Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’

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We Have Not Heard the Last Word!

August 31, 2012

By Elizabeth Walters

MPT Staff Member & Peace Team Member for Michigan Peace Team in Gaza

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The verdict came on August 28, 2012, when the Israeli Court declared that the military is free of blame and absolved of any wrongdoing with regards to the death of twenty-three year old Rachel Corrie on March 16, 2003. The investigation concluded that Corrie’s death was an accident and that she had endangered herself by entering a combat zone. Simply stated the court believes that Rachel chose to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and that is why she died.

Days before the verdict, at a meeting at the US embassy in Tel Aviv the ambassador, Dan Shapiro, told Rachel Corrie’s parents and her sister that the government did not believe the Israeli military investigation had been “thorough, credible and transparent”, as had been promised by Israel. (The Guardian, Friday 24 August 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/24/israel-rachel-corrie-us-ambassador

I join with people around the planet who are shocked and dismayed by this verdict.

Beginning of MPT’s Involvement:

My concern and commitment date back to the beginning. In early June 2003, Mary Ann Ford, Jim Noble and I arrived in Rafah, Gaza two and a half months after Rachel’s death and shortly after peace team member Tom Hurndall was shot in the head and journalist Jim Miller had been killed by Israeli military personnel. Also, Mary Ann and I returned to Rafah, Gaza during Operation Rainbow in 2004. In both instances, local people in Rafah, Gaza had invited Michigan Peace Team to come. Once in Rafah we were able to monitor and document human rights violations and carry out other aspects of our peace team work.

Also we were committed personally to investigate the circumstance surrounding Rachel’s death. We interviewed eye witnesses including members of the peace team of which Rachel was a part. We went to the site of Rachel’s death. In addition, we gathered, organized, and studied documents, photos and videos regarding Rachel’s death that were in the peace team office and at key agencies that had been involved in investigating the death of Rachel.

Here are some of our findings

1.   Rachel Corrie was in the right place at the right time. She was doing what people are called to do worldwide: to nonviolently protect people, homes and neighborhoods from unjust and illegal demolitions. The Israeli military was destroying homes and neighborhoods in spite of international condemnations, and concerns about violations of human rights and international law.

 2.   The dictates of human rights, international law, and moral code enjoin military personnel to make a distinction between civilians and the military and to ensure the safety of unarmed civilians.

 3.   Eyewitness accounts and documents confirm that the Israeli military was given every opportunity to be aware of the presence of the nonviolent peace team on the ground on March 16, 2003 because:

•        Rachel Corrie wore a reflector vest and the whole team wore bright clothing;

•        These nonviolent protesters posted signs for all to see regarding their presence and protest against home demolitions that day; and,

•        The peace team was using a bull horn to announce their presence and to urge the military to stop destroying the homes of Palestinians.

4.   Rachel Corrie and the whole peace team were unarmed and nonviolent. The military was armed, moving in armored vehicles, and guarded by tanks and gun towers. Clearly there was no threat to the soldiers.

5.   The ISM peace team’s expectation that they would not be shot or crushed by the military during their nonviolent protest was in my view a reasonable expectation at that time.

In spite of these findings and hundreds more, Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer on March 16, 2003 and years later, on August 28, 2012, in response to the civil suit brought to court by the parents of Rachel Corrie, the Israeli court declared the Israeli military free of blame and absolved from any wrongdoing with regard to Rachel’s death.

Today the Haaretz Digital Edition is reporting that Corrie’s mother, Cindy, put it this way at a news conference following the court ruling:

“The state has worked extremely hard to make sure that the full truth about what happened to my daughter is not exposed, and that those responsible for her killing are not held accountable.”

(Haaretz, August 31, 2012, http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/double-take/what-the-rachel-corrie-case-reveals-about-israeli-justice.premium-1.461938)

As mentioned earlier, Mary Ann and I served on MPT peace teams in Rafah, Gaza during 2003 and 2004 and I went back to Gaza on another team in 2005 with Karen Donahue and Mary Miner. Our MPT peace teams lived and worked among the people of Gaza, and along with the people, we experienced firsthand the horror of the occupying military forces.

