The Real Reasons behind the Palestinian Hunger Strike

Gaza is the world’s largest open air prison. The West Bank is a prison, too, segmented into various wards, known as areas A, B and C. In fact, all Palestinians are subjected to varied degrees of military restrictions. At some level, they are all prisoners.

East Jerusalem is cut off from the West Bank, and those in the West Bank are separated from one another.

Palestinians in Israel are treated slightly better than their brethren in the Occupied Territories, but subsist in degrading conditions compared to the first-class status given to Israeli Jews, as per the virtue of their ethnicity alone.

Palestinians ‘lucky’ enough to escape the handcuffs and shackles are still trapped in different ways.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon’s Ein el-Hilweh, like millions of Palestinian refugees in ‘shattat’ (Diaspora), are prisoners in refugee camps, carrying precarious, meaningless identification, cannot travel and are denied access to work. They languish in refugee camps, waiting for life to move forward, however slightly – as their fathers and grandfathers have done before them for nearly seventy years.

This is why the issue of prisoners is a very sensitive one for Palestinians. It is a real and metaphorical representation of all that Palestinians have in common.

The protests igniting across the Occupied Territories to support 1,500 hunger strikers are not merely an act of ‘solidarity’ with the incarcerated and abused men and women who are demanding improvements to their conditions.

Sadly, prison is the most obvious fact of Palestinian life; it is the status quo; the everyday reality.

The prisoners held captive in Israeli jails are a depiction of the life of every Palestinian, trapped behind walls, checkpoints, in refugee camps, in Gaza, in cantons in the West Bank, segregated Jerusalem, waiting to be let in, waiting to be let out. Simply waiting.

There are 6,500 prisoners in Israeli jails. This number includes hundreds of children, women, elected officials, journalists and administrative detainees, who are held with no charges, no due process. But these numbers hardly convey the reality that has transpired under Israeli occupation since 1967.

According to prisoners’ rights group, ‘Addameer’, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned under military rule since Israel commenced its occupation of Palestinian territories in June 1967.

That is 40 percent of the entire male population of the Occupied Territories.

Israeli jails are prisons within larger prisons. In times of protests and upheaval, especially during the uprisings of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were subjected to prolonged military curfews, sometimes lasting weeks, even months.

Under military curfews, people are not allowed to leave their homes, with little or no breaks to even purchase food.

Not a single Palestinian who has lived (or is still living) through such conditions is alien to the experience of imprisonment.

But some Palestinians in that large prison have been granted VIP cards. They are deemed the ‘moderate Palestinians’, thus granted special permits from the Israeli military to leave the Palestinian prison and return as they please.

While former Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat was holed up in his office in Ramallah for years, until his death in November 2004, current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is free to travel.

While Israel can, at times, be critical of Abbas, he rarely deviates far from the acceptable limits set by the Israeli government.

This is why Abbas is free and Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, (along with thousands of others) is jailed.

The current prisoners’ hunger strike began on April 17, in commemoration of ‘Prisoner Day’ in Palestine.

On the eighth day of the strike, as the health of Marwan Barghouti deteriorated, Abbas was in Kuwait meeting a group of lavishly dressed Arab singers.

The reports, published in ‘Safa News Agency’ and elsewhere, generated much attention on social media. The tragedy of the dual Palestinian reality is an inescapable fact.

Barghouti is far more popular among supporters of Fatah, one of the two largest Palestinian political movements. In fact, he is the most popular leader amongst Palestinians, regardless of their ideological or political stances.

If the PA truly cared about prisoners and the well-being of Fatah’s most popular leader, Abbas would have busied himself forging a strategy to galvanize the energy of the hungry prisoners, and millions of his people who rallied in their support.

But mass mobilization has always scared Abbas and his Authority. It is too dangerous for him, because popular action often challenges the established status quo, and could hinder his Israeli-sanctioned rule over occupied Palestinians.

While Palestinian media is ignoring the rift within Fatah, Israeli media is exploiting it, placing it within the larger political context.

Abbas is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump on May 3.

He wants to leave a good impression on the impulsive president, especially as Trump is decreasing foreign aid worldwide, but increasing US assistance to the PA. That alone should be enough to understand the US administration’s view of Abbas and its appreciation of the role of his Authority in ensuring Israel’s security and in preserving the status quo.

But not all Fatah supporters are happy with Abbas’ subservience. The youth of the Movement want to reassert a strong Palestinian position through mobilizing the people; Abbas wants to keep things quiet.

