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From churches, a challenge to Israeli policies

Some may wield an old financial tool – divestment – to register concern about peace prospects

Jane Lampman, The Christian Science Monitor, DECEMBER 6, 2004

A vote by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to use economic sanctions against certain companies doing business with Israel – namely those that profit from the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza – has set off a quiet firestorm within the American religious community.

The Presbyterians’ decision to consider divesting such businesses from its $8 billion portfolio, coupled with the prospect that the Episcopal Church and other churches might do the same, is adding to tensions that have risen over recent years between mainline Protestant churches and the American Jewish community over their differing views of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

It is also stirring Jewish groups to try to head off divestment – and to rebuild a rapport with these churches, with whom they have long worked to further civil rights and social justice.

“To call for divestment played into all the language of boycott, from earlier periods in Jewish history to the Arab boycott of Israel. It caused an explosion in the Jewish community,” says David Elcott, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

In some ways, last summer’s divestment vote has forced a conversation about the Middle East conflict. It also raises the stakes for those who, earlier this year, launched a bid to renew the old coalition. Christian and Jewish leaders have met twice, hosted by AJC and the National Council of Churches. From discussions on the “theology of land” to the divestment issue, the religious leaders “spoke from their pain” and asked tough questions of one another, says the Rev. Shanta Premawardhana, NCC interfaith secretary.

Tensions rose when a Presbyterian delegation traveling in the Middle East in October met with members of Hizbullah, the Lebanese group on the US terrorist list. The church’s national leadership disavowed the action. Then in November, the church received a letter threatening arson against Presbyterian churches unless it halted the divestment process. Jewish groups condemned the threat.

Last week, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs asked Protestants to reject divestment in favor of joint efforts to end the conflict. Elaborating on Jewish concerns, it said the divestment process is discriminatory, will provoke intransigence on both sides, and “is dangerously ill-matched to our passionately shared vision of a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

Mainline churches have supported Israel since 1948 and reject terrorism; they also have longstanding ties to churches in the Holy Land and are critical of Israeli military practices in the territories. Illegal expansion of Israeli settlements and a new security wall that encroaches on Palestinian land are making a viable Palestinian state less feasible, Presbyterians and others say. With the US government taking little action to help matters, they add, unusual measures are required.

“The decision to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment … was not taken lightly,” the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, a Presbyterian leader, wrote to members of the US Congress. “It was born out of the frustration that many of our members, as well as members of other denominations, feel with the current policies of Israel and those of our own government.”

The Presbyterians say their aims are to influence the practices of companies and use their resources – an $8 billion portfolio – in morally responsible ways. “We have to be principled; we respect human rights and the legitimacy of international law, and when Israelis or Palestinians breech either we’ll take a hard look at our investments,” says the Rev. Marthame Sanders, who was in ministry in the West Bank.

The church’s committee on socially responsible investment will identify firms that provide services or equipment to support the military occupation or Jewish settlements; finance or assist in building the wall; or provide help to Israeli or Palestinian groups that commit violence against innocent civilians.

It will seek meetings with corporate leaders, and possibly file shareholder resolutions, using divestment a last resort. Divestment decisions require approval by the church general assembly in 2006.

Some US Jewish peace groups support the initiative, Mr. Sanders says, including Jewish Voice for Peace. JVP has filed its own shareholder initiative asking Caterpillar Inc. to investigate whether Israeli use of its bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes violates the firm’s code of conduct. Other liberal Jewish groups, however, oppose it.

The Jewish community has countered other divestment efforts. Campaigns on colleges have made little headway. A proposal to make Somerville, Mass., the first American city to divest from Israel is likely to be turned back this week.

It is making some inroads with the churches, too. Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, which has close ties to a neighboring synagogue, is asking the denomination to slow the process and engage the Jewish community. It proposes that, if divestment occurs, money from stock sales be reinvested in Israel in companies not tied to the occupation.

“I’ve tried to interpret to my Jewish friends that this is not an anti-Israel nor anti-Jewish decision, but an attempt by a church to speak a word of hope and justice for [Palestinians] for whom those words are pretty elusive,” says the Rev. John Buchanan, church pastor. But “I’m not convinced divestment is a wise thing.”

The US Episcopal Church, meanwhile, said in November it will begin to study how it should respond to companies that contribute to the occupation’s infrastructure or to violence against civilians. It will include Jewish groups, Palestinians, and the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem.

“For us, the term is not ‘divestment,’ ” says Bishop Christopher Epting, deputy for interfaith relations. “We’d be voting certain shareholder resolutions expressing concern to companies in which we own stock.” Jewish leaders are more approving of this approach.

Other mainline Protestants are also talking about the issue.

“The notion that a two-state solution might no longer be realistic is very unsettling to many people, both Jewish and Christian,” says Jim Winkler of the United Methodist Church’s public policy board.

Jewish and mainline Christian leaders say they will travel together to the region to talk with Israelis and Palestinians, and will urge the US government to become more engaged in the peace process. “The Presbyterian decision was a flash point,” says Bishop Epting, “but in a strange way, it may well re-energize the relationship.”