Here are some of our lived experiences: Sealed shut, by land, sea, and air, Gaza was and is the largest prison in the world. The Israeli military continued destroying Palestinian neighborhoods, seizing land, and declaring military zones in Palestinian neighborhoods. Throughout this process, when shooting from the gun towers, tanks, helicopters the military operated as if there was little or no distinction between civilians and military personnel. Many Palestinians died at the hands of the Israeli military and more than 2000 Palestinian homes were destroyed at the border to create the so-called Philadelphia Corridor. Also, we and Palestinians living in Gaza endured Operation Rainbow in 2004.

Then in 2007, after MPT was prevented from entering Gaza, the Israeli military invaded Gaza and conducted Operation Cast Lead.

In light of both Rachel’s death AND the on-going misery of the people of Gaza it is impossible for me to believe or accept that the Israeli military is blameless and absolved of any wrongdoing.

For years, the situation in Gaza and Rachel’s death has had a lasting effect on my life and the lives of many others. We continue to remember the commitment to active nonviolence so evident in Rachel and in many Palestinian people in Gaza. In that same spirit we continue to resist nonviolently on behalf of human rights, peace, and social justice.

In closing, I want to share with you my message to the parents of Rachel Corrie:

Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Corrie!

I am grateful beyond words that you to seek justice regarding your daughter’s death while continuing to speak on behalf of Palestinians.

Do not lose heart. Know that the truth IS breaking through and a light shines on your work. Know too that the courage and love of your daughter Rachel continues to inspire and move us to action on behalf of justice for Palestinians. Know too that we have not heard the last word! The arc of history bends toward nonviolent resistance, peace, and social justice.

Your sister, Elizabeth Walters, MPT Peace Team Member who witnessed the horror of the Israeli military in Gaza during 2003, 2004, and 2005

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Review of Michael Franti’s “I Know I’m Not Alone”

April 7, 2011

L.A. Weekly called it “…achingly sincere…”, New Nationalist said it contained “…glimpses of stunning truth…a breath of fresh air.” and Hybrid Magazine commented it was “…a hopeful throw-down that preaches the message that all people are one people…”.  It won “Best International Documentary” at the Harlem International Film Festival and Amnesty International deemed it the “Audience Award Winner”.  The film is “I Know I’m Not Alone”, and it is a personal quest from musician Michael Franti to document the untold human cost of the billion dollar wars ravaging our world.  He brings us along on this musical journey, opening eyes and ears to the interconnectedness of all beings and the underlying truth that a wish for peace runs through us all.

The film was produced in 2005, a time when Iraqi citizens had been occupied by American forces for just one year. The film’s voyage begins as Michael and crew circle to the ground in their small hopper-jet in Baghdad, Iraq. Upon arrival, the group is driven around Baghdad by two Iraqi cab drivers who also serve as their translators.  The  two Iraqis warn that if the crew want to take the risk of venturing beyond CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) approved areas, they are in grave danger of being attacked, or even kidnapped by locals.  There is no security outside of the areas patrolled by American and Iraqi forces, and therefore, these American travelers as well as Iraqi citizens are at great risk.  However, Michael is intent on meeting and speaking with locals, so the risk is weighed and they venture into uncharted territory.

What happens in the rest of this portion of the film is almost magical.  Using his guitar, and newly written song, composed of one arabic word, “Habibi” (or “dear friend”), Michael breaks down the imposing proverbial walls locals have put up.  He is invited into homes, to speak, sing and laugh with people. The war for moments at a time melts away, and we are transported into the very lives of those whose meanings are intertwined with war, violence and death, yet manage to carry on living a human existence within an inhumane environment.  The gunfire becomes a part of daily life and the picture is magnified so greatly that it is no longer the war that is spoken of in neighborhoods, but all the minutia of living in a war zone; the lack of electricity, the lack of medicine and the violent roving gangs outside the CPA protected areas. People’s lives are halted and livelihoods demolished by their lack of ability to work due to power outages throughout the day.  They are rushed to hospitals and diagnosed, but cannot be treated due to the lack of medicine within hospitals.  Parents hurry their playing children inside as the sun sets, praying their home goes untouched through the night. These are the human costs of war that touch and mold the daily lives of civilians in a war zone.  These costs are not calculated when the ever increasing dollar amount ticks away through our taxes.  Through all this, however, we discover life goes on.

