One Democratic Secular State for all its citizens in Israel and Palestine


Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:48 pm

N E W    P A L E S T I N E    N E W S L E T T E R  No.8

A dozen items of news, reflection, comments, quotes and resources including BDS (on Water and on Architects), using International Law, American student battlegrounds, how the Christians are dividing, and two upbeat views on how Hebrew Israelis might divide.

1. Another Day, another discriminatory nationalist shindig on the way

Israel’s warring Members of parliament, the Knesset, have all got together to produce yet another piece of discriminatory legislation, to establish a national holiday to recognize and celebrate immigration to Israel. Or rather, to celebrate Jewish immigration to Israel, summed up in the title “Aliyah Day”,  that yet again promotes the 80% Jewish population and slaps the remaining 20% in the face.

Meanwhile, don’t mention the Nakba, especially not on May 15th while Hebrew Israel celebrates getting vacant possession of the country in 1948: another piece of Israel’s “democratic” legislation forbids mourning on this day.

The Bill is of course also designed to further the careers of its authors, New Yorker Jay Shultz and Londoner Jonathan Javor. Unlike the five million exiled Palestinians whose forebears were expelled in the Nakba but who cannot set foot in the country even to visit family, these two had no trouble getting in.

The day is timed to celebrate the biblical moment when, apparently, the expat Jews from Egypt crossed the Jordan into Canaan: another Promised Land myth-making opportunity. It will be “an official day of national celebration in which Jewish immigration to Israel is honored and noteworthy immigrants are recognized for their contributions to the nation. The day would be marked by special activities in the education system, a discussion in the Knesset plenum and other official events.”

Another day for flagwaving and the popular pastime of vandalising Palestinians’ cars, mosques and homes and spray-painting “Death to Arabs”.

2. Are Settlement industries bridges to peace?

Film star Scarlett Johansson chose to walk away from her role promoting Oxfam, in favour of PR for Sodastream which produces domestic appliances in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. In a carefully scripted statement she praised the factory for its benefits for Palestinian workers and said such projects were a “bridge to peace”.

London’s Financial Times, long venerated  for its high standards of objectivity and balance, commented:  “It is disingenuous to romanticise settlement enterprises. The occupation imprisons thousands of the Palestinians’ young men, gives their land and water to settlers, demolishes their houses and partitions the remaining territory with scores of checkpoints and segregated roads.” Instead of state-building while “ostensibly negotiating on the creation of a Palestinian state…” the FT finds that “There are almost no basic foundations for an economy. The way to create Palestinian jobs is to end the occupation and let Palestinians build those foundations – not to build ‘bridges to peace’ on other people’s land without their permission.”

3. Just what is the purpose of Kerry’s Framework Agreement?

‘An Israeli source close to the negotiations insisted the long-term prospects of success remain bleak… The goal of the framework agreement is to keep this process on life support for a few more months. The US wants to keep the Palestinians away from the United Nations in September, and to keep Netanyahu on board until the [US] mid-term elections in November. After that, we’ll probably see a controlled collapse of the peace process.”’ From John Kerry in final push, Guardian 

4. Is BDS unfair?

Is BDS “unfairly picking on Israel”? Ali Abunimah says “The simple, undeniable reality is this: dozens of countries have faced UN sanctions, or even UN-approved invasions for one transgression or another. But never once in its history has the UN imposed sanctions on Israel, despite decades of unchecked violations of UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and other well-documented crimes against the people of Palestine and other countries.”

5. Our very own production: the Palestine Freedom Song

In memory and celebration of Nelson Mandela, this song was written by One Democracy’s Rachel Lever and Alex Pushkin, inspired by the tune of the South African freedom anthem Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika. We got it performed by the fabulous Kat Lee Ryan and made a video to go with it, with footage contributed by the Palestine Return Centre. See it here.

Free, free Palestine now
Free free Palestine, Palestine now
Free, free, Palestine now
Free, free, Palestine now

Bring, bring the exiles home
Bring, bring, the people home
Bring, bring the exiles home
Free, free, Palestine Now

Let the children go, take down all the walls
Free laws and justice for us now
Let the prisoners go, open all the roads
Free now a country for us all

Take, take down all the walls,
Free, free Palestine now
Equal laws and justice for us all
Free, free Palestine now

Let the children go, take down all the walls
Free laws and justice for us now
Let the prisoners go, open all the roads
Free now a country for us all

Free, free Palestine now

6. RIBA votes to stop “Architectural Erasure” of Palestine heritage

Israel/Palestine is a demolition/building site on heat. Except for Gaza where demolition is done from the air and building materials are banned, Israel’s architects and planners are the midwives for judaisation and colony construction. Now the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is leading a move to expel Israel’s national professional body (the IAUA) from the international Architects Association, the UIA.

