Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What in the World is BDS?

I am certain that for most of my readers, I am preaching to the choir, but BDS stand for boycott, divestment and sanctions. Over 170 Palestinian civic, governmental and NGO groups have come together to ask the rest of the world to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.  It is a very effective non-violent method of challenging Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinian families, culture and livelihood. It worked in South Africa and with the support of  people of conscience, Israel’s Zionist government, and the average Israeli, may be pressured into altering Israel’s suicidal path.   

As I understand it, Boycott is something we can do as individuals. Divestment has to be done by groups such as corporations, church investments committees or unions. Sanctions are the responsibility of governments.

As U.S. politicians proudly proclaim that there is “no daylight” between the US and Israel, two groups of people are reacting to the truth of that statement.  First is the vast majority of people all around the globe who identify the US government and its citizens with the atrocities committed by the Zionist government of Israel. And why not?  We finance Israel’s military and expansionist agenda. We ignore Israel’s crimes and veto UN sanctions calling for Israel to abide by international law. What little credibility the US has had in the past is melting away faster than the ice glaciers of the North Pole. Our claim to be an “honest broker” is a joke. Most of the world is not laughing.

But, there is another group of people watching our relationship with Israel. It is a smaller group. They are made up of Jews, Christians and Muslims, generally called “people of conscience,” who simply recognize that wrong is not right and silence is not acceptable.  Their only authority is a voice and their weapon of choice is BDS. 

Omar Barghouti explains:

The BDS movement has dragged Israel and its well-financed, bullying groups into a confrontation on a battlefield where the moral superiority of the Palestinian quest for self-determination, justice, freedom, and equality neutralizes and outweighs Israel’s military power and financial prowess. It is the classic right-over-might paradigm, with the right being recognized by an international public that is increasingly fed up with Israel’s criminality and impunity and is realizing that Israel’s slow, gradual genocide places a heavy moral burden on all people of conscience to act, to act fast, and to act with unquestionable effectiveness, political suaveness, and nuance, and above all else with consistent, untarnished moral clarity. [1]

But, why BDS?  The simple answer is because life in Palestine is a nightmare.

BDS attracted little attention until 2009. Two things happened that year.

Israel’s bloodbath in Gaza, called Operation Cast Lead,  in December ‘08 and January ‘09, killed 1400 Palestinians, most of them civilians. All evidence showed that Israel deliberately targeted public buildings and utilities, including schools, hospitals and sanitation plants.

Next, Israel’s inexcusable attack on the humanitarian flotilla brought to public attention the deplorable conditions forced on the people of Gaza, most of them living in refugee camps having been driven out at gun point by Israel in 1948 and then again in 1967.

We hear people say such things as  “Well, what’s new. Jews and Arabs have been fighting each other for thousands of years. Let them sort it out.”  Well, “what’s new” is the imbalance of power and our responsibility for it. 

“According to Israeli statistics, four days of Israeli violence have created many more victims on our side than forty years of Palestinian violence against Israeli targets. Yet, every casualty is one casualty too any”[2]

Israel talks peace and continues to destroy homes and uproot trees, build settlements, checkpoints, and an apartheid wall.  

And Israel gets away with it.  The US has proven that it is not going to pressure, criticize or even publically admit the crimes of Israel. We have had 62 years to take a moral stand and consistently we have chosen to either look the other way or support Israel’s brutal threat to the life and liberty of Palestinians.

Let me be clear, I support the call to BDS Israel, but not just a few companies or products.  People of conscience must BDS Israel, all of it, no exceptions.  Someone has said, “In a democracy, if a few are guilty, all are responsible.”  No dominant nation in history has ever given up power without being pressured to do so. Thus, I support BDS until Israel does three things:

One - Withdraw from all occupied territory: West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Many groups, including Jewish organization, call for a withdrawal, but this only addresses the injustice committed since 1967.

Two - Offer full rights under the law to its non Jewish citizens.  As it is, Palestinians live as second class citizens within Israel.

Three - Allow the return of refugees or pay compensation to those driven out in 1948 and 1967. Some are calling for the return of only those who were alive and displaced in 1948, a number which is rapidly decreasing due to age. 

BDS must be total and complete. 

When reading about Israel, many American say, “I don’t like it, but….” 
We need to change our stance to,  “I don’t like it, therefore…”

I will not buy Sodastream, Caterpillar shoes, Ahava Cosmetics or Hewlett-Packard ink for my computer.

I will write my church representatives who will be voting in our national assembly or conference urging them to vote for divestment.

I will write congress people urging them to vote for sanctions against Israel until Israel becomes a democratic nation for all its citizens.

