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Home arrow Blog arrow September 2007 arrow September 8, 2007

September 8, 2007
WAWA BLOG  September 8, 2007

No time to write, but plenty to say...


For the last two days, I have been attending the 6th annual conference to End the Occupation of Palestine at George Mason University in Arlington. I have learned much and will have much to say, but what follows, will clue you in as to WHY I believe we the people of America need to WAKE UP and DO SOMETHING to bring JUSTICE, human rights and International Law to the Holy Land:





A Boycott Of Israel: Something Has Changed

by John Pilger, New Statesman, UK  Aug 23, 2007



From a limestone hill rising above Qalandia refugee camp you can see Jerusalem. I watched a lone figure standing there in the rain, his son holding the tail of his long tattered coat. He extended his hand and did not let go. "I am Ahmed Hamzeh, street entertainer," he said in measured English. "Over there, I played many musical instruments; I sang in Arabic, English and Hebrew, and because I was rather poor, my very small son would chew gum while the monkey did its tricks. When we lost our country, we lost respect. One day a rich Kuwaiti stopped his car in front of us. He shouted at my son, "Show me how a Palestinian picks up his food rations!" So I made the monkey appear to scavenge on the ground, in the gutter. And my son scavenged with him. The Kuwaiti threw coins and my son crawled on his knees to pick them up. This was not right; I was an artist, not a beggar . . . I am not even a peasant now."

"How do you feel about all that?" I asked him.

"Do you expect me to feel hatred? What is that to a Palestinian? I never hated the Jews and their Israel . . . yes, I suppose I hate them now, or maybe I pity them for their stupidity. They can't win. Because we Palestinians are the Jews now and, like the Jews, we will never allow them or the Arabs or you to forget. The youth will guarantee us that, and the youth after them . . .".

That was 40 years ago. On my last trip back to the West Bank, I recognised little of Qalandia, now announced by a vast Israeli checkpoint, a zigzag of sandbags, oil drums and breeze blocks, with conga lines of people, waiting, swatting flies with precious papers. Inside the camp, the tents had been replaced by sturdy hovels, although the queues at single taps were as long, I was assured, and the dust still ran to caramel in the rain. At the United Nations office I asked about Ahmed Hamzeh, the street entertainer. Records were consulted, heads shaken. Someone thought he had been "taken away . . . very ill". No one knew about his son, whose trachoma was surely blindness now. Outside, another generation kicked a punctured football in the dust.

And yet, what Nelson Mandela has called "the greatest moral issue of the age" refuses to be buried in the dust. For every BBC voice that strains to equate occupier with occupied, thief with victim, for every swarm of emails from
the fanatics of Zion to those who invert the lies and describe the Israeli state's commitment to the destruction of Palestine, the truth is more powerful now than ever. Documentation of the violent expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 is voluminous. Re-examination of the historical record has put paid to the fable of heroic David in the Six Day War, when Ahmed Hamzeh and his family were driven from their home. The alleged threat of Arab leaders to "throw the Jews into the sea", used to justify the 1967 Israeli onslaught and since repeated relentlessly, is highly questionable.

In 2005, the spectacle of wailing Old Testament zealots leaving Gaza was a fraud. The building of their "settlements" has accelerated on the West Bank, along with the illegal Berlin-style wall dividing farmers from their crops, children from their schools, families from each other. We now know that Israel's destruction of much of Lebanon last year was pre-planned. As the former CIA analyst Kathleen Christison has written, the recent "civil war" in Gaza was actually a coup against the elected Hamas-led government, engineered by Elliott Abrams, the Zionist who runs US policy on Israel and a convicted felon from the Iran-Contra era.

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine is as much America's crusade as Israel's. On 16 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.

But 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.

I got a sense of this recently in the United States. A full-page advertisement in the New York Times had the distinct odour of panic. There have been many "friends of Israel" advertisements in the Times, demanding the usual favours, rationalising the usual outrages. This one was different. "Boycott a cure for cancer?" was its main headline, followed by "Stop drip irrigation in Africa? Prevent scientific co-operation between nations?" Who would want to do such things? "Some British academics want to boycott Israelis," was the self-serving answer. It referred to the University and College Union's (UCU) inaugural conference motion in May, calling for discussion within its branches for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. As John Chalcraft of the London School of Economics pointed out, "the Israeli academy has long provided intellectual, linguistic, logistical, technical, scientific and human support for an occupation in direct violation of international law [against which] no Israeli academic institution has ever taken a public stand".

