Category Archives: Activism, etc.

For September 11, ten years on

… I want to link, first, to these reflections on 9/11, that I published in Friends Journal in 2007, and to this column, that I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor on 9/11 itself, and which ran in the paper two days later.
Tomorrow, on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I’ll be spending a lot of time with my fellow Quakers here in Charlottesville. It feels like the right thing to do. At the Quaker meeting for worship (worship service) that we held very soon after the original 9/11, I said that then was the time that “the rubber really hit the road” for the adherence nearly all Quakers profess to the testimony of nonviolence and to the avoidance not just of all wars but also of the causes of war.
I believe that today, more Americans understand the futility and damaging nature of wars– all wars– than did ten years ago. But still, far too many of our countrymen and -women remain susceptible to arguments like those made in favor of the military “action” or military “intervention” in Libya earlier this year. (The advocates of such “interventions” are nowadays careful not to come straight out and call them “wars”.)
I mourn for each of the lives cut short on 9/11. But I mourn equally for each one of the lives cut short as a result of all the American and American-led wars since then. I bear a heavy weight of concern for the men still incarcerated under inhuman conditions and with no access to due process and no hope of any timely and fair trial– in Guantanamo and other elements of the U.S. ‘black’ prison system worldwide. I mourn for the moral blindness and real spiritual wounds suffered by all those who act with, or condone, violence. And I am staggered to think of the “opportunity costs” the whole world has incurred as a result of all the United States’ military spending since, and largely as a result of, what happened on 9/11: All the wonderful, life-supporting projects that that money could and should have been used for instead, which would have made the world a far safer place for everyone– including Americans.
Since 9/11, my own three children have grown into mature, capable, and wonderful adults. Two of them have married and now have children of their own. We all have a new generation to raise. The need to build a better world for these little ones– for all the little ones around the world!– has never felt more urgent. Our generation has a lot to apologize for. But luckily, many of us are still around, with a good few years of energetic and loving activism left in us, to try to make some good amends and get the global situation turned back onto a better track…
Here’s what I’m going to be doing next weekend: Friday night, speaking at the Annual Conference of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation in Washington DC; and Sunday noon, speaking at the second conference this year that marks the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower’s 1961 warning about the dangers of the emergence of a “Military Industrial Complex.” This one’s in Charlottesville.
These both feel like great ways to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the tragedies of 9/11. Come to one or both, if you can.