Amos Harel argued in ‘Haaretz’ that the hunger strike, called for by Barghouti himself, was the latter’s attempt at challenging Abbas and “rain(ing) on Trump’s peace plan.”

However, Trump has no plan. He is giving Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, carte blanche to do as he pleases. His solution is: one state, two states, whichever ‘both parties like.’ But both sides are far from being equal powers. Israel has nuclear capabilities and a massive army, while Abbas needs permission to leave the Occupied West Bank.

In this unequal reality, only Israel decides the fate of Palestinians.

On his recent visit to the US, Netanyahu articulated his future vision.

“Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River,” he said.

Writing in The Nation, Professor Rashid Khalidi expounded the true meaning of Netanyahu’s statement.

By uttering these words, “Netanyahu proclaimed a permanent regime of occupation and colonization, ruling out a sovereign independent Palestinian state, whatever fiction of ‘statehood’ or ‘autonomy’ are dreamed up to conceal this brutal reality,” he wrote.

“Trump’s subsequent silence amounts to the blessing of the US government for this grotesque vision of enduring subjugation and dispossession for the Palestinians.”

Why then, should Palestinians be quiet?

Their silence can only contribute to this gross reality, the painful present circumstances, where Palestinians are perpetually imprisoned under an enduring Occupation, while their ‘leadership’ receives both a nod of approval from Israel and accolades and more funds from Washington.

It is under this backdrop that the hunger strike becomes far more urgent than the need to improve the conditions of incarcerated Palestinians.

It is a revolt within Fatah against their disengaged leadership, and a frantic attempt by all Palestinians to demonstrate their ability to destabilize the Israeli-American-PA matrix of control that has extended for many years.

“Rights are not bestowed by an oppressor,” wrote Marwan Barghouti from his jail on the first day of the hunger strike.

In truth, his message was directed at Abbas and his cronies, as much as it was directed at Israel

— source commondreams.org by Ramzy Baroud

Gandhi Peace Award for BDS Leader Omar Barghouti

As more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have entered their ninth day on a massive hunger strike inside Israeli jails, we are joined by the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti, who has come to the United States to receive the 2017 Gandhi Peace Award for his work as co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement. At the award ceremony, Barghouti dedicated the prize to Palestinians on hunger strike. He was almost prevented from attending after Israeli police arrested him, seizing his passport and forbidding him from leaving the country. An Israeli court eventually temporarily lifted the travel ban.

OMAR BARGHOUTI: As I humbly accept the Gandhi Peace Award for 2017, I dedicate it to the heroic Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike in Israel’s apartheid dungeons and to every Palestinian refugee yearning to return home to Palestine to reunite with the land and the homeland.

Omar Barghouti talking:

I’m not, actually. I’m neither a U.S. citizen nor an Israeli citizen. As a Palestinian, as a refugee, a son of refugees, I have permanent residence in Israel, and I’m a citizen of Jordan.

I cannot talk about the latest phase of Israel’s repression against me, because I’m under a gag order, so I’ll have to skip the details on that. But we have to put it in context. About a year ago, Israel established a so-called tarnishing unit, established by the minister of strategic affairs, which openly aimed at tarnishing the reputation of Palestinian, international, Israeli human rights defenders who are involved in the struggle for Palestinian rights through the BDS, of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, movement. So this latest phase of repression comes in that context and in the context of a McCarthyite war launched by Israel, for more than three years now, against the BDS movement worldwide.

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions National Committee, or the BNC, is the largest coalition in Palestinian society, and it’s leading the global BDS movement. So it sets the overall strategies, the objectives of the movement. But this is a decentralized movement, obviously. So the BNC represents Palestinian political parties, trade unions, women’s unions, refugee networks and so on and so forth.

It agrees on the three basic demands in the BDS call that came out in 2005: ending Israel’s occupation; ending the system of racial discrimination, which meets the United Nations’ definition of “apartheid”; and the right of Palestinian refugees to return. As such, it does not take any position on the political outcome—one state, two states. We stick to the human rights agenda, rather than the political outcome that the Palestinians might determine as part of exercising self-determination.

I think we saw that, especially after the 2004 decision by the International Court of Justice against Israel’s wall built in the Occupied Territories as illegal, that the world failed to move to bring Israel to account on just this one crime, let alone its denial of refugee rights, its apartheid system, its occupation. So, my colleagues and I thought that we cannot live forever just waiting for the “international community,” under U.S. hegemony, to act to bring Israel to account for its obligations under international law. We had to take the South African path, so to speak, to bring Israel to account by citizens around the world, institutions around the world, civil society, getting together and taking measures that would isolate Israel academically, culturally, economically, and eventually impose sanctions on it, as was done against South Africa. So I was moved with a lot of personal experiences of repression under Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid.

The hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners, most of whom are political prisoners, suffering from very inhumane conditions in what I call Israel’s apartheid dungeons, or prisons and detention centers, are asking for their basic rights under international law as prisoners. And they’re being denied those rights. They’re being punished twice, not just with very long prison terms, with the lack of due process, the lack of any semblance of justice in Israel’s apartheid prison system and court system. They’re also denied some basic rights, like visitation rights. Their parents, when they come to visit them, are being humiliated. Many prisoners are tortured and suffer from very inhumane conditions. So, torture is very prevalent in Israeli prisons, in the detention system, in particular including against hundreds of Palestinian children. So, prisoners are striking, going on this very difficult, very extreme form of resistance, in order to show the world that they are lacking those basic rights, and they demand those basic rights. They refuse to live in such conditions.

I think if we consider the Israeli government, that came into power in 2015 as the most racist in Israel’s history, dropping the mask that once covered Israel’s regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid, the Trump administration has also dropped the mask of the U.S. administration, which was always in bed with Israel’s system of occupation and apartheid, and now it’s in your face. So, the repression that we’re seeing increasingly in the United States and the repression and denial of rights we’re seeing by the Israeli government are coming together and showing ways to connect our struggles. So we’re facing very difficult times, facing an Israeli impunity on steroids, because of the Trump administration. And at the same time, Israel’s right-wing government is being used by the Trump administration as a model for ethnic profiling, for walls, like the wall with Mexico, and for various sorts of racial policies. Israel is now a model for the U.S. administration. And that’s dangerous for everyone.

we had sort of Israel’s McCarthyism reaching the Columbia University and Barnard College. At the very last minute, less than 24 hours before the event last night, the Columbia and Barnard administrations denied the students the right to open the event to the public. So it was restricted to the Columbia University community in a very strange move. And the reasons were even stranger. They cited an article in some far-right-wing rag saying that this is a controversial speaker, and it might cause a lot of controversy on campus, as if there’s any speaker who has anything to say is not controversial. So, clearly, the establishment, including the academic establishment in this country, are falling under pressure by the Israel lobby, that are really trying to sell their McCarthyism and their repression in various institutions to prevent Palestinian voices from speaking out and to prevent many Americans from joining the struggle for justice in Palestine, as well as connecting it to domestic struggles for racial rights, economic rights and other forms of justice.

Since 2014, Israel decided that its former policy, former strategy for fighting BDS, the propaganda or “Brand Israel” strategy, was failing, so they adopted a new strategy that is based on using their intelligence services to spy on BDS activists and try to tarnish our reputations; based on legal warfare, trying to pass anti-BDS legislation, as is happening in many state legislatures in this country, as well as in the U.S. Congress and in countries like France, Britain and so on. So they’ve gone from a propaganda war to a full-fledged legal and intelligence war on the movement.

What you mentioned is absolutely important. Recently, Israel passed an anti-BDS ban. It wouldn’t allow any supporter of BDS or even supporters of partial boycotts against Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories from entering the country. They are establishing, indeed, a blacklist of Israelis who support any form of boycott against Israeli institutions to bring about justice and to bring about Palestinian rights. So this McCarthyism is no longer just a metaphor. It’s really, truly happening, as Israel descends into the abyss and as people in the mainstream, as Ehud Barak, for example, are warning that there are signs of fascism taking over in Israel.

I think I’m not alone among Palestinians who have very little hope that anything can come out of this. First, the Palestinian officials who are currently leading do not have a democratic mandate to lead. They do not have a democratic mandate to compromise on any Palestinian rights as they’re doing. So they’re not upholding Palestinian rights under international law. They’re not upholding the right of Palestinian refugees to return, the right to live without apartheid or occupation. They’re asking for a very small subset of Palestinian rights. And they’re heeding the dictates coming from the Israeli and U.S. administrations. So I have very little hope. This is a very weak leadership, without any democratic mandate. And we do not expect much coming out of it. We rely more on society, on civil society, popular resistance, and international solidarity with it.
____

Omar Barghouti
Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee.

