Folk music legend Pete Seeger endorses boycott of Israel

Pete Seeger and Jeff Halper of ICAHD

Pete Seeger and Jeff Halper of ICAHD

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Folk music legend Pete Seeger has come out in support of the growing Palestinian movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel as a program for justice for Palestinians and a route to peace in the Middle East.

Seeger, 92, participated in last November’s online virtual rally “With Earth and Each Other,” sponsored by the Arava Institute, an Israeli environmental organization, and by the Friends of the Arava Institute. The Arava Institute counts among its close partners and major funders the Jewish National Fund, responsible since 1901 for securing land in Palestine for the use of Jews only while dispossessing Palestinians. Although groups in the worldwide BDS movement had requested that he quit the event, Seeger felt that he could make a strong statement for peace and justice during the event.

During a January meeting at his Beacon, NY, home with representatives from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and Adalah-NY, Pete Seeger explained, “I appeared on that virtual rally because for many years I’ve felt that people should talk with people they disagree with. But it ended up looking like I supported the Jewish National Fund. I misunderstood the leaders of the Arava Institute because I didn’t realize to what degree the Jewish National Fund was supporting Arava. Now that I know more, I support the BDS movement as much as I can.”

Jeff Halper, the Coordinator of ICAHD, added, “Pete did extensive research on this. He read historical and current material and spoke to neighbors, friends, and three rabbis before making his decision to support the boycott movement against Israel.” Seeger has for some time given some of the royalties from his famous Bible-based song from the 1960s, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” to ICAHD for their work in rebuilding demolished homes and exposing Israel’s practice of pushing Palestinians in Israel off their land in favor of the development of Jewish villages and cities.

The November virtual rally “With Earth and Each Other” was billed as an apolitical effort to bring Israelis and Palestinians together to work for the environment. Dave Lippman from Adalah-NY noted, “Arava’s online event obfuscated basic facts about Israel’s occupation and systematic seizure of land and water from Palestinians. Arava’s partner and funder, the JNF, is notorious for planting forests to hide Palestinian villages demolished by Israel in order to seize land. Arava was revealed as a sterling practitioner of Israeli government efforts to ‘Rebrand Israel’ through greenwashing and the arts.”

Currently, the JNF is supporting an Israeli government effort to demolish the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib in order to plant trees from the JNF that were paid for by the international evangelical group GOD-TV. The Friends of the Arava Institute’s new board chair recently published an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post that only cautiously questions some activities of the JNF, an organization whose very raison-d’etre is to take over land for Jews at the expense of the Palestinian Arab population.

Pete Seeger’s long-time colleague Theodore Bikel, an Israeli-American known for his life-long involvement with Israeli culture, recently supported the Israeli artists who have refused to perform in a new concert hall in Ariel, a large illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Seeger joins a growing roster of international performers who have declined to whitewash, greenwash, or in any way enable Israel’s colonial project, including Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron, Roger Waters, Devendra Banhart, and the Pixies.

Jeff Halper: Pete, join the artists who are boycotting Israel

LETTER TO PETE SEEGER FROM JEFF HALPER

Dear Pete,

Jeff Halper with legendary singer and ICAHD supporter Pete Seeger.

All the best from your friends in Israel/Palestine. In that spirit, I was surprised to hear of your planned participation in With Earth and Each Other: A Virtual Rally for a Better Middle East. While at first blush it might seem to have something in common with the work of ICAHD and other Israeli and Palestinian peace groups — attempting to build bridges between peoples — it is actually something quite different.

One of the lead partners in the effort is the Jewish National Fund, which is responsible for the allocation of land in Israel. As such, it is a mainstay of the ever-increasing apartheid system there. Among their most recent activities has been the planting of a forest to cover a Bedouin village in the Negev from which the residents have been forcibly removed. They are in fact engaged in various tree-planting exercises that brand them as an environmental organization, when in fact their purpose is to secure the land of Israel, if not all of Palestine, for Jews only. That is their historical role, and so it remains. Efforts to paint Israel as environmentally concerned are mere greenwashing. Israel has repeatedly torn down Palestinian neighborhoods by declaring them green zones.

As you know, Israel has doggedly pursued a policy of settlement expansion, home demolition, and gradual ethnic cleansing of Palestinians throughout Israel proper and its occupied territories. Millions of Palestinians languish in internal and external refugee camps. In the wake of brutal assaults on Gaza and aid flotillas, the world is increasingly outraged.

A broad array of Palestinian civil society groups called in 2005 for a program of boycotts, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to conform to international law and stop blocking justice for Palestinians. This call has received widespread support. But the boycott includes a cultural and academic boycott as well. The purpose of this effort is to deny Israel the ability to brand itself as a normal nation while flouting the law and suppressing an occupied people. Brand Israel is their strategy; ours is to insist on no business as usual with the regime, as was done successfully in the struggle against apartheid South Africa.

In recent months, increasing numbers of artists have decided to forego performing in Israel. Gil Scott-Heron and Elvis Costello have explicitly stated that they will not participate in the whitewashing, greenwashing, or any washing of this rogue regime. Many others have quietly scuttled their planned tours.

I hope that you will decide to join these artists of conscience and once again make a bold stand for justice. The movement is gathering strength, the violators of civilized norms are fearful, and change is in the air.

Thanks for giving me a hearing,

Jeff Halper

A Renewed ICAHD Call For Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Against Israeli Occupation & Discrimination

Monday, January 25, 2010

Renewed BDS Call from ICAHD (266)

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) was one of the first Israeli organizations to endorse a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign and to formulate a statement, issued in January 2005, calling on the international community to support it. Over the past decade and a half ICAHD has played a key role in expanding the BDS campaign and working with groups around the world in identifying effective targets. This revised statement reaffirms ICAHD’s support for BDS as an instrument of Palestinian liberation and brings our call into the framework of the Unified Palestinian Civil Society Call of 2005.

After more than four decades of diplomatic and grassroots efforts aimed at inducing Israel to end its Occupation while nevertheless watching it grow ever stronger and more permanent, ICAHD is issuing this statement in support of a campaign of BDS based upon the fundamental principles of the Unified Palestinian Civil Society Call:

  • Ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
  • Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  • Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

Such a formulation addresses the fundamental issues underlying the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians; it targets Israel’s Occupation policy and its structured discrimination against its Arab-Palestinian citizens rather than Israel per se. Without specifying a particular solution to the conflict, a BDS campaign will be in effect either until Israel becomes a truly democratic state of all its citizens living peacefully alongside a Palestinian state or a single state, bi-national or unitary, which encompasses both peoples.

Since sanctions are a powerful, non-violent means of resisting oppression, ICAHD supports the following actions:

  • Stopping the purchase of Israeli arms, security products and services by governments, local authorities and corporations, while making the sales or transfer of arms to Israel conditional upon their use in ways that do not perpetuate the Occupation or violate human rights and international humanitarian law;
  • Divesting from companies that profit from involvement in the Occupation or help perpetuate it;
  • Boycott of settlement products, including annulment of the “Association Agreements” between Israel and the European Union due to Israeli violations of marketing settlements products as “Made in Israel” and the Agreements human right provisions;
  • Boycott of Israeli academic institutions, which have not fulfilled their responsibility of upholding the academic freedoms of their Palestinian counterparts. Our call for an academic boycott means refraining from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration, or joint projects with Israeli institutions. It does not call for boycotting individual scholars or researchers in any way;
  • Boycott of cultural events, be they performances of Israeli performers or artists abroad or of foreign performers and artists appearing in Israel, of participation in cultural events such as book or trade fairs held in Israel or of Israeli installations abroad, except those of Israelis and internationals who stand in solidarity with the principles listed above and whose performances at least refer to them;
  • Boycott of participation in Israeli sports events and of Israeli participation in sports events abroad;
  • Endeavoring to get academic, professional and cultural associations to adopt resolutions condemning Israeli policies; and
  • Holding individuals, be they policy-makers, military personnel carrying out orders or others, personally accountable for human rights violations, including trial before international courts and bans on travel to other countries.

ICAHD calls on the international community – the UN, governments, political parties, human rights and political groups, trade unions, university communities and faith-based organizations, as well as concerned individuals – to do everything possible to hold Israel accountable for its occupation policies and actions while ensuring the equal rights and security of both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. We also call on the Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian political organizations to adhere to human rights conventions and support the joint efforts of our civil societies to reach an end to this tragic conflict and usher in a just peace for all the peoples of the region. The urgency of this appeal is of the utmost.