Nurturing that better future

All my wonderful longtime readers here at JWN may wonder why I’ve been so silent recently. Two reasons, mainly. I’ve been deep immersed in the most wonderful forms of family life; and I’ve also been racing against the clock on the ‘War Diary: Lebanon 2006‘ project.
In the past three months, we’ve been enriched by the arrival of two new grandchildren! The second of these, little Salma, arrived just under three weeks ago. I’ve been staying with her and her parents in California. My other amazing grandchildren, now aged 2.5 years and 3 months, are also staying nearby, with (of course) their parents.
It is one of the most beautiful things in the world to be with these little ones– and also to see my own ‘little’ ones now all grown up and being such fabulous parents; and to see all of them just enjoying being together. I’ve had wonderful long periods of holding and rocking the babies, chatting with the new parents, watching the two-year-old as she explores the fabulous local tots-only playground, playing Legos with her, listening to all her great little made-up songs… helping the new parents out where I can.
I remember when I was a new parent, that finding a fit between my work at parenting– and yes, as feminist philosophers have pointed out, for all the joy involved, parenting is certainly the most important form of work that there is– and my professional work was really a big challenge…. And now, I’m trying to find the right balance between being the grandparent I want to be and my work in the professional/public sphere. This time around, though, I think the balance is easier for me to find, since I really do think that what I do in the professional/public sphere is aimed centrally at trying to build that better world in which my grandchildren– and yours, and everyone’s!– can all have an equal chance to grow and flourish, in a world that values each human life equally and turns its back on violence, exploitation, discrimination, and war.
And so, in the hours (or minutes) I can scrounge from being with my family during this week, I’ve been trying to work as effectively as I can on the War Diary project. This little book– which we’re now planning to publish as both an e-book and a paperback— is a document that is truly unique in English. It’s a record of what it was like to live in Beirut (and South Lebanon) in July-August 2006 under the bombing and anti-civilian devastation undertaken by the Israeli military as it gave the first try-out to what became known as the ‘Dahieh Doctrine.’
Yes, that’s Dahieh, as in that whole broad area of Southern Beirut where towering, ten-story buildings that housed homes, offices, shops, and schools, were obliterated from the map and reduced to smoking rubble-fields.
The Dahieh Doctrine was what Israel was also trying to pursue 30 months later, against the people of Gaza. On both occasions, its application was a notable failure. The pronounced goal of the Dahieh Doctrine, after all, was to inflict such harsh punishment on the targeted population that they would “turn against” and repudiate the resistance movements that lived among them…. And on both occasions, the respective resistance movements not only survived with their leadership and basic cadre intact– but they ended up gaining increased political stature amongst their national constituencies, and throughout the whole Arab world, by having done so.
But who know– maybe, as it did in December 2008, the Israeli government will one day once again decide that “with just a few further tweaks” the Dahieh Doctrine can be “perfected” and finally made to work?
That’s why, having the actual record of what it was like to be in Beirut during the very first application of the Dahieh Doctrine is so important. Rami Zurayk’s War Diary: Lebanon 2006 is a key testament to human resilience and to the spirit of an optimistic human community. It shows why the resilience the Lebanese population showed during summer 2006– along with, crucially, the alliance between Islamist and secularist resisters that was also evidenced then– have been cited by several leaders in the Arab Spring as giving them hope that the spirit of a proudly proclaimed and defended common humanity could indeed prevail over the “values” of military organizations, however brutal.
So this is why I think getting War Diary published as soon and as well as possible is important. It also completely fits with the goal of building the kind of world that I want my grandchildren (and everyone else’s) to grow up in. All my grandchildren have a rich mix of ethnic heritages. The littlest one, Salma, is Arab, Jewish, British– and also, very strongly “American”. How could anyone possibly say to her or to anyone that her “Jewish” aspect is more important or more valuable than her “Arab” aspect– or the other way around? How can anyone say that the lives of people who are Jewish, wherever they are, are somehow more “valuable” than the lives of people who are Lebanese, Palestinian, Egyptian, Iranian, or American?
Seeing these little children in my own family just makes me want to work all the harder for a world that gives equal value and equal care to each human person– a goal that necessarily involves turning our backs on violence, domination, and war.

Bayard Rustin understood Palestinians

I just came across this great, short piece of writing, quoting the African-American, gay, Quaker activist Bayard Rustin:

    In 1968, American civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin wrote, “We would be mistaken to think that the only desires of young Negroes today are to have a job, to have a decent house, to be well educated, to have medical care. All these things are very important, but deeper and more profound is the feeling of young Negroes today—through all classes, from the lumpenproletariat to the working poor, the working classes, the middle classes, and the intelligentsia—that the time has come when they should have power, a voice in the solution of problems which affect them.”

This observation is absolutely central if anyone wants to understand the situation and aspiration of Palestinians today. This point has been eloquently made by Laila El-Haddad– both in her recent book Gaza Mom, which my company had the honor of publishing, and in her appearance on Tuesday at this great Capitol Hill briefing (which, as it happens, I had the honor of chairing.)
As Laila says, “What the Palestinians in Gaza are suffering from is not restrictions on their food, it is restrictions on their freedom!”
Interestingly, I got that Bayard Rustin quote not directly from my own reading but from this late-January blog post by the great Egyptian blogger Baheyya. Bayard Rustin to me, via Tahrir Square. Neat, huh?

Pete Seeger joins BDS campaign!

Great news from Max Blumenthal about this. I like his post particularly, because of the sound-track on the video there!
Seeger had been inveigled by something called the “Arava Institute” into taking part on an event that claimed to be only about the environment… But later, he found out about Arava’s close ties to the Jewish National Fund, which has a long (and continuing) record of funding and otherwise supporting ethnic cleansing in historic Palestine.

Virginians standing up to Cantor!

