Dorothy Online Newsletter

NOVANEWS

Dear Friends,

The 7 items below begin with the link to the latest ‘Today in Palestine.’

This is a particularly important compilation with much information that you should have.  Please, therefore, glance through all the summaries before you decide which to read in full.  One of the items (the last one) coincides with one of the items (5) below.  In other words, there is much important news that does not make the mass media.

Item 2 reports that the Mavi Marmora, the ship boarded by Israeli soldiers during the first flotilla, and on which 9 people lost their live, will not sail in the upcoming flotilla.

Item 3 is really an odd one.  A person who was born in Israel discovers suddenly that he is not Jewish, and is investigated following statements he made to Haaretz.  You have to read this one!  Israel is not only becoming more fascist, it is also more and more becoming a state governed by Jewish religious law!

Items 4 and 5 are both about the Palestinian initiative of asking the General Assembly to recognize its statehood.  Item 4 responds to two previous commentaries published in the LA Times.  In contradiction to these, Victor Kitten explains that it is not the UN that will decide on Palestinian statehood, but rather the individual countries that are members of the UN.  In item 5 Lames Adonis argues that the Oslo accords replaced international law regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  The Palestinians, by going to the General Assembly and asking for recognition of statehood, return the issue to International law.  How much difference that will make on the ground is another issue, but nevertheless international law is a safer measure than agreements that Israel has never observed.  Of course Israel has also ignored international law and UN resolutions that Israel’s leaders disagree with.

Items 6 and 7 are both about gender issues.  Item 6 reports that the United Nations Human Rights Council “made a historical decision to adopt the first-ever UN resolution on the rights of homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons (LGBT),” and also sees HRC improvement on issues concerning Israel.  I found this interesting, as it contrasts immensely with a Yet report on the current HRC. The Yet report (link below, in item 6) denigrates HRC attitudes towards Israel.  One would think that the 2 reports are about different bodies.  But no. They are merely 2 different impressions of the same object.

Item 7 informs us of why Neil Grugrus founded Organization for Refuge Asylum & Migration—“a small, nonprofit group based in San Francisco. ORAM is the only worldwide organization focused exclusively on helping women and gays flee persecution because of who they are.”

Lots to read, but think how much better informed you  will be if you manage to plow through it all!

All the best,

Dorothy

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1.  Today in Palestine

http://www.theheadlines.org/11/17-06-11.shtml

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2.  Washington Post,

June 17, 2011

Turkish charity says its ship won’t be part of flotilla

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/turkish-charity-says-its-ship-wont-be-part-of-flotilla/2011/06/17/AGIB5hYH_print.html

By Joel Greenberg

JERUSALEM — The Turkish charity that was the main organizer of a planned aid flotilla to Gaza announced Friday that it was pulling out, citing technical problems on its ship, the Magi Marmora, which was the target of a deadly raid by Israeli commandos last year.

The Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or IHH, had been pressed by the Turkish government to shelve plans for the flotilla, an international effort by activists from 22 organizations to challenge Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Bullet Yardarm, the head of IHH, said damage to its ship after it was seized during the Israeli raid had forced the group to cancel its participation. Speaking in Ankara, he denied that the move was a result of pressure from the government, which is preoccupied with a refugee crisis on Turkey’s border with Syria.

The Magi Marmora was to have been the flagship of the flotilla, carrying hundreds of activists. Other groups with smaller vessels have said they will continue their preparations to sail to Gaza. According to organizers, the flotilla is expected to comprise 10 to 15 ships carrying activists from various countries, who will converge at sea south of Cyprus later this month.

On Thursday, the Israeli military said it would use force if necessary to stop the flotilla, and warned that if soldiers were met with violence, there could be casualties among the activists on board.

The warning, delivered by a senior military officer at a briefing with foreign journalists, was part of a diplomatic and media campaign that, along with publicized navy preparations, appears intended to head off the attempt to challenge the blockade.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this month that the flotilla should be delayed until the impact of Egypt’s recent opening of a border crossing with Gaza became clearer.

