May 22, 2020 · 3:26 pm
On June 1, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) will be honoring Razan al-Najjar, the 20-year old medic who was killed two years ago on June 1 by Israeli sharpshooters as she tended the wounded at the Great Return March in Gaza.
If you don’t know Razan, please take a moment to learn her story. Gaza Fights for Freedom is Abby Martin’s film that I highly recommend.
The documentary tells the story of Gaza past and present, showing rare archival footage that explains the history never acknowledged by mass media. You hear from victims of the ongoing massacre, including journalists, medics and the family of internationally-acclaimed paramedic, Razan al-Najjar.
In March 2019, a UN mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli military snipers had intentionally shot at health workers, children, persons with disabilities and journalists at protests in Gaza.
Three medics were among the more than 200 people killed during two years of Israel’s use of force at the Great March of Return demonstrations. A further 845 medics were injured. No one has been held to account for this.
Killing healthcare workers, destroying ambulances and hospitals, and deliberately targeting unarmed civilians is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Customary International Humanitarian Law but that has never deterred Israel.
Rule 25. Medical personnel exclusively assigned to medical duties must be respected and protected in all circumstances. They lose their protection if they commit, outside their humanitarian function, acts harmful to the enemy.
May 20, 2020 · 2:31 pm
There’s a saying in Gaza (at least among some) that the Palestinians are living under THREE occupations.
The first, of course, is the Israeli military occupation. The United Nations and nearly the entire international community recognize this occupation. It’s been going on for so many decades that at least one scholar prefers to call it colonization, not an occupation. It’s perhaps the best documented occupation in world history.
The second is the internal political occupation. Palestinians in Gaza are living under Hamas, and Palestinians in the West Bank are living under the Palestinian Authority (PA). “Living under” is the correct terminology in both cases because there haven’t been elections in more than a decade (no concept of “term limits” in the Arab world as far as I can tell) and both Hamas and the PA rule with an iron fist.
I learned about the third type of occupation when I was in Gaza in 2012-2013 and met with local city officials to discuss planning issues in the community. They told me bluntly, “What plans? It’s whatever the NGOs are willing to fund. Their plans get implemented, ours stay on the shelf.” So I call this the NGO occupation. Donors’ good intentions can actually backfire because they disempower the local communities they’re meant to serve. US-AID projects are a good example.
Amid the turmoil and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are new challenges and opportunities for both nation-states and the private sector attempting to address the serious needs of the most vulnerable. Things are changing rapidly.
Focusing on humanitarian action, as it has since its beginning in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) asked the following question in this new COVID-19 world we’re entering:
How then should aid organizations anticipate and prepare for this new reality, still opaque in many ways, and balance it against the expected overwhelming needs? Better yet, rather than adapting and anticipating to this new reality, how can aid organizations lean in and embrace the present crisis as a conduit for radical change, proactively reshaping and repositioning an aid sector that is fit for purpose to protect and address the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized?
The question is important, the answers that follow may profoundly change the way NGOs address the needs of the most vulnerable.
This 18 minute audio of a blog posted by Raphael Gorgeu provides a good explanation of how the NGO landscape may be changing. The world tomorrow: COVID-19 and the new humanitarian. Have a listen.
A public health crisis to begin with, the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly metastasized to nearly all fronts of society. Considered one of the biggest crises in modern history, the pandemic’s effects will deeply impact the lives of billions of people, shake the foundations of our solidarity models and redesign parts of the international humanitarian sector. The way aid actors move forward now will shape the future of the humanitarian landscape: pre-existing trends are speeding up as new ones are brought into play, all while the overall balance is placed under scrutiny. In a myriad of ways, many still unforeseeable, the intensity of the present period is accelerating change.
May 14, 2020 · 3:55 pm
The status quo in Palestine & Israel is an interminable nightmare for Palestinians living under military occupation for 70+ years, and a shameful failure of the human rights framework adopted and promoted during that same time.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948) was (is?) the world’s beacon of hope, an aspiration for a better life for every person.
Our failure (the international community’s failure) to secure a just and lasting resolution in Palestine & Israel cannot be swept under the rug and forgotten. It’s an indictment upon all of us.
Sam Bahour, a Palestinian American living in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, captured a succinct history of the military occupation and the current struggle when he spoke with his daughter. (He shares that beginning at 18:50).
How does the unbearable status quo change?
In reality, the status quo is bearable to Israel and that government has no incentive to change it.
