Well, What is the role of ISM to encounter Israeli propaganda?

Arraf: As I mentioned above, ISM provides people from all over the world to come and see with their own eyes what is happening on the ground in Palestine and to take part in the popular resistance. This kind of first-hand experience is important to countering the Israeli propaganda machine in three ways: (1) it provides many people from different backgrounds speaking different languages to give eyewitness accounts from places where Israeli attacks and other atrocities take place. This increases the likelihood that journalists will get information that they might not otherwise receive, as well as gets information out about what is happening in Palestine using alternative media sources; (2) when the volunteers return to their homes, their first-hand experience, stories and pictures provide a compelling and hard-to-argue-with narrative for other people that would not otherwise get this kind of information; and (3) the experience ends up being life-changing for so many volunteers and therefore they are driven to work hard when they return to their countries. It is this drive that is behind a lot of the activism for Palestine on college campuses, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions efforts, and others.

I believe that all of the above combined plays a very important and effective role in countering Israeli propaganda. This is not to say that we’re “winning” but we have to remember that Israel spends upward of $1 billion per year on their public relations efforts, compared to almost nothing that we spend. They have professional public relations firms working for them; we have the free voices of the people. They have lies to spin; we have truths to tell. Their money and political power might buy them the mainstream media and the politicians, but not for long as we continue to inform and mobilize the masses…

Aljamal: Do Palestinian communities in the West play a positive role in exposing Israel’s crimes?

Arraf: This is not an easy question to answer. My direct experience is with the United States where, unfortunately for too long, we were disorganized and divided in addition to many members of the Palestinian community choosing to be apolitical. Add to this the fact that what was mobilized around generally had to do with raising money to provide aid to Palestine. While this is important, Palestinian communities in the west focused all of their energies (which have been limited) to responding to the crises that Israel is so good at creating. In other words, we have been, and largely still are, reacting and giving our money to aid and not the political efforts that might lead to a change in the situation that has left Palestinians in need of aid.

That said, I have noticed a shift in recent years and young Palestinian activists have been leading this shift.

Aljamal: You played a major role in breaking Gaza’s siege and brought dozens of activists to Gaza. You were one of the activists on The Freedom Flotilla that was attacked in the International waters in May 2010. Do you think that Israel has lost its reputation as “the only democracy in the Middle East” in the West after its attacks on Gaza in 2008-2009 and its attack on The Freedom Flotilla?

Arraf: No, I don’t think that Israel’s brutal aggression has anything to do with its reputation as “the only democracy in the Middle East.” We must remember that democratic governments commit unspeakable crimes. Just look at what the US and the UK have done and are doing to Iraq and Afghanistan, to name just a couple. Israel’s self-proclaimed status as the “only democracy in the Middle East” should be challenged from a more factual basis. First, Israel is not the only entity in the Middle East with democratic types of government. What about the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon? In terms of the former, we don’t have a country to call a democracy, but we do have democratic traditions. No one will deny that our 2006 elections were democratic, free, and fair (something Israel, with the support of the international community, punished us for when they did not like the outcome!); in terms of Lebanon, she’s more accurately described as a republic, which is actually better form of government than a democracy. A republic (which can be democratic) is governed under a constitution that places certain limits on the voice of the majority in order to protect the rights of the minority, something that a democracy does not do.

But even if one considers Israel a democracy, this doesn’t mean Israel is not guilty of horrific crimes, which must be stopped. Perhaps the best analogy to make here is to that of the United States prior to the late 1960s. Everyone recognizes that the US is a democratic country. Well, the U.S. was a democracy while it practiced slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, and after that, continued outright racism against the black minority in the US, depriving black people of equal rights and opportunity, not to mention subjecting them to degrading and abusive treatment. Just because Israel may be considered a democracy for its citizens this doesn’t mean that it’s not occupying, oppressing, killing, and maiming; it doesn’t mean that Israel doesn’t practice racism against its minority population; and it doesn’t mean that Israel is not a colonial, apartheid regime, which is not only illegal, but a crime against humanity.

In terms of its 2008-2009 assault on Gaza – Operation Cast Lead, and its lethal attack on the Freedom Flotilla, Israel lost something more important than its reputation as a democracy. Israel lost its image of victimhood, and perhaps for the first time, was exposed clearly as a violent aggressor.

Aljamal: Does the Palestinian rift hinder ISM efforts to get the Palestinian voice heard in the West? How?

Arraf: Undoubtedly this rift hinders efforts. First of all, it allows questions about the divisions to be raised and detracts from the core issues. Second, it provides fuel for Zionists who love to point to the chaos in Palestinian society and our violence against each other in order to justify their repression and boost their colonialist claims. Third, it divides our community outside (albeit to a lesser extent) as it does inside.

That said, I’m going to point to a larger issue than the split between Fatah and Hamas. We have not been able to capitalize properly on the international solidarity movement with Palestine due to our lack of a unified representative leadership for our national liberation struggle. In theory, this leadership is supposed to be the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), but the PLO has been deliberately marginalized and for the past 18+ years existing in name only as an unelected and unrepresentative institution. This absence of a unified national resistance movement means that we also do not have a national strategy for effective resistance and are unable to communicate effectively with the solidarity movement what we want and what we want them to do to support us. To give an example of how this not only prevents us from taking full advantage of the solidarity movement but how it can actually be harmful to our efforts, I will refer to a UN Conference of Civil Society Organizations in Solidarity with the Palestinian People that I spoke at in 2002. I clearly remember an organizer of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee in South Africa telling us how they were working on promoting a boycott of Israel and even pressuring the South African government to cut relations with Israel. The South African government asked the Palestinian Representative Office in South Africa whether or not boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel was a demand of the Palestinian leadership? The Palestinian Ambassador said no. In this case, and in many others, the “official” Palestinian leadership hindered the ability of a solidarity organization to advocate for Palestine.

To make up for this absence of a unified national leadership with an effective strategy for fighting the occupation, Palestinians civil society has tried to step up and make their voices heard. The most successful example of this is the 2005 Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). By releasing a statement and a call to action endorsed by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, we gave the solidarity movement some direction. So, Palestinian civil society has been trying to make up for what I consider a massive failure of our leadership. This is not enough however. I strongly believe that Palestinians, not only in the West Bank and Gaza, but also in 48 and all over the world need to focus on building or rebuilding a unified representative leadership to lead our national struggle forward. One of the ways to do this is by reviving the PLO and its institutions, starting with direct elections to the Palestine National Council (PNC).

Aljamal: You likely heard about “The Israel Project”, if Palestinians need to encounter such a project, what are the main points they need to shed light on?

Arraf: I don’t think that we need to focus on countering this project per se. We should focus on setting the agenda and shaping the debate. It is the Israel Project that should continue scrambling to devise ways to counter what we are doing. Everything the Israel Project produces is really empty and devoid of any truth, designed to manipulate people who don’t have accurate information and to give people that are already under the influence of the Israeli lobby hollow words and arguments to use to defend their support of Israel. This is all easily countered by facts and information that we put out.

If I would recommend that we take anything from the Israel Project, it is their focus on using language that resonates with the audience that it is trying to reach. This is one thing for us to keep in mind in our communications. Sometimes, we can really turn people away by using language that people might think is extreme, or that doesn’t mean much to them. Highly emotional language and images are understandable, but not very effective. This is not to say that we should not appeal to people’s emotions, we should, but through personal stories told in calm language. For example, an image of an elderly man standing in a cage that is one of Israel’s checkpoints can expose the racism and deliberate degradation that is part of Israel’s policies. People can relate to this, imagining their own fathers subjected to such humiliating treatment. Whereas if we show a picture of a bloody body, this will likely only inflame the emotions of those who already support our cause. Others will not relate this to a deliberate policy that is unjust, but rather to the unfortunate results of war. Israelis can show similar pictures.

Aljamal: If you have a message to the Palestinian young bloggers and writers who write in English, what would you say?

Arraf:I would say that I need to take advice from them! It’s wonderful that we have so many talented young writers. I don’t write much at all, which is a great weakness. I feel that our young Palestinian writers know better than me, but for the sake of stressing a few important points:

(1) Strive for accuracy: It’s often hard to get accurate information fast, but the more one focuses on her/his information accuracy, the more s/he will become a credible source of information, not only for the general public, but also for journalists. This is one thing we’ve tried to do with ISM volunteers. Because we have ISM volunteers in sensitive places where journalists do not often go, we have stressed the importance of getting accurate information that we can pass along to journalists in the hopes that they will report on actions and incidents. If you give a journalist wrong information, s/he will not be likely to use you as a source again. However, if you consistently provide accurate, reliable information, you will become a source for journalists and others, which can only be helpful in disseminating news about what is happening in Palestine.

(2) No need to exaggerate: This is another piece of advice we give to ISM volunteers. The things that happen in Palestine on a daily basis are bad enough, so there is no need to exaggerate anything. Tell it like it is.

(3) Personal stories: You want to try to relate to your readers and have them relate to you. I think this is best done through personal stories and experiences.

Aljamal: New Media motivated Arab youths express themselves, do you believe that Palestinians can make use of it to get rid of the occupation? How?

Arraf: New media, alternative media, social media – all of these can be used as tools in fighting the occupation. We will need more than media to get rid of the occupation, but effective use of various new media tools to communicate information and organize collective action can greatly strengthen us.

To get rid of the occupation, we have to change people’s behavior; we have to create situations where people’s actions that support the Israeli occupation are altered in order to weaken the occupation. For example – soldiers who refuse to serve in the Israeli army can help weaken Israel’s military capabilities; Israeli society that wakes up from it’s indifference or government-supporting trance can increase pressure on the Israeli government to alter its policies; governments that impose sanctions on Israel can weaken Israel’s political and economic power; people, organizations, and institutions that boycott Israel can create pressure on Israeli society to pressure its government, and create an image crisis for the Israeli state, etc. To motivate these and other sectors of society to act, we need to communicate effectively, and here, we use new media as a tool to disseminate information and to organize.

For example, as I talked about above, ISM volunteers go back to their home countries and spread the word about what’s happening in Palestine. We then want to transform this knowledge into action – to lobby government officials to change their policies and stop supporting Israeli occupation and apartheid, to boycott Israel, etc. So we use new media and other communication tools to inform, so that we can then turn that information and knowledge into action.

Also in terms of organization, we’ve seen how social media has helped to mobilize people. We can use social media tools to organize coordinated actions around the world designed to put pressure on Israel. But while social media can be a great organizing tool, I think that we should be careful about relying only on social media, especially for organizing local actions. We should not forget that many people don’t use the Internet, don’t use Facebook and Twitter as a source of information and we need to reach these people too. So, these media tools should be used in addition to other traditional means of communication

Aljamal: Why do you believe that one-state solution is the best one to the conflict?

Arraf: I actually do not advocate the one-state solution. This doesn’t mean that I support the two-state solution either. Rather, I take a “rights-based approach.” This means that I focus on the rights that we’re struggling to achieve and don’t spend time arguing about one state or two. In reality, I don’t care if it’s 10 states or no states, as long as the rights of Palestinians and all people are respected and implemented. This includes the right of our refugees to return and to compensation for their losses, the right to complete equality under the law, and other rights currently denied to Palestinians. As a political solution, one state would likely achieve this best. However, if two states were proposed that included the right of all refugees to return to their homes (even if not the exact homes they lived in) inside 48 Palestine, and guaranteed equality for all people, meaning that Israel would NOT be defined as a Jewish state, but a state that represented all her people equally, then that could also work. Since the two-state solution that has been and is currently talked about does not guarantee the above, in principle, I am opposed to it. But, instead of spending time arguing that one state is better, I choose to focus on the rights that we’re fighting for. This is my personal approach. I don’t argue that it’s the best approach, but I do feel that it focuses us on principles and rights, which are hard to argue with. For example, a Zionist argument against the one-state solution is that it seeks to wipe out Israel. Whereas it’s hard for a Zionist to say that they can’t agree to total equality of citizens within the state. I would say to a Zionist “no, I don’t want to wipe out Israel, but I want to be treated equally inside Israel.” This means that Israel cannot define itself as a Jewish state, because then it would need to maintain a Jewish majority. This means that it would need to take steps to ensure that Jews remain a majority, including preventing Palestinian families from reuniting, continuing to recruit Jews to bring to Israel while keeping Palestinians out, perhaps some day restricting the number of children Palestinians inside Israel can have!”

CPDS is a Gaza based non-profit organization facilitating Palestinians representing themselves “in the tongues of its own people”, to convey their own message to the world and enhance Palestine’s presence in world forums and international organizations.

 

Originally appeared AT

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SINN FEIN COUNCIL MEMBER GERRY MacLOCHLAINN

DesertPeace had the honour to conduct an exclusive interview with Gerry McLochlainn this morning. Gerry is on the National Committee of the Irish Ship To Gaza. More info can be found HERE.
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The interview follows….
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Gerry MacLochlainn  is a Sinn Fein Councillor in Derry. Active in the Irish Civil Rights campaign, Gerry took part in the Burntollet Civil Rights march which was brutally attacked. Gerry is a former Maths teacher, he studied philosophy and maths at University College Wales, Aberystwyth. He is a former Irish Political Prisoner in England. On his release he headed up the Sinn Fein office in London and was active in the struggle to release of the Guildford 4. In 2009, Gerry led the 2nd convoy into Gaza after the invasion and he co-founded Derry Friends of Palestine. During operation Cast Lead he persuaded Derry City Council to support a boycott of Israeli goods until Israel withdraws from the occupied territories. Derry was the first city in Ireland to pass such a motion. He returned to Gaza again to bring the Mayor of Derry to meet with the Mayor of Khan Younis to begin a twinning process between the two cities. Gerry was a keynote speaker in Geneva at the first International Conference in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli Jails, organised by U-Free. He is a member of the International Steering Committee of Freedom Flotilla 2 – Stay Human and a member of the Irish Ship to Gaza national committee.

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DesertPeace: According to the inroduction, I believe this will be your third trip to Gaza. After the brutal attack by the Israeli navy on the Mavi Marmara a year ago, are you in any way concerned for your personal safety this time?

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Gerry MacLochlainn: I have to be honest and yes – I am concerned and I think I would foolish if I were not. The shocking slaughter of unarmed people aboard the Mavi Marmara made it clear that Israel is prepared to cross any line to protect its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and blockade of Gaza. If you oppose, even peacefully as we are doing, Israeli policy in Palestine and against Palestinians you are fair game as far as the IDF is concerned.

But no matter how concerned I am – I have to do what is right. The governments of the world should be leading our flotilla into Gaza but they stand idly by. It falls to us then the ordinary citizens of this world to act for humanity. Someone has to step up and if not me who? I can’t leave it to others.

So we will set sail, we will strive to each Gaza, we do so publicly, peacefully and with no desire to harm to contribute to the harming of anyone, including the IDF who are threatening us with extreme violence if we do not turn back.

BUT although we are peaceful, although we threaten no-one, we will not be bullied, we will not turn back. We will not surrender our boats and we will try to reach Gaza.

We may not succeed on this occasion but the siege will be broken and the blockade will be lifted. Israel can menace, maim or even murder but it can no more stop us or those who follow than it can stop the tide.

Palestine will be free and its ports will be open to the world as are the ports of any other country.

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DP: Are there any long term plans for activities back in Ireland once you return from this trip?

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GM: Yes. I am a Sinn Féin Councillor as you know and my city council has voted to boycott Israeli goods. I recently brought our Mayor out to Gaza to meet the Mayor of Khan Younis, Mohammed al Farra, and we intend to build up a relationship between our two municipalities.

I am talking to business men and local community groups, schools and sporting associations to develop links with our sisters and brothers in  Khan Younis.

The Derry Friends of Palestine, of which I am a member, has a programme of work to do to assist the people of Gaza. We will soon be making a significant contribution to health care in Khan Younis. The details of this intervention will be announced in the near future.

But more than that I plan to continue to bear witness to the crimes that Israel is committing in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine. Along with my colleagues, the Irish Friends of Palestine and my party, Sinn Féin I intend to continue to mobilise opinion to peaceful protest at every manifestation of Zionist aggression.

I intend to be a peaceful but very persistent opponent of Israel so longs as it refuses to deal with its neighbours as equals.

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DP: As an elected official, do you feel that your solidarity work for the people of Palestine in any way could hurt your political career? I am aware that many people in Ireland identify personally with the Palestinians because of their own struggles for Freedom and Independence. Can you elaborate on this?

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GM: Well I suppose the big advantage of being in Ireland, and being an Irish Republican in Ireland is that your support comes from people who know all about imperialism, about land grabs about suppression, and who know just which side they are on. Consequently advocacy for Palestine will not damage anyone’s political career in Ireland.

I well remember, during my time in jail in England as our hungers strikers died, the women of Gaza took to the streets to salute and support our comrades. They reached into our prison cells on our behalf that day and we gladly reach into theirs now.

Our message is simple, Palestine, you have sisters and brothers in Ireland. You will never have to face the enemy alone. I shout aloud – The Irish are coming!

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DP: Sinn Fein has always been in the forefront of the struggle, are there other groups working with you on these International issues?

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GM: Sinn Fein is of course one of the largest parties on the island and one of the two major components of the government in the north and is a major opposition party in the South. The fact that our party has a principled position in support of Palestine means that these politics are now heard at the heart of government.

But it is fair to say that the breadth of support for Palestine in Ireland spreads beyond the Republican base. Nearly every party has some support for Palestine within its ranks. This is a potential major advantage for the people of Palestine because, as their case becomes better known, the support will spread further.

We believe that we can influence Irish foreign policy to take a principled stand on the Palestine issue at an international diplomatic level. We will co-operate with the widest array of parties and trends to achieve that.

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DP: Gerry, it’s been a pleasure. I wish you a safe trip and hopeully one day we can celebrate together in a Jerusalem that belongs to all of the people, not just the chosen few.

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GM: Inshallah! Thank you. It has been a pleasure for me too.

