I co-founded the BDS movement. Why was I denied entry to the US?

With this denial of entry, Israel appears to have once again enlisted the Trump administration to do its bidding


“Palestinians are now helplessly anticipating a far-right Israeli tsunami that will wipe out whatever rights we have left.” (Photograph: Nasser Nasser/AP)

Omar Barghouti, The Guardian, 16 Apr 2019

Last Wednesday, as I was preparing to depart for the United States for a series of speaking engagements, I was abruptly stopped and prevented from boarding my flight at Ben Gurion airport. The US consulate informed the airline staff that US immigration has banned me from entering the country, despite having a valid visa, without providing a reason.

Given my regular, unhindered travel to the US for years, this ban seems to be an ideologically and politically motivated measure that fits in with Israel’s escalating repression against human rights defenders. Israel’s far-right regime is not merely continuing its decades-old system of military occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, it is increasingly outsourcing its anti-democratic tactics to the US.

As a co-founder of the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, I have been smeared by the Israeli government and banned from travel repeatedly, including in 2018 when I was prevented from going to Jordan to accompany my late mother during cancer surgery. Israel’s intelligence minister threatened me with “targeted civil elimination”, drawing condemnation from Amnesty International. Their de facto and “arbitrary travel ban” against me was recently lifted for three months after Amnesty International’s pressure.

On this US trip, I was scheduled to meet with policymakers and journalists and to address the critical need for cutting US complicity in Israel’s grave violations of Palestinian rights before audiences at New York University, Harvard, a black community bookstore in Philadelphia and the Tzedek Chicago synagogue. Afterwards, I was going to attend my daughter’s wedding in Houston.

I have decided not to miss any of my speaking engagements, joining via video in the middle of my nights, but I cannot possibly compensate the personal loss of missing my daughter’s wedding. I am hurt, but I am far from deterred.

Since Trump took office, he has repeatedly signaled his deep bias in favor of Israel. His Middle East team, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, with their fervent support for Israel’s illegal settlements and other crimes, must be the most dishonest broker in the history of US “peacemaking”. He has recognized Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights in violation of international law and more than seven decades of official US policy.

Meanwhile, members of Congress and politicians in 27 states have passed laws intended to suppress the voices of Americans who support BDS. The ACLU has condemned these repressive measures as an unconstitutional violation of free speech that is “reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths”.

All of this has emboldened Israel’s hardline rightwing government to accelerate its racist, oppressive policies towards the Palestinian people. Over the last year, Israeli soldiers have massacred hundreds and injured thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters demanding refugee rights and freedom from the open-air prison that Israel has turned Gaza into.

Last summer, Israel’s parliament passed the so-called “Jewish nation-state” law, which constitutionally enshrines an apartheid reality that has existed for many years. And Israel’s government has buried the so-called two-state solution by continuing its relentless theft of Palestinian land for illegal settlements, while at the same time increasing pressure on human rights defenders, particularly BDS advocates.

During the recent election campaign, Netanyahu promised to begin annexing the West Bank and repeatedly incited against Palestinian citizens of Israel, declaring, “Israel is not a state of all its citizens … Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.” He will now likely form a government even more extreme and intransigent than the last, which was the most racist in Israel’s history.

Some Palestinians are now helplessly anticipating a far-right Israeli tsunami that will wipe out whatever rights we have left, but many are intensifying popular resistance, including BDS, calling for impactful solidarity and ending international complicity.

Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid and the US civil rights movements, BDS calls for cultural, economic and political pressure on Israel to end its military rule over Palestinian and Syrian territories occupied since 1967, grant equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and recognize the UN-stipulated right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes of origin, a universal right that applies to all refugees. It is supported by the overwhelming majority of Palestinian society.

Americans have a long and honorable history of using boycotts for social, political and economic justice causes against the Montgomery Bus company, California grape growers, the states of North Carolina and Arizona over anti-LGBT and anti-immigrant laws, respectively, and now against Trump’s racist agenda. Similarly, Palestinians seek to use peaceful economic leverage to achieve our liberation.

With its inclusive, anti-racist principles, BDS rejects all forms of bigotry, and appeals to progressives everywhere. Its tactics have been adopted by a number of US mainline churches, student governments in tens of universities, academic associations and racial and social justice groups, who wish to avoid being complicit in the suffering of Palestinians.

This trend is now being amplified by Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar’s courageous endorsement of BDS and the much wider defense, including by the ACLU and Senators Bernie Sanders and Dianne Feinstein, of the right to boycott Israel to end its human rights violations, as constitutionally protected free speech. All this deeply inspires Palestinians and gives us hope that we can prevail over oppression. Despite the alarming spread of white supremacy in the Trump era, struggles for racial, social, indigenous, economic and environmental justice are growing and connecting with each other.

