Mock checkpoint brings the experience of Palestinian students to Columbia University
Nov 20, 2010
For more information visit Columbia SJP and the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University.
Nov 20, 2010
Outside on such a beautiful fall day, and I reflected with angst that I’d been unfair to Noam Chomsky in this post of last week, where I characterized his dismissal of Walt and Mearsheimer as “ethnocentric.” A friend corrected me a day later, and I failed to amend. If Chomsky is wrong about W&M (and I think he is), his error doesn’t spring from ethnocentrism, but a scientific-materialist reading of policy-making (which regards an individual’s ethnic identification and sentiment as so much noise). The fact that Chomsky was raised in an ethnocentric household is not evidence that he’s ethnocentric today. Jesus– a lot of us grew up and out of that kind of rearing. Tony Judt did, for instance. My apologies to Chomsky for a cheap shot.
Nov 20, 2010
Caren Levy-Van Slyke
The skeptics told us that this would never happen – and we were not too sure ourselves.
Last year, members of the Chicago-area Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine (CJPIP) began developing a new public education campaign. After a decade of creating successful events, we were concerned that our audiences were largely made up of people who already understood the situation on the ground in Israel/Palestine and the role of U.S. policy in the conflict.
How, we asked ourselves, could we spend less time “preaching to the choir” and more time reaching fellow-Chicagoans who don’t have access to information about the U.S. role in perpetuating the conflict? Inspired by the Albuquerque Stop $30 billion to Israel billboard campaign, we decided to take the issue of military aid to Israel directly to tens of thousands of Chicago area commuters who travel the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) system.
We designed an ad campaign with a simple, thought-provoking graphic and text message that runs counter to the false dichotomy that requires people to be either “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine.” Our ads show side-by-side photos of Israelis and Palestinians together with this three-part invitation: “Be on our side. We are the side of peace and justice. End U.S. military aid to Israel.” The ads direct people to our website: www.TwoPeoplesOneFuture.org, which contains content and action ideas for newcomers to the issue, as well as for issue-veterans.
As our target date approached, we could not get confirmation that the ads would go up for our announced date in early October. Maybe the skeptics were right – this campaign would never see the light of day. Undaunted, we were insistent on a response – positive or negative. Our persistence paid off, and the ads went up as scheduled.
Our CTA “ad buy” bought posters both on train cars and in underground waiting areas in downtown Chicago – sites that thousands of Chicagoan commuters pass through daily. We chose October as our launch date to get the message out to as many people as possible. Between the crowds on the trains for the annual LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon on October 10 and the massive outpouring for the annual Columbus Day parade on October 12 in downtown Chicago – we couldn’t get much better exposure.
Our central message is this: U.S. military aid is counterproductive for Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans and will not lead to a just and lasting peace. We also want to alert the public that the U.S. government had signed a “Memorandum of Agreement” to provide Israel with $30 billion of military aid between 2009 and 2018. Obviously, this is a blank check allowing Israel to do whatever it wants with impunity—even if it runs against the interests of the American taxpayer who foots the bill.
To build the campaign, we drew on the expertise and enthusiasm of other Chicago area individuals including members of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Chicago Middle East Program, Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago (JVP), Chicago Arab-Jewish Partnership, and the Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Policy. We also are grateful to the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation which has allowed us to link to invaluable action and informational resources.
The response has been terrific. In just a few weeks, thousands of visitors have flocked to the website and hundreds of people have joined our active Facebook page, which posts new information or action steps every day. Interest in the campaign extends far beyond the Chicago area; coverage on popular blogs (including Mondoweiss) has drawn visitors to the website from 48 countries around the globe.
As the ad buy ends, we are keeping the momentum going. We have produced packages of 4” x 6” full-color Pocket Cards based on the popular Fast Facts page on the website. We encourage people to use these cards for “guerrilla marketing” by passing them along to friends and acquaintances or using them as “leave-behinds” in high-traffic public spaces such as airports, libraries, cafes, university buildings, doctor offices, etc. Information on picking up the cards in Chicago or in having them sent outside of the city is found on the Pocket Cardpage on the website.