Still in Baghdad, a group of men bash their drum sets and attack their guitars, as ‘The Black Scorpions’ play heavy metal music in a basement next to an underground tattoo parlor.  Another group of individuals are airing this music on the first free radio station of Iraq.  Amidst the buzzing of generators women are blogging and cutting hair and selling fruit.  People are struggling to live a life set against the backdrop of gunshots, explosions and foreign military presence.  One woman blogger tells Michael Franti and his crew “…your boys and daughters are going to be killed in Iraq, and our boys and daughters are going to be killed in Iraq…and what are we fighting for?”. Here in America, we hear of the boys and girls we went to school with coming home from Iraq in body bags. We mourn them on the high school football field and we curse war and the toll it has on our friends and neighbors.  Across the ocean, other mothers, and other neighbors, and other friends, are mourning their boys and girls in ravaged streets and broken homes.  Franti quotes General Tommy Franks, U.S. Central Command stating “We don’t do body counts”.  Those who do “do body counts” such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies have revealed incredible, sobering and often terrifying findings.  From the beginning of the “engagement” in Iraq, through July of 2006 when this film premiered, according to MIT there have been an estimated 654,965 “excess” deaths (that is, deaths that are not part of “normal” life in the area).  These are the deaths of children playing in the streets, of mothers and fathers buying fruit, selling fruit, playing instruments, playing games.  These are the deaths of Iraqis searching their streets for hope and spreading a wish for peace.

However, the death toll of war is not only about how many innocent people die, but in what ways they die.  According to MIT’s report, from January 2002 (pre-invasion by American forces) to June 2006 (post-invasion phase III), non-violent death went from 98% of total deaths, to 39%.  This is to say, the percentage of individuals who died by violent means (gunshots, carbombs, airstrikes, other explosions etc.) increased by a factor of 30!  Often times, death by violence is construed much differently in one’s after life than a non-violent or natural death.  The way family and friends mourn the death is drastically altered with violence. Those left to survive the victim are often unable to accept and move past the death of their loved one when there has not been and cannot be any means of vindication, or justice brought upon the killers.  Many individuals believe the souls of individuals killed violently are unable to leave this earth, and eternally suffer their brutal killing unless certain measures are taken by those who precede them, measures which in times of war are often impossible to take.  Violence does not only effect our pocket books, and death is not the only consequence of war.  Iraq may never recover from the devastation it has endured, but as Michael Franti shows, lives move on.  People have an incredible ability to remain resilient and forge on through daily battles.  They strive to do normal things; they drive taxies, play ball, go to school, and they strive to do the abnormal as well; they make headway for future generations in their land and secure peace if it is at all possible, through music, radio, and the “blogosphere”.  Life is moving on in Iraq, but it is not nearly the life we in America have any sense of, nor are we aware of the impacts our country is having on this way of life.

After leaving Baghdad, Franti and his team travel to Israel and occupied Palestine.  They travel throughout Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and the West Bank exposing the incredible similarities that exist between these warring groups.  At the same time, he brings to light through the camera, many of the realities on the ground and the inequalities and human rights violations which are occurring in this hotly debated area.  An Israeli musician Franti encounters gets to the roots of their existence eloquently and realistically by saying “…Arab and Jewish, we are so close…eating the same food, speaking the same language, we believe in the same God, we have the same father, we have the same mom.  The problem is only about the political state.”  This could no better exemplify the truth of the matter.  There are innocent people, both Israelis and Palestinians, who want only to live their lives, reside in their homes, go to work without the fear of being harassed or killed, yet their existence is torn apart daily.