BRAVE YOUNG AMERICAN JEW SPEAKS OF HIS VIOLENT ARREST IN JERUSALEM

Unlike most young Jews that visit Israel to ‘seek out their roots’ or to study, Lucas Koerner came here to express his feelings against the Occupation. His bravery lead to his being beaten by Israeli police and his subsequent  arrest.
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In his own words…. “My government is responsible and I’m here to say not in my name and not in the name of US citizens.”
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Below, he speaks to the Electronic Intifada about his nightmare in Jerusalem….

US citizen in Jerusalem arrest video speaks to EI

Maureen Clare Murphy*

American Jewish activist and university student Lucas Koerner was arrested in Jerusalem on 1 June — when thousands of right-wing Israelis, including settlers, marked “Jerusalem Day” by provocatively marching through Palestinian East Jerusalem to celebrate the “unification” of the city.

Koerner’s violent arrest by Israeli police was captured on video and has been viewed by a quarter of a million persons at the time of publication.

In the video, Koerner, wearing a the traditional checkered Palestinian kuffiyeh scarf and a Jewish kippah (skullcap) with a small Palestinian flag pin, identifies himself as a Jewish American and displays his US passport. “My government is responsible and I’m here to say not in my name and not in the name of US citizens,” he says.

The video then shows him being pulled from a crowd and violently arrested by Israeli police, who push him to the ground. One officer is seen putting his knee on Koerner’s neck. He is then roughly forced into a police truck.

Koerner recounts his arrest on his blog, Stronger Than Slavery, where he writes: “Throughout the whole affair, the only thing audible coming from the policemen was a constant stream of curses words, ‘motherfucker,’ ‘piece of shit,’ etc., which was to me a ringing confirmation of how infuriated and threatened they were by a 19-year-old wearing a kippah and a keffiyeh standing with the Palestinians.”

The Electronic Intifada editor Maureen Clare Murphy, who blogged about Koerner’s arrest last week, interviewed the young American activist upon his return to the United States and shortly after his release from Israeli detention. Koerner discusses his activism and what happened after his arrest. When asked whether he would pursue legal measures to protest his arrest, Koerner said that his family are considering their options.

Maureen Clare Murphy: What brought you to Palestine?

Lucas Koerner: I’ve been an activist on a number of fronts for a long time and in particular Palestine solidarity for past three years or so. And for the past three or four years I’ve always wanted to go, I’ve never had the opportunity, it never came together. Finally someone told me about Interfaith Peace Builders, I applied for a scholarship, they gave me a scholarship and then I decided to go [on one of their delegations]. My main motivation was that being an activist, you can know all the facts, you can have all the graphs, all the tables, all the presentations, but when it comes down to it, none of that is a substitution for first-hand empirical experience of actually going and seeing it for yourself. That was the primary motivation.

I was there for eleven days, however I was supposed to stay for five weeks.

MCM: Have you been active in the solidarity movement in the US?

LK: I live in Philadelphia during the summer but I go to school in Boston. When I was in high school in Philadelphia I was involved with American Jews for Just Peace – Philadelphia. In my high school I started something of a Palestinian solidarity-type group or anti-war group. It wasn’t much of a group but we tried our best to show films, try to do whatever we could. I was also in touch with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

MCM: How did you get involved in solidarity with Palestine?

LK: I’ve been involved tenuously in anti-war activism around Iraq and Afghanistan since I was in 9th grade, since I was 15; I went to my first demonstration with my dad … [Palestine has] always been a fixture my political consciousness but it was really Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza massacre of late ‘08 early ‘09, that prompted me and compelled me beyond anything else to take on this work as my primary calling. I just couldn’t stay silent any longer.

MCM: Why were you protesting the day you were arrested?

LK: It wasn’t originally a protest at all or demonstration. Initially my friends and I, or my fellow delegates on our trip, were going down to watch the march and basically we were just holding up peace signs, we had our kuffiyehs on. We basically tried to make a statement as Americans that in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s speech before Congress and Obama’s speech before AIPAC, that we do not endorse Israel’s occupation and all of the concomitant violations of international law and injustices that go with it.

We had just came back from Hebron [in the occupied West Bank] earlier that day. It was really what we saw in Hebron — the utter segregation that the city has fallen under with the occupation, the division of the city into basically two zones — the center of the city is basically off limits to the [Palestinian] residents of the city. It’s ground zero of the occupation as many regard it, particularly in terms of settler brutality, and the absolute complicity of the IDF [Israeli military]. But seeing that and returning on Jerusalem Day to our hotel in East Jerusalem, and seeing these miles and miles of white and blue and all of these people jubilantly celebrating the conquest of East Jerusalem, celebrating the occupation in East Jerusalem, the chutzpah of all, that really affected us all and that is what prompted us to do what we did.

MCM: What was it like in Israeli detention?

LK: I was detained for almost two days. I was taken to a police station right afterwards, where I was held for about four hours before I saw a lawyer. I was threatened numerous times with being tased and being put to sleep by various weapons they had. I continually demanded my lawyer and for my persistence they threatened me numerous times. I was then taken to prison where I spent the night in the ER; the doctor determined I had to go there because of my injures, though it was nothing serious beyond superficial wounds. The next day I was taken to court where I was put under house arrest. However the prosecution appealed that decision within the hour and the district court judge stayed the decision, so I had to stay the night in the Russian Compound, the Israeli jail.

What struck me most about my time in prison is that it is a reflection of the rest of Israeli society in that it’s completely segregated. I was placed against my will in the Jewish cell. I asked to be put in the Arab cell. The Jewish cell conditions weren’t bad at all; it was still jail, but it was bearable. I did see the Arab cell or at least one of the Arab cells and the conditions there were absolutely abominable. … We had furniture, we had beds of some sort, we had a clean bathroom. They had nothing. Just a bench and an open toilet. The conditions were horrible. That’s what struck me most.

MCM: Did you get any support from the US consulate?

I received no support from the US consulate. My friends and family had contacted them and, from what I heard, they basically said that this happens a lot and there’s nothing [they] can do. They didn’t even come to my trials.

[The trials were] all done in Hebrew. It was lucky that I had a local activist there who could translate for me. The Israeli judicial system is very strange in that you can’t have a lawyer while being questioned. I was not allowed to have a lawyer present while being questioned and there are no laws within Israel that prevent you from being almost indefinitely detained before being charged. I was never formally charged but I was detained for two days.

Certainly my situation pales in comparison to that faced by Palestinian activists who face administrative detention — which is six months or more, as many as 18 months often — without being charged with anything. This is the legal structure of occupation and I had a very small dose of it. In my trial I was given house arrest, though the police wanted to hold me for a week without charging me with everything — and that was certainly a possibility, and why I had to come home.

MCM: What kind of reaction have you seen since you’ve been arrested?

LK: The reaction that I’ve received so far from the volume of Facebook messages and messages to my blog have been overwhelmingly positive, just great displays of love and solidarity which I greatly appreciate, though there’s hate mail starting to trickle in. The video has reached such a wide audience primarily because of my privileged position as an American Jew. I think that this kind of injustice which was perpetrated against me would make headlines and provoke such a visceral response. But my treatment, again, was moderate by the standards faced by Israeli and Palestinian activists in [the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood] Sheikh Jarrah and in a weekly basis in [the West Bank villages] Biln or Nilin, and their videos are only seen by a few hundred people. It’s the fact that I’m an American Jew that [the video] has seen such a wide audience.

MCM: What are your next plans for your solidarity work?

LK: I’m planning on doing some activism with some outfits in Philadelphia — American Jews for Just Peace, other groups. When I return to Boston in the fall I will continue my work as a leader of Tufts Students of Justice in Palestine and we do a lot of work with other SJP chapters throughout the city and CODEPINK and American Jews for Peace – Boston. I just hope to be able to share my experiences, not just my arrest, but everything else I saw prior to my arrest, in as wide a forum as I can.

*Maureen Clare Murphy is managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and an activist based in Chicago.

See the video here if you haven’t already….

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PALESTINIAN ACTIVIST SPEAKS ON BREAKING THE SPELL OF FEAR AND POPULAR RESISTANCE

Our Associate, Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, speaks of his most recent arrest in the interview below. His ‘crime’, as was in previous incidents, he is a Palestinian.
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“Whether one uses armed struggle or nonviolence, the aim has to be to liberate oneself. Nobody engages in these things because they love to do these things. My own personal judgment is that the moral issue must enter into the equation. Of course, other people may have a different judgment. And while I respect their backgrounds, I also respectfully may disagree with the tools used.”

Interview: Mazin Qumsiyeh on popular resistance and breaking the spell of fear

David Cronin*

Israeli forces have repeatedly harassed and detained Mazin Qumsiyeh during protests against the wall and occupation in al-Walaja village.

In his latest book Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment, Mazin Qumsiyeh counters the conventional wisdom promoted by the Israeli propaganda machine and the mainstream Western media, which conflates the Palestinian struggle against occupation with “terrorism.” Qumsiyeh, a former professor of genetics who taught at Yale and Duke universities, returned to his native village of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem in the occupied West three years ago. He currently blogs at Popular Resistance. The Electronic Intifada contributor David Cronin interviewed Qumsiyeh about his new book and activism.

David Cronin: You were arrested in May in the West Bank village of al-Walaja. I’ve seen a video on YouTube, in which — a moment before the arrest — you are pleading with Israeli soldiers not to use violence against peaceful protesters. What were the circumstances that led you to make that appeal?

Mazin Qumsiyeh: I saw a group of soldiers run up a hill and grab a young guy and start beating him. They were using pepper spray against his head and mouth, even though he didn’t do anything. I walked a few steps so that I was close to him, then they pushed me down.

The accusation that was leveled against me was that I had participated in an illegal demonstration. But it was the presence of soldiers there that was illegal, not the presence of people in the village of al-Walaja.

DC: What happened after your arrest?

MQ: For 24 hours, I was taken to various detention facilities in different places. It was 24 hours of harassment and without any sleep. That was the biggest part of it. When I finally got to the actual prison [Ofer], the prison itself was not that bad in terms of treatment. They tried to get me to sign a paper saying I was not mistreated. I said: “I’m not signing any papers. Go to hell.”

DC: How many times have you been arrested?

MQ: It depends how you define “arrested.” Israel can hold you for hours and hours, days and days, without [charging] you. I have been arrested [and] charged three times. In terms of detention [I have been held], maybe 10 or 12 times.

It has always been for short periods of two days, things like that. When I get arrested, the Israeli government gets thousands of letters, hundreds of inquiries. Palestinian young people, who don’t have the kind of international network that I have, tend to be mistreated more and can be kept in administrative detention for months.

DC: After living in the United States for 27 years, you returned to Palestine three years ago. Why did you decide to go home?

MQ: It was a question of where I could be the most useful [to the Palestinian struggle]. Up to three years ago, I felt I could be more useful outside Palestine. Then, my feeling was that I could be more useful in Palestine. It was a subjective feeling, rather than an objective or scientific feeling.

DC: In your latest book, you explain how both nonviolent resistance and armed struggle involve sacrifice and that neither is risk-free. You appear, though, to have a preference for nonviolent resistance. Can you explain why?

MQ: Whether one uses armed struggle or nonviolence, the aim has to be to liberate oneself. Nobody engages in these things because they love to do these things. My own personal judgment is that the moral issue must enter into the equation. Of course, other people may have a different judgment. And while I respect their backgrounds, I also respectfully may disagree with the tools used.

DC: You have documented how the history of Palestinian resistance has been overwhelmingly nonviolent. What do you say, then, to those Western journalists who tend to regard Palestinian resistance as synonymous with suicide bombing?

MQ: Every anti-colonial struggle, every uprising has been a mixed bag. In South Africa, there were incidents where blacks engaged in horrific acts as individual human beings. But to characterize the Soweto Uprising by saying it was violent and involved “necklacing” [placing tires around the necks of suspected informers and burning them alive] is wrong and crude and reprehensible. You cannot make such generalizations.

DC: You have argued that Jesus Christ may have been the first Palestinian political martyr. Why do you say that?

MQ: Jesus Christ was born in a land called Palestine. He spoke Aramaic, which predated Arabic. He was certainly killed because of his nonviolent resistance.

DC: What is your message, then, to Christian Zionists?

MQ: They must be reading a different Bible to the one I’m reading. Even the Old Testament says the promise of a good life has to do with a moral position, with obeying God and obeying the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not kill.”

If you do something horrible, how are you deserving of a piece of land? That is totally a contradiction of the sense of morality and justice, that religion is supposed to be about. Is it Judaism to use white phosphorous on unarmed civilians or to kill hundreds of them?

Christian Zionism is an oxymoron. You cannot be a Zionist and a Christian at the same time, in my humble opinion.

DC: You have called the diplomatic initiative to have the United Nations recognize a Palestinian state this coming September dangerous. Please explain.

MQ: Activists and human rights defenders around the world should be very wary of the so-called September initiative. The idea of recognizing a Palestinian state on 1967 borders is fine if it is accompanied with a declaration recognizing the rights of Palestinians. But there is no mention of rights in the way it is being discussed at the moment.

Nowhere in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does it say that Palestinians have a right to raise a particular flag. But it does say we have the right to free movement, we have the right to land, we have the right to be treated equally.

DC: You have outlined parallels between how the issue of Palestinian statehood is being handled and the behavior of the South African government during the apartheid era. In particular, you have drawn an analogy to the type of Palestinian state now being envisaged with the supposedly self-governing Bantustans that the apartheid government established for blacks in parts of South Africa and South West Africa. Can you summarize those parallels?

MQ: Of course, every historical situation is unique but we do have similarities with apartheid South Africa. South Africa said “we do want to recognize South African Bantustans as states” and even approached the United Nations and said “we recognize the Bantustans as states.” For the same reasons, [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu has said “fine, we can have a Palestinian state under certain conditions.”

What the West might be doing is aiding and abetting the notion of apartheid, putting [the Palestinian] people in Bantustans and saying “we recognize you as a state but without the rights to free movement, resources, land, any basic rights.”

DC: What’s the most shocking thing you have seen?

MQ:: The most shocking thing that one cannot ever get accustomed to is the crude racism, the sense of superiority the Zionists have over us. That is always the root of the problem, the sense that God has chosen them and that they have the rights to the land. From this emanates lots of things: land confiscations, the wall, ill-treatment of prisoners.

DC: What role should people of conscience internationally play in resisting the occupation?

MQ: Obviously, Western governments are colluding with Zionism. They have been partners in this crime against humanity going back to the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Balfour Declaration [early twentieth century decisions by Britain and France on carving up the Middle East and endorsing Zionist colonization, respectively]. And fully-fledged partners, not merely puppets.

Howard Zinn said “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.” So for the public in Australia or America, being neutral means literally colluding with the occupiers. They have to chose: collude with war crimes or get off the train and engage at a human level to correct this.

One of the first duties of activists is to speak truth to power. This is always repeated ad nauseam in the human rights community, so go do it. People need to break the spell of fear. Once they believe in their own hearts they can do things, then nothing is impossible. That is what the Egyptian people taught us in Tahrir Square.

*David Cronin’s book Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation is published by Pluto Press.

 

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THE BOYCOTT ISRAEL MOVEMENT; AN INTERVIEW WITH OMAR BARGHOUTI

The movement has three demands: an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and the dismantling of the separation barrier, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. To meet these goals, the BDS movement advocates boycotting Israeli products and institutions, divesting from companies profiting from the occupation and government sanctions on Israel.

Boycott Israel Movement Creates ‘Sea Change’: An Interview with Palestinian Human Rights Activist Omar Barghouti

By Alex Kane
 
CREDIT: Leo Garcia

CREDIT: Leo Garcia
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Modeled on the international campaign of economic and political pressure that helped bring an end to South African apartheid nearly two decades ago, the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories has notched notable victories of late.

Achievements include the announcement in April that the flagship London outlet of Ahava, an Israeli cosmetics company that reportedly manufactures its products in an illegal West Bank settlement, is losing its lease in response to years of protest. In February, legendary folk singer Pete Seeger joined a roster of artists honoring the boycott of Israel, including Elvis Costello, Dustin Hoffman, Gil Scott-Heron, Johnny Depp and the Pixies.

Defenders of Israel dismiss these victories as minor irritants, but the government has reacted with alarm. In February the Knesset gave initial approval to a bill criminalizing advocacy of BDS. Israeli commentators, including the influential Tel Aviv-based Reut Institute, have called the BDS movement a “strategic threat” to the state of Israel. And the United States, Israel’s patron, has joined the chorus of critics. “When academics from Israel are boycotted — this is not objecting to a policy — this is anti-Semitism,” Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s envoy on combating anti-Semitism, said in an April 2 speech.

Rosenthal’s statement came right after the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem approved a long-delayed visa for Omar Barghouti, a leading figure in the BDS movement. Author of the new book, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, Barghouti was forced to postpone a tour of U.S. college campuses after his visa was held up for four months. In response an international campaign bombarded the consulate with phone calls and emails.

The attempt at scuttling Barghouti’s tour comes as no surprise in the context of increased U.S. and Israeli government scrutiny of the BDS movement’s growing popularity. Barghouti is a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and award-winning journalist Max Blumenthal refers to Barghouti as “one of the BDS movement’s most effective strategists and promoters.”

I met up with Barghouti after his publisher, Haymarket Books, rescheduled his tour for April. Sitting in a crowded coffee shop in Manhattan, Barghouti talked about building on his experience as an anti-apartheid campaigner by focusing his attention on U.S. college campuses. “When I was in the anti-apartheid movement, we knew that we won when Columbia, Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton divested. That was the beginning of the end for the apartheid system in South Africa.”

Barghouti describes his book as “about a movement that’s still growing very rapidly, in fact, and changing and transforming and gaining many more supporters. [The book is] taking stock of the main intellectual basis for the movement, the main achievements, the main challenges and where we go forward from here.”

The movement has three demands: an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and the dismantling of the separation barrier, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. To meet these goals, the BDS movement advocates boycotting Israeli products and institutions, divesting from companies profiting from the occupation and government sanctions on Israel.