Some Hard Truths about Israel

 

Now that the Kerry talks are about to crash and burn, as many of us knew they would before they even got started, it is time to wake up to the reality the Palestinians face as the hope for a viable state has disappeared into the nether region of Israeli and American deception and hypocrisy.  That is, there will be no state for the Palestinian people as long as Israel and America have anything to say about it.  To work for this illusory State is to collaborate with the Israeli and American intention to distract us with false hopes while Israel continues to build its hegemony over the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem, which has been the intention of Israel since the start of the Zionist movement of the late 19th century.

I want to be clear in the position I am taking.  Israel does not want peace with the Palestinians nor do they want a Palestinian State.  To believe otherwise is to ignore the history of over sixty years of dispossession, illegal settlements, violations of international laws and treaties, and the consistent and increasing repression of Palestinian rights and freedoms.   What they want is to disappear Palestinians and the entire idea of a Palestinian state.   The sooner we accept this hard truth, the sooner we can actually work for the end of the occupation and a solution that might actually make sense.

What Israel wants is what Israel has right now:  One state that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, and one they have complete and absolute control over.  This is the way things are right now.   These are the facts on the ground.  This is Israel’s version of the one-state solution.   It is obvious why they will never accede to a two-state solution; they already have it all.

This is then a very important moment.   With the end of the peace talks and the realization that Israel will continue to build settlements and restrict the Palestinians ability to live and function in as many ways as they can, and with the very real possibility that Israel will annex both the settlement s and Area C (62% of the West Bank, currently under the complete control of Israel) into the Jewish State of Israel, what is left for the Palestinians?   And what is left for us to do to oppose the Israeli reality of an Apartheid state.

The Palestinians live in Bantustans that are controlled by Israel,  completely encircled by the separation wall, settlements, checkpoints, a maze of Jewish only roads, and the Omni-present IDF.  They cannot move around, they cannot find work, they cannot go to school; they are almost wholly fed and supported through charity from the European Union and the United Nations.  They are homeless, stateless, and miserable.   Yet they continue to struggle for statehood and dignity. Their courage is inspiring, and we must support their struggle.

Yet nothing will or can be done within Israel.  That is another hard truth we must accept.  Israeli power and Israeli society have abandoned any sense of justice and morality (with some notable exceptions like ICAHD.org and a few other courageous organizations and individuals), and have chosen to feed on the racism and apartheid that allows them to live contentedly along the Mediterranean Sea and call themselves a democratic (Jewish) nation, a contradiction in terms if I have ever heard one.

Perhaps the hardest truth of all is that we understand that Israel is a rogue nation, an apartheid state, and work to isolate it from the international community through all the non-violent means available to us.   The Call for BDS does just this, and it is gaining traction all around the world, as the Israeli call for sanctions against it prove all too clearly.

This isolation and boycott campaign does not mean delegitimizing the state of Israel, which Israel itself is doing a very good job of, and it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.   This is about ending the occupation, apartheid, injustice and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.  We are the only ones who can do that.  This is the final hard truth we must face.

But we are now free of the distractions of bogus peace talks that go nowhere, and politicians who don’t want peace and couldn’t care less about the Palestinian people.  The road ahead is now clear of such obstacles, and we can now move forward to create a movement that has a real chance to change this obscene and criminal state of affairs that has gone on far too long.

___________

Kenneth Boas teaches in the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh and is the Chair of the Board of ICAHD-USA.

You Can’t Get There From Here: The Need for “Collapse with Agency” in Palestine

Even as I write this, the bulldozers have been busy throughout that one indivisible country known by the bifurcated term Israel/Palestine. Palestinian homes, community centers, livestock pens, and other “structures” (as the Israel authorities dispassionately call them) have been demolished in the Old City, Silwan, and various parts of “Area C” in the West Bank, as well among the Bedouin – Israeli citizens – in the Negev/Naqab. This is merely mopping up, herding the last of the Arabs into their prison cells where, forever, they will cease to be heard or heard from, a non-issue in Israel and, eventually, in the wider world distracted by bigger, more pressing matters.

An as-yet confidential report submitted by the European consuls in Jerusalem and Ramallah raises urgent concerns over the “forced expulsion” of Palestinians – a particularly strong term for European diplomats to use –from Area C of the West Bank (the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control but which today contains less than 5% of the Palestinian population). Focusing particularly on the rise of house demolitions by the Israeli authorities and the growing economic distress of the Palestinians living in Area C, the report mentions the fertile and strategic Jordan Valley (where the Palestinian population has declined from 250,000 to 50,000 since the start of the Occupation) plans to relocate 3,000 Jahalin Bedouin to a barren hilltop above the Jerusalem garbage dump and the ongoing but accelerated demolition of Palestinian homes (500 in 2011).

At the same time the “judaization” of Jerusalem continues apace, a “greater” Israeli Jerusalem steadily isolating the Palestinian parts of the city from the rest of Palestinian society while ghettoizing their inhabitants, more than 100,000 of which now live beyond the Wall. Some 120 homes were demolished in East Jerusalem in 2011; over the same period the Israeli government announced the construction of close to 7,000 housing units for Jews in East and “Greater” Jerusalem. “If current trends are not stopped and reversed,” said a previous EU report, “the establishment of a viable Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders seems more remote than ever. The window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing….”

In fact, it closed long ago. In terms of settlers and Palestinians, the Israeli government treats the whole country as one. Last year it demolished three times more homes of Israeli citizens (Arabs, of course) than it did in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The demolition of Bedouin homes in the Negev/Naqab is part of a plan approved by the government to remove 30,000 citizens from their homes and confine them to townships.

None of this concerns “typical” Israelis even if they have heard of it (little appears in the news). For them, the Israeli-Arab conflict was won and forgotten years ago, somewhere around 2004 when Bush informed Sharon that the US does not expect Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, thus effectively ending the “two-state solution” and when Arafat “mysteriously” died.

Since then, despite occasional protests from Europe, the “situation” has been normalized. Israelis enjoy peace and quiet, personal security, and a booming economy (with the usual neoliberal problems of fair allocation). The unshakable, bi-partisan support of the American government and Congress effectively shields it from any kind of international sanctions. Above all, Israeli Jews have faith that those pesky Arabs living somewhere “over there” beyond the Walls and barbed-wire barriers have been pacified and brought under control by the IDF. A recent poll found that “security,” the term Israelis use instead of “occupation” or “peace,” was ranked eleventh among the concerns of the Israeli public, trailing well behind employment, crime, corruption, religious-secular differences, housing, and other more pressing issues.

For the international community, the “Quartet” representing the US, the EU, Russia, and the UN in the non-existent “peace process” has gone completely silent. (Israel refused to table its position on borders and other key negotiating issues by the January 26th “deadline” laid down by the Quartet, and no new meetings are scheduled). The US has abandoned any pretense as an “honest broker.” Months ago, when the US entered its interminable election “season,” Israel received a green light from both the Democrats and Republicans to do whatever it sees fit in the Occupied Territory. Last May the Republicans invited Netanyahu to address Congress and send a clear message to Obama: hands off Israel. That same week, Obama, not to be outdone, addressed an AIPAC convention and reaffirmed Bush’s promise that Israel will not have to return to the 1967 borders or relinquish its major settlement blocs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He also took the occasion to promise an American veto should the Palestinians request membership in the UN – though that would merely amount to an official acceptance of the two-state treaty that the US claims it has been fostering all these years. No, as far as Israel and Israeli Jews are concerned, the conflict and even the need for pretense is over. The only thing remaining is to divert attention to more “urgent” global matters so that the Palestinian issue completely disappears. Voila Iran.

Oh, but what about the “demographic threat,” that “war of the womb” that will eventually force a solution? Well, as long as Israel has the Palestinian Authority to self-segregate its people, it has nothing to worry about. While the Palestinian Authority plays the “two-state solution” game, Israel can simply herd the Palestinians into the 70 tiny islands of Areas A and B, lock the gates, and let the international community feed them – and go about placidly building a Greater Land of Israel with American and European complicity. Indeed, nothing demonstrates self-segregation more than Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s neoliberal scheme of building a Palestinian …something… “from the ground up.” By building for the well-to-do in new private-sector cities like Rawabi, located safely in Area A, by building new highways (with Japanese and USAID assistance) that respect Israeli “Greater” Jerusalem and channel Palestinian traffic from Ramallah to Bethlehem through faraway Jericho, by expressing a willingness to accept Israeli territorial expansion in exchange for the ability to “do business,” Fayyad has invented yet a new form of neoliberal oppression-by-consent: viable apartheid (viable, at least, for the Palestinian business class). And as in the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa, the Palestinian Authority maintains a repressive internal order through its own American-trained/Israeli-approved militia, a second layer of occupation. (During the 2008 assault on Gaza, one of the few places in the world where there were no demonstrations was the West Bank — where they were forbidden by the Palestinian Authority. Then-Prime Minister Olmert crowed that this was evidence of how effectively the Palestinians had been pacified.)