The campaign is spreading beyond Chicago. One of the most popular pages on the website is Bring the campaign to your city. This page contains four basic “how-to-get-started” steps for launching the campaign in other areas of the country. Since the ads and website are already created, we think of this as a “campaign in a box” that can be replicated in other media markets by activists who, like us, want to reach past the “usual suspects” to find big, new audiences.
Here in Chicagoland, we’re already raising the funds to make another ad buy on the CTA. Many people have already made contributions to the campaign because they are excited to see that we have pushed the door open for a robust public debate on the tragic consequences of U.S. military aid to Israel.
Caren Levy-Van Slyke is a founding member of the Oak Park, Illinois-based Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine (CJPIP), which will be sponsoring the Tenth Annual Walk for a Just Peace in Spring, 2011. Be on Our Side, a project of CJPIP, can be reached via the campaign website at Contact Us.
Nov 20, 2010
With 25 years of experience under my belt analysing the Middle East conflict, and as a close observer of US foreign policy with a pragmatic attitude toward its realist exigencies, I have never seen anything as destructive, humiliating and ruinously conceived as the “incentive” package now being offered by the US to Israel for a 3-month settlement freeze. It is our country’s foreign policy nadir: a deal is so damaging to US interests that it is hard to find words for it. What can be said plainly is that US citizens – yes, even those jaded, tired, embittered, disillusioned folks who have watched this stuff for too long – have to rise up and move fast to stop this, in the name of our country’s future.
Let us briefly consider just what’s being proposed here. Israel has been asked (asked!) to freeze illegal settlement construction in the West Bank for a lousy three months in the interests of the so-called peace process.
This brief hiatus is purely cosmetic. Jewish settlements in this occupied territory have been steadily and deliberately eradicating taking over East Jerusalem and the West Bank for over 40 years. The whole full-bore settlement construction programme makes open nonsense of partition now, as well as the putative “peace process”, by “eating the pizza”. But Israel has refused even a short-term freeze. And the US, egg all over its face, is being reduced to bribing the Israelis with a mind-boggling package of incentives – $3 BILLION in military hardware, equivalent to Israel’s annual automatic US package – just for three months of a partial freeze on construction, after which construction will continue unabated.
Israel’s refusal to freeze settlements even temporarily should surprise no one: the enigma is rather that anyone still finds that refusal confusing. Israel’s strategy for annexing the West Bank is recorded in Israeli government maps and settlement Master Plans dating back decades. For reasons too complicated to summarise here, deep divisions in Israeli society and politics make changing that policy effectively impossible at this late hour, as it is entrenched in Israeli doctrine, politics, policy and practice at levels so deep that the State’s very survival is implicated in it. The entire Israeli government, from the Agriculture Ministry to the World Zionist Organisation, is fully involved in and committed to building the West Bank settlements. But no one in the White House seems to have told President Obama this. He has already been deeply humiliated in world eyes when he insisted that Israel freeze settlement construction and Israel (predictably) gave him the diplomatic finger. Ever since that debacle, he has looked like a tin man in Middle East politics.
Many wondered – first when, then whether – the US might find some spine with Israel over a situation so obviously damaging to the country’s image and interests. But Obama’s language about the settlements lately has been mealy stuff about “unhelpful” and “both sides”. As billions of tax dollars sink into the Afghan morass and US soldiers are shot down in ditches, the US superpower can’t get Israel to do diddly to help out and isn’t willing even to try. On the contrary, the US is committed to helping Israel do the opposite of what it urgently needs and what its own rhetoric asks for.
