Saturday, November 2, 2013

His memory goes back 2,000 years

Yossie Klein Halevi's recent talk at Marist College was a masterful performance. He began by being disarmingly blunt about the suffering of the Palestinian people. He had seen it himself during his service in the Israel Defense Force and the experience convinced him that the "left argument" was essentially correct. Palestinians deserve their own state, just like the Jews.

He warned against outside pressure to settle the conflict. In his words, the more pressure from the rest of the world, the less progress has been achieved. No, Halevi understands that the solution must involve a respectful and honest "dialogue" between two very distinct "narratives" about who deserves the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The Palestinians got a late start in developing their narrative, of course. In 1948, according to Halevi, the Palestinians had no national aspirations at all. Contrast this to the 2,000 years that the Jews have considered this land to be their religious and spiritual essence. Yes, these are the "intangible issues" that a lasting peace must be built upon, starting with the realization that there is "no Jewish religion without Israel." Mr. Halevi makes no mention of the many Jewish intellectuals from Martin Buber to Judith Butler who have pointed out that this unification of religion and state is as recent as the last century, and represents an aberration in traditional Jewish teaching. 

So why are Palestinians suffering? According to Halevi, it's because Yasser Arafat blew his chance at Camp David when Israel offered almost everything the Palestinians wanted. This version of history has been so discredited that Halevi wisely moves right on. The Palestinians are suffering in Gaza "because of Hamas," and because of the "disproportionate response" that the Palestinian people have always had to Jewish attempts to build their own state. 

Halevi declares that the international community hasn't been much better, at times acting like "an intellectual Lynch mob." He refers to the many UN resolutions against the state of Israel. Doesn't this prove his point that the rest of the world has in fact "ghettoized Israel" in its relentless one sidedness? There is no mention of the numerous Israeli violations of the UN charter in the settlement of occupied lands.  

Halevi ended his talk with a poignant recounting of his own suffering. He will be giving up "who I am" to grant the Palestinians even a part of the land he has in his "historical memory." His memory goes back at least 2,000 years, so that is saying quite a lot. 

Fred Nagel

We’re Like Firemen (Times Union)

We’re Like Firemen.
31 of us, representing national and international NGOs, gathered in the Hebron RC conference room earlier this month [April 2013].  The increasing number of children being seized here by Israeli soldiers – 27 in one day, last month [March of 2013] – drew us together.  What could we do to reverse the trend and end the IDF’s abuse of Palestinian children?  The Israeli military pays no attention to Articles 3 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — which are supposedly binding on all member states of the United Nations — or to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by the government of Israel in 1991.
The US government pays scant attention to Israel’s violations of those agreements or to the organizations that have reported on what happens to children held in Israeli military custody. Most other UN member nations do little more than mount the podium occasionally and call on Israel to stop violating the rights of Palestinian children.  Does the fact that this charade has been going on for decades send any message but that Israel can – with impunity – do whatever it chooses with the lives of children in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?
IMG_5965 going to school under occupation in Hebron
Everyday journey to school in occupied Palestine, photo by Alice Brody
Governments continually fail these children. The NGO representatives seated round the table were struggling with ways to help.  Proposals like “expose the Israeli violations against children,”  follow up legally on behalf of the children who were seized, and provide “treatment and therapy for the children” were discussed.  Listening to these ideas that have been discussed and acted on over the years, it struck me we were like firemen trying to douse a raging fire, while other more powerful actors pour fuel on that fire.
Palestinian children going to school in Hebron, photo by Alice Brody
Palestinian children going to school in Hebron, photo by Alice Brody
Of course, it’s important to continue trying to put out the flames; but isn’t it time to stop those who add fuel to the fire?  In addition to the Israeli government, two major arson accomplices are the US government, which funnels three billion of our tax dollars to the Israeli military every year, and the corporations that support and profit from the Occupation.  When other nations condemn the apartheid policies of the Israeli government, the US government is silent.  When the Israeli government imposes collective punishment that hurts Palestinian children, the US government is silent.  When respected international organizations like UNICEF, Defense for Children International, Christian Peacemaker Teams, the YMCA and Save the Children expose the damage done to children by the Israeli government, the US government responds with little more than finger shaking.
We write letters to politicians and to newspapers, we share information far and wide; but we have to do more to make those who are feeding the fire change their ways.  We need to apply economic pressure to end the occupation and the IDF’s presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  Boycotts and divestments can stop those who are fueling the fire.  Don’t buy items like Ahava cosmetics and Soda Stream carbonation units…products produced in illegal Israeli settlements.  Contact those who sell such products and ask them to sell alternative competing products instead.  If you or organizations you’re part of, hold stock in companies profiting from the occupation and its illegal settlements (Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Cement Roadstone, for example), divest from those companies and tell them why you’re divesting.
Do we now have the will to stop those responsible for torching the lives of Palestinian children?
Going to school under occupation, Hebron Checkpoint, April 2013, photo by Alice Brody
Going to school under occupation, Hebron Checkpoint, April 2013, photo by Alice Brody
Palestinian children going to school under occupation.  Photo by Alice Brody
Palestinian children going to school under occupation. Photo by Alice Brody

Paul Rehm is a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams who has been working in the occupied Palestinian Territories for many years.  He lives in the Capital District when he’s not traveling.
Worldwide campaigns for divestment and boycotts of companies supporting the occupation and military abuses and the illegal presence of settlements continue to gain momentum.  Here are just a few examples: