Category Archives: Activism, etc.

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.”

Chicago Hearing videos now online

The videos from the April 18 Chicago Hearing, which looked into whether U.S. policy on Israel upholds American values, are now all available through their website.
I really apologize to readers that I haven’t yet had time to write up my personal impressions of that amazing afternoon, when I was the moderator for all three of the panel discussions. But now, you can watch the sessions for yourself and have your own impressions, so maybe that’s better.
If you look at that portal page for the videos, you’ll see that you could organize a series of three (or four) viewing parties in your church, temple, mosque, school, or other community or neighborhood group. You could watch segments 1,2, and 3 at the first session (72 minutes total viewing time); segments 6, 7, and 8 at the second session (75 minutes viewing time), and segments 4, 5, and 9 at the third session (63 minutes). Having the video-viewing portion slightly shorter in that last session would give you more time to start brainstorming things your group could actually do to help organize and work for justice for Palestinians.
If you only have time (at first) to see just one of these segments, I urge you to go and watch this one.
If you noodle around a bit on the CH website you can find and download the truly excellent information sheets they produced on all the topics discussed. You can also find– right there on the front page– their suggestions of actions you and your colleagues and friends can undertake.
What a great initiative that was (and still is!) My biggest thanks to Jennifer Bing-Canar and all the other people who worked long and hard to organize the Hearing.
Of course, we’ll know the campaign has been making some real inroads once the relevant U.S, congressional committees themselves start organizing hearings like this, to hear testimony from people who have suffered directly from the use the State of Israel has made of all the many, many benefits it gets from the U.S. government.

In Chicago, for the Hearing

So I’m in Chicago, for the Chicago Hearing, which will be running from 1:30 through 5:30 this afternoon, CST.
Last night we had an interesting dinner at Dr. Ghada Talhami’s home. Jad Isaac of ARIJ and Mark Braverman of, um, Mark Braverman were there along with a bunch of other interesting people.
I hadn’t seen Jad in many years, so it was great to catch up with him. Back during the First Intifada he was one of the pioneers of organizing mass civilian (nonviolent) resistance. Last night he was talking very interestingly about (1) the apparent hopelessness of the PLO’s current negotiating strategy, but (2) the apparent usefulness and effectiveness of Salam Fayyad’s administrative and economic strategies.
I guess the big question I wanted to ask is how long you can continue with #2 there so long as #1 continues, since the horrible facts of continuing occupation, dispossession, expropriation, and Israeli control will always constrain Ramallah’s ability to exercise effective domestic governance.
A “well-run” ghetto– who wants that?
Anyway, this morning I had breakfast with a group of interesting Syrian Americans. On Friday, Norman Finkelstein was here. Chicago seems to be hopping with pro-justice activity!

Berkeley’s BDS epic continues; Despatches

The debate at U.C. Berkeley’s student Senate (ASUC) continued throughout last night, on whether to over-ride the veto the Senate president had cast against the recent divestment bill.
The divestment bill, if passed, would mandate that the ASUC divest from companies that actively support Israel’s occupation of the OPTs and the Apartheid Wall— and that it call on the far richer U.C. system as a whole to follow suit.

Continue reading

Divestment at Berkeley: Tutu weighs in

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written a wonderful letter in support of the student activists at U.C. Berkeley who are working to get their student Senate– and beyond that, hopefully, the wealthy University of California system as a whole– to divest from companies that support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Tutu’s letter is important both because of the immense moral weight of his voice and because of its timing. Tomorrow (Wednesday), the Berkeley student Senate will be having a re-vote on the divestment decision, made necessary by the fact that an earlier 16-4 vote in favor of the divestment was vetoed by the Senate’s president.
Tutu’s letter was preceded by this one, also supporting the divestment campaign, that came from Naomi Klein. (Klein’s position on BDS has been evolving in a good direction, I think.)
Tutu wrote in his letter:

    I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.
    In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. Students played a leading role in that struggle, and I write this letter with a special indebtedness to your school, Berkeley, for its pioneering role in advocating equality in South Africa and promoting corporate ethical and social responsibility to end complicity in Apartheid. I visited your campus in the 1980’s and was touched to find students sitting out in the baking sunshine to demonstrate for the University’s disvestment in companies supporting the South African regime.
    The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel’s 43 year long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, non-violent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses.

Best of luck to all the pro-BDS activists at Berkeley on Wednesday!

Chicago Hearing, April 18: Be a part of this happening!