In reality, the international human rights regime is impotent and won’t change the status quo.
In reality, the U.S. is a hindrance, not a facilitator, to ending the status quo.
In reality, the Palestinian political leaders (Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Fatah) have proven themselves to be incapable of rising to the challenge and have not earned the respect and recognition from the Palestinian people they purport to represent.
There are individuals within Palestine and Israel who are asking and answering that question: how does the unbearable status quo change?
Jeff Halper, an American Jew who has lived most of his adult life in Israel, thinks the two state solution is no longer feasible. He and his compatriots are currently traveling around the world to build support for the One Democratic State program.
Sam Bahour frames the question differently. It’s not a matter of two states or one state, but a matter of political and individual rights in either case. What Sam fears is that more time will be lost (time measured in decades) as people and governments negotiate territorial jurisdictions while the rights of Palestinians continue to take a back-seat in those discussions. Sam writes:
We must get political. Civil society must build the necessary alliances to bring Palestinian rights to the forefront of the international agenda on Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution. Today, we have no choice but to accept the apartheid one-state reality that we are living in now, and keep the two-state door open, while simultaneously bringing the issue of rights to the forefront of our demands. Our strongest ally is international civil society, but we cannot stop at civil society; it would be stopping short of affecting change. Instead we must leverage the widespread support of civil society in all corners of the world to get states to act, politically and otherwise, to support our just and internationally aligned struggle for freedom and independence.
In May 2016, Mr. Bahour spelled out the dangers and opportunities available to the Palestinian civil society in changing the status quo. (The paper is available here.) I hope the next generation of Palestinian leaders (whoever and wherever they may be) will read the paper.
In this paper, I will argue that a rights-based approach is the most conducive one to the current Palestinian national agenda and that a political end-game cannot be open-ended. Moreover, I will also argue that the struggle for national self-determination cannot come at the expense of the struggle for rights – and vice versa. I view these two processes as simultaneous dynamics: one process focuses on the rights of the individual (political, human and civil rights), while the second focuses on the rights of the nation (national rights, specifically self-determination). My argument is based on the mutuality of these two processes: the ‘individual’ sphere centered on rights, and the ‘national’ sphere focused on independence.
May 12, 2020 · 2:55 pm
About ten or twelve years ago I had an interesting conversation with an American Jew in Albuquerque, New Mexico about the future of Israel and Palestine. He expressed the view shared by many Americans at the time that the Palestinians were getting the short end of the stick but Israelis really had no choice but to maintain the occupation in order to protect themselves.
He knew I’d visited Gaza for a week or two in 2004, and had traveled through the West Bank and Jerusalem as a tourist. So he asked me what I thought the future held in store for both peoples, intimating that his vision of two states with a permanent occupation of one was inevitable. Without a moment’s hesitation, I replied “one country between the river and the sea where every person is treated equally”. I’m not sure where I got that idea, whether reading or talking with someone more knowledgeable than me. But even then I knew that a big part of the problem was a failure of imagination. My Jewish American friend thought I was nuts; we haven’t talked since.
Now, thankfully, there are many so-called nuts traveling around the world promoting the idea of a one democratic state in Israel – Palestine. Last week I listened in to a Zoom meeting with some of the leaders of the One Democratic State Campaign. Check out their website in Arabic and English. I learned that this one state idea is not new. The Palestinian liberation movement, before the Nakba of 1948 and after, had promoted this vision in the PLO’s National Charter, abandoning it for the two-state solution only in 1988.
The proponents of the One Democratic State (ODS) campaign believe that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a good strategy but the Palestinians lack an end goal. To paraphrase what I heard on the Zoom call: “If you don’t have a political goal, all of the strategies in the world won’t accomplish anything.” The One Democratic State campaign provides the goal.
“The only way forward to a genuine and viable political settlement is to dismantle the colonial apartheid regime that has been imposed over historic Palestine, replacing it with a new political system based on full civil equality, implementation of the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return and the building of a system that addresses the historic wrongs committed on the Palestinian people by the Zionist movement.”
The One Democratic State campaign has ten key points:
- A Single Constitutional Democracy. One Democratic State shall be established between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River as one country belonging to all its citizens, including Palestinian refugees who will be able to return to their homeland. All citizens will enjoy equal rights, freedom and security. The State shall be a constitutional democracy, the authority to govern and make laws emanating from the consent of the governed. All its citizens shall enjoy equal rights to vote, stand for office and contribute to the country’s governance.
