Archive for December, 2009

Sanction Israel?

Posted in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions on December 31, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Sanctions on Israel? What a good idea. It seems that the country does not yield to diplomacy, nor does it fear force, being the overwhelming military power in this region. Since this balance of power in its favour has not induced the country to act magnanimously, there is only one thing for the world to do in order to once and for all end this problem: sanction Israel!

This would be a very simple and painless way to finally make Israel dance in step with international law and generally accepted standards of behaviour. Two aims need to be realised in the very short term: Israel must end its criminal and inhumane blockade of Gaza and freeze, unequivocally and without exception, all settlement construction of any kind in all occupied territory, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Beyond that, the world should demand a gradual Israeli withdrawal of both its military and civilian infrastructure from all occupied territory that will finally see the goal of a two-state solution come to fruition. Once Israel has withdrawn to the 1967 lines, a comprehensive peace treaty, which will also justly resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees, can be signed with the entire Arab world.

The West Bank is more than ready and capable of governing itself. The Palestinian Authority has proven itself, over the years, not only able to impose control, but also to govern. In Gaza, meanwhile, the ability of Gazans under a draconian siege to survive and innovate is surely all the proof needed that given the chance, this area will flourish.

Of course, Palestinians need to reach a unity agreement. The current division between the two parts of occupied Palestinian territory is a tragedy. However, Palestinian unity is neither excuse nor justification for Israel not to be held accountable for its actions or be compelled to comply with its obligations under international law.

We all need to be held to the same standards. Israel can be no exception. And should the world agree collectively to sanction Israel, it will take very little time, just as it did in South Africa, for another apartheid system to fall. That would ensure that the new year will finally see some hope for a better future in this region.

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Sam Husseini’s Video from Gaza Freedom Marchers Chanting “Boycott Israel” in Cairo

Posted in International BDS Actions on December 31, 2009 by Marcy Newman

UN expert repeats call for threat of sanctions against Israel over Gaza blockade

Posted in International BDS Actions on December 30, 2009 by Marcy Newman

29 December 2009 – The United Nations independent expert on Palestinian rights has again called for a threat of economic sanctions against Israel to force it to lift its blockade of Gaza, which is preventing the return to a normal life for 1.5 million residents after the devastating Israeli offensive a year ago.

“Obviously Israel does not respond to language of diplomacy, which has encouraged the lifting of the blockade and so what I am suggesting is that it has to be reinforced by a threat of adverse economic consequences for Israel,” Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, told UN Radio.

“That probably is something that is politically unlikely to happen, but unless it happens, it really does suggest that the United States and the Quartet and the EU [European Union] don’t take these calls for lifting the blockade very seriously and are unaffected by Israel’s continuing defiance of those calls,” he said, referring to the diplomatic Quartet of the UN, EU, Russia and US, which have been calling for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), the main UN body tending to the needs of some 4 million Palestinian refugees, said today Gaza had been “bombed back, not to the Stone Age, but to the mud age,” because UNRWA was reduced to building houses out of mud after the 22-day offensive Israel said it launched to end rocket attacks against it.

“The Israeli blockade has meant that almost no reconstruction materials have been allowed to move into Gaza even though 60,000 homes were either damaged or completely destroyed. So we in UNRWA have been saying ‘let’s lift this senseless blockage,’” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told UN Radio.

“We are the United Nations and we always hope that diplomacy will prevail, and it will prevail above the rationale of warfare. But if you look at what is going on in Gaza, and if you look at the continued blockade and the fact that that blockade is radicalizing a population there, then one has to have one’s doubts.”

In a statement last week, Mr. Falk stressed that the “unlawful blockade” was in its third year, with insufficient food and medicine reaching Gazans, producing further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population.

Building materials necessary to repair the damage could not enter Gaza, and he blamed the blockade for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the crossings.

Mr. Falk also deplored the wall being built on the borders between Gaza and Egypt.

