Trump Plan Protests in the Jordan Valley


Operation Dove, January 29, 2020

Tubas, Jordan Valley — Today in response to the “Deal of the Century” Palestinians gathered for an action in the Jordan Valley during which they plowed the land in an area declared a closed military zone for training.

Israeli soldiers responded to this action by firing sound grenades and tear gas into the crowd. Israeli soldiers also closed roads and established checkpoints in order to prevent Palestinians from reaching the spot.


Video: Ahmad Al-Bazz / Activestills

Activestills, January 29, 2020

Palestinians protest the Trump administration’s plan to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli issue, Northern Jordan Valley, West Bank.

Sister Cities

Invest in Justice by Building Genuine Connections

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Image via Sacramento to Bethlehem

Cities for Palestine by the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

WHAT’S THE CAMPAIGN ABOUT?

Invest in justice by building genuine connections between US and Palestinian cities, towns, villages, or refugee camps through a sister city relationship. Sister Cities promote ties between community members in both places to learn about each other’s lives and work together on projects to support one another.

Sister Cities have transformed US city officials’ and other residents’ understanding of what is happening in Palestine through personal and official connections with Palestinians living under Israeli apartheid. Sister Cities also open the door to delegations to Palestine, including by city officials.

Current official and unofficial sister cities between the US and Palestine include: 

WHAT CAN YOU DO? 

Establish a sister city relationship between your city and a city, town, village, or refugee camp in Palestine. Maintain and grow that relationship in the years to come.

SUCCESS STORIES

MUSCATINE-RAMALLAH
In Muscatine, IA, residents with relationships in Ramallah, including Palestinians, led a sister city campaign. Despite being met with tremendous opposition, the campaign succeeded in 2011 thanks to long-term relationship building with city council members and the mayor. The sister city project has focused on projects connecting Muscatine and Ramallah middle school students through art and social media, and has allowed Muscatine residents to gain awareness of what life is like for Palestinians in occupied Ramallah. There have been multiple Muscatine to Ramallah delegations, and there is an delegation being planned for city officials.

BOULDER-NABLUS
The Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project began as a campaign led by Boulder residents  inspired by personal relationships with Nablus residents. Their first attempt in 2013 was so controversial that Palestine dominated local news headlines for weeks, capturing the attention of the entire city – the city’s livestream of the hearing was so widely watched that it crashed! The campaign was massively effective at reaching folks who don’t consider themselves political but care about people-to-people connections and cultural exchange. An official sister city relationship was passed in 2016.

Activists Reclaimed a Water Source for Palestinians, Showing Co-Resistance Works

A man raises his arms in triumph next to a sign reading "Ein Albeida spring"
A Palestinian activist sticks a sign bearing the Palestinian name of Ein Albeida spring over an Israeli street sign with the name Avigail Spring, south of the village of Yatta near Hebron in the occupied West Bank on January 3, 2020. (Hazem Bader-AFP via Getty Images)

Oren Kroll-Zeldin, Truthout, January 10, 2020

Recently, nonviolent Palestinian activist Kifah Adara drew water from the Ein Albeida spring near her West Bank village of Al-Tuwani for the first time in 15 years. The spring is a natural water source that was used by Palestinian communities in the region for generations, but a decade and a half ago, nearby Israeli settlers started swimming in the spring, which dirtied the water and made it unsuitable for drinking. For years, due to settler violence and intimidation tactics, Palestinians couldn’t access the spring at all.

That all changed after a massive nonviolent direct action in which a group of over 150 Palestinian, Israeli, and diaspora Jewish activists reclaimed and rehabilitated Ein Albeida, thereby enabling Adara to walk from her village to fill water buckets for the first time since her youth. “I remember coming to this spring with women from my village to collect water for our families,” Adara said after the action. “We would travel 1.5 kilometers on our donkeys, just like we did today. Once Israeli settlers began swimming in this spring, it was no longer safe for us to drink. For many years, we could not access the spring at all. I am so happy to be back at this spring. I hope that, through the work we started today, the people of this region can use this water again.”

