Judith Laitman: A Jewish grandmother’s plea to Barack Obama

JUDITH LAITMAN, Cap Times, Jul 25, 2014

I’ve learned a few things during my more than seven decades on this planet. One of the most important is that when we are witness to evil and we do nothing about it, then we are complicit in that evil.

As a Jew born in 1942, I was imbued with the idea that Israel was a homeland for my people, who had been so horribly treated in the Holocaust. Today, that ideal has been destroyed, as Israel has become not so much a sanctuary for the victimized as a victimizer itself.

Today, I reject the idea that Israel has anything at all to do with my faith, or the values that it taught me. Today, my heart aches as I watch the mighty military power of Israel once again bombing the citizens of Gaza. And so I make my plea:

Mr. Obama, you say that Israel has every right to defend itself from Hamas rockets, and that no country in the world would put up with this. But that argument wrongly assumes an equivalence in power. It also assumes that Hamas committed the first act of war and Israel is merely responding. Neither of these assumptions is true.

Though Israel relocated its Jewish settlers from Gaza to the West Bank in 2006, it never relinquished control of the area. It controls everything that goes in and out, limiting the movement of people, restricting necessities like electricity, food, gas, and medical and building supplies. Under international law, Gaza is still occupied. Many people have referred to Gaza, with its 1.8 million residents, as the largest open-air prison in the world.

In the current conflict, Israel keeps telling us it is just responding to attacks from Hamas. According to the last cease-fire, signed in 2012, Israel was to open border crossings and ease the siege on Gaza. Israel broke that cease-fire just days after it was arranged, by firing on Palestinian fishermen, killing two. This pattern has continued with Israel shooting into Gaza at will, resulting in the death and injury of many Palestinian civilians even as Hamas for the most part upheld the cease-fire. Israel never did ease the siege, and so it has never upheld the cease-fire agreement. In fact, a siege and all it entails is considered an act of war in international law. No people would put up with that without resistance.

In the West Bank, where no rockets are fired, Palestinians have endured countless acts of aggression by Israel, including the demolition of hundreds of homes, the destruction of thousands of olive trees, mass arrests without charge, hundreds of checkpoints, an apartheid wall that separates Palestinians from their own territory, and ever-expanding Jewish-only roads and settlements on Palestinian land. International law states that all of these actions are illegal activity by an occupying power.

This has trapped us in an endless cycle of violence and oppression. It continues because the U.S. government continues to repeat Israel’s propaganda points, provides cover for Israel’s crimes in the U.N., and sends Israel billions in military aid every year.

Mr. Obama, you have the power to change this situation by lending your moral support to the oppressed, instead of the oppressor. Here’s one idea: Get on Air Force One and go to that Gaza beach where four boys were slaughtered. Or visit the now-leveled neighborhood of Shujayea, where the Israeli military just indiscriminately massacred more than 70 men, women and children.

There, make a speech to the world.

You are the most powerful man in the world. So why are you choosing to not use your power? What are you afraid of? Would donations dry up for the Democratic Party? Would you be criticized? Do any of these things matter more than the life of a single Palestinian child, or the future of a whole generation of Palestinian children?

If Nelson Mandela had worried about such things, where would South Africa be today? If Lyndon Johnson had worried about Southern Democratic votes, when would we have ever had civil rights legislation? These men made their mark on history not by doing what was politically expedient, but by doing what was right.

Now it is your time to choose. You can continue on your current course as Israel’s apologist-in-chief, or you can give hope to millions of people living under oppression. In just over two years, you will not have this power. I’ve learned a few things about regret in my life. You will almost certainly regret not using your current power to end the lies that you are now perpetuating.

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Rachel Corrie’s Rafah Legacy

Ramzy Baroud, CounterPunch, March 21, 2013

“Hi Papa .. Don’t worry about me too much, right now I am most concerned that we are not being effective. I still don’t feel particularly at risk. Rafah has seemed calmer lately,” Rachel Corrie wrote to her father, Craig, from Rafah, a town located at the southern end of the Gaza Strip.

‘Rachel’s last email’ was not dated on the Rachel Corrie Foundation website. It must have been written soon after her last email to her mother, Cindy, on Feb 28. She was killed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003.