An Israeli naval commando raid on a similar flotilla in May 2010 led to the death of nine people aboard a Turkish vessel carrying activists. The raid drew international condemnation, which in turn forced Israel to ease its land blockade of Gaza.

The high-ranking Israeli officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the military, said the navy was determined to enforce what he called a “maritime security blockade.” He said the blockade is aimed at stopping arms transfers to Gaza and had “nothing to do with humanitarian supplies.”

The officer said that militants in Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, were arming themselves with rockets to attack Israel. The sea, he said, was their biggest potential supply route.

“We cannot and will not let any ship get into Gaza,” the officer said. He asserted that although the flotilla was not expected to be carrying weapons, allowing any breach of the blockade could open the door to such shipments in the future.

“A maritime security blockade is legal only if it is effective and complete,” the officer said. “You cannot have a selective blockade.”

The officer said the navy is training to intercept the flotilla ships using non­lethal means and avoiding close-quarters contact between troops and activists, which could result in casualties. Video footage of a navy drill made available by the military showed water cannons trained on ships simulating flotilla vessels.

The officer said, however, that “if there is violence that puts our soldiers’ lives in danger, we will have to respond, and there may be injuries and casualties.”

In last year’s raid, Israel said its commandos opened fire because they were attacked by activists when they rappelled onto the ship from helicopters.

In a public signal to the organizers of this month’s flotilla, the deputy commander of the Israeli navy, Rear Adm. Rani Ben-Yehuda, went before television cameras Thursday and invited the activists to dock in the Israeli port of Ashdod so that their cargo could be transferred by land to Gaza.

A similar offer last year was rejected by flotilla organizers, who asserted that their aim was to breach the naval blockade and bring supplies to Gaza free of Israeli controls.

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3.  Haaretz,

June 18, 2011


Israeli investigated on his Jewish status after Haaretz interview

Kibbutz resident Itai Bar believes a Family Affair article is to blame for his case being ‘blocked’ at the population registrar office; in the article, Bar is quoted as calling himself a ‘Shabbes goy.’

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/israeli-investigated-on-his-jewish-status-after-haaretz-interview-1.367961

By Nir Hasson

An Israeli citizen may have his classification as “Jewish” withdrawn by the Interior Ministry in the wake of a newspaper interview he gave. In an interview for the Family Affair section of Haaretz Magazine, in May, Itai Bar, a resident of Kibbutz Shoval in the south of the country, disclosed he wasn’t Jewish.

Bar, 35, was asked by journalists Avner and Reli Abrahami to recount his family story for their weekly column. Bar’s father, a Catholic, arrived at the kibbutz as a volunteer after the Six-Day War, where he met Bar’s mother, the daughter of a Catholic mother and a Holocaust survivor father. Bar was born in Shoval and Hebrew is his native language. He mentioned in the interview that he is mistakenly described as Jewish in his ID card, but still serves as a “Shabbes goy” at the kibbutz dairy.

Three days ago, Bar arrived at the population registrar office in Be’er Sheva to obtain a document he needed. To his surprise, the clerk there told him his case was “blocked.” He said that there was an alert about my nationality, following a report. I asked who reported it, and she said she couldn’t tell me, but it might have something to do with the Haaretz article. From her I went to another clerk, who started asking me about my grandparents. I told her she was infringing upon my civil rights.”

Later on, Bar found himself arguing with the deputy director of the office about his Jewishness. “She asked me if I was Jewish, and I said yes, I was circumcised and I celebrate the Jewish holidays.”

The deputy director subsequently unlocked Bar’s file to allow him to receive the document he came for, but warned him that his case was being forwarded to the Interior Ministry office in Jerusalem. When he pressed for the source of the information, he was told it came from the spokeswoman of the Interior Ministry.

The spokeswoman, Sabine Haddad, strongly denied yesterday she was the source of the information, and stressed that the process would not alter Bar’s legal status in Israel.

She said that the spokesperson’s office was charged with responding to media queries and preparing press clippings, not investigating people’s Jewishness.

