Civil Society and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Beneath the Hideous Veneer of ‘Security’

Jennifer Loewenstein, CounterPunch, 23 september, 2007

On January 26th 1976 the United Nations Security Council debated a resolution (S11940) introduced by Jordan, Syria and Egypt that included all the crucial wording of UNSC resolution 242. It accepted the right of all states in the region to exist within secure and recognized borders while re-emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. This resolution added for the first time, however, what was missing from 242: recognition of Palestinian national rights. The phrase “all states” was taken to include a new Palestinian state in the occupied territories.

Israel was, of course, invited to attend the session but refused, preferring instead to have a national tantrum that included bombing Lebanon the same day, killing about 50 people ­in all likelihood a typical “in your face” message to the UN and the world. Unsurprisingly the US vetoed the resolution causing the PLO, which was present at the session, to speak of the “tyranny of the veto.” As with similar resolutions since this one, the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations supported it. The two nations that have consistently opposed this and comparable resolutions were the United States and Israel thereby establishing the well-known pattern of rejectionism that persists to this day. As a result, resolutions such as S11940 have vanished from the historical record despite its significance in marking the first time a UN resolution explicitly recognized the inalienable national rights of the people of Palestine.

In the debate leading up to the vote on this resolution, one of the participants remarked that the problem of Palestine is at the heart of the Middle East conflict and must be resolved….We are sorry that Israel stayed away from the debate and has instead been [wreaking] havoc all over and hurling defiance against the alleged bias of the United Nations. In truth it is Israel which is maintaining, by the use of force, and [which] wishes to be left alone to continue, its occupation of the territories of its Arab neighbors. Persistence in this policy of tone and diktat can only breed more violence, engender further bitterness, and make ever more remote the prospect of the peace and cooperation which the Israeli government professes to be seeking and which all the peoples of the Middle East desire and need. (M. Akhund; representative of Pakistan; in transcript of debate following introduction of resolution. S/PV.1879 of 26 January 1976. UNISPAL home; See also: UN DPI multimedia: United Nations. Thirty-first year; 1879th meeting.)

Reading these words, I was struck by a sense of déjà vu and had to double check the source to certify that they were in fact spoken 31 years ago. Unfortunately, however, although the similarities with present day circumstances are remarkable, the situation that we face vis a vis the Palestinian issue today is far more serious.

Noam Chomsky’s response to my upbeat description of last year’s UN’s Conference in Geneva on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was that if things did not soon improve on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories, the next such conference “would be a wake.” It was a sobering reminder of just how dire the situation has become; how, in Chomsky’s words we are currently witnessing an event almost unprecedented in the modern era: the systematic, deliberate and long-term destruction of an entire nation.

As activists and representatives of civil society NGOs concerned with what is happening in Israel-Palestine, we know the importance of maintaining a realistic level of optimism; of dogged persistence even in the face of what seem to be insurmountable obstacles. I have not given up that hope, nor ­I suspect-have any of you, which is why we are here today.

Nonetheless as important as solidarity work is for us and for the continuation of efforts to effect change in the circumstances facing millions of Palestinians in the territories and beyond, none of us is deluded enough to believe that a Just Peace is at hand. With every killing, every maiming, every act of state-sponsored terror, every home demolition, every arrest, every confiscation of property, resources and identity, every closure, checkpoint, permit, roadblock, or concrete slab put into place along the serpentine Wall that is devouring Palestinian land in its path, Palestine is rendered increasingly invisible, buried behind euphemisms and peace scams ­ a non-entity for non-persons whose continuation as one of the many nations populating the globe today is seriously threatened.

(1) In trying to assess how we can put a stop to this devastating dynamic I came up with three pre-conditions that are necessary before we can even begin a process leading to a just settlement. First and foremost is to demand an end to Israeli crimes. These include, most significantly today, its bloody and sadistic torture of Gaza, but also its continued territorial expansion which it has no intention of ending, an end to atrocities against the people of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, recognition of the right of Palestinians to have free elections ­meaning, in this case, the recognition of Hamas and the establishment of dialogue with it and all other Palestinian political factions regardless of whether or not we like them; the release of Palestinian Parliamentarians taken hostage beginning in the summer of 2006; the release of thousands of prisoners and illegal detainees whose only “crime” was resistance to an illegal occupation.

I should add here that on December 7th, 1987 the United Nations General Assembly passed UN resolution 42/159 which, among other things, authorized peoples living under occupation regimes the right to resist. This is yet another piece of the historical documentary record conveniently forgotten lest it be used to support Palestinian and other just causes.

To reiterate: it is crucial that all of Israel’s ongoing crimes against the Palestinian nation cease; that we in civil society and in world organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union so allegedly concerned with the adherence to and principles of international law take it upon ourselves to enforce it or soon, with regard to Palestine, there will be nothing left to talk about.

(2) The second pre-condition is that the Quartet, which includes the United Nations and the European Union, publicly acknowledge the international consensus as it has existed since January 26th, 1976 and was broadened by the 2002 Arab League Summit in Beirut to include full normalization of relations, in return for Israel’s compliance with international law. As mentioned, however, this consensus has been systematically and often hysterically rejected by the US and Israel whereas virtually all other concerned parties, including Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas, have ­contrary to what the American media would have us believe-explicitly accepted it.

(3) Finally, once the international consensus is acknowledged, civil society activists and organizations must pressure European Nations to have the courage to act independently of US policies, as they can do in many important ways, instead of ­as one activist put it-“toddling meekly behind the Boss and participating in his crimes”(Noam Chomsky; private correspondence). Actions taken by the UN and the EU among other world organizations to ostracize and isolate the United States and Israel rather than kowtow to them in servile obedience must serve as the beginning of constructive change; of sending a message to the world’s only superpower and its principal client that they may, by sheer military force, continue to get their way, but that their actions will no longer be tolerated or ignored.