- Right of Return, of Restoration and of Reintegration into Society. The single democratic state will fully implement the Right of Return of all Palestinian refugees who were expelled in 1948 and thereafter, whether living in exile abroad or currently living in Israel or the Occupied Territory. The State will aid them in returning to their country and to the places from where they were expelled. It will help them rebuild their personal lives and to be fully reintegrated into the country’s society, economy and polity. The State will do everything in its power to restore to the refugees their private and communal property of the refugees and/or compensate them. Normal procedures of obtaining citizenship will be extended to those choosing to immigrate to the country.
- Individual Rights. No State law, institution or practices may discriminate among its citizens on the basis of national or social origin, color, gender, language, religion or political opinion, or sexual orientation. A single citizenship confers on all the State’s residents the right to freedom of movement, the right to reside anywhere in the country, and equal rights in every domain.
- Collective Rights. Within the framework of a single democratic state, the Constitution will also protect collective rights and the freedom of association, whether national, ethnic, religious, class or gender. Constitutional guarantees will ensure that all languages, arts and culture can flourish and develop freely. No group or collectivity will have any privileges, nor will any group, party or collectivity have the ability to leverage any control or domination over others. Parliament will not have the authority to enact any laws that discriminate against any community under the Constitution.
- Moving from Decolonization to Post-Colonialism. The genuine liberation of Palestinians and Israelis requires a process of thorough decolonization through which we may reach collective justice, peace security and reconciliation. A new national narrative must be constructed that “writes the native Palestinians back in.” Israeli Jews must acknowledge both the national rights of the Palestinian people and past colonial crimes. In return, and based on an egalitarian democracy, Palestinians will accept them as legitimate citizens and neighbors, thereby ending Zionist settler colonialism and entering into a new postcolonial relationship of accommodation, normalization and reconciliation.
- Constructing a Shared Civil Society. The State shall nurture a vital civil society comprised of common civil institutions, in particular educational, cultural and economic. Alongside religious marriage the State will provide civil marriage.
- Economy and Economic Justice. Our vision seeks to achieve justice, and this includes social and economic justice. Economic policy must address the decades of exploitation and discrimination which have sown deep socioeconomic gaps among the people living in the land. The income distribution in Israel/Palestine is more unequal than any country in the world. A State seeking justice must develop a creative and long-term redistributive economic policy to ensure that all citizens have equal opportunity to attain education, productive employment, economic security and a dignified standard of living.
- Commitment to Human Rights, Justice and Peace. The State shall uphold international law and seek the peaceful resolution of conflicts through negotiation and collective security in accordance with the United Nations Charter. The State will sign and ratify all international treaties on human rights and its people shall reject racism and promote social, cultural and political rights as set out in relevant United Nations covenants.
- Our Role in the Region. The ODS Campaign will join with all progressive forces in the Arab world struggling for democracy, social justice and egalitarian societies free from tyranny and foreign domination. The State shall seek democracy and freedom in a Middle East that respects its many communities, religions, traditions and ideologies, yet strives for equality, freedom of thought and innovation. Achieving a just political settlement in Palestine, followed by a thorough process of decolonization, will contribute measurably to these efforts.
- International responsibility. On a global level, the ODS Campaign views itself as part of the progressive forces striving for an alternative global order that is just, egalitarian and free of any oppression, racism, imperialism and colonialism.
I personally know some Israeli Jews and many Palestinians who reject this notion of One Democratic State. In a nutshell, the Israeli Jews (the ones I know) believe it’s a security issue and (the hard core Zionists) believe their right to the land supersedes the Palestinians’ rights. On the other hand, the Palestinians (the ones I know) believe the past and present injustices are so horrendous that the occupation must be dismantled before they will even talk or entertain a One Democratic State.
Of course, I know many Israeli Jews and Palestinians who would gladly embrace the One Democratic State, but I don’t know if there’s a critical mass on either side to move this program forward.
I hope no one closes the door on the One Democratic State campaign until they’ve read the Ten Points mentioned above, and talked about the future they want to leave their children.
I suspect it will take a lot of friends from the international community to help, but InshAllah it will happen.
May 6, 2020 · 2:02 pm
My family and friends know I’m a prolific letter writer. I must send several notes to elected officials each week about one issue or another. Yesterday I realized I’m now sending more condolence cards than my standard fare of political action notes, a sign of the new Covid-19 times we live in.
Two deaths this week hit me hard, not because of who had died (I didn’t know either man personally), but my heart is broken for their families left behind. Both deaths seem so unfair.