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4,  LA Times,

June 17, 2011

Palestinian statehood: Individual nations, not the U.N., will have the final say [Blowback]

http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2011/06/blowback-palestinian-statehood-united-nations.html

Victor Kattan, a policy advisor for Al Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, responds to two June 13 Times Op-Ed articles on the role of the United Nations in determining Palestinian statehood. Kattan is the author of the book “From Coexistence to Conquest: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1891-1949.” His blog is at victorkattan.com.

In their Op-Ed articles on Palestinian statehood, Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook and John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, both misunderstood the nature and function of U.N. recognition in international law. Bolton’s claim that President Obama is “the most anti-Israel president since 1948” was particularly galling. Was it not the president of the administration in which Bolton served who claimed to have had a “vision” of an Israeli and a Palestinian state “living side by side in peace and security,” exactly as Obama wants?

As Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated recently, the option of going to the U.N. in the fall to seek recognition of a Palestinian state is a measure of last resort that will be pursued only if negotiations fail. In this regard, Abbas has repeatedly declared that he is ready to negotiate with Israel, including on the basis of the framework that Obama outlined most recently in his May 19 address.

If the Palestinians decide to seek a declaration of recognition at the U.N. General Assembly, no U.S. president or Israeli leader can prevent that. They can certainly cajole other states not to recognize Palestine, but there is no veto power in the Assembly. If, however, the Palestinians seek U.N. membership and would therefore have to earn a recommendation by the Security Council, the U.S. will have the power of veto. In light of Obama’s address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last month and 40 years of U.S. vetoes, it is highly probable that the U.S. would veto a Palestinian application for U.N. membership.

The issue of U.N. membership must, however, be separated from statehood. Palestine can still declare that it is a state and call on other nations to recognize it without seeking U.N. membership. Kosovo, Taiwan and the Vatican, for example, are considered states by some members of the international community and yet do not have U.N. membership. Switzerland only became a member in 2002, but no one would argue that it wasn’t a state before then. It is for countries individually to decide whether they will recognize Palestine as a state. The reason why the Palestinians will seek recognition at the U.N. is because this is the most convenient forum in which to seek collective recognition. The Palestinian foreign minister expects that 150 states will recognize Palestine there.

If — and it is still a big if — negotiations founder and the Palestinians feel that they have no other option but to go the U.N. route, and if 150 states do recognize Palestine in September, then Palestine will be considered a state in the eyes of those countries that recognize it but not in the eyes of those that do not. If Britain, for example, unequivocally declares that Palestine is a state and enters into diplomatic relations, then the relationship between the two will be one between states. But Palestine’s relationship with the U.S. and Israel, assuming that they refuse to recognize Palestine, would not be a relationship between states. This may seem like a tautology, but under international law recognition is solely a political matter for each state to decide.

So does the Palestinian plan to seek recognition at the U.N. make any difference, or is it merely “entertainment” as Bolton has alleged? It depends on what happens. It is not the General Assembly resolution that will make Palestine a state. It is what states say during the vote and what they do afterward. This is not a question of whether or not a resolution is binding. Abu Marzook’s comparison with the vote on the U.N. Partition Plan in 1947 is misleading, as the resolution itself did not create Israel. Rather, the 1947 plan was formulated by the international community to allow both Arabs and Jews to exercise their respective rights to self-determination upon Britain’s withdrawal from the territory. It was associated with decolonization.

Israel exists today not because of the U.N. vote in 1947 but because it won the war in 1948, when many of Palestine’s indigenous Arab population either fled or were expelled by Israel to create a Jewish majority. Israel has kept hold of the territory it acquired since that date, and it has been recognized as the sovereign power within the ceasefire lines established in 1949 by most states in the world, including the Palestine Liberation Organization.

A U.S. vote in the U.N. General Assembly against Palestinian statehood would be most unfortunate. Even “symbolic votes” affect legitimacy. In the light of the current clamor for democracy in the Middle East, the U.S. could end up positioning itself on the wrong side of history. It would also be acting against its own stated policy, as it voted in favor of the 1947 plan, which sought to establish an Arab state as well as a Jewish state. The U.S. also voted in favor of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1515 in 2003, which reaffirmed President George W. Bush’s “vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders.”