Critics of BDS allege that the movement seeks to “delegitimize” Israel. Barghouti dismisses such charges: “It’s at best hypocritical, unfounded and totally baseless. In the anti-apartheid movement in the South African days — which I was a part of — no one claimed that opposing apartheid in South Africa was delegitimizing South Africans, Afrikaners, whites, English South Africans. It was seen as delegitimizing apartheid, as it was …. We’re delegitimizing occupation, apartheid and denial of rights. We’re not delegitimizing any people as such.”

It’s clear from the responses of powerful governments that the BDS movement is chipping away at key bastions of support for Israel in the West — exactly the movement’s goal, says Barghouti. “I think we’ve already won the battle for hearts and minds in many places in the West, especially in Western Europe. … Recent polls show Europeans view Israel, together with North Korea, Iran and Pakistan, as the most important threats to world peace. So, Israel is down there in that league, and the BDS movement has played a key role.”

But in the United States the stakes are even higher. Barghouti says, “It’s too early to mention a real, substantial shift in the [mainstream] discourse in the U.S. on the Palestinian-Israeli colonial conflict,” but at the grassroots level and on college campuses there is “a sea change in terms of the discourse.”

For example, New York University’s Students for Justice in Palestine just kicked off a divestment campaign on their campus, and students at the University of Arizona have recently launched a similar effort.

The BDS movement in the United States is up against powerful forces. At the urging of the Israeli government, organizations such as the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs have pledged to spend $6 million in the next three years to combat BDS initiatives. Nonetheless, left-wing Jewish groups such as the Zionist group Meretz USA have begun to embrace the logic of boycott. A prime example is Jewish Voice for Peace, which is currently leading a campaign to pressure the TIAA-CREF retirement fund to drop holdings from companies that profit from the occupation.

“Many Jewish groups who were previously sitting on the fence before the Israeli massacre in Gaza took sides in support of Palestinian rights after Gaza. Increasingly, they’re moving in the direction of BDS,” says Barghouti.

Some activists have argued that the BDS movement may now also benefit from the Arab uprisings, which have captivated and inspired many Americans, as seen by the union protests in Wisconsin.

“Most of the Arab uprisings give credit to the Palestinian intifada, the first intifada, as the main inspiration for their revolutions. In turn, we are very inspired by the peoples’ revolutions, especially in Tunisia and Egypt. Most importantly, there’s been a drastic, irreversible transformation in the balance of powers after the Egyptian revolution,” Barghouti says.

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INTERVIEW WITH A MARTYR

Interview with the late Juliano Mer-Khamis: “We are freedom fighters”
Maryam Monalisa Gharavi*

A portrait of Juliano Mer-Khamis hangs outside the Freedom Theatre where he was killed one day earlier. (Anne Paq/ActiveStills)

Actor-director Juliano Mer-Khamis was shot dead by a masked gunman yesterday outside the Freedom Theatre that he co-founded in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Jenin in 2006. Born in Nazareth in 1958 to Saliba Khamis, a Palestinian Christian leader of the Israeli Communist Party, and Arna Mer, an Israeli Jewish dramatist, Juliano memorably described himself as “100 percent Palestinian, and 100 percent Jewish.” 

Julian had tried to get his film Arna’s Children, (presented below) which documents his mother’s extraordinary transformation from a young settler in 1948 to a drama teacher in the Jenin refugee camp, shown widely. As he discusses in the previously unpublished interview which follows, the film was met with little success the first time. In 2006, he returned as indefatigably as ever, and I met him for the first time at a screening of his film at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Despite the scarce number of people in attendance that night (which Juliano loudly called attention to), one grasped the general astonishment that accompanied viewing this rare and unforgettable work. Juliano paced the room after the film, a passionate cadence rising in his voice as he described the devastations of occupation and the hazards of filmmaking.

Though Arna’s Children is a documentary, the time markers of the film relegate it closer to a work of fiction. Like other works of art centered on the loss of historic Palestine, most notably the characters who return to their pre-1948 homes in Ghassan Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa, Juliano constructed a narrative that is almost impossible to recreate or imagine from any other point of view.

In one shot of the film, the sequencing of events binds a shot of Juliano alongside his mother’s wrapped body at a hospital with a subsequent shot of the Israeli army bulldozing Arna’s Stone Theatre in April 2002. The Stone Theatre was part of Arna’s larger cultural project, Care and Learning, founded to allow the children of Jenin — faced with a crushing and seemingly inescapable military occupation — a creative outlet for their chronic trauma. The theater was leveled by the Israeli incursion, which Juliano captured on film. The historical date of both these events align almost miraculously, but the montages of destruction — his mother’s corpse and the ruins of the beloved theatre — are superimposed as mutually ravaged bodies.

I interviewed Juliano at Boston’s South Station on 4 April 2006 just before he caught a train to the New York screening — exactly five years before he was killed just outside the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, the locus of his life’s most notable work.

Juliano’s resume as an actor is well-documented, and the details of his biography are sure to be revisited in the aftermath of his murder. It was his cinematic and personal relationship to the refugee camp in Jenin and his complex relationship to Israel that most concerned us in this conversation.

Juliano’s tone in this interview will be familiar to all who knew him: brutally honest, sardonic and always with an unflinching eye toward the original historic pitfalls of Israel and the Palestinians. He candidly discusses the social engineering of Israeli society, his mother’s visionary work in Jenin and his own path from paratrooper to filmmaker/activist. My hope is that it is read as a fragment of discourse alongside the rest of his film and activism work, which together formed the unlikely and uncompromising triumph of art, what artist Paul Chan has called “freedom without force.”

The following is an excerpt from my 2006 interview with Juliano Mer-Khamis.

Maryam Monalist Gharavi: How long was Arna’s Children banned in Israel?

 

Juliano Mer-Khamis at the opening of the Freedom Theatre’s We Won’t Forget Lebanon 2006, January 2007. (Tess Scheflan/ActiveStills)
Juliano Mer-Khamis: It was not really banned. It was silenced. Journalists who wanted to write about the film could not get through the editorial decisions. There were two TV programs made about the film and cancelled at the last moment. We could not find a distributor in Israel for the film or cinemas to screen it. There were certain moments when some critics and journalists used the film as an outlet for their own frustrations, which were imposed on them by censorship and by directing or imposing a very certain discourse on the media by the government. I’m talking about issuing papers, in which were written ‘words you can use and cannot use,’ ‘certain questions you are not allowed to ask’ and the way you [are allowed to] ask those questions. If you speak to a Palestinian or to the military you have to change your expressions and the terms you use. So this outlet gave them the courage, I believe, to write, and since then they legitimized the film in Israel and it was screened all over the country. 

MMG: Arna gave a poignant speech upon accepting the Right Livelihood Award at the Swedish parliament. She said that as Rosh Pina [the Israeli settlement where she lived following the Palestinian Nakba of 1948] grew and developed, the nearby Arab village al-Jauna was “erased from the face of the earth,” its Palestinian inhabitants becoming refugees, along with 700,000 others, “through sheer robbery and forced displacement.” What do you think stops other Israelis from coming to the same conclusion as your mother?

JMK: That’s a very interesting question. I’ll give you just the framework in which I can analyze this process of history that enabled Israel to confiscate, to settle and to colonize Palestine and not go through the path my mother chose. The reasons are many but the main reason you must understand is that since the Zionist movement was created, it manipulated the history of the Jews, especially the Holocaust period, and used forces around it to create one of the most successful colonies in Palestine. And since then, the victim philosophy or victim theory or victim policy of Jews and Israelis used all means and all aspects in their history since the pogroms — what they call the persecutions in Russia during the Czar period — till the announcement of hundreds of suicide warnings coming to Israel. From that to here, we see a policy of fear, a ghetto mentality, a policy that distracts the average Israeli from the truth. Frightened and victimized people can justify any crime they do and it enables them to live with their conscience in a very comfortable way like most of the Israelis. Once you are a victim, it’s very easy to create dehumanization and demonization of the other, and this is the success of the first Israeli propaganda in the Zionist movement.

MMG: In the scene of your mother’s body at the mortuary, you comment somewhat half-heartedly that the only place that would bury her was the kibbutz. What happened after she died?

JMK: My mother could not be buried because she refused to be buried in a religious ceremony or funeral. Israel is not a democracy; it’s a theocracy. The religion is not separated from the state so all issues concerning the privacy of life — marriage, burial and many other aspects — are controlled by the religious authorities, so you cannot be buried in a civilian funeral. The only way to do it is buy a piece of land in some kibbutzim, which refused to sell us a piece of land because of the politics of my mother. It’s not a very popular thing in a civilian, non-religious way. And then I had to take the coffin home. And it stayed in my house for three days and I could not find a place to bury her. So I announced in a press conference that she was going to be buried in the garden of my house. There was a big scandal, police came, a lot of TV and media [came], violent warnings were issued against me. There were big demonstrations around the house, till I got a phone call from friends from a kibbutz, Ramot Menashe, who are from the left side of the map, and they came from Argentina. Nice Zionist Israelis, maybe post-Zionist. They offered a piece of land there. And the funny thing is that while we were looking for a place to bury my mother, there were discussions in Jenin to offer me to bring her for burial there, in the shahid’s [martyr's] graveyard. They told me there was one Fatah leader, who was humorously saying, “Well, guys, look, it’s an honor to have Arna with us here, a great honor, the only thing is maybe in about fifty years’ time some Jewish archaeologists will come here and say there are some Jewish bones here and they’re going to confiscate the land of Jenin.” [Laughs] They do it. Even if they find the Jewish bones of a dog, they take the place. That’s the place they do it. Every place they confiscate they find the bones of a Jew and that’s how they justify the ownership of the land, by finding bones.

MMG: There was a recent, widely-publicized Haaretz poll that 68 percent of Israelis would not live in the same building as an Arab.

JMK: I have it here.

MMG: So the logic runs that if you don’t want to live next to a Palestinian, why be buried next to one?

JMK: Yeah. And almost 50 percent of Israelis think the Arabs inside the ’48 [boundary], inside Israel, are a [demographic] and security threat. These are their neighbors, so imagine what kind of relationships, imagine what kind of democracy this is.

MMG: I thought one of the most important scenes in the film occurred when Alaa’s house, as well as Ashraf’s [two of Arna's theatre students in the film], had been destroyed in Jenin, and your mother asks them to express their anger, even to hit her. You end up with this tension, as elsewhere in the film, of a tragicomedy. You find the audience laughing through their teeth.

JMK: [Arna] was trained as a psychodramatist. She was successful at it.

MMG: How would you respond to pro-Zionists watching your film, that despite your mother’s “rehabilitation of the Arab mind,” the child actors become “terrorists?”

JMK: It’s a very sick question, not yours, but the pro-Zionist attitude that thinks the problem of violence is the violence of children and not the violence of the Israeli occupation and it’s exactly to turn the pyramid upside down again, and I mean to use the propaganda to turn the question [upside down]. The question is not about the Israeli soldiers’ violence. You don’t have to heal the children in Jenin. We didn’t try to heal their violence.

We tried to challenge it into more productive ways. And more productive ways are not an alternative to resistance. What we were doing in the theatre is not trying to be a replacement or an alternative to the resistance of the Palestinians in the struggle for liberation. Just the opposite. This must be clear. I know it’s not good for fundraising, because I’m not a social worker, I’m not a good Jew going to help the Arabs, and I’m not a philanthropic Palestinian who comes to feed the poor. We are joining, by all means, the struggle for liberation of the Palestinian people, which is our liberation struggle. Everybody who is connected to this project says that he feels that he is also occupied by the Zionist movement, by the military regime of Israel, and by its policy. Either he lives in Jenin, or in Haifa, or in Tel Aviv. Nobody joined this project to heal. We’re not healers. We’re not good Christians. We are freedom fighters.

MMG: The film was cancelled in many cities?

JMK: Yeah, the screenings of it. It was sold, but not broadcast and also in Israel in many places. I don’t know, this is for you to judge, but I believe that people will try to boycott or create difficulties to screen this film. Of course, that’s why we’re pushing it so hard, trying to do it by ourselves. But just to clarify the theatre [question], joining the Palestinian intifada, by our definition: we believe that the strongest struggle today should be cultural, moral. This must be clear. We are not teaching the boys and the girls how to use arms or how to create explosives, but we expose them to discourse of liberation, of liberty. We expose them to art, culture, music — which I believe can create better people for the future, and I hope that some of them, some of our friends in Jenin, will lead … and continue the resistance against the occupation through this project, through this theatre.

MMG: Israeli director Yehuda “Judd” Ne’eman says he came to filmmaking “through the slaughterhouse of modern warfare.” He says he was disillusioned by art in the face of war atrocities, but, I’m quoting, “When the situation in my country deteriorates politically, when my body deteriorates physically, it’s high time to believe in art.” Is that different or similar to your own mission across political and artistic fault lines?

JMK: The same aspects and same starting points apply for me. Art, in our case, can combine and generate and mobilize other aspects of resistance. All I care about is resistance. I’m not doing art for the sake of art. I don’t believe in art for the sake of art. I think art can generate and motivate and combine and create a universal, liberated discourse. This is my concern about art. On the other side there is the therapeutic level, and the therapeutic level is not to heal. This is very important if you can point it out — it’s not to heal anybody from his violence. It’s to create an awareness they can use in the right way. Not against themselves.

MMG: You served in the Israeli army but quit after you were asked to stop your father’s Palestinian relatives at a military checkpoint. How significant was that event as a turning point in your political and even artistic formation?

JMK: It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But I was boiling since I tried to disguise myself. The outfit could not fit, you see? I could not fit the outfit. And it blew up in my face that certain day in the checkpoint, but I was boiling for years.

MMG: How long did you serve?

JMK: I served for one and a half years, but in a very intensive special forces unit [the Paratroopers Brigade]. I don’t regret it, I must be honest. First of all, from the practical side, it saved my life many times during this theatre-making and the film. I know all aspects of the Israeli army, I speak Hebrew, I know the language, I know how to deal with them. It’s like combat training for life. And on the other hand, I penetrated the deepest sources of the Israeli propaganda, the smallest cells of Israeli society, which is fertilized in the army. The army in Israel is the essence of life, the army in Israel is the discourse of life, the army in Israeli is the foundation of the society. Once you penetrate this and you understand the dynamics, you can oppose and create and use it for yourself.

*Maryam Monalisa Gharavi has contributed poetry and critical writing to various publications. Her films have been screened at Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Harvard Film Archive, Pacific Film Archive and elsewhere. She is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature and Film and Visual Studies at Harvard University.


Written FOR

WHAT McCARTHYISM AND ZIONISM TRIED TO SILENCE ON CAMPUS



Following is a video interview with Kris Petersen. Kris was involved in a battle less than a month ago with Brooklyn College, a battle that he won ….  for all of us!


EVENTS IN EGYPT OFFER HOPE TO EXILED PALESTINIANS


“It’s a reimagining of the middle east, what is possible,” says poet Remi Kanazi of the revolution in Egypt.

What does regime change mean for the Palestinian people? And what effect will the wave of civil rights protests and activism across Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Iran and Libya have?



Presented BY

WHO SULEIMAN REALLY IS …. BY ONE OF HIS VICTIMS

He stressed that Suleiman was a CIA/Mossad agent who was willing to do anything for a price


Mamdouh Habib interview on new US/Israeli Egyptian pet Omar Suleiman

By Antony Loewenstein

Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib was captured and tortured in the years after September 11 in both Egypt and Guantanamo Bay.

For years, “war on terror” supporters defamed Habib and claimed he was lying about his allegations of mistreatment. However last year in just one case against the Australian Murdoch press, he won a small victory:

The courts have delivered another win to former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mamdouh Habib, declaring that he was defamed by News Ltd columnist Piers Akerman, paving the way for a hefty payout.

The New South Wales Court of Appeal overturned a 2008 judgment in favour of Mr Akerman’s publisher Nationwide News and yesterday ordered them to pay Mr Habib’s legal costs in the five-year-old battle.

It was the second win for Mr Habib in a month after the full court of the Federal Court upheld an appeal in his mammoth compensation case against the federal government for allegedly aiding and abetting his torture by foreign agents.

Another hearing will now be held to determine what damages he will receive for the 2005 article in The Daily Telegraph and other News Ltd newspapers, headlined ”Mr Habib, it’s time to tell the full story”.

Today, with the Egyptian uprisings in full swing, the man tapped by the US, Israel and the West to lead the country, Omar Suleiman, was one of Habib’s torturers and there is intense scrutiny of who this man truly is.

I interviewed Habib exclusively tonight in Sydney about Suleiman, his calls for the torturer-in-chief to be charged, his knowledge about all the figures complicit in his rendition and his support for the Egyptian protests. He stressed that Suleiman was a CIA/Mossad agent who was willing to do anything for a price:

I reviewed Habib’s book, My Story, in 2008 for the Sydney Morning Herald and it tells a powerful story. The extracts below are all the references to Suleiman:

pp.112-115

The guard quickly told me that the very big boss was coming to talk to me, and that I must be well behaved and co-operate. Everyone was nervous. I have since found out that the boss was Omar Suleiman, head of all Egyptian security. He was known for personally supervising the interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects and sending reports to the CIA. In the beginning, he was often present during my interrogations. He must have thought that he had a big fish when I was sent to him by the Americans and Australians.

I was sitting in a chair, hooded, with my hands handcuffed behind my back. He came up to me. His voice was deep and rough. He spoke to me in Egyptian and English. He said, “Listen, you don’t know who I am, but I am the one who has your life in his hands. Every single person in this building has his life in my hands. I just make the decision.”

I said, “I hope your decision is that you make me die straight away.”

“No, I don’t want you to die now. I want you to die slowly.” He went on, “I can’t stay with you; my time is too valuable to stay here. You only have me to save you. I’m your saviour. You have to tell me everything, if you want to be saved. What do you say?”

“I have nothing to tell you.”

“You think I can’t destroy you just like that?” He clapped his hands together.

