Is It True That Not a Single Senator – Including Progressive Dems – Cares About Palestine?

The pro-Israel letter 100 U.S. senators sent to the U.N. fails to mention Israel's illegal occupation or settlements

Ben Norton & Adam Johnson, AlterNet, May 2, 2017

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

All 100 members of the U.S. Senate sent a letter to the United Nations on April 27 that spread misleading pro-Israel myths. Included as signatories were the Senate’s two progressive leaders, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

AlterNet repeatedly contacted the offices of Sanders and Warren with a request for comment. Neither replied.

The 725-word letter does not mention Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestinian land, which marks its 50th anniversary this June. Nor does it acknowledge Israel’s illegal colonization of Palestinian territory through ever-expanding settlements.

Even the U.S., Israel’s closest ally, has agreed at the U.N. that Israel’s occupation and settlements are flagrant violations of international law. The senators’ letter glosses over this elementary fact, and does not even acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian people.

The bipartisan senatorial campaign against the U.N. was led by hard-right neoconservative Republican Marco Rubio and Reagan-Republican-turned-Democrat Christopher Coons.

“Although, as Republicans and Democrats, we disagree on many issues, we are united in our desire to see the United Nations improve its treatment of Israel,” the senators wrote in the letter, which also demonizes the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

They claimed “member states and agencies are using the U.N.’s privileged platform to advance an anti-Israel agenda.”

U.N.’s Pro-Israel Bias

In reality, the evidence shows that the U.N. has a pro-Israel bias. Emails leaked from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demonstrate how the U.S. State Department successfully exerted pressure with the goal of “deferring” U.N. action on Israeli war crimes, as previously detailed in my report on Salon.

While the State Department conceded that the 2009 U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, known commonly as the Goldstone Report, was only “moderate,” it was still not pro-Israel enough for the U.S. Messages from top officials illustrate how the government pushed to water down the report, “reframing the debate” about the atrocities and “moving away from the U.N.”

Moreover, U.S. government cables released by WikiLeaks show how former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon worked with the U.S. and Israeli governments to weaken the 2009 U.N. report on the war crimes Israel had committed in its recent war in Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead.

The idea that the United Nations was “singled out for special scrutiny” is conventional wisdom in U.S. political circles. Those who make this argument, as the senators do in the letter, point to Agenda Item 7—a standing agenda item on the U.N. Human Rights Commission’s docket that debates Israeli human rights violations. Crucial context missing from this talking point is that the focus on Israel’s human rights record by less powerful U.N. bodies like the Human Rights Commission is the logical byproduct of a U.N. Security Council—by far the most powerful and consequential U.N. body—doing nothing to curb Israel’s human rights abuses through the decades.

Indeed, the last time before December of last year the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution even vaguely condemning Israel was in 2002, when Resolution 1397 passed calling for a two-state solution. The United States’ “automatic veto” on all things Israel virtually guarantees even its most flagrant human rights abuses will go unchecked by the only body with the power to actually enforce anything.

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Israel sunk in ‘incremental tyranny’, say former Shin Bet chiefs

“You live in a democracy, and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy any more”

Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, 6 April 2017

Ami Ayalon, ex-head of the Shin Bet intelligence services, suggests Israel has a dynamic ‘of ongoing war’ and ‘like 1984, there’s always an enemy’. (Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Two former heads of Israel’s powerful domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, have made an impassioned and powerful intervention ahead of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in June.

One of the pair warned that the country’s political system was sunk in the process of “incremental tyranny”.

Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon were speaking ahead of a public meeting at a Jerusalem gallery which is threatened with closure for hosting a meeting organised by the military whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence, one of the main targets of the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

During his recent visit to the UK, Netanyahu also asked Theresa May to cut UK government funding to the group – a request that baffled diplomats as no direct UK funding exists.

“Incremental tyranny [is a process] which means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy any more,” Ayalon told a small group of journalists, including the Guardian, ahead of the event. “This is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late.”

Ayalon cited recent moves by ministers in the Netanyahu government to change the laws to hit groups such as Breaking the Silence by banning them from events in schools and targeting their funding, while also taking aim at the country’s supreme court and independence of the media.

Issues of freedom of speech and expression have become one of the key faultlines in Israeli society – in everything from the arts to journalism – under the most rightwing government in the country’s history.

The Babur gallery is under threat of closure after being censured by the country’s culture minister, Miri Regev, for holding an event with Breaking the Silence on publicly owned property – a group which Regev claimed “hurts Israel’s image”.

Gillon was equally bleak in his analysis of Israel’s trajectory, saying that the country was being “driven by this occupation towards disaster”.