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5.  Al Jazeera,

16 Jun 2011

Palestinian statehood and bypassing Israel

Israel breaks international law and UN agreements under the guise of “protecting state legitimacy”.

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/06/20116168535227628.html

Lamis Andoni

Israel uses territorial and demographic change as terms of reference when building illegal Jewish-only settlements and displacing Palestinians [GALLO/GETTY]f

Israel, backed by the US, has started a campaign to preempt a Palestinian drive to win United Nations recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israeli in the 1967 war.

If such a recognition is secured, it will neither lead to an establishment of a Palestinian state nor would it stop the continued Israeli colonisation of Palestinian lands. Nevertheless, Israel is mainly concerned that the Palestinian move would restore the United Nations resolution – and international resolutions – as the main reference for solving the conflict.

Israel has been relying on unchallenged US support and its military supremacy to create facts on the ground to prevent the foundation of an independent Palestinian state, and for that matter, any alternative solution based on equality and justice.

If anything, Israel has used the 17-year-old Oslo process to undermine international law and substitute United Nations resolutions with territorial and demographic changes as terms of reference. And it is these final status settlements that determine the permanent status of the Palestinian land and people.

Thus, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has come under tremendous pressure to abandon its campaign and return to negotiations with Israel – under the same terms that have led only to the consolidation of Israeli control of Palestinians lives and lands.

It would be wrong for the PA to buckle to such pressures, but it is more important that it deals with the campaign as part of a serious strategy, and not simply as a tactic to temporarily evade – or resume – the negotiations under new slightly altered conditions.

Palestinian officials are themselves sceptical that the campaign will succeed in winning General Assembly recognition, since they expect the US to get the Security Council to oppose the move. However, they believe that the campaign itself should encourage more countries to support the Palestinian position and further isolate Israel.

Delegitimising Israel?

The main principle of the idea should be moving away from the failed negotiations process by restoring a rights-based discourse emphasising Palestinian national and legitimate rights, as opposed to a starting point based on Israel’s self-declared “security interests” and goals.

Many Palestinians fear, however, that such a move will only legitimise the status quo of fragmented territorial enclaves, illegal Jewish settlements, and displaced populations. There are also legitimate fears that, in order to guarantee the passage of such a resolution, the PA would sacrifice the Palestinian right of return for the creation of a virtual entity that has no bearing on the facts on the ground.

The fears emanate from both a lack of faith in the PA and in the United Nations’ ability, and even willingness, to defy the United States – which vehemently opposes the Palestinian move.

In both of his recent speeches on the Middle East, US President Barack Obama said that Palestinians should abandon the plan to go to the United Nations, warning Palestinians that the US would not allow “symbolic” moves that aim at “de-legitimising the state of Israel”.

Obama is not far from the truth: Any move that invokes the application of international law and UN resolutions that recognise Palestinian rights, are in effect, acts that de-legitimise Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

But in Obama’s view, a solution should reflect the demographic changes that Israel has enforced through military power, thus legitimising Israeli acts that have no base in international conventions or law.

This official US attitude, which reflects the Israeli political position, aims at making international law and the United Nations obsolete by getting the international community – and, most significantly, the Palestinians themselves – to accept and thus legitimise Jewish-only settlements on occupied territory, the expropriation of Palestinian lands, the segregation wall and the displacement of Palestinians.

Whether the PA originally started the campaign as a political tactic or some kind of political posturing, it has found itself engaged in a serious battle over the role of international influence versus Israeli military power that will determine the future for the Palestinians.

Israel’s counter-attacks

Israel has correctly understood the meaning of such a move, and has embarked on a counter campaign that the Palestinians should not underestimate.

According to a report published by Haaretz, the Israeli foreign ministry has begun a series of international contacts and dipomatic lobbying to prevent more countries from recognising a Palestinian state.

In a secret cable sent to foreign ministry director general Rafael Barak, staff and ambassadors were instructed to describe the Palestinian move as “a process that erodes the legitimacy of the state of Israel”.

This kind of Israeli propaganda is important, not only as a tactic to portray the Palestinian move as aimed at endangering the state of Israel, but also to reflect Israel’s serious concern that the discourse will shift from Israeli conditions for negotiations to Palestinian rights – as based in international law.