Indeed, by clinging to the two-state solution and continuing to participate in “negotiations” years after they have proven themselves a trap, the Palestinian leadership plays a central role in its own people’s warehousing. The reality – even the fact – of occupation gets buried under the diversions set up by the fraudulent yet unending “peace process.” This only enables Israel not only to imprison the Palestinians in tiny cells — witness today’s mini-ethnic cleansing, just one of thousands of micro-events that have the cumulative effect of displacement, expulsion, segregation, and incarceration, but it also enables Israel to then blame the victims for causing their own oppression! When a Palestinian leadership assumes the prerogative to negotiate a political resolution yet lacks any genuine authority or leverage to do so, and when, in addition, it fails to abandon negotiations even after they have been exposed as a trap, it comes dangerously close to being collaborationist. For its part, Israel is off the hook. Instead of going through the motions of establishing an apartheid regime, it simply exploits the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to perpetuate the illusion of negotiations as a smokescreen covering its virtual imprisonment of the Palestinian “inmates.” Once the current mopping up operations are completed, the process of incarceration will be complete.

Today the only alternative agency to the Palestinian Authority is segments of the international civil society. The Arab and Muslims people for whom Palestinian liberation is an integral part of the Arab Spring, stand alongside thousands of political and human rights groups, critical activists, churches, trade unions, and intellectuals throughout the world. Crucial as it is for keeping the issue alive and building grassroots support for the Palestinian cause that will steadily “trickle up” and affect governments’ policies, however, civil society advocacy is a stop-gap form of agency, ultimately unable to achieve a just peace by itself. We, too, are trapped in the dead-end personified by the two-state solution, reference to a “peace process” and their attendant “negotiations.” There is no way forward in the current paradigm. We must break out into a world of new possibilities foreclosed by the present options: a “two-state” apartheid regime or warehousing.

In my view, while advocacy and grassroots mobilization remain relevant, several tasks stand before us. First, we must endeavor to hasten the collapse of the present situation and, subsequently, when new paradigms of genuine justice emerge from the chaos, be primed to push forward an entirely different solution that is currently impossible or inconceivable, be that a single democratic state over the entire country, a bi-national state, a regional confederation, or some other alternative yet to be formulated. The Palestinians themselves must create a genuine, inclusive agency of their own that, following the collapse, can effectively seize the moment. Formulating a clear program and strategy, they will then be equipped to lead their people to liberation and a just peace, with the support of activists and others the world over.

A necessary and urgent first step towards collapsing the otherwise permanent regime of oppression in Israel/Palestine is that we stop talking about a two-state solution. It’s dead and gone as a political option – if, indeed, it ever really existed. It should be banned from the discourse because reference to an irrelevant “solution” only serves to confuse the discussion. Granted, this will be hard for liberals to do; everyone else, however, has given up on it. Most Palestinians, having once supported it, now realize that Israel will simply not withdraw to a point where a truly viable and sovereign state can emerge. The Israeli government, backed by the Bush-Obama policies on the settlement blocs, doesn’t even make pretence of pursuing it anymore, and the Israeli public is fine with the status quo. Nor does the permanent warehousing of the Palestinians seem to faze the American or European governments, or the Arab League. Even AIPAC has moved on to the “Iranian threat.”

Behind the insistence of the liberal Zionists of J Street, Peace Now, the Peace NGOs Forum run out of the Peres Center for Peace, and others to hang on to a two-state solution at any cost is a not-so-hidden agenda. They seek to preserve Israel as a Jewish state even at the cost of enforcing institutional discrimination against Israel’s own Palestinian citizens. The real meaning of a “Jewish democracy” is living with apartheid and warehousing while protesting them. No, the liberals will be the hardest to wean away from the two-state snare. Yet if they don’t abandon it, they run the risk of promoting de facto their own worst nightmare of warehousing while providing the fig-leaf of legitimacy to cover the policies of Israel’s extreme right – all in the name of “peace.” This is what happens when one’s ideology places restrictions on one’s ability to perceive evil or to draw necessary if difficult conclusions. When wishful thinking becomes policy, it not only destroys your effectiveness as a political actor but it also leads you into positions, policies, and alliances that, in the end, are inimical to your own goals and values. Jettisoning all talk of a “two-state solution” removes the major obstacle to clear analysis and the ability to move forward.

The obfuscation created by the “two-state solution” now out of the way, what emerges as clear as day is naked occupation, an apartheid regime extending across all of historic Palestine/Israel and the spectre of warehousing. Since none of these forms of oppression can ever be legitimized or transformed into something just, the task before us becomes clear: to cause their collapse by any means necessary. There are many ways to do this, just as the ANC did. Already Palestinian, Israel, and international activists engage in internal resistance, together with international challenges to occupation represented by the Gaza flotillas and attempts to “crash” Israeli borders. Many civil society actors the world over have mobilized, some around campaigns such as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), others around direct actions, still others engaged in lobbying the UN and governments through such instruments as the Human Rights Council, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and international courts. There have been campaigns to reconvene the Tribunal that, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, has the authority and duty to sanction Israel for its gross violations. Dozens of groups and individuals alike engage in public speaking, mounting Israel Apartheid Weeks on university campuses and working through the media. And much more.

And here is where Palestinian civil society plays a crucial role, a role that cannot be played by non-Palestinians. If it is agreed that the Palestinian Authority must go if we are to get beyond the two-state trap – indeed, the dismantling of the PA being a major part of the collapse of the present system – then this call must originate from within the Palestinian community. Non-Palestinians must join in, of course, but the issue of who represents the Palestinians is their call exclusively.

Non-Palestinians can also suggest various end-games. I’ve written, for example, about a Middle East economic confederation, believing that a regional approach is necessary to address the core issues. The Palestinian organization PASSIA published a collection of twelve possible outcomes. It is obvious, though, that it is the sole prerogative of the Palestinian people to decide what solution, or range of solutions, is acceptable. For this, and to organize effectively so as to bring about a desired outcome, the Palestinians need a new truly representative agency, one that replaces the PA and gives leadership and direction to broad-based civil society agency, one that has the authority to negotiate a settlement and actually move on to the implementation of a just peace.

As of now, it appears there is only one agency that possesses that legitimacy and mandate: the Palestinian National Council of the PLO (although Hamas and the other Islamic parties are not (yet) part of the PLO). Reconstituting the PNC through new elections would seem the most urgent item on the Palestinian agenda today – without which, in the absence of effective agency, we are all stuck in rearguard protest actions and Israel prevails. Our current situation, caught in the limbo between seeking the collapse of the oppressive system we have and having a Palestinian agency that can effectively lead us towards a just resolution, is one of the most perilous we’ve faced. One person’s limbo is another person’s window of opportunity. Say what you will about Israel, it knows how to hustle and exploit even the smallest of opportunities to nail down its control permanently.

“Collapse with agency,” I suggest, could be a title of our refocused efforts to weather the limbo in the political process. Until a reinvigorated PNC or other representative agency can be constituted, a daunting but truly urgent task, Palestinian civil society might coalesce enough to create a kind of interim leadership bureau. This itself might be a daunting task. Most Palestinian leaders have either been killed by Israel or are languishing in Israeli prisons, while Palestinian civil society has been shattered into tiny disconnected and often antagonistic pieces. At home major divisions have been sown between “’48” and “’67” Palestinians; Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West Bank have been effectively severed; and within the West Bank restrictions on movement among a bewildering array of “areas” – A, B, C, C-Restricted, H-1, H-2, nature reserves, closed military areas – have resulted in virtual, largely disconnected Palestinian mini-societies. Political divisions, especially among secular/traditional and Islamic factions, have been nurtured, not least by Israel. Overall, the Palestinian population, exhausted by years of sacrifice and resistance, impoverished and preoccupied with mere survival, has been left largely rudderless as many of its most educated and skilled potential leaders have left or are forbidden by Israel to return.