Saying no to Israel is not anti-Semitism

B.J. Paschal, Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, December 1, 2004

DOES AN AMERICAN religious denomination such as the Presbyterian Church have the right to divest an $8 billion portfolio from Israel? Apparently not, according to the U.S. News & World Report, headed by Editor-in-Chief Mortimer B. Zuckerman and other pro-Israel embedded “journalists” such as John Leo.

How could this magazine, which claims to be “America’s most credible print news source,” attempt to vilify the Presbyterian Church General Assembly’s decision to selectively divest from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories? Answer: The “free press” clause in the First Amendment. But don’t the “religion clauses” in the First Amendment give Presbyterians the right to do what they believe is right? Don’t Presbyterians have the right to demand of companies that, before they buy their shares, they want them to share their values?

John Leo says “No!” These “leftists” simply “pummel Israel whenever possible.” Their “fixation on Israel” is a “one-sided expression of ideology.” Why not criticize “China, Libya, Syria or North Korea”? asked Leo. The answer is simple. We taxpayers give Israel more wrong money than any nation on planet Earth, and we demand very little of Israel. It’s time for a change.

The U.S. News (Oct. 19) used a report from the right-wing ideologues at the Institute on Religion and Democracy to call the General Assembly a bunch of “fringe leftists.” Rubbish!

Why didn’t Leo point out that 14 members of the House of Representatives (including three of 52 Presbyterians in Congress) have implored the Presbyterian Church to rescind its decision? That’s government interfering with people of faith. But the 14 representatives justify their “messing with religion” by pointing out that the church’s action is causing “terrible distress.” To whom? I hope to the government of Israel.

We Presbyterians have criticized the Republican-controlled Congress for failing to be a balanced arbiter for peace in the Middle East. Why did Leo fail to mention that fact? While Congress, the New Yorker and U.S. News have repeatedly denounced the Palestinian authority, they have never condemned Israel’s continuous illegal construction of settlements on the West Bank. Why?

The Anglican Church has announced its intention to adopt a corporate divestment strategy similar to that of the Presbyterian Church. What about the evangelicals? They believe they stand for high moral purpose in politics. They don’t. Therefore, don’t hold your breath for them to suddenly find Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Is divestment anti-Semitism? No, the charge is rubbish.

October 23, 2004
Film: The Fourth World War

UW-Madison
Humanities, Rm 3650
7:00 pm

The Fourth World War will have its Madison premiere hosted by producers/directors Rick Rowley and Jacqueline Soohen. MRSCP is one of the co-sponsors of this showing.

Shot on the front lines of struggles spanning five continents, The Fourth World War is the untold story of people who resist being annihilated in the current global conflict. The film weaves together the images and voices of the war on the ground — in Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, Palestine, Korea, Seattle, Genoa and New York. The intensity and immediacy of its images are beyond anything the mainstream media can shoot, the intimacy and passion of its stories are beyond anything it can feel. Narrated by Tony Award winner Suheir Hammad and Singer Michael Franti of Spearhead, it is a radical story of hope and human connection in the face of a war that shatters and divides.

Richard Rowley and Jacqueline Soohen are New York-based filmmakers whose groundbreaking feature documentaries Zapatista (1998), Black and Gold (1999), and This is What Democracy Looks Like (2000) have won top honors at hundreds of film festivals worldwide. Established video journalists, they have reported from Argentina, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, East Timor, South Africa, and Palestine, where they were the only video team to break the 2002 siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Free and open to the public. For info call 262-9036.

Palestine: the Assault on Health and Other War Crimes

PERSONAL VIEWS
British Medical Journal, October 16, 2004

Does the death of an Arab weigh the same as that of a US or Israeli citizen? The Israeli army, with utter impunity, has killed more unarmed Palestinian civilians since September 2000 than the number of people who died on September 11, 2001. In conducting 238 extrajudicial executions the army has also killed 186 bystanders (including 26 women and 39 children). Two thirds of the 621 children (two thirds under 15 years) killed at checkpoints, in the street, on the way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in over half of cases to the head, neck and chest‹the sniper’s wound. Clearly, soldiers are routinely authorised to shoot to kill children in situations of minimal or no threat. These statistics attract far less publicity than suicide bombings, atrocious though these are too.

Amnesty International has called for an investigation into the killing of Asma al-Mughayr (16 years) and her brother Ahmad (13 years) on the roof terrace of their home in Rafah on 18 May, each with a single bullet to the head. Asma had been taking clothes off the drying line and Ahmad feeding pigeons. Amnesty noted that the firing appeared to have come from the top floor of a nearby house, which had been taken over by Israeli soldiers shortly before. Amnesty suspects that this is not “caught in crossfire,” this is murder.

Israeli military reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza‹a system of military checkpoints splitting towns and villages into ghettos, curfews, closures, raids, mass demolition and destruction of houses (more than 60 000), and land expropriations‹has made ordinary life impossible for everyone, and is driving Palestinian society and its institutions towards destitution. Moreover, Israel has been constructing a grotesque barrier that, when completed, will total over 400 miles‹four times longer than the Berlin Wall. Extending up to 15 miles into Palestinian territory, the real purpose of the wall is permanently to lock more than 50 illegal Israeli settlements into Israel proper. This is expansive, aggressive colonisation, in defiance of the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the United Nations General Assembly resolution of last July.