“I don’t know”. I was feeling confused. Everything was unreal.

“If God came down and tried to take you by the hand, I would not let him. You are under my control. Let me show you something that will convince you.”

The guard then guided me out of the room and through an area where I could see, from below the blindfold, the trunks of palm trees. We then went through another door back inside, and descended some steps. We entered a room. They sat me down.

“Now you are going to tell me that you planned a terrorist attack”, Suleiman persisted.

“I haven’t planned any attacks.”

“I give you my word that you will be a rich man if you tell me you have been planning attacks. Don’t you trust me?” he asked.

“I don’t trust anyone”, I replied.

Immediately he slapped me hard across the face and knocked off the blindfold; I clearly saw his face.

“That’s it. That’s it. I don’t want to see this man again until he co-operates and tells me he’s been planning a terrorist attack! he yelled at the others in the room, then stormed out.

The guard came up to me, upset that I hadn’t co-operated.

I said to him, “You have to let me go soon; it’s nearly 48 hours.”

He looked at me, surprised, and asked, “How long do you think you’ve been here?”

“A day”, I replied.

“Man, you’ve been here for more than a week.”

They then took me to another room, where they tortured me relentlessly, stripping me naked and applying electric shocks everywhere on my body. The next thing I remember was seeing the general again. He came into the room with a man from Turkistan; he was a big man but was stooped over, because his hands were chained to the shackles of his feet, preventing him from standing upright.

“This guy is no use to us anymore. This is what is going to happen to you. We’ve had him for one hour, and this is what happens.”

Suddenly, a guy they called Hamish, which means snake, came at the poor man from behind and gave him a terrible karate kick that sent him crashing across the room. A guard went over to shake him, but he didn’t respond. Turning to the general, the guard said, “Basha, I think he’s dead.”

“Throw him away then. Let the dogs have him.”

They dragged the dead man out.

“What do you think of that?” asked the general, staring into my face.

“At least he can rest now”, I replied.

Then they brought another man in. This man, I think, was from Europe – his exclamations of pain didn’t sound like those of someone from the Middle East. He was in a terrible state. The guard came in with a machine and started to wire up the guy to it. They told the poor man that they were going to give him a full electric shock, measuring ten on the scale. Before they even turned the machine on, the man started to gasp and then slumped in the chair. I think he died of a heart attack.

The general said that there was one more person I had to see. “This person will make you see that we can keep you here for as long as we want, all of your life, if we choose.”

There was a window in the room, covered by a curtain. The general drew back a curtain, and I saw the top half of a very sick, thin man. He was sitting on a chair on the other side of the glass, facing me.

“You know this guy?” the general asked.

“No”, I replied.

“That’s strange – he’s your friend from Australia.”

I looked again, and was horrified to see that it was Mohammed Abbas, a man I had known in Australia who had worked for Telstra [Australian telecommunications company]. He had travelled to Egypt in 1999, and had never been seen again.

“He is going to be your neighbour for the rest of your life.”

It was then that I knew I was in Egypt, without a doubt. They then took Abbas away and closed the curtain.

p.118

After the first interrogation with Suleiman, I believed the Egyptians weren’t interested in where I had been; they only wanted me to confess to being a terrorist and having plotted terrorist attacks so they could sell the information to the United States and Australia. I decided then that I wouldn’t answer questions or explain anything; but, as a consequence, I was badly tortured in Egypt.

p.133

The Egyptians didn’t like Maha [Habib’s wife] at all. One day, I overheard Omar Suleiman saying to someone, “I would love to bring Maha here.” I have no idea when this was but the memory of these few words is very vivid in my mind. Fortunately, though, Suleiman could never have gotten hold of Maha, because she is Lebanese born and an Australian citizen. Suleiman, before my release from Egypt, often threatened that he would get me back if I ever said anything bad about Egypt.

After years of slamming Habib’s claims of torture, the Australian government has recently implicitly acknowledged the validity of his allegations:

Last December 17 in Sydney, officers representing the federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland signed a secret deal with former terror suspect Mamdouh Habib.

It featured an undisclosed compensation payout in return for Habib dropping his long-running civil suit claiming commonwealth complicity in his 2001 arrest, rendition, detention and torture in Pakistan, Egypt and Guantanamo Bay.

The secrecy clause preventing details of the deal being made public prolonged a decade-long cover-up of exactly what the Australian government and its officers knew about Habib’s CIA rendition to Egypt, where he was held in barbarous conditions and tortured for seven months, before being transferred to Cuba. Since Habib returned to Australia in January 2005, successive governments and the security agencies have denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, this ugly episode.

The commonwealth has used every legal device at its disposal to keep the sordid details under wraps, routinely frustrating media and legal efforts to get to the truth, in the name of national security.

In 2007 a judge in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal lashed out at ASIO’s repeated refusal to release information on Habib, asking: “Why should we take your word for it when again and again we find things that are said to be the subject of national security concerns turn out not to be? I mean it looks like an easy way out for ASIO: when in doubt, just say ‘national security’.”

The hush-hush settlement seemed set to stamp the Habib case closed for good. But with the ink on it hardly dry, startling claims have emerged about Australia’s connivance in the brutal maltreatment of one of its citizens.

The new testimony is in the form of witness statements obtained by Habib and tendered to commonwealth lawyers – but not until now made public – which apparently precipitated the December deal.

These accounts have not been tested in court but, if true, they provide damning evidence of Australia’s collusion, and expose as lies the repeated insistence that Australia had no knowledge of or involvement in Habib’s ordeal.

A decade after the event, it is now possible to piece together the sorry story of Australia’s treatment of Habib, based on court testimony, witness statements, government documents released from court files and under freedom of information, and insider accounts. It is a disturbing tale.

Habib was arrested in Pakistan days after the September 11 attacks on the US. He has always maintained he was there to look at relocating his family, while Australian investigators claim he had been in an al-Qa’ida training camp, which Habib still denies.

Either way, he was of keen interest to the authorities, particularly the CIA, because of his acquaintance with the militants who carried out the first World Trade Centre bombing in 1993.

Australian officials visited Habib, along with FBI and CIA agents, three times while he was detained in Islamabad in late October 2001.

A few days later he was handed over to the Americans, handcuffed, shackled, hooded, with his mouth and eyes taped and a bag over his head, and flown to Bagram air base in Afghanistan, before being transferred to Egypt.

For the next seven months there he was subjected to relentless interrogation, beatings, electric shocks, water torture, sexual assault, cigarette burns and more.

For years, the Australian authorities denied any knowledge of Habib’s detention in Egypt.

It was only in 2008 that the Australian Federal Police revealed that his pending transfer had been raised by US officials in Pakistan before the event, and then discussed in Canberra among officers from the AFP, ASIO, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the attorney-general’s and prime minister’s departments, who “agreed that the Australian government could not agree to the transfer of Mr Habib to Egypt”, evidence to the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee in May 2008 shows.

“Plausible deniability” was thus achieved, while Habib’s transfer went ahead anyway. US terrorism investigators have said it is inconceivable the rendition would have proceeded without Australia knowing, and intelligence insiders say those involved in Habib’s case were in no doubt as to where he was being sent. Habib has always maintained Australian officials were present during his transfer to, and detention in, Cairo.

For their part, the government and security agencies have steadfastly denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, his time in Egypt, even insisting they were never sure he was there at all.

Both ASIO and the DFAT have stated they had no contact with Habib in Egypt. But the untested witness statements obtained for Habib’s civil suit, and now reported exclusively in The Weekend Australian, tell a different story.

One statement, by a former Egyptian military intelligence officer who worked at the Cairo prison where terror suspects were held, says Australian officials were present when Habib arrived and throughout his detention.

“During Habib’s presence some of the Australian officials attended many times . . . The same official who attended the first time used to come with them,” the statement says. “Habib was tortured a lot and all the time, as the foreign intelligence wanted quick and fast information.”

The officer, whose name does not appear in the translation of his statement seen by The Weekend Australian, said he was prepared

to testify in court, if he was given protection.

Another statement was obtained from a fellow detainee of Habib’s in Egypt and later Guantanamo Bay, Pakistani-Saudi national Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni. Madni was captured by the CIA in Jakarta in January 2002 and rendered to Egypt and later Guantanamo Bay, accused of being a member of al-Qa’ida. He was finally released in August 2009 and reunited with his family in Lahore, Pakistan.

Madni describes spending three months in a 6 by 8 foot (1.8m by 2.4m) underground cell, and being tortured by similar methods to those described by Habib.

He recounts, “I could hear Mamdouh Habib screaming in pain during his interrogation”, and recalls being told by prison staff that the Australian was very sick and possibly dying.

Madni also claims Australian officials were there.

“Egyptian, Australian, Israeli (Mossad) and US intelligence agencies were involved in my interrogations . . . The Egyptian interrogator told me that the Australian intelligence organisation wanted to ask me questions about Mamdouh Habib . . . An officer . . . asked me questions like ‘How did you know or where did you meet Mamdouh Habib?”‘

These disturbing allegations will presumably be central to a fresh inquiry ordered this week by the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence, the watchdog that oversees our intelligence and security agencies.

Julia Gillard requested the inquiry, apparently after the settlement was reached, and after Habib wrote to the Prime Minister telling her he had witnesses who could confirm the presence of Australian officials in Egypt.

The Prime Minister’s office confirms Gillard has asked the Inspector-General to inquire into “the actions of relevant Australian agencies” in relation to Habib’s arrest and detention overseas. A spokesperson tells Focus: “A number of serious allegations have been made in relation to this matter and it is appropriate for the Prime Minister to request that they be properly examined. The IGIS Act requires inquiries to be conducted in private.” But the spokesperson did not say if the results will be released.

Furthermore, Canberra has now launched an investigation into Habib’s allegations that Australian officials were present during his interrogations in Egypt in Cairo in 2001 when Suleiman was abusing Habib.

Habib is a key witness able to reliably confirm the real role Suleiman plays in today’s Egypt. Barack Obama and his Western allies should strongly condemn the abuses in Mubarak’s Egypt and demand accountability for the crimes committed in his name.

As Habib told me tonight, it is impossible for Suleiman, with his bloody record, to lead Egypt into a better future. With the latest reports indicating that Suleiman and Mubarak are ramping up torture against protesters (here and here), Habib’s voice and experience should be heard loud and clear.

FROM

INTERVIEW WITH THE LATEST VICTIM OF AMERICAN ZIONISM

An Interview with Kristofer Petersen-Overton

 


Another Professor Fired for Views on Middle East

By JOSHUA SPERBER

Brooklyn College fired PhD student Kristofer Petersen-Overton yesterday, one day after New York state assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) sent a letter to BC president Karen Gould accusing Petersen-Overton of being an “overt supporter of terrorism.” Hikind has complained in interviews that Petersen-Overton’s academic work is anti-Israel, and that his attempt to “understand” suicide bombing is unfathomable. Petersen-Overton and I are colleagues at the CUNY Graduate Center.

JS: You were preparing to instruct a course on the Middle East and were fired. What happened?

KPO: I was hired by Mark Ungar at Brooklyn College’s political science department on the recommendation of Dov Waxman at the Graduate Center. I went in for an interview, and he was impressed with my credentials. I have an MA and I’ve published on the situation [in the Middle East], and he said “I would be honored to have you.” And this was for a grad level seminar, which is not lecture-based, meaning that our classes would be discussion-oriented and not some sort of alleged platform.

JS: What was the official explanation for your firing, and why doesn’t it make sense?

KPO: I have not once been contacted by the department itself, but I was told that the official reason I have been fired is that I don’t have a PhD, which is untrue, because no student teaching this course has a PhD, and there are of course many student teachers at BC who do not have their PhD’s. And I’ll point out that I am somewhat more qualified than many student teachers because I came into the program with a Master’s degree, which many students who are teaching for CUNY don’t have.

I was fired immediately after Dov Hikind contacted the school. He is an especially radical assemblyman who goes after people who he perceives as being anti-Israel. He’s actually made a career out of targeting people for alleged anti-Israel bias.

JS: And the charge of bias is doubly problematic. Because, one, it’s inaccurate. But, two, even if it were accurate, what does it imply?

KPO: We all come to the table with our personal political views; there’s not a single professor who doesn’t have their own views. So it all comes down to how one approaches those views, and I devoted an entire class in the syllabus to the subject of objectivity and humanism, meaning I wanted to put this issue of bias on the table to facilitate open and productive discussions.

JS: What does your firing suggest about contemporary politics and higher education?

KPO: They’ve targeted professors up for tenure for so long and have been relatively unsuccessful except for several cases, like with Norman Finkelstein (JS: and, among others, Nicholas De Genova and Thaddeus Russell, at Columbia University and Barnard College, respectively), now I think they’re going after graduate students before their careers even begin. One of the most direct implications of this which is deeply troubling is not the fact that people take issue with one particular class, which is inevitable, but the way in which the college administration caved so quickly – for it to occur within 24 hours is incredible to me, and the school never even consulted me. For this to be decided by a state official poking his nose in a college syllabus is Orwellian. I’ve received tremendous support, which I’m very grateful for. Norman Finkelstein wrote me, and after I contacted Neve Gordon he (Gordon) contacted BC’s provost, writing that he reviewed my syllabus and that it was excellent and reflected a number of different perspectives, noting that the textbook was mainstream and “emphasizes the Zionist narrative.” He also read a scholarly paper I had written, and wrote that he was “struck by (my) academic rigor.”

JS: What can people do to lend support?

I would be greatly appreciative if people can send an email to the provost, even better a letter, and tomorrow it would be great if people could call, and more importantly if people could disseminate this story. It’s especially disgusting that they would go after a grad student, because they have not only impacted my career but also my income and health insurance.

Office of the Provost (William A. Tramontano)
Brooklyn College
2900 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11210
718.951.5000
tramontano@brooklyn.cuny.edu

 

 

Source

 

 

 

Also see This related post from Muzzle Watch

 

 

 


TRY TO IMAGINE CHRISTMAS WITHOUT YOUR HUSBAND OR FATHER

These families don’t have to imagine as they attempt to ‘celebrate’ the

Eid without a father and husband

Evie Soli

An interview with the wives of Abdallah and Adeeb Abu Rahma

Al Eid is a holy time of the year for Muslims. Families gather and visit each other over the four holidays, which are for most a time for families to be together. When one member of the family is missing, it makes it hard to enjoy Al Eid in the same way. Thousands of families of Palestinian political prisoners are suffering because a family member is in prison. For Majida, wife of Abdallah Abu Rahma who has now been held for one year in Israeli jail under the accusation of “incitement,” every day without her husband is difficult. She expresses the pain of seeing her children missing their dad not only during Eid, but every day. Louma (8) and Layam (7) used to go with Abdallah on family visits, and are now crying when talking about their dad. His 1 and-a-half-year-old son Layath does not even remember his dad as he was only 7 months old the night Abdallah was arrested. “He says Baba when he sees Abdallah’s picture, but of course he does not know him, since he was just a baby”, Majida says. Also, for Adeeb Abu Rahma’s children, Eid is not the same without their father. Both families were hoping to have their fathers home for Eid, but the military prosecution managed to postpone the release in both cases.

Arrested in front of his children

Abdallah’s wife Majida and daughters Louma (8) and Layam (8) during preparations for Eid.

 

I meet Majida and her children during the preparations for Eid. Louma and Layam are helping their mother in the house, while she is making the Palestinian dish “dawali” (rice rolled in grape leaves). She recalls the night when the family was brutally woken up by the Israeli Army breaking into their house: “I woke up by someone knocking the door 1:30am on the 10th of December (2009). Abdallah said it might be soldiers – because who else would come to pay a visit at that time?” Suddenly the door was broken down, and armed soldiers stormed the house. Abdallah was taken out in the stairway, with four soldiers blocking him from seeing his wife and children. He was not allowed to go back to say goodbye or to change his clothes, only his two daughters could pass the soldiers to see him one last time. He had to change from night clothes in the stairway. Nine army jeeps and dogs were waiting outside the house. Majida explains how the daughters reacted: “Louma asked: Am I dreaming? Did soldiers take my dad? Layam was asking the same – they both thought it was a nightmare.”

Missing their father

In the months before Abdallah was arrested almost one year ago, the army was carrying out frequent raids to look for him. The children were used to being woken up by masked soldiers entering the house at night, and were traumatized. After her father was arrested in the last night raid, 8 year old Layam told her mother that she was happy that the soldiers would not come back now. “Imagine how sad it is to hear that for a mother”, Majida says, “But now, when we speak about Abdallah, she cries. They both laugh and cry in the same time, because they miss him and they love him and remember him as a caring father and a friend. And I miss him too.”

While we are talking, Layath is grabbing a 2 meter long flagpole, saying “la, la l’jdar!” (no, no to the wall!), seeming as if he is on his way to a demonstration. “His name means ‘Lion’. He is small, but he is strong. He has to be strong” his mother says. He does not know what happened to his father, but he will when he gets older. The families of the people involved in Bil’in’s non-violent struggle against the Wall and settlements cannot sleep safely at night. Dozens of houses have been raided at night, and children are suffering from trauma after seeing fathers and brothers brutally taken away by masked soldiers. Sleep difficulties, bedwetting, and disorders are common consequences among children who have experienced Israeli soldiers storming their homes at night. Many, like Abdallah’s children, have also seen soldiers beat someone up during a raid.

“Eid is not Eid”

Three of Adeeb’s children: Ahmad (10), Batoul (4) and Falasteen (8)

 

Five months before Abdallah was taken from his home, his cousin Adeeb Abu Rahma was arrested in a demonstration in Bil’in. His wife has only been allowed to visit him once at Ofer Military Prison where both Adeeb and Abdallah are held. Adeeb’s daughter Radja (20) has not been able to see him at all, due to what Israel calls “security reasons”. This Eid is not the same as before for the family consisting of Adeeb’s wife and 9 children, aged from 4 to 20. Radja says, “This Eid there is not happiness like there used to be in this family. In Eid our family used to be together, visiting and having guests. Our father is not here, and we all miss him. Eid is not Eid without him.”

After Adeeb’ arrest, the family hoped he would be released shortly. However, after weeks and then months of waiting, the Israeli Military Court sentenced him to 1 year, and his family hoped that they would see him soon since he had almost served his sentence. But the military prosecution appealed and now Adeeb is to be released the 12th December. Exactly 1.5 years will have passed since Radja saw her father the last time.

Struggling financially

The financial situation has been hard the last 1.5 years. There is no big brother to help support the family financially. The eldest son Mohammed is 16 years old and still in school. Two daughters are in university, and are now struggling to pay the fees. The family’s income is from their small market, but their household is suffering from the absence of Adeeb’s income as a taxi driver. Umm Mohammed is also alone in her responsibility to raise the children; though they are all helping out as best they can, most of the children are not old enough to have responsibility. She misses her husband, and has been present in every court hearing so that at least she can see Adeeb. But she has not been allowed to talk to him except for the one time she was allowed to visit. Radja explains how Batoul (4) reacted when she visited her father in prison: “She did not understand why he could not be home. At home she cried and was constantly nervous. She asked: Why did they take him? When she saw him in prison she was in shock, she would not speak. After a while, when she realized that he is not coming home, she started to talk. But what can we answer to her question? It’s clear that they took him and still are keeping him because they are afraid of the success of the non-violent demonstrations. It scares them that through the demonstrations the world can see what Israel is doing to us, so they fabricate evidence against the leaders and put them in prison. All Batoul knows is that her father is taken away from her and she does not understand why.”

Success in spite of suffering

Both Adeeb and Abdallah’s families are obviously strong, though given no choice but to manage without their husband and father. They have been waiting in uncertainty for months before the trials, and suffering severe disappointment since the appeal, which deprived the children of their fathers for another half a year. Adeeb Abu Rahma was in July sentenced to 1 year for “encouraging violence”, and another 6 months may be added on Thursday when the state prosecution appeals his sentence. Abdallah Abu Rahma was, according to the first court decision, supposed to be released this week, but his release is now postponed. Despite the frustrations and constant ache, both Adeeb’s and Abdallah’s families express hope because they know why they were arrested. Majida says:

“My husband was visible. He went to every demonstration, and spoke up against the Wall and the settlement. In spite of our suffering, and his son now growing up without knowing his father, we know that his actions were successful. Israel was so threatened by the demonstrations that they had to remove strong characters like my husband and Adeeb.”

Background

Abdallah Abu Rahmah

Abdallah Abu Rahmah has been a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements since its conception in 2004.

At 2am on 10 December 2009 (international Human Rights Day), exactly one year after Abdallah Abu Rahma received the Carl Von Ossietzky Medal from the International League for Human Rights, nine military vehicles surrounded his home in Ramallah. Israeli soldiers broke the door down, extracted Abdallah from his bed, blindfolded him and took him into custody.

After being convicted in September of incitement and organizing illegal marches, on October 12th, Abdallah Abu Rahmah was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment plus 6 months suspended sentence for 3 years and a fine of 5,000 NIS.

Following Abu Rahma’s convicition, the European Union put out a statement condemning the Persecution of Abu Rahmah. Representatives of all EU member states declared that they consider the route of the separation wall built on Palestinian land to be illegal, and that, as Abu Rahmah was “a human rights defender” participating in peaceful protests against this wall, they are concerned about his sentence of 12 months in prison by an Israeli military court.

The military prosecution against Abdallah Abu Rahmah will be petitioning to extend his detention on Thursday, November 18th, the day of his scheduled release.

 

Adeeb Abu Rahmah

Adeeb Abu Rahmah, a leading activist in the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was arrested at 1:30pm on 10 July 2009 while taking part in the weekly demonstration against the wall in Bil’in.

He was sentenced to 12 months in prison for crimes of “incitement” (urging the villagers to come to the weekly protests), but the military prosecution appealed his sentence so he is still in prison after 15 months, pending the decision about the prosecution’s appeal.

Adeeb’s case relied on the forced confessions of four Bil’in youth – 14, 15 and 16 years old – arrested during a night raid by Israeli soldiers and forced to state that Adeeb told them to throw stones at the soldiers.

 

Source

DEFAMATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND SELF DETERMINATION

The ADL wants to pretend that people who speak out against what Israel has done and continues to do are not motivated by the Nakba, the occupation, the siege of Gaza, apartheid, war crimes, etcetera, but by something else. It has to pretend that’s the case in order to dodge the real issues. That’s a deliberate strategy. The ADL doesn’t want Americans to judge Israel based on the facts; it wants to judge Israel based on marketing images.

Image by David Dees
ADL: Hate Bills, Our Specialty


‘The Burning Truth of White Phosphorus’: Responding to the ADL’s ‘Anti-Israel’ List

by Alex Kane

Among the groups on the Anti-Defamation League’s list of the “top ten anti-Israel groups in America” was Students for Justice in Palestine, a  nationwide group of organizations on a variety of college campuses working on Palestine solidarity in universities.

SJP chapters have been instrumental in moving the cause of Palestinian justice and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement forward in the United States.  At Hampshire College, the SJP chapter successfully pressured the college’s board of trustees to divest from holdings it had in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation, a first in the United States.  Last academic year at the University of California, Berkeley, the SJP chapter there attracted international attention for its groundbreaking effort to push their college to divest from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation, although their initiative was ultimately felled by a veto from the president of the student government.

It’s no wonder why the ADL is targeting the group.

Immediately after the ADL’s release of the “top ten anti-Israel groups in America” list, a number of SJP chapters quickly organized to put out a response, calling the list a “disingenuous and misguided attempt to vilify students that criticize Israel’s occupation, which denies Palestinian human rights and self-determination.”

For more on SJP’s response to the ADL, I recently caught up with Yaman Salahi, a student at Yale Law School who is involved with SJP at Yale.

Alex Kane: What was your immediate reaction to SJP being included on the ADL’s list?

Yaman Salahi:  Given the ADL’s record for smearing anyone speaking out for Palestinian freedom, for justice and human rights, it was not surprising. But the idea was kind of creepy — what kind of person would be interested in this kind of Top 10 list? What’s the point of the list? Why did the ADL create it? There’s no real useful substance in it at all, there are not even compelling factual findings. To the extent that the ADL smears activists supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom and equality, it just didn’t seem like a very effective smear.

I think that the list really has a marketing function. The ADL list is an exercise in branding. The ADL recognizes that SJP and groups like JVP [Jewish Voice for Peace] have a growing influence on fair-minded people. It recognizes that these groups are breaking out of the activism circle and have growing influence on the mainstream. It recognizes that these groups are getting savvier by the day and are learning how to mobilize and intervene effectively.

Nowhere in its report does the ADL challenge the basis for our activism. Nowhere in its report does it say: “Israel should, in fact, be allowed to use white phosphorous as a weapon against civilians.” Nowhere does it say: “Israel should be allowed to bomb, indiscriminately, the civilians of Gaza.” Nowhere does it say: “Israel has a right to demolish the homes of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and hand their properties over to Jewish settlers.” Those are all the implications though because that is the kind of stuff we speak out against. But the ADL report constructs a vacuum completely devoid of moral principles and ethical concerns, nowhere acknowledging our motivating principles, and implies that if you object to any of these kinds of injustices, that you are simply “anti-Israel.” It can avoid the burning truth of white phosphorous by relying on these kinds of sophomoric labels. But if its definition of “anti-Israel” is nothing more than holding Israel to universal standards of decency and justice, then “anti-Israel” can only be a badge of honor.

So the ADL is engaging in a branding campaign to combat the fact that we are social justice and human rights activists coming together to put a stop to a real wrong. It wants to dismiss all of these legitimate and compelling concerns and rely simply on the label “anti-Israel.” It doesn’t even define “anti-Israel” — instead, the ADL relies on whatever preconceptions exist in readers’ minds to define the term for themselves. So you can see, it brings together not only ten very different organizations, all over the political spectrum, in order to imply some sort of “guilt” by association, but also to brand all these groups as nothing more than “anti-Israel.” It wants to distort the causality by suggesting that we are irrationally “anti-Israel,” that we have no legitimate reason for our attitudes. In fact, activists speak out against Israel because of what we know about Israel’s history and because of what we know about what Israel does every day to the Palestinians. The ADL wants to pretend that people who speak out against what Israel has done and continues to do are not motivated by the Nakba, the occupation, the siege of Gaza, apartheid, war crimes, etcetera, but by something else. It has to pretend that’s the case in order to dodge the real issues. That’s a deliberate strategy. The ADL doesn’t want Americans to judge Israel based on the facts; it wants to judge Israel based on marketing images.

AK: What do you think SJP’s inclusion on the list says about the state of the Palestine solidarity movement in the U.S., and specifically on campus?

YS: I think it reflects the tremendous growth of student activism on the issue. By and large campus organizations are autonomous of one another, but now, networks are beginning to form. I think that these networks have a lot of potential. I believe that the response issued by SJP and signed by over 60 campus groups is the first coordinated action of that scale. It’s really promising because such networks can be leveraged in support of much more ambitious and effective campaigns, on a national scale. I think that the ADL sees the writing on the wall, and that is why it wants to focus on SJP. I think it believes that the divestment Debate at UC Berkeley was just the tip of the iceberg, and that because it can’t argue on the merits, the ADL has to resort to ad hominem attacks instead.

Nevertheless, it’s important not to react triumphantly. Just because the ADL puts us on its blacklist doesn’t mean we are guaranteed to succeed. We will succeed, but only if we are serious and work hard. The best way to honor this report is for students to find ways to provoke meaningful discussion and action on their own campuses. Students must always re-focus the discussion on Israel’s actions, because the ADL and other groups like it want to derail all discussions about Israel’s actions. We have to provoke the discussions that they can’t win.

AK: What do you think the list itself tells us about the ADL?

YS: It re-affirms that the ADL can’t be taken seriously when it comes to the Middle East. It has no moral authority. It is nothing more than a cheerleader for Israel, with absolutely no fidelity to values of justice or equality. It can’t cite a single progressive value that would support the creation of such a McCarthyist list. Seriously, what value does it promote? None. That’s not the ADL’s only unprincipled position lately. It took the shocking position that Muslims trying to build a mosque in New York City were doing something “offensive.” It’s almost as if the ADL was saying that, in order to avoid offending anyone, Muslims should only build mosques at the back of the bus. As far as the ADL is concerned, Muslims and Arabs have fewer rights than others. It can’t be taken seriously. It just honored Rupert Murdoch — what kind of organization that cares about racism, equality, civil rights would celebrate Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News?

AK: Do SJP chapters plan on capitalizing on the attention the ADL has given you guys, and if so, how will you capitalize on it

YS: I can’t really speak for any SJP chapter on this. I think the fact that so many groups came together to issue that joint statement says that there’s definitely an intention to use this opportunity to contribute to the public discourse, to defend student activism, and to make sure that Israel is accountable for its actions. However, to be honest, the ADL’s report itself didn’t get very much attention. Generally, only Israeli newspapers and a couple Jewish-American publications covered it, and most focused on the inclusion of Jewish Voice for Peace.  This focus itself reflects a characteristic of public discourse that I think can only be described as a form of racism: many people only pay attention when the right-wing Israel defenders attack Jews or Israelis, but insofar as they’re only attacking Arabs, Muslims, or other human rights activists, not very many people are interested. It’s funny, in a way, though, that the ADL would include JVP on this list. It goes back to the whole guilt by association thing. Here, the ADL is basically saying: “Look, JVP hangs out with Arabs & Muslims!” In other words, they’re Arab-lovers! Last time people talked like this, they lost. I think this attack by the ADL is a good opportunity for SJPs to gain access to public forums and respond. I hope people can use the opportunity to draw more attention to the real issues, like Israeli war crimes and the occupation of Palestinian land.

Source

GIDEON LEVY … ISRAELI DEVIL OR SAINT?

Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?

For three decades, the writer and journalist Gideon Levy has been a lone voice, telling his readers the truth about what goes on in the Occupied Territories.

Interview by Johann Hari

ASHLEY COMBES / EPICSCOTLAND

Gideon Levy, Israeli journalist and author

Gideon Levy is the most hated man in Israel – and perhaps the most heroic. This “good Tel Aviv boy” – a sober, serious child of the Jewish state – has been shot at repeatedly by the Israeli Defence Force, been threatened with being “beaten to a pulp” on the country’s streets, and faced demands from government ministers that he be tightly monitored as “a security risk.” This is because he has done something very simple, and something that almost no other Israeli has done. Nearly every week for three decades, he has travelled to the Occupied Territories and described what he sees, plainly and without propaganda. “My modest mission,” he says, “is to prevent a situation in which many Israelis will be able to say, ‘We didn’t know.’” And for that, many people want him silenced.

The story of Gideon Levy – and the attempt to deride, suppress or deny his words – is the story of Israel distilled. If he loses, Israel itself is lost.

I meet him in a hotel bar in Scotland, as part of his European tour to promote his new book, ‘The Punishment of Gaza’. The 57 year-old looks like an Eastern European intellectual on a day off – tall and broad and dressed in black, speaking accented English in a lyrical baritone. He seems so at home in the world of book festivals and black coffee that it is hard, at first, to picture him on the last occasion he was in Gaza – in November, 2006, before the Israeli government changed the law to stop him going.

He reported that day on a killing, another of the hundreds he has documented over the years. As twenty little children pulled up in their school bus at the Indira Gandhi kindergarten, their 20 year-old teacher, Najawa Khalif, waved to them – and an Israel shell hit her and she was blasted to pieces in front of them. He arrived a day later, to find the shaking children drawing pictures of the chunks of her corpse. The children were “astonished to see a Jew without weapons. All they had ever seen were soldiers and settlers.”

“My biggest struggle,” he says, “is to rehumanize the Palestinians. There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood, and I’m a product of this machinery as much as anyone else. [We are taught] a few narratives that it’s very hard to break. That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us? So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any questions marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard.”

So he describes the lives of ordinary Palestinians like Najawa and her pupils in the pages of Ha’aretz, Israel’s establishment newspaper. The tales read like Chekovian short stories of trapped people, in which nothing happens, and everything happens, and the only escape is death. One article was entitled “The last meal of the Wahbas family.” He wrote: “They’d all sat down to have lunch at home: the mother Fatma, three months pregnant; her daughter Farah, two; her son Khaled, one; Fatma’s brother, Dr Zakariya Ahmed; his daughter in law Shayma, nine months pregnant; and the seventy-eight year old grandmother. A Wahba family gathering in Khan Yunis in honour of Dr Ahmed, who’d arrived home six days earlier from Saudi Arabia. A big boom is heard outside. Fatma hurriedly scoops up the littlest one and tries to escape to an inner room, but another boom follows immediately. This time is a direct hit.”

In small biographical details, he recovers their humanity from the blankness of an ever-growing death toll. The Wahbas had tried for years to have a child before she finally became pregnant at the age of 36. The grandmother tried to lift little Khaled off the floor: that’s when she realised her son and daughter were dead.

Levy uses a simple technique. He asks his fellow Israelis: how would we feel, if this was done to us by a vastly superior military power? Once, in Jenin, his car was stuck behind an ambulance at a checkpoint for an hour. He saw there was a sick woman in the back and asked the driver what was going on, and he was told the ambulances were always made to wait this long. Furious, he asked the Israeli soldiers how they would feel if it was their mother in the ambulance – and they looked bemused at first, then angry, pointing their guns at him and telling him to shut up.

“I am amazed again and again at how little Israelis know of what’s going on fifteen minutes away from their homes,” he says. “The brainwashing machinery is so efficient that trying [to undo it is] almost like trying to turn an omelette back to an egg. It makes people so full of ignorance and cruelty.” He gives an example. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel bombing of blockaded Gaza in 2008-9,  “a dog – an Israeli dog – was killed by a Qassam rocket and it on the front page of the most popular newspaper in Israel. On the very same day, there were tens of Palestinians killed, they were on page 16, in two lines.”

At times, the occupation seems to him less tragic than absurd. In 2009, Spain’s most famous clown, Ivan Prado, agreed to attend a clowning festival on Ramallah in the West Bank. He was detained at the airport in Israel, and then deported “for security reasons.” Levy leans forward and asks: “Was the clown considering transferring Spain’s vast stockpiles of laughter to hostile elements? Joke bombs to the jihadists? A devastating punch line to Hamas?”

Yet the absurdity nearly killed him. In the summer of 2003, he was travelling in a clearly marked Israeli taxi on the West Bank. He explains: “At a certain stage the army stopped us and asked what we were doing there. We showed them our papers, which were all in order. They sent us up a road – and when we went onto this road, they shot us. They directed their fire to the centre of the front window. Straight at the head. No shooting in the air, no megaphone calling to stop, no shooting at the wheels. Shoot to kill immediately. If it hadn’t been bullet-proof, I wouldn’t be here now. I don’t think they knew who we were. They shot us like they would shoot anyone else. They were trigger-happy, as they always are. It was like having a cigarette. They didn’t shoot just one bullet. The whole car was full of bullets. Do they know who they are going to kill? No. They don’t know and don’t care.”

He shakes his head with a hardened bewilderment. “They shoot at the Palestinians like this on a daily basis. You have only heard about this because, for once, they shot at an Israeli.”

I “Who lived in this house? Where is he now?”

How did Gideon Levy become so different to his countrymen? Why does he offer empathy to the Palestinians while so many others offer only bullets and bombs? At first, he was just like them: his argument with other Israelis is an argument with his younger self. He was born in 1953 in Tel Aviv and as a young man “I was totally nationalistic, like everyone else. I thought – we are the best, and the Arabs just want to kill. I didn’t question.”