Michael speaks with “Bereaved Parents”, a group of Palestinian and Jewish parents together grieving the loss of their children to the fighting, together hoping for an end to the bloodshed.  These people have bridged their differences, we see this is possible, but there are incredible boundaries one must overcome to unite on the side of peace. One such boundary is the illegal partition built around and inside Palestinian territories, cutting citizens off from what little land they legally now own. The partition is a three story wall in places, and in others is three rows of barbed wire fencing. There are countless places where this obstacle separates Palestinians from their work, from their olive groves and from their families. They must convince an Israeli soldier to allow them to tend to their daily work, and if the soldier arbitrarily decides to deny them access, they may loose their job, their olives may go bad, their family members may die without company of families. These, along with many other obstacles, physical, emotional and mental, bar Israelis and Palestinians from seeing the common bonds that tie them and bridging the many gaps that must be bridged in order to secure a peaceful future.

Yet, through Michael Franti’s film, we become privy to the successes that are happening between individuals and the extreme perseverance of those carrying on with their everyday lives in these territories amidst violence, hatred and fear. Individuals are rising above these obstacles and in some cases speak with each other on the same emotional level.  An Israeli guard at a gate of the barrier fence actually listens as a Palestinian speaks, not blaming, not yelling, not accusing, just speaking. The two connect on an emotional level, they are no longer the wolf and the fox, speaking different languages, attacking and turning deaf ears to the other.  They suddenly are both humans, speaking to and listening to each other’s needs for basic human rights and dignity. As Michael and his crew stand beside the two, we see a need for international presence, for someone to facilitate these kinds of interactions.  We also see however, the possibility of people from two vastly different groups to come together, to bridge their differences, to speak to and from their hearts for a common wish for their sons and daughters to finally live in a land of peace.

Through his music and incredible ability to connect with people of all creeds and colors, Michael Franti opens a door for his fans and interested people world wide to be exposed to a side of war rarely touched upon in our everyday lives. The cost of war is often enumerated in tax dollars and body counts, but often the more devastating costs cannot be quantified and must only be lived and told. Franti has done an incredible job showing the minute details of every day life that are vastly affected by acts of war and violence, not initially apparent to the foreign eye. I strongly recommend taking this remarkable journey with Michael Franti as he exposes his audience to life in war through personal conversations, anecdotes and earth-shattering music!

Credit and where to find photographs used:

Sistine Chapel “Hands” reproduction on wall: www.palestinemonitor.org

Israeli Barrier Map: www.middleeastprogress.org

Man speaking to soldier: www.acus.org

Pictures of Michael Franti in various locations: www.iknowimnotalone.com

Additional information about the film and ways to get involved available at www.iknowimnotalone.com.

-Kellie Brandt-MPT Intern

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Israeli Military Trying to Close Palestinian Orphanages

April 29, 2008

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

ACTION ALERT
April 28, 2008

Contact: Joshua Walsh – communications@wrmea.com

Israel has killed 1,020 Palestinian children since 2000 and Palestinians have killed 124 Israeli children. Too many precious children have suffered and died as a result of politics. Another outrage is about to occur and you can help stop it. On April 23 a program on French TV Channel 5 highlighted a tragedy that may occur at any moment. This news is not even discussed in the United States.

The Israeli military is about to close down schools and orphanages run by the Islamic Charitable Society (ICS) in the West Bank city of Hebron. More than 240 boys and girls, aged 5-18 live at the orphanages, while thousands of other children, many of whom have lost at least one parent, receive schooling, food and clothing from the charity. The Israeli military has already seized $157,000 worth of goods — including rice, oil, sugar, clothing and first aid kits — from the ICS warehouse.

Israeli soldiers entered the Rahma Bakery, owned by the society, on April 14, destroyed the oven, and confiscated more than $43,000 of equipment, including all the display cases, refrigerators, fixtures, and most of the inventory. Upstairs, the soldiers destroyed heating ducts. This bakery provided bread for the orphanages.