One was a young healthy man who died of COVID-19 in NYC. Very successful in business with a tremendous future in front of him, he left behind a wife and young daughter and parents who are all grieving his loss. A ZOOM memorial can’t cover the distance the hearts must travel to make any sense of the senseless.
The second death was a well-respected Palestinian physician in Gaza who had been suffering from cancer for some time. Israel has prevented essential medical supplies and medicines from entering Gaza for years now, and routinely denies permission for patients to leave Gaza to seek medical attention elsewhere.
His son in the U.S. has left no stone unturned to get the critical medicines and vitamins to his father, even though he could never travel to Gaza himself to visit, that was verboten by the Israeli authorities. I was pleased to play a minor role in that transit process a year ago. Today his son is mourning his father’s death, unable to join his mother in Gaza and grieve together as a family.
I don’t know the religious traditions of each man, but I suspect one was Jewish and one was Muslim. It really doesn’t matter at all. Both are gone and have left huge holes in the hearts of many.
If there’s such a thing as heaven (I’m not at all sure about that) then they are probably both sitting there, digesting their new surroundings where all of the superficial differences have disappeared. The “other” is an unfathomable idea.
They both recognize the pain and sorrow they left behind, and likely want to comfort their family and friends.
In my own musing about these two families’ unbearable sadness, I want to touch their hearts with my heart and ease their burdens.
We are one, there is no other.
May 4, 2020 · 2:03 pm
Iris Keltz is a member and cofounder of Jewish Voice for Peace in Albuquerque, NM and the author of Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land: Journeys in Palestine & Israel, an award winning book available in print and Ebook. Iris extends an invitation (see below) to a zoom chat on May 7th about the proposal for a One Democratic State in Israel.
Iris Keltz explains the zoom meeting:
Jeff Halper and Awad Abdelfattah, two leaders of the One Democratic State Campaign in Israel will be speaking on May 7th at 2:00 pm Eastern time. Here’s the link to connect to the Zoom meeting.
Awad Abdelfattah is former General Secretary of the National Democratic Assembly party (Balad in Hebrew), one of three parties in the Israeli Knesset that represents Israel’s Palestinian 1.4 million minority population.
Dr. Jeff Halper is head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and author of War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification (2015).
Are these men tilting at windmills, dreaming an impossible dream? Both Abdelfattah and Halper believe that for the sake of future generations of Israelis and Palestinians a single democratic state is the best way forward, albeit something that might not happen in our life time. They agree that in order to dismantle the current settler-colonial regime, a detailed political plan is necessary. Halper, who once reluctantly accepted the idea of two-states, pointed out that “BDS” (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) is a strategy— not an endgame.
In spite of the fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel (aka ’48 Palestinians) are second class citizens, their significance and influence has long been underestimated and undervalued. They are a rising force in the Knesset and in emerging grassroots initiatives related to the containment of COVID-19. Abdelfattah proudly pointed out that 17% of doctors in Israel are Palestinians who are caring for people during this frightening pandemic regardless of ethnicity or religion.
The strong Palestinian middle class in Israel can be attributed to the value they place on education. Since 1948, they have suffered the loss of ancestral lands, homes and villages. Most families have relatives in refugee camps around the Middle East. The Nakba has continued for them as well as for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. They expose the internal nature of Israeli apartheid. However, Abdelfattah remains open to working with Progressive Jewish-Israelis. He expressed great regret for the end of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid and credits this Jewish-American as having started a powerful social justice movement supported by a majority of Muslim-Americans.
In order to promote the dream of a single democratic state, a critical mass of Palestinians and Israelis is essential. At least 1,000 Palestinians are needed to sign on to this agreement, a seemingly modest number. Once embraced by the PLO, this idea is typically rejected by Israel because of “security concerns” where control of the military is the most important question for the one-state.
According to Halper, the Israeli psyche has become more Fascist and more right wing. It was profoundly disappointing to hear that even among progressive Israelis the idea of one democratic state is not strong. Palestinian-Israelis remain divided. Abdelfattah emphasized the importance of unifying ’48 Palestinians with West Bank Palestinians who are further oppressed by the Palestinian Authority, and with Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza. Arguably both movements are essential and can be worked on simultaneously.