Immediately after her painful death, crushed beneath an Israeli army bulldozer, Rafah embraced her legacy as another ‘martyr’ for Palestine. It was a befitting tribute to Rachel, who was born to a progressive family in the town of Olympia, itself a hub for anti-war and social justice activism. But Olympia is also the capital of Washington State. Politicians here can be as callous, morally flexible and pro-Israel as any other seats of government in the US, where sharply dressed men and women jockey for power and influence. Ten years after Rachel’s death, the US government is yet to hold Israel to account. Neither is justice expected anytime soon.

Bordering Egyptian and Israeli fences, and ringed by some of the poorest refugee camps anywhere, Rafah has never ceased being a news topic in years. The town’s gallantry of the First Palestinian Uprising (Intifada) in 1987 was the stuff of legends among other resisting towns, villages and refugee camps in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. The Israeli army used Rafah as a testing ground for a lesson to be taught to the rest of Palestinians. Thus, its list of ‘martyrs’ is one of the longest, and it is unlikely to stop growing anytime soon. Many of Rafah’s finest perished digging tunnels into Egypt to break the Israeli economic blockade that followed Palestine’s democratic elections in 2006. Buried under heaps of mud, drowning in Egyptian sewage water, or pulverized by Israeli missiles, some of Rafah’s men are yet to be located for proper burial.

Rafah agonized for many years, not least because it was partially encircled by a cluster of illegal Jewish settlements – Slav, Atzmona, Pe’at Sadeh, Gan Or and others. The residents of Rafah were deprived of security, freedom, and even for extended periods of time, access to the adjacent sea, so that the illegal colonies could enjoy security, freedom and private beaches. Even when the settlements were dismantled in 2005, Rafah became largely entrapped between the Israeli military border, incursions, Egyptian restrictions and an unforgiving siege. True to form, Rafah continues to resist.

Rachel and her International Solidarity Movement (ISM) friends must have appreciated the challenge at hand and the brutality by which the Israeli army conducted its business. Reporting for the British Independent newspaper from Rafah, Justin Huggler wrote on Dec. 23, 2003: “Stories of civilians being killed pour out of Rafah, turning up on the news wires in Jerusalem almost every week. The latest, an 11-year-old girl shot as she walked home from school on Saturday.” His article was entitled: “In Rafah, the children have grown so used to the sound of gunfire they can’t sleep without it.” He too “fell asleep to the sound of the guns.”

Rafah was affiliated with other ominous realities, one being house demolitions. In its report, Razing Rafah, published Oct 18, 2004, Human Rights Watch mentioned some very disturbing numbers. Of the 2,500 houses demolished by Israel in Gaza between 2000-04, “nearly two-thirds of these homes were in Rafah… Sixteen thousand people, more than ten percent of Rafah’s population, have lost their homes, most of them refugees, many of whom were dispossessed for a second or third time.” Much of the destructions occurred so that alleyways could be widened to secure Israeli army operations. Israel’s weapon of choice was the Caterpillar D9 bulldozer, which often arrived late at night.

Rachel Corrie was also crushed by the same type of US manufactured and supplied bulldozer that terrorized Rafah for years. It is no wonder that Rachel’s photos and various graffiti paintings adorn many walls of Rafah streets. Commemorating Rachel’s death anniversary for the tenth time, activists in Rafah gathered on March 16. They spoke passionately of the American girl who challenged an Israeli bulldozer so that a Rafah home could remain standing. A 12-year-old girl thanked Rachel for her courage and asked the US government to stop supplying Israel with weapons that are often used against civilians.

While Rafah carried much of the occupation brunt and the vengeance of the Israeli army, its story and that of Rachel’s was merely symbolic of the greater tragedy which has been unfolding in Palestine for many years. Here is a quick summary of the house demolition practice of recent years, according to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, also published in Al Jazeera August 2012:

The Israeli government destroyed 22 homes in East Jerusalem and 222 homes in West Bank in 2011, leaving nearly 1,200 people homeless. During the war on Gaza (Dec 2008 – Jan 2009), it destroyed 4,455 homes, leaving 20,000 Palestinians displaced and unable to rebuild due to the restrictions imposed by the siege. (Other reports give much higher estimates.) Since 1967, the Israeli government destroyed 25,000 homes in the occupied territories, rendered 160,000 Palestinians homeless. Numbers can be even grimmer if one is to take into account those who were killed and wounded during clashes linked to the destructions of these homes.