Last year a UN rapporteur concluded that Gaza and the West Bank were “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.” The World Bank estimates that 60% of the population are subsisting at poverty level (£1.12; $2; 1.6 per day), a tripling in only three years. Half a million people are now completely dependent upon food aid, and Amnesty International has expressed concern that the Israeli army has been hampering distribution in Gaza. Over half of all households are eating only one meal per day. A study by Johns Hopkins and Al Quds universities found that 20% of children under 5 years old were anaemic, 9.3% were acutely malnourished, and a further 13.2% chronically malnourished. The doctors I met on a professional visit in March pointed to a rising prevalence of anaemia in pregnant women and low birthweight babies.

The coherence of the Palestinian health system is being destroyed. The wall will isolate 97 primary health clinics and 11 hospitals from the populations they serve. Qalqilya hospital, which primarily serves refugees, has seen a 40% fall in follow up appointments because patients cannot enter the city. There have been at least 87 documented cases (including 30 children) in which denial of access to medical treatment has led directly to deaths, including those of babies born while women were held up at checkpoints. The checkpoint at the entrance to some villages closes at 7 pm and not even ambulances can pass after this time.

As a recent example, a man in a now fenced in village near Qalqilya approached the gate with his seriously ill daughter in his arms, and begged the soldiers on duty to let him pass so that he could take her to hospital. The soldiers refused, and a Palestinian doctor summoned from the other side was also refused access to the child. The doctor was obliged to attempt a physical examination, and to give the girl an injection, through the wire.

There are consistent reports of ambulances containing gravely ill people being hit by gunfire, or detained at checkpoints while drivers and paramedics are interrogated, searched, threatened, humiliated, and assaulted. Wounded men are abducted from ambulances at checkpoints and sent directly to prison. Clearly marked clinics are fired on, and doctors and other health workers shot dead on duty.

Physicians for Human Rights (Israel) have lambasted the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) for its silence in the face of these systematic violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which guarantees the right to health care and the protection of health professionals as they do their duty. Remarkably, IMA president Dr Y. Blachar is currently chairperson of the council of the World Medical Association (WMA), the official international watchdog on medical ethics. A supine BMA appears in collusion with this farce at the WMA. Others are silenced by a fear of being labelled “anti-Semitic,” a term used in a morally corrupt way by the pro-Israel lobby in order to silence. How are we to affect this shocking situation, one which to this South African-born doctor has gone further than the excesses of the apartheid era.

Derek Summerfield, honorary senior lecturer
Institute of Psychiatry, London
derek.summerfield at slam.nhs.uk

Israeli troops probed for killing child

Israeli troops who killed a Palestinian schoolgirl in the Gaza Strip have come under investigation for riddling her with bullets

Al Jazeera, 11 Oct 2004


Rights groups say the Israeli army uses
excessive force

Iman al-Hams, 13, was shot 20 times on 5 October as she walked past an Israeli military outpost on the way to school in Rafah, a refugee camp on Gaza’s border with Egypt.

The area has seen much violence during the four-year-old Palestinian intifada.

“Israeli soldiers stormed the area, the girl left the bag and tried to run,” Umar Abu Khalifa, 25, a Palestinian witness who lives nearby, said on Monday.

“Bullets hit the [girl’s] bag and then soldiers opened fire on the girl.”

An Israeli military source said: “The soldiers fired warning shots into the air. The figure dropped the bag and fled. The soldiers had no way of knowing it was a girl. The soldiers then fired at and hit the figure.

“The outcome was grave and regrettable.”

Coup de grace

But Israeli media, quoting unnamed soldiers at the scene, disputed the official military explanation and said the girl was shot at close range with the outpost commander even delivering a “coup de grace” to ensure she was dead.


The army says it thought the girl may have
been sent by fighters

“There was a lot of shooting, but I did not take part. To me it [the figure fired at] looked like a girl,” a soldier, whose identity was withheld, said on Israel’s Channel 2 television.

A military source said an inquiry into Hams’ death was under way but “it is too early to speak of criminal charges”.

Lieutenant-General Moshe Yaalon, the chief of army staff, told Israeli ministers on Sunday that troops at the outpost believed the girl had been sent by Rafah fighters to lure them outdoors so they could be picked off by snipers.

Human rights groups regularly accuse Israeli troops of excessive force against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and say few abuses are prosecuted.

Hams’ family had little faith in the Israeli inquiry.

“We demand the prosecution of Iman’s killer, [but] we do not trust the Israeli judicial system,” the girl’s older brother, Ihab, said.

“My sister was an innocent little girl.”

Olive harvest shooting

Elsewhere, an Israeli soldier shot and critically wounded a Palestinian farmer on Monday during a clash over an olive orchard, witnesses said.

The attack appeared to signal that violence would again accompany the West Bank olive harvest this year.

Donating to Apartheid

If the donor states now finance the upgrading of Palestinian roads, they will be providing the Palestinians with temporary relief. But they will be direct accessories in consolidating a uniquely Israeli regime of separation and apartheid.