It is bad enough that the United States and Israel together behaves like neighborhood bullies dictating their whims to both friends and enemies alike; but when their pious appeals to freedom, democracy and justice are heard as tanks, heavy artillery and warplanes devastate the lands and decimate the civilian populations they have occupied it is long past the time to censure their record-breaking violations of international law and basic human morality.

With regard to Palestine, it is important to ask ourselves why Hamas, which won power in free, fair and transparent democratic elections has been deemed a criminal terrorist organization whose carefully planned demise depends on the calculated starvation and suffering deliberately imposed on the Gaza Strip, 50% of whose population is under age 25. We need to understand that brutal, authoritarian regimes such as those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are upheld as “moderate” and “friendly” states by the US because their first priority is to the Master and his whims.

By understanding this we are forced to confront the sudden cynical embrace by both Israel and the US of Mahmoud Abbas and his disturbing acquiescence in this embrace. Abbas’ illegal government-by-decree has agreed not only to avoid any dialogue or attempts at reconciliation with Hamas; it has also accepted ­ in Orwellian fashion-the US/Israeli designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization. Indeed Abbas himself while lauding the values of freedom and democracy announced on Israeli television that he would refuse to “conduct negotiations with murderers.” Surely his Israeli and American backers have satisfied their immediate aims of making him an honorary Warrior on Terror. Thus, with help from his foreign backers, Abbas’ Fatah faction has succeeded in splitting the Palestinian National Movement in half making it easier still for the Israelis to continue to destroy the economic, social, cultural and political fabric of Palestine. Who are these people that they would sacrifice on the altar of celebrity, power and corruption the historic struggle and soul of Palestine? The path on which this cynical triumvirate of power is moving leads inexorably to a fate none of us here would seriously like to contemplate.

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Brothers in Arms: The Triumph of U.S.-Israeli Policy in Palestine

Jennifer Loewenstein, The Progressive, June 26, 2007

Contrary to the many claims that the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip represents the failure of US and Israeli policies in Palestine, the violent civil infighting that has dominated the Gaza Strip over much of the last year and a half and that led directly to the Hamas coup of June 2007 marks yet another major foreign policy victory for the occupiers. Hamas will never be allowed to remain in power in Gaza so we must fear for the future of that tiny, desperately overcrowded strip of land and its 1.4 million inhabitants; additionally, Abbas – in order to maintain his role as “Good Guy”— will have to accede to the dictates of Israel and the United States or suffer the same fate as his predecessor, Yassir Arafat.

Western nations are standing by in silence as the deadly siege of Gaza and the dismemberment of the West Bank continue unabated. What we are witnessing in full view each day are unprecedented steps taken by the world’s only superpower and its favorite client state, Israel, to ensure the death of a nation. While friction between the two key political factions in the occupied Palestinian territories has long undermined the smooth functioning of internal affairs, it was the direct, cynical involvement of US and Israeli policy-makers in these affairs that guaranteed the breakdown of internal stability and paved the way for the Hamas “coup” in Gaza.

Media reports have been careful to leave out important facts leading up to the coup such as that Hamas was the legitimate, democratically elected ruling party in the Palestinian territories following the January 2006 Palestine Legislative Council elections; that it was the US-Israeli dismissal of those election results that fueled the civil infighting between Hamas and Fatah; that obvious US backing of Fatah against Hamas helped create popular mistrust of Fatah increasing Hamas’ popularity in Gaza and leading directly to Hamas’ takeover of the Fatah military apparatus in the Gaza Strip. In other words, there were real and understandable reasons for the coup. But in the end, Hamas’ seizure of the power that it should have had in the first place ends up serving the interests not only of Mahmoud Abbas and the warlord Muhammad Dahlan. It also provides the perfect opportunity for US-Israeli policy in the region to move forward with even fewer objections, if that is possible to imagine, than have heretofore been made. Who will stand up for a “terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel”? The line has been beaten into our heads with every mention of the word “Hamas” for years. We should not expect a change in the behavior of the American public or of other western audiences until, when Israel is mentioned, we immediately say to ourselves, “a terrorist state that seeks the destruction of Palestine.” Seeks and is succeeding in it.

II

Watching the barbarous killing between brothers in Gaza, a power struggle between rival factions seething in frenzy like the great prison in which they thrive, Israeli and American political analysts can rest their cases with confidence. Across the spectrum of debate, these experts can expect vindication by the media juries which, in sanctimonious indignation at the brutality meted out by partisans of Fatah or Hamas, have assembled all the “evidence” they need to justify our righteous war against Muslim-Arab terrorists and their internecine blood feuds.

That the US has temporarily chosen a weak, compliant leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the power thirsty warlord, Muhammad Dahlan, to back during the bitter strife between key Palestinian factions testifies not to a belief that one side is trustworthy and deserves our support, but rather to the ease with which the Americans and their clients pick and choose their pawns in their bitter regional cockfights. Today’s statesmen were yesterday terrorists, their titles dependent on the needs of the superpower and its clients: Yesterday Fatah was on the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations and its leader, Yassir Arafat, was a declared “terrorist,” “irrelevant,” and exiled in his presidential compound in Ramallah until his mysterious death. Fatah’s military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades is still listed as a foreign terrorist organization. Neither of these factors apparently bothers the current leadership, which understands that power and prestige are most easily acquired and unchallenged when bequeathed from above.