He added: “This country was established on the values of liberal democracy, values written in the only kind of constitution we have – which is our declaration of independence – values we don’t fulfil any more. You can analyse what happened to us in the last 50 years, but everything is under the shade of occupation. It has changed us a society. It has made us an unpleasant society.”

The comments by Ayalon and Gillon come amid a growing and heated debate between the right and opponents of the occupation over the historic meaning of the six-day war, in June 1967, which marked the beginning of the occupation. Rightwing ministers celebrated the occupation on Thursday as the “liberation” of the occupied territories.

“I am here,” added Gillon, “because I think that Breaking the Silence and groups like it are completely legitimate organisations. Sometimes I don’t like what they say, but the mission they took on themselves, through interviews with soldiers, should give a better understanding [about] what it means to occupy another people.”

The decision by Ayalon and Gillon to make such a public show of support, was seen as a big coup for the human rights group, which has been facing increasing official efforts to limit its activities.

The two also criticised the unwillingness of the Israeli media and senior opposition politicians to speak up for freedom of speech, in particular concerning the moves against groups like Breaking the Silence.

“They do what they do because they understand it is their moral duty. They are soldiers who serve and like every gatekeeper they hold up a mirror image of the Israeli reality in the occupied territories. What they see is very ugly. So we hate the mirror and blame the mirror and don’t hear what they say,” said Ayalon.

They added that they were also deeply concerned about a growing apathy in Israeli society where, after so many years, an occupation justified by the Israeli courts and legal system as temporary had come to defy the meaning of the word.

Ayalon suggested an Orwellian dynamic that supported Israelis in a state of fear for political ends. “What is necessary to pave the way for this concept of incremental tyranny is an ongoing war. It is like 1984. There is always an enemy.”

Just days ago Regev, a controversial rightwing minister, said that Breaking the Silence and others who supported it “had no place in Israel”.

The two former Shin Bet chiefs were speaking as it was revealed that one of Israel’s main official ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the six-day war would controversially take place in the settlement of Gush Etzion in the West Bank.

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UN official resigns after pressure to withdraw Israel apartheid report

Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 17 March 2017

Rima Khalaf (via Facebook)

A senior United Nations official has resigned, following pressure from Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to withdraw the landmark report published earlier this week finding Israel guilty of apartheid.

Rima Khalaf, the head of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) which published the report, announced her resignation at a press conference in Beirut on Friday.

Reuters reports that Khalaf took the step “after what she described as pressure from the secretary-general to withdraw a report accusing Israel of imposing an ‘apartheid regime’ on Palestinians.”

“I resigned because it is my duty not to conceal a clear crime, and I stand by all the conclusions of the report,” Khalaf stated.

As of Friday, a press release announcing the report remained visible on the ESCWA website, but the link to the report itself from the press release no longer works.

A full copy of the report is available below.

It concludes that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.”

It finds “beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crimes of apartheid” as defined in international law.

It urges national governments to “support boycott, divestment and sanctions activities and respond positively to calls for such initiatives.”

Palestinians warmly welcomed the report, but Israel angrily denounced it as akin to Nazi propaganda. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN demanded that the report be withdrawn.

That demand came just as the Trump administration announced a budget plan that includes sweeping cuts in US contributions to the UN.

Khalaf’s resignation indicates that Guterres acted obediently and swiftly to carry out the orders from the United States. In a tweet, the Anti-Defamation League, a powerful Israel lobby group in the United States, thanked Guterres for urging ESCWA to withdraw the report.

The Israeli government has long targeted Khalaf for retaliation for doing her job. In 2014, its UN ambassador demanded she be removed from her post for criticizing Israel’s policies of occupation and Jewish colonization of Palestinian territory at the expense of Muslim and Christian communities.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the civil society coalition that leads the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, condemned Guterres’ intervention.

“The fact that a UN secretary general has bowed to threats and intimidation from the Trump administration to protect Israel from accountability, yet again, is hardly news,” the BNC said. “The real news is that this time round, Israel, with all its influence in Washington, cannot put
the genie back into the bottle.”

“Palestinians are deeply grateful to ESCWA’s director, Dr. Rima Khalaf, who preferred to resign in dignity than to surrender her principles to US-Israeli bullying,” the BNC added.

Khalaf’s resignation, under pressure to suppress factual and legal findings unfavorable to Israel, will send a chilling message to other UN officials that they are better off serving those in power than in upholding any mandate to advance human rights and respect for international law.