For its part, the Palestinian leadership has done little to bridge the wider divisions among those falling under PA rule, Palestinian citizens of Israel, residents of the refugee camps, and the world-wide diaspora, divisions that have grown even wider since the PLO and the PNC fell moribund. Indeed, major portions of the Palestinian diaspora (and one may single out especially but not exclusively the large and prosperous communities of Latin America), have disconnected from the national struggle completely. The Palestinians possess some extremely articulate spokespeople and activists, but they tend to be either a collection of individual voices only tenuously tied to grassroots organizations or grassroots resistance groups such as the Popular Committees that enjoy little political backing or strategic direction.

Ever aware that the struggle for liberation must be led by Palestinians, our collective task at the moment, in my view, is to bring about the collapse of the present situation in Palestine in order to exploit its fundamental unsustainabilty. The elimination of the Palestinian Authority is one way to precipitate that collapse. It would likely require Israel to physically reoccupy the Palestinian cities and probably Gaza as well (as if they have ever been de-occupied), bringing the reality of raw occupation back to the center of attention. Such a development would likely inflame Arab and Muslim public opinion, not to mention that of much of the rest of the world, and would create an untenable situation, forcing the hand of the international community. Israel would be put in an indefensible position, thus paving the way for new post-collapse possibilities – this time with an effective and representative Palestinian agency in place and a global movement primed to follow its lead.

But given the underlying unsustainability of the Occupation and the repressive system existing throughout historic Palestine – the massive violations of human rights and international law, the disruptive role the conflict plays in the international system and its overt brutality – collapse could come from a variety of places, some of them unsuspected and unrelated to Israel/Palestine. An attack on Iran could reshuffle the cards in the Middle East, and the Arab Spring is still a work in progress. Major disruptions in the flow of oil to the West due an attack on Iran, internal changes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, instability in Russia, and even the fact that China has no oil of its own could cause major financial crises worldwide. Sino-American tensions, environmental disasters, or Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban with unpredictable Indian reactions may all play an indirect yet forceful role. Who knows? Ron Paul, President Gingrich’s newly appointed Secretary of State, might end all military, economic, and political support for Israel, in which case the Occupation (and more) would fall within a month.

Whatever the cause of the collapse – and we must play an active role in bring it about – it is incumbent upon us to be ready, mobilized, and organized if we are to seize that historic moment, which might be coming sooner than we expect. Effective and broadly representative Palestinian agency will be critical. Collapse with agency is the only way to get “there” from “here.”

Israeli government approves plans to transfer 30,000 Palestinian Bedouin

While attention is focused on the Palestinian Authority’s UN recognition initiative, Israel is quietly taking hugely significant steps to transfer 30,000 Palestinian Bedouin in the Naqab (Negev) desert from their ancestral lands.

Recently, the cabinet of the Israeli government approved plans for another large-scale cleansing of the Bedouin community in the Naqab. The plan would “relocate” 30,000 of those who managed to remain on their land after more than two thirds of all Bedouin were uprooted during the establishment of Israel.

The Bedouin once were a flourishing community of some 90,000 persons who lived around the city of Bir al-Saba (Beersheva). Yet the expulsions that took place in 1948 were the prelude to their ongoing expulsion since then.

After the establishment of Israel, military rule was imposed on the Beersheva Bedouin for more than 18 years. Despite the end of the military rule in 1967, the Bedouin story of dispossession continues until today. Almost all their land was seized by the state using a set of legal maneuvers such as the absentee property law and the land acquisition laws of 1953.

Despite the expulsions that took place during the establishment of the State of Israel on their land, today the Arab Bedouin population is estimated to number more than 200,000 persons and constitutes one-third of the Naqab’s population. Today, half of Bedouin citizens of Israel live in 46 “unrecognized” villages. These are Bedouin villages in the Naqab which Israel does not recognize as legal; the villages are deprived of basic services like housing, water, electricity, education and health care. The rest live in townships that the state established for them in the 1970s in an aggressive policy of forced sedentarization.

Israel refuses to respect the rights of its own citizens; in this case 100,000 persons (the population of the 46 unrecognized villages) who are part of the 1.5 million Palestinian national minority treated as second-class citizens in Israel. Despite continuous policies since 1948 to Judaize the Naqab, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is currently considering the possibility of a final push to modify the demography of the region once and for all and hence tighten Israel’s control over it. The recent Goldberg and Prawer Commission recommendations of “relocating” 30,000 Bedouin from their native land was approved in September by the Israeli government (Eliezer Goldberg is a former Israeli high court judge; Ehud Prawer a senior Israeli civil servant; both men have headed panels set up to study the status of Bedouins in the Naqab).

Since 1948, successive Israeli governments have not dealt seriously with the Bedouin land ownership question, or “problem” in the Israeli state’s lexicon, in the Naqab. Successive new governments formulated new plans for dealing with the unrecognized villages and land claims. To this day, no government has applied universal principles of human rights to resolve the dispute between the Bedouin community and the state over land ownership.

It appears that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is in the process of adopting extreme measures toward this segment of the Arab minority in Israel that remained within its historical homeland to achieve a final solution to this “problem.” The plan approved by the Israeli cabinet involves the expulsion and “relocation” of 30,000 Bedouins from their land out of a total of 100,000 residents of the unrecognized villages. It is no coincidence that such drastic measures are close to implementation.

With the regional shift in politics amid the Arab uprisings and the move towards recognition of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu’s coalition feels an urgent need to take the strategic decision of protecting space for Jewish settlers in the Naqab by dispossessing more indigenous Bedouin from their own historical land.

Land grab

The struggle between Israel and its Naqab Bedouin citizens is about a state bent on Judaizing the land by dispossessing its indigenous inhabitants, on the one hand, and indigenous land ownership rights, on the other. The land grab from the indigenous Bedouins started as early as 1949. By the 1950s, the majority of the remaining Bedouin (11,000) was expelled from the western part of the Naqab into a small enclosed military reservation north east of Beersheva (and became “internally displaced” citizens).

Since then, these remaining members of the community have consistently chosen to achieve land recognition through legal means in the Israeli court system. These cases are ongoing. The most recent case was that of the Bedouin village of al-Araqib. After years of legal discussions in the Beersheva district court, the land claims of the village were not recognized despite the fact that the residents of the village hold land deeds dating back to the times of Ottoman rule in Palestine. The response came in July 2010, when the Israeli authorities, accompanied by the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) and more than 1,300 police, demolished the village.

Since the initial razing of the village, and in an amazing display of steadfastness, the people of al-Araqib rebuilt their village with their own hands. In response, the state razed the village yet again, and as of the last destruction, the village has now been rebuilt on 29 separate occasions.

Such steadfastness has posed a fundamental challenge to an Israeli government seemingly unable to understand the nature of the people power unleashed in the region over the past nine months. The village’s plight has suddenly become the symbol of the land struggle between the indigenous peoples of the Naqab and the state.

Far-right sets the agenda

According to Turkish and British archival reports, previous governments in Palestine recognized Bedouin land claims. When Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, and Herbert Samuel, the first British High Commissioner for Palestine, met Bedouin sheikhs in 1921, they recognized Bedouin land ownership, according to specific customs and tribal laws. Yet since 1948, the Israeli court system has not recognized even one land claim, despite the fact that the Bedouin have made thousands of claims on their historical land.

In December 2007, Ehud Olmert’s administration established the Goldberg Commission, which was tasked with finalizing the status of Bedouin land claims in the Naqab. Nowadays, the Bedouin seek that 600,000 dunams(150,000 acres) of land is recognized and registered in the state registry as a small portion of their historical land. Today, the Bedouin populate approximately 5 percent of the Naqab’s land, a fraction of the area of southern Palestine they inhabited prior to 1948.

A report submitted in 2008 recommended that some of the Bedouin land be recognized. According to the Goldberg proposal, half of Bedouin claims on agricultural lands they currently occupy should be granted: around 200,000dunams (50,000 acres) to be listed as Bedouin territory in the land registry bureau. In fact, this is less than half of the Bedouin land claims made since the 1970s. In addition, the Goldberg Commission recommended the recognition of a limited number of the unrecognized villages.

In January 2009, the government formed a team tasked with the implementation of these recommendations headed by Ehud Prawer, chief of the Policy Planning Department within the Prime Minister’s Office. The Prawer panel worked to implement Goldberg’s recommendations by offering 27 percent of the Bedouin claim. The Bedouin who are represented by the regional council of the unrecognized villages, and by other local and grassroots organizations, refused the offer.