And having done all that, I will send a little money to JVP and  Sabeel.[3]
                                                                                    Thomas Are
                                                                                    December 19, 2013

[1] Omar Barghouti,  BDS, The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. (Haymarket Books, Chicago. 2011) p.62.
[2] Testimony of Afif Safieh  before the British House of Commons April 21, 1991. Cited in Afif Safieh, The Peace Process, From Breakthrough to Breakdown, (Saqi Books, 2010) p.144.
[3] JVP, Jewish Voice for Peace, , 147 Prince Street, Suite 17, Brooklyn, NJ  11201.
Sabeel,, Friends of Sabeel – North America, PO Box 9186, Portland, Oregon, 97207  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Muffling Mandela

Nelson Mandela is reported to have said, “The temptation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine… yet we would be less than human if we did so.”

Let us be clear, Mandela never spoke “in muffled tones” when it came to human rights and suffering for oppressed people all over the world.

All over the media, politicians and newscasters are jumping on the band wagon to sing the praises of Nelson Mandela, and rightly so.  He was one of the outstanding leaders of the world during the past century. Yet, how many leaders, political and religious, tell us the whole of his greatness. To do so would be embarrassing.

Some of his most significant sayings that are being “muffled” are:

But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinian people.[1] 

People of conscience cringe with pain when the thought of what a difference it would make in the suffering of so many people if just one major TV news anchor would emphasize this aspect of Mandela’s struggle for peace.

I believe there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO. We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel, and a lot flows from that.[2]

When challenged by Ted Koppel on ABC, Mandela responded,

We identify with the PLO because, just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self determination.

He told an Australian news media:

We agree with the United Nations that international disputes should be settled by peaceful means. The belligerent attitude which is adopted by the Israeli government is to us unacceptable.

Mandela went on to say that the ANC does not consider the PLO a terrorist group:

If one has to refer to any of the parties as a terrorist state, one might refer to the Israeli government, because they are the people who are slaughtering defenseless and innocent Arabs in the occupied territories, and we don’t regard this as acceptable.[3]

Western leaders, who until 2008, called him a terrorist are now falling all over themselves to call him a great leader. Obama puts him in the class with Lincoln, Roosevelt, Gandhi and King. Joe Biden eulogies, “The most remarkable man I have ever known in my entire life.”  I agree. But my fear is that many of those world leaders gathered to bury Mandela are hoping to bury his principles of freedom from oppression along with him.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, human rights activist and well known professor, having taught at University of Tennessee, Duke and Yale, writes:

In this week’s compilation from occupied Palestine: Today, a 14 year old child shot by Israeli sniper in the back in Jalazour Refugee Camp. A Bethlehem young man was shot by the Israeli apartheid soldier using live ammunition yesterday. Another lost his life after being in a coma for 7 months from an Israeli bullet. The apartheid state of Israel exonerated itself from the murder of Mustafa Tamimi of Nebi Selah so today we join with the Nebi Saleh community to protest and also to commemorate Nelson Mandela. Our friend Ashraf from Bili’n was Mendela. We faced a barrage of rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades. Mustafa’ younger brother Udai Tamimi was shot in the face and is now in a Ramallah hospital.  Christian communities throughout Palestine will hold special services tomorrow… Sunday December 8 in honor of Mendela.[4]

A comment of William Slone Coffin comes to mind; “Peace will come when those who are not victims of injustice feel as keenly about it as those who are.” 

Mandela lived in an apartheid state in “homelands” with no power, no military, no real economy and no control over its land, labor or resources”.  No surprise that he would identify with the Palestinians who suffer every day under the oppression of Israel.  He knew what it felt like to be labeled a terrorist because he stood up for democracy and equality. His moral authority forces us to admit that democracy and racism can never be happily married.  Speaking loud and clear, Nelson Mandela said that the world can only work from a position of truth.    It is time for our political and religious leaders to stop  muffling the tone of his voice.

                                                                                                Thomas Are
                                                                                                December 12, 2013

[1] President Nelson Mandela at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. December 4, 1997, Pretoria.
[2] Article in JTA, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Global Jewish News Source,  South African and the U.S. Leaders Dismayed over Mandela’s Remarks.  March 2, 1990.
[3] JTA article,  Mandela Angers Australian Jews with Fresh Anti-Israel Rhetoric.  October 25, 1990.
[4] Mazin Qumsiyeh, Israeli Apartheid Gift to Mandela: Myrters and Injuries. Popular Resistance, December 7, 2013.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Betrayed By His Own State

I believe the doctor was sincere.  Last month, Nancy Snyderman interviewed one of the sixty doctors and nurses who traveled from Israel to the Philippines to help treat typhoon victims. As the sick and injured came in with dehydration, respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, and fever, she asked a doctor why he would do such a thing.

“It’s a sense of helping your brothers whoever and wherever they are. It doesn’t matter your age, your color….”