Since 2005 the Israeli association has shrugged off all attempts by the international body to call it to order, saying they were only concerned with matters of design, not with politics. Yet as RIBA members say, “the whole rea-estate enterprise is closely tied in with Israel’s political and military agenda to grab and hold as much land as possible.”

The RIBA resolution, moved by past president Angela Brady and supported by leading architects including Charles Jencks, Ted Cullinan and Will Alsop, calls for enforcement of the IUA’s 2009 “Resolution No.13” which stated:

 “The UIA Council condemns development projects and the construction of buildings on land that has been ethnically purified or illegally appropriated, and projects based on regulations that are ethnically or culturally discriminatory, and similarly it condemns all action contravening the fourth Geneva Convention.” (That’s the internationally agreed prohibition against an occupying power moving its own civilians in to settle.) Last week’s RIBA motion notes that the Israeli Association has paid no regard to that and “calls on the UIA to suspend the membership of the Israeli Association of United Architects, until it acts to resist these illegal projects and observes international law.”

In support of the motion, Abe Hayeem of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, which organised the suspension move, said that the building of towns and cities over the ruins of Palestinian villages, houses and heritage had wiped them from the map by a form of “architectural erasure”.

He said that the motion was intended to “send a clear message that there is a price to pay for Israel’s decades long impunity in pursuing these apartheid policies, and that the humane principles of our profession cannot be ignored”.

 The UK Jewish Chronicle reported none of the reasons for the suspension move but said that the whole thing was purely and simply a matter of “Jew Hatred”.

Jews for Justice for Palestinians responded:

JFJFP applauds the British architects Institution (RIBA) vote to call on the International Union of Architects (IUA) to suspend Israel’s architects’ organisation, the IAUA, for the central role it, and its members, play in creating the ‘facts on the ground’ that have set in concrete Israel’s takeover of the West Bank and the displacement of Palestinian. This vote comes after … five years of unheeded requests for the Israeli body to answer for itself.

The siting, design, landscaping, infrastructure and building of over 120 exclusive and segregated settlements and towns, housing half a million Jewish Israelis and not one Palestinian, could not have happened without the full complicity of the professional organisation of Israeli Architects, in contravention of international architects’ ethical standards and of international law. 

We are appalled at the editorial in the Jewish Chronicle headlined ‘Architects of Hate’ which says that … “the Royal Institute of British Architects is now officially antisemitic. … “

No Jewish architect is to be censured or banned, nor is the Israeli architects’ union to be suspended for ever or for being Jewish (or Israeli) but until it conforms with the same IUA standards that other countries’ associations are expected to meet.

The [JC] editorial accuses the RIBA of “Jew hatred” on the grounds of Israel’s claim to be “the Jewish state”.  We do not accept that the State of Israel represents Judaism or speaks for the five-plus million Jews worldwide who do not live in Israel, or that Israel’s claim to be “the Jewish state” has any validity in international law, or that political action against those implicated in Israel’s abuses of human rights is anti-semitic. “

The Israeli Architects’ association has now said it will appeal to the British government to overturn this decision, quoting Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement that he opposes boycotting Israel! Evidently Israel’s sense of self-importance really does know no bounds.

7. WATER: Argentinians say, don’t let Mekorot do to us what they’ve done to the Palestinians

Authorities in Buenos Aires have suspended a proposed $170m water treatment plant deal with Israeli state water firm Mekorot. The decision came after a campaign by local trade unions and human rights groups that connected Mekorot’s role in Israel’s theft of Palestinian water resources with evidence that the project did not meet Argentinian standards and necessities.

Campaigners argued that Mekorot was attempting to export the discriminatory water policies it has developed against the Palestinian people to their country. This victory largely contradicts Israeli claims, last expressed during Netanyahu’s recent speech at AIPAC, that the global south, eager for Israeli technology, are uncontested growing markets.

Mekorot diverts Palestinian water to illegal Israeli settlements and to towns inside Israel, and imposes severe obstacles to Palestinians accessing their own water. Amnesty International has accused Israel of depriving Palestinians of their access to water “as a means of expulsion”. A French parliamentary report also accused Israel of imposing a system of “water apartheid” in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The Buenos Aires provincial government had approved a drinking water plant deal with a consortium led by Mekorot, but protests and lobbying have persuaded local authorities to suspend the project: “No company should be able to provide water in a discriminatory way,” said a representative of the CTA/ ATE Hidráulica trade union in Buenos Aires.