It is also interesting how Israeli leaders associate the questioning of legality of Israel’s actions with the legitimacy of the state of Israel itself. Israeli leaders say that the beginning of such an examination will raise questions about the campaign of uprooting the Palestinians and the demolition of more than 450 villages that were associated with the creation of Israel.

Barak asked Israeli envoys to argue that the Palestinian pursuit of United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state is a Palestinian attempt “to achieve their aims in a manner other than negotiations with Israel”.

Therefore, in Barak’s view, Palestinians should not be allowed to invoke legitimate UN resolutions while Israel should be allowed, even supported, to pursue the illegal confiscation of Palestinian lands and displacement of Palestinian people under the guise of futile negotiations.

Although an international recognition of a Palestinian state will not automatically create a state, the campaign could obstruct Israeli and US efforts to legitimise Israeli actions. A recent Palestinian campaign, especially in Latin America – with the full support for Brazil – has increased to 135 the number of governments that recognise a Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967 – as opposed to borders defined by the territorial and demographic shifts that Israel has been trying to impose through an asymmetrical process of negotiations and military-backed colonisation.

Palestinian negotiations

But it all depends on the way the Palestinian campaign is conducted and the wording of the draft resolution that will be submitted to the UN in September. To begin with, the campaign should be viewed as one form of many forms of peaceful resistance. The Palestinian position is strong as long as there are other forms of resistance in place. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, for example, might not be coordinated with other campaigns – but it is one of the more powerful tools of delegitimising Israeli actions. Going to the UN is not sufficient, and is not enough – if not backed by a strategy of resistance that the PA does not seem to have.

However, it is the whole of the existing forms of resistance, including the popular non-violent protests that happen each and every week across the occupied territories, that will influence the international scene.

Furthermore, it is crucial that the wording of the draft resolution, regardless of the results, reiterates all United Nations resolutions, and does not subject its implementation to the Oslo peace process. It should be seen as the beginning of a process of litigating Palestinian demands and not as part of a deal to resume flawed negotiations. Otherwise, it will be subverting UN resolutions to fit the Israeli terms of negotiations and become a self-defeating campaign that will only inflect further damage on the Palestinians themselves.

The Israeli reaction so far proves that any Palestinian move away from the contours defined by the Oslo process is a serious threat to Israeli plans. Thus the PA should not bow out, but it should also be aware that the Palestinian people will not stomach or accept any short-signed tactical adventures that could bolster the PA’s international standing, but could return the Palestinians to live under the mercy of a destructive negotiation process.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.

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6.  Haaretz,

June 18, 2011


Is the UN Human Rights Council changing for the better?

Council makes historical move by passing resolution which supports rights of homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons; U.S. official says UN attitudes towards Israel are improving over time.

http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/focus-u-s-a/is-the-un-human-rights-council-changing-for-the-better-1.368342

[Compare this to the Ynet report on the HRC, an entirely different but not necessarily more correct slanthttp://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4083617,00.html ]

By Natasha Mozgovaya

Tags: Iran US Durban conference Israel US

In Israel, the United Nations Human Rights Council is a body known for its dark side. It is widely viewed as a body that spearheads attempts to delegitimize Israel and turn it into a pariah state.

The words ‘UN Human Rights Council’ arouse associations of the Goldstone Report, the UN Conference Against Racism in Durban, and its ‘star’ members like Libya, whose membership was recently suspended due to leader Muammar Gadhafi’s violent oppression of his own people.

But it appears of late that something right is starting to happen to this body, which recently passed two decisions that criticized the violence in Libya and Syria.

On Friday, the Human Rights Council made a historical decision to adopt the first-ever UN resolution on the rights of homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons (LGBT).

The resolution expresses concern for violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and calls upon the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to commission a report on the challenges that LGBT persons face around the globe.

The United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity passed with 23 states voting for and 19 against it, with three states who abstained. Among those who voted against were Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. State Department blessed Friday’s historical decision, emphasizing the efforts of sponsor state South Africa, and America’s vigorous work to help pass the resolution.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that all over the world LGBT people face human rights abuses such as torture, rape, criminal sanctions, and killing.

