Monday, October 29, 2007

Desmond Tutu Likens Israeli Actions to Apartheid

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/10/29/4872/

by Adrianne Appel

BOSTON - South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu compared conditions in Palestine to those of South Africa under apartheid, and called on Israelis to try and change them, while speaking in Boston Saturday at historic Old South Church.”We hope the occupation of the Palestinian territory by Israel will end,” Tutu said.

“There is a cry of anguish from the depth of my heart, to my spiritual relatives. Please, please hear the call, the noble call of our scripture,” Tutu said of Israelis.1029 03

“Don’t be found fighting against this god, your god, our god, who hears the cry of the oppressed,” Tutu said.

Tutu spoke with political activist and lecturer Noam Chomsky and others to a largely religious audience about “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel,” a conference sponsored by Friends of Sabeel North America, a Christian Palestinian group.

Israeli policy toward Palestine is an inflammatory topic in the U.S. and is not commonly discussed in large, public forums.

In Boston, complaints were lodged with Old South Church in the weeks prior to the event, in an effort to halt the conference. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting complained that Sabeel is “an anti-Zionist organisation that traffics in anti-Judaic themes,” according to press reports.

Outside the church Saturday, Christians and Jews United for Israel demonstrated against Tutu and the conference.

“Sabeel is an organisation that seeks to demonise Israel. Tutu several years ago made anti-Semitic comments,” May Long, president of the group, told IPS. Long did not hear Tutu’s speech, she said.

Tutu was an inspirational leader in the South African fight against apartheid, which officially ended 13 years ago. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and today continues to speak around the globe for peace and justice, and to call for Palestinian rights.

The 76-year-old Tutu also appears to have won a battle against prostate cancer, which he was last treated for in 2000.

“Because of what I experienced in South Africa, I harbour hope for Israel and the Palestinian territories,” said Tutu, who invoked passages from the Christian bible throughout his talk.

Tutu drew parallels between the apartheid of South Africa and occupied Palestine of today, including demolitions of Palestinian homes by the Israeli government and the inability of Palestinians to travel freely within and out of Palestine.

“I experienced a déjà vu when I encountered a security checkpoint that Palestinians must negotiate every day and be demeaned, all their lives,” Tutu said.

Tutu said that Palestinian homes are being bulldozed, and new, illegal homes for Israeli’s built in their place.

“When I hear, ‘that used to be my home,’ it is painfully similar to the treatment in South Africa when coloureds had no rights,” Tutu said.

Tutu is a pacifist and he said only non-violent means should be used to confront the oppression at play in Palestine.

“Palestinians ought to try themselves to restrain those who fire the rockets into Israeli territory,” Tutu said.

Tutu said that while fighting apartheid in South Africa he drew inspiration from the Jewish struggle as the bible describes it.

“Spiritually I am of Hebrew decent. When apartheid oppression was at its most vicious, and all but knocked the stuffing out of those of us who opposed it, we turned to the Hebrew tradition of resistance,” and the belief that good will triumph over evil, and that a day of freedom from oppression will come, he said.

“The well-to-do and powerful complain that we are mixing religion with politics. I’ve never heard the poor complain that ‘Tutu, you are being too political,”‘ he said.

“I am not playing politics when it involves children who suffer,” Tutu said. “A human rights violation is a human rights violation is a human rights violation, wherever it occurs.”

Tutu recently bumped up against U.S. discomfort with discourse about Palestine, when a Minnesota university president yanked an invitation to Tutu that had been extended by a youth group.

Rev. Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul Minnesota, said he did not want Tutu to speak because the Nobel Laureate’s position on Palestine was viewed by some as anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic.

Dease also fired Cris Toffolo as head of the university’s peace and justice programme, who had supported the invitation to Tutu.

Dease apologised to Tutu three weeks ago.

Tutu said Saturday that he accepted Dease’s “handsome apology”, but that he will not consider speaking at the school until Toffolo is reinstated and her record cleared.

At the conference, Chomsky said the U.S. provides heavy financial support to Israel and has a profound influence on Israeli policies, including those toward Palestine and foreign trade.

“If the U.S. doesn’t like what Israel is doing, it just kicks Israel in the face,” Chomsky said. In 2005, Israel wanted to sell improved missiles to China. The Bush administration halted the sale, Chomsky said.

“It blocked them and refused to allow Israeli officials to come to the U.S. The U.S. demanded an apology from Israel. It dragged Israel through the mud,” Chomsky said.

The U.S. began its close relationship with Israel after the Israeli victory in the 1967 “Six Day War” against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Chomsky said.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Israel Lobby Targets Haaretz

http://www.philipweiss.org/mondoweiss/2007/10/the-israel-lobb.html

October 23, 2007

The Israel Lobby Targets Haaretz
It takes me a while to understand stuff I see with my own eyes. In my post last night about CAMERA's conference on Israel's Jewish defamers (which I paid $40 to attend), I failed to linger on executive director Andrea Levin's important speech about Ha'aretz. At some point I will transcribe her comments and provide them. But here is the gist of them.