The Bedouin argued that the Goldberg and Prawer recommendations would mean another catastrophe (Nakba) for them, with the loss of their land and demolition of most of their villages. The Bedouin campaigned against the Goldberg recommendations and asked for full recognition of their 46 villages and the all the land claimed by them.

In response to the possible implementation of the Goldberg recommendations, Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing party headed by foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, urged the government to cancel the “offer” and reduce the amount of land to be recognized altogether. Right-wing members of the Knesset, and local Israeli council leaders in the Naqab, came out against a plan of dividing the Naqab.

Shmulik Rifman, head of Ramat Negev Council, stated that Netanyahu’s government was taking a major risk, explaining that if “they don’t finalize the Bedouin settlement it will be very hard to enhance Jewish settlement in the Negev. This must be addressed if one wants 700,000 Jews in the Negev.” From Rifman’s viewpoint, the Naqab and Bir al-Saba/Beersheva region is still central to the state’s ideology of colonizing more of the indigenous Bedouin land.

This pressure from Israeli right-wing politicians paid off. Modifications to the official recommendations of the Goldberg report were made, including the reduction of the amount of land available to Bedouin communities, as well as reducing the compensation offered to them in order to leave their land. The stance of the Israeli right-wing parties reflects the growing anxiety of the Israeli authorities to secure the Naqab for Jewish settlers. David Rotem, a Yisrael Beiteinu member of the Knesset, argued that “The occupation of state land has come to an end. We are returning the Negev to the state of Israel’s hands.” He also recommended employing 300 civil police to enforce what amounts to the state’s dispossession of Bedouin communities so as to stop their “encroachment” on “state” land and building “illegally.”

The struggle continues

Bedouins’ peaceful actions in the face of these policies of dispossession and expulsion are ongoing. The Bedouin campaign against the implementation of the Goldberg and Prawer recommendations includes organizing protests in Arab villages across the country and boycotting the government plans at different levels. Bedouin demonstration included organizing central demonstrations in Jerusalem.

But the local indigenous population are not willing to give up the claim to their land despite the continued weekly house demolition. The Bedouin continue to raise the banner, demanding their villages and land claims be recognized. The continually shifting policies of the state and its agencies towards the local indigenous Bedouin is a clear sign of their fear of losing more land for Jewish settlements in the Naqab, and it is a natural reaction to Bedouin steadfastness. The facts clearly indicate that indigenous peoples of the Naqab do not meekly submit to state oppression, and that they are not going away.

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article and its headline incorrectly stated that the Knesset approved the transfer plans. The Knesset has not yet voted on this.

Dr. Mansour Nsasra teaches Middle East politics and international relations at the University of Exeter.

The Palestinian Authority’s Historic Mistake – and Opportunity

No one knows the precise plans of the Palestinian Authority vis-a-vis September: will Mahmoud Abbas declare a Palestinian state within recognized borders and ask that it be admitted as a full member of the UN – or not? Perhaps Abbas himself does not know. Now political leaders often make decisions alone or in consultation with a small group of advisors. As in so many matters political, however, the Palestinian leadership finds itself in a unique situation. Its main allies are not governments, and certainly not the American government, whose support for some inexplicable reason has constituted the Palestinians’ default position for the past forty years. Rather, the Palestinians’ most loyal and powerful ally is civil society. And yet, this most solid base of support remains unappreciated, unutilized, and ignored.

Three circles of popular support radiate out into the wider world, able to mobilize millions of people to the Palestinian cause. First, of course, is the Palestinian people itself. Displaced, scattered, oppressed, occupied, struggling for its national rights and very cultural identity, this “little grain of sand,” as it has been called, continues generation after generation to jam not only the vaunted Israeli military machine but that of its main supporter, the United States, who for decades has used Israel as its forward position in the Middle East.

To oppressed people everywhere, the Palestinians have become an inspiration, almost their surrogate. Their ability to remain steadfast (sumud) is proof that injustice, even when supported by the most advanced weaponry of the most powerful super-powers, can be resisted. But Israel, helped by time and geography, has succeeded in fragmenting the Palestinians. The refugees in the camps are almost completely excluded from political processes, but it is the exclusion of the Diaspora that is especially problematic. Highly educated for the most part, fluent in all the European languages, they could play a major role in promoting the Palestinian cause abroad. Indeed, a few individuals have carved out influential positions despite being excluded, even resisted, by the West Bank leadership. Instead, the Palestinian Authority has fielded, with a couple notable exceptions, a most inept and inarticulate corps of diplomats. Rather than using their greatest asset, their own people abroad as well as the legions of articulate spokespeople at home, including younger people, the Palestinian Authority has tied its own hands diplomatically just when Israel is mounting a major international offensive against it. Just recall one astounding fact: during the entire year that saw the Obama Administration taking office and the invasion of Gaza, there was no official Palestinian representative in Washington!

The second circle of civil society support for the Palestinian cause is, of course, the Arab and wider Muslim worlds. While each uprising of the “Arab Spring” has its own reasons and dynamics, the Palestinian struggle provided the inspiration. The Arab peoples came to realize that the same forces oppressing the Palestinians – militarism designed to thwart democracy and ensure neo-colonial control over their lands and resources – are at the source of their own oppression as well.

Indeed, the Palestinians possess one source of tremendous clout: they are the bone in the throat of the global powers that prevent them from completing their imperialist plans. The Palestinian struggle is not simply a local one between Palestinians and Israelis; it has become global on the order of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. It cannot be by-passed. Even though there are larger and bloodier conflicts in the Middle East, until the Palestinians signal the rest of the Muslim world that they have arrived at a political settlement with Israel and the time has come to normalize relations, the conflict is not over. A solution cannot be imposed, and the Palestinians are the gatekeepers. Nothing can happen without them, and until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is indeed resolved, the US and Europe will be unable to pursue their interests unencumbered in an empowered Middle East.

The third circle of civil society just waiting to be mobilized are the millions of ordinary people the world over whose have devoted enormous energy and resources towards the realization of Palestinian national rights. The Palestinian struggle has indeed assumed the proportions of that against apartheid. It is one of the two or three leading issues in the world. Churches, trade unions, university students, political and human rights organizations, prominent intellectuals, performers, and even key politicians have all mobilized in support of the BDS movement (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel). They are evident in the repeated attempts to break the siege of Gaza by sending international flotillas.

But they, like Palestinian civil society and that of the Arab and Muslim worlds, wait to be mobilized by the Palestinian leadership. According to newspaper accounts – unfortunately, the Authority leadership has never conducted an open discussion of the crucial September initiative and has never shared its deliberations – the two main objections to seeking membership in the UN are fear of upsetting the American administration and failure to obtain the required number of votes. The first is ridiculous. Does anyone still believe the Palestinians will gain anything by pursuing American-led “negotiations”?

The second objection, that not receiving the required votes for admission to the UN constitutes a “failure,” exposes a key flaw in the strategic thinking of the Palestinian leadership. If Abbas approaches the UN in a docile and half-hearted way, appearing more to be pushed by an Israeli refusal to negotiate than by his people’s own just cause and urgent need for independence, the Palestinian struggle will certainly suffer. Many other countries that would otherwise support the Palestinian initiative will indeed waiver, giving in to US and Israeli pressure because it seems the Palestinian themselves are not serious about it. But if he goes into the UN as the head of a national unity government with the support of the world’s peoples, Mandela-like, he could decisively change the course of events forever.

To pull off his September initiative, Abbas must reject the go-it-alone approach that the Palestinian leadership has followed fruitlessly for so long. He must recognize that civil society the world over – and in the Muslim world and Europe in particular – is the Palestinians’ most important ally. The issue is not whether the initiative “succeeds;” it is clear that the US will cast a veto. The true struggle is to pull out all the stops to show the world just how strong the Palestinian movement is. If mobilized, the collective power of the grassroots who have for years labored on the Palestinian issue will generate a momentum that will be hard to stop.

Time is of the essence. Mobilization must begin immediately. The elected representatives of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territory, joined for the first time by Palestinians of the refugee camps, inside Israel, and the Diaspora, should issue a joint “Call for Support.” Immediately following the Palestinian Call, grassroots activists would issue a Civil Society Call to support the Palestinian initiative, which would be signed by tens of thousands of people from all over the world and delivered to the UN in September. If a campaign for public support begins now, if the political leadership works intensively and closely with its own civil society to garner widespread support, more than 100,000 people can be gathered at the UN in New York in September in a mass rally for Palestinian independence. (And believe me, Israel will mobilize its own supporters!)