Truth be told, the Abbas/Dahlan alliance elicits far greater contempt in the eyes of the masters than the more independent and genuine resistance faction headed by Hamas. The numerous meetings and photo-ops between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas, and US President George Bush and Abbas, are little more than tactical stunts to make it look as though genuine negotiations are taking place. In fact, Abbas has been repeatedly bypassed and shunned when Israeli and US negotiators make the real policy decisions—decisions that remain one-sided and dismissive of any demands (other than those that are entirely self-serving) that Abbas and his entourage have made. The arms and funding channeled through Abbas’ Fatah (for his clique represents only one of the many spin-off Fatahs that emerged during the secondIntifada) signify little more than the conduit through which US-Israeli policies can be secured. For all the claims about US backing of Fatah, neither Abbas nor Dahlan have yet to benefit on the ground from this “support.” Indeed, the ease with which Hamas was able to wrest control of Gaza indicates just how little US support for Fatah was worth there. Nevertheless, the same pipeline of support for “Fatah” has done a great deal to bolster perceived US and Israeli national security interests in the same region.

III

Once again the pictures on our television screens in our newspapers are intended to suffice for missing substance. The context of empire is invisible or deliberately obscured –in Palestine as in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. If the takeover of Gaza by Hamas was unanticipated, its success was a gift of immeasurable value to the overlords, a welcome but unforeseen consequence of fueling divisions among a weakened and oppressed people, undermining any steps toward positive change. Abbas and his underlings have foolishly offered up Palestine cut in two to the occupation regime that worked so hard to end the charade of a single Palestine to begin with. This was a coup for Israel in its ongoing quest for regional hegemony, and a triumph for America’s “War on Terror.” For all the talk about a one-, two- or bi-national state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, the reality is that no state solution for Palestine is on the near or distant horizon. Palestine is a series of disconnected pieces whose division into still smaller parts continues month after month.

Those fretting about a “Hamastan” in the Gaza Strip ought to be worried not about its viability or longevity or about whether or not Islamic law and social mores will be imposed. Hamas’ presence in Gaza will be but a short-lived, transitory phenomenon entirely at the mercy of the US-backed Israeli military, which has not left Gaza alone for a single day since Hamas’ coming to power despite a yearlong ceasefire called by its leaders and scrupulously observed. Those concerned about a Hamas-controlled Gaza ought instead to be wondering how they are going to justify Hamas’ destruction within the Strip and all the suffering, chaos and death that will ensue over the shameful silence of the international community.

IV

Claims that Hamas’ “victory” in the Gaza Strip is a sign that the Bush Doctrine in Palestine has failed are misguided. While no one can foresee all of the events that might take place in a region as volatile as the Middle East, Hamas’ takeover in Gaza will ultimately benefit Israel and the United States. It will benefit Israel by giving it a free hand to destroy Hamas, permanently sever the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, and re-“negotiate” with its newly appointed “partners” the remaining islands of economically unviable territory that will soon be entirely encircled by a concrete and barbed-wire wall, cut off from their supplies of water and fertile land, and separated internally by “Arab-free” roads. It will benefit Israel and the United States by assuring another compliant puppet regime adjacent to Jordan, friendly to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and hostile to Hizbullah, Syria and Iran, even as the fault lines harden. It has already benefited both Israel and the United States by reassuring them that their tactics for undermining indigenous experiments in democracy have once again proven effective, that the people who have dared to defy those tactics learn quickly how painful it is to advocate or practice popular sovereignty and the rule of law.

Mahmoud Abbas has already learned how well complicity and collaboration are rewarded. Having dismissed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, dissolved the national unity government, declared a new, ‘legitimate’ government under his rule and appointed his friends to work beside him, he recently stepped into the limelight with an address on Palestine TV, broadcast in the US on C-SPAN, by announcing how he would further “enhance democracy.” This would begin by no longer speaking to “murderers,” by which he meant Hamas.

Clearly, his membership application into the club of the Good Guys has been, for the time being, approved.

Jennifer Loewenstein is the Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a member of the board of the Israeli Coalition against House Demolitions-USA branch, founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and a freelance journalist. She can be reached at: amadea311 at earthlink.net

Nightmares – How Gaza offends us all

Jennifer Loewenstein, Islamic Human Rights Commission, 06 June 2007

Jennifer Loewenstein at IHRC's conference 'Human Rights and Israel at 60', 2008Jennifer Loewenstein brilliantly illustrates the horrors of living under fire and portrays the Palestinians of Gaza as a people abandoned by the world to the murderous Israeli occupation, but whose will to resist strengthens with each atrocity committed against them.

June 2007, Jennifer Lowenstein, originally published in Palestine Internationalist, Volume 2 Issue 4

An opened jaw with yellowed teeth gaped out of its bloodied shroud. The rest of the head parts were wrapped in a plastic bag placed atop the jaw and nostrils as if to be close to the place to which it once belonged. The bag was red from the pieces that were stuffed inside it. Below the jaw was a human neck slit open midway down: a fleshy, wet wound smiling pink and oozing out from the browned skin around it, the neck that was still linked to the body below it. Above him, in the upper freezer of the morgue lay a dead woman, her red hennaed hair visible for the first time to strange men around her. More red plastic wrapped around an otherwise absent chin. She was dead for demonstrating outside a mosque in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza where more than 60 men sheltered during the artillery onslaught by Israeli tanks and cannons.

Most of the others still had their faces intact. They lay on their silver morgue trays stiffly as frozen food. One man had a green Hamas band tied around his head; he looked like a shepherd from some forgotten, pastoral age. Another’s white eyes were partially opened, his face looking out in horror as if he’d died seeing it coming. Then a muddy, grizzled blob on the bottom left tray, black curls tangled and damped into its rounded head and blessedly shut eyes. A closer look revealed a child, a boy of 4: Majed, out playing his important childhood games when death came in like thunder and rolled him up in a million speckles of black mud. The other dead had already been taken away.

Muslim burials take place quickly, a god-send to the doctors, nurses and undertakers who, at the hospitals and morgues, desperately need the space for next batch of casualties who would sleep on the same sheets, same steel-framed beds, in the same humid heat, in the same close, crowded, grief-stricken rooms, often on the floors, with the same tired, unpaid attendants doing their rounds without the proper supplies to help them if they were still alive. And some would die on the operating table like the young man gone now to the Kamal Adwan hospital morgue when his wounds became too much for his body to bear. Two young girls preceded him earlier the same day. Blessed are they who leave this human wasteland washed and shrouded for a quiet, earthy grave.