No other newspaper in Israel matters, Levin says, because Ha'aretz is an elite publication and it has such an amazing English-language website. It is read by millions around the world. "None of the other papers is having international impact." All true.

"We feel directly affected by Haaretz... we feel we should be directly interacting as much as possible... putting more resources into that, because of its direct effect on all of us." I believe that Levin said she had even appealed to government bodies in Israel, including the IDF, to do something about Haaretz stories. The speech ended with the call to arms, for CAMERA members to start pressuring Haaretz. "Write, phone, challenge, speak out... Haaretz is now affecting all of us."

The heart of Levin's concern was the American discourse. When Haaretz was just published in Israel, CAMERA didn't care about its statements about the occupation and the destruction of Palestinian hopes and dreams and olive trees. "This all happened in Hebrew... causing little outward impact.."

Outward impact. She means: now Haaretz is affecting U.S. opinion and foreign policy. The most important statement Levin made was that she gets the brushoff from Amos Schocken, the Haaretz publisher, but with the American media, "there is an unwritten contract between them and us." (Verbatim transcript to come later, when I have a little time...) An unwritten contract: to be fair to Israel, to print CAMERA members' letters, to pick up the phone.

Isn't that amazing and scandalous? Levin is explaining why there is a free debate in Israel and not here. Because of the lobby and its "unwritten contract." Because U.S. support is crucial to Israel's existence. And so Americans, who supposedly so love the Middle East democracy that they support it out of the goodness of their hearts, must not read the news from Israel.

Posted at 05:25 AM in Journalism, U.S. Policy in the Mideast | Permalink

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Israel shaken by troops' tales of brutality against Palestinians

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,2195924,00.html

A psychologist blames assaults on civilians in the 1990s on soldiers' bad training, boredom and poor supervision

Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem Sunday October 21, 2007 The Observer

A study by an Israeli psychologist into the violent behaviour of the country's soldiers is provoking bitter controversy and has awakened urgent questions about the way the army conducts itself in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Nufar Yishai-Karin, a clinical psychologist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, interviewed 21 Israeli soldiers and heard confessions of frequent brutal assaults against Palestinians, aggravated by poor training and discipline. In her recently published report, co-authored by Professor Yoel Elizur, Yishai-Karin details a series of violent incidents, including the beating of a four-year-old boy by an officer.

Article continues

The report, although dealing with the experience of soldiers in the 1990s, has triggered an impassioned debate in Israel, where it was published in an abbreviated form in the newspaper Haaretz last month. According to Yishai Karin: 'At one point or another of their service, the majority of the interviewees enjoyed violence. They enjoyed the violence because it broke the routine and they liked the destruction and the chaos. They also enjoyed the feeling of power in the violence and the sense of danger.' In the words of one soldier: 'The truth? When there is chaos, I like it. That's when I enjoy it. It's like a drug. If I don't go into Rafah, and if there isn't some kind of riot once in some weeks, I go nuts.'

Another explained: 'The most important thing is that it removes the burden of the law from you. You feel that you are the law. You are the law. You are the one who decides... As though from the moment you leave the place that is called Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] and go through the Erez checkpoint into the Gaza Strip, you are the law. You are God.'

The soldiers described dozens of incidents of extreme violence. One recalled an incident when a Palestinian was shot for no reason and left on the street. 'We were in a weapons carrier when this guy, around 25, passed by in the street and, just like that, for no reason - he didn't throw a stone, did nothing - bang, a bullet in the stomach, he shot him in the stomach and the guy is dying on the pavement and we keep going, apathetic. No one gave him a second look,' he said.

The soldiers developed a mentality in which they would use physical violence to deter Palestinians from abusing them. One described beating women. 'With women I have no problem. With women, one threw a clog at me and I kicked her here [pointing to the crotch], I broke everything there. She can't have children. Next time she won't throw clogs at me. When one of them [a woman] spat at me, I gave her the rifle butt in the face. She doesn't have what to spit with any more.'

Yishai-Karin found that the soldiers were exposed to violence against Palestinians from as early as their first weeks of basic training. On one occasion, the soldiers were escorting some arrested Palestinians. The arrested men were made to sit on the floor of the bus. They had been taken from their beds and were barely clothed, even though the temperature was below zero. The new recruits trampled on the Palestinians and then proceeded to beat them for the whole of the journey. They opened the bus windows and poured water on the arrested men.

The disclosure of the report in the Israeli media has occasioned a remarkable response. In letters responding to the recollections, writers have focused on both the present and past experience of Israeli soldiers to ask troubling questions that have probed the legitimacy of the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces.

The study and the reactions to it have marked a sharp change in the way Israelis regard their period of military service - particularly in the occupied territories - which has been reflected in the increasing levels of conscientious objection and draft-dodging.

The debate has contrasted sharply with an Israeli army where new recruits are taught that they are joining 'the most ethical army in the world' - a refrain that is echoed throughout Israeli society. In its doctrine, published on its website, the Israeli army emphasises human dignity. 'The Israeli army and its soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every human being is of value regardless of his or her origin, religion, nationality, gender, status or position.'