“We fought in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for justice, liberation and return and we won a battle not only against Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people but as well for the right to water here in Argentina,” said Tilda Rabi, president of the Federation of Palestinian-Argentinian Organisations.

The large Dutch water utility Vitens recently suspended a cooperation agreement with Mekorot on the grounds that the relationship violated its “commitment to international law”.

8. More big-time BDS gains

* Two leading European construction firms recently withdrew from the bid to build seaports in Israel due to boycott fears, and a third firm only agreed to go ahead with similar plans after being allowed to submit a bid under a different name.

* Luxembourg’s state pension fund has excluded nine Israeli banks and firms over their role in illegal Israeli settlements, following on from similar decisions in recent months by public pension funds in Norway and the Netherlands, and Denmark’s Danske Bank.

* A recent solidarity conference organised by South African members of parliament and civil society groups issued the Cape Town Declaration endorsing BDS and accusing Israel of the crime of apartheid.

A BDS movement representative said: “Investors realise that there are serious economic and reputational risks associated with doing business with Israel”.

9. Using International Law

Activists quote international law in support of Palestinian rights. Israel laughs off international law. Last year, Birzeit University Institute of Law hosted a conference  on “Advocating for Palestinian Rights in conformity with International Law”. It was opened by Richard Falk, expert both in the theory and the practice, who spoke about how Israel dodges around the strengths and weaknesses of different aspects of international law, and what strategies can best be employed for enforcement.

Now Birzeit have issued Guidelines to help non-lawyers to understand the best approaches to applying international law to the totality of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. It explains:
1) Why speaking only about “occupation” is not enough;
2) Why we should rather speak about (settler) colonialism, population transfer (ethnic cleansing) and apartheid, in addition to occupation;
3) How we can do so in accordance with international law; and,
4) Why colonialism, population transfer and apartheid, as legal frameworks, are helpful for building pressure on third parties to take action against Israel’s oppressive regime.

See also:

Document from the conference “Law and Politics: Options and Strategies in International Law for the Palestinian People”, at Birzeit University Institute of Law 

10. American student battlegrounds

Loyola College students vote to divest

On March 18, 2014 Loyola University Chicago, the largest Jesuit University in the USA, voted to divest from the Israeli Occupation with a vote of 26-0-2. This decision, introduced by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), asks that Loyola withdraw investments from the following corporations if currently invested in them: Caterpillar, General Electric, Hewlitt-Packard Company, Group 4 Securicor, Raytheon, Elbit Systems, SodaStream, and Veolia. With signed support from over 800 undergraduate students, SJP asks that Loyola’s assets for investment do not profit from any other companies with a significant role in structural violence against the Palestinian people. “As members of an institute of higher education, it is our [the students’] responsibility to draw attention to these social justice abuses.”

As seems routine now after every democratic vote, however overwhelming, pro-Israel forces are trying to get it overturned.

Northeastern University activists to be “re-educated”

There’s also a battle going on at America’s Northeastern University in Boston. Look closer, and the details are extraordinary.

The college’s branch (chapter) of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has been banned, and its members may face disciplinary action. They will be unable to book rooms or hold meetings on campus and will face further penalties for a range of activities that should be sacrosanct under America’s strong Freedom of Speech rights.

What they did wrong was to display around the college some replica copies of notices that Israel routinely posts up on Palestinians’ houses that it intends to demolish. These real Notices displayed in Israel, leading to violent destruction and homelessness for Palestinian families, are evidently OK, but posting up a replica will get you punished. After a year’s banning the SJP chapter may “petition for reinstatement” as long as this year’s leading members are excluded from the committee, and on condition that representatives from the banned organisation have attended a university-approved “training course”, devised and designed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) one of US Zionism’s well established attack-dogs.

Some activists at Florida Atlantic University were stripped of student leadership positions after they walked out of a talk by an Israeli army officer implicated in the Gaza war crimes, and they too were ordered by school administrators to attend re-education seminars designed by the Anti-Defamation League. Florida activist Nadine Aly says “It is a shame that this university, like most universities, bows to the pressure of the Zionist lobby and wealthy Zionist donors, when they should be protecting the rights of their students.”

Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (CSJP) was abruptly placed on suspension in the spring of 2011 and barred from reserving rooms and hosting events on campus. And at Michigan, counter-measures against the SJP provoked a student sit-in.