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Sep 08, 2004

It’s only logical and self-evident that the road from Bir Zeit to Attara, north of Ramallah, be upgraded. It’s a narrow, dangerous road, without lighting, or median lines, or sidewalks or even shoulders to the road. For the same reasons, the Ein Ariq road west of Ramallah cries out for improvement, as does the Nahalin-Husan road west of Bethlehem. Those are only three arteries of the road network in the West Bank that the Palestinian Authority planned to improve by the end of the 1990s, with help from the donor countries as part of the Oslo process.

But over the last four years, those roads and others like them became the only roads, the main avenues that bore all the Palestinian traffic in their regions and between regions in the West Bank. Israel prohibits Palestinians from using the main inter-urban highways in the West Bank or it drastically limits their rights to use those roads, which are mainly for the use of the settlers. In recent years, thousands of Palestinian vehicles have been daily directed to use the secondary roads, banned from the main highways.

The three roads come from a list of 30 that Israel told the World Bank it wants to see upgraded. Other roads for Palestinians, some new, some existent, some to be upgraded with tunnels and rotaries, will be added to the list that Israel expects the donor states to finance.

The logic is clear here, too. The settlements are a given, a fact. The danger to the lives of the settlers and other Israeli civilians on the “joint” roads is tangible, as has been proven by many drive-by shootings. But freedom of movement for the Palestinians, as the World Bank has stated, is vital for economic recovery.

The donor nations are committed to help the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, build separate roads for the Palestinians. And since there is no partner for peace and negotiations, we will continue to develop for our citizens a separate network of roads, which will bring them even closer to sovereign Israel and continue to encourage new settlers to move to the settlements.

Seemingly, it’s a temporary, innocent solution, essentially reactive, answering the need to protect the safety of Israeli citizens because of the current reality. In effect, the creation of two separate road networks is a logical step, utterly not innocent or accidental, a part of the long-term systematic planning of the settlements that began almost as far back as 1967. Its purpose: to expand the borders of the state of Israel as much as possible, according to the spreading and strengthening of the settlements.

What makes the Israeli planning system so great is that every stage can be explained as an ad-hoc reaction, or the whim of this or that government or pressure group, ignoring the initial goal. Thus, at every stage, the silently compliant can be counted on to accept the latest development, even if they say they are against settlements in principle.

If Yossi Beilin now supports leaving Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev under Israeli control because they are large and established settlements, in another five years he and his colleagues from the Geneva initiative will be forced to support leaving Givat Assaf and Itamar in place, as each will be a well-established neighborhood of some full-fledged Israeli city.

The donor states, if they finance now the work on the Palestinian roads Israel wants upgraded and improved, will be contributing to the temporary relief of many Palestinians. But they will be direct accessories to turning available land for farming and construction into unnecessary asphalt, further damaging the landscape and environment; and they will assist in consolidating a uniquely Israeli regime of separation and apartheid, making permanent the separation of neighboring communities divided on ethnic grounds, in an area where most of the land has been taken away for the benefit of a dominant minority.

The Jews will have broad, expansive, green communities with “high” standards of living, a developed infrastructure, as much water as they want – the “First World.” Beside them will be a “Third World” of suffocatingly dense communities, cut off from other communities and limited in their contacts because of a web of endless roads, the Israeli law and its army, and subject to a strict regime of water quotas and allocation. And thus, while the international economic aid is meant to serve as a strategic instrument for a two-state solution along the borders of June 4, 1967, it is turned into an instrument of the Israeli settlement policies.

The donor states are so absurdly financing infrastructure work at the request of the PA, that the Palestinians have become unwitting accessories to the Israeli settlement enterprise. For long-term national reasons, they can oppose upgrading the roads that Israel allows them to use according to Israeli priorities. Then Israel will wave around the argument that the Palestinian leadership is once again sacrificing the welfare of its people – and continue to drastically limit the freedom of movement of the Palestinians. Or the Palestinians can agree to the paving of separate roads because of the clear and immediate needs of the residents. Thus they can free the donor states of the need to explain to their taxpayers why, as donor nations, they are helping to build and maintain a new apartheid regime.

Hilarity from Gaza

9/8/2004

Dear Jennifer,

I hope you are fine. I was reading the news on haaretz daily today when I encountered the following text:

    ‘The army’s presence around the southern town of Khan Yunis, however, is part of a routine operation to search for wanted men and weapons. Militants use tunnels running underneath the nearby border with Egypt to smuggle in arms’

I was surprised. Tunnels now extend from Khan Younis to the border of Rafah?!? Can you believe it? It is amazing how ridiculous the Israeli media can be, and even more the army media. They truly believe that people are idiots. –this claim is astounding, no?

I read an article by Amira Hass (Donating to apartheid, http://www.haaretz.com/donating-to-apartheid-1.134183) and think it is a very good piece. Try to read it if you have the time.

Have my best wishes.

Mahmud M. Abu Rahma
Coordinator of Training & Mass Communication Unit
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
Tel/fax: +970 (0)8 2820447/2
Email: mahmud@mezan.org
Web: www.mezan.org

The direct distance from Khan Yunis to Rafah is 5 miles.

September 20-24, 2004
WHEELS OF JUSTICE TOUR

BRINGING THE OCCUPATION OF IRAQ AND PALESTINE TO MADISON

On September 20th and 24th, the Madison Area Peace Coalition and Madison-Rafah Sister City Project host the Wheels of Justice Tour. Rolling into town in a full-size, brightly decorated school bus, the tour brings eyewitness accounts from Iraq and Palestine to challenge and educate Americans about the repercussions of war and occupation, both on people abroad and at home.