A woman stands in front of her donkey bearing jugs of water
Kifah Adara and her donkey carry water from Ein Albeida spring to nearby olive trees. (Emily Glick)

Ein Albeida, which means “White Spring” in Arabic, is the only natural water source for people living in Al-Tuwani and other nearby villages. The spring is also near Avigayil, an illegal Israeli outpost established in 2001. Settlers living in Avigayil have access to electricity and running water provided by the Israeli government, despite the outpost being considered illegal under Israeli law, while the Palestinian village of Al-Tuwani lacks these services. This is representative of one of the many structural inequalities of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, where services are systematically denied to Palestinians while brazenly given to Israeli Jewish settlers.

The coalition of activists who participated in the action with Adara joined her to show their solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against occupation and to assert their commitment to justice in the region. Adara invited the Israeli and diaspora Jewish members of this coalition to demonstrate their commitment to Palestinian solidarity by leveraging their privilege, as Jews, to protect her and other Palestinian activists from settler and state violence.

I participated in the action through a delegation with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, a group that brings Jews from around the world to engage in nonviolent direct action and co-resistance projects alongside Palestinian and Israeli partners. My participation is central to my academic research investigating Jewish anti-occupation activism and the politics of Jewish identity.

A woman passes a jug of water to another person while in a cave
Members of All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective gathering water at Ein Albeida spring. (Emily Glick)

My research points to two important things with regard to this delegation and the action to rehabilitate and reclaim Ein Albeida. First, whereas previous research claimed that Jews engage critically with Israeli policies of occupation out of love for Israel and a desire to make it better, many of the activists with whom I am working are instead motivated by a deep commitment to justice, especially for Palestinians. Second, though there are many methods and tactics used to end the occupation, the co-resistance model is one of the most impactful in showing tangible results to improve the lives of Palestinians on the ground. The nature of this organizing model also builds a vibrant, intersectional, and powerful anti-occupation social movement by building trust and relationships through embodied actions.

Co-resistance means that Palestinians, Israelis, Jews from the diaspora and international activists resist policies and structures of occupation in collaboration with one another. In the co-resistance model, Palestinians set the conditions for action and invite partners to join them based on the shared commitments to bring a just and equitable end to the Israeli occupation. Only those truly committed to dismantling the connected systems of oppression that harm communities in Palestine and Israel are invited to participate in co-resistance actions.

Through co-resistance, Palestinians, Israelis and international Jews build alliances across their differences that enables them to resist in relationship to each other. Building relationships structured on resistance is rooted in the tacit understanding that the liberation of one is deeply intertwined with the liberation of another. The co-resistance model demonstrates, in practice and on the ground, the words of Paulo Freire, who wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “[W]e cannot say that in the process of revolution someone liberates someone else, nor yet that someone liberates himself, but rather that human beings in communion liberate each other.”

A woman with a farm tool works the ground as military vehicles line up in the distance behind her
A Center for Jewish Nonviolence leader planting olive trees next to Ein Albeida spring as the Israeli Army surveys in the background. (Emily Glick)

As exemplified by the direct action that allowed Adara to return to Ein Albeida, co-resistance shows how the symbolic power of Palestinians, Israelis and international Jews coming together is a model for what a future of liberation and equality for all people who live in Palestine and Israel could look like.

When Jewish activists join together in co-resistance and engage in projects to make life more livable for Palestinian communities, we refuse to enable the occupation. Co-resistance is therefore a rejection of the continued annexation of Palestinian land and resources, and the erasure of Palestinian life and culture. By engaging in co-resistance, we uplift Palestinian resilience and leadership and show by our physical presence that occupation is not our Judaism. This type of activism is a way of asserting a liberatory Jewish identity based in justice for all people while reclaiming Judaism from Israeli state violence.

In these dark days, co-resistance is a ray of light that inspires hope for the possibility of a more just tomorrow.


The stakes have never been higher

As attacks on women’s rights, health care, the environment and democracy intensify, we’re going to need truth-telling journalists more than ever.

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To Prison, Again, for Protesting Against Israel’s Colonial Rule

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack pens a powerful Op-Ed in Haaretz on his arrest, putting into context his act of solidarity with Palestinians who face altogether different circumstances than his own.

The Ofer military prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 2, 2009.
The Ofer military prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 2, 2009. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Jonathan Pollak, Haaretz, Jan 07, 2020

I am currently detained in an Israeli jail, the result of refusing to attend or cooperate with criminal charges laid against me and two others for joining Palestinian protests in the West Bank against Israel’s colonial rule. Because I am an Israeli citizen, the proceedings in the case are held in an Israeli court in Jerusalem and not at the military court, where Palestinians are tried.