MPT took this picture of the destroyed bakery

The charity has appealed to the Israeli High Court of Justice. The Israeli army claims that ICS is supporting the Hamas movement, which started in 1987. The society, founded in 1962, argues that ICS is a Palestinian charitable organization, with no political agenda, which is monitored regularly by the Palestinian Authority.
Israel and its supporters in the United States and Europe have targeted almost every charity that is trying to keep Palestinians fed, clothed, and educated. By closing this charity and others, Israel will complete the economic strangulation and even ethnic cleansing of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel’s wall and checkpoints are already preventing Palestinians’ access to jobs, fields, medical care and schools.
If the Israeli army shuts down the ICS and its projects in the city of Hebron, nearly 300 orphans will have no place other than the street to sleep. Please fax, telephone and e-mail your representatives to ask Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to stop this outrage. Ask him to show Palestinians that he does want peace by stopping this heartless eviction.

WRITE OR TELEPHONE THOSE WORKING FOR YOU IN WASHINGTON:
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
(202) 456-1414

White House Comment Line:
(202) 456-1111
Fax: (202) 456-2461

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 261-8577

State Department Public Information Line:
(202) 647-6575
Fax: (202) 647-2283

Any Senator
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-3121

Any Representative
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-3121

E-Mail Congress and the White House:
Congress: visit <www.congress.org>; for President Bush: <president@whitehouse.gov>; Vice President Cheney: vice.president@whitehouse.gov

CONTACT THE EMBASSY OF ISRAEL:
Embassy of Israel
Ambassador Sallai Meridor
3514 International Dr., NW,
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 364-5500 Fax: (202)
(202) 364-5560
 

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, PO Box 53062, Washington DC 20009. Phone: (202) 939-6050, Fax: (202) 265-4574, Toll Free: (800) 368-5788, www.wrmea.com Published by the American Educational Trust, a non-profit foundation incorporated in Washington, DC to provide the American public with balanced and accurate information concerning U.S. relations with Middle Eastern states. Material from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs may be printed with out charge with attribution to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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Israel ‘using psychological torture’, reports BBC

April 14, 2008

BBC News

(BBC News, Jerusalem) Sunday, 13 April 2008 15:07 UK

Since January, he says, he has been arrested four times by the Israeli security services, accused of stone-throwing and vandalising security cameras in the Old City.

Israel ‘using psychological torture’
Martin Asser
BBC News, Jerusalem

Gheith Nasr, 18, of the Burj Luqluq neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, has not had the ideal preparation for his high-school graduation exams in a few weeks time.

He says he has been detained each time for a few days in one of Jerusalem’s interrogation centres, and then sent home under orders not to leave the house for another few days.

The muscular, but shy and inarticulate teenager says he regularly suffered violent treatment as interrogators tried to get him to own up to crimes he says he didn’t commit – but one of his arrests stands out from the others.

“When I saw my mother being brought into the cell with handcuffs, I tell you, I would have told them anything just to save her, anything,” he said.

It happened a day after Gheith was taken off to Qishlik police station. Plainclothes officers and troops returned to the house and searched through the family’s belongings. 

Gheith Nasr\'s parents at the police station

  I was only in the room for a few seconds; we looked at each other but we were both too shocked to say anything
Um Gheith, mother of prisoner

Already in possession of their ID cards, one of the officers told the parents they must now go down to the police station where they would see their son.

‘Too shocked’

The parents were taken into separate rooms at Qishlik station. Um Gheith – the mother – takes up the story.

“There were two men in the room. I sat down and one stood behind me while the other started shouting in my face in a most aggressive and intimidating way.

“I was shocked, it was the first time I had even set foot in a police station and this man was saying horrible things about what they were going to do to Gheith.

“Then the one behind said: ‘Cuff her hands for the night’ and they put handcuffs on me and then took me along to another room, where I was surprised to see Gheith sitting.