“I’m very distressed by that, because it is both an expression of complicity on the part of the government of Egypt and the United States, which apparently is assisting through its corps of engineers with the construction of this underground steel impenetrable wall that’s designed to interfere with the tunnels that have been bringing some food and material relief to the Gaza population,” he told UN Radio.

“And of course, the underground tunnel complex itself is an expression of the desperation created in Gaza as a result of this blockade that’s going on now for two and a half years, something that no people since the end of World War II have experienced in such a severe and continuing form.”

As a Special Rapporteur, Mr. Falk serves in an independent and unpaid capacity and reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.

In a new policy brief, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), entrusted with promoting the integration of developing countries into the world economy, reported that more than 80 per cent of Gaza’s population are now impoverished; 43 per cent unemployed; and 75 per cent lack food security. “In view of the eroded productive base, poverty is likely to widen and deepen unless reconstruction begins in earnest and without further delay,” it warned.

Pressure

Posted in BDS Success, International BDS Actions on December 30, 2009 by Marcy Newman

The Belgian French bank group Dexia, which specializes in financing municipalities and other local authorities, is refusing to work with Judea and Samaria local councils, Israel Radio reported Wednesday morning.

Sources in the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip told Israel Radio that in several cases, applicants were informed that their loans could not be approved as their localities were situated over the Green Line…

Shmuel Reifman, who chairs the Center for Regional Councils, confirmed Israel Radio’s report. He noted that certain bodies which do not support Israel were putting pressure on Dexia, and threatening to downsize investments in the company if it continues to extend credit to councils over the Green Line.

Portuguese activists fight state water company deal with Israel’s Mekorot

Posted in International BDS Actions on December 30, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Adri Nieuwhof, The Electronic Intifada, 28 December 2009

In October, EPAL, Portugal’s state water company, announced a deal with Mekorot, Israel’s state water company. An intern who responded to the news by informing colleagues of Mekorot’s role in Israel’s discriminatory water policies and assistance in its violation of international law was immediately sacked. News of the firing has inspired Palestine solidarity activists to campaign to end the deal. Similarly, the EPAL workers’ committee has denounced management’s decision.

EPAL’s actions have also drawn the attention of the influential Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias. In an article published on 20 November, EPAL’s public relations director Jose Zenha admitted that the intern would only have been warned for using the internal communication system for circulating information if her message would have favorable for the company.

Following the intern’s dismissal, the Portuguese Solidarity Committee on Palestine (PSCP) has jumped into action by sending a letter to EPAL on Mekorot’s actions in Palestine, calling on the company to end the deal. EPAL replied, stating that it did not want to get involved in politics.

Meanwhile, PSCP has formed a coalition to fight the contract, including the local chapter of Amnesty International, anti-war groups and the Portuguese Campaign Against the Privatization of Water. On 27 November, the coalition dispatched a letter to EPAL stating that the collaboration between the company and Mekorot is not only contrary to international and European law, but also to EPAL’s social responsibility policies. The coalition has also requested a meeting with EPAL’s Zenha to discuss the matter, which Zenha refused. He only stated that EPAL intends “to strictly adhere to Portuguese, European and international law in all its activities.”

The PSCP has been actively reaching out to government ministers and members of parliament. Since EPAL is a subsidiary of the state water company Agua de Portugal, the PSCP asked Dulce Passaro, the Minister of Environment, for clarification on the deal. The PSCP’s request received spontaneous support from three political parties and coalition activists also met with concerned parliamentarians who were supportive of their efforts to end the Mekorot deal. Parliamentarians and the coalition are currently awaiting clarification from Minister Passaro.

On 18 December, the coalition also obtained support from the Sindicato Nacional des Trabalhadores da Administracao Local (STAL), the trade union of workers in local government. In a letter to Prime Minister Jose Socrates and Passaro, STAL explained that the EPAL-Mekorot contract is “not a purely commercial agreement.” Citing international reports, STAL asserted that Israeli water policy as implemented by Mekorot is contributing to systematic violations of international law and prevents the Palestinian people’s access to sufficient water by force and through imposition of various discriminatory practices. STAL expressed its support for the campaign to end the deal stating that it is “an agreement that is immoral and should end immediately” and demanded that the government take the necessary steps to terminate that agreement.