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Caves in the south Hebron Hills bring villages back to life

Ahmad Al-Bazz and Anne Paq, Mondoweiss, February 11, 2019

Anne Paq presented Intimate Portraits of Gaza’s Lost at the 2017 Madison-Rafah Rachel Corrie Commemoration. Based on the #ObliteratedFamilies project by Paq and Palestinian-Polish journalist Ala Qandil, the project profiled the annihilation of Gaza families during the Israeli bombardment in 2014.


Mahmoud Abu Arram, 72 (left) and his family stand in front of a renovated cave in the West Bank hamlet of Ar-Rakeez in the South Hebron Hills. (Photo: Activestills.org)

For weeks under the cloak of night Palestinians secretly renovated four caves and built a tin-roofed house in the West Bank hamlet of Ar-Rakeez where only a handful of residents live. Last week they opened the homes in a “bringing life back” ceremony.

The event was not announced in advance as to avoid any potential disruption by the Israeli army, locals said.

The caves were refurbished by Palestinians from the southern West Bank villages of Susiya, Masafer Yatta and At-Tuwani who are part of the Protection and Sumud Committee, a local group that seeks to prevent home demolitions, and with support from the Palestinian Authority.

Because of rigid Israeli planning restrictions and frequent settler harassment, most of Ar-Rakeez’s villagers moved to the nearby city of Yatta over the last 20 years. Four families said they will move into the fixed up caves, joining the three families who already live there.

Palestinian youth take shifts maintaining a presence in a cave they renovated. “We want to create life and encourage people to come back,” explains Sami, 21, one of the activists of the “Youth of Sumud” group, Sarura. (Photo: Activestills.org)

Screening of a short documentary about activism in the South Hebron Hills from inside a caves that was inaugurated last week, Ar-Rakeez. (Photo: Activestills.org)

Ayman Abu Arram, 40, said he will be one of the Palestinians coming back to Ar-Rakeez, “We left in 2004 because of settlers but we never completely left as we were coming from time to time to work on the land. We want to come back.”

“There is no land in Yatta and it is overcrowded. Life is better here, with clean air. I am not afraid of the army or settlers. I decided to come back with my family, and we will stay in the cave for now. We own it,” he said.

Mohammed Abu Arram, 51, who is originally from Ar-Rakeez said he wants to move back. He explained, up until the late 90s there were around nine families in the village. He also said many left due to ongoing “Israeli settler harassment.”

The South Hebron Hills has one of the highest rates of settler harassment in the West Bank. In 2017 the United Nations found 33 Palestinians were killed in violence attributed to settlers.

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South Hebron Hills Update

Expulsion by a thousand cuts

Dear Friends,

The last weeks have been busy and challenging in the South Hebron Hills. Young Palestinians, with international and Israeli peace activists, have planted hundreds of trees. But this is also a difficult time. Soldiers and settlers have repeatedly forced shepherds off of Palestinian grazing land located near settlements and outposts, settlers have harassed schoolchildren and shepherds, and just last night Settlers uprooted more than 20 young olive trees.


christadelphia.org

The creativity, resilience and commitment to nonviolent resistance is more amazing here each year.

Here are a few recent events and photos.

On the night of February 4 Israeli settlers from the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on uprooted 23 olive trees on Palestinian land near Tuwani in Humra Valley. The trees have were recently planted during a nonviolent demonstration of Palestinians and Israeli and International activists.

On January 23 Israeli army and civil authorities used a bulldozer to destroy an agricultural field in the Palestinian village of Khalaya Al-Moghrabi. The farmer was already unable to work his land because Israeli authorities had confiscated his tractor.


The Palestinian road to Jinbah and the villages of Massafer Yatta

On January 31 the Israeli army used a bulldozer to destroy two sections of the road that connects the city of Yatta to Jimba village and the other villages of Massafer Yatta, making access to school, health care, commerce and other services even more difficult for the families living in the villages located inside the area claimed by Israel as Firing Zone 918.


School in Khallet Athaba

On January 30 The Israeli Civil Administration (DCO) issued demolition orders for the school and two private family houses in the Palestinian village of Khallet Athaba and a stop work order for a house in the village of Tuba.


Palestinian child from Tuba

Israeli authorities delivered a stop work order for the home of this child’s family in the village of Tuba. It is impossible for families to get building permits. And stop work orders are often followed by demolition orders.

#RightofReturn

War on Want, May 14, 2018

Palestinians in Gaza are gathering to demand their collective rights, including their Right of Return. As we commemorate 70 years since the Nakba, when Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes, it is crucial that we learn about, talk about, and campaign for the right of return for refugees, as a key element of the struggle for justice and human rights for Palestinians and for all.