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. In Britain, an often Jewish-led academic campaign against Israel's "methodical destruction of [the Palestinian] education system" can be translated by those of us who have reported from the occupied territories into the arbitrary closure of Palestinian universities, the harassment and humiliation of students at checkpoints and the shooting and killing of Palestinian children on their way to school.

These initiatives have been backed by a British group, Independent Jewish Voices, whose 528 signatories include Stephen Fry, Harold Pinter, Mike Leigh and Eric Hobsbawm. The country's biggest union, Unison, has called for an "economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott" and the right of return for Palestinian families expelled in 1948. Remarkably, the Commons' international development committee has made a similar stand. In April, the membership of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) voted for a boycott only to see it hastily overturned by the national executive council. In the Republic of Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has called for divestment from Israeli companies: a campaign aimed at the European Union, which accounts for two-thirds of Israel's exports under an EU-Israel Association Agreement. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, has said that human rights conditions in the agreement should be invoked and Israel's trading preferences suspended.

This is unusual, for these were once distant voices. And that such grave discussion of a boycott has "gone global" was unforeseen in official Israel, long comforted by its seemingly untouchable myths and great power sponsorship, and confident that the mere threat of anti-Semitism would ensure silence. When the British lecturers' decision was announced, the US Congress passed an absurd resolution describing the UCU as "anti-Semitic". (Eighty congressmen have gone on junkets to Israel this summer.)

This intimidation has worked in the past. The smearing of American academics has denied them promotion, even tenure. The late Edward Said kept an emergency button in his New York apartment connected to the local police station; his offices at Columbia University were once burned down. Following my 2002 film, Palestine is Still the Issue, I received death threats and slanderous abuse, most of it coming from the US where the film was never shown. When the BBC's Independent Panel recently examined the corporation's coverage of the Middle East, it was inundated with emails, "many from abroad, mostly from North America", said its report. Some individuals "sent multiple missives, some were duplicates and there was clear evidence of pressure group mobilisation". The panel's conclusion was that BBC reporting of the Palestinian struggle was not "full and fair" and "in important respects, presents an incomplete and in that sense misleading picture". This was neutralised in BBC press releases.

The courageous Israeli historian, Ilan Pappé, believes a single democratic state, to which the Palestinian refugees are given the right of return, is the only feasible and just solution, and that a sanctions and boycott campaign is critical in achieving this. Would the Israeli population be moved by a worldwide boycott? Although they would rarely admit it, South Africa's whites were moved enough to support an historic change. A boycott of Israeli institutions, goods and services, says Pappé, "will not change the [Israeli] position in a day, but it will send a clear message that [the premises of Zionism] are racist and unacceptable in the 21st century . . . They would have to choose." And so would the rest of us.


http://whtt.org/index.php?news=2&id=1699






Why Israel?
by Jason Kunin
19 August 2007
 
http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=107&ItemID=13579
 
In January 2007, a group of us who are active in District 12 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) tried to pass a motion supporting the international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.  Since I was the mover of the motion, many people afterwards became angry with me.  Others were merely confused.  Everyone, however, wanted to know the same thing: Why Israel?   After all, they would correctly point out, there are so many terrible countries, so many other human rights abuses in the world - some of them here in Canada.  Why does Israel alone deserve sanctions and not the myriad of other countries committing gross human rights violations?   Why not Sudan, for example?  Or Saudia Arabia?  Or China?   For that matter, if colonialism is the issue, why not shed a light on the Canadian government's on-going abuse of our own aboriginal peoples?   There's certainly plenty of work to do here. 

     The premise that lies behind such questions is that Israel is, if no better than other countries, at the very least no worse.  And indeed, there is a certain truth to the fact that all states contain varying degrees of inequity, state enforced imbalances of power and privilege (always gendered and frequently racialized), and a predatory ruling class who view the state as a tool for expanding their own power and wealth to the detriment of other nations. 

    Acknowledging all this, however, has no bearing on the argument for boycotting Israel.  Indeed, to object to a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel on the basis that all states do bad things is to miss the point.  As the British BDS activist Roland Rance recently told a small group of Toronto activists, no one believes that boycotting Israel is going to bring the Israeli economy to its knees - not unless BDS activists are somehow able to reach the hearts and minds of international arms dealers and diamond traders.  (Highly unlikely.)  The boycott campaign, rather, is primarily an educational tool aimed at provoking awareness and action at the grassroots level.  Given the way political leaders, even in the Arab world, have retreated from supporting the Palestinian cause, a grassroots campaign that can put pressure on political leaders is one of the few recourses left to Palestinians and their supporters.