Normally, of course, the US would just strong-arm the Palestinians. But the Palestinian Authority is down to its last thong of dignity and even this is ready to snap. It can’t participate in a peace process that’s so openly idiotic. Politically, and despite the partial economic benefits that appointed Prime Minister Fayyad has brought to a narrow sector of Palestinian society in the West Bank, the PA is on the brink of implosion. Looking too much like a stringed puppet dancing in an empty diplomatic theatre, “negotiating” for a territory vanishing day by day, Mr. Abbas confronts a level of shame that even hard-core PA cronies have to consider soberly.
For years, he has cultivated the image of a much-abused Palestinian patriot on the brink of resignation, enduring endless insults from Israel and the US only to do his best by the Palestinian people. But that always dubious story is crumbling to reveal a sordid truth: whatever its individual members’ intentions, the PA is effectively a cluster of native clients sucking up funds and graces from enemy patrons who are happy to pay a self-serving indigenous elite to keep the native masses quiet. This classic colonial deal can be sustained only as long as the Palestinian people as a whole are not smacked in the face with it.
But why does the US care about sustaining this farce? To understand the outlandish military deal now being offered, we have to recognise the whole Middle East “peace process” as a survival pact. The US needs the PA to help keep alive the whole fake story about the PA – Oslo’s “Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority”, supposedly “interim” to full Palestinian independence but actually “interim” to Israel’s final victory – to achieve what it needs to do in Afghanistan. Israel still needs the PA, too, because otherwise Israel will be identified for what it is: an Apartheid state. The Ramallah-PA elite relies on the coloniser’s needs — indirect rule of the natives – for its very existence. So everyone needs the game a little longer and, if all goes right, it will work out for all of them.
The US and Israel assume that when Israel’s eastern border (marked by the Wall plus the Jordan Valley) is finally consolidated, the PA will serve as the “self-government authority” – language straight out of the South African Bantustans, not incidentally – that will keep the natives quiet in assigned “reserves” which may or may not be called a state. The Ramallah PA hopes to land on its feet: a native elite that can enrich itself on sweetheart deals with Israel that it will cultivate by ensuring “security”. Counting on this pact, Israel need contemplate no true change to settlement policy because, token protests aside, the PA will take whatever it can get. No one in the US government really cares where Israel decides to put its borders, so the US government will not insist on any change either. The only concern is keeping up appearances. The short-sightedness of this plan is obvious and sad: it can’t but culminate in Palestinian revolt, Israeli violence, security dilemmas throughout the region and periodic regional upheavals. But then, colonists always assume that colonialism will win out somehow.
Even sadder is that the US actually has immense power in this situation and need do very little to deploy it. All it has to do to alter the entire power balance in the Middle East – in the interest of its own desperate situation in Afghanistan and its credibility as a world power – is sit back and abstain in the UN, leaving Israel to face the monumental international opprobrium that is brewing around its multitudinous human rights violations and sins against international security. Instead, the US is now doing the opposite: promising openly to protect Israel from any such blame, however legitimate, and handing over twenty – TWENTY – F35 stealth attack jets, the latest in US military stealth equipment, as well as unnamed satellite intelligence capacity and other cutting-edge technology.
And for what? A 3-month token freeze that will end with Israel bouncing back to exactly the same strategy as before, putting the US back in the same impossible situation by February 2011.
Of course, it’s unlikely that the US is really doing this. Probably the deal was in the works anyway – maybe to capacitate Israel to strike Iran, in reality or as a threat – and some pro-Israel fanatic in the White House thought it might make slightly better sense to the world if cast as a sweetener to Israel regarding the always-fictive “peace process”. The opposite is true: attaching this colossal military transfer to a 3-month diplomatic nod from Israel makes the US look like a giant on its knees to a local mafia thug, handing over the family jewels (in both senses?) to cover the next short-term protection-racket instalment.