— source democracynow.org

Israeli planes spray herbicides inside Gaza for fourth time this year

Israeli planes sprayed herbicides inside the Gaza Strip for the second day running on Wednesday and the fourth time this year, according to local farmers and Israeli rights NGO Gisha

Palestinians who reported the incident said that the planes had dusted near the Gaza border fence, and the Gaza Ministry of Agriculture is investigating the extent of the damage from the herbicides sprayed over the last two days. Around 840 acres of crops were damaged during the last round of spraying in January 2017, according to Gisha.

How Methane-Making Microbes Kept the Early Earth Warm

For much of its first two billion years, Earth was a very different place: oxygen was scarce, microbial life ruled, and the sun was significantly dimmer than it is today. Yet the rock record shows that vast seas covered much of the early Earth under the faint young sun.

Scientists have long debated what kept those seas from freezing. A popular theory is that potent gases such as methane – with many times more warming power than carbon dioxide – created a thicker greenhouse atmosphere than required to keep water liquid today.

In the absence of oxygen, iron built up in ancient oceans. Under the right chemical and biological processes, this iron rusted out of seawater and cycled many times through a complex loop, or “ferrous wheel.” Some microbes could “breathe” this rust in order to outcompete others, such as those that made methane. When rust was plentiful, an “iron curtain” may have suppressed methane emissions.

“The ancestors of modern methane-making and rust-breathing microbes may have long battled for dominance in habitats largely governed by iron chemistry,” said Marcus Bray, a biology Ph.D. candidate in the laboratory of Jennifer Glass, assistant professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and principal investigator of the study funded by NASA’s Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program. The research was reported in the journal Geobiology on April 17, 2017.

Using mud pulled from the bottom of a tropical lake, researchers at Georgia Tech gained a new grasp of how ancient microbes made methane despite this “iron curtain.”

Collaborator Sean Crowe, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, collected mud from the depths of Indonesia’s Lake Matano, an anoxic iron-rich ecosystem that uniquely mimics early oceans. Bray placed the mud into tiny incubators simulating early Earth conditions, and tracked microbial diversity and methane emissions over a period of 500 days. Minimal methane was formed when rust was added; without rust, microbes kept making methane through multiple dilutions.

Extrapolating these findings to the past, the team concluded that methane production could have persisted in rust-free patches of ancient seas. Unlike the situation in today’s well-aerated oceans, where most natural gas produced on the seafloor is consumed before it can reach the surface, most of this ancient methane would have escaped to the atmosphere to trap heat from the early sun.

In addition to those already mentioned, the research team included Georgia Tech professors Frank Stewart and Tom DiChristina, Georgia Tech postdoctoral scholars Jieying Wu and Cecilia Kretz, Georgia Tech Ph.D. candidate Keaton Belli, Georgia Tech M.S. student Ben Reed, University of British Columbia postdoctoral scholar Rachel Simister, Indonesian Institute of Sciences researcher Cynthia Henny, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography professor Jay Brandes, and University of Kansas professor David Fowle.

— source news.gatech.edu by John Toon

The Jewish Voice at the Heart of the Boycott Israel Movement


Rebecca Vilkomerson (right) in July 2016 with Caroline Hunter, who was part of the movement to end apartheid in South Africa. Photo Credit: JVP

Israel’s new travel ban forbidding entry for any foreign national who openly calls for a boycott of either Israel or the settlements has evoked a mix of personal regret and professional satisfaction for Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

On the one hand, the Brooklyn-based activist – who famously penned a Washington Post Op-Ed titled “I’m Jewish, and I want people to boycott Israel” – says she feels “really sad. I have aging relatives and people I love there, both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. The idea of not being able to return, even to visit family – I go at least once a year – is really distressing on a personal level.”

At the same time, news of the ban has “felt like a real moment of realization that Israel is truly scared of this movement and understands that it’s growing,” she says. “So as sad as I have felt, I also felt like it’s a vindication of the way the BDS [movement] is growing in strength and power.”

The organization to which Vilkomerson has dedicated the past eight years of her life doesn’t simply endorse boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel: it enthusiastically embraces the tactic, working actively to encourage its spread throughout the United States in a range of institutions. JVP’s local chapters advocate a full-on boycott of all Israeli bodies (commercial, cultural or academic) that, directly or indirectly, contribute to the ongoing occupation and oppression of Palestinians.