>> Police arrest left-wing activist Jonathan Pollak in Haaretz building

It has been almost nine years since the last time I was incarcerated for more than a day or two. Much has changed since. Politically, reality does not even resemble that of a decade ago, and none of the changes were for the better.

Politically, the world seems to have lost much of its interest in the Palestinian struggle for liberation, placing Israel at one of the historical peaks of its political strength. I am in no position to discuss the profound changes within Israeli society and how even farther to the right it has drifted. Israeli liberals are much better suited for such a task, because they hold their country dear and feel a sense of belonging that I cannot feel and do not want to feel.


Jonathan Pollak at Hermon Prison in 2011. (Yaron Kaminsky)

Personally, I am older, more tired and, mostly, not as healthy as I was. Of course, the price I have paid for my part in the struggle is a fraction of that paid by Palestinian comrades, but I cannot deny its subjective weight on me: from physical injuries, some irreversible, through sporadic despair, anxiety and sense of helplessness, to the encumbering sensation of loss and the presence of death – and the grip all these have on my day-to-day life. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Right now, just as it was back then, sitting in prison is better than any other alternative available to me.

The legal fallacies that riddle the case against us are of little significance. While it is fair to assume that had I agreed to cooperate, the trial would have ended up with an acquittal, my refusal to recognize the court’s legitimacy is based on two main grounds.

The first is that my Palestinian comrades do not enjoy the luxury of being tried in the relatively comfortable conditions of the Israeli courts. Rather, they are tried as subjects in the parody of a legal system that are Israel’s military courts. Unlike me, Palestinians do not have the option of refusing to cooperate with their captors, since the vast majority of them are tried while remanded into custody for the duration of their proceedings.

Additionally, the punishment Palestinians are faced with is significantly harsher than that specified in Israeli law. Thus, in this regard as well, despite refusing to recognize the court’s legitimacy, the price I am likely to pay is significantly lower than that paid by my comrades.

The second, more fundamental ground to refuse to cooperate is that all Israeli courts, military or otherwise, lack any legitimacy to preside over matters of resisting Israeli colonial rule, which employs a hybrid regime, ranging between a distorted and racially discriminatory democracy in its sovereign territory and a flat-out military dictatorship in the occupied territories.

Faced with the tremendous shift to the right in Israeli politics, the shrinking remnants of the Zionist left – once the country’s dominant elite group – are consumed by lamenting the decline of Israeli democracy. But what democracy is it they wish to defend? The one that has dispossessed its Palestinian citizens of their lands and their rights? The one that, at best, views these Palestinian citizens as second-class? Perhaps it is the democracy that governs the Gaza Strip through vicious siege while it reigns as a military dictatorship in the West Bank?

Despite the obvious nature of the Israeli regime, Israeli liberals are not willing to contest the fundamental premise of internal Israeli discourse and acknowledge that the State of Israel simply is not a democracy. Never was.

To join the fight to topple Israeli apartheid, the few Jewish citizens of Israel willing to do so will first have to recognize that they are overprivileged and be willing to pay the price of relinquishing that status. An open rebellion against the regime has been taking place for decades, carried out by the Palestinian resistance movement. The price paid by those involved in it is immense. Jewish citizens of Israel must cross over and walk in their footsteps.

Related Articles

He Threatened Us, Now He Goes to Jail

Dr. James J. Zogby, August 17, 2019

Back in May, a jury found Patrick Syring, a former State Department official, guilty of 14 counts of making threats against my life and my staff at the Arab American Institute. This week, a federal judge sentenced Syring to five years in prison to be followed by three years of court-ordered probation. 

This was Syring’s second conviction. He had been found guilty of the same crimes against me and my staff in 2008 and served over a year in prison. After his release and a period of probation, he began once again to stalk, harass, and threaten me and my office. He accused me of horrible crimes – organizing dozens of terrorist attacks around the world. He referred to me as a “genocidal, anti-Semitic, homophobic murderer,” in addition to threatening me with death by saying that “The only good Arab is a dead Arab” and America would only be free of terror when it was “cleansed of James Zogby” and “all Arab Americans.” 

Although Syring’s threats were communicated directly to me, he made a practice of copying other members of my staff and even our young interns. In all, we received over 700 such emails from Syring and because of their frequency and the hate-filled threats they contained, they were a cause of real concern. 