It announces to the world that the US has no foreign policy leverage whatever and is reduced to giving away its best goods for the slightest temporary cooperation by a rude ally that claims openly to control its foreign policy. It also announces to the world that we are ready to destabilise the entire planet to plead for the most immaterial of Israel’s diplomatic graces. It indicates an infatuation with Israel so craven as to betray the foundations of our country’s essential interests – to remain a credible power in world affairs. (And let’s not even go into how deeply it abuses and insults the millions of desperate jobless Americans for whom $3 billion in mortgage assistance, education and job training could make all the difference – and whose children are being killed or maimed in Afghanistan as this disgusting deal goes forward to make their lot worse.)
I don’t usually speak like this, but this is a matter for US patriots. I don’t mean tea-party dolts, I mean liberal principled citizens people who – even grown cynical after decades of disappointments and disillusionments – still in their hearts really care about the US and what we always believed it was founded to become. And I include people who don’t much care one way or the other about the Middle East.
For, although it will indeed be ruinous for the Middle East, and catastrophic for US relations with the Middle East, this crisis isn’t only about the Middle East. We cannot possibly hand over vast first-strike armaments at the tune of $3 billion on the utterly shaming rationale of coaxing an arrogant local power into a minor diplomatic gesture with a dinky 90-day limit. Doing so would mark the end of the US as any kind of sensible player in the world.
Virginia Tilley is a professor of political science and international relations and author of The One-State Solution. She lives in Cape Town and can be reached at [email protected]. Thanks to John Haines for circulating her piece first.
Check out Laila El-Haddad’s new book Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between
Nov 20, 2010
The video above is from an event Thursday night at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC launching Laila El-Haddad’s new book Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between. El-Haddad is a journalist and blogger from Gaza who maintains the Gaza Mom blog and has now published a book based on the blog. You can learm more about the book, and buy it, on the Just World Books website.
Nov 20, 2010
Mohammed Rabah Suliman
In the early 1980s my father was illegally crossing the borders as he stamped his passport with forged seals of the countries he wished to visit, from Libya to Syria, then on to Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia he settled for 16 years, though he did not remain in one place for long and carried on his habit, moving from Al-Riyadh to Jidda, and from Jidda to Tabook— where I was born, and lastly coming back home. His brother, meanwhile, had already settled himself in a land far more handsome and graceful, mild and sunny, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean sea far from the baking wilderness of the Arabian Peninsula. He had already gained a wide reputation as the best T.V. technician in the Galilee. By then, he had his own shop, and diligently worked so as to preserve his place in that heaven; he feared nothing more than the prospect of going back to a flaming Gaza.
I care not how low, inconsiderate, and void of principles this man might be regarded, nor do I care how discreet and realistic his attitude toward life was. He married an Arab-Israeli girl of fifteen from Kofor Kana, who as she crossed our doorstep in Beit Lahya thirteen years ago had already brought him three sons and two daughters, who joined the loosely connected extended family to which I belong.
That was the only time I met my uncle’s family, and before that I had no clue that I had an uncle from Israel! I was nine years old in those days. “Israel” was something completely unlike the “Israel” I know, hear, meet and think of at the present. All I knew about Israelis— or “Jews” for I used the two words synonymously back then, and they are still used interchangably amongst many Palestinians, especially little children like me at that time who knew nothing of the huge difference between the two terms; all I knew about “Israel” is that they were my most hated enemy, the worst enemy I could ever think of.
The first time I was taught about antitheses and contrasts, the teacher asked us to come up with a few examples of contrasts, so my mate sitting next to me wrote him a few words among which there were two in particular that, upon seeing, the teacher smiled: they were “Israel” and “Palestine”. “Israel and Palestine? Yeah, why not?” the teacher said before he went to check the other mates’ answers. When I wanted to curse some mate and made him feel really bad, all I needed to do was call him a “Jew”, referring to one of those near Jews who settled in the land we perceived as ours. I still remember how whenever I heard the word “Israel”, I just thought of death. I believed I was to be killed by a helmeted soldier, pointing his gun toward me. In short, I really hated Israel. It was enough of a shock to me when my uncle and his family from Israeli came along paying us a visit at home.