The organization also demands the cessation of U.S. military aid to Israel until the occupation ends.

This puts it on the far-left edge of the organized American-Jewish community. To many mainstream, moderate and even left-wing groups – and certainly for the Israeli government – JVP is beyond the pale, aiding and abetting those who would harm, or even eliminate, Israel if it were possible.

Vilkomerson strongly rejects that view and the demonization of her organization. “We see BDS as a critically important, nonviolent tool to bring about change,” she told Haaretz, on the eve of JVP’s biannual conference starting March 31.

She sees BDS as a means to an end: “In our analysis, the United States is playing the key role in allowing Israel to continue its policies of oppression toward the Palestinian people, and the U.S. uses all of its diplomatic, economic and military leverage to allow Israel to do that. It’s our job as American Jews to change that equation,” she asserts.

As she sees it, BDS is the most effective method so far of effecting change. And so, in tandem with other pro-Palestinian groups on the left, a range of companies, governments and universities are pressured to cut ties with Israel, or entities they tie to Palestinian oppression, ranging from equipment manufacturers to insurance firms.

“BDS has been incredible for us,” says Vilkomerson. For a group like hers, “one of the great beauties” of boycott and divestment tactics is the way in which they awaken grassroots feelings of participation and give people the sense there is something concrete they can do on a local level.

The local chapters “can find the best targets, and run these campaigns to change things locally,” she says. “Then they are connected to a national and global network of people who are all doing the same thing, and those campaigns reinforce one another.” Her definition of “best targets” for BDS are those companies or entities with “stories that really show what the occupation is,” so it falls on each chapter to “choose a target that feels exciting and moves them.”

That includes keeping academics affiliated with Israeli universities from attending conferences, to Israeli musicians and dance troupes whose tours are supported by the state to showcase the positive aspects of Israel, no matter what those individuals’ political views may be. “I understand that people are experiencing this as individuals and that’s very painful – but it is institution-based,” she says.

Defying all stereotypes

Fluent in Hebrew and married to an Israeli with close family in the Jewish state, Vilkomerson defies any stereotype of the American-Jewish leftist as being assimilated, alienated from Judaism and ignorant of mainstream Israeli society.

She grew up in a Conservative Jewish community in Princeton, New Jersey. If anything stood out about her Jewish family, it was their unusually close ties to Israel. Her aunt immigrated to Israel in the 1950s and Vilkomerson’s grandparents followed in the ’60s. As a result, Vilkomerson grew up visiting Israel regularly and, to this day, remains close to her aunt, uncle and cousins, some of whom, she notes, live in the West Bank.

She began working as a community organizer in the 1990s and obtained her master’s degree in policy from Johns Hopkins University. In her early professional years, though, she focused on domestic politics, with some time working on South American issues. She confesses that, early on, she actively “avoided” marrying her leftist pro-human-rights politics to her relationship with Israel: “It didn’t feel right – it was too hard.”

That all changed with the second intifada in 2001. “I think there are peak moments when young Jewish people begin to think about these things. I’ve heard similar stories from 22-year-old Jewish Americans regarding the Gaza war in 2014,” she says.

It was then that she pivoted to activism on the Israeli-Palestinian front. “I already had an overarching political framework that I believed in. Once I was able to face it, I was able to put Israel into that frame.” She joined JVP as a member in 2001. At the time, it was a small group that “met in people’s living rooms” in the San Francisco Bay area, where she was living and where she met the Israeli Berkeley student who would become her husband.

In 2006, they took their young children and moved to Israel for three years, where she improved her Hebrew, worked for a variety of human rights organizations, and joined in protests and activism with groups like Taayush and Anarchists Against the Wall. In 2009, they returned to the United States, settled in Brooklyn and she took the helm of JVP.

In her absence, it had expanded into a national organization, incorporating other small groups around the country. She became the fourth full-time employee of the group, which at the time had a budget of $400,000, she says. It has grown since to $3.2 million, with more than 70 regional chapters and multiple subgroups for students and various professionals.

When they hold their convention in Chicago, they expect 1,000 participants (“And there’s a waiting list,” she points out). By contrast, the last conference, in 2015, drew 600.