    Nonetheless, it is important for activists to be able to address the question of why an international BDS movement is currently focusing on Israel, and those who want to do education work had better be prepared to answer this question when it arises, as it inevitably will.   What follows is my own attempt to do so, which I hope will serve as a resource for those doing education work around BDS.

Why Israel?

    A routine strategy of Israel's defenders is to continually redirect attention to the human rights failings of countries hostile to Israel, or to catastrophes like Darfur that are used to argue the ongoing need for the sort of "humanitarian interventions" that provide cover for the advancement of U.S. interests.  Yet the question of why Israel is being targeted and not some other country assumes, erroneously, that other countries are not being targeted.  The reverse, in fact, is usually the case.  Often, countries deemed acceptable for criticism by supporters of Israel are already subject to political and diplomatic sanctions by the U.S. and its tool, the UN Security Council - sometimes for acting in ways identical to Israel.   So, for example, Syria, like Israel, engages in targeted assassinations (in Lebanon), and Iran, like Israel, possesses an openly discriminatory state structure that has institutionalized the supremacy of a single religious group.  Yet while Syria came under sanctions in 2003 (when the U.S. passed the "Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act") and Iran has been subject to U.S. trade and investment sanctions since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Israel has faced no political repercussions for the same actions.  Where there is already action at the political level, there is no need for the building of a grassroots movement to instigate political change, so as atrocious as the human rights records of countries like Iran and Syria may be, targeting them for a campaign of boycott would be redundant.

      Israel, of course, is not the only country in the world that has faced little concentrated political opposition to its occupation.  China, too, has faced few serious political repercussions for its own occupation and colonization of Tibet1, which has been going on almost as long as the Zionist colonization of Palestine and which has been similarly brutal.   So why aren't activists boycotting China?  Well, in fact, many are 2; the only difference is that most supporters of Israel don't seem to notice or care.   Regardless, the question of whether China should be boycotted - or whether any other country should be boycotted - has no bearing on the question of whether Israel should be.  In a world where so many countries commit gross violations of basic human rights, the question should never be which country deserve boycott instead of Israel, but which country deserves it in addition to Israel. 

     Israel does not deserve boycott because it is necessarily worse than other states; in some respects it is and in other respects it isn't.  Rather, Israel deserves boycott, firstly, because it has power, which gives the bad things it does a wider impact than the bad things done by other states; and secondly, because the particular bad things that Israel does are things that a boycott campaign can peacefully and effectively take action against.

Israel's power over Palestinians

      Let's begin with the first statement, that Israel deserves boycott because of its power. For this, we need to look at what role Israel plays in global politics, how it interacts with other nations, and the relative power it has in relation to them.   Nowhere is Israel's power more apparent, of course, than in its conflict with the Palestinians.  This would seem to be so obvious a truth it hardly needs stating, yet the most common objection to any boycott of Israel is that it is "unbalanced" unless it also boycotts the Palestinians.  The objection is nonsense, of course, since it neglects to consider the current U.S. and Israel-led boycott of the Palestinian elected government that has been in place since last year, or the cruel blockade that has been imposed on the impoverished Gaza strip since 2005, or the myriad ways in which Israel prevents on a daily basis the routine functioning of Palestinian civil society and has been since the middle of the last century.  Indeed, those who demand "balance" should be the first to applaud a boycott campaign against Israel.

     Let's begin with the most obvious fact - that Israel is occupying the Palestinians, the Palestinians are not occupying Israel.  Israel controls every aspect of Palestinians life in a way that is simply not reciprocal.  The imbalance of power between the two sides could not be starker.  Palestinians living under Israeli occupation face the daily threat of arbitrary arrest and torture, house demolition, starvation, poverty, and any manner of death resulting from lack of access to medical care or clean water.  This is to say nothing of those who are bulldozed in their homes, humiliated at checkpoints by adolescent soldiers, or killed as bystanders during one of Israel's many military incursions or "targeted assassinations."  On the other side of the balance sheet are the suicide attacks against Israeli civilians, which have been recently renounced by Hamas.3 Terrible as these attacks have been, and I don't want to minimize them, they have not prevented most Israelis from living normal lives - a luxury that Palestinians do not have.  Indeed, statistically, in their sheer ability to kill large numbers of civilians, suicide bombers have proven no match for Israeli drivers.  In terms of impact, there is simply no equivalence between individual acts of resistance and the full institutional force of a major military power.