Each day, when I entered my office I could tell on the faces of my staff and interns whether or not Syring had struck again. Especially after a terrorist attack either in the US or internationally, his language became so extreme that we had to call local police for protection and report the threats to the FBI. The support they provided us was so appreciated. For a time, two agents accompanied me to public events. The Department of Homeland Security gave us an assessment of measures we should take to make our building and office more secure. And because we knew who had sent the threats, they often visited Syring to warn him that there would be consequences to his behavior. 

His obsession with me and his hatred of Arab Americans was so great, that he continued until the Department of Justice finally convened a Grand Jury and indicted him for his crimes. Nothing, however, stopped him. 

It was this obsession and hatred that concerned us most precisely because we never knew when he might act on his threats of violence. Our concern was heightened by his apparent willingness to continue despite having already been punished for the same crime and having been repeatedly warned by law enforcement to stop what he was doing.   

So now the sentence has been given. Syring will be in a federal prison until 2024. At that time, he will begin three years in court-ordered probation, undergoing psychiatric evaluation, and be required to avoid any contact or communication with me or any current of former staff member of the Institute. 
 
It gives me no pleasure to see this man going to jail for a long period, but it does provide us all with a sense of enormous relief. I’ve been threatened before. My wife, my children, and I have received death threats for the past 50 years – owing to my advocacy for Palestinian rights and the rights of the Arab American community. My office was fire-bombed and an Arab American colleague, whom I hired, was murdered. Two individuals who, in the past, made death threats against me and my children were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. But this case was different. 

In the first place, Syring had tormented us for over a decade. He literally became a part of our daily lives. My wife had his picture handy and if a car was parked outside of our house, she would check to see if he was the driver. My staff were instructed to alter their behaviors – so as not to take the same route to and from the office. And some even had to receive counseling. It was especially troubling to see the reactions of young interns when they would be the unlucky recipients of a Syring email. They had come to have a Washington work experience, not to be threatened or have their ethnicity maligned.  

This is also different because for more than two decades Syring had been a State Department official who had served two tours in Lebanon. During the 2008 proceedings, I learned that on more than one occasion he had been rebuked by the DOS for displays of anti-Arab behavior. I was shocked that instead of taking action they simply moved him to another posting. They even allowed him to remain in the federal service after he was indicted for his first threats against me – some of which he made from his State Department phone or his State Department computer. At that time, I asked DOS officials, “What if a foreign service officer had threatened a Jewish American leader and made repeated anti-Semitic comments against him and called for genocide against the Jewish community – what would the reaction have been?”

That troubled me then and still troubles me now. And while there has been some press coverage of the case, I am compelled to ask, “What kind of press treatment would have been given if a former government official delivered death threats to a Jewish American leader accompanied by the statement ‘the only good Jew is a dead Jew?'”  Why are Arab Americans seen in a lesser light? And why are threats against us less worthy of evoking outrage?

With Syring going to jail for the next five years, my staff and I feel a degree of relief. It won’t give us back the years we lived in fear, but we know that at least for the foreseeable future our daily lives won’t be turned upside down by cruel death threats from this man. We are thankful for that. We are also thankful for the strong support and protection we were given by the Civil Rights attorneys at the DOJ and law enforcement agencies and for the friendship and support we received from allies and friends. 

With this sad chapter behind us, we will now continue our advocacy work. We will fight against hate crimes and demand that hate crimes against Arab Americans be given the same recognition as those against other vulnerable communities. We will continue our work empowering Arab Americans through voter registration, involvement in the political process without fear of discrimination or political exclusion. And we will continue to advocate for an inclusive immigration policy, protection for vulnerable refugees and asylees, and a foreign policy that promotes human rights and justice for all – including the long-suffering Palestinian people. Some may not like what we advocate and may even threaten us because of our advocacy – but we will persist because we know that it is our duty, as Americans, to continue to fight for what we know is right. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Arab American Institute. The Arab American Institute is a non-profit, nonpartisan national leadership organization that does not endorse candidates.