He was fourteen during the Six Day War, and soon after his parents took him to see the newly conquered Occupied Territories. “We were so proud going to see Rachel’s Tomb [in Bethlehem] and we just didn’t see the Palestinians. We looked right through them, like they were invisible,” he says. “It had always been like that. We were passing as children so many ruins [of Palestinian villages that had been ethnically cleansed in 1948]. We never asked: ‘Who lived in this house? Where is he now? He must be alive. He must be somewhere.’ It was part of the landscape, like a tree, like a river.” Long into his twenties, “I would see settlers cutting down olive trees and soldiers mistreating Palestinian women at the checkpoints, and I would think, ‘These are exceptions, not part of government policy.’”

Levy says he became different due to “an accident.” He carried out his military service with Israeli Army Radio and then continued working as a journalist, “so I started going to the Occupied Territories a lot, which most Israelis don’t do. And after a while, gradually, I came to see them as they really are.”

But can that be all? Plenty of Israelis go to the territories – not least the occupying troops and settlers – without recoiling. “I think it was also – you see, my parents were refugees. I saw what it had done to them. So I suppose… I saw these people and thought of my parents.” Levy’s father was a German Jewish lawyer from the Sudetenland. At the age of 26 – in 1939, as it was becoming inescapably clear the Nazis were determined to stage a genocide in Europe – he went with his parents to the railway station in Prague, and they waved him goodbye. “He never saw them or heard from them again,” Levy says. “He never found out what happened to them. If he had not left, he would not have lived.” For six months he lived on a boat filled with refugees, being turned away from port after port, until finally they made it to British Mandate Palestine, as it then was.

“My father was traumatised for his whole life,” he says. “He never really settled in Israel. He never really learned to speak anything but broken Hebrew. He came to Israel with his PhD and he had to make his living, so he started to work in a bakery and to sell cakes from door to door on his bicycle. It must have been a terrible humiliation to be a PhD in law and be knocking on doors offering cakes. He refused to learn to be a lawyer again. He became a minor clerk. I think this is what smashed him, y’know? He lived here sixty years, he had his family, had his happiness but he was really a stranger. A foreigner, in his own country? He was always outraged by things, small things. He couldn’t understand how people would dare to phone between two and four in the afternoon. It horrified him. He never understood what is the concept of overdraft in the bank. Every Israeli has an overdraft, but if he heard somebody was one pound overdrawn, he was horrified.”

His father “never” talked about home. “Any time I tried to encourage him to talk about it, he would close down. He never went back. There was nothing [to go back to], the whole village was destroyed. He left a whole life there. He left a fiancé, a career, everything. I am very sorry I didn’t push him harder to talk because I was young, so I didn’t have much interest. That’s the problem. When we are curious about our parents, they are gone.”

Levy’s father never saw any parallels between the fact he was turned into a refugee, and the 800,000 Palestinians who were turned into refugees by the creation of the state of Israel. “Never! People didn’t think like that. We never discussed it, ever.” Yet in the territories, Levy began to see flickers of his father everywhere – in the broken men and women never able to settle, dreaming forever of going home.

Then, slowly, Levy began to realise their tragedy seeped deeper still into his own life – into the ground beneath his feet and the very bricks of the Israeli town where he lives, Sheikh Munis. It is built on the wreckage of “one of the 416 Palestinian villages Israel wiped off the face of the earth in 1948,” he says. “The swimming pool where I swim every morning was the irrigation grove they used to water the village’s groves. My house stands on one of the groves. The land was ‘redeemed’ by force, its 2,230 inhabitants were surrounded and threatened. They fled, never to return. Somewhere, perhaps in a refugee camp in terrible poverty, lives the family of the farmer who plowed the land where my house now stands.” He adds that it is “stupid and wrong” to compare it to the Holocaust, but says that man is a traumatized refugee just as surely as Levy’s father – and even now, if he ended up in the territories, he and his children and grandchildren live under blockade, or violent military occupation.

The historian Isaac Deutscher once offered an analogy for the creation of the state of Israel. A Jewish man jumps from a burning building, and he lands on a Palestinian, horribly injuring him. Can the jumping man be blamed? Levy’s father really was running for his life: it was Palestine, or a concentration camp. Yet Levy says that the analogy is imperfect – because now the jumping man is still, sixty years later, smashing the head of the man he landed on against the ground, and beating up his children and grandchildren too. “1948 is still here. 1948 is still in the refugee camps. 1948 is still calling for a solution,” he says. “Israel is doing the very same thing now… dehumanising the Palestinians where it can, and ethnic cleansing wherever it’s possible. 1948 is not over. Not by a long way.”

II The scam of “peace talks”

Levy looks out across the hotel bar where we are sitting and across the Middle East, as if the dry sands of the Negev desert were washing towards us. Any conversation about the region is now dominated by a string of propaganda myths, he says, and perhaps the most basic is the belief that Israel is a democracy. “Today we have three kinds of people living under Israeli rule,” he explains. “We have Jewish Israelis, who have full democracy and have full civil rights. We have the Israeli Arabs, who have Israeli citizenship but are severely discriminated against. And we have the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, who live without any civil rights, and without any human rights. Is that a democracy?”

He sits back and asks in a low tone, as if talking about a terminally ill friend: “How can you say it is a democracy when, in 62 years, there was not one single Arab village established? I don’t have to tell you how many Jewish towns and villages were established. Not one Arab village. How can you say it’s a democracy when research has shown repeatedly that Jews and Arabs get different punishments for the same crime? How can you say it’s a democracy when a Palestinian student can hardly rent an apartment in Tel Aviv, because when they hear his accent or his name almost nobody will rent to him? How can you say Israel is a democracy when? Jerusalem invests 577 shekels a year in a pupil in [Palestinian] East Jerusalem and 2372 shekels a year in a pupil from [Jewish] West Jerusalem. Four times less, only because of the child’s ethnicity! Every part of our society is racist.”

“I want to be proud of my country,” he says. “I am an Israeli patriot. I want us to do the right thing.” So this requires him to point out that Palestinian violence is – in truth – much more limited than Israeli violence, and usually a reaction to it. “The first twenty years of the occupation passed quietly, and we did not lift a finger to end it. Instead, under cover of the quiet, we built the enormous, criminal settlement enterprise,” where Palestinian land is seized by Jewish religious fundamentalists who claim it was given to them by God. Only then – after a long period of theft, and after their attempts at peaceful resistance were met with brutal violence – did the Palestinians become violent themselves. “What would happen if the Palestinians had not fired Qassams [the rockets shot at Southern Israel, including civilian towns]? Would Israel have lifted the economic siege? Nonsense. If the Gazans were sitting quietly, as Israel expects them to do, their case would disappear from the agenda. Nobody would give any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they had not behaved violently.”

He unequivocally condemns the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians, but adds: “The Qassams have a context. They are almost always fired after an IDF assassination operation, and there have been many of these.” Yet the Israeli attitude is that “we are allowed to bomb anything we want but they are not allowed to launch Qassams.” It is a view summarised by Haim Ramon, the justice minister at time of Second Lebanon War: “We are allowed to destroy everything.”

Even the terms we use to discuss Operation Cast Lead are wrong, Levy argues. “That wasn’t a war. It was a brutal assault on a helpless, imprisoned population. You can call a match between Mike Tyson and a 5 year old child boxing, but the proportions, oh, the proportions.” Israel “frequently targeted medical crews, [and] shelled a UN-run school that served as a shelter for residents, who bled to death over days as the IDF prevented their evacuation by shooting and shelling… A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organisation. They say as a justification that Hamas hides among the civilian population. As if the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv is not located in the heart of a civilian population! As if there are places in Gaza that are not in the heart of a civilian population!”

He appeals to anybody who is sincerely concerned about Israel’s safety and security to join him in telling Israelis the truth in plain language. “A real friend does not pick up the bill for an addict’s drugs: he packs the friend off to rehab instead. Today, only those who speak up against Israel’s policies – who denounce the occupation, the blockade, and the war – are the nation’s true friends.” The people who defend Israel’s current course are “betraying the country” by encouraging it on “the path to disaster. A child who has seen his house destroyed, his brother killed, and his father humiliated will not easily forgive.”

These supposed ‘friends of Israel’ are in practice friends of Islamic fundamentalism, he believes. “Why do they have to give the fundamentalists more excuses, more fury, more opportunities, more recruits? Look at Gaza. Gaza was totally secular not long ago. Now you can hardly get alcohol today in Gaza, after all the brutality. Religious fundamentalism is always the language people turn to in despair, if everything else fails. If Gaza had been a free society it would not have become like this. We gave them recruits.”

Levy believes the greatest myth – the one hanging over the Middle East like perfume sprayed onto a corpse – is the idea of the current ‘peace talks’ led by the United States. There was a time when he too believed in them. At the height of the Oslo talks in the 1990s, when Yitzhak Rabin negotiated with Yassir Arafat, “at the end of a visit I turned and, in a gesture straight out of the movies, waved Gaza farewell. Goodbye occupied Gaza, farewell! We are never to meet again, at least not in your occupied state. How foolish!”

Now, he says, he is convinced it was “a scam” from the start, doomed to fail. How does he know? “There is a very simple litmus test for any peace talks. A necessity for peace is for Israel to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. So if you are going to dismantle settlements soon, you’d stop building more now, right? They carried on building them all through Oslo. And today, Netanyahu is refusing to freeze construction, the barest of the bare minimum. It tells you all you need.”

He says Netanyahu has – like the supposedly more left-wing alternatives, Ehud Barak and Tzipip Livni – always opposed real peace talks, and even privately bragged about destroying the Oslo process. In 1997, during his first term as Israeli leader, he insisted he would only continue with the talks if a clause was added saying Israel would not have to withdraw from undefined “military locations” – and he was later caught on tape boasting: “Why is that important? Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo accords.” If he bragged about “stopping” the last peace process, why would he want this one to succeed? Levy adds: “And how can you make peace with only half the Palestinian population? How can you leave out Hamas and Gaza?”

These fake peace talks are worse than no talks at all, Levy believes. “If there are negotiations, there won’t be international pressure. Quiet, we’re in discussions, settlement can go on uninterrupted. That is why futile negotiations are dangerous negotiations. Under the cover of such talks, the chances for peace will grow even dimmer… The clear subtext is Netanyahu’s desire to get American support for bombing Iran. To do that, he thinks he needs to at least pay lip-service to Obama’s requests for talks. That’s why he’s doing this.”

After saying this, he falls silent, and we stare at each other for a while. Then he says, in a quieter voice: “The facts are clear. Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent, and condescending Israel of today. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation programme for Israel.”

III Waving Israeli flags made in China

According to the opinion polls, most Israelis support a two-state solution – yet they elect governments that expand the settlements and so make a two-state solution impossible. “You would need a psychiatrist to explain this contradiction,” Levy says. “Do they expect two states to fall from the sky? Today, the Israelis have no reason to make any changes,” he continues. “Life in Israel is wonderful. You can sit in Tel Aviv and have a great life. Nobody talks about the occupation. So why would they bother [to change]? The majority of Israelis think about the next vacation and the next jeep and all the rest doesn’t interest them any more.” They are drenched in history, and yet oblivious to it.

In Israel, the nation’s “town square has been empty for years. If there were no significant protests during Operation Cast Lead, then there is no left to speak of. The only group campaigning for anything other than their personal whims are the settlers, who are very active.” So how can change happen? He says he is “very pessimistic”, and the most likely future is a society turning to ever-more naked “apartheid.” With a shake of the head, he says: “We had now two wars, the flotilla – it doesn’t seem that Israel has learned any lesson, and it doesn’t seem that Israel is paying any price. The Israelis don’t pay any price for the injustice of the occupation, so the occupation will never end. It will not end a moment before Israelis understand the connection between the occupation and the price they will be forced to pay. They will never shake it off on their own initiative.”

It sounds like he is making the case for boycotting Israel, but his position is more complex. “Firstly, the Israeli opposition to the boycott is incredibly hypocritical. Israel itself is one of the world’s most prolific boycotters. Not only does it boycott, it preaches to others, at times even forces others, to follow in tow. Israel has imposed a cultural, academic, political, economic and military boycott on the territories. The most brutal, naked boycott is, of course, the siege on Gaza and the boycott of Hamas. At Israel’s behest, nearly all Western countries signed onto the boycott with inexplicable alacrity. This is not just a siege that has left Gaza in a state of shortage for three years. It’s a series of cultural, academic, humanitarian and economic boycotts. Israel is also urging the world to boycott Iran. So Israelis cannot complain if this is used against them.”

He shifts in his seat. “But I do not boycott Israel. I could have done it, I could have left Israel. But I don’t intend to leave Israel. Never. I can’t call on others to do what I will not do… There is also the question of whether it will work. I am not sure Israelis would make the connection. Look at the terror that happened in 2002 and 2003: life in Israel was really horrifying, the exploding buses, the suicide-bombers. But no Israeli made the connection between the occupation and the terror. For them, the terror was just the ‘proof’ that the Palestinians are monsters,  that they were born to kill, that they are not human beings and that’s it. And if you just dare to make the connection, people will tell you ‘you justify terror ’ and you are a traitor. I suspect it would be the same with sanctions. The condemnation after Cast Lead and the flotilla only made Israel more nationalistic. If [a boycott was] seen as the judgement of the world they would be effective. But Israelis are more likely to take them as ‘proof’ the world is anti-Semitic and will always hate us.”

He believes only one kind of pressure would bring Israel back to sanity and safety: “The day the president of the United States decides to put an end to the occupation, it will cease. Because Israel was never so dependent on the United States as it is now. Never. Not only economically, not only militarily but above all politically. Israel is totally isolated today, except for America.” He was initially hopeful that Barack Obama would do this – he recalls having tears in his eyes as he delivered his victory speech in Grant Park – but he says he has only promoted “tiny steps, almost nothing, when big steps are needed.” It isn’t only bad for Israel – it is bad for America. “The occupation is the best excuse for many worldwide terror organisations. It’s not always genuine but they use it. Why do you let them use it? Why give them this fury? Why not you solve it once and for all when the, when the solution is so simple?”

For progress, “the right-wing American Jews who become orgiastic whenever Israel kills and destroys” would have to be exposed as “Israel’s enemies”, condemning the country they supposedly love to eternal war. “It is the right-wing American Jews who write the most disgusting letters. They say I am Hitler’s grandson, that they pray my children get cancer? It is because I touch a nerve with them. There is something there.” These right-wingers claim to be opposed to Iran, but Levy points out they vehemently oppose the two available steps that would immediately isolate Iran and strip Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh of his best propaganda-excuses: “peace with Syria and peace with the Palestinians, both of which are on offer, and both of which are rejected by Israel. They are the best way to undermine Iran.”

He refuses to cede Israel to people “who wave their Israeli flags made in China and dream of a Knesset cleansed of Arabs and an Israel with no [human rights organisation] B’Tselem.” He looks angry, indignant. “I will never leave. It’s my place on earth. It’s my language, it’s my culture. Even the criticism that I carry and the shame that I carry come from my deep belonging to the place. I will leave only if I be forced to leave. They would have to tear me out.”

IV A whistle in the dark

Does he think this is a real possibility – that his freedom could be taken from him, in Israel itself? “Oh, very easily,” he says. “It’s already taken from me by banning me from going to Gaza, and this is just a start. I have great freedom to write and to appear on television in Israel, and I have a very good life, but I don’t take my freedom for granted, not at all. If this current extreme nationalist atmosphere continues in Israel in one, two, three years time?” He sighs. “There may be new restrictions, Ha’aretz may close down – God forbid – I don’t take anything for granted. I will not be surprised if Israeli Palestinian parties are criminalized at the next election, for example. Already they are going after the NGOs [Non-Government Organizations that campaign for Palestinian rights]. There is already a majority in the opinion polls who want to punish people who expose wrong-doing by the military and want to restrict the human rights groups.”

There is also the danger of a freelance attack. Last year, a man with a large dog strutted up to Levy near his home and announced: “I have wanted to beat you to a pulp for a long time.” Levy only narrowly escaped, and the man was never caught. He says now: “I am scared but I don’t live on the fear.  But to tell you that my night sleep is as yours… I’m not sure. Any noise, my first association is ‘maybe now, it’s coming’.  But there was never any concrete case in which I really thought ‘here it comes’. But I know it might come.”

Has he ever considered not speaking the truth, and diluting his statements? He laughs – and for the only time in our interview, his eloquent torrents of words begin to sputter. “I wish I could! No way I could. I mean, this is not an option at all. Really, I can’t. How can I? No way. I feel lonely but my private, er, surrounding is supportive, part of it at least. And there are still Israelis who appreciate what I do.  If you walk with me in the streets of Tel Aviv you will see all kinds of reactions but also very positive reactions. It is hard but I mean it’s?it’s?what other choice do I have?”

He says his private life is supportive “in part”. What’s the part that isn’t? For the past few years, he says, he has dated non-Israeli women – “I couldn’t be with a nationalistic person who said those things about the Palestinians” – but his two sons don’t read anything he writes, “and they have different politics from me. I think it was difficult for them, quite difficult.” Are they right-wingers? “No, no, no, nothing like that. As they get older, they are coming to my views more. But they don’t read my work. No,” he says, looking down, “they don’t read it.”

The long history of the Jewish people has a recurring beat – every few centuries, a brave Jewish figure stands up to warn his people they are have ended up on an immoral or foolish path that can only end in catastrophe, and implores them to change course. The first prophet, Amos, warned that the Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed because the Jewish people had forgotten the need for justice and generosity – and he was shunned for it. Baruch Spinoza saw beyond the Jewish fundamentalism of his day to a materialist universe that could be explained scientifically – and he was excommunicated, even as he cleared the path for the great Jewish geniuses to come. Could Levy, in time, be seen as a Jewish prophet in the unlikely wilderness of a Jewish state, calling his people back to a moral path?

He nods faintly, and smiles. “Noam Chomsky once wrote to me that I was like the early Jewish prophets. It was the greatest compliment anyone has ever paid me. But… well… My opponents would say it’s a long tradition of self-hating Jews. But I don’t take that seriously. For sure, I feel that I belong to a tradition of self-criticism. I deeply believe in self-criticism.” But it leaves him in bewildering situations: “Many times I am standing among Palestinian demonstrators, my back to the Palestinians, my face to the Israeli soldiers, and they were shooting in our direction. They are my people, and they are my army. The people I’m standing among are supposed to be the enemy. It is…” He shakes his head. There must be times, I say, when you ask: what’s a nice Jewish boy doing in a state like this?