Film: Gaza in Context

Arab Studies Institute

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“I did not think it was possible to examine in 20 minutes what Gaza in Context  does with such compelling clarity: Israeli policies toward Gaza and Palestine, which are inseparable; the core problems affecting Gaza and the deliberateness of the policies that have led to Gaza’s disablement; Gaza’s centrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and some common myths surrounding Gaza and the history of the conflict overall, which are straightforwardly debunked.
An immensely valuable teaching tool, the film’s power also lies in its fundamental humanity, a heartfelt entreaty to end the oppression and violence so that all people in this tortured part of the world may aspire to a future in which their children can flourish.–Dr. Sara Roy, Senior Research Scholar, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University 

Gaza in Context  is a superb film accompanied by an excellent  teaching guide with seminal articles on the various aspects of the subject,  discussion questions, reading list and bibliography. Not only does the 20- minute- film provide the essential facts necessary for an understanding of the problem  it helps  the viewer understand the context, history and nature of the Israeli policy that brought the Gaza Strip to where it is today. It does this without committing the  common error of treating Gaza in isolation from the rest of Palestine but  helps explain the consistency in the Israeli policy over the years and throughout Palestine while focusing on its implications and manifestations for Gaza. The film ends with a cri de Coeur to all of us to do what we can to bring an end to what the film convincingly argues is not a natural but a human-  made disaster and save Gaza from continuing to be a zone of death.”
​–Raja Shehadeh, Palestinian lawyer, novelist, political activist, affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, and a founder of the human rights organization Al-Haq.

“Israel’s deliberate fragmentation of the Palestinian people and their land for the past 70 years has also fragmented the Palestinian narrative and struggle for rights. This is just one reason why it is vital that efforts to stop and reverse Israel’s colonization project adopt a holistic framework of analysis. Gaza in Context does just that: It zeroes in on Israel’s repeated assaults against the besieged strip but then broadens out to show how Israel’s attacks on Gaza are part of a consistent plan against the entire Palestinian people, a plan that from day one has sought to minimize the number of Palestinians in historic Palestine and maximize the number of Israeli Jews. The 20-minute film and accompanying educational materials succinctly provide the missing context in so many accounts of the conflict. It is an excellent entry point for the many thousands who are beginning to support Palestinian rights and an important refresher for others that have been involved in the movement for longer. Spread the word!” ​–Nadia Hijab, Executive Director, Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network

Gaza in Context should be required viewing for everyone, including those familiar with the situation in Palestine.  Powerful, informative, and persuasive, Noura Erakat delivers a fusillade of facts with concision and passion, obliterating in twenty minutes some three decades of media misinformation about Israel’s occupation of Palestine.   An effective teaching tool, irrespective of one’s political position.”–

Robin D. G. Kelley, Professor of History and African American Studies, UCLA

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Israeli forces raid At Tuwani after women and children’s nonviolent action

Operation Dove, February 12, 2017

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This Saturday morning residents of the Palestinian village of At Tuwani were grazing sheep and enjoying a day of outdoor picnics when Israeli soldiers entered the village en masse, turning the peaceful village into a military theatre. The raid appeared to be part of the price paid by residents for their nonviolent resistance to settler violence in the South Hebron Hills:  twice in recent weeks Palestinians have gathered to peacefully plant olive trees on Palestinian land on the outskirts of the village, near the illegal Israeli outpost of Havat Ma’on.

On the morning of February 11 more than a dozen Israeli soldiers entered the village in military vehicles. The heavily armed soldiers forced their way into houses and courtyards and began questioning the inhabitants, demanding to see all of their children between the ages of 13 and 18. They ordered Palestinians who asked for an explanation for the raid to show their ID’s, and forced several young men to spread their arms against buildings and cars while soldiers searched their bodies and clothing at gunpoint. The soldiers showed no official orders for the raid, but moved from house to house throughout the morning, questioning men and women, terrifying the children, and violating the human rights of the Palestinian residents of At Tuwani. Soldiers also demanded to see the passports of Operation Dove volunteers who were filming the raid.

Saturday’s military invasion was the second time in ten days that Israeli soldiers have completely disrupted work and life in the village of At Tuwani, and it will likely not be the last.  Before leaving the village this Saturday the soldiers threatened to return in the night.

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Operation Dove’s campaign #TogetherAtTuwani provides volunteers in the South Hebron Hills to support Palestinian shepherds as they remain on their land and choose to use nonviolent means, along with Israeli activists, to protect their lives and rights.

Operation Dove volunteers were first called to the village of At-Tuwani in 2004. Today, 13 years later, they still share daily life with communities throughout the South Hebron Hills. They support the popular nonviolent resistance by accompanying Palestinians on lands vulnerable to settler attacks and to harassment by Israeli soldiers.

You can donate to this effort.