Why Americans Should Support BDS


Demonstrators protest New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s McCarthyite executive order requiring state agencies to divest from organizations that support the Palestinian call to boycott companies profiting from, or cultural or academic institutions complicit in, Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, June 9, 2016. (Sipa via AP Images)

Omar Barghouti, The Nation, July 29, 2019

Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution, H. Res. 246, targeting the grassroots, global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights that I helped found in 2005. Sadly, H. Res. 246, which fundamentally mischaracterizes our goals and misrepresents my own personal views, is only the latest attempt by Israel’s supporters in Congress to demonize and suppress our peaceful struggle.

H. Res. 246 is a sweeping condemnation of Americans who advocate for Palestinian rights using BDS tactics. It reinforces other unconstitutional anti-boycott measures, including those passed by some 27 state legislatures, that are reminiscent of “McCarthy era tactics,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. It also exacerbates the oppressive atmosphere that Palestinians and their supporters already face, further chilling speech critical of Israel at a time when President Donald Trump is publicly smearing members of Congress who speak out in support of Palestinian freedom.

In response to H. Res. 246 and similarly repressive legislative measures, House member Ilhan Omar, joined by Rashida Tlaib, civil rights icon John Lewis, and 12 other co-sponsors, introduced H. Res. 496, which defends “the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Inspired by the US civil rights and South African anti-apartheid movements, BDS calls for ending Israel’s 1967 military occupation, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the UN-stipulated right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homeland they were uprooted from.

BDS categorically opposes all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. Contrary to the false claim in H. Res. 246, BDS does not target individuals, but rather institutions and corporations that are implicated in Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian human rights.

H. Res. 246 also includes a specific smear against me that has been pushed by Israel lobby groups like AIPAC by quoting a single, out-of-context sentence from a talk I gave in 2013. The same false assertion is repeated in a similar Senate Resolution, S. Res. 120.

In that talk, I advocated for a single democratic state that recognizes and accepts Jewish Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new shared society, free from all colonial subjugation and racial discrimination and separating church and state. Everyone, including repatriated Palestinian refugees, would be entitled to equal rights regardless of ethnic, religious, gender, sexual, or other identity. Any exclusionary, supremacist “Muslim state,” “Christian state,” or “Jewish state,” I argued, would by definition deny equal rights to citizens of different identities and foreclose the possibility of a true democracy, which are conditions for a just and sustainable peace. The House and Senate resolutions, as well as an AIPAC propaganda clip, remove all that context, intentionally distorting my views.

Regardless, this is my personal opinion, not the BDS movement’s position. As a broad and inclusive human rights movement, BDS does not take a position on the ultimate political solution for Palestinians and Israelis. It includes supporters of both two states and a single democratic state with equal rights for all.

As a human rights defender, I am not only subjected to routine vilification by Israel and its anti-Palestinian supporters. I have also been placed under a de facto and “arbitrary travel ban by Israel,” in the words of Amnesty International, including in 2018, when I was prevented from going to Jordan to accompany my late mother during cancer surgery. In 2016, Israel’s intelligence minister threatened me with “targeted civil elimination,” drawing condemnation from Amnesty. And for the first time ever, last April I was banned from entering the United States, missing my daughter’s wedding and a meeting in Congress. Israel is not merely intensifying its decades-old system of military occupation, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians; it is increasingly outsourcing its repressive tactics to the US administration.

The Nation

Trump is unabashedly supporting and shielding from accountability Israel’s far-right government as it shatters the lives and livelihoods of millions of Palestinians living under occupation and siege in Gaza; facing dispossession and forcible displacement in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem; and denied equal rights in present-day Israel. Just two weeks ago, he escalated his incitement against supporters of Palestinian rights, attacking four new progressive members of Congress, all women of color, telling them to “apologize” to Israel and “go back” to their countries of origin, even though three of them were born in the United States.

Despite all this, Israel’s desperate war on BDS, fought with fabrication, demonization, and intimidation, as exemplified by this newly approved House resolution, is failing. Our hope remains alive as we witness an inspiring shift in public opinion in favor of Palestinian human rights, including in the United States. The ugly reality of Israel’s apartheid regime and its alliances with xenophobic and patently anti-Semitic forces are becoming irreconcilable with liberal and democratic values anywhere.

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Palestinian peace activist denied entry to U.S. for speaking tour

Edo Konrad, +972, March 4, 2019

Osama Iliwat was supposed to speak to synagogues, churches, and universities across the United States about the power of nonviolence and bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead he was sent back to Palestine.