Inside the UN, Abbas would present Palestine’s compelling case for independence and UN membership, as he did in his New York Times piece of May 16. He would also reframe the conflict. It is not specious security issues that lay at the roots of the conflict, but Israel’s refusal to respect Palestinian national rights and to end the Occupation. As he also did in the New York Times article, Abbas must also make it clear that recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in no way compromises the right of refugees to return to their homes, a key point of future negotiations with Israel. He should also state up front that the establishment of a Palestinian state does not end the Palestinian quest, through peaceful means, of an inclusive single-state solution.

If international mobilization is pursued vigorously and Abbas exudes a genuine determination to see a Palestinian state established and recognized, more than 130 countries, including many of the leading European ones, will vote to accept Palestine into the UN. Even if this does not overrule the US veto in the Security Council, it is far more than a merely symbolic achievement and certainly cannot be considered a failure. Such a massive expression of support would demonstrate the inevitability of Palestinian statehood. It would signal the beginning rather than the end of an international campaign for Palestinian rights, one now joined by governments as well as civil society.

We, the people who have pursued Palestinian rights over the decades, Palestinians and non-Palestinian alike, are an integral part of the struggle. We have earned the right, all of us, to have our voices heard in September. Indeed, I would argue that if September comes and goes without any breakthrough due to the acquiescence and weakness of the Authority leadership, civil society support might well dissipate. The people can bring the struggle to a certain point; we cannot negotiate or pursue initiatives at the UN. If the leadership fails us then we truly have nowhere to go. All those Palestinians who have suffered, resisted and died over the past decades cannot be let down at this historic moment by a vacillating political leadership. We call on you to mobilize us. Together we shall succeed, and sooner rather than later.

Palestine/Israel: Where Do We Go From Here?

Imagine. September 22nd (or 23rd or 24th), the day after the Security Council recognizes Palestine as a member state within the 1967 borders and it is ratified in the General Assembly by more than 150 countries:

  • The Palestinian flag joins that of 192 other member states, all of whose territorial integrity is ensured by the United Nations. Indeed, this is one of the most fundamental of UN tasks.
  • The entire Matrix of Control constructed by Israel over the past 44 years collapses. There are no longer any Areas A, B, and C, or prohibitions on entering Jerusalem, since the entire West Bank, “East” Jerusalem, and Gaza are now the sovereign territory of the state of Palestine. Tens of thousands of Palestinians begin marching throughout their country, accompanied by thousands of supporters from abroad, passing through and dismantling checkpoints that have no legal status. So as not to create unnecessary confrontation, the settlements are avoided. The Palestinian government tells the settlers that they are welcome to stay in their homes, although it is made clear that their communities now come under Palestinian law and Palestinian citizens are free to move in. Those homes existing on private Palestinian land are either removed or, after compensating the Palestinian owners, are given to refugees or to families whose homes have been demolished by the Israeli authorities (some 25,000 since 1967).
  • All the myriad campaigns for pursuing Palestinian rights, including BDS, now focus on one single unifying goal: getting Israel out of Palestine. No negotiations over borders (unless the Palestinian government seeks border adjustments); no negotiations over settlements. As between any two countries, Palestine and Israel will negotiate security issues, but from a mutually beneficial point of view. No security measures need be accepted – such as an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, changes in the 1967 borders that allow Israel to retain its major settlement blocs, or Israeli control of Palestinian airspace – that in any way compromise Palestinian sovereignty.
  • Palestinian ambassadors replace “representatives” in the capitals of the world as well as in the UN. The Palestinian government is now able to utilize the international courts and UN mechanisms to seek justice and redress for decades of occupation without having to go through other parties. All the Israeli ploys to avoid international law are gone. Palestine is now unequivocally occupied. No more arguments about the very fact of occupation, no more exploiting ambiguous terms like “disputed” or “administered territories” to muddy the waters. No more “annexation” of East Jerusalem. Now governments and the UN, not only civil society supporters, call for effective international sanctions on Israel, including boycotts of military goods. Of prime importance: pressing claims against Israel going back to 1948, the Palestinian refugees’ right of return foremost among them.
  • The Palestinian Authority, now a transitional national unity government, initiates elections in which all Palestinians worldwide are entitled to participate. Palestinian citizenship is accorded to any Palestinian seeking it, and residents of both the refugee camps abroad and the Diaspora are invited to come home.
  • Even before the September vote, it must be made clear that the Palestinian vision is not of a two-state “solution” but rather of a two-state stage in a process that will ultimately result in a single state – democratic, bi-national, or part of a regional confederation. The very dynamics of two peoples sharing the same land in peace and mutual relations, together with the existence of a Palestinian community inside Israel and the right of the refugees to truly return home, lead to further evolution. It may take decades, but the idea is that both countries are transformed into a more inclusive entity on the entire land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.

A September push for Palestinian statehood appears to be the agenda of the Palestinian Authority, though it maddeningly keeps the door open for “negotiations” as well. While some Palestinians have reservations about the wisdom or scope of the move – it does not address the refugee issue, they argue, and it cannot force the removal of the occupation – it is late in the day to express them. Unless we pull out all the stops between now and September, unless the Palestinian leadership joins with its civil society to mobilize the masses of people the world over who support the Palestinian cause, the September initiative is liable to become a joke, a half-hearted attempt to merely make a point, an empty gesture that exposes, above all, the Palestinian leadership’s inability to effectively counter Israel. That would be a genuine disaster.

If the September “moment” is to be fully exploited, the Palestinian unity government must unequivocally and immediately declare its intent to go for independence and admission to the UN in September. It must be followed quickly by an effective mobilization of civil society support worldwide. Mahmoud Abbas and the PA in general should see this as an integral part of the Palestinian strategy.

International civil society is the Palestinians most important ally, but as non-Palestinians we can only organize in response to a Palestinian Call. Mobilization, then, should begin with a “Call for Support” issued by the elected representatives of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territory (the National Unity government), together with Palestinians from the refugee camps, those inside Israel, and those in the Diaspora. Immediately following this, grassroots activists throughout the world could issue a Civil Society Call to support the Palestinian initiative at the UN, to be signed by thousands of supporters and delivered to the UN in September.

Mobilization should climax at the UN in an enormous “sideshow” accompanying the application for membership, a demonstration of support held at the UN Headquarters in New York attended by tens of thousands of people from the world over. This would generate coverage and anticipation that would make it hard for the US and Europe to defy. Time is extremely short, but the infrastructure exists to make this happen – if we move quickly.

And, at long last, the PA should appoint an articulate senior official with credibility and organizational talent to coordinate the campaign and mobilize civil society. The lack of spokespeople capable of carrying the Palestinian case to the public – something Israel excels in – has hampered our ability to inform and persuade the public for decades. The official responsible for information should be given authority to establish a team of effective spokespeople, based both in Palestine and in key countries abroad, that will provide the framing and counter the campaign that Israel and its supporters have already mounted against the September initiative. The lack of articulate, pro-active people among the Palestinian diplomatic corps has also contributed to the PA’s notoriously bad public relations.

Regardless of our view on September – and we have to ask ourselves if we can afford to miss political opportunities like this – if the PA is going to pursue admission to the UN, we must do everything we can to ensure that it succeeds. And even if it doesn’t succeed (we all know an American veto is inevitable), it has advanced the Palestinian cause in two ways.

First, it has gotten fruitless “negotiations” out of the way. International support for September, including that of major European countries, arises precisely out of a realization that negotiations have been rendered impossible by Israel and its American patron. The fog has lifted. No longer will so-called negotiations be a façade for continued Israeli occupation. Indeed, the very positions set out by Netanyahu – recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; Israel’s retention of its settlement blocs; a “united” Jerusalem under Israeli control; a demilitarized Palestinian state that has no control over its borders, land, resources, or the movement of its people; a solution to the refugee problem “outside Israel,” and no negotiations with a government that includes Hamas – become manifestly unacceptable.

And second, rejecting Palestinian admission to the UN puts an end to the “two-state solution.” As long as the possibility of two states could be held out, any other option, including one state or a regional confederation, was effectively eliminated. Moving beyond that after September clears the way for the only genuine and possible solution: one inclusive state.