Today the hospitals will be filled beyond capacity again when the 18 civilian dead from a pre-dawn attack on Beit Hanoun — women, men and children blasted out of their sleep into human chunks — roll out of the ambulances and into the freezers of Shifa or Kamal Adwan hospitals in the northern Gaza Strip. How dare they sleep in their houses at night when the tanks are barking out commands?

Do you believe this was an accident? That an international investigation will ever take place? Like after Jenin? Like after Dan Halutz and his 2000 pound bomb which was dropped on an apartment building in Gaza City killing 15 people, 9 of them women and children? Like after the siege of Jabalya in the fall of 2004? Like after Operation Rainbow in Rafah? Like after Huda Ghalia’s family was blasted into nothingness during an outing on a Gaza beach? Will US eyes, glued to their glaucousy TV screens to find out which marketed candidate won the corporate-managed midterm elections, ever know that another massacre of Palestinians took place?

At Shifa hospital, Gaza’s central hospital, where Dr. Juma’ Saqa and his staff cope with the daily shortages of supplies from kidney dialysis machines to fans and clean linens; where cancer medications are unavailable to the increasing rate of cancer patients and elective surgeries, such as for hernias or tonsils, are a thing of the past. This is where doctors and nurses witness how the water that Gazans drink causes innumerable ailments, rotting teeth, anemia in children and kidney dysfunction because of its brackish, poisonous quality. This is where children lie half naked in their beds, white tape across their noses holding tubes to their faces so that they may eat or breathe– like Ahmad aged 3, also from Beit Hanoun, who took a bullet in the right side of his belly that exited on the left. His mother stands over him passively, grateful. Ahmad, at least, is going to live. But for what?

Each night in Gaza City that first week in November, explosions sounded in the northeastern corner of Gaza: a succession of bullets, booms, bombs, canon fire. On the first night of the onslaught we could still see lights from Beit Hanoun 10 miles from us blinking and twinkling as if nothing were really happening; it was all a dream—fireworks, a distant celebration perhaps. But then, by the second night only a swath of blacked out space lay in the place of Beit Hanoun, electricity-less and water-less as the booms continued unabated for an hour or more and the hum of the pilot-less drones circled round again and again above us, above Beit Hanoun, above Gaza, automated people-monitors taking stock of the activity below. Nobody from Beit Hanoun could leave by day to get to work without announcing to the tanks and the drones that he was prepared to sacrifice his life for a semblance of normalcy. All men between the ages of 16-35 were rounded up onto trucks and hauled away for “questioning”. What will happen to them and their families? Will anyone follow up? Will they add to the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, left to rot while their wives and children, sisters, brothers, parents go on struggling to survive?

There lies Gaza stretched 28 miles long in a tumbledown graying, decaying heap, yawning, tired, wretched, full of garbage. Tape gauze over your nose to avoid the smell of sewage and burning trash. Try not to notice the metal-shuttered shop fronts, the empty stores, the proliferation of horse- and donkey-carts clopping along the streets for lack of fuel, the ribs of the tired beasts jutting out from their bellies as boys whip them along to keep going. The joke is the cerulean blue sky illuminating the rubbish tip, the palm trees and purple flowers beaming in the November sun – natural non-sequiturs, like the box of fresh chocolates offered to the journalists filming the woman’s wounded son as she yells out her frustrations and horror at the Americans and the Israelis who are killing her family. Why? She asks. Why, why, why?

Ask Mark Regev, Israel’s eager, hideously sincere government spokesperson. On CNN’s international news he tells us in earnest that this is Israeli self-defense. The Qassam fire into Sderot and Ashkelon must stop. Israelis have the right to defend themselves. The “operation” in Beit Hanoun will not stop until the Qassams stop. Each word drivels out of his mouth into a bubble of obscenity for everyone watching from the vantage point of Gaza. Verbal pornography, sado-masochistic jargon from the prince of Hasbara leaks onto the dust like poisonous bile bought, paid for and sought after by the lords of power and their occupying machinery.

The shoddy, home-made Qassams hiss like cornered alley cats when they are fired into the skies. Stupid and bestial, they zing across the border like crazed beasts not knowing where they are going. They’ll dash forever like this until the occupation of Palestine ends. The Gazans know this, Hamas knows it, Fatah knows it, the PFLP knows it; In Israel, Labor and Likkud know it, Meretz knows it, Yisrael Beiteinu knows it, Shas knows it; Peretz, Olmert and Lieberman know it, Sharon knew it, the Israeli people know it, official America know this, so 40 years after 1967 and 58 years after 1948, why is the occupation not yet over?

Because Israel does not want it to end. Because Israel wants the land and the resources without the people. Because you have to eviscerate a culture in order to maintain total control over it. Because the United States says that’s just fine with us, you serve our purpose well. You help make the war on terror convenient. You help fit Iraq into the scheme. You’ll help us with Iran as well. Who the hell cares about a million and a half poverty-stricken Gazans and their dust, their sand, their stinking, crumbling heap of a disaster area homeland?

What a terrible shame it is that Gazans have not yet attained the status of Human in the eyes of the Western powers, for the resistance there will continue to be an enigma until this changes. For now, however, the slaughter will continue unabated.

Leaving Gaza 6:30am Saturday morning, November 4th 2006, I hear a loud explosion. My cab driver picks me up and we drive down the main street in Gaza City toward Erez. Suddenly, unexpectedly, there is a smoldering mass of wreckage in front of me, a car surrounded by boys picking at its still-hot exterior. Inside are four blackened, seared human shapes, crispy at the touch, faceless from the burns, charcoal, shreds of steaming cloth, a smell of barbecued human flesh, sirens in the distance. Burnt and vaporized metal looks like what you see in a science fiction movie. Burnt humans look like singed paper mache monsters whose pieces fall off at the hint of a breeze.

