This year and next are landmarks for Israelis, Palestinians and internationals campaigning against Occupation, advocating for a viable, sovereign Palestinian state, at peace with Israel, or other options if a viable 2-state option (as opposed to the Bantustan version currently on offer) is seen to be no longer attainable. 40 Years of Occupation was marked around the world in June with non-violent events which will continue by marking 60 years since the establishment of the state and the Nakba. Within ICAHD, my organisation, we launched a one and a half million dollar campaign to rebuild 300 homes demolished by Israel, including full page adverts in The New York Times and the Guardian, to mark our 40-60 Campaign, (funded by Americans, including holocaust survivors and Orthodox Jews) to expose Israeli policies of discrimination, whilst working to end the Occupation.
The 40 Years of Occupation was marked around the world in June with a multitude of events, gleaning much media attention. Next year’s worldwide campaigns will continue the Bilbao Declaration which invokes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN resolutions and calls for the establishment of civil society networks. Similarly, the Florence Declaration underlines the role of civil society, and seeks to reinforce the Arab League Peace Plan. There is also the Avaaz.org internet lobby, a spin-off of MoveOn and in UK War on Want, ICAHD UK and many others in the Enough! coalition are blazing the way for civil society, too. In Israel, as many as a million Israeli civilians have voted with their feet and left the country, while some say the real refusal rate of youth to serve in the IDF may be as high as 50%. Grey refusal in the Air Force is also very high, said to be 30%.
John Pilger wrote recently:
“The ethnic cleansing of Palestine is as much America's crusade as Israel's. On 16th August, the Bush administration announced an unprecedented $30bn military "aid package" for Israel, the world's fourth biggest military power, an air power greater than Britain, a nuclear power greater than France. No other country on earth enjoys such immunity, allowing it to act without sanction, as Israel. No other country has such a record of lawlessness: not one of the world's tyrannies comes close. International treaties, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, ratified by Iran, are ignored by Israel. There is nothing like it in UN history.” I’d add that Israel has ignored over 60 UNSC resolutions, in direct negation of United Nations’ recognition of Israeli statehood.
“But [says Pilger] something is changing. Perhaps last summer's panoramic horror beamed from Lebanon on to the world's TV screens provided the catalyst. Or perhaps cynicism of Bush and Blair and the incessant use of the inanity, "terror", together with the day-by-day dissemination of a fabricated insecurity in all our lives, has finally brought the attention of the international community outside the rogue states, Britain and the US, back to one of its principal sources, Israel.”
“The swell of a boycott is growing inexorably, as if an important marker has been passed, reminiscent of the boycotts that led to sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Both Mandela and Desmond Tutu have drawn this parallel; so has South African cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils and other illustrious Jewish members of the liberation struggle.” [end quote]
Ronnie Kasrils said, in fact, on visiting Palestine this year, that it is 100 times worse there than apartheid South Africa. And UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, has said that human rights conditions in the EU trade agreement should be invoked and Israel's trading preferences suspended. This was echoed by Clare Short, with us today, in a June 26th debate in the British Parliament.
Also in early July, the Dutch government warned a Rotterdam-based company to stop work on the construction of the 700 kilometre-long "separation barrier" or “apartheid wall”, as its construction was ruled illegal by the ICJ in 2004. In America major churches such as the Presbyterians have ongoing processes of Mission Responsibility Through Investment: MRTI in place, which lead to divestment.
I would say that those who read the facts on the ground, the infrastructure, and the money trail, and the political declarations or meaningful silences or constructive ambiguity (or even warnings of the next intifada brewing if November produces yet another slap in the face to the Palestinians) – are less than optimistic.
International civil society, as represented at this meeting and at Social Forum meetings, consisting of peace and human rights groups, faith-based groups, trade unions, universities and intellectuals, and all those ordinary people of the world in solidarity with the Palestinian people and the Israeli peace camp, is the key to liberation. When even the Peace NGOs Forum run by the Peres Centre for Peace holds a conference in Florence to engage with international civil society because it sees it as the only effective counterweight, one sees a growing realisation that only civil society can bear this singular burden of democracy, not least to empower politicians at forums such as this – the United Nations and the European Parliament.