So, when Rachel Corrie stood with a megaphone and an orange high-visibility jacket trying to dissuade an Israeli bulldozer driver from demolishing yet another Palestinian home, the stakes were already high. And despite the inhumane caricaturing of her act by pro-Israeli US and other western media, and the expected Israeli court ruling last August, Rachel’s brave act and her subsequent murder stand at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It highlighted the ruthlessness of the Israeli army, put to shame Tel Aviv’s judicial system, confronted the international community with its utter failure to provide protection for Palestinian civilians and raised the bar even higher for the international solidarity movement.

The Israel court verdict last August was particularly sobering and should bring to an end any wishful thinking that Israel’s self-tailored judicial system is capable of achieving justice, neither for a Palestinian, nor an American. “I reached the conclusion that there was no negligence on the part of the bulldozer driver,” Judge Oded Gershon said as he read out his verdict in a Haifa District Court in northern Israel. Rachel’s parents had filed a law suit, requesting a symbolic $1 in damages and legal expenses. Gershon rejected the suit, delineated that Rachel was not a ‘reasonable person’ and, once more blamed the victim, as has been the case with thousands of Palestinians for many years. “Her death is the result of an accident she brought upon herself,” he said. It all sounded that demolishing homes as a form of collective punishment was just another ‘reasonable’ act, deserving of legal protection. In fact, per Israeli occupation rules, it is.

Rachel’s legacy will survive even Gershon’s charade court proceeding and much more. Her sacrifice is now etched into a much larger landscape of Palestinian heroism and pain.

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Break the Silence Mural Project

mural, olympia, palestine

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2010

THE RACHEL Corrie Foundation and Break the Silence Mural Project unveiled the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural on May 8 at Labor Temple building, in downtown Olympia, WA. The mural tells a tale of two cities linked through tragedy: Olympia, WA, where Rachel Corrie grew up and attended Evergreen State College, and Rafah, Gaza Strip, Palestine, where she was killed in 2003—crushed by an Israeli army Caterpillar. It is also the tale of people working together for a better world. The mural features an enormous olive tree with more than 150 leaves representing issues of environmental justice, racism, colonialism, rights of indigenous peoples, and anti-war movements.

The mural uses technology to include artists from Palestine who are forbidden to travel. Viewers can use a cell phone to call and listen to the creator of each leaf talk about its meaning and theme. For more information visit <www.olympiarafahmural.org>.

—Delinda C. Hanley

Muralists bring Palestinian experience to Olympia

Chris Allert, Works in Progress, February 2008

The Olympia-Rafah Mural Project is an official recognition by the people of Olympia, Washington of the sister city relationship that exists with the city of Rafah, Palestine. Through the act of creating a collaborative public mural, we will express our desire for Palestinian self-determination, which is rooted in honoring the common struggles for global justice faced by marginalized people everywhere. By upholding rights for all, we seek to break down barriers to understanding, increase visibility for Palestinian people, encourage imagination, embrace the hope and courage of Rachel Corrie, and bring people together in one voice for change. (Click here for Olympia Rafah Mural Project site) Currently, we are in the process of negotiating an arrangement with a landlord for a downtown location for the mural.

Break the Silence Mural and Arts Project (BTS) is an arts/activist group committed to using creative projects to facilitate social change and greater awareness of the complexities of the conflict in Occupied Palestine. (http://breakthesilencearts.typepad.com)

Susan Greene has been painting murals for over 20 years. She is a founding member of Break The Silence Mural and Arts Project, a psychologist, and she directs the learning center at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Lisa Nessan has taken part in several delegations to Palestine, and is a member of Break The Silence, and posts her photography and writing at http://freckle.blogs.com.]

Chris Allert: When did you start painting murals? Was that before you got involved in Palestine Solidarity?