“Get ready, Mohammed! Now you’re gonna meet your ninth uncle,” My mother said to me, and observing my and my brother’s cold and passive reaction, she attempted to put on some sentiment of gratified excitement and continued, “from Israel; it’s gonna be something amazing…I mean you all will finally meet your uncle from Israel!”
And It worked. I got all excited. To meet somebody from there. From Israel. And that somebody is none other but my uncle, my ninth uncle who I hadn’t met yet. That would be really exciting. Nothing could have made me more excited than that. My heart swelled, and I felt I finally got something to boast about: something to steal my mates’ attention. I fancied that scene where, encircled by a whole lot of my classmates, all gaping with esteem in their eyes and listening attentively, I would tell my exceptional story with my Israeli uncle and his family. I was overwhelmed in part by the angst and beauty of the word ”Israel”.
This time all the dread, the horror, the agitation, and the disgust “Israel” usually sparked in my chest whenever I heard the word, all turned to a curious feeling that kept me hopeful that this uncle of mine would be unlike the rest. The fact that he was coming from Israel led me to think that be could be different. But then, there was that thought which struck me with its vitriolic harshness and acridity. I couldn’t get one question out of my head —how can I have an uncle from Israel?
Here began my journey of realization to the actual nature of a conflict that I had been hearing about since my early childhood. Israel was until that moment only an abstract, something remote and unreachable; it was in the middle of nowhere. I heard people talk of Israel; some talked of its breathtaking charm, its adorable environment, luxurious livelihood, splendid beaches, seductive and pretty women. The other image, however, was largely the fruit of what I heard on the news; occupation, brutality, killing children, demolishing homes, uprooting trees and olives and the like…Neither was real.
“How can I have an uncle from Israel?” Failing to figure it out for myself, I asked my mother.
“You already have one. His name is Kamal,” My mother told me. This answer didn’t satisfy my curiosity, and only added to my growing puzzlement. “How can he be named Kamal, and he is from Israel at the same time?” I thought to myself. My mother, however, as if my thoughts were laid out before her, resumed, “He is an Arab, just like us, but he lives in Israel. They call them Israeli Arabs. There are a great many of them living in Israel.”
The certainty of my mother’s statement left me no chance to doubt or bargain. And I still could not understand. As I reflect on it now, I believe that this situation brought together all the paradoxes of the conflict for me. My astonishment knew no boundaries, and even though I wanted to know more, to argue, to understand, and to tell my mother she was wrong, to tell her Israel and Palestine can never meet, it seemed the more I knew, the less satisfied and more confused I became. I thus decided to leave it at that point.
My uncle and his family at last arrived. I could now search for answers to the too many questions that roamed across my head by myself, and it was not too long before I had my first observation, which was not really naïve for a child at my age, living in a very closed environment and conservative society. Up to that moment all the women I had seen in my life were all wearing a scarf. To me a scarf was part of a woman’s body, of her face. My Israeli aunt was hence the first woman who I saw not wearing a scarf; and, as if I had not believed my mother to this point, this would have convinced me that my uncle and his wife had in fact come from Israel. I got alarmed and wanted to quit this company at once.
However, no sooner did I have my first observation about my aunt that she shocked me, and kept me from leaving. Probably noticing our diffidence, she very jovially and friendly bid me, my brother and sisters to come closer, in fluent Arabic! My mother was right. Those are Israeli Arabs (or Arab Israelis.) This was the first and only time I had a direct contact with people said to be Israelis.
The disparity between how I looked upon these people at that time and now is immense.