It’s now just 17 days and 18 hours till the start of the Chicago Hearing, a breakthrough gathering in the heart of our country where a number of singularly well-informed speakers will be addressing the question of “Does U.S. Policy on Israel and Palestine Uphold Our Values?”
The witnesses who’ll be giving their testimony at this citizen hearing include Jeff Halper, founder and director of the Israeli Campaign Against House Demolitions, Cindy Corrie, veteran Palestinian social activist Jad Isaac, and Amer Shurrab, a Palestinian activist from Khan Younis whose father and brother were killed during Israel’s “Cast Lead” assault.
You can be a part of this event, wherever you are! Organize a listening party in your home, congregation, or community center. The whole hearing will be live-streamed from the website, starting at 2:15 p.m. EST on April 18. So all you need is a computer and a web connection. (If you can hook it up to a big screen, so much the better. But not necessary.)
The “Listeners” at the hearing will include Prof. John Mearsheimer, and the “Introducers” will include Josh Ruebner of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation. I can’t wait to be there.
Oh, did I tell you? I’m going to be the moderator. What a fabulous and timely initiative this is. Americans need to hear these people’s voices.

Great graphics for a BDS effort

Jam’a al-yad, an artists’ collective in Beirut, produced half a dozen powerful posters during the city’s recent Israeli Apartheid Week. Though the most prominent captions on them are in Arabic, those could easily be translated into other languages, too.
You can access and download PDF versions of the posters here. Peronally, I don’t endorse the one that seems to advocate stone-throwing, but the rest look great.

Berkeley divestment, contd.

Here (Doc) is the press release that U.C. Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine put out about the historic, late-night vote in which the student senate last night voted to

    ensure that its assets, and will advocate that the UC assets, do not include holdings in General Electric and United Technologies because of their military support of the occupation of the Palestinian territories…

And here (Doc) is the whole, very carefully drafted text of the bill adopted by the senate.
The press release notes that,

    In 2009, Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, became the first US educational institution to divest from companies directly involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Hampshire College action was advocated by the group Students for Justice in Palestine, and ultimately adopted by the Board of Trustees. Today, through its Student Senate bill, UC Berkeley becomes the first large, public US institution to endorse a similar measure.

Bill supporter Liz Jackson reported that,

    The Senate meeting started at 9 pm, and it was packed with hundreds of students and community members. I think it went on all night but I left at midnight. Confrontations between Students for Justice in Palestine and the pro-Israeli students are always wired with intense vitriol. Last night was the same. The emotions of war, and history, of personal stakes, displacement and persecution are all right there in the room. The pro-Israeli students shock me with their hatefulness and violent energy. The Palestinian students impress me with equanimity and ability to turn the other cheek. Their life experience is their training. I know that characterization is probably unfair but it felt true last night. The room cheered and jeered at every speaker.
    I spoke as an American Jew and as the co-chair of the Berkeley National Lawyer’s Guild chapter. I based our chapter’s endorsement of the bill on the NLG fact-finding mission in Gaza, the first legal group on the ground to document human rights violations just two weeks after the attack on Gaza ended last January. I closed with something like, “When the next Israeli bomb lands on a house full of screaming children may it not be funded by one cent of UC dollars.”

Jackson described her elation at being at an important gathering where each person delivers the very best argument he or she can, in the two minutes each speaker is allowed. “Some of the older people there from Jewish Voices for Peace were really amazing,” she said.
She said that one of the most inspiring speeches came from Tom Pessah, one of the two co-authors of the bill (and an Israeli citizen.) She noted that Pessah recalled the important legacy established at Berkeley in the 1960s by the Free Speech Movement, and quoted from the historic “bodies upon the gears” speech made by FSM leader Mario Savio on the steps of Sproul Hall in December 1964:

    “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part.
    “And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop…”

Jackson also said that many of the speeches made by the anti-divestment speakers seemed like hostile, demeaning invective aimed at the 20 voting members of the senate, along the lines of “You stupid idiots! You don’t know anything about this matter! It’s so much more complicated than you think and you don’t have anything like the knowledge that’s needed to even talk about it!”
I guess those arguments proved less than persuasive…
It was a long night. It started at 9 p.m., and I think the vote was finally recorded at 4 a.m. or so.
Jackson noted that Students for Justice in Palestine has worked and organized on the campus for many years to reach the present point– and that a lot more, much broader statewide organizing still needs to be done to persuade the U.C. Regents to divest the whole of the university’s large assets from companies involved in providing military support to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
By the way, also note this in the third ‘Whereas’ in the text of the bill there:

    WHEREAS, within the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Israeli government continues a policy of settlement expansion…

These Berkeley students really have a very clear-eyed idea of what’s going on in the occupied territories!
By the way, Jackson was one of many members of Berkeley SJP who took part in the campus’s recent “Israeli Apartheid Week”. Here is a photo of her taking part in a quiet standing action with her friend Sarah Abdullah:
photo(3).jpg

BDS comes to U.C. Berkeley

Yes, Alan Dershowitz, eat your heart out, the student senate at U.C. Berkeley voted 16-4 last night to “urge the University of California to divest from companies who have supplied the state of Israel with materials used in alleged war crimes.”
Scroll down in the comments section here (Carl Randall) to get the news on the final vote.
That report, from the Daily Cal, says,

    proponents said the bill is the first step in an expected long-term process to convince the UC Board of Regents to pull total investments of about $135 million from five companies currently supplying Israel with electronics and weapons, opponents contended it unfairly targets Israel.

Also read Russell Bates’s comments there.