This year’s event has made headlines due to its inclusion of Rasmea Odeh as a top-billed speaker. Odeh, 69, a Chicago Palestinian and feminist activist, was convicted of two bombings in Israel in 1969, but says she was tortured into confessing. Israel released Odeh in a prisoner exchange in 1979. The day before Vilkomerson spoke to Haaretz, the news broke that Odeh had agreed to plead guilty to charges that she failed to disclose her time in an Israeli prison when she got U.S. citizenship, and would voluntarily leave the country. Odeh had claimed she didn’t disclose her past because of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Standing with torture victims

Vilkomerson said that despite the criticism, she has no regrets inviting Odeh, who, as far as she knew, would still address the conference.

“The way we see it, we are welcoming a woman who survived torture and sexual assault by Israel and made a false confession in Israeli military court, and I think it needs to be noted that the [Israeli] military courts have a conviction rate of 99.7 percent. The labeling of her as someone who has been convicted of terrorism allows the Jewish community to evade some really hard truths about the ways that Israel treats the people under its control,” says Vilkomerson. “Rasmea – I think especially now – is a warning and a reminder about tactics used by the U.S. and Israel. [President Donald] Trump has talked about wanting to bring torture back … and the torture the police have used in Chicago against black suspects is very widely documented. We are standing with victims of torture and against torturers.”

She rejects accusations that her group is in any way showing insensitivity to the victims of the attack Odeh was convicted of participating in by inviting her – or by denying the request of the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs to hold a memorial event for Israeli terror victims at the conference. “In our mission statement we say that we mourn the loss of all life and condemn violence against civilians. That includes lives lost under the occupation, and civilians killed in bombings in Jerusalem. We value all life and we are against violence against civilians,” she says.

Another speaker is Linda Sarsour, one of the leaders of the Women’s March in January. Vilkomerson describes Sarsour as “passionate and compelling, very smart, committed and an impressive person,” and that her recent interview in The Nation, which sparked a dialogue on the compatibility of Zionism and feminism, was “perfectly clear and perfectly brilliant.”

That debate, she says, highlights “the potential disconnect between being a feminist and understanding that Palestinian women are horrifically affected by Israel’s policies. For me, it’s part of a broader conversation that’s happening in the Trump era. In the Jewish community, there’s been a beautiful flowering of resistance to Trump policies. The Muslim ban got people in the streets.

“But there’s been a Muslim ban in Israel for decades. And a Christian ban – Palestinian Christians can’t come back, either – and policies against Palestinian refugees,” she continues. “So the challenge I would put out to people is to be consistent with their values. Israel does not get an ‘out.’ If you hold certain values in the U.S., you have to hold them when it comes to Israel.”

Complaints that Israel is being unfairly singled out among progressives strike Vilkomerson as a “straw man” argument. “In the same way you would see South Africa called out in the 1980s and not other countries in Africa,” she says, “I think that different movements have different moments. … The battles are often about where the energy is, not so much about what is more important and less important to the other.”

JVP has a tense relationship with liberal Zionist groups that consider themselves “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” but take strong positions against the BDS movement – though she believes many of their members are more sympathetic than their leaders. Vilkomerson was invited to J Street in 2011, to talk about BDS. She hasn’t been invited back, even though “the room was packed,” she notes.

No position on one or two states

Supporting BDS is not the only issue mainstream leftist Jewish groups have with JVP. Its failure to endorse a two-state solution leaves its umbrella wide enough to include those who would eliminate the Jewish state altogether, critics argue. It has also been criticized for its willingness to partner and accept support from groups and individuals who are seen as actively hostile to Israel and support violent actions against the state.

Vilkomerson defends the group on both charges: “We do not take a position on one state versus two states. That’s largely because our charge is to change U.S. policy – not dictate how many states Jews and Palestinians should live in. Obviously, the more settlements grow, the more two states seems unlikely.

“More than that, I personally feel the idea of the number of states being the dividing line is the wrong question. While, yes, it is still theoretically possible to have two states where people can have full rights, there are one-state models that are pure apartheid and other one-state models that are secular nationalist. For me, it’s not about the numbers of states; it’s about what happens within those states.”

In its official mission statement, the group “seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law,” but does not specify precisely how that should be achieved.

As for partners in BDS and other coalitions, she says JVP stands “against all forms of bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism.” Without naming names, she notes there are individuals and groups her organization has refused to ally with because of their anti-Semitism or racism. While JVP is “not in lockstep with everybody we work with, we have a comprehensive set of values and work with people who share those values.”