Susan Greene: Yes, I started painting murals when I was in college at SUNY Binghamton. Even before that I was fascinated by them, these big giant paintings, and the whole community thing. I was very ambivalent about art that people put in galleries. I wanted to do art that was connected to life. Murals really seemed like a marriage between art and politics. I was definitely trying to find my way as a muralist before Palestine. By the time I got involved in Palestine, that was the way that I worked.

CA: Are you Jewish? When did you start thinking about Palestine? How were you introduced to it?

SG: Yes, both my parents are Jewish.

I think I always had a discomfort with what was happening there, but I didn’t know that much. I’ve been an activist for a long time, using mural painting as a community organizing tool, as a way to resist.

In the early 1980s I read The Question of Palestine by Edward Said. I had a kind of colonial/imperial critique of the world, I was seeing things through that lens of imperialism and colonialism. It was not a big leap to Palestine at all.

But going there was a transformative experience. I lived in a refugee camp for three months with three other Jewish American women in 1989 during the first Intifada. That experience of life under military occupation, which is in my name, in the name of a Jewish homeland, and at the expense of the Palestinians, who really welcomed us with open arms, who were very gracious, who told us all kinds of stories about their lives—everyone we met was a refugee—they told us about their lives before they were exiled from their villages where they had Jewish neighbors. We heard about this other time, while perhaps not perfect, people basically lived in relative peace and harmony. It was Zionism that really changed things. The betrayal that older people felt and the pain they felt about what had happened was profound.

We talked to a lot of people and painted six or seven murals during that three month period. What we painted really came out of our discussions with people, what we heard from people. The murals were all community based, so we worked with people to design and paint each one. Some of them were very quick ones, and then this one in the Popular Arts Center in Al Biereh, which is right next to Ramallah was much more detailed, and we worked on that one steadily for the entire three months.

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Apartheid Reigns In Israel, Activist-author Says


He Claims Nation Is Hurting Self With Its Policies

SAMARA KALK DERBY, The Capital Times, October 8, 2007

Israeli human rights activist and author Jeff Halper argues that in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the two-state solution is dead, and apartheid has taken over.

Jimmy Carter let the genie out of the bottle with his recent book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” but Halper has been using the same language for years.

“We use apartheid in a very precise way. We don’t use it as a slogan. We have been very careful about it. Apartheid is a system that can’t be exported,” Halper told a group of about 40 people during a talk Sunday at Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg.

An apartheid system is one of separation in which one segment of the population separates itself from the others, Halper said. “And that’s what Israel calls its policy,” he added.

The other element of apartheid is domination, he explained. “One population separates itself from the others and then dominate them,” he said. “Permanently and institutionally.”

Israel’s offer to withdraw from 95 percent of the West Bank will create not peace, but rather a Palestinian prison state, said Halper, who has been called “a Jewish anti-Semite.”

Halper is a Minnesota native who has lived in Israel for 35 years. Formerly an anthropology professor at Haifa and Ben-Gurion Universities, he co-founded the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions to challenge and resist the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes. The organization was founded in 1997 after Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister on a right wing, security-heavy platform.

Israelis have been moving into the occupied Palestinian territories – which includes the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem – through settlement construction and land confiscation. At the same time, Palestinian population growth has been confined to small “islands” within those territories.

The natural development of Palestinian towns has been curtailed by discrimination in building permits and zoning policies and the demolition of Palestinian homes, Halper said.

According to Halper, Israel has destroyed more than 18,000 Palestinian homes since 1967.

Halper has organized and led nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience against Israel’s occupation policies. He has faced down bulldozers in front of Palestinian homes and confronted Israeli soldiers. He also organizes Israelis, Palestinians, and others to help rebuild demolished Palestinian homes. He estimates that they’ve built more than 100 homes in the last 10 years.

In addition to opposing home demolitions, Halper is equally critical of Israel’s construction of the 26-foot tall West Bank separation barrier, which is more than twice as high as the Berlin Wall and five times as long. The Israeli government and its supporters say the wall has reduced terrorism. Critics charge it is laying the groundwork for a unilateral border.

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