But then, as if it has been nagging at him, he returns abruptly to an earlier question. “I am very pessimistic, sure. Outside pressure can be effective if it’s an American one but I don’t see it happening. Other pressure from other parts of the world might be not effective. The Israeli society will not change on its own, and the Palestinians are too weak to change it. But having said this, I must say, if we had been sitting here in the late 1980s and you had told me that the Berlin wall will fall within months, that the Soviet Union will fall within months, that parts of the regime in South Africa will fall within months, I would have laughed at you. Perhaps the only hope I have is that this occupation regime hopefully is already so rotten that maybe it will fall by itself one day. You have to be realistic enough to believe in miracles.”

In the meantime, Gideon Levy will carry on patiently documenting his country’s crimes, and trying to call his people back to a righteous path. He frowns a little – as if he is picturing Najawa Khalif blown to pieces in front of her school bus, or his own broken father – and says to me: “A whistle in the dark is still a whistle.”

Source

THE ‘CHANGE’ MUST COME FROM US…NOT THE GOVERNMENT; INTERVIEW WITH ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN

With “peace talks” between the Palestinian Authority and Israel seeming more and more like a dead end, many people around the world, including dissident Jewish voices, are turning to grassroots activism to pressure Israel to end the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories.

‘Governments Are Not Going to Change This. We Have To’: Antony Loewenstein on Israel/Palestine, the Internet and more

By Alex Kane

With “peace talks” between the Palestinian Authority and Israel seeming more and more like a dead end, many people around the world, including dissident Jewish voices, are turning to grassroots activism to pressure Israel to end the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Recently, Jewish Voice for Peace launched a campaign to pressure TIAA-CREF, one of the largest financial services in the U.S., to divest from companies that profit off of the Israeli occupation.  Yesterday, the Olympia Food Co-Op, located in the hometown of Rachel Corrie, the American peace activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer, announced a decision to boycott Israeli goods at their two locations.

Journalist, activist and blogger Antony Loewenstein, a Jewish Australian, has become a must-read voice on Israel/Palestine.   Loewenstein, the author of the bestselling book My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, is currently in New York City, where he will be speaking at Revolution Books in Manhattan this Sunday, alongside author Michael Otterman, whose new book is titled Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage. The event, which begins at 1 PM, will center on the occupations of Iraq and Palestine.

Loewenstein, who yesterday appeared on Laura Flanders’ Grit TV show with Ali Abunimah, is currently working on a project that examines privatization in Australia, as well as a book about Israel/Palestine.  I recently reached Loewenstein by phone while he was still in Australia, and had a wide-ranging discussion on Israel/Palestine, the role of the Internet and blogs, and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) targeting Israel.

Alex Kane:  How did you get so involved in writing about Israel and Palestine?

Antony Loewenstein:  Well, many years ago when I was growing up—I grew up in Australia, in a very liberal, Jewish home—Israel was never a central part of my family but it was something, as most Jews will understand, that was important to support.  My grandparents escaped Nazi Germany, my family were killed in the Holocaust, so the idea of Israel being a homeland for the Jews was sort of seen as a given.  My grandparents have never been to Israel, my father’s only been once, my mother has never been, and I remember when I was a teenager, well before the Web, talking about something that happened that week, a suicide bombing or something in Israel, and I would sometimes express disdain or criticism of the official Israeli line, and it was met with unbelievable anger and ferocity by my family, by my parents, my other family, and there was a real, clear racism that was existing back then.  Two things:  one, that we can’t expect Arabs to behave any better because, after all, that’s what Arabs do, i.e., be violent against Jews, it’s sort of inherent in their system, and secondly, that whatever Israel was doing was always defensive.

Fast-forward twenty years in Australia, about seven years ago, Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian politician came out to Australia, she was awarded the peace prize, a prominent peace prize out here, and the Jewish community establishment reacted with apoplexy.  She was a “Holocaust denier,” a “terrorist,” all the usual kind of things, and Ashrawi then and now is very moderate.  And the argument I said at the time was that if the Jewish community can’t accept someone like her—in fact then she was talking about a two-state solution, she’s hardly a radical—if the Jewish community can’t accept her, then there’s a serious problem.  I felt, as a Jew, and I had never written about this publicly, but I felt as a Jew, as a journalist, it was important to put my position strongly, to say that there are some Jews who are critical of Israel, who believe in open and free debate.  I wrote about that, got a lot of coverage down here in Australia, was then picked up by Robert Fisk in the Independent in London, and as you could imagine, that caused this issue to go global.  He came out and said that it’s important that there are dissenting views.

So, over the years, I spent time in the Middle East, in Israel, in Palestine, I was in the West Bank and Gaza again last year, I’ve spent time in most of the Middle East, in Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc., and feel, I suppose, in many ways that it is important, although I see myself as a human being first and a Jew second, that it’s vital to articulate an alternative Jewish perspective.  I mean, years ago, my position was fairly conventional:  I believed in the two-state solution, and I believed that because when I was in Israel, many years ago, the people I was speaking to, the one-state solution, people often forget this now, but the debate about this has moved so fast, that there’s obviously a tactical question and a moral question, but certainly, practically five years ago a two-state solution was arguably impossible anyway.  Putting aside the moral question of whether there should be a two-state solution, my position about that has changed, and in my latest edition of My Israel Question, my book, I sort of articulate why that is.  In its simplest form, it’s because, practically, the colonization process is so far advanced, and its continuing, even during the recent so-called “settlement freeze”–in fact there wasn’t a “freeze” at all, there was settlement building happening, as many journalists, including Max Blumenthal, documented in the last month.  And secondly, as a moral question, the issue of a Jewish state existing I think is fundamentally problematic because it inherently discriminates against those who are non-Jewish, which is 20 percent of the population within Israel.  I should also say this, finally, that my point is not just being opposed to a Jewish state, I have equal issues with religious states, and I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Iran, Saudi Arabia, Muslim states that inherently discriminate against non-Muslims.  Now clearly, they’re not democracies, they don’t claim to be a democracy, and Israel does.  I’m not comparing Israel to Iran or Israel to Saudi Arabia, I’m simply saying that my opposition to the concept of a religious state, and Israel is undoubtedly based inherently on an interpreted Jewish history, I think the problem is far bigger than just a Jewish state, I think it’s also the question of religious states oppressing minorities, and we see that across the Middle East.

AK:  A lot of the discussion about Israel/Palestine, in the U.S. press obviously, but also in the Palestinian press, the Israeli press and the European press, it centers on the very big role that the United States plays, and that’s obviously true for good reason, but I’m curious to know what Australia’s role is in Israel/Palestine, because we don’t hear much about that.  And how are Australian activists tackling that role?

AL:  Australia is, in many ways, one of the largest economies in the world, so it’s not a small player, it’s smaller than America or China, of course, and much of Europe, but it certainly is a relatively major economy.  So, Australia is a so-called “important country.”  But when you talk about Israel/Palestine, when Israel was formed in 1948, Australia was one of the first countries to come out to support Israel in the United Nations, and since then, 50 years since, keep in mind a shift here or there, Australian governments have been incredibly supportive of Israel.  What I mean by supportive of Israel is that they’re very uncritical towards Israeli policy.

During the Bush years, we had a prime minister here called John Howard, who supported Bush in the Iraq War, Afghan War, rendition, and that was a period where, in the UN, Australia shifted some of its key votes to line up alongside a tiny handful of others, and Norman Finkelstein has talked about this in a disparaging way and he’s right, that in many of the key votes, and Australia is still sometimes on this side, you have America, Israel, Australia, Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands, talking about occupation, expansion of settlements, etc.  And clearly, Palau and Micronesia and the Marshall Islands are doing it because they are client states of the U.S. and they need the cash.  In some ways, that’s more understandable.  It’s regrettable, but understandable.

So my question is, what’s Australia’s excuse? Now, Australia is very close to the U.S., we have troops in Afghanistan despite the fact that most people are opposed to it here.  We’ve had successive prime ministers who have been to Israel, the last prime minister, Kevin Rudd, said that Israel was “in his DNA.”  Our current prime minister, Julia Gillard, who is Australia’s first female prime minister, recently came out and said one of the key points of her foreign policy will be support of Israel.

But I think what is shifting is public opinion in Australia, and indeed, in much of the West.  We’re seeing in the last six, twelve months, particularly since “Operation Cast Lead” and even more so since the flotilla massacre, a growing awareness in civil society that governments are not going to change this.  We have to.  And in the last six months, some of the key unions down here have put forward motions to divest and boycott Israel, which is significant, and there is a campaign to try and increase that.  In fact, recently, Diana Buttu, who is a Palestinian from Canada but living in Ramallah, who is very involved these days in speaking to unions globally about instituting an effective BDS campaign, she was brought out here to speak.  So she spoke to two unions about the role they can play, comparing it of course to the campaign against South Africa.  A recent study found that support for Israel in the general public is declining.  After the Gaza conflict a year and a half ago, the majority of Australians who were polled were opposed to the Israeli position and supported the Palestinians.

But of course, like in America or many other states, there’s a disconnect between what the political leaders and mainstream corporate media talk about and what the public thinks.  And I’ve noticed, even since I’ve been writing about this issue for the last seven years, that although the corporate media here is still slavishly following a U.S. line, there are cracks appearing.  So, for example, you do read, not often, but more often, Arab people in the press, Palestinians, dissidents, and not just the usual Zionist spokespeople, who until recently were the only ones you heard.  Something happens about the Middle East, and who are the first people you turn to?  If Mark Regev is not available, who’s actually Australian by the way, the key Israeli spokesman from the Prime Minister’s office in Israel and who was born and bred and taught in Melbourne, unfortunately, you go to the Israel lobby.  Although their voices are still there, and they’re clearly powerful, I’m not going to deny that, they have less power than they once did, publicly at least, and that’s significant, and you see that in many countries around the world.

So, Australia is not, on the one hand, massively influential in the Middle East—that would be a lie.  But for example, you can look at New Zealand, which is even smaller than us, and four years ago, you may remember, they caught a number of Mossad agents forging passports, which is reminiscent of what happened recently, and they basically severed diplomatic relations between New Zealand and Israel for a number of years.  Now again, that didn’t bring down apartheid Israel, but it’s significant and I think that countries that are smaller can often lead by example, and the Australian government doesn’t seem to be doing it anytime soon, but I think civil society certainly is becoming far more vocal, to say why is Australia, as a democracy, backing a brutal occupation and apartheid in Palestine, and still talking about the shared values we have with the Jewish State.

AK:  You’ve also written a lot about the Internet and blogs and how it can be a very powerful tool in fighting oppression.  Generally speaking, can you talk about that and more specifically, how you see that being played out with Israel and Palestine.

AL:  I think one of the things that is really clear about the rise of Web activism, or whatever we’d like to call it, is that it has fundamentally shifted how many of us engage in political issues via the world.  I mean, one of the things that became very clear about the uprising in Iran last year, was, although it was fascinating and traumatic and Iran has become even more mired in dictatorship than it was before, one very quickly realizes, although mostly the American press chose to ignore this, is that it was framed as a “Twitter revolution”—I’m sure you remember it from last year—the truth is that the majority of people in Iran a) don’t Twitter, and secondly, most of those Twitter accounts that were talking about the streets in Tehran were coming from the U.S.  Now, I use that as an example because I don’t argue that the Internet is about to bring democracy.  There are undoubtedly many in the neo-conservative movement who talk actively about empowering Web activists in Iran, China, Saudi Arabia to become more pro-U.S., to believe in the overthrow of a dictatorship, and install a more pro-US government—that’s not what I’m saying at all.  What I’m saying is that there has undoubtedly been a shift in the abilities of citizens in most countries to articulate their views on gender issues, political issues, issues about their personal lives, how they feel about foreign policy, frivolous things, whatever it may be.

When it comes to Israel/Palestine, what happened in the past, I suppose, five years particularly, and I’ve often used many of these sources, there’s been an explosion of two things:  one, dissident Jewish bloggers in Israel proper, and I’m talking about people like the blog the Promised Land, Joseph Dana, amongst others, interesting people who are actually fed up with what they generally see as the pro-government line that they see in the Israeli corporate press. Ha’aretz, to some extent, is an exception to that, although it obviously has a left, Zionist line as an editorial position, but it certainly publishes a lot of wonderful journalism, there’s no doubt about that, alongside some pretty, not-so-good journalism as well.  So those bloggers are important, and I think they’re being funneled into a wider context because of blogs like Mondoweiss, which give it a more global platform.

And of course, there are also Palestinian bloggers, and we shouldn’t forget about those.  It often takes more effort, sometimes, for those who don’t write in English to be read, and so a blog like Global Voices often does translation, other websites did translation during the course of the Gaza conflict a year and a half ago, some of the only voices, in fact, we were hearing were Palestinians or Gazans who could blog.  That’s significant because it provides a more nuanced view of what occupation means, what invasion means, what the dropping of white phosphorus means on civilian areas, what does that mean.  Photographing it, videoing it, detailing it, and of course making it far more difficult, then, for Israel and its supporters internationally to deny what the evidence shows very clearly.  If you simply rely on corporate media to get your information on the Israel/Palestine conflict, as has been documented time and time again, the sad problem is that virtually every single one of those corporate journalists live in one city, or two cities:  Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv.  And they’re very interesting cities, although I’ve yet to understand why, although I do, particularly Western outlets, don’t base people in the West Bank and Gaza.  And the argument is often made that it’s not safe, but that’s not a good enough reason.

AK:  Nor is it really true.  The notion that Western journalists being based in the West Bank or Gaza is dangerous is a very overblown notion.  Many Western journalists, if they were based there, would be completely fine.

AL:  I agree completely.  The truth is, it’s sort of funny in a way isn’t it, because journalists, or some corporate journalists go into Iraq or Afghanistan, which are war zones and are dangerous places and journalists risk their lives, and often they do wonderful work in the line of duty.  But the West Bank, for example, is pretty safe, and Gaza is actually very safe, they’re both very safe areas.  There still seems to be, with exceptions, a journalist from the New York Times, Ethan Bronner, others, will go there for a few days and come back.  And I spent time with Ethan Bronner last year when I was in Israel, interviewed him I should say, and he’s a very friendly guy, he’s obviously the bureau chief for the New York Times, he’s friendly enough, but I think one of the things that comes out very clearly when you speak to someone like that is a failure to understand that one cannot simply primarily have Jewish, Zionist voices reporting the conflict.  Let me just explain, for the record, I would be equally against if every reporter for the New York Times was an anti-Zionist Palestinian.  There needs to be different perspectives in there.  This is not a question of saying it should be all one side or the other.  And I don’t want to use the term balance, because that’s a bad term as well.  I’m saying there needs to be a diversity of views, and this is where, of course, the Web becomes central.  We often joke in Australia and elsewhere, that to find out what goes on in the halls of the Pentagon, one reads the New York Times.  But if you actually want to find out what goes on on-the-ground in many countries, you rarely would read the New York Times.  You would read blogs, or whatever it may be.

I think with Israel/Palestine, there is in fact a responsibility, I would argue, that if the mainstream press was more honest about listening to different views, on the opinion pages, for example, they would regularly publish bloggers from different countries.  And I’m astounded, although I use that term very loosely—I’m not very surprised that the mainstream press, who constantly whines about the fact that they have no money to pay for content, aren’t more often utilizing the role of bloggers in many countries.  In Iran, in Palestine, in countries where journalists for whatever reason choose not to go.  The content is there; I think that really shows that there is a tendency often, and a desire, to want to avoid seeing the real effects of U.S. foreign policy on civilians, whether it’s in Palestine, in Iraq or Afghanistan.  To this day, I read the New York Times most days, Washington Post, I look at most of these papers online, and they rarely publish articles by Iraqis or Afghans or Palestinians.  It’s as if you need to be a white person, and go to Palestine, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, and say this is what I’m seeing.  I’m not dismissing that—I’m a white person too.  But I’m saying is that it seems that there is a complete inability or unwillingness to actually publish people in their own voices, and bloggers, I think, can obviously provide that.

AK:  I really only have one more question.  It’s sort of a broad question, but what are your thoughts about the future prospects for justice in Palestine?

AL: Oh, the big question, Alex.  Well, I think only a fool could say that the short-term is going to be pretty.  I presume that you would agree with that.  It’s always difficult to predict this sort of thing, and I get asked this question a lot.

One of the things that I fear during the Obama administration, whether it’s three more years or seven more years, is an imposition of a two-state solution.  I worried about this, in fact, during the Bush years, believe it or not.  I thought it was conceivable that George W. Bush would simply say, “here’s a Palestinian state.”  I mean, the truth is, with the power of the U.S. and the international community, nothing stops them from declaring a Palestinian state tomorrow.  It wouldn’t be viable; I’m not suggesting it would be a good thing, but nothing stops them from actually doing it.  You have a complicit Palestinian Authority who are more than willing to accept the largesse and the support of the U.S. and Israel.  They are being built up as wonderfully effective colonial masters.  I just read a few days ago in Ha’aretz that Israel’s top security officer increasingly spends time with West Bank security forces, the way in which the PA and Israel works together, i.e. silencing dissent from Hamas and others.  So the fear that I have, potentially, is a two-state solution is declared, and it would not be viable, and it would not be a pleasant thing for Palestinians, it would not be with East Jerusalem as its capital.  It would not be anything that honest Palestinians would want, in the diaspora or in Palestine itself.  So that’s something I think which is possible, and I worry about it, and I think that it needs to be more talked about, Ali Abunimah in particular has talked about that and I praise him for that, the fear that this may be happening.