She says it has been stunning to see those on the right who have condemned JVP for making common cause with anti-Semites look the other way at elements in the Trump administration simply because they say they support Israel, when “there are plenty of anti-Semites who support Israel for their own white supremacist reasons. … Supporting Israel does not mean you like or love Jews, and support for Israel is not a substitute for saying that you are not anti-Semitic.”

As for JVP’s partners in the BDS coalition, she says all groups formally affiliated are “very, very clear about drawing lines at anti-Semitism and have backed that up with concrete action.” Additionally, “they are clear about their principles about when a boycott would end. It’s not a perpetual call against a Jewish state because it’s Jewish. It’s about specific conditions of oppression they are trying to end.”

While J Street may have a problem with JVP, Vilkomerson says the reverse is not true. In the Trump era, she says, they see eye-to-eye on many issues, but disagree fundamentally on philosophy and tactics.

She says her biggest issue personally with J Street is that it has “spent a lot of time trying to be the left-wing group that speaks out against BDS, and uses its left-wing credentials to fight it. What I would like to see from J Street and other Jewish institutions on the left is neutrality on BDS.

“I totally understand why it’s not the right tactic for some people, but it’s a nonviolent tactic and it’s a pressure tactic, and it’s working better than anything else has worked over the past few decades,” she adds. “Let us work using our approach and you guys use your approach. Nobody knows what’s going to be the thing that works.”

One thing she does know: Until liberal Zionists change their approach of downplaying Israel’s darker side – she cites a recent Peter Beinart column, in which he explains why he’s teaching his kids to love Israel first and to tell them the truth about the occupation later – JVP will continue to grow and attract young members from the ranks of liberal American Jewry, looking for a different kind of political and spiritual Jewish home.

“We see with many people coming into JVP what they feel is an incredible sense of betrayal that they’ve been fed lies and been presented a ‘Disneyland’ version of Israel that doesn’t exist. They have to rethink the whole frame of reference they’ve been taught by people they love and trust. They are searching for something that is new and real that aligns with their values.”

The larger and stronger they grow, she asserts, the less it bothers them that the vast majority of American-Jewish organizations keep them at arm’s length at best, and harshly denounce them at worst.

Vilkomerson believes her organization’s position has evolved over time. In the early days, “we had more of a ‘let us in’ sort of attitude, and we felt we needed to break down the walls inside the Jewish community in order to accomplish this.” Today, she says, “We have grown and have become more powerful and more dynamic. Our attitude has shifted to, ‘We don’t need the institutions of the Jewish world: We are building a Jewish institution ourselves.”

— source bdsmovement.net by Haaretz

Top Israelis Have Warned of Apartheid, so Why the Outrage at a UN Report?

IN HIS MEMOIR, the Israeli journalist Hirsh Goodman described how he returned home from the Six Day War in June 1967 to hear the country’s founding father and first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, speak on the radio. “Israel, he said, better rid itself of the territories and their Arab population as soon as possible,” recalled Goodman. “If it did not Israel would soon become an apartheid state.”

Goodman was born and raised in apartheid-era South Africa. “That phrase, ‘Israel will become an apartheid state,’ resonated with me,” Goodman wrote. “In a flash I understood what he was saying.”

In a flash. Yet fifty years later, despite an entrenched and ongoing occupation, Israel’s defenders angrily reject any invocation of the A-word. Leading U.S. politicians who have dared utter it in relation to Israel, such as John Kerry and Jimmy Carter, have been forced to apologize and backtrack. Last week, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) became the first U.N. agency to publish an official report documenting how “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole,” and this provoked — as my colleague Glenn Greenwald has noted — a huge furor which led to the U.N. secretariat removing the report from its website and the Jordanian head of the UNESCWA, Rima Khalef, quitting in protest.

Good riddance, say supporters of the Jewish state. To mention the grotesque crime of apartheid in the same sentence as the democratic state of Israel, they claim, is “slander”, a “smear”, a “despicable” and “blatant lie”, a shameful act of “Israel-bashing” and a “new form of anti-Semitism.”

So what, I wonder, does that make Ben Gurion? Dishonest or despicable? How about Yitzhak Rabin, who told a TV journalist in 1976 during the first of his two terms as Israel’s prime minister, “I don’t think it’s possible to contain over the long term, if we don’t want to get to apartheid, a million and a half [more] Arabs inside a Jewish state”? Was he also engaged in a smear campaign against the nation he led?