Gaza is sorry for these indiscretions, this poor taste, this unseemly topic of conversation. You are right to express your indignation. How Dare Gaza Speak of These Things!? But it can no longer contain its secrets even with the blockade of visitors to its vile shores; its voice is shrill even when sublimated through the layers of media deceit. The smoke rises higher in the skies each time. The prison is imploding and the resistance will never end.

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A Black Flag

From: Jennifer Loewenstein
Subject: Resuming Emails: Gideon Levy – A Black Flag
Date: Mon, 3 Jul 2006 00:17:34 +0100

Last week I was in the West Bank and East Jerusalem trying to accomplish work for a research project, hence my absence. All I can say now is that what you are reading in real news reports about the IDF push into Gaza and the arrest of half of the Hamas government on the West Bank last Thursday is as terrible as these articles portray it, if not worse. The tension in the air is almost visible. The director of a West Bank NGO and respected politician (even today) says that we are on the eve of the Third Intifada. Last Wednesday when the first rumors of an IDF invasion of Ramallah hit the news, foreigners were asked to leave the city. By 5:00 pm more than 1000 youths had gathered at the Manara Square (city center) armed with rocks and sticks, and unveiled a huge Palestinian flag down the middle of the Lions’ statues monument. The IDF did not enter that day. Instead, a convoy of jeeps and army vehicles entered the city in stealth in the middle of the night arresting many of the Hamas officials including 8 ministers in the cabinet. The situation in Gaza is far worse and the Gaza Strip remains deliberately locked shut to the world. Nobody is allowed in or out except select foreign journalists, diplomats and, today, a handful of aide workers. Meanwhile the Hamas ministers with Jerusalem residency cards were stripped of their right to enter the city. Entry to Bethlehem was cut off to Palestinians from East Jerusalem as well and, according to a reliable Israeli journalist, the next to be restricted will be the entry at Qalandiya. Whatever happens, now is the time to speak up. Please do not betray the people of Palestine with silence. JL.


The difference between us and them? We kidnapped civilians and they captured a soldier, we are a state and they are a terror organization. A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organization.

Gideon Levy, Haaretz, 2 July 2006

A black flag hangs over the “rolling” operation in Gaza. The more the operation “rolls,” the darker the flag becomes. The “summer rains” we are showering on Gaza are not only pointless, but are first and foremost blatantly illegitimate. It is not legitimate to cut off 750,000 people from electricity. It is not legitimate to call on 20,000 people to run from their homes and turn their towns into ghost towns. It is not legitimate to penetrate Syria’s airspace. It is not legitimate to kidnap half a government and a quarter of a parliament.

A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organization. The harsher the steps, the more monstrous and stupid they become, the more the moral underpinnings for them are removed and the stronger the impression that the Israeli government has lost its nerve. Now one must hope that the weekend lull, whether initiated by Egypt or the prime minister, and in any case to the dismay of Channel 2’s Roni Daniel and the IDF, will lead to a radical change.

Everything must be done to win Gilad Shalit’s release. What we are doing now in Gaza has nothing to do with freeing him. It is a widescale act of vengeance, the kind that the IDF and Shin Bet have wanted to conduct for some time, mostly motivated by the deep frustration that the army commanders feel about their impotence against the Qassams and the daring Palestinian guerilla raid. There’s a huge gap between the army unleashing its frustration and a clever and legitimate operation to free the kidnapped soldier.

To prevent the army from running as amok as it would like, a strong and judicious political echelon is required. But facing off against the frustrated army is Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz’s tyro regime, weak and happless. Until the weekend lull, it appeared that each step proposed by the army and Shin Bet had been immediately approved for backing. That does not bode well, not only for the chances of freeing Shalit, but also for the future management of the government, which is being revealed to be as weak as the Hamas government.

The only wise and restrained voice heard so far was that of the soldier’s father, Noam Shalit, of all people. That noble man called at what is clearly his most difficult hour, not for stridency and not for further damage done to the lives of soldiers and innocent Palestinians. Against the background of the IDF’s unrestrained actions and the arrogant bragging of the latest macho spokesmen, Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant of the Southern Command and Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, Shalit’s father’s voice stood out like a voice crying in the wilderness.

Sending tens of thousands of miserable inhabitants running from their homes, dozens of kilometers from where his son is supposedly hidden, and cutting off the electricity to hundreds of thousands of others, is certainly not what he meant in his understated emotional pleas. It’s a shame nobody is listening to him, of all people.

The legitimate basis for the IDF’s operation was stripped away the moment it began. It’s no accident that nobody mentions the day before the attack on the Kerem Shalom fort, when the IDF kidnapped two civilians, a doctor and his brother, from their home in Gaza. The difference between us and them? We kidnapped civilians and they captured a soldier, we are a state and they are a terror organization. How ridiculously pathetic Amos Gilad sounds when he says that the capture of Shalit was “illegitimate and illegal,” unlike when the IDF grabs civilians from their homes. How can a senior official in the defense ministry claim that “the head of the snake” is in Damascus, when the IDF uses the exact same methods?

True, when the IDF and Shin Bet grab civilians from their homes – and they do so often – it is not to murder them later. But sometimes they are killed on the doorsteps of their homes, although it is not necessary, and sometimes they are grabbed to serve as “bargaining chips,” like in Lebanon and now, with the Palestinian legislators. What an uproar there would be if the Palestinians had grabbed half the members of the Israeli government. How would we label them?