Calls in Congress for a Blacklist of BDS activists: shades of Joe McCarthy?

This all follows a string of crackdowns in US campuses, which are now being extended into some state laws for use against BDS advocates. Students at UC Irvine were sentenced to community service after walking out of a speech by US Ambassador Michael Oren: maybe such a sentence could be handed out to the Israeli members of Knesset who regularly storm out when a foreign dignitary such as Sweden’s PM treads on their toes? Oren, an Israeli citizen, has called on the US Congress to blacklist supporters of BDS against Israel, and to prosecute those who protest at appearances by Israeli officials.

By an irony of history, the old American Jewish left that was so prominent in the 1930s, in the trade union movement, in theatre and in producing a string of radical Hollywood movies, was broken in the 1950s by the McCarthy witch-hunts with their blacklists and show-trial hearings, leaving a clear field for the rise of the pro-Israel right a few decades later. And by a further irony, organisations such as Jewish Voice for Peace which is a powerful pro-BDS force, are a sign of the re-emergence of a Jewish left.

Chris Hedges writes: “The persecution of scholars such as Joseph Massad and Norman Finkelstein who challenge the official Israeli narrative has long been a feature of Israeli intervention in American academic life. And the eagerness of university presidents to denounce the American Studies Association call for an academic boycott of Israel is a window into the insatiable hunger for money that seems to govern university policy. The current effort to shut down student groups, however, raises traditional Israeli censorship and interference to a new level. Israel seeks now to openly silence free speech on American college campuses … and has enlisted our bankrupt liberal elites and college administrators as thought police.”

And he quotes Max Blumenthal, author of the powerfully scary recent book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, about the attempts to sabotage its promotion: “The absurd lengths pro-Israel activists have gone to stop my journalism and analysis from reaching a wide audience perfectly illustrate their intellectual exhaustion and moral poverty. …. we are witnessing pro-Israel forces wage a fighting retreat. The question is not whether they will win or lose, but how much damage they can do to free-speech rights on their way towards a reckoning with justice.”

In London, the Israel Embassy tried to pressure Amnesty International into cancelling the booking of their hall for Ben White’s book launch of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide.

And all that is before Israel’s new campaign of serious dirty tricks kicks off, with infiltration, planting of “evidence” linking BDS to “terrorism” and/or anti-semitism, and more legal and financial kickback.

Chris Hedges says “Israel has for decades been able to frame the discussion about the Palestinians. But its control of the narrative is coming to an end.”

Israel’s problem is that it acts like a bully but tries to project an image of vulnerability. But the more it throws its weight around in other countries’ internal affairs and international bodies, the more it destroys the image and reveals the reality. BDS actions just can’t lose: every time Israel intervenes to try to reverse BDS decisions, all it does is shoot itself in the foot. BDS is, as much as anything, a battle for hearts and minds and the more Israel struggles, the more it adds value to BDS and proves the argument.

 11.  Christ at the Checkpoint 

The occasion of the third Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem, hosting 700 participants, has produced a flurry of posts speculating about the possible weakening of Israel’s hardcore support in the USA among the very numerous and very rich Christian Evangelical Zionists. It is they (led by Christians United for Israel) who have poured bottomless funds into building West Bank settlements, into holding lavishly funded American universities to ransom if they don’t silence academic staff and students who speak out for Palestine, and into exerting massive financial lobby pressure to keep American congress members on side for Israel. In turn, Israel is desperate to keep them on message.

These people have no interest in peace on earth: they have a biblical scenario of Armageddon, the Rapture and The End of Days that could come out of Dr. Who or any cheap sci-fi plot, and a literal reading of God as the original real estate donor.

Evidently some of the younger generation are asking awkward questions about how all this fits in with their idea of Christianity.

Christ at the Checkpoint declares that the Kingdom of God requires “evangelicals to reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel”. It pointedly states that “Racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant” and that “Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.” It goes on: “There are real injustices taking place in the Palestinian territories and the suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored. … For Palestinian Christians, theOccupation is the core issue of the conflict.” And it says that the “ethical teaching” of Jesus must take precedence over “secondary matters of theology”.