A Palestinian peace activist was denied entry to the United States last week after being extensively questioned by American border authorities about his political affiliations and about the funders and leadership of the group for which he works. Iliwat was supposed to join a Jewish-American member of the organization for a speaking tour in synagogues, churches, and university campuses across the United States.

Osama Iliwat, a 42-year-old from Jericho, in the West Bank, had a valid visa for the United States and had been admitted into the country on numerous occasions before last week.

Iliwat, a former Palestinian Authority police officer who grew disillusioned with the violence of the Second Intifada, joined Combatants for Peace in 2014 as its Jericho-Jerusalem coordinator. Today, he serves as one of the organization’s public speakers, delivering talks to Israelis, Palestinians, and international audiences on nonviolence as a path toward reconciliation. He has never been convicted of a crime and Israel even gave him a general entry permit that allows him to cross into the country whenever he wants.

During his interrogation at New York’s JFK airport, Iliwat was repeatedly asked about Combatants for Peace and about his political affiliations. In a telephone interview with +972 upon returning to the West Bank, Iliwat said that interrogators focused most of their questions on the organization’s activities, asking for information about the its founders, their political beliefs and affiliations, how often Iliwat speaks to them, and whether they have spent time in Israeli prison. Iliwat said the interrogators also asked him about the West Bank tours Combatants for Peace organizes, and which Palestinian political movement he supports.

Palestinian peace activist Osama Iliwat (left) seen in the village of Jeb al-Deeb, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. (Courtesy of Combatants for Peace)

Palestinian peace activist Osama Iliwat (right) seen in the village of Jeb al-Deeb, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. (Tatiana Gitlits/Combatants for Peace)

Combatants for Peace was formed in 2006 as an organization founded by both former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian armed fighters committed to nonviolent action against the “Israeli occupation and all forms of violence.” The group leads tours of the West Bank, supports various communities in the West Bank who face violence from settlers and the Israeli army, and has put on an alternative memorial day event for the past 11 years. While the former Israeli soldiers in Combatants for Peace served in an army that receives support from the U.S. government, Palestinian combatants are often seen as former terrorists by both Israel and the United States.

After 12 hours of interrogation, during which his phone was taken away multiple times, the agents asked him to sign a statement confirming the answers he had given them, and that he understood he was being denied entry to the country. Nobody ever told him why, he said.

The border agents then put a red stamp in his passport, annulling his three-year visa to the U.S., and brought him in handcuffs to the plane which took him back to Doha.

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“Some of the people in the organization were part of the armed struggle a long time ago — some even sat in prison,” he continued. “But former Israel soldiers are allowed to enter, while Palestinians have problems. I don’t think it’s against me, it’s against the work I am doing and against the organization itself. They’re not interested in us speaking about peace.”

Iliwat said that while the Israeli members of Combatants for Peace have no problem entering the country for speaking tours, Palestinian members of the organization have repeatedly encountered issues. One member was turned back at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul on her way to New York after American officials claimed she did not have the proper paperwork to enter the country. Bassam Arameen, one of the co-founders of Combatants for Peace, who had traveled to the United States multiple times in the past, had his visa application rejected. The same thing happened to both Ahmad Hilu and Nour Shehadeh, two Palestinian members who were invited to participate in a speaking tour in the U.S.

The executive director of American Friends of Combatants for Peace, Beth Schuman, with whom Iliwat was supposed to tour, told +972 that the organization was deeply disappointed he was not able to join. The decision to bar him entry highlights the reality that some voices are welcome in the country while others are not, she added. “We have brought Osama’s voice into every program — all the synagogues, churches, and universities that we were scheduled to speak in.

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A Teenage War Resister in Israel

An Antiwar Story from the Embattled Middle East
He is a rarity in his own land, one of only a handful of refuseniks living in Israel.

“Let us fight together for human rights, for a country that is democratic for all its citizens, and for Israelis and Palestinians to live together based on citizenship and equality, not segregation and racism.”
Ahmed Abu Artema

Rory Fanning, TomDispatch, March 18, 2019

Hilel Garmi’s phone is going straight to voicemail and all I’m hoping is that he’s not back in prison. I’ll soon learn that he is.

Prison 6 is a military prison. It’s situated in the Israeli coastal town of Atlit, a short walk from the Mediterranean Sea and less than an hour’s drive from Hilel’s home. It was constructed in 1957 following the Sinai War between Israel and Egypt to house disciplinary cases from the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF.