Having seen and lived with war, terror and occupation in Iraq and Palestine, participants in the Wheels of Justice offer first-hand experience irrespective of partisan politics. The tour travels on a converted school bus that doubles as a mobile billboard and peace center. In the past three years, the bus has traveled more than fifty thousand miles to over four hundred locations throughout the United States. For additional information, visit www.justicewheels.org.

Locally, the tour includes stops at a number of Madison-area schools and colleges, such as MATC, Edgewood College, and East High School. In addition, there will be a free public forum:

Monday, September 20th, 7:00 pm
“From the Mouth of Madness: Deep Inside the Occupations of Iraq & Palestine”

with speakers, Michael Birmingham & Mazin Qumsiyeh
Rainbow Bookstore, 426 W. Gilman St., Madison, WI

Following the discussion, Mazin Qumsiyeh will sign his latest book, Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle.

“We advocate justice and human rights as the only real roadmap for peace at home and abroad,” states Rae Vogeler of the Madison Area Peace Coalition. “We call upon the United States to recognize and adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to stop the violence of war and occupation, and to immediately withdraw troops and military funding from the Middle East.”

Nationally, the tour is sponsored by Voices in the Wilderness (www.nonviolence.org/vitw/) and the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (www.Al-Awda.org) with support from affiliates of the International Solidarity Movement.

To schedule the Wheels of Justice Tour to visit your school, organization, media outlet, or place of worship, please contact Rae Vogeler at (608) 835-7501 or rae-v at charter.net.

Letter from a friend in Gaza

8/19/2004

Here’s a message from a friend in Gaza. It talks about life in Rafah, Gaza City, working at the NGO Al Mezan. A true terrorist Palestinian with no other concerns than the destruction of Israel. — Jennifer Loewenstein

Dear J,

It was great talking to you yesterday.

When I told you I was tired, I was really tired; both physically and psychologically. Work’s craziness is unbelieveable, with every-day new tasks that I perform. As always there are several things to work on every day. Now, the follow up of the networks we are engaged with, the prisoners’ hunger strike, and the NGO monitoring on elections are the most urgent things. It’s unbelievable how much it takes to meet our obligation towards network, God, it’s too much, but so important, too.

Guests and social events never end in the summer. I went to Rafah on Thursday, and we made seven visits to people who we must visit. I had to develop a brief report on Beit Hanoun (with Sameer); and I had two very difficult days there.

I fasted until 9pm yesterday, trying to feel with prisoners; and I thought of them a lot. I am doing so today (only coffee, cigarittes and water), too. And life goes on.

You asked me about the bombing of Gaza yesterday. Well, there was an airstrike in Shijayia (east of Gaza City) on Tuesday, and 5 were killed. Yesterday there was a strike on Al Zeitun, also in Gaza City, but no ione was injured or killed. IOF said they bombarded a Qassam workshop. In Rafah, it is too difficult. And I mean much beyond how it used to be. The Israelis make everyday events (demolition, arbitrary firing, and now air strikes on empty homes at the border). In Tel Sultan, soldiers get amused every night when they fire on a major electricity transformer. The nieghborhood sleeps without electricity every night, really. The conditions in this town, God my town, are getting worse every day. Even the PA (Palestinian Authority) does not pay any attention to its problems any longer.

This is a kind of sad message, sorry, but it reflects what I am concerned about, among many other things. Life is really awful here, J, and becomes more diffcult every day. I hate this so much.

Still there are many things and people to live for and to appreciate. Sharaf is going to school in 12 days, can you believe this? It’s time to buy him the school needs (uniforms, a nice bag, and stationery). He will be a great schoolboy, I am sure, and proud of it. The girls grow so beatiful all the time. 

This is becoming so long. But I will not leave without asking about you and Stella. It’s great she reacted positively to returning home; this is great. I hope you are fine, and that you will cope with Madison soon. It’s a difficlt place for you, but there is much to do there (opinion).

Please take care of yourself.
M

August 18, 2004
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb

ICB sculpture The Segregation Wall, 09-Nov-03

 

Memorial United Church of Christ
5705 W. Lacy Rd
Fitchburg
7:00 pm

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, will be speaking on the work of the International Center of Bethlehem. The ICB promotes the building of a civil society in Palestine by empowering the local community, training future leaders, and developing human resources.

Rev. Mitri, a native of Bethlehem, is the founder and General Director of the ICB, and founder of the Dar al-Kalima Model School and Academy. Rev. Mitri graduated from Philipps University in Marburg, Germany with a Ph.D. in Theology. He has authored many books and articles, including I am a Palestinian Christian and Bethlehem 2000: Past and Present.

For further information, contact Bonnie Van Overbeke, Pastor of Memorial United Church of Christ.

Back in Ramallah

Andrea Becker, 04 July 2004

Relatively easy somehow: went through Israeli security ‘lite’: no body massages, or bag checks, and treated my security interrogator to a discussion of Jabotinsky, prompting ‘why are you interested in this stuff anyway? Well, whatever. Have a nice day.’