A group of home-state Virginians and I are planning to build a network of in-state activists– including our friends in the 7th congressional district– to stand up for our country’s interests against the near-treasonous positions on Israel being articulated by Rep. Eric Cantor.
Last Wednesday evening, on the eve of Israeli PM Netanyahu’s lengthy and difficult meeting with secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Netanyahu had an hour-long tete-a-tete in New York with Cantor, who will be the “House Majority leader”, i.e. the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, as of next January. During the meeting, according to a statement issued afterwards by his office, Cantor,

    stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington… He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.

Even Ron Kampeas, the veteran columnist over at the Jewish Telegraph Agency, was astonished, writing,

    I can’t remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president. Certainly, in statements on one specific issue or another — building in Jerusalem, or somesuch — lawmakers have taken the sides of other nations. But to have-a-face to face and say, in general, we will take your side against the White House — that sounds to me extraordinary.

You can find much more on the Cantor Rant, from Glenn Greenwald, here.
My friends and I haven’t decided yet what our new network will be called. Maybe something like “Virginians for Our Country’s Sanity” (VOCS)? If you’re a Virginian and you’d like to help us show Rep. Cantor that he doesn’t speak for us (or, indeed, for American military leaders responsible for the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens serving in very dangerous locations overseas), then drop us a line. Give us your name, email (obviously), street address, congressional district, and we’ll see what we can do to build the network.

Foreign investment in Israel plunged in 2009

Haaretz today:

    Foreign direct investment in Israel fell by 64% in 2009 to only $3.9 billion, down from $10.9 billion in 2008. Israel fell from 54th place in 2008 to 80th in 2009 in terms of FDI.

I found this great tool on Google that lets you compare FDI data for various countries.
Of course, since Israel plummeted from 54th place globally in ’08 to 80th in ’09, 26 other countries did relatively better than it did last year. One was China, which I put onto the Google chart there.
Equally obviously, it was not only the global economic turndown that brought down Israel’s total FDI. If it had been that, all other countries would have been roughly equally affected, and Israel might have retained its ranking. There must have been some other factor.
I’m pretty certain that worldwide horror over the Israeli assault on Gaza must have played a role– buttressed by the emergence of the worldwide BDS movement. Obviously, we should all keep the pressure up until Israelis are prepared to sign onto a fair, compassionate, and sustainable peace with its Palestinian neighbors and indeed, all ts neighbors.

A great resource on the Hamas women

Kudos to Conflicts Forum, which a few months ago published (PDF) a very informative study by the Hebron-area journalist and researcher Khaled Amayreh on the role of women in Hamas.
Amayreh’s study is in two parts. The first consists of interviews with three of Hamas’s female MPs: Sameera al-Halayka from the Hebron area, and Jamila Shanti and Huda Naim from Gaza. The second is Amayreh’s own analysis of the significant role women have played in bolstering Hamas.
In my 2006 article “Sisterhood of Hamas”, I had some good material from some time I spent with Shanti and other Hamas women right after the January 2006 elections. But this 26-page paper from Amayreh is much richer than the material I was able to get during that rushed reporting trip.
There’s a huge amount of really important material in this study. So many westerners still seem to have the completely erroneous idea that all Islamist movements are just like the Afghan Taliban in the very repressive way they treat women. Nothing could be further from the truth! All women in Palestine have access to basic good education– and Hamas and its supporters fully support the right of all females not only to study but also to work in paid jobs and in voluntary societies, and to participate fully in local and national politics. (Hence, the “phenomenon” of female Hamas MPs, like the three whom Amayreh interviews.)
At one point, Amayreh has this exchange with Halayka:

    Q: Have you sought to learn and benefit from Muslim women activists outside occupied Palestine?
    A: On the contrary, it was women activists from outside occupied Palestine that sought to learn from us. In the aftermath of elections, we were contacted by women organizations, Palestinian (mostly those functioning among expatriate Palestinian communities) and non-Palestinian, enquiring about the modalities we used in our activism. It is true that our situation is unique because of the Israeli occupation and cannot in that sense be copied. However, it is clear that women’s groups can learn much from us in terms of empowerment and activism as well as Islamic education.