Hilel has already been locked up six times. “I can smell the sea from my cell, especially at night when everything is quiet,” he tells me in one of our phone conversations. I’m 6,000 miles away in Chicago, but Hilel and I have regularly been discussing his ordeal as an Israeli war resister, so it makes me nervous that, this time around, I can’t reach him at all.

A recent high-school graduate with dark hair and a big smile, he’s only 19 and still lives with his parents in Yodfat, an Israeli town of less than 900 people in the northern part of the country. It’s 155 miles to Damascus (if such a trip were possible, which, of course, it isn’t), a two-hour drive down the coast to Tel Aviv, and a four-hour drive to besieged Gaza.

Yodfat itself could be a set for a Biblical movie, with its dry rolling hills, ancient ruins, and pastoral landscape. The town exports flower bulbs, as well as organic goat cheese, and notably supports the Misgav Waldorf School that Hilel’s mother helped found. Hilel is proud of his mom. After all, people commute from all over Israel to attend the school.

He is a rarity in his own land, one of only a handful of refuseniks living in Israel. Each year roughly 30,000 18 year olds are drafted into the IDF, although 35% of such draftees manage to avoid military service for religious reasons. A far tinier percentage publicly refuses to fight for moral and political reasons to protest their country’s occupation of Palestinian lands. The exact numbers are hard to find. I’ve asked war resister groups in Israel, but no one seems to have any. Hilel’s estimate: between five and 15 refuseniks a year.

“I’ve thought the occupation of Palestine was immoral at least since I was in eighth grade,” he told me. “But it was the March of Return that played a large role in sustaining the courage to say no to military service.”

The Great March of Return began in the besieged Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018, the 42nd anniversary of the day in 1976 that Israeli police shot and killed six Palestinian citizens of Israel as they protested the government’s expropriation of land. During the six-month protest movement that followed in 2018, Israeli soldiers killed another 141 demonstrators, while nearly 10,000 were injured, including 919 children, all shot.

“I couldn’t be a part of that,” he said. “I’d rather be in jail.”

However, after 37 days in prison, it was the letter Hilel received from Abu Artema, a key Palestinian organizer of that march, which provided him with his greatest inspiration. It read in part:

“Your decision is what will help end this dark period inflicted on Palestinians, and at the same time mitigate the fears of younger Israeli generations who were born into a complicated situation and a turbulent geographical area deprived of security and peace… I believe the solution is near and possible. It will not require more than the courage to take initiative and set a new perspective, after traditional solutions have failed to achieve a just settlement. Let us fight together for human rights, for a country that is democratic for all its citizens, and for Israelis and Palestinians to live together based on citizenship and equality, not segregation and racism.”

“This letter excited me a great deal,” Hilel said. “It’s Palestinians like Artema who have the true courage, the kind that can only come from the moral authority of those resisting occupation and violent oppression. This type of authority is much stronger than the forces that occupy Palestine.”

After trying yet again to reach him by phone, I send Hilel a Facebook message:

“I hope everything is all right. Call me when you can. By the way, I was listening to this song and it reminded me of you. Stay strong, brother.”

I attach a YouTube video of “The World’s Greatest” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy:

I’m that little bit of hope
With my back against the ropes.
I can feel it
I’m the world’s greatest…”

War Resister to War Resister

As a war resister myself while serving in the U.S. Army — I was protesting America’s unending wars across the Greater Middle East — I’ve wondered a lot about what it means to be one in Israel, a country where an antiwar movement is almost non-existent. My friends in the U.S. who are familiar with the militarization of Israel and the population’s overwhelming support for their country’s still-expanding occupation respect what Hilel is doing, but wonder about the political purpose of an essay like this one about a war resister who lives in a country where such creatures are rarer than a snowy day in Jerusalem.

A valid point: the Israeli antiwar movement (if you can even call it a movement at this moment) is a long, long way from making a dent in the occupation, no less ending it, and I wouldn’t want to convey false hope about what such refuseniks mean to the larger question of Palestinian liberation.

Still, I talk to Hilel because I know how much it would have meant to me if someone had contacted me when I was still resisting the Global War on Terror within the 2nd Ranger Battalion nearly 15 years ago. If I had known that there were others like me or at least others ready to support me, it would have made my own sense of isolation during the six months I spent on lockdown inside my barracks less intolerable.

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