“Today’s landmark resolution affirms that human rights are universal,” said Clinton. “People cannot be excluded from protection simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer for International Organization Affairs, said the country’s decision to join the Human Rights Committee effected a significant improvement, and that this change has a positive impact on Israel.

“At the Human Rights Council prior to the U.S. joining in 2009, Israel was singled out for six special sessions, far too many unbalanced resolutions focused on Israel; and far too few resolutions, special procedures, or other attention were directed to the world’s most troubling and urgent human rights situations,” said Brimmer.

“The challenges continue at the Council, but the Council’s improvement through U.S. engagement is undeniable,” she added.

Brimmer emphasized the determination of the United States to “ensure that Israel is treated fairly, that its security is never in doubt, and that Israel has the same rights and responsibilities as all UN member states.”

Brimmer brought up the topic of the Goldstone Report, referring to it as “deeply flawed”, and reiterated what senior government officials have said time after that the United States opposes it. “We have been clear that we want to see UN action end in relation to the report,” said Brimmer.

Brimmer also referred to last year’s flotilla, saying the United States voted against multiple resolutions at the Human Rights Council.

“We have joined the Secretary-General in his call on Governments to use their respective influence to discourage future flotillas, and avoid unnecessary and unhelpful provocative actions that seek to bypass the effective mechanisms that exist to deliver goods and services to Gaza,” she said.

In addition to the U.S. efforts aimed directly at assisting Israel, Brimmer also noted those efforts made to exclude Iran from Human Rights Council participation.

Though Israeli diplomats admit there has been an improvement in the UN Human Rights Council’s attitude and actions towards Israel, September still lingers in the future, where a ‘Durban III’ is expected to take place – a conference that the United States will reject being a part of.

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7.  [forwarded by Rachelle]

Expanding Safe Havens For Women And Gays



http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/israel/expanding_safe_havens_women_and_gays



Neil Grungras

Group founded by a former HIAS official focuses on refugee status for persecuted women and gays.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Doug Chandler