I think the reality is that the one-state solution is not going to happen tomorrow, or next week, but it’s certainly gaining traction, certainly in the diaspora.  In Palestine itself, the figures are hard to see, but it appears that within Israel proper, the Jewish population’s support, as you know, let’s just say is very slim.  It’s very, very slim, there’s no way to get around that.  In the Palestinian communities, both in Israel proper and in the West Bank and Gaza, it’s much higher and growing.  In fact, in the last studies I’ve seen, it’s close to fifty percent, which is quite high, considering that two years ago when I saw other results it was about thirty percent.  So it’s growing, and there’s no doubt, because people are disillusioned with the possibility of a two-state solution.

I think what is also happening, which I am more encouraged by, is the fact that there is a growing awareness in the diaspora about what is going on.  And I just saw, and I’m using this as one example, there was a five-minute report on Fox News about the virtual impossibility of Palestinians being able to obtain land in Jerusalem.  Now again, Fox News is very pro-Israel, and I’m not suggesting that suddenly changed, and they’ve become in love with Palestine, obviously not.  But those sort of stories are increasingly appearing in the corporate press, and the effects of those is causing, which I am pleased about, the growing disillusion within American Jewry towards Israel.  This is something that of course Mondoweiss and I write a lot about too.  The Israel lobby in the U.S. realizes that its so-called fan-base is shrinking.  One of the things that I did agree with in Peter Beinart’s recent article, despite much of it being not to my liking, was when he talked about the future of the Israel lobby in America being made up particularly of Orthodox Jews whose views on Israel are more extreme than those who are in charge now.  And you could argue, in a cynical way, that’s in fact very good for Palestine, because that will show to more Americans that if that’s what is required to be pro-Israel, is to hate Arabs, I don’t want to be a part of that.  And I’m encouraged by that trend, if you get my drift, rather than the status quo continuing.

I think hoping and praying for Obama to bring change—nothing’s impossible—but he’s moving towards a situation, as I said, where some kind of Palestinian state, a truncated state, a complicit Palestinian state, is on the cards, and I think the task of all of us, particularly in the diaspora, and within Israel and Palestine, is to support a BDS campaign.

A BDS campaign is important because, as Neve Gordon wrote a few days ago in the Observer, the BDS campaign doesn’t have a particular platform.  It doesn’t say two-states, one-state.  Admittedly, many of the people I know have a one-state view, but there’s no official position.  What he says is that it’s to try and make Israeli Jews realize that the occupation must come with a price.  You cannot simply continue to occupy and expand settlements, colonizing the West Bank and blockading Gaza, and expect the world to treat you as friends.  And although the BDS campaign, one can hardly say that at this stage it has changed the political situation over there, because it hasn’t, what it has done is increasingly change the conversation in the diaspora.  And the fear of BDS in Israel, as we see in the Knesset, growing numbers of legislation moving through there to try and ban people who advocate for it, such as Neve Gordon, I think is an indication of how much they do fear it.

And let me just finish on this point.  A lot of people have been writing about the World Cup in South Africa, and I only bring this up as an example because of two things:  one, that the end of apartheid there, in many ways, was sort of a false end to that hideous regime.  Anyone who reads about that country realizes that the truth is that, although politically apartheid is over, economically it’s actually continued.  But if one looks at the studies of how blacks and whites view the other, it’s actually quite remarkable how many, a majority in fact, there is an ability to be forgiving or have a desire to move on.  That would not have happened unless there was some justice for the crimes that happened.  I use that as an example to say that for anyone who claims that Israel/Palestine is intractable, and it’s never going to be solved, and there’s no way to move forward and it’s always going to stay the same, that South Africa—which is an incredibly imperfect society, poverty is rampant, as I said I’m not idealizing it for a second—but what there has been is at least a beginning, a beginning of racial reconciliation.  And I think without Israeli Jews and the Israeli state and the Jewish, Zionist diaspora realizing that they cannot continue with the way things are, and in the U.S., which is a key country and I’m encouraged by what’s happening on university campuses, etc.  So, although politically I’m quite disillusioned, I’ll be honest, as an activist, as well as a journalist, I’m more encouraged by what I’m seeing.

Source

CARLOS LATUFF ~~ ROCKING THE FOUNDATIONS OF ZION

Click here… The cartoon that rocked the foundations of zion this week ….

It was created by Carlos Latuff, a long time Associate of this Website and a longtime friend. Below is a recent interview with Carlos which will give you an idea what kind of person he is and why he is loathed by the state of Israel, yet loved by all who strive for Justice throughout the world:

Interview With Carlos Latuff

Kourosh Ziabari
Independent freelance journalist, Iran

Interview with Carlos Latuff:
I don’t trade ideology for money
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari for Iran’s Jame-Jam newspaper

The hero of “freedom of speech”, boycotted by the corporate, mainstream media that are irresistible against the astringent truth: this is the most precise and accurate introduction which I can present about Carlos Latuff. Born in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he is an artist of conscience whose artistic commitment and morality prevented him from becoming the pawn of imperialism.

Carlos Latuff is a world-renowned cartoonist who has long brought into existence artistic works and cartoons in which the footsteps of creativity, novelty, intelligence and decency can be traced noticeably. He has never been given the opportunity to showcase his matchless cartoons in the New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post, BBC or CNN; however, the narrow hallways of personal blogs and independent media outlets which allowed his cartoons to breathe in the atmosphere of publicity, made him a man of genuineness and reality, known by those who seek something beyond the outdated, obsolete propaganda of “all options are on the table”.
Carlos Latuff has drawn numerous cartoons which depict the pains of oppressed nations around the world; from the Palestinians being suffocated under the Israeli occupation to the Iranians receiving the spates of psychological operation co-manufactured by the White House and Tel Aviv.

Here is the complete text of my interview with Carlos Latuff, conducted for Iran’s best-selling newspaper Jame-Jam, where we elaborately discussed his intellectual mission and the prospect of his artistic trajectory.

Kourosh Ziabari: Dear Carlos; it seems that you’ve dedicated your entire mission to independent, freelance journalism and one can clearly figure out that you are not usually paid in lieu of what you draw for the magazines, newspapers and websites since a complete set of your cartoons and caricatures are available on your website for free. Do you accede to draw cartoons which are contrary to your ideological mindset should you be offered remarkable, irresistible payments?

Carlos Latuff: No way! I will only make artworks according my own Leftist beliefs. I don’t trade ideology for money. I work for Leftist trade union (workers) press since 1990, that’s what I make for living. Mainstream media would never pay me for making anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist artworks. But I have what I call of “artistic activism”, producing cartoons and making them available on the Web for free of charge reproduction; cartoons with a different point of view from the Western mainstream media; cartoons exposing what Michael Moore would call of “the awful truth”. I already refused payments for my drawings about Palestine. Solidarity can’t be measured by dollars.

KZ: You’ve received serious death threats from the Zionist circles and Israeli groups a number of times. Would you please explain for us a little about the details of these threats and the consequential events that followed them? Have you ever thought of putting aside your professional and artistic mission in order to preserve your safe, tranquil life?

CL: In 2006 a website associated to Likud (Likudnik) published a long article about me, my art, my support to Palestinians and labeled me as an agent at the service of a supposed “Iranian propaganda machine”, comparing me with Nazi propagandists. The author of the article argued why Israel didn’t take care of me before and urged readers to take steps against me. Let me be straight, I really don’t care about threats. Along the Palestinian cause I also support human rights organizations against police brutality in Brazil. This kind of activism alone could put me in high risk of life. But, as I said, I don’t care; I will continue with my artistic support, ’cause if Zionists worldwide are pissed off about my cartoons, it’s because I’m doing something right. Death can stop me yes, but not my cartoons. That’s why I make them run free around the world through Internet.

KZ: You belong to a prosperous country which is the 8th economic power of the world and the 10th trade partner of the United States. Brazil also maintains normal ties with Israel and this is something which many anti-war and anti-imperialism activists dislike. Coming from such a country, you profoundly grasped the essence of oppressed nations’ suffering and sympathized with them wholeheartedly. How did you rise from Brazil and came to assist the oppressed nations?

CL: I grown up in the suburbs of Rio and my parents worked hard to give me study and a humble but decent life. Being the 8th economic power makes no difference to the ordinary people in Brazil. We have poverty, corruption, criminal and police violence, influent and strong landowners in countryside, people dying of dengue fever and malaria, and a mainstream media which is always trying to convince public opinion that everything is ok with capitalism. As someone living in a Third World country I can’t turn a blind eye to this situation here and in other parts of the world. Last year I was in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, places very similar to Brazilian slums (favelas). It wasn’t hard to realize that the language of poverty is universal, as universal must be the solidarity with people in need.

KZ: You’ve for years cooperated with a number of media outlets in the Western countries and can precisely estimate the veracity of the slogan of “freedom of expression” in the countries who introduce themselves as the harbingers of liberty and tolerance. I clearly remember the spates of verbal and political attacks on the artists who had participated in Iran’s International Holocaust Cartoon Competition. Even the then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan had condemned the contest and this could simply demonstrate the lopsidedness of “freedom” which they claim to be the pioneers thereof. What’s your idea about that? Are the western media outlets really free?

CL: Still today I’ve been accused of denying Holocaust because of that artwork for which I won the second place in the Iranian cartoon contest. It’s funny since the cartoon shows a Palestinian elderly wearing a concentration camp uniform, which not only affirms the existence of the Nazi Holocaust as well as making a comparison between it and the suffering of the Palestinians. I believe that this contest had exposed the Western’s double standard. When you ridicule and attack Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Islam or Muslims, then this is called “satire”, “humor”, “freedom of speech”, whatever. Joking about Islam is pretty acceptable. Islamophobia is popular in the US and Europe, specially after September 11. However the same freedom you have for making cartoons about Islam and its Prophet you won’t have while dealing with Holocaust and Israel. If you dare draw Israeli soldiers killing Palestinians (isn’t a fact?), you will be automatically labeled as anti-Semitic. While Muhammad cartoons were wide spread in Europe, Holocaust cartoons weren’t not reproduced in any European newspaper.

KZ: Your stance towards Iran’s nuclear program (Iran intends to meet its energy, electricity needs through nuclear reactors) and Israel’s nuclear program (Israel possess up to 200 nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists) is delicately accurate and specific, indicating your extensive acquaintance with the regional equations and developments. Iran is being lethally pressured to halt its civilian nuclear program and Israel has been unconditionally safeguarded by Washington to keep up with its military atomic program. What’s your take on this?

CL: In fact all this turmoil about Iranian nuclear program has more to do with the fear of US, Europe and Israel of having a country in Middle East with nuclear capability. It will change the geopolitics in the region, since no Arab country was ever allowed by US of having anything nuclear. Only Israel can have not only nuclear plants but also nukes, immune to inspections and international law. If Iran will develop nuclear capabilities for civilian or military use, it doesn’t matter. The point is, if US, Europe and Israel are so concerned about threats to peace, why don’t they start proposing sanctions against Pakistan and India, since both countries have a nuclear arms race since long time? Because both countries are allies of Washington? Why not a single word about the Israeli nuclear program? Why Mordecai Vanunu is prevented to speak about it?

KZ: Most of your critics accuse you of arising anti-Semitic sentiments by drawing cartoons which condemn the State of Israel and its leaders for the atrocities and felonies they commit. Is this the case that you’re opposed to Jews as the followers of a divine religion, or do you simply go up against the expansionist Zionists who commit crimes against humanity and massacre the defenseless people of Palestine?

CL: I’m not a religious man, and none of my cartoons deal with Judaism. You won’t find any of my artworks attacking the Jewish. My issue with Israel and their supporters is only about politics, imperialism. Even not being Muslim, I do support Muslims against Islamophobia, since I can’t agree with prejudice against religion. Of course anything that may be slightly perceived as criticism towards Israel will be associated with hatred towards Jews. This old trick is applied to anyone who dares speak against Israeli apartheid. But everyday more activists understand this misuse of anti-Semitism and keep the struggle regardless of the false allegations and smear campaigns from Zionists.

KZ: Have the global mainstream media outlets (the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Los Angeles Times, BBC, Reuters, Associated Press and so forth) which universally rule the public opinions ever published your cartoons? Why don’t such media outlets which assert to be the pioneers of freedom of expression accept allowing the publication of disparate viewpoints which are contrary to their focal approach?

CL: Reuters made a video interview with me last year about my art and views. I had some of my cartoons shown on Al Jazeera and George Galloway show at Press TV, but this is an exception. Usually only Arab media outlets are interested in my opinions. Western mainstream media isn’t interested in giving space to a Leftist artist who supports people’s struggle in Palestine, Iraq and elsewhere. But in a way or another, I find a place to make my opinions visible. Internet is my best ally. You see, even not being a famous artist promoted by mainstream media, you and your newspaper know about me and my cartoons. Internet has broken the obstacles imposed by corporate media. And I won’t make concessions for mere 15 minutes of fame; will keep fidelity with my principles.

KZ: The subjugated people of Palestine and other countries which have been subject to the brutality of imperialism throughout the history will be encouraged and hopeful when they find conscientious artists like you sympathizing with them. Have you ever felt the courage and valor you present to the people of Palestine with your artistic endeavors?

CL: I’m very suspicious for talking about the Palestinians. I have never seen such a brave and courageous people like them. I started making cartoons about Palestinians since my trip to West Bank in 1999 and since then my sympathy for their cause only grow up. After my recent visit to Jordan and Lebanon, invited by Al Hannouneh Society for Popular Culture, I realized that my relation with Palestinians is not only political. I have pure love for that people.

KZ: Please tell us about your latest activities. How was the experience of winning a prize in the Iran-based International Holocaust Cartoon Competition? Do you like to come to Iran once again and touch the pains and difficulties of the Iranian people in person?

CL: Usually I don’t participate in contests, since I’m not interested in the prizes and stuff. The purpose of my art is supporting social movements, rather than feeding my own ego. But I saw the Holocaust cartoon competition as a timely opportunity for making visual comment about Palestinian suffering. In that occasion, I was invited by my good friend Massoud Tabatabai to attend the prize award ceremony in Teheran but unfortunately I wasn’t able to travel. But of course if I had another chance, I would be more than glad to visit Iran.


The above interview appeared on this Blog in April of this year.

BOYCOTT MOVEMENT ~~ IT’S GROWTH AND IMPACT

Palestinian boycott coordinator: “The movement has a huge impact”
Adri Nieuwhof

Hind Awwad (Adri Nieuwhof)
Hind Awwad, national coordinator of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), recently toured Europe to support the growing worldwide campaign. The movement aims to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the discrimination against Palestinian citizens in Israel, and calls for respect for the rights of Palestine refugees. The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof interviewed Hind Awwad in Bern, Switzerland.

Adri Nieuwhof: Can you please introduce yourself?

Hind Awwad: I work as a coordinator for the BNC in Palestine. I am a third-generation Palestinian refugee. My grandparents come from Lifta which was ethnically cleansed in 1948. My grandfather’s house is still there. I have visited it. I went to college in the US and was active for justice in Palestine groups. Our Caterpillar campaign brought awareness to campus. The college announced it did not hold shares in Caterpillar. After graduation I came back to Palestine and I contacted the BNC to find out if I could contribute to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

AN: As BNC coordinator you are in touch with activists around the globe. Can you discuss the development of the BDS movement?

HA: I think it is growing at a pace that is surprising, in a positive way. It took the South African BDS campaign 25 years to achieve what we achieved in five years. That is what South Africans and anti-apartheid activists tell us. And we see [new tactics] of BDS activities by the young generation with flash mobs, actions in supermarkets, dances and songs. It takes the BDS campaign to new levels. A growing number of Palestinian trade unions signed the BDS call [and] trade unions in France, Scotland and Ireland are considering ending their relationship with the Israeli Histradut trade union.

Students are active on campuses in the UK and the US. The students of the University of California at Berkeley made us very proud with their amazing fight for divestment of university funds from General Electric and United Technologies. Palestinian youth in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and in 1948 [historic Palestine] closely followed the events at Berkeley. Another important development is possibly my favorite. Recently, the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced [the cessation of] speaking tours of Israeli officials to the UK and the US, because of the protests they expect.

AN: Are there BDS activities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and 1948 or what is now called Israel?

HA: It is important to note that boycotts are not new to Palestinians, especially during the first intifada they played a more prominent role. My favorite part is the student BDS activities. For example, Birzeit University has no Israeli goods on its campus. All Palestinian universities adhere to the principles of an academic boycott. In April, an initiative was launched by all student councils in the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinian youth groups in the diaspora to end their involvement in normalization projects that dilute our rights. It was a united stand, a start to work together, an initial step. There is also a new boycott campaign in Bethlehem.

The majority of Palestinian student groups in Israel support the academic and cultural boycott. A boycott of Israeli products in Israel is not feasible.

AN: How does the Palestinian Authority (PA) respond to the BDS movement?

HA: One has to look at it in perspective. The PA is unelected. It is there because of the US. It does not represent Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It is complicit in Israel’s oppression. It is a sub-contractor of the occupation.

The PA has engaged in a small part of the boycott of settlement products. It is the only part the Oslo accords allow for. It is a step in the right direction. If the PA had a different stand, all governments would react differently. But civil society says Israel is the oppressor, not the settlements. It is clear to people that the PA should be dismantled, especially since [its response to] the Goldstone report on Gaza.

The PA is strict on customs; they sometimes destroy whole shipments of goods. They stopped the selling of Israeli mobile phone cards, although in some areas in the OPT you can only use Israeli phones. The goals of the PA boycott of settlement products are not realistic.

AN: What do the international BDS activities mean to Palestinians?

HA: I think the BDS campaign has done a lot … it has ended the Israeli left’s domination of the discourse which was limited to the occupation, dismissing the rights of Palestinians in Israel and the rights of the refugees. BDS has allowed us to set the terms of the discourse and define our rights. We work towards a complete rights-based solution. It keeps us going. It shows there is hope in the midst of home demolitions, land confiscations, violations of rights and discrimination in Israel. Every victory of the BDS movement feels like we are a step closer. We are not alone in ending the oppression. It has a huge impact.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.


Source

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