September appears to be a political moment that cannot be avoided and which, if pursued seriously, offers positive gains for the Palestinian struggle whichever way it turns out. Either we come with good reasons why not to go for September and present an effective alternative strategy, or we should go for it. “Going for it” depends upon a Palestinian Authority leadership that has never shown any interest in mobilizing civil society and appears still to be wavering. May the massive support we can give the PA in September be enough to give it the courage to push Palestinian statehood – the two-state stage – through the UN.

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at jeff@icahdusa.org.

Civil Society as a Watchdog in the Current Negotiations

Jeff Halper, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Jeff Halper, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Civil society is a blunt instrument. As “public opinion” we form a vague background to government decision-making and as voters we have a broad – but only broad – effect on who is in power and what policies are pursued. Occasionally sections of us can be mobilized, less focused in the case of Glenn Beck’s “Restore Honor” rally in Washington, more focused as in the BDS campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli Occupation. But we are excluded from actual decision-making; we will not be part of the secret negotiations that began Sept. 2nd between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Still, we have clout, and we will be a crucial element in eventually forcing governments to arrive at a just peace. Indeed, we of the international civil society are the only genuine allies the Palestinians have. What, then, should be our role as actors striving to resolve this interminable conflict? It is two-fold: making the conflict unsustainable and forcing our political leaders to act through mobilizing public opinion; and (2) when they finally do take an action, as in the up-coming negotiations, keeping them honest and preventing them from passing off apartheid as a “two-state solution.”

The first task we are doing pretty well. Better organization is always welcomed, but our grassroots campaigning has raised the Israel-Palestine conflict to one of the three or four major international issues.

Now, on the verge of impending negotiations, is the time for monitoring. Governments prefer to manage conflicts rather than resolve them, so the immediate challenge facing us is to prevent the imposition of an apartheid regime through power-based negotiations that, backed by massive “facts on the ground,” will present the Palestinians yet another “generous offer”: a truncated Bantustan arising on “cantons” between Israel’s massive settlement blocs. We must insert ourselves into the political process. We must be the watchdogs, so that, when the Palestinians reject the inevitable offer of apartheid, they will not be blamed yet again as rejectionists.

So what positions should we take? What solution should we be advocating? In my view, the only solution is a just peace, a win-win solution that meets the requirements of all the parties. It may take many forms; a few years ago the Palestinian think-tank PASSIA published a collection of a dozen solutions. In the end the solution may be one that no one has though of yet. But that is the politicians’ job; ours is to insist on a just peace defined by fundamental parameters – an approach to peace – and not allow any other “arrangement” to prevail.

I would suggest the following seven elements that must configure any just solution. If they are all included, many alternative forms of resolution are possible. But if even one is excluded, then no solution will work, no matter how good it looks on paper.

A just peace must be inclusive. Two peoples reside in Palestine/Israel. That reality must be accepted and built into the resolution of the conflict. Only then can the unavoidable process of reconciliation and historic accounting be undertaken.

National expression must be provided for both Palestinians and Israelis. These two peoples are not merely ethnic groups in a larger national society, or merely a collection of individual voters, but national entities in themselves. This constitutes the strongest argument for a two-state solution, though Israel has likely eliminated that option, but it also argues for a bi-national state, which Israel refuses to even consider. Nevertheless, this is the reality and must be incorporated into any workable solution.

Economic viability. This principle, enshrined in the Road Map, would, if implemented, foreclose an apartheid “solution.”

Conformity to human rights, international law and UN resolutions. Any process based on the two sides negotiating over specific issues (settlements, borders, water, refugees, Jerusalem, sovereignty, etc.) will fail if it is not based on these three foundations. Only they can create parity between the sides. The Oslo process failed primarily because it was based only on power, and if power alone determines the outcome, then Israel wins.

The refugee issue must be addressed squarely. It is negotiable, but it requires two pre-conditions: acceptance of the refugees’ right to return, so that it is not merely a “goodwill” or “humanitarian” gesture on the part of Israel; and acknowledgement by Israel of its responsibility for driving out half the Palestinian people in 1947/48, as well as for the expulsions of 1967. It is Israel’s steadfast refusal to accept the refugees’ rights and to make that symbolic yet crucial acknowledgement of responsibility that makes the resolution of this fundamental issue impossible.

A just peace must address the security concerns of all in the region. Netanyahu wants to begin the negotiations by addressing Israel’s security concerns before the issues of occupation and Palestinian sovereignty. This will not work because no party’s security can be guaranteed before a political settlement; indeed, the very point of a political settlement is to resolve the conflict and thereby bring security to all parties. Security is a critical issue, but it must be applied to all parties (the Palestinians, after all, have had many more civilian casualties and have suffered more from house demolitions and other threats to their security than have the Israelis). It must be embedded, however, in an overall solution.

A just peace must be regional in scope. Israel/Palestine is too small a unit to cram all the elements of peace into. Refugees, water, security, economic development, environmental sustainability – all these are regional issues that can only be addressed by a process that includes, at a minimum, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Such a broadening of the peace process may wait on meaningful movement between Israelis and Palestinians, but it is part-and-parcel of the overall equation. (I have written about the possibility of a Middle Eastern economic confederation as an alternative to the one-state/two-state conundrum.)

Adopting these elements in a comprehensive approach to peace gives us a powerful filter through which to evaluate the course of negotiations or any future peace process. If we cannot be present in the negotiations, we can ensure that the process actually produces a just peace. As weak as their negotiating position may be, the Palestinian people possess one trump card: if they are not convinced that a solution will actually address their needs and grievances, they will not accept it. And their resistance can defeat any attempt by Israel, the United States and their allies to impose apartheid. It will be supported not only by the Muslim world and by growing circles of civil society supporters around the world – us. We have collective clout, and we must organize to use it.

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at jeff [at] icahd.org.

Ramadan Kareem from the Netanyahu and Obama Administrations

Yesterday, the day before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, at 2:30 in the morning, workers sent by the Israeli authorities, protected by dozens of police, destroyed the tombstones in the last portion of the Mamilla cemetery, an historic Muslim burial ground with graves going back to the 7th Century, hitherto left untouched. The government of Israel has always been fully cognizant of the sanctity and historic significance of the site. Already in 1948, when control of the cemetery reverted to Israel, the Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry recognized Mamilla “to be one of the most prominent Muslim cemeteries, where seventy thousand Muslim warriors of [Saladin’s] armies are interred along with many Muslim scholars. Israel will always know to protect and respect this site.” For all that, and despite (proper) Israeli outrage when Jewish cemeteries are desecrated anywhere in the world, the dismantlement of the Mamilla cemetery has been systematic. In the 1960s “Independence Park” was built over a portion of it; subsequently an urban road was built through it, major electrical cables were laid over graves and a parking lot constructed over yet another piece. Now some 1,500 Muslim graves have been cleared in several nighttime operations to make way for…..a $100 million Museum of Tolerance and Human Dignity, a project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. (Ironically, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s Director, appeared on Fox News to express his opposition to the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan, because the site of the 9/11 attack “is a cemetery.”)

The month-long period between Netanyahu’s July 6th visit to Washington and the start of Ramadan has provided Israel with a window to “clear the table” after a frustrating hiatus on home demolitions imposed by the “old,” mildly critical Obama Administration – although there is no guarantee that Israel will not demolish during Ramadan, especially if it wants to exploit the period until the November elections, knowing that until then Obama will not overtly oppose anything it does in the Occupied Territories. In fact, the process of demolishing Palestinian homes never ceased. On June 6th, for example, a year after the demolition of more than 65 structures and the forced displacement of more than 120 people, including 66 children, nine families of Khirbet Ar Ras Ahmar in the Jordan Valley, totaling 70 people, received a new round of “evacuation orders.” A week later the Israeli High Court ordered the Civil Administration to “step up enforcement against illegal Palestinian structures” in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control.
 