Being an idealistic pragmatist, Halper pointed out that different models are available for the greater Middle East. “Consider bio-regionalism, bi-national, a confederation, etc. The possibilities are limited to our imagination.” Both leaders agree that the idea must be framed in a way that is acceptable to both people. Words like “secular” or “religious” should be avoided. “One person, one vote” is a more neutral description. Unfortunately human rights and international law have no teeth and the impossible dream seems to be slipping further into the future.
“We don’t even have a name for this new country,” said Halper, leaving me to ponder about the significance of names. To name someone or something is to recognize their humanity. And that’s just what is needed.
Tagged as Awad Abdelfattah, Balad, Deb Reich, Iris Keltz, Jeff Halper, Michael Sfard, National Democratic Assembly, No More Enemies, One Democratic State, The Wall & the Gate, Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land
April 29, 2020 · 5:34 pm
A brief message to myself more than anyone else.
Recent events and communications have focused my attention on “the other” and the world’s intolerance for “the other”.
Some concrete examples might help.
A Palestinian-American author condemned an Irish-American author’s book about Palestine. Colum McCann‘s novel (Apeirogon) is about two families (a Palestinian family in the occupied West Bank and an Israeli family in Jerusalem) who each suffer the death of a child due to the violence perpetrated by the other side. The Palestinian-American author criticizes the book:
Along comes a novelist, who is so moved by this unusual friendship, the story behind it, and what he feels it represents of hope for the future of the nation that he decides to write a book about them. It is a kind of amplifying-the-voice-of-peace endeavour (sic), born from the stubborn belief that anything can be solved by the benevolent enthusiasm of well-meaning folks.
I do not know McCann, though I suspect he wrote this book with a sense of solidarity and a desire to foster “dialogue”. But it is possible to do great harm with the noblest of intentions. The rhetoric of dialogue can be alluring – the idea that talking to find common humanity is all it takes to dismantle structural racism and notions of ethnocentric supremacy. It can make all kinds of people, even victims themselves, become purveyors of injustice. (emphasis added)
The second example is a Palestinian activist in Gaza (Rami Aman) who was recently arrested by Hamas for engaging in a Zoom chat with Israeli peace activists. Perhaps naively, it appears both sides were hoping to understand “the other” better. I’ve written about Rami and normalization here and here.
Both examples illustrate one of the biggest impediments to the future survival of the human species.
!*!*!*!*! Are you serious? !*!*!*!*!
Here’s my thesis in a nutshell. (I’m giving a lot of thought about how best to elaborate on the thesis, and hope to in the future. InshaAllah)
Humans face many challenges today, and they will continue to face many more which are arguably life-threatening. (Take a minute and think about the challenges —- from the small to the existential.)
How have we made it this far? Those among us with a good dose of testosterone might conclude that it was the spear, sword, gun, and the individual’s strength that ensured “survival of the fittest“. I disagree.
I believe it’s our ability to cooperate and empathize with “the other” that has allowed humans to achieve much, and ultimately to survive.
I can hear the howls of protest and derision even as I write. I will summarize what I hear simply by saying that cooperation and empathy are not qualities of weakness or naivety, and they certainly don’t require anyone to ignore danger posed by “the other”.
However, survival requires that each one of us recognize our self in “the other” — and accept “the other” is a part of me. (A LOT MORE ON THAT IN ANOTHER POST)
Sadly, our human species seems to be evolving in the opposite direction, ultimately a dead end, and a path destined to bring much suffering along the way.
It’s far easier for me to conjure up “the other” than it is for me to conjure up “the larger family” … “we are one”. I can see our differences and easily ignore our similarities.
So what does this thesis have to do with Israel – Palestine and the two examples I set out above? Don’t be fooled. It is
- not to forget who is the occupier and who is the occupied
- not to forget the past and current injustices
- not to equate all voices and all perspectives as valid
It is simply to see “the other” as a member of “the larger family” … “we are one” … flaws and all.
We are losing that ability to see “the other” in this evolutionary way every time we dismiss “the other” — such as Colum McCann’s book and Rami Aman’s Zoom chat.
McCann’s voice contributes a meaningful perspective about “the other” regardless of whether you are an Israeli considering your Palestinian neighbors, or a Palestinian considering your Israeli neighbors, or anyone else in the world considering the human suffering in the Middle East.
Aman’s voice on that Zoom chat contributed a meaningful perspective about “the other” too—as did the young Israelis on the other side of that chat.
When anyone attempts to shut down these examples of seeing “the other”, he or she is simply trying to redirect the human species down the dead end cul-de-sac. It saddens me and I pray they don’t succeed.
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