He has these exchanges with Shanti:

    Q: You have been active in Hamas’ women’s department for many years. How would describe the status of women within Hamas? Do they take you seriously?
    A: Irrespective of western stereotypes, I can say that Hamas – a movement I know very well – is a moderate Islamic movement that adopts a comprehensive approach to society. This is probably the reason why Hamas has been able to receive widespread support from people. Hence, I can say that Hamas’ philosophy stems from Islam which gives women their rights and dignity. So, it is only natural that the status of women within Hamas is very advanced as women are considered a fundamental component of the movement. In fact, I can say for sure that women are more representative in Hamas than they are within any other Palestinian political movement. Take for example colleges and universities in occupied Palestine and you will find that a clear majority of the supporters of the Islamic student blocks are women. Similarly, it is widely believed that a majority of those who voted for Hamas in the 2006 elections were women. It is true though that formal representation of women within Hamas is still smaller in proportion to their proportion in the population. However, we view this as an evolutionary and cumulative process, which means that we will continue to make progress toward a more equitable representation of women within the
    Islamic movement.
    … Q: How did you cope with the mass arrest by Israel of Hamas’ Legislative Council members?
    A: That was a real burden as more than 40 MPs were arrested as an act of political vendetta. But the bigger problem was the harassment of our sister MPs both by the Israeli occupiers and the PA. You know the sisters Mariam Saleh and Muna Mansur were both arrested by the Israelis and Samira Halaika was also harassed. This meant that Hamas in the West Bank became nearly voiceless which placed on us an additional burden here in the Gaza Strip since we had to make up for our colleagues who had been arrested and detained…
    Q: How would you evaluate your experience in politics in the past five years?
    A: We have been able to learn much in terms of working with the media. We have also acquired new skills in dealing with the public in ways that differ from our previous activities in the field of daawa (inviting people to Islam). In our new capacity as MPs, we have had to be constantly available to help people in every conceivable aspect. We also have gained a profound understanding of the judicial and legislative systems. For example, we had to have a thorough grasp of the laws, bylaws, regulations and norms pertaining to parliamentary processes. This has helped us assert ourselves as effective MPs. Nonetheless, the paralysis of parliamentary life following 2007 has not allowed us to reach our potentials.

And he had this exchange with Naim:

    Q: What role have Islamist women played in the resistance?
    A: The resistance is more than just shooting and fighting. Strengthening our society against Israeli infiltration and manipulation is also a form of resistance. In fact, Islamist women and Palestinian women in general, have played an extremely important role in securing and protecting the internal front without which the resistance front would collapse. But there are, of course, many women who played an active role in the resistance, such as Reem al Rayashi and Fatema al Najar who were martyred, and Ahlam Tamimi who was imprisoned for life. Nonetheless, the main role of Islamist women has been to shield and fortify our society against moral decay.

I’m sorry I hadn’t known about this paper earlier. (Khaled, why didn’t you send it to me? You know I’m interested in the topic!)
Anyway, go read the whole thing. As I said, it’s a great resource.
CF has also, more recently, published another study on Islamist women. This one is “A Study on Women in Islam: An Islamic Vision of Women From the Viewpoint of Contemporary Shi’i Scholars in Lebanon”, by Amira Burghul (PDF). It looks mainly at texts written by Imam Mousa al-Sadr, Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah and Imam Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Shams al-Din.

Swedish dockworkers follow Oakland’s BDS lead

Following the amazing lead given by citizen activists and dockworkers/longshoremen in Oakland, California at 5 a.m. on Sunday, today dockworkers in Sweden announced they will try to institute a week-long ban on loading or unloading Israeli ships and cargoes coming to or from Israel. (HT: Ray J.)
The statement from the head of the Swedish port workers union linked to above, said (in Google translation):

    The Swedish port workers’ position is not an isolated incident. We are acting in parallel with the dockers unions in South Africa and Norway, in a first international action for two obvious requirements against the State of Israel: 1. Raise the blockade of Gaza. 2. [The establishment of] an independent international inquiry into the violent and the boarding of Freedom [Flotilla].

It is true that the Oakland stoppage lasted only 24 hours, and this one is planned to last only seven days. So these actions will not bring Israel’s international trade (which is distorted heavily toward the export of military goods) grinding to a halt. But the symbolism itself is immensely important. It shows that the BDS call has moved significantly beyond the few college campuses where it started, and into much broader reaches of western society.
It also shows that the strong support Israel nearly always enjoyed among the left and labor movements in the west has eroded a lot.