Collective punishment is illegitimate and it does not have a smidgeon of intelligence. Where will the inhabitants of Beit Hanun run? With typical hardheartedness the military reporters say they were not “expelled” but that it was “recommended” they leave, for the benefit, of course, of those running for their lives. And what will this inhumane step lead to? Support for the Israeli government? Their enlistment as informants and collaborators for the Shin Bet? Can the miserable farmers of Beit Hanun and Beit Lahia do anything about the Qassam rocket-launching cells? Will bombing an already destroyed airport do anything to free the soldier or was it just to decorate the headlines?

Did anyone think about what would have happened if Syrian planes had managed to down one of the Israeli planes that brazenly buzzed their president’s palace? Would we have declared war on Syria? Another “legitimate war”? Will the blackout of Gaza bring down the Hamas government or cause the population to rally around it? And even if the Hamas government falls, as Washington wants, what will happen on the day after? These are questions for which nobody has any real answers. As usual here: Quiet, we’re shooting. But this time we are not only shooting. We are bombing and shelling, darkening and destroying, imposing a siege and kidnapping like the worst of terrorists and nobody breaks the silence to ask, what the hell for, and according to what right?

Ain’t gonna study war no more

Bill Lueders, Isthmus, September 1, 2005

Camp Shalom had children pretend to be Israeli soldiers

It was the face paint that tipped Tsele Barr off. Early this summer, she was picking up her two sons from Camp Shalom, a day camp run by the Madison Jewish Community Council, and noticed that some of the children had paint on their faces. She asked her youngest son, Izak, what this was about and he explained, “We were playing Israeli army.”

This, Barr learned from Izak, involved “doing drills and such.” Then her older son, Jasper, told her that similar training was part of his camp experience the summer before, and had included shooting make-believe guns.

Barr, a freelance graphic designer, was deeply troubled by this news and placed some calls to other parents. She also spoke to the camp director, Lynn Kaplan, and to Shirin Ezekial, a cultural ambassador from Israel who led the children in this activity.

“Although they listened to my concerns, I got the impression that they didn’t see what the big deal was,” relates Barr. “I really think it’s appalling that a camp that calls itself Camp Shalom [the word means peace] would glorify the Israeli army” — which, she says, “repeatedly commits human-rights abuses.”

Other parents also contacted Kaplan. Susan Cook, a professor at the UW-Madison School of Music, says her son reported that, during this year’s simulation, he raised his hand to ask a question, only to be told: “Soldiers don’t ask questions, they follow orders.”

“That is something I do not teach my children — to blindly follow orders,” says Cook. She thought Kaplan was initially defensive but ultimately seemed to grasp the reasons for her discomfit: “I came away feeling very good about her response.”

Both parents stress that Camp Shalom is an excellent camp and that they have no problem with a component that teaches children about life in Israel. But they object to what Cook calls “inculcating militaristic beliefs.”

So do others in the community. “I just feel really outraged that at Camp Peace, the kids were playing Israeli army,” says Jennifer Loewenstein, the founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister-City Project. “When I heard about it, I was just livid.”

George Arida, an Arab American member of Loewenstein’s group (whose efforts to establish a formal sister-city link were voraciously opposed by the Madison Jewish Community Council), has this to say: “If there was an Islamic kids’ camp and it had even a hint of playing Islamic war games, there would be a huge public outcry and rightly so.”

Kaplan, in a brief phone interview, disputed an overview of the parents’ accounts (without giving any specifics) but admitted they “did raise a concern and it was a very valid concern” about a camp “activity.” Kaplan, saying she was too busy to talk, promised to call back later but never did, ignoring a follow-up message.

Marc Rosenthal, whose son attended a subsequent session of Camp Shalom, says the Israel soldier role-playing was apparently not repeated. Which is fine by him. “This is not what we want our kids doing. This is not what Camp Shalom is all about.”

Barr, for her part, vows to remain vigilant: “We’ll see what happens next year.”

Gaza Fiasco


The Shame of it All

Jennifer Loewenstein, ZNet, August 19, 2005

A great charade is taking place in front of the world media in the Gaza Strip. It is the staged evacuation of 8000 Jewish settlers from their illegal settlement homes, and it has been carefully designed to create imagery to support Israel’s US-backed takeover of the West Bank and cantonization of the Palestinians.

There was never the slightest reason for Israel to send in the army to remove these settlers. The entire operation could have been managed, without the melodrama necessary for a media frenzy, by providing them with a fixed date on which the IDF would withdraw from inside the Gaza Strip. A week before, all the settlers will quietly have left with no TV cameras, no weeping girls, no anguished soldiers, no commentators asking cloying questions of how Jews could remove other Jews from their homes, and no more trauma about their terrible suffering, the world’s victims, who therefore have to be helped to kick the Palestinians out of the West Bank.

The settlers will relocate to other parts of Israel and in some cases to other illegal settlements in the West Bank ­handsomely compensated for their inconvenience. Indeed, each Jewish family leaving the Gaza Strip will receive between $140,000 and $400,000 just for the cost of the home they leave behind.

But these details are rarely mentioned in the tempest of reporting on the “great confrontation” and “historical moment” brought to us by Sharon and the thieving, murderous settler-culture he helped create.

On ABC’s Nightline Monday night, a reporter interviewed a young, sympathetic Israeli woman from the largest Gaza settlement, Neve Dekalim – a girl with sincerity in her voice, holding back tears. She doesn’t view the soldiers as her enemy, she says, and doesn’t want violence. She will leave even though to do so is causing her great pain.

She talked about the tree she planted in front of her home with her brother when she was three; about growing up in the house they were now leaving, the memories, and knowing she could never return; that even if she did, everything she knew would be gone from the scene.

The camera then panned to her elderly parents sitting somberly amid boxed-up goods, surveying the scene, looking forlorn and resigned. Her mother was a kindergarten teacher, we are told. She knew just about all of the children who grew up here near the sea.