In recent years, two more former Israeli premiers, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, have echoed their illustrious predecessors’ warnings. Olmert has predicted that “if the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then the State of Israel is finished” while Barak has declared that “if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

Are they Israel bashers, too?

Meanwhile, several high-profile Israelis have suggested that apartheid is not a future risk but a present reality, including former education minister Shulamit Aloni (“Israel practises its own, quite violent, form of apartheid with the native Palestinian population”), former environment minister Yossi Sarid (“what acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck — it is apartheid”) and former attorney general Michael Ben-Yair (“we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories”).

Others have gone even further, recognizing that Israel is in complete control between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and extending the apartheid analogy from the occupied West Bank and Gaza to inside the Green Line, to what’s considered Israel proper. Former Foreign Ministry chief Alon Liel, who also served as ambassador to South Africa, has said that “until a Palestinian state is created, we are actually one state. This joint state…is an apartheid state.”

Are we expected to dismiss all of these former Israeli officials as Israel-haters?


An apartheid notice on a beach near Capetown, denoting the area for whites only. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images) An apartheid notice on a beach near Capetown, South Africa, denoting the area for whites only. Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

And what shall we do with the testimonies of prominent South Africans who defeated apartheid at home — only to be horrified by what they then witnessed in the occupied territories? “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land,” wrote the Nobel Peace Price-winning bishop Desmond Tutu in 2002. “It reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.” A range of senior officials from the African National Congress have backed Tutu’s comparison, including former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe (“the current situation… is worse than conditions were for blacks under the apartheid regime”), current speaker of the South African parliament Baleka Mbete (“far worse than apartheid”) and former South African intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils (“the Israeli measures, the brutality, make apartheid look like a picnic”).

Are we expected to believe that all of these veterans of the South African anti-apartheid struggle have lost their minds? Are we supposed to denounce them as anti-Semites?

Then there is international law. What is often left unsaid in much of the debate over Israel and the A-word is that one can legitimately debate whether, or to what extent, modern Israel resembles apartheid-era South Africa. In the occupied West Bank, with its “separate and unequal” road networks, water systems and housing policies, and where Israeli settlers are bound by Israeli civil law while Palestinians are judged according to Israeli military law, it seems an open and shut case. Inside the Green Line, where Palestinian citizens of Israel have the right to vote and stand for parliament and where Arabic is an official language it is, admittedly, less clear-cut. However, human rights groups like Adalah point to more than 50 different laws or bills in Israel that privilege Jews over Arabs or discriminate in favor of Jews in areas such as housing, education and family reunification.


A car drives on a new segment of a highway separating Palestinian and Israeli traffic near the West Bank city of Ramallah, 12 August 2007. Once finished, the highway will connect north of the West Bank to its south, bypassing Jerusalem. The highway will be used by both Palestinians and Israelis, but on two different lanes separated by a wall of concrete. AFP PHOTO/ABBAS MOMANI (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images) A concrete wall separates Palestinian and Israeli traffic on a highway near the West Bank city of Ramalla, in 2007.Photo: Abbas Monmani/AFP/Getty Images

Yet under international law, apartheid is a specific crime with specific definitions, independent of the South African experience. The 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid widened the definition of apartheid to “similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa” and applied it to “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group,” including the denial of free movement and the expropriation of land.

Four years after the collapse of the Afrikaner regime in South Africa, the 1998 Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC), defined apartheid as “inhumane acts…committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

From a strictly legal perspective, therefore, whether or not Israel is identical to, or even resembles, apartheid-era South Africa is, frankly, irrelevant. The only issue that matters is whether Israel is in violation of international law. In 2009, a team of academics and lawyers commissioned by South Africa’s statutory research agency concluded that Israel maintains “a system of domination by Jews over Palestinians” and “this system constitutes a breach of the prohibition of apartheid.” In 2013, another study co-authored by international law professor and former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Territories, John Dugard, found “Israeli practices in the occupied territory are… in breach of the legal prohibition of apartheid.”

Back in 1967, Goodman understood in a flash what Ben Gurion was trying to say. Today, defenders of the Jewish state refuse to understand the warnings of former Israeli prime ministers, the condemnations of South African anti-apartheid activists, and the clear strictures of international law. For Palestinians, however, this is far from an academic issue or a mere debating point. For fifty years they have been the victims of discrimination, segregation and oppression. How much more do they have to endure?

— source theintercept.com by Mehdi Hasan