However, the Israeli army, like other armies, has found it difficult to maintain these values beyond the classroom. The first intifada, which began in 1987, before the wave of suicide bombings, was markedly different to the violence of the second intifada, and its main events were popular demonstrations with stone-throwing.

Yishai-Karin, in an interview with Haaretz, described how her research came out of her own experience as a soldier at an army base in Rafah in the Gaza Strip. She interviewed 18 ordinary soldiers and three officers whom she had served with in Gaza. The soldiers described how the violence was encouraged by some commanders. One soldier recalled: 'After two months in Rafah, a [new] commanding officer arrived... So we do a first patrol with him. It's 6am, Rafah is under curfew, there isn't so much as a dog in the streets. Only a little boy of four playing in the sand. He is building a castle in his yard. He [the officer] suddenly starts running and we all run with him. He was from the combat engineers.

'He grabbed the boy. I am a degenerate if I am not telling you the truth. He broke his hand here at the wrist, broke his leg here. And started to stomp on his stomach, three times, and left. We are all there, jaws dropping, looking at him in shock...

'The next day I go out with him on another patrol, and the soldiers are already starting to do the same thing."

Yishai-Karin concluded that the main reason for the soldiers' violence was a lack of training. She found that the soldiers did not know what was expected of them and therefore were free to develop their own way of behaviour. The longer a unit was left in the field, the more violent it became. The Israeli soldiers, she concluded, had a level of violence which is universal across all nations and cultures. If they are allowed to operate in difficult circumstances, such as in Gaza and the West Bank, without training and proper supervision, the violence is bound to come out.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli army said that, if a soldier deviates from the army's norms, they could be investigated by the military police or face criminal investigation.

She said: 'It should be noted that since the events described in Nufar Yishai-Karin's research the number of ethical violations by IDF soldiers involving the Palestinian population has consistently dropped. This trend has continued in the last few years.'

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Open Secret About the Israel Lobby

http://www.counterpunch.org/findley10162007.html

CounterPunch

October 16, 2007

Follow the Leader

By PAUL FINDLEY

There is an open secret in Washington. I learned it well during my 22-year tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. All members swear to serve the interests of the United States, but there is an unwritten and overwhelming exception: The interests of one small foreign country almost always trump U.S. interests. That nation of course is Israel.

Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue give priority to Israel over America. Those on Capitol Hill are pre-primed to roar approval for Israeli actions whether right or wrong, instead of at least fussing first and then caving. The White House sometimes puts up a modest and ineffective show of resistance before it follows Israel's lead.

In 2002, President Bush publicly ordered Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to end a bloody, destructive rampage through the Palestinian West Bank. He wilted just as publicly when he received curt word from Sharon that Israeli troops would not withdraw and would continue their military operations. A few days later President Bush invited Sharon to the White House where he saluted him as a "man of peace."

I had similar experiences in the House of Representatives. On several occasions, colleagues told me privately that they admired what I was trying to do in Middle East policy reform but could not risk pro-Israel protest back home by supporting my positions.

The pro-Israel lobby is not one organization orchestrating U.S. Middle East policy from a backroom in Washington. Nor is it entirely Jewish. It consists of scores of groups -- large and small -- that work at various levels. The largest, most professional, and most effective is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Many pro-Israel lobby groups belong to the Christian Right.

The recently released book, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," co-authored by distinguished professors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, offers hope for constructive change. It details the damage to U.S. national interests caused by the lobby for Israel. These brave professors render a great service to America, but their theme, expressed in a published study paper a year ago, is already under heavy, vitriolic attack.

They are unjustly accused of anti-Semitism, the ultimate instrument of intimidation employed by the lobby. A common problem: Under pressure, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs withdrew an invitation for the authors to speak about their book. Council president Marshall Bouton explained ruefully that the invitation posed "a political problem" and a need "to protect the institution" from those who would be angry if the authors appeared.

I know what it is like to be targeted in this way. In the last years of my long service in Congress, I spoke out, making many of the points now presented in the Mearsheimer-Walt book. In 1980, my opponent charged me with anti-Semitism, and money poured into his campaign fund from every state in the Union. I prevailed that year but two years later lost by a narrow margin. In 1984, Sen. Charles Percy, then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and an occasional critic of Israel, was defeated. Leaders of the Israel lobby claimed credit for defeating both Percy and me, claims that strengthened lobby influence in the years that followed.

The result is that Members of Congress today loudly reward Israel as it violates international law and peace agreements, lures America into costly wars, and subjects millions of Palestinians under its rule to apartheid-like conditions because they are not Jewish.

It is time to call politicians to account for their undying allegiance to a foreign state. Let the Mearsheimer-Walt book be a clarion that bestirs the American people to political action and finally brings fundamental change to both Capitol Hill and the White House.

Citizen participation in public policy development is a hallmark of our proud democracy. But the pro-Israel groups subvert democracy when they engage in smear campaigns that intimidate and silence critics. America badly needs a civilized discussion of the damaging role of Israel in U.S. policy formulation.

Paul Findley represented Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives for 22 years. He is the author of They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront the Israel Lobby.