And so, on July 13th, upon Netanyahu’s return (Palestinian homes are not demolished without an OK from the Prime Minister’s Office), three homes were demolished in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, followed by three more homes in Beit Hanina. The Jerusalem Municipality also announced the planned demolition of 19 more homes in Issawiya this month. In the West Bank, the Israeli “Civil” Administration demolished 55 structures belonging to 22 Palestinian families in the Hmayer area of Al Farisiye in the northern Jordan Valley, including 22 residential tents and 30 other structures used to shelter animals and store agricultural equipment. According to the UN’s Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): “This week [July 14-20, the week of Netanyahu’s return from Washington] there was a significant increase in the number of demolitions in Area C, with at least 86 structures demolished in the Jordan Valley and the southern West Bank, including Bethlehem and Hebron districts. In 2010, at least 230 Palestinian structures have been demolished in Area C, forcibly displacing 1100 people, including 400 children. Approximately 600 others have been otherwise affected.” Two-thirds of the demolitions for 2010 have occurred since Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama. More than 3,000 demolition orders are outstanding in the West Bank, and up to 15,000 in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

The demolition of homes is, of course, only a small, if painful, part of the destruction Israel wreaks daily on the Palestinian population. Over the past few weeks a violent campaign has been waged against Palestinian farmers in one of the most fertile agricultural areas of the West Bank, the Baka Valley, steadily being encroached upon by large suburbs of the settlement of Kiryat Arba, in Hebron. Israel already takes 85% of the West Bank’s water for its own use, either for settlements (settlers use five times more water per capita as do Palestinians, and Ma’aleh Adumim is currently building a water park in addition to its four municipal swimming pools and the huge fountains constantly flowing in the city center) or to be pumped into Israel proper – all in flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an Occupying Power from using the resources of an occupied territory.

Accusing the farmers of “stealing water” – their own water – the Israel water company Mekorot, supported by the Civil Administration and the IDF, has in recent weeks destroyed dozens of wells, some of them ancient, and reservoirs used to collect rain water, which is also “illegal.” Hundreds of hectares of agricultural land have dried up as irrigation pipes have been pulled out and confiscated by the Civil Administration. Fields of tomatoes, beans, eggplants and cucumbers are dying just before they can be harvested, and the grape industry in this rich valley is threatened with destruction. “I’m watching my life dry up before my eyes,” says Ata Jaber, a Palestinian farmer who has had his home demolished twice, most of whose land lies buried under the Givat Harsina neighborhood of Kiryat Arba and whose plastic drip irrigation pipes are destroyed annually by the Civil Administration just before he can harvest. “I had hoped to sell my crop for at least $2000 before Ramadan, but all is gone.”

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(See a BBC report on the destruction of Palestinian reservoirs “Earth Report – 2003 – Conflict over water in Israel/Palestine” to the left and a heart-rending scene filmed just a week ago when Ata’s cousin was arrested in front of his small child for resisting the destruction of his water system below.)

Settlements continue to be built, of course. The much-trumpeted “settlement freeze” amounted to no less than a temporary lull in construction. (Indeed, Netanyahu never used the word “freeze”; in Hebrew he refers only to a “pause.”) According to the August report of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, at least 600 housing units have started to be built during the freeze, in over 60 different settlements – meaning that the rate of construction is about half of that during the same period in an average year when there is no freeze. Given that the approval process has never been halted – the Israeli government announced the planned building of 1600 housing units in the settlements when Vice President Biden was visiting, if you recall – making up for lost time when the “freeze” ends in late September will be an easy task. According to Ha’aretz, some 2,700 housing units are waiting to be constructed.

The fact that the so-called settlement freeze did not really end settlement construction is obvious. The American government seems ready to accept lip-service only from Israel, as against overt and brutal threats towards the Palestinians if they do not acquiesce to the charade. Palestinian negotiators revealed last week that the Obama Administration threatened to cut all ties with the Palestinian Authority, political and financial, if they continued to insist on a genuine freeze on settlements or even clear parameters on what the sides will negotiate. (Netanyahu refuses to accept even the elementary principle of the 1967 borders being the basis of talks.)

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Just as destructive of any real peace process, however, is the fact that the focus on settlement freeze deflects attention from attempts by Israel to create “irreversible facts on the ground” which will defeat the very process of negotiation. Even if Israel did respect a settlement freeze, there is no demand, no expectation, absolutely nothing to prevent it from continuing to build the Wall (the enclosing of the Shuafat refugee camp inside Jerusalem and the town of Anata is being completed in these very days, and the village of Wallajeh, some of which spills into Jerusalem, is losing its lands, ancient olive trees and homes even as we speak). Nothing is preventing Israel from continuing to impoverish and imprison the Palestinian population through its twenty-year economic “closure,” including the siege on Gaza, having reduced the Palestinian economy to ashes. Nothing stands in the way of completing a system of parallel (though not equal in size and quality) apartheid highways, big ones, going through Palestinian lands, for Israelis; narrow ones for Palestinians. Nothing keeps Israel from expelling Palestinian from their homes so that Jewish settlers can move in – on July 29th nine families living in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, returning home at night from a wedding, found themselves locked out of their homes by settlers and prevented from entering by the police. (Palestinians, of course, have no legal recourse to reclaiming their properties, whole villages, towns and urban neighborhoods, farms, factories and commercial buildings, confiscated from them in 1948 and after.)

Nothing prevents Israel from terrorizing the Palestinian population, whether by its own army or the surrogate militia founded by the US and run by the Palestinian Authority to pacify its own population, whether by settlers who shoot and beat Palestinians and burn their crops with no fear of arrest, or by undercover agents, aided by thousands of Palestinian forced to become collaborators, many simply so that their children could receive medical care or so they could have a roof over their heads; whether by expulsion or the myriad administrative constraints of an invisible yet Kafkaesque system of total control and intimidation. Nothing opposes Israel’s boycott of the Palestinian people, isolated from the world by Israeli-controlled borders, or policies that effectively boycott Palestinian schools and universities by preventing their proper functioning. And nothing, absolutely nothing, stops Israel from demolishing Palestinian homes – 24,000 in the Occupied Territories since 1967, and counting.

Perhaps this way of welcoming Ramadan comes as no surprise in terms of the Occupied Territories. It took on an entirely different cast when, on July 26th, more than 1,300 Israeli Border Police, the shock-troops of the police’s Yassam “special operations” unit and regular police, accompanied by helicopters, descended upon the Bedouin village of al-Arakib, just north of Beer-Sheva, a community within Israel inhabited by Israeli citizens. Forty-five homes were demolished, 300 people forcibly displaced. One of the most grotesque and dismaying parts of this operation was the use of Israeli Jewish high school students, volunteers with the civil guard, to remove the belongings of their fellow citizens from their homes before the demolition. Besides reports of vandalism and contempt for their victims, the students were photographed lounging in the residents’ furniture in plain sight of its owners. Finally, when the bulldozers began demolishing the homes, the volunteers cheered and celebrated. Over the next week, as Israeli activists helped the residents pick up the pieces and rebuild their homes, the Jewish National Fund, the Israeli Land Authority, the Ministry of the Interior and the “Green Patrol” of the Ministry of Agriculture (established by Ariel Sharon to prevent Bedouin “take-over” of the Negev) sent in police and bulldozers and had the village demolished twice more.

Although al-Arakib is one of 44 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in the Negev – of which only eleven have even rudimentary education and medical services, no electricity, extremely limited access to water and none have paved roads – it is nevertheless populated by Israeli citizens, some of whom serve in the Israeli army. While demolitions of Arab homes within Israel is not a new phenomenon – last year the Israeli government demolished three times more houses of Israeli (Arab) citizens inside Israel as it did in the Occupied Territories (the destruction of up to 8,000 homes in the Gaza invasion aside) – it signifies that the term “occupation” cannot be restricted to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza (and the Golan Heights) alone. The situation of Arab citizens of Israel is almost as insecure as that of the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories, and their exclusion from Israeli society almost as complete. While around 1,000 cities, towns and agricultural villages have been established in Israel since 1948 exclusively for Jews, not a single new Arab settlement has been established, with the exception of seven housing projects for Bedouins in the Negev where none of the residents are allowed to farm or own animals. Indeed, regulations and zoning prohibit Palestinian citizens of Israel from living on 96% of the country’s land, which is reserved for Jews only.

The message of the bulldozers is clear: Israel has created one bi-national entity between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in which one population (the Jews) has separated itself from the other (the Arabs) and instituted a regime of permanent domination. That is precisely the definition of apartheid. And the message is delivered clearly in the weeks and days leading up to Ramadan. It is papered over with fine words. Netanyahu issued a statement saying: “We mark this important month amid attempts to achieve direct peace talks with the Palestinians and to advance peace treaties with our Arab neighbors. I know you are partners in this goal and I ask for your support both in prayers and in any other joint effort to really create a peaceful and harmonious coexistence.” Obama and Clinton also sent their greetings to the Muslim world, Obama observing that Ramadan “remind[s] us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.” Both the White House and the State Department will hold Iftar meals. But the bulldozers and other expressions of apartheid and warehousing tell a much different story.

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at jeff [at] icahd.org.

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