In the 5 years of Israel’s brutal suppression of the Palestinian uprising against the occupation, I never once saw or heard a segment as long and with as much sentimental, human detail as I did here; never once remember a reporter allowing a sympathetic young Palestinian woman, whose home was just bulldozed and who lost everything she owned, tell of her pain and sorrow, of her memories and her family’s memories; never got to listen to her reflect on where she would go now and how she would live.

And yet in Gaza alone more than 23,000 people have lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers and bombs since September 2000 — often at a moment’s notice on the grounds that they “threatened Israel’s security.”

The vast majority of the destroyed homes were located too close to an IDF military outpost or illegal settlement to be allowed to continue standing. The victims received no compensation for their losses and had no place waiting for them to relocate.

Most ended up in temporary UNRWA tent-cities until they could find shelter elsewhere in the densely overcrowded Strip, a quarter of whose best land was inhabited by the 1% of the population that was Jewish and occupying the land at their expense.

Where were the cameramen in May 2004 in Rafah when refugees twice over lost their homes again in a single night’s raid, able to retrieve nothing of what they owned?

Where were they when bulldozers and tanks tore up paved streets with steel blades, wrecked the sewage and water pipes, cut electricity lines, and demolished a park and a zoo; when snipers shot two children, a brother and sister, feeding their pigeons on the roof of their home? When the occupying army fired a tank shell into a group of peaceful demonstrators killing 14 of them including two children?

Where have they been for the past five years when the summer heat of Rafah makes life so unbearable it is all one can do to sit quietly in the shade of one’s corrugated tin roof — because s/he is forbidden to go to the sea, ten minutes’ walking distance from the city center? Or because if they ventured to the more open spaces they became walking human targets? And when their citizens resisted, where were the accolades and the admiring media to comment on the “pluck,” the “will” and “audacity” of these “young people”?

On Tuesday, 16 August, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that more than 900 journalists from Israel and around the world are covering the events in Gaza, and that hundreds of others are in cities and towns in Israel to cover local reactions.

Were there ever that many journalists in one place during the past 5 years to cover the Palestinian Intifada?

Continue reading

The Shame of It All

Jennifer Loewenstein, CounterPunch, August 17, 2005

A great charade is taking place in front of the world media in the Gaza Strip. It is the staged evacuation of 8000 Jewish settlers from their illegal settlement homes, and it has been carefully designed to create imagery to support Israel’s US-backed takeover of the West Bank and cantonization of the Palestinians.

There was never the slightest reason for Israel to send in the army to remove these settlers. The entire operation could have been managed, without the melodrama necessary for a media frenzy, by providing them with a fixed date on which the IDF would withdraw from inside the Gaza Strip. A week before, all the settlers will quietly have left ­with no TV cameras, no weeping girls, no anguished soldiers, no commentators asking cloying questions of how Jews could remove other Jews from their homes, and no more trauma about their terrible suffering, the world’s victims, who therefore have to be helped to kick the Palestinians out of the West Bank.

The settlers will relocate to other parts of Israel ­ and in some cases to other illegal settlements in the West Bank ­handsomely compensated for their inconvenience. Indeed, each Jewish family leaving the Gaza Strip will receive between $140,000 and $400,000 just for the cost of the home they leave behind. But these details are rarely mentioned in the tempest of reporting on the “great confrontation” and “historical moment” brought to us by Sharon and the thieving, murderous settler-culture he helped create.

On ABC’s Nightline Monday night, a reporter interviewed a young, sympathetic Israeli woman from the largest Gaza settlement, Neve Dekalim – a girl with sincerity in her voice, holding back tears. She doesn’t view the soldiers as her enemy, she says, and doesn’t want violence. She will leave even though to do so is causing her great pain. She talked about the tree she planted in front of her home with her brother when she was three; about growing up in the house they were now leaving, the memories, and knowing she could never return; that even if she did, everything she knew would be gone from the scene. The camera then panned to her elderly parents sitting somberly amid boxed-up goods, surveying the scene, looking forlorn and resigned. Her mother was a kindergarten teacher, we are told. She knew just about all of the children who grew up here near the sea.

In the 5 years of Israel’s brutal suppression of the Palestinian uprising against the occupation, I never once saw or heard a segment as long and with as much sentimental, human detail as I did here; never once remember a reporter allowing a sympathetic young Palestinian woman, whose home was just bulldozed and who lost everything she owned, tell of her pain and sorrow, of her memories and her family’s memories; never got to listen to her reflect on where she would go now and how she would live. And yet in Gaza alone more than 23,000 people have lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers and bombs since September 2000 — often at a moment’s notice ­ on the grounds that they “threatened Israel’s security.” The vast majority of the destroyed homes were located too close to an IDF military outpost or illegal settlement to be allowed to continue standing. The victims received no compensation for their losses and had no place waiting for them to relocate. Most ended up in temporary UNRWA tent-cities until they could find shelter elsewhere in the densely overcrowded Strip, a quarter of whose best land was inhabited by the 1% of the population that was Jewish and occupying the land at their expense.

Where were the cameramen in May 2004 in Rafah when refugees twice over lost their homes again in a single night’s raid, able to retrieve nothing of what they owned? Where were they when bulldozers and tanks tore up paved streets with steel blades, wrecked the sewage and water pipes, cut electricity lines, and demolished a park and a zoo; when snipers shot two children, a brother and sister, feeding their pigeons on the roof of their home? When the occupying army fired a tank shell into a group of peaceful demonstrators killing 14 of them including two children? Where have they been for the past five years when the summer heat of Rafah makes life so unbearable it is all one can do to sit quietly in the shade of one’s corrugated tin roof — because s/he is forbidden to go to the sea, ten minutes’ walking distance from the city center? Or because if they ventured to the more open spaces they became walking human targets? And when their citizens resisted, where were the accolades and the admiring media to comment on the “pluck,” the “will” and “audacity” of these “young people”?