Early morning arrival at Qalandia checkpoint, north of Jerusalem. Rose and gold sun lighting the familiar scene: dusty roads torn by use and Israeli military vehicles, cement blocks and the routined and ordered humiliations. Cars and trucks line up as far as you can see, barely 6 am –  but the wait has hardly begun. Once you’ve made the decision to try and get across by car there is no real way to turn back. Cement blocks on your left, a hill to your right. Cars in front and behind you. On foot, Palestinians wait in line, divided by cement blocks, divided into lines of relative privilege or discrimmination under the Israeli occupation ­ Jerusalem ID, West Bank ID. A line for women, a line for men. Israeli soldiers check cars and people at whichever pace suits them. Your day ­school, work, seeing friends, family, church, mosque, hospital ­ decided by some 18 year old with a machine gun. A claustrophobia of engines, lost hours and rising morning heat.

Checkpoint dust.  I walk through with that familiar sense of apprehension. Everything is quiet now, but this is a place of uncertainty, of teargas and barbed wire.  From hills above the scene is surveyed by more soldiers training their weapons with varying degrees of alertness ­on the people crossing. 

Away from soldiers and into Ramallah.­  Heavy incursions into Nablus by the Israeli military continue, but Nablus is a 45 minute drive away, hours away with checkpoints. Ramallah is calm. Surrounded by checkpoints, and slowly being closed in by dark grey cement walls, but a deceptive normalcy inside of people, shops, restaurants and markets.

It is incredible to be back here. It feels very normal, like I never left somehow. ­I am staying with my friend Nadya, who lives in a house hidden in a valley. It must be the nicest garden in Ramallah, where hours can drift by smoking shisha, reading, having barbecues.  After the tasteless vegetables and not having a kitchen in London, it is a treat to be able to roast peppers and garlic, and make marinades from
herbs you pick directly from outside, and olive oil from last year’s harvest. To cook with my hands. Fresh plums and white wine.

Salaamat to all from here,
Andrea

US bulldozer firm in Mid-East row


A leading UN official has warned US manufacturer Caterpillar that it may be complicit in human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza

A Palestinian woman sits in bulldozer tracksThousands of Palestinians have had homes and livelihoods demolished.

BBC News, 15 June, 2004

The company supplies armoured bulldozers to the Israeli army that are used to demolish Palestinian homes.

Human rights official Jean Ziegler expressed “deep concern” over the sales, in a letter to Caterpillar.

The company says it shares world concern over the Middle East but it cannot police the use of its equipment.

Human rights groups estimate that around 3,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished since 2000.

Israel says the demolitions are necessary on security grounds.

‘Rights Violations’

Mr Ziegler is the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

In his letter, he described destruction by the bulldozers of “agricultural farms, greenhouses and ancient olive groves”.

Caterpillar bulldozer carrying uprooted Palestinian olive tree

Caterpillar says it is not its job to police use of its equipment.

Caterpillar’s actions in supplying the D-9 and D-10 bulldozers mean they may be complicit in violating the right to food, Mr Ziegler said.

Over 50% of Palestinians are already largely dependent on food aid.

Human lives had also been lost during the demolitions, Ziegler wrote, including that of American peace activist Rachel Corrie.

The company’s role in supplying Israel has also been recently criticised by human rights group Amnesty International.

In an April report on Palestinian home demolitions, they called on Caterpillar to “guarantee that its bulldozers are not used to commit human rights violations”.

‘Compassion’

In a statement on its website, Caterpillar says it “shares the world’s concern over unrest in the Middle East and certainly have compassion for all those affected by political strife”.

Nevertheless, it has “neither the legal right nor the means to police individual use of its equipment,” the statement says.

Campaigners have claimed that this is a direct contravention of the company’s own corporate responsibility policy.

The policy states: “Caterpillar is committed to enabling positive and responsible growth around the world, and we believe in the value of social and environmental responsibility.”

The company reported profits of over $1 billion last year.

Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

11 June 2004

Friends,

I have just returned from a trip to Lebanon and Syria leading a group of 18 people to meet with the Palestinian Refugees in both countries.  In Lebanon, they live worse than ever.  No wild animal would live under such conditions.  In the thirty five years that I have been visiting with the refugees, I have seen the conditions in the camps in Lebanon get worse and worse.  The Lebanese Government does not accept the responsibilities of International Humanitarian Laws towards the refugees.  There are no services, no right to expand housing in the camps to meet the increased population, no right to work in more than 70 categories of jobs, and UNRWA has decreased its budget and services.  In Syria, the refugees live so much better and are treated very, very well by the Syrian Government.  So I and the delegates who went to the area are focused on the refugees in Lebanon at the moment.

Our friend and colleague, Rania Matar (she was on the Syria part of the trip, but originally grew up in Lebanon, and has a photo gallery of refugees in the camps there) will be going with her family from Boston to Beirut at the end of July to visit with her paternal family.  She is willing to receive your donations and take them with her.  The particular programs to which I suggest you contribute are the following:

Arab Resource Center for the Popular Arts (ARCPA) directed by Moa’taz Dajani.
This center provides popular arts programs for the children in various camps, as well
as producing films about the children and their families.  The impact of the Center in the camps has been very positive.  The art work of 3 year olds and up have been displayed in Lebanon and Europe.  Most of the themes of the children are about
Palestine and their dreams of a better future.  Arcpa plays a cathartic role for the children.  Email:  arcpa@cyberia.net.lb  They also do oral histories with the refugees.

Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation, Habilitation School, in Mar Elias Camp, directed by the exceptionally talented and dedicated Nahla Ghandour.  The School provides a special learning environment for children (Palestinians and Lebanese) who have learning and/or physical disabilities. I have a special place in my heart for those children because you all know that Arab countries try to hide or ignore children with such disabilities.  These children have a right to the best life possible.  Nahla Ghandour, herself a victim of polio, has done an amazing job in educating the children and empowering them.  Nahla’s email is: nahla@cyberia.net.lb if you wish to write to her.

Women’s Humanitarian Organization in Bourj Bourajneh Camp headed by Ms. Olfat Khalil Mahmoud.  Olfat is an amazing woman, strong, determined, compassionate, and brilliant in squeezing out from miniscule resources, ways to help women to deal with physical and mental health.  The camp life is horrible, and women carry the brunt of having to provide for their families and to deal with husbands frustrated by the blockage of the Lebanese government to allow them to find work and help their families.  Olfat is a truly humanitarian woman.  Her email is: pwho00@hotmail.com

Chatila Camp, Children and Youth Centre.  Their are two people who head up programs for youth and/or adult programs:  Abu Moujahed (Mahmoud Abbas) and Nuhad Hamed, who works with Najdeh, a Women’s Welfare Organization providing
services and youth centers in the camps.  As you may all know, Sabre camp no longer exists after the massacres and the 1982 war.  In a sense, it was collapsed into Chatila where also a number of poor Lebanese live.  The conditions are absolutely miserable as in just about every camp in Lebanon.  You can reach Abu Moujahed at:  cyc@cyberia.net.lb  and Nuhad through Association Najdeh: najdeh@cyberia.net.lb  put her name in the subject, or a note directed at that address to Raida Hatoum and ask Raida to pass on your message to Nuhad.

There are so many other programs and people in the camps who need help, but I have focused on the above because they are all within the area of Beirut.  Please note:  Rania Matar will be in that area from end of July well into August.  You can send a check payable to Rania.  She will record your donation, cash the check, take the cash to whichever of the programs above you designate, and she will bring you back receipts.  Friends, cash is easier for the recipients than having to wait to cash checks made out to them.  Usually, the Lebanese banks will charge them for cashing any check you send.  So please send your donations to Rania in her name.  She is totally trustworthy.  You can speak with Rania if you like at the following number: 617 538 2256.  You can send your check to her at:  Rania Matar, 143 Tappan St., Brookline, MA 02445.  You can email her at:  RaniaMA [at] aol.com

Do not sent me any money.    Please make direct contact with Rania.  Your donation in whatever amount will be deeply appreciated by the refugees.  They need to know that they are not forgotten.  Thank you in advance for your generosity.

Elaine (Musallem) Hagopian

Gila Svirsky: Working to break the silence

6/6/2004

Friends,
 
Last week probably set a record for demonstrations in Israel against the occupation — a result not only of the 37th “anniversary” of the occupation, which we mark in June, but also of the ongoing violence in Gaza: Some 30-40 more Rafah homes were destroyed this week, while many Palestinians were arrested and some killed.  Comparatively speaking, the army is now showing restraint compared with the original onslaught, thanks to the outcry from people all over the world.  If you ever lose faith that your faxes and phone calls make a difference, remind yourself that hundreds of homes, maybe even thousands, were saved as a result of your efforts in this campaign.  Keep them coming.
 
The streets of Tel Aviv had “walking exhibitions” this week, as protesters donned “sandwich boards” showing photographs of Gaza and the so-called “security wall”.  On Wednesday, shoppers downtown and university students got to see these graphic scenes and, on Friday, a big beach day in Tel Aviv, the exhibitors snaked through beach chairs and blankets, bringing some reality into the sunbathing.  More reality was brought to Tel Aviv’s cultural set on Saturday night, as women brought the photos of Rafah’s destroyed homes to the lines of people waiting to get into the Philharmonic, Habima Theater, and a movie theater.  “How can you watch movies when homes are being destroyed in Gaza?” chanted the women.  Just in case people in cars missed the sights, the women also blocked the streets (see photo), and a car accompanying them projected slides onto the shutters of buildings along the road.
 
A remarkable photo and video exhibit opened on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, showing not art, but the abuse of Palestinians committed by Israeli soldiers in Hebron.  And who were the photographers?  30 soldiers who themselves had served there.  Through their stories and photos, this exhibit tells terrible tales of violence, physical abuse, and property vandalism during their tours of duty.   Yehuda Shaul, a 21-year old, organized this exhibit after completing his service in Hebron as an officer of a high level combat unit.  (After his release from the army, Yehuda stood with us several times on the Jerusalem vigil of Women in Black.)  When asked if the photos showed isolated incidents, Yehuda replied, “Breaking silence about this subject is exceptional, not the acts themselves.”
 