Building on these efforts over the past two months, the Portuguese coalition began raising international support for its campaign, including the publication of an international call for action to oppose the Portuguese water deal with Mekorot. Among the organizations in support of the call is Amnesty International, whose central office responded by sending a protest letter to EPAL.

Adri Nieuwhof is an independent consultant based in Switzerland.

Palestine/Israel: A Single State, with Liberty and Justice for All, Regardless of Religion

Posted in Apartheid, BDS Success, Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions on December 27, 2009 by Marcy Newman

by Susan Abulhawa with Ramzy Baroud / December 26th, 2009

Prior to the establishment of Israel, Palestine had been a multi-religious and multi-cultural country. Christians, Muslims and Jews, Armenians, Greek Orthodox, to name a few, all had a place there; and all lived in relative harmony. Other nations fought wars and waged epic struggles to attain the kind of coexistence that was already a reality in Palestine.

Prior to the establishment of Israel, Palestine had been multi-religious and multi-cultural. Christians, Muslims and Jews, Armenians, Greek Orthodox, to name a few, all had a place there; and all lived in relative harmony. Other nations fought wars and waged epic struggles to attain the kind of coexistence that was already a reality in Palestine. But while the world strives toward the noble truths that we are all created equal, Israel legislates the notion of a Chosen People with exclusive rights and privilege for Jews. Where countries have worked to integrate their citizens to create the richness of diversity, Israel is working in reverse, employing racist policies to “Judaize” the land whereby property and resources are confiscated from Christians and Muslims for the exclusive use of Jews. Where there is consensus that certain human rights are inalienable, Palestinians have lived subject to the whims of soldiers at checkpoints; of airplanes and helicopters raining death onto them with impunity; of curfews and restrictions and denials; and of violent armed settlers who fancy themselves disciples of God. Living under Israeli occupation, in refugee camps or in exile, we Palestinians have endured having everything callously taken from us – our homes, our heritage, our history, our families, livelihoods, freedom, farms, olive groves, water, security, and freedom.

In the 1990s, we supported the Oslo Accords two-state solution even though it would have returned to us only 22% of our historic homeland. But Israel repeatedly squandered our generosity, confiscating more Palestinian land to increase illegal Jewish-only colonies and Jewish-only roads. What remains to us now is less than 14% of Historic Palestine, all of it as isolated Bantustans, shrinking ghettos, walls, fences, checkpoints with surly soldiers,and the perpetual encroachment of expanding illegal Israeli colonies.While the Palestine Authority has led us into a shrinking land mass, less water, more restrictions, ominous walls and merciless slaughter, notable individuals and popular movements have mobilized for Palestine as once happened for South Africa. Moral authorities like former President Jimmy Carter, Nobel Laureates Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson have condemned Israeli Apartheid.

Organizations supporting the Divestment and Boycott Campaign against Israel include religious institutions such as the Presbyterian Church, The World Council of Churches, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Anglican Church, the Federation of European Jews for a Just Peace, among many others. It includes civil and professional organizations such as the National Lawyers Guild, the Irish Municipal, Public and Civil Trade Union in Ireland, as well as labor unions in Canada, Britain, and other nations. An academic boycott of Israel has spread throughout the UK and other parts of Europe and taken root in US universities across the country. The International Solidarity Movement has seen thousands of individuals come to the Occupied Territories to protect Palestinians from the violence of settlers during the olive harvest; to protect children on their daring daily journeys to school; and to bear witness to the inhumanity of military occupation.

The Free Gaza movement has transported by boat hundreds of people willing to risk their lives to bring greatly needed supplies to the besieged people of Gaza. This Christmas, internationals will march to the Egypt/Gaza border to break this siege. These are but a few examples of growing popular support for the Palestinian struggle.

When compared with the accomplishments of these grassroots movements, the futility of “negotiations” becomes painfully apparent. It is clear that we cannot look to our leaders (elected or imposed) to achieve justice. Just as only the masses could bring South Africa’s Apartheid to its knees, it will be the masses who will also bring Israel’s Apartheid crashing.