On Tuesday, 16 August, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that more than 900 journalists from Israel and around the world are covering the events in Gaza, and that hundreds of others are in cities and towns in Israel to cover local reactions. Were there ever that many journalists in one place during the past 5 years to cover the Palestinian Intifada?

Where were the 900 international journalists in April 2002 after the Jenin refugee camp was laid to waste in the matter of a week in a show of pure Israeli hubris and sadism? Where were the 900 international journalists last fall when the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza lay under an Israeli siege and more than 100 civilians were killed? Where were they for five years while the entire physical infrastructure of the Gaza Strip was being destroyed? Which one of them reported that every crime of the Israeli occupation ­ from home demolitions, targeted assassinations and total closures to the murder of civilians and the wanton destruction of commercial and public property- increased significantly in Gaza after Sharon’s “Disengagement” Plan – that great step toward peace – was announced?

Where are the hundreds of journalists who should be covering the many non-violent protests by Palestinians and Israelis against the Apartheid Wall? ­Non-violent protesters met with violence and humiliation by Israeli armed forces? Where are the hundreds of journalists who should be reporting on the economic and geographic encirclement of Palestinian East Jerusalem and of the bisection of the West Bank and the subdivision of each region into dozens of isolated mini-prisons? Why aren’t we being barraged by outraged reports about the Jewish-only bypass roads? About the hundreds of pointless internal checkpoints? About the countless untried executions and maimings? About the torture and abuse of Palestinians in Israeli prisons?

Where were these hundreds of journalists when each of the 680 Palestinian children shot to death by Israeli soldiers over the last 5 years was laid to rest by grief-stricken family members? The shame of it all defies words.
Now instead report after report announces the “end to the 38 year old occupation” of the Gaza Strip, a “turning point for peace” and the news that “it is now illegal for Israelis to live in Gaza.” Is this some kind of joke?
Yes, it is “illegal for Israelis to live in the Gaza Strip” as colonizers from another land. It has been illegal for 38 years. (If they wish to move there and live as equals with the Palestinians and not as Israeli citizens they may do so.)

Sharon’s unilateral “Disengagement” plan is not ending the occupation of Gaza. The Israelis are not relinquishing control over the Strip. They are retaining control of all land, air and sea borders including the Philadelphi corridor along the Gaza/Egypt border where the Egyptians may be allowed to patrol under Israel’s watchful eye and according to Israel’s strictest terms. The 1.4 million inhabitants of Gaza remain prisoners in a giant penal colony, despite what their partisan leaders are attempting to claim. The IDF is merely redeploying outside the Gaza Strip, which is surrounded by electrical and concrete fences, barbed wire, watchtowers, armed guards and motion censors, and it will retain the authority to invade Gaza on a whim. Eight thousand Palestinian workers working in Israel for slave wages will soon be banned from returning to work. Another 3,200 Palestinians who worked in the settlements for a sub-minimum-wage have been summarily dismissed without recourse to severance pay or other forms of compensation. Still others will lose their livelihoods when the Israelis move the Gaza Industrial Zone from Erez to somewhere in the Negev desert.

The World Bank reported in December 2004 that both poverty and unemployment will rise following the “Disengagement” even under the best of circumstances because Israel will retain full control over the movement of goods in and out of Gaza, will maintain an enforced separation of the West Bank and Gaza preventing the residents of each from visiting one another, and will draw up separate customs agreements with each zone severing their already shattered economies– and yet we are forced to listen day in and day out to news about this historic peace initiative, this great turning point in the career of Ariel Sharon, this story of national trauma for the brothers and sisters who have had to carry out the painful orders of their wise and besieged leader.

What will it take to get the truth across to people? To the young woman of Neve Dekalim who can speak her words without batting an eyelash of embarrassment or shame? As the cameras zoom in on angry settlers poignantly clashing with their “brothers and sisters” in the Israeli army, who will be concerned about their other brothers and sisters in Gaza? When will the Palestinian history of 1948 and 1967, and of each passing day under the violence of dispossession and dehumanization, get a headline in our papers?

I am reminded of an interview I had this summer in Beirut with Hussein Nabulsi of Hizbullah ­ an organization that has had nothing to do with the movement for Palestinian national liberation whatsoever, but one that has become allied with those it sees as the real victims of US and Israeli policies and lies. I remember his tightly shut eyes and his clenched fists as he asked how long Arabs and Muslims were supposed to accept the accusations that they are the victimizers and the terrorists. “It hurts,” he said in a whispered ardor. “It hurts so much to watch this injustice every day.” And he went on to explain to me why the Americans and the Israelis ­ with their monstrous military arsenals ­ will never be victorious.

JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN will be a viisiting Fellow at the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University beginning this fall. She can be reached at: amadea311 [at] earthlink.net
 

June 13 – July 4, 2005
Palestine-Israel Discussion Series

First United Methodist Church Parlor
203 Wisconsin Ave, Madison
Sunday mornings at 9:30 am

This is a three-part discussion series on Palestine-Israel, and one on Iraq, sponsored by the First United Methodist Church. Participants include Jennifer Loewenstein, founding member of MRSCP, George Shalabi, and MRSCP Advisory Committee member Cecil Findley.

A theme text is from the words of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem: “Oh, that you would recognize the things that make for peace.”

June 13
Tina Lang on the wall being built by the Israeli government.

June 20
Jennifer Loewenstein on the plight of those in Rafah and throughout Gaza.

June 27
George Shalabi and the personal and historical reflections of a Palestinian-born American Christian.

July 4
A patriotic add-on, a special report from Iraq by Fred Brancel, who was part of a peacemakers’ team who visited there this spring.

As a part of this series, Cecil Findley will preach at all three services on June 20 (8:15, 9:30, and 11:00 a.m.) on the same Israel-Palestine theme and text, with the title “Weeping Over Jerusalem.”

All are invited.

Cecil and Helen Findley (hcfindley at charter.net)