As I grew up and started to learn the facts about Palestinians in Israel, who also led a life of similar inhumane, subjugating, factual procedures, I felt my affection and devotion to the “Israeli Arabs” grow day by day, and understood that their suffering is by no means less than the Palestinians’…
I now understand they are part of neither “Israel”. A direct object of Israel’s discriminatory policies; looked down on as inferior enemies; regarded with contempt as Arabs; living in a racist Jewish state and obliged to swear allegiance, jailed and punished for sleeping together with Jewish women; neglected as an unwanted minority; treated with wicked brutality by the police; that we are of the same Palestinian identity, originally compatriots; every bit of that I now very well understand.
Mohammed Rabah Suliman, 21, is a student of English Literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. He blogs at http://msuliman.wordpress.com/.
Nov 20, 2010
Here’s another historical reenactment, this one courtesy of Blogging the Casbah:
Nov 20, 2010
Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel has basically accused me of being a racist, after referring to Avigdor Liberman as a Homo Sovieticus. I contend that claim.
The term “Homo Sovieticus” has a very distinct meaning. It refers to someone who accepted basic Soviet thinking, including blind acceptance of claims made by authority and isolation from and hatred of the outside world. You could add several other symptoms of the Soviet systems – disregard of human rights, contempt for democracy and the democratic process, and rampant racism towards “uncivilized people”, such as Asians or Muslims – and you would have described Avigdor Liberman, as well as most of his followers, to a T.
I never claimed that Israel was ever progressive; I am well aware of Israeli history. I have very little patience with yearning for the lost “little Israel” of 1967, if only because it still imposed military rule over its Arab citizens until, officially, 1966.
But to say that the massive influx of Soviet émigrés into Israel did not make it a more racist place is, so sorry, nonsense. The Soviet emigrants tilted Israel sharply to the right. Yes, there are exceptions; there are always exceptions, but exceptions are precisely that. A recent poll, looking for signs of fascism in Israel, found most Israeli reject the notion of a “strong leader” – but 53% of the Soviet émigrés support one. They still do, in the old homeland, where Putin is king and Stalin is making a comeback. Russian Jews have, to some extent, brought Russian political mores with them to Israel. Pointing out the obvious is not racism.
In the same vein, to say that the rising numbers of Jewish Orthodox in Israel has nothing to do with the rise of racism and human-hatred in Israel is, sorry again, patently bullshit. For the vast majority of the Jewish population in Israel, Judaism is the fuel which drives their racism. Polls have shown, time and again, that the more an Israeli identifies himself as an Orthodox Jew, the more likely is he to be racist and intolerant.
I made remarks regarding Liberman’s poor Hebrew. I stand by them, due to the – perhaps quaint – belief that if you want to be the Foreign Minister, then you bloody well have to master at least one of the official languages of the country, particularly if you claim to “speak Arabic”, i.e. being able to intimidate Arabs. Liberman is here since 1978. He had time to learn, but apparently that’s not important enough for him.
And finally, there is something exceptionally loathsome in an émigré whose politics are based on the idea of expelling the native population. If saying so means being called an Ahusal, I guess I’ll have to live with it.
Nov 20, 2010
Here’s a great coincidence. Henry Siegman, a longtime Jewish leader, and Noam Sheizaf, a young Israeli journalist, both said exactly the same thing in the last week:
Siegman: “Israel’s… denial of all rights to millions of Palestinians for nearly half a century…”
Sheizaf: “Palestinians are real people, people older than the age of almost everyone in this room, almost, who have never been one day in their life free.”
You’d think that Noah Feldman, who teaches law at Harvard Law School and who cares about power politics but also about universal human freedoms, might acknowledge the sad state of Palestinian freedoms for just one second.
But in his column on peace negotiations in tomorrow’s Times there is not a word about Palestinian statelessness or occupation. There’s this moment:
And if an Israeli-Palestinian deal were to emerge, new circumstances would give rise to new possibilities. In the wake of such a deal, Hamas would have the incentive to evolve from rejection of Israel to pragmatic acceptance and grudging formal acceptance — the path followed by the P.L.O. under Yasir Arafat.