I see, after five years of working with diplomats, politicians and aid workers in Israel and Palestine, that on an individual basis there’s enormous personal support and empathy for the Palestinian cause. Because they see it. They “get” it. But actually diplomats have no power. They are the ‘hollow men’ and their own governments are unable and unwilling, often for economic or domestic reasons, to translate diplomatic empathy into policy. Thus the gulf between realpolitik and policies of peace or real democracy. Between the peoples of the world and the power bases. Between those millions who took to the streets against the Occupation of Iraq or those who went to war, willy-nilly defying warnings.
I recall Ophir Pines-Paz, when Minister of Internal Affairs, insisting at a conference in Jerusalem about the city’s future (attended by the “left”): “Give me a hard time. I need to hear from you so I can offset pressure I get from other lobbies.” Similarly, in Florence, in June this year, Romano Prodi told the Peace NGOs that he can’t pressure George Bush or interfere in Israeli domestic policy, but said “Italian civil society can help you a lot with this.” In other words, only if we build a successful grassroots, civil society struggle, similar to that of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the 80s or Civil Rights in the 60s, will the diplomats and politicians become sufficiently compelled to change policy.
So much happens so fast on a daily basis (home demolitions, arrests, settler violence, Wall infrastructure, tree uprootings, detentions, military raids, 50% of Palestinian farmers now on food aid in model farming communities, and a general breakdown of Palestinian civil society, to name but a few), and Israeli and Palestinian society are so dysfunctional that outside help is vital. We need to build on action taken, connect with worldwide peace and social movements and develop them together. The real international peace movement, which mobilizes against wars and occupation, in Iraq, Lebanon or the OPT, is the only alternative. But campaigners must know the facts on the ground and subtleties, or else become unfocused, simplistic or simply hate-filled. And they must be able to counter the rhetoric of the right wing, which doesn’t recognise the Palestinians, and never has – whilst demanding of Hamas full recognition of borderless Israel as a Jewish state (invoking, with chutzpah, United Nations benchmarks!).
I see the Israeli extreme Right as a more dangerous enemy of peace than the Palestinians, most of whom want peace. Recently the IDF escorted us into Hebron for a demonstration through the Palestinian part of Hebron, rather than through militant strongholds of Kiryat Arba and settlements ruthlessly judaising Hebron’s Old City, which they considered far more dangerous to our safety. Indeed it was Hebron American Israeli Kach-supporter settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of 29 Palestinians in the Cave of the Patriarchs, the Ibrahimi Mosque, which persuaded Hamas to turn its armed struggle against civilians, and start the wave of bus and café suicide bombings which so traumatised Israelis, preventing them from feeling responsibility for Palestinian suffering. Hamas is threatening now to end its ceasefire. Let us see then if the Wall can really work or if – as Jamal has shown – it isn’t really just a huge land and water grab, a tool for massive population transfer. The Right has no peace plan. At a recent 3-day Conference in Jerusalem to discuss the future of the Jewish people, peace was not even on the Agenda. So much for their Jewish values.
We need now to co-ordinate a global campaign aimed to put pressure on Israel to end its politics of occupation and colonization and divide-and-rule tactics by sanctioning its systematic violations of international law and United Nations resolutions. We must save Israel from itself, for the sake of the majority of average peaceful Israelis and Palestinians.
As one who lived for five years in South Africa under apartheid, I heard the anti-boycott choruses from apartheid supporters, so I take such words with a large pinch of cynical salt. Boycott is a fundamentally useful way of encouraging public awareness, putting pressure and expressing disapproval. No, it is not okay. No, the world has benchmarks of human rights and international law. Occupation, colonialism and apartheid are unacceptable in the 21st century. Some say boycotts “will not change positions in a day, but they will send a clear message to the Israeli public that these positions are racist and unacceptable … They would have to choose.”