Israel’s response to this heresy could not have been bettered by the Spanish Inquisition. Israel sees America’s evangelical movement as money in the bank, and its fury knew no bounds. The Chief Press Officer  at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yigal Palmor, made a statement to the newspaper Israel Hayom saying the conference, in “Palestinian-held Bethlehem” (sic) was “a serious long-term threat to Israel’s security” and was “particularly problematic, because it is designed for the evangelical Christian leadership – an extremely important audience to us.” And he went on to put it into the context that Israel, of course, knows all about: “Using religion for the purpose of incitement in the service of political interests” which is kosher if Israel does it, but in this case  “stains the person who does it with a stain of indelible infamy.”

12. Two interesting voices

Recent musings from two thinkers whose trajectory will almost certainly bring them on board the One State ship before or after it sails into the mainstream: blogger Jerry Haber of The Magnes Zionist, and one-time Israeli political figure Avrum Burg. Both are observant Jews, Haber is an American academic living in Jerusalem, and Burg an Israeli son of the Ashkenazi political establishment. Maybe their optimism about the latent human good within Israel can prove infectious. Here are extracts from their recent observations.

Jerry Haber: “I am grateful for the difficulties of being a Jew here because of its impact on my moral smugness.”

When I was growing up, I used to listen to the Christian fundamentalists on Sunday religion shows. As a privileged suburban Jewish liberal I used to think that Judaism was more rational, more liberal a religion than Christianity. I suffered from the same moral chauvinism that many tribalists feel about their own tribe. 

It’s only when I came to Israel and learned that whatever craziness gentiles had, Jews also had it in spades, and that whatever bigotry the Southern (and Northern) whites had in the past, some Jews also had it. Only in Israel did I realize that my feelings of moral superiority were misplaced. I learned that  …  my people continued to commit sins in the name of “Jewish survival” or “Judaism”  just as folks from other religions did (and that includes the religion of nationalism and secularism.)  …  only in Israel did I meet those folks for the first time.

Of course, that doesn’t sound like a reason to love Israel, no more than you love a persistent pain. Perhaps it’s better to say that I am grateful for the difficulties of being a Jew here because of its impact on my moral smugness.

There’s a final reason why I love Israel. I still have faith that it can become a decent, even inspiring society, and I say that because of my faith in humanity and my familiarity with Israelis.  I can envision a truly liberal democracy, a state of all its citizens, where all Israelis learn about and celebrate the two major national cultures and the many religious cultures here.  I can envision an Israel that grows up, that admits its responsibility for the ongoing Nakbah, that invites Palestinians to build with Israeli Jews a just society, that tries to make amends, an Israel that bears a special responsibility for the welfare and the flourishing of the Palestinian people.  …  Hakarat ha-het – recognizing the sin of responsibility for the ongoing Nakbah – is the first step in the process of repentance.  A just society can be  built here, and that should be the primary task of Jews in the twenty-first century, especially those Jews for whom Israel is a special place. It may take decades and generations, but I believe it can come.

So, yes, that is a dream, and  I realize that for some of my coreligionists it is a nightmare, that they would rather continue living according to the blessing of  Esau – “by the sword” — for the sake of political power, privilege, dominion, “Jewish pride.” It will always be easier for tribalists to live like Simeon and Levi than like Jacob.  

But I still have faith that things can be different and that ultimately, whatever political arrangement, which means little to me, these two peoples can flourish together.  They are certainly not going away.

Anyway, that’s my dream, and I haven’t given up on it.


Avrum Burg: For this we have no answer

Put yourselves for a minute in the Palestinians’ place and try to understand what Israel “allows them” and consider what you would do in their position. …Should they just say thank you and shut up? Would we remain silent and capitulate unconditionally if we were in their place?

Suddenly it turns out that the boycott movement is not just an annoying effort to hit Israelis in the pocket, but a bold and innovative attempt to achieve real diplomatic gains. And in the areas in which I firmly believe require dialogue and solutions: an end to the occupation, the destruction of the separation barrier, recognition of the rights and equality of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, and a solution to the refugee problem.

Deep down I’m convinced that the tough State of Israel has a response to any expression of force it may face. But it will remain helpless when confronted by a civil rebellion that moves the discourse from who’s stronger/tougher/more resilient to a discourse on rights and values. For this we [i.e. Israel] have no answer.

What will the politicians and soldiers of the racist separation do on Hebron’s Shuhada Street, which is closed to Palestinians, if a thousand kids come with their bikes, soccer balls and cameras and ask to play on the street in front of their homes – a basic right of any normal child on any street in the world? What will be the response of the Sensible One if the parents of those children, along with hundreds or thousands of other people (me and my family among them) come to the wall of the Palestinian ghetto (known euphemistically as the separation barrier) and hold a vigil there before the international media, under clouds of tear gas, until it comes down?



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