“I was only in the room for a few seconds; we looked at each other but we were both too shocked to say anything. Then they took me out and took off the handcuffs.”

After an hour Mrs Nasr was brought back into the cell for another short and wordless encounter. Then she and her husband were given back their IDs and released.

In the meantime, Mr Nasr had also been taken in to see Gheith, minus handcuffs and an initial “softening up”, but with instructions from a secret service man to encourage the boy to confess.

“I did nothing of the kind,” the genial hospital goods supplier told me. “I sat together with my son for about 10 minutes, asking him how he was and how they were treating him, and saying a few things to keep his morale up.

“Then the officer came back and Gheith was then taken away. The officer asked whether my son was going to own up. I said: ‘He has done nothing’ and the officer replied: ‘You are a liar!’ 

Suicide attempts

In a statement, Israel’s domestic security agency, the GSS or Shin Bet, said it never detains suspects’ relatives or gives false information to detainees to obtain confessions.

“Terrorist investigations are conducted by the Shin Bet according to the [1999] Supreme Court ruling [limiting interrogation methods], under the restrictions of the law and the tight supervision of the Justice Ministry and the courts,” the statement said.

Human rights group the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) says a pattern has emerged recently of the security forces using such tactics with Palestinian interrogees. 

It has published detailed evidence of six sample cases from the last year by the GSS.

The parliamentary constitutional and legal committee has taken the unusual step of scheduling a hearing hours after publication. 

  Manipulating innocent family members is morally reprehensible whatever the danger
Eliahu Abram, PCATI

 The cases are all far more serious than that of Gheith Nasr in security terms, involving terrorism charges, but the interrogation tactics appear exactly the same.

When Mahmoud Sweiti, accused of belonging to the Hamas military wing in Hebron, was shown his wife and father, who was dressed in a prison coat, he twice attempted suicide, the report says. 

In another testimony, the mother and brother of another prisoner – Said Diab – say they were both detained and that he was forced to secretly watch them being violently interrogated, as he claimed to have been himself.

“Presenting close family members as suspects or under interrogation puts the real suspect under incredible psychological pressure, which can be as bad – if not worse – than physical torture,” says PCATI legal consultant Eliahu Abram.

“The General Security Service may think that between beating a prisoner and showing him his mother crying in detention, the latter is the more non-abusive way, but it is not,” he told the BBC.

Violent techniques

“The prisoner feels a sense of powerlessness and responsibility for what is happening to their loved-one – there is no telling whether information obtained in this way is reliable,” Mr Abram said.

He agrees the domestic intelligence service has to do all it can to investigate the terrorism threat which Israel faces from resourceful and determined foes.

“But that is no justification; manipulating innocent family members is morally reprehensible whatever the danger.”

The use of violent interrogation techniques is prohibited under Israeli and international anti-torture laws, but Mr Abram says the Supreme Court has allowed the use of “trickery” to obtain information.

PCATI believes the domestic intelligence agency is breaking the rules on physical abuse and is acting in an atmosphere of impunity because it says the legal authorities do not investigate accusations made by human rights groups.

Published: 2008/04/13 14:07:38 GMT

© BBC MMVIII

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Michigan Peace Team’s Position on the Palestine/Israel Crisis

March 17, 2008

Michigan Peace Team’s Perspective on the Conflict in Palestine/Israel 

  • We recognize and affirm nonviolence as a way of life and as a strategic tactic that can serve a central role in the resolution of the conflict(s) in the current situation. 
  • We do not advocate any particular solution to the crisis but support a just solution agreed upon by both Palestinians and Israelis. 
  • We support an end to violence by all parties in all forms so that peace can take root. 
  • We recognize the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people. 
  • We reject any form of anti-Semitism or racism that may manifest itself in the crisis, whether the source is an ally or an opponent. 
  • We recognize the Occupation of Palestine as an act of ongoing violence that must end for peace to take root in the region. 
  • We recognize the daily humiliations and restrictions that Palestinians experience at the hands of Israeli citizens and Defense Forces as a form of violence. 
  • We recognize the pain and terror and long-term psychological distress suicide bombings inflict on the Israeli people as a form of violence. 
  • We recognize the pain, both emotional and physical, caused by military service within the Occupied Territories by Israeli men and women as a form of violence. 
  • We support international law and the United Nation Resolutions regarding the right of return, opposing the building of Israel’s ‘security wall’ and opposing Israeli settlements in Palestine.   
  • We recognize the role of the US government in perpetuating this violence through economic and military support. 
  • We recognize the anguish of parents raising children in the midst of this conflict and the need to instill hope for the future.
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“Who Determines ‘Recognition’ in the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict?”