Jewish Week Correspondent

Neil Grungras began realizing the world had a problem while working as an immigration lawyer in Israel and coming into contact with Palestinian gays, some of his first clients.
The Palestinians had come to Israel from the West Bank and Gaza, where they faced persecution and even death, Grungras recalled, but Israeli authorities refused their request for asylum, sending them back across the border.
“The coin dropped, and I realized there was this huge issue in the world,” said Grungras, founder and executive director of the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration, a small, nonprofit group based in San Francisco. ORAM is the only worldwide organization focused exclusively on helping women and gays flee persecution because of who they are, said Grungras, 52, a native of Sheepshead Bay who lives in California.
Grungras, who is gay himself, worked in Israel for 10 years as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society’s director for Europe and the Mideast. But his work with Palestinian gays came through the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University, an advocacy program he helped create.
While not disputing Grungras’ comments, a spokesman for Israel’s Consulate General in New York said Israeli authorities review the asylum cases of Palestinian gays on an individual basis.
“Palestinians of GLBT orientation may seek — and often find — refuge in Israel,” said Joel Lion, using shorthand for gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered people. But “it must be understood,” he added, “that Palestinians who illegally enter Israel are subject to deportation.”
For Grungras, though, the plight of his Palestinian clients reinforced what he had learned in earlier cases — that LGBT refugees constituted a small, isolated, frightened group throughout the world, not just in Israel, and that something had to be done to help them. That, in turn, led to the launch of ORAM two years ago.
“I felt it was time for such an organization,” Grungras said during a recent phone interview from Israel, one of several locations in which ORAM is especially active. “The need for it was urgent, and I felt the international community was ready to look at these issues.”
Persecution based on gender and sexual orientation is widespread and obvious, Grungras said, noting that homosexual acts are considered crimes in 75 countries, eight of which apply the death penalty in those cases. Women, meanwhile, face persecution or discrimination “in tens of countries,” he added.
But women and LGBTs who’ve fled their native countries don’t always find the protection they’re seeking or, at best, discover a mixed reception, creating the need for an organization like ORAM, in Grungras’ view.
The global community addressed the refugee problem through a 1951 United Nations convention, which defined refugees as those who face a “well-founded fear” of persecution “for reasons of race, religion, nationality [or] membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”
But each nation handles refugees differently, with some granting them temporary asylum and others offering them a permanent home, said attorney Rachel Levitan, ORAM’s Washington-based director of advocacy. Meanwhile, most Western nations consider those fleeing gender-based or sexual-orientation-based persecution to be refugees, defining them as members of a “particular social group,” Levitan explained. But Israeli authorities, whose system of granting asylum is relatively new, have yet to adopt that view, she said.
As a result of the widely varying rules and regulations, ORAM’s efforts differ from country to country. In the United States, for instance, the group’s Washington office is working with the State Department to develop guidelines that would expedite the cases of especially vulnerable refugees, including LGBTs. The organization also works in Geneva, Switzerland, home of the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), and in Turkey, a way station for refugees planning to locate elsewhere.
Many of ORAM’s activities are based on the knowledge that, in many cases, LGBT refugees who have escaped persecution in their native country “have landed in a place that’s not particularly safe either,” Levitan said. At times, she added, they are even attacked by other refugees. One effort to redress those problems involves a study, now being conducted for the UNHCR, to assess how the agency’s partners are treating LGBT refugees.
But it’s the group’s work in Israel that may be of most interest to American Jews.
In that regard, ORAM recently issued a 30-page report with its local partner, the Refugee Rights Clinic, on the gaps in protection for women who’ve escaped gender-based persecution and sought refuge in Israel. The woman have fled honor killings, domestic violence, rape, forced marriage and other forms of violence, the report says, but Israel has “consistently” declined to grant them refugee status.
Lion, the spokesman at the Israeli Consultate, said he and his colleagues weren’t familiar with the report and couldn’t comment on specific cases, some of which are mentioned in the study.
But the report itself describes the thinking of Israeli authorities, saying they have rejected such asylum claims “on the basis that women do not form a ‘particular social group’ and that gender-based violence is usually perpetrated by non-state actors.”
In addition, the report says, Israeli officials have contended that if they grant refugee status to these women, many from South America, Eastern Europe and North Africa, Israel would be overrun by women from those areas. But the facts suggest otherwise, Levitan said, adding that only a tiny number of the 34,000 asylum seekers now in Israel are asking for refugee status on that basis.
“The reality,” she continued, “is that most of [the persecuted women in some regions] are so vulnerable that they can’t even escape their countries.” In addition, she said, refugee status in Israel doesn’t lead to citizenship, as it does in the United States.
The situation horrifies Grungras, who believes that rejecting their claims means sending them back to more violence and possible death. He also calls it “jarring” in light of Israel’s history, as a nation founded by refugees, and the country’s allegiance to human rights. But he blames the situation on how new Israel is to the process of determining refugee status — not on any bad intent.
For decades, Grungras said, the UNHCR made all the decisions in Israel on who received refugee status and who didn’t. In more recent years, the UN commission made recommendations to Israeli officials, who then made the final determination. But the process is now entirely in Israeli hands, said Grungras, who observed that the whole phenomenon of non-Jewish refugees entering the Jewish state is also recent.
“We’re hoping that it’s simply a matter of Israeli officials not understanding the guidelines,” Grungras said, referring to the consensus that has developed throughout the West. The very fact that Israel is seen as a hospitable place by others in the Mideast, especially gays and lesbians, should be a badge of honor for Israel, he added.
Like others who battle for social justice, Grungras attributes his involvement to his own background as the child of Holocaust survivors from Poland and Germany. His mother survived the war in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, while his father worked in a slave-labor camp.
Today, looking at the global treatment of gays and lesbians, he observes that many of the countries that are hostile toward LGBTs are also hostile toward Jews.
In each case, Grungras said, “you have a small, defenseless group that can easily be marginalized, scapegoated or blamed. It’s very convenient to have an outsider group that a society can define itself by. There’s no ‘us’ without a ‘them.’ ”

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