    Israel is, of course, a nuclear power with one of the largest, best-equipped armies in the world and a ranking on the standard of living index higher than many European countries.   Palestinians, by contrast, are largely impoverished, politically isolated, geographically encircled, and badly divided.   Roughly four million live as refugees in countries where they face differing degrees of oppression; three and a half million live under the boot of a military occupation that continues to destroy their homes, steal their land, restrict their movements, and deny them access to water; while another one million live as second-class citizens in a state where the deputy prime minister openly talks about stripping them of citizenship.   Worse, the different immediate threats faced by each group don't just divide them, but set their interests again one another.  So Arab-Israeli citizens face pressure to stay uninvolved in the affairs of Palestinians in the occupied territories, while Palestinian leaders under Israeli occupation face pressure to surrender the refugees' right of return in exchange for an end to their occupation.  Further internal divisions are exacerbated by Israel's prevention of movement between Gaza and the West Bank and its carving up of the West Bank into isolated cantons divided by settlements and restricted roads.   Israel further creates divisions by its arming and funding of groups that undermine unifying popular movements.  When the PLO was ascendant, Israel funded Hamas, and when Hamas won an overwhelming victory in an internationally monitored democratic election, it began arming and funding Fatah militias.

Israel's regional power

      Israel, however, does not confine itself to exerting its power over the Palestinians alone - in the way that, say, the violence of the Sri Lankan government does not extend beyond the repression visited upon its own Tamil population.  Israel is, for starters, a regional menace.   For decades, it has invaded, occupied, and bombed neighbouring countries with diplomatic immunity provided by the United States Security Council veto.   It almost destroyed Lebanon - twice - and has long coveted the water of the Litani river, which Ben Gurion once openly envisioned as the natural northern border of the Jewish state4.  It continues to steal water from Syria's Golan Heights, which it has occupied for forty years, and it makes Palestinians go thirsty while it diverts water from the West Bank for its own exclusive use.  It has worked to suppress popular movements in Jordan and Egypt by helping to prop up their undemocratic regimes.   But most importantly, through Israel's role as the Middle East "watchdog," to use Henry Kissinger's phrase, and its willingness to be a U.S. offshore base, maintaining its regional supremacy - which entails, naturally, keeping its neighbours perpetually weaker and poorer - is one of the cornerstones of U.S. mid-east policy.

Israel's global reach
 
      To a certain extent, it has become a bit of a charade to speak of Israel as a separate entity from the United States since the two countries can be seen as integrated parts of a single economy.  It is well known that U.S. financial aid to Israel outstrips its aid to any other country.  Israel currently receives, on average, $2.4 billion a year, though a new package just released promises to raise that by 25%.5  Yet this money functions for the U.S. as a kind of corporate subsidy to its own defense industry since it comes with guarantees that Israel will use the money to purchase U.S.-made military equipment.  Some of this equipment is modified enough to be designated "Israeli" then sold to countries to which U.S. law prohibits the sale of arms.  Particularly since the eighties, when the Reagan government began using Israel as a means of getting around congressional restraints placed on the selling of arms (remember the Iran-Contra scandal?), Israel is now one of the world's major arms dealers.6  Since there is barely a single congressional district in the U.S. in which thousands of jobs are not directly or indirectly related to the defense industry - which is effectively the engine of the U.S. economy - elected leaders have no incentive to end this symbiotic U.S.-Israel relationship.

    So what is Israel's role in global politics outside of the Middle East?   First and foremost, it is the chief weapons supplier of the world's right-wing death squads.  Its record in Latin America in particular makes for depressing reading.7  Israel has provided military assistance and counterinsurgency training to paramilitary drug traffickers in Colombia (the AUC), the ANSESAL death squads in El Salvadore, the right-wing Somosa dictatorship in Nicaragua, and the brutal Guatemalan government of Carlos Arana, who vowed to turn his country into a "cemetery" in order to pacify it.  It has sold arms and provided training to right- wing regimes in Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, and the anti-Semitic military government that ruled Argentina in the late 70s and early 80s.  Its history of suppressing popular workers' movements makes Israel a prime target for unions and labour organizations throughout the world.  Indeed, the call for the current international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions was initiated in 2005 by the Palestinian Federation of Trade Unions as a response to the impoverishment of Palestinian workers by Israeli occupation and settlement, their replacement in the Israeli labour market with imported guest workers from Thailand and Eastern Europe, and their exploitation by World Bank supported "industrial zones" that take advange of the desperation of Palestinian labourers.

      More recently, as Naomi Klein has written, Israel has successfully marketed its status as an armed fortress in a state of continuous war to export its expertise in security, counter-terrorism, and surveillance, while field-testing its weapons and instruments of state control on Palestinians.8  Internationally, Israel sells itself as a model for other countries, thus helping to normalize perpetual war and promote the repressive security state within the larger global order.   It thus differs from the myriad petty dictatorships of the world that defenders of Israel would prefer focusing attention on because it does not just visit repression upon those under its direct rule, but it is a high profile exporter of state terror.

Apartheid and occupation: Israel sets itself apart
 
     The truth is that Israel does far more terrible things than the boycott movement cares about.  The BDS campaign focus is modest and is concerned only on justice for Palestinians.  It seeks to do away with the farce of a two-state solution - now a practical impossibility, given that the mid-sized cities Israel has built upon destroyed farms and olive orchards make undoing the occupation impossible - and demands simple compliance with international law.   This entails ending the military occupation (UN Resolution 242), allowing for a return of the refugees (UN Resolution 194), dismantling a discriminatory state structure that privileges Jews over other citizens (Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 2 & 7), tearing down the so-called "security wall" (International Court of Justice ruling), ending land seizures and house demolition and providing compensation to those who have lost homes or land (Declaration of Human Rights, Article 17), and ending the condition of Palestinian statelessness (Declaration of Human Rights, Article 15).   In short, the BDS movement does not ask that Israel be better than other nations, only the same.

     Earlier, I wrote that Israel is in some respects no worse than other nations, and that is true; however, other things it does set it apart from the routine bad things done by other countries, and these revolve around Israel's displacement, exile, and occupation of the indigenous people of Palestine.  True, one could point to Australia, New Zealand, and the entire continent of America as colonial projects in which indigenous societies were destroyed in genocidal campaigns and supplanted by white settler societies.  Yet in the modern era of international law that has seen the colonial societies of these lands forced to make concessions to its indigenous people, Israel remains one the last places on earth where a full-blown nineteenth century colonial project is still in high gear.  This is what makes it stand out among even bad states.

      A comparison to put things in perspective: Canada's treatment of its aboriginal peoples has been nothing short of criminal - even genocidal, if you consider the disastrous residential school system.  ("Forcibly transferring children of a group to another group" is considered genocidal under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide).  Today, First Nations peoples in Canada continue to be governed by a racist, colonial-era piece of legislation called the Indian Act, while their communities endure repeated treaty violations, land theft, contaminated water, systematic underfunding, police harassment, high rate of suicide and illness - it goes on and on.  Canada is certainly not the kind and gentle nation it likes to portray itself as being.  But to put Israel's treatment of the Palestinians in perspective, imagine that Canada's reserves were also encircled by walls and towers, that dozens of random checkpoints were set up at arbitrary locations and times to inhibit movement within the reserves, that people living in the reserves were forbidden to build houses or expand on existing ones, that homes were routinely demolished in the middle of the night without warning, that missiles were fired periodically where people gathered, and that what little remained of Native land was seized by crazed settlers who taunted the people they stole from and took all the reserve's water for their exclusive use.  
 
     In addition to the brutality of its occupation, Israel is also responsible for the longest-running refugee crisis in the world.  (It was also the largest refugee crisis in the world until being recently dwarfed by Iraq.)   One could point to Darfur, to be sure, which is a desperate place.   Large numbers of people there have been killed in a very short period of time.  Yet drag out those deaths over a period of sixty years - the length of the Palestinian refugee crisis - and try to decide if that would be better or worse than the present situation.  If the question itself seems perverse, then it is easy to understand how equally perverse it is to ask that attention be focused on one refugee crisis alone.  And unlike many Zionist Darfur campaigners, I have yet to meet a supporter of Israel BDS who has objected to raising awareness about Darfur or who has tried to silence discussion about its refugee crisis.

BDS not anti-Semitic
  
     Add together the size, scope, and brutality of the impact that the Zionist project has had on the Palestinian people and it becomes apparent that Israel is not a nation like any other nation that is being unfairly singled out.   Rather, it is through occupation and apartheid that it sets itself apart.  Forget the nonsense about Zionism being "the liberation movement of the Jewish people."  Zionism is a movement that took its cue from the anti-Semitic belief that Jews had no place among the peoples of Europe, and most Jews of the time rightly found its premise offensive.  Moreover, as many have noted, Israel is now the most likely place in the world where a Jew can be killed just for being a Jew.  For centuries, in fact, the rabbis had warned that concentrating Jews in one place made