The continued expansion of international action demanding the implementation of Palestinian basic human rights is inevitable. The notion of religious-ethnocentric entitlement and exclusivity for one people at the expense of another has been rejected the world over. Palestinians reject it and we assert that we are human beings worthy of the same human rights accorded to the rest of humanity; that we are worthy of our homes and farms, our heritage, our churches and mosques, and our history; and that we should not be expected to negotiate with our oppressors for such basic dignities. The two-state solution was and remains an instrument to circumvent the basic human rights of Palestinians in order to accommodate Israel’s desire to be Jewish. Polls show that Palestinians refuse to be the enemies of our Jewish brothers and sisters anywhere, just as we refuse to be oppressed by them.

It is time for our shared land to be the inclusive and diverse country it had been. It is time for leaders to follow the people’s determined movement toward a single democratic state, with liberty and justice for all, regardless of religion.

Susan Abulhawa is the author of Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury, 2010); and Ramzy Baroud is the author of My Father was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, 2009).

‘Israel resembles a failed state’

Posted in Apartheid, Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions, Why Boycott?!, Zionism on December 27, 2009 by Marcy Newman

By Ali Abunimah

One year has passed since the savage Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, but for the people there time might as well have stood still.

Since Palestinians in Gaza buried their loved ones – more than 1,400 people, almost 400 of them children – there has been little healing and virtually no reconstruction.

According to international aid agencies, only 41 trucks of building supplies have been allowed into Gaza during the year.

Promises of billions made at a donors’ conference in Egypt last March attended by luminaries of the so-called “international community” and the Middle East peace process industry are unfulfilled, and the Israeli siege, supported by the US, the European Union, Arab states, and tacitly by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah, continues.

Policy of destruction

Amid the endless, horrifying statistics a few stand out: Of Gaza’s 640 schools, 18 were completely destroyed and 280 damaged in Israeli attacks. Two-hundred-and-fifty students and 15 teachers were killed.

Of 122 health facilities assessed by the World Health Organization, 48 per cent were damaged or destroyed.

Ninety per cent of households in Gaza still experience power cuts for 4 to 8 hours per day due to Israeli attacks on the power grid and degradation caused by the blockade.

Forty-six per cent of Gaza’s once productive agricultural land is out of use due to Israeli damage to farms and Israeli-declared free fire zones. Gaza’s exports of more than 130,000 tonnes per year of tomatoes, flowers, strawberries and other fruit have fallen to zero.

That “much of Gaza still lies in ruins,” a coalition of international aid agencies stated recently, “is not an accident; it is a matter of policy”.

This policy has been clear all along and it has nothing to do with Israeli “security”.

Destroying resistance

From June 19, 2008, to November 4, 2008, calm prevailed between Israel and Gaza, as Hamas adhered strictly – as even Israel has acknowledged – to a negotiated ceasefire.

That ceasefire collapsed when Israel launched a surprise attack on Gaza killing six people, after which Hamas and other resistance factions retaliated.

Even so, Palestinian factions were still willing to renew the ceasefire, but it was Israel that refused, choosing instead to launch a premeditated, systematic attack on the foundations of civilised life in the Gaza Strip.

Author says the war aimed to erode support for Hamas but failed to do so [GALLO/GETTY]
Operation Cast Lead, as Israel dubbed it, was an attempt to destroy once and for all Palestinian resistance in general, and Hamas in particular, which had won the 2006 election and survived the blockade and numerous US-sponsored attempts to undermine and overthrow it in cooperation with US-backed Palestinian militias.

Like the murderous sanctions on Iraq throughout the 1990s, the blockade of Gaza was calculated to deprive civilians of basic necessities, rights and dignity in the hope that their suffering might force their leadership to surrender or collapse.

In many respects things may seem more dire than a year ago.

Barack Obama, the US president, whom many hoped would change the vicious anti-Palestinian policies of his predecessor, George Bush, has instead entrenched them as even the pretense of a serious peace effort has vanished.