At Thursday’s gay pride parade in Jerusalem, Kveesa Shchora (“black laundry”), the anti-occupation movement of lesbians and gay men, marched separately carrying their own signs.  The ultra-Orthodox Jerusalemites turned out to insult and curse them, with a prominent Kabbalist rabbi declaring that homosexuals were “subhuman” and would be “reincarnated” as rabbits.  “Be careful what you wish for,” said a lesbian friend, thinking perhaps of the procreation patterns of these sweet animal friends.
 
On Friday morning, we held a bus tour for women attending the Feminist Conference in the north of Israel, bringing participants to see the “Security Wall”, which most had never seen before.  This was followed by a large Friday vigil of Women in Black, in which many conference participants took part.
 
Saturday morning saw a joint Palestinian-Jerusalem demonstration at ‘Aram, just north of Jerusalem, where the government has just begun work on the Wall.  Fortunately, this demonstration went smoothly, with no violence from the border police, which was another exception to the rule, unfortunately.
 
Saturday night, Peace Now held a demonstration in Jerusalem, where several thousand people showed up to demand that the government leave the territories.  Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, former army Chief of Staff, called upon everyone to go see the photo exhibition of the Hebron-based soldiers (good for you, Amnon!).  Less nice was the part where Peace Now told the police to shut down the video screening of “Women Resist the Occupation” that we were showing on a side street – in no way interfering with the main body of the demonstration, which we supported.  If you would like to order a copy of this amazing film, see the end of this e-mail.
 
Finally, beautiful purple posters bloomed like flowers all over Israel this week, calling out “Dai Lakibush, Yad l’Piyus”, meaning “End the Occupation, Seek Reconciliation”, and having the women’s symbol on it (photo, above left).  We simply can’t imagine who would have illegally pasted posters in 3 cities, covering the walls, traffic signs, garbage cans, billboards, bus stops, & fences…
 
I end with a translation of the flyer we handed out all over Israel this week:
 
Shhhhhhhh, security!
They tell us not to speak of unemployment,
because the security situation is so bad.
They tell us not to talk about the municipal workers who haven’t received their salaries, or sexual violence, or hungry children, not right now, because we’re at war and there’s no one to talk to.
And not about the corruption of politicians,
because we’ll soon be leaving Gaza.
And not about selling the country to the World Bank
at end-of- season prices,
because who knows anything about that bank and anyway
we’re in the midst of war.
And not about foreign workers,
racism,
 clean air and water,
 selling women into bondage,
road accidents,
or breast cancer.
WE ARE FURIOUS
ABOUT THE OCCUPATION
and about
The capitalists who create this war,
The generals who continue to sleep well at night,
And the governments of occupation that bring us more and more destruction, killing, and hate,
37 YEARS OF OCCUPATION AND OPPRESSION ARE
37 YEARS TOO MANY!
 
The women’s actions this week were all organized and carried out jointly by the various member organizations of the Coalition of Women for Peace.  They are listed below.  In addition, we worked in alliance with our friends in many other wonderful organizations.  It’s not easy to bring reality into Israel, especially when the local media do not do their part, and we need all the friends and cooperation we can get.
 
Shalom from Jerusalem,
Gila Svirsky
Coalition of Women for Peace


 
Documentary: “Women Resist the Occupation”
This 20-min. video documents some of the bold and creative actions of the Coalition of Women for Peace, sometimes in cooperation with Palestinian women, in efforts to resist occupation and achieve a just peace.  Produced by experienced Israeli filmmaker Claudia (Cala) Levin and a team of 4 women from Israel’s Indymedia.  Available in US or European formats (NTSC or PAL).  To order, write to and we’ll mail it out at once.  Then send cash or a check for $25 (or 20 Euro) — less if this is too much for you, more if you can, to support our work.  If you send a check make it out to Bat Shalom, and mail it to:  
Coalition of Women for Peace
P.O. Box 10252
Jerusalem, Israel 91102
 
Members of the Coalition of Women for Peace:
Bat Shalom; The Fifth Mother; Neled – Women for Coexistence; New Profile; Noga Feminist Journal; TANDI – Movement of Democratic Women for Israel; WILPF – Israel chapter; and Women in Black.
 
Our principles:
·        An end to the occupation.
·        The full involvement of women in negotiations for peace.
·        Establishment of the state of Palestine side by side with the state of Israel based on the 1967 borders.
·        Recognition of Jerusalem as the shared capital of two states.
·        Israel must recognize its responsibility for the results of the 1948 war, and find a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
·        Equality, inclusion and justice for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
·        Opposition to the militarism that permeates Israeli society.
·        Equal rights for women and for all residents of Israel.
·        Social and economic justice for Israel’s citizens, and integration in the region.
 
2 ways to make a donation — we need your support!
(1) For a US-tax deduction, make out a check to “US/Israel Women-to-Women”, write on the memo line (or separately) that it is “For the Coalition of Women for Peace”, and mail it to US/Israel Women-to-Women, 45 West 36th Street, NY, NY 10018.
(2) If a US-tax deduction is not relevant, make out a check to “Bat Shalom” and mail it to the Coalition of Women for Peace, P.O. Box 10252, Jerusalem, Israel 91102.  Any currency is welcome!
 
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Coalition of Women for Peace:
http://www.coalitionofwomen4peace.org
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