Snyderman, Chief Medical Editor on the Brian Williams news hour, said that she was in “Awe” of Israel’s medics. The doctor said, “You give what you can and then you go.” Williams added, “They did it in Haiti and now they are in the Philippines.”[1]

As he spoke, I thought to myself; that dedicated doctor did not have to travel half way around the world to help his injured and sick brothers.  Just ten miles away in Israeli occupied Palestine, thousands of men, women and children desperately need medical care. But, there are no TV programs showing Israeli doctors and nurses aiding them because the “typhoon” that has hit the West Bank and Gaza is of Israel’s making.  It amazes me that Israel gets a pat on the back for helping victims of nature and almost total silence on the pain and misery caused by Israel right next door.

While Israel soaked up the admiration and applause for its humanitarian work in the Philippines, a 14 year old girl died in an ambulance detained at an Israeli checkpoint while trying to get to a hospital in Bethlehem. She was a Palestinian, therefore not included in the “sense of helping your brothers whoever they are.”[2]

Again, I think the doctor was sincere.  He represents the best of his Jewish faith as  spelled out by the Hebrew prophets. I can only imagine what was going through his mind and heart, perhaps; “Hear the word of the Lord … wash yourselves; make yourself clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice; correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17). Or even a simple, “For the Lord is a God of justice.(Isaiah 30:18).

There are a few more texts that could easily have influenced the doctor and his team:

Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of  the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not  to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;
… ? (Isaiah 58:6-7).

Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed, And do no wrong to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3).

For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrong . (Isaiah 61:8). The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed… He does not forget the cry of the afflicted. (Psalm 9:9, 12).

For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72: 12-14)

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3-4).

I believe the medical team flying to the Philippines knew these texts well. At least they were putting them into practice.

On the other hand, the state claiming their loyalty shows little allegiance to their own Jewish scriptures. From the beginning, Israel has been addicted to violence:

On April 9, 1948, in the struggle to rid the land of Arabs, the Stern Gang, headed by Yitzhak Shamir, and the Irgun, headed by Menacham Begin, both future Prime Ministers of Israel, conducted the massacre of an Arab village called Deir Yassin. Arabs say 250 were killed. Israel claims it was only 100.  The commander of the Haganah, Zvi  Ankori, described what happened:

I saw cut-off genitalia and woman’s crushed stomachs…It was direct murder. Soldiers shot everyone they saw, including women and children. Parents begged commanders to stop the slaughter, to please stop shooting.[3]

These acts of violence were designed to frighten Arabs into fleeing for their lives. Begin himself boasted:

Out of our evil, came good. This Arab propaganda spread a legend of terror among Arabs who were seized with panic at the mention of Irgun soldiers… Panic overwhelmed the Arabs of Eretz Israel. Kolonia villege was evacuated overnight… Beth-Isla was also evacuated.[4]

Sixty-five years later, little has changed. In spite of anything the Bible has to say, Israel’s regime has been a history of bloodshed and violence, not a violence of necessity, but a violence of aggression.

An Israeli chief rabbi of the Shas Party proclaims, “It is forbidden to be merciful to Arabs.” Not to be out-Zioned, Eli Yishai, Israel’s internal minister proclaimed, “You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable”[5] Arnon Sofer, the so called Arab counter, spelled out the implications of the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, “When 2.5 million people live in closed off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe… The pressure at the border will be awful. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day … If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist.”[6]

It is amazing. Netanyahu, in a letter to the president of the Philippines, wrote “On behalf of the government and people of Israel, I extend heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives … I hope Israel’s assistance will help alleviate the suffering.”  This is the same Netanyahu who bombarded Gaza in December and January '08 and ’09, killing more than 1400 unarmed men, women and children and destroying thousands of public buildings and private homes. This same Netanyahu sent night raiders to storm a humanitarian ship bringing medicine and supplies to his victims of Gaza, killing nine unarmed volunteers in international waters.

Not only has Netanyahu betrayed these sixty doctors and nurses, he has betrayed Judaism and put Jews around the world in a dilemma.

I remember Marc Ellis saying something like:  “In the early fourth century, you Christians were faced with a choice.  You could uphold the morality and compassion of your faith or you could choose the power and privilege of the state.” He went on to say, “You made the wrong choice and you haven’t gotten over it yet.”  Then fighting tears, he went of to say, “We Jews are exactly in the same spot today. We can choose the morals and compassion of our faith, or we can choose the power and privilege offered by the state.  We are also making the wrong choice.” 

                                                                                    Thomas Are
                                                                                    December 8, 2013

[1] NBC News with Brian Williams,  November 15, 2013
[2] Jerusalem, Ma’an News, 11/29/2013.
[3] Cited in Lenni Brenner, The Iron Wall: Zionist Revelution From Jabotinsky to Shamir, (London, Zad Books, Ltd. 1984). P.97. Quoted by Ralph Schoenman, The Hidden History of Zionism, (Santa Barbara,California; Veritas Press, 1988). P. 33.
[4] David K. Shipler, Arab and Jew, (Penguin Books, New York. 1968). P.40.
[5] Max Blumenthal, Goliath, Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. (Nation Books, New York, 2013) p.18.
[6] Ibid.,  p. 91.