March 8, 2008

by MPT Member Sheri Wander

Commenting on a recent post, Israeli Threats of Genocide, Erin asked “Do you think that Israel is an illegal state – a colonial creation on Palestinian homeland?” And later, “Do you believe Israel is an illegal state?

It’s the same question I often get asked when giving talks about my (and other MPT members) experiences in Palestine and Israel. “Does Israel have the right to exist?”

I always hesitate, not because I don’t want to answer it, but because I see it as an oversimplified question and ultimately, (whether it was meant this way or not) it is such a loaded question.

No matter how I answer it, there seems to be some who cannot hear beyond a “yes” or a “no”….

If I say “yes, Israel has the right to exist” some will only hear that as a justification of the occupation, and of denying the right of Palestinians to return to their homes. Some will only see it as defending racism or a theocracy.

If I say “no, I don’t believe Israel has a right to exist”, or “I don’t believe Israel has the right to exist as it currently does.”  There are some who can only hear that Israelis have not right to exist. There will always be some who will hear “push them into the sea” or only see it as a defense of racism and antisemitism.

First, I have to say that it seems in some way odd language to be arguing. I don’t know that I recognize the right of ANY state to exist. Maybe it’s the anarchist in me, but the thing is I tend to recognize the rights of people – not of states or corporations. I recognize that states exist… that the state of Israel exists.

The other question that I ask myself is “What Israel?” “What borders?” The Israel recommended for a Jewish State by the UN General Assembly in 1947? The percentage of historic Palestine occupied in 1948? The Israel post the 1967 six day war? Is the “green line” the border? Or the border created by the separation barrier that reaches over 10 miles into the West Bank in some areas- effectively annexing (by some estimates) nearly 50% of the West Bank.  Israel as it is or with the return of Palestinian refugees?

The other question I wrestle with here is the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state…. I wrestle with the right of a country to exist as an Islamic state…. I wrestle with the right of a country to exist as a Christian state.  I worry when there is no separation of church and state.  When I’ve mentioned this to friends they have commented that it is not Judaism as a religion, but as an ethnic identity. Yet this too is problematic. It brings too quickly to mind things like Rwanda, Bosnia and Hitler’s quest for an “Aryan nation.”

But, for me the question at the heart of the matter is what does it mean to recognize Israel’s right to exist? It seems to me that recognizing Israel’s right to exist seems to inherently recognize the rightness of its creation at the expense of those living there. It seems to therefore recognize the right of Al Nakba (”the catastrophe”) — the expulsion of such a huge number of Palestinians from their homeland between’ 47-’49.

That said,  I certainly DO recognize that Israel exists. And I have no hesitation to say that I recognize the right of Israelis to live in peace and security.  

I think it is different to “recognize Israel,” (This is an act of diplomacy… one nation state recognizes another) or to “recognize Israel’s existence,” (I recognize that Israel exists and that is the framework in which we live.) or to “recognize Israel’s right to exist.”  (This seems to be recognizing its rightness to exist at the expense of at those who lived there historically.)

So, what does all that mean?  It means I recognize Israel’s existence.  It means I recognize the right of all people in what is now considered to be Palestine and what is now considered to be Israel to exist in peace and security. It means I recognize the right of all people in the region to self determination.  I recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return.  And I guess that if all that is true, then it follows that I cannot recognize Israel’s right to exist as it currently does. 

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