Why I March in Gaza

Palestinian demonstrators on a sand plateau during clashes with Israeli forces last Friday east of Gaza City. Residents of Gaza are mounting a series of protests called the Great Return March. (Mohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Fadi Abu Shammalah, New York Times, April 27, 2018

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — Early in the morning on March 30, my 7-year-old son, Ali, saw me preparing to leave the house. This was unusual for our Friday routine.

“Where are you going, Dad?”

“To the border. To participate in the Great Return March.”

The Great Return March is the name that has been given to 45 days of protest along the border between Gaza and Israel. It began on March 30, Land Day, which commemorates the 1976 killings of six Palestinians inside Israel who had been protesting land confiscations, and ends on May 15, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the mass displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 war that lead to the creation of Israel.

“Can I come with you?” Ali pleaded. I told him it was too dangerous. If Israeli military warnings were any indication, the risk that unarmed protesters might be shot by Israeli snipers was too high. “Why are you going if you might get killed?” Ali pressed me.

His question stayed with me as I went to the border encampment in eastern Khan Younis, the southern Gaza town where I live. It remained with me on the following Fridays as I continued to participate in the march activities, and it lingers with me now.

I cherish my life. I am the father of three precious children (Ali has a 4-year-old brother, Karam, and a newborn baby brother, Adam), and I’m married to a woman I consider my soul mate. And my fears were borne out: 39 protesters have been killed since the march began, many by sniper fire, including a 15-year-old last week and two other children on April 6. Israel is refusing to return the bodies of two of those slain.

Thousands more have been injured. Journalists have been targeted; 13 of them have been shot since the protests began, including Yasser Murtaja, a 30-year-old photographer, and 25-year-old Ahmed Abu Hussein, who died Wednesday of his injuries.

So why am I willing to risk my life by joining the Great Return March?

Transporting a wounded Palestinian demonstrator. (Mohammed Saber/European Pressphoto Agency, via Shutterstock)

There are multiple answers to Ali’s question. I fully believe in the march’s tactics of unarmed, direct, civilian-led mass action. I have also been inspired by how the action has unified the Palestinian people in the politically fractured Gaza Strip. And the march is an effective way to highlight the unbearable living conditions facing residents of the Gaza Strip: four hours of electricity a day, the indignity of having our economy and borders under siege, the fear of having our homes shelled.

But the core reason I am participating is that years from now, I want to be able to look Ali, Karam and Adam in the eye and tell them, “Your father was part of this historic, nonviolent struggle for our homeland.”

Western media’s coverage of the Great Return March has focused on the images of young people hurling stones and burning tires. The Israeli military portrays the action as a violent provocation by Hamas, a claim that many analysts have blindly accepted. Those depictions are in direct contradiction with my experiences on the ground.

Representatives of the General Union of Cultural Centers, the nongovernmental organization for which I serve as executive director, participated in planning meetings for the march, which included voices from all segments of Gaza’s civil and political society. At the border, I haven’t seen a single Hamas flag, or Fatah banner, or poster for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, for that matter — paraphernalia that have been widespread in virtually every other protest I have witnessed. Here, we have flown only one flag — the Palestinian flag.

True, Hamas members are participating, as they are part of the Palestinian community. But that participation signals, perhaps, that they may be shifting away from an insistence on liberating Palestine through military means and are beginning to embrace popular, unarmed civil protest. But the Great Return March is not Hamas’s action. It is all of ours.

And our action has been so much more than tires burning or young men throwing stones at soldiers stationed hundreds of meters away. The resistance in the encampments has been creative and beautiful. I danced the dabke, the Palestinian national dance, with other young men. I tasted samples of the traditional culinary specialties being prepared, such as msakhan (roasted chicken with onions, sumac and pine nuts) and maftool (a couscous dish). I sang traditional songs with fellow protesters and sat with elders who were sharing anecdotes about pre-1948 life in their native villages. Some Fridays, kites flew, and on others flags were hoisted on 80-foot poles to be clearly visible on the other side of the border.

All this was taking place under the rifle sights of Israeli snipers stationed about 700 meters away. We were tense, we were fearful — indeed, I’ve been in the proximity of people getting shot and tear-gassed — but we were joyful. The singing, the dancing, the storytelling, the flags, the kites and the food are more than symbols of cultural heritage.

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May 2, 2018
Memorializing 70 Years of Occupation

UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine

Rescheduled from April 27. Stop by to see UW SJP’s display memorializing 70 years of occupation and devastation that stills continues today in Palestine. We will be handing out literature and you can find out how you can get involved in the cause. Hope to see you all there!