According to media reports, the US Army Corps of Engineers is assisting Egypt in building an underground wall on its border with Gaza to block the tunnels which act as a lifeline for the besieged territory (resources and efforts that ought to go into rebuilding still hurricane-devastated New Orleans), and American weapons continue to flow to West Bank militias engaged in a US- and Israeli-sponsored civil war against Hamas and anyone else who might resist Israeli occupation and colonisation.

Shifting public opinion

These facts are inescapable and bleak.

However, to focus on them alone would be to miss a much more dynamic situation that suggests Israel’s power and impunity are not as invulnerable as they appear from this snapshot.

A year after Israel’s attack and after more than two-and-a-half years of blockade, the Palestinian people in Gaza have not surrendered. Instead they have offered the world lessons in steadfastness and dignity, even at an appalling, unimaginable cost.

It is true that the European Union leaders who came to occupied Jerusalem last January to publicly embrace Ehud Olmert, the then Israeli prime minister, – while white phosphorus seared the flesh of Gazan children and bodies lay under the rubble – still cower before their respective Israel lobbies, as do American and Canadian politicians.
But the shift in public opinion is palpable as Israel’s own actions transform it into a pariah whose driving forces are not the liberal democratic values with which it claims to identify, but ultra-nationalism, racism, religious fanaticism, settler-colonialism and a Jewish supremacist order maintained by frequent massacres.

The universalist cause of justice and liberation for Palestinians is gaining adherents and momentum especially among the young. I witnessed it, for example, among Malaysian students I met at a Palestine solidarity conference held by the Union of NGOs of The Islamic World in Istanbul last May, and again in November as hundreds of student organisers from across the US and Canada converged to plan their participation in the global Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions modeled on the successful struggle against South African apartheid in the 1980s.

‘Bankrupt’ state

This week, thousands of people from dozens of countries are attempting to reach Gaza to break the siege and march alongside Palestinians who have been organising inside the territory.

Each of the individuals traveling with the Gaza Freedom March, Viva Palestina, or other delegations represents perhaps hundreds of others who could not make the journey in person, and who are marking the event with demonstrations and commemorations, visits to their elected officials, and media campaigns.

Against this flowering of activism, Zionism is struggling to rejuvenate its dwindling base of support. Multi-million dollar programmes aimed at recruiting and Zionising young American Jews are struggling to compete against organisations like the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, which run not on money but principled commitment to human equality.

Increasingly, we see that Israel’s hasbara (propaganda) efforts have no positive message, offer no plausible case for maintaining a status quo of unspeakable repression and violence, and rely instead on racist demonisation and dehumanisation of Arabs and Muslims to justify Israel’s actions and even its very existence.

Faced with growing global recognition and support for the courageous non-violent struggle against continued land theft in the West Bank, Israel is escalating its violence and kidnapping of leaders of the movement in Bil’in and other villages (Muhammad Othman, Jamal Juma and Abdallah Abu Rahmeh are among the leaders of this movement recently arrested).

In acting this way, Israel increasingly resembles a bankrupt failed state, not a regime confident about its legitimacy and longevity.

And despite the failed peace process industry’s efforts to ridicule, suppress and marginalise it, there is a growing debate among Palestinians and even among Israelis about a shared future in Palestine/Israel based on equality and decolonisation, rather than ethno-national segregation and forced repartition.

Last, but certainly not least, in the shadow of the Goldstone report, Israeli leaders travel around the world fearing arrest for their crimes.

For now, they can rely on the impunity that high-level international complicity and their inertial power and influence still afford them. But the question for the real international community – made up of people and movements – is whether we want to continue to see the still very incomplete system of international law and justice painstakingly built since the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazi holocaust dismantled and corrupted all for the sake of one rogue state.

What we have done in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza and the rest of Palestine is not yet enough. But our movement is growing, it cannot be stopped, and we will reach our destination.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. He will be among more than 1,300 people from 42 countries traveling to Gaza with the Gaza Freedom March this week.

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