In my organisation we have gone unsuccessfully to the Supreme Court to fight a demolition order on our peace centre, Beit Arabiya, located in a Palestinian home demolished by Israel four times. So we’re now examining with the Chilean judge who brought Pinochet to trial, the possibility of using universal jurisdiction to sue those we say are committing war crimes by demolishing people’s homes (for nothing to do with security). Similarly, the UN has been served with an Urgent Action Appeal on behalf of 3,000 Jahalin Bedouin – refugees being moved off land they’ve lived on since being forced off their own lands in the early ’50s; a population transfer being enforced by military order simply because they live in the path of the Wall being built illegally around the settlement city of Maale Adumim, whose infrastructure is designed to prevent a viable Palestine from ever arising. Another Urgent Action Appeal has just been delivered as to the North Jordan Valley for more population transfer there.
I believe there are a number of actions that can be taken:
1. Present the issue of settlements to the ICJ for its ruling under international law.
2. Ensure the recommendations of the ICJ are implemented regarding the Wall, by calling the international community to boycott the Occupation, sanction Israel and divest;
3. Work on a comprehensive registry of Palestinian damages, in the knowledge that transitional justice will one day kick in as it always does;
4. If Israel doesn’t take serious steps towards real peace, Eurovision, the European Cup, the Olympic Games and other high profile events must be targeted, and the academic boycott increasingly kick in.
5. When even Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni uses the words “viable Palestine” we have to agree what real viability entails
6. Never forget the centrality of the Right of Return and Israel’s responsibility for the refugees (which must also be acknowledged for the sake of Israeli closure, psychological health and reconciliation).
Because the crimes against humanity which UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard says are being committed --– the Occupation has elements of colonialism and apartheid in it, according to him -- are unacceptable, even if governments turn a blind eye or lack the political will to take principled stands. The emperor is naked and only international civil society is free to say so. Which emperor? All the emperors. (If Madeleine Albright could put her foot down and freeze settlements, why doesn’t Ms. Rice?) Indeed, civil society has a duty to exercise and underwrite freedom and democracy or risk losing them, in the face of neo-conservative values and the neocons’ predilection for imperialistic wars – fought by Israel as their proxy in the Middle East.
Pressure works. So, sadly, we have to ratchet up the pressure, so that Israel’s government won’t continue down the suicidal road on which it’s embarked. This means lobbying those in power. Insisting that they visit Palestine with critical guides (not just the IDF or Jewish lobby) to see what is contentious. We need to ensure they visit the living conditions of Bedouin citizens living in the Negev without water, electricity, roads, health services or any conditions provided to other citizens living next door. It means writing Op-Eds or letters and getting them placed, even in local newspapers. Phoning-in to local or national radio to report on visits and actions and activisms and campaigns. Boycotting Israeli products. Insisting on the benchmarks of international law and human rights. Promoting photographic exhibitions particularly amongst students so they can see what the hell is going on.
And it demands of us to strategise and to prioritise. Are we now embarked on an anti-apartheid campaign? Are we still going for the 2-state solution or can we discuss alternatives? If the 2-state solution is already dead and buried and irrelevant because of those facts on the ground, what are the alternatives? How do we fight the so-called security infrastructure being built on E-1 -- the nail in the coffin of the 2-state solution – already two huge police stations dominate it. Can we strategise effectively? Where do we stand on Gaza and its prison-like sub-human conditions, the blockade it suffers, the poisonous water supply, the naval patrols preventing fishing, while Israeli officials talk of it being free? We must surely fund the Free Gaza campaign.
The Israeli government and the Bush Administration will not move forwards for real peace. Time and serious commitment are of the essence, as are truth, and true hearts. Peace – real peace - is long overdue. This is no time to cling for security to the line of least resistance, for feeling comfortable. We are in a state of psychological warfare, fighting for peace. A spiritual battle that we shall, insha’allah, eventually win. Together. [Thank you.]'