“Another Acre and Another Goat”

    I am very happy to be able to publish this essay by veteran Israeli peace activist Amos Gvirtz of Kibbutz Shefayim. The essay vividly captures the continuity in the conduct of the Zionist settlement movement in Palestine from pre-state days to the present. It also captures, as Amos puts it, “the continuation of the slow and ongoing implementation of all the components of the ‘Nakba.'” Thanks, Amos! ~HC

Another Acre and Another Goat
By Amos Gvirtz
During my childhood in the 1950s I still heard echoes of the argument (from pre-state days) between the Zionist Labor Movement and the Zionist Right. The Labor Movement people criticized the Zionist Right for declaring the intention of the Zionist Movement to inherit the Land of Israel. They argued that these declarations would arouse Arab resistance to the Zionist enterprise. In their view, the state-in-the-making should be built quietly, according to the slogan “another acre and another goat.”
When one sees and hears what’s going on in the occupied territories today, one can only conclude that the same approach characterizes our own times as well, together with the same old argument between quiet action and declared intentions. Except that today, instead of buying land, it is taken by force. Along with the building of settlements, Palestinians are expelled and their houses destroyed. All these things are done on a small scale – after all, our entire existence depends on the international community that supports us. If Israel were to act on a larger scale, that support would decline. Only in the context of a war does Israel allow itself massive action, as was the case in the “Cast Lead” operation in Gaza, where the IDF killed 1400 people and destroyed more than 4000 homes!
Whoever follows these things in the news, hears from time to time about small land confiscations near settlements, for security needs or for paving a road. The very existence of the separation barrier (“the wall”) serves as a means for stealing land. After the separation barrier is built, as the years go by, additional lands are taken from their Palestinian owners on the grounds that they are not cultivated – even if there is no possibility of cultivating them since many landowners are denied permits to cross the barrier and work their lands. And if the IDF doesn’t confiscate the land, then land-greedy settlers attack Palestinian farmers. The IDF protects the attackers and expels the farmers. After three years when Palestinians are unable to or do not dare to enter their lands, the lands are officially declared “state lands” because they have not been cultivated.
It’s the same story with home demolitions. First they confiscated the granting of building permits from Palestinians by disenfranchising the work of the Palestinian building and planning committees. After that the Israeli authorities practically stopped granting building permits to Palestinians. And then, when thousands of Palestinian families had no choice but to build without permits, they were issued demolition orders. The demolitions are carried out little by little over time, so that the media loses interest.
The policy of expulsions works in a similar way. Permanent residency is denied to people who marry local Palestinian residents, even if they live in “Area A” (the Palestinian cities) which are under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. Even after decades of married life, these non-resident spouses are required to go abroad every three months and return to their families as tourists. Sometimes they are not allowed to return at all. It seems that the State of Israel wants these families to leave their homes in the occupied territories in the wake of the spouses who are denied residency.
And so it seems that we have returned to pre-state days. Israel has eradicated its borders with the occupied territories, ignores international law and international norms, and systematically acts to annex the West Bank and the Golan Heights. For this purpose the State steals lands, builds settlements, destroys houses and expels people.
In the 1980s the country was up in arms: The racist Rabbi Meir Kahane succeeded in becoming a Knesset Member! He announced in a loud voice what Israel was doing little by little. The shock was great. Legislation against racist incitement was passed – not, of course, against racist actions – and Kahane’s party was declared illegal. If a law against racist actions had been legislated, we would be in danger of placing Israeli governments outside the law.
On the eve of Holocaust Day, the headline in the Israeli newspaper “Ha’aretz” informed us of a military order issued by the Head of the Army Central Command that would enable the expulsion of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank. At this point I will take the risk of saying something that is prohibited among us: that’s how it started in Germany. They spoke about the transfer of Jews from Europe. Only when they realized that this was impossible did they decide on the “final solution.”
These days Knesset Members are busy initiating legislation that will prohibit commemorating the “Nakba” (the Palestinian catastrophe) of 1948… The only thing lacking is the initiation of legislation that would prohibit the continuation of the slow and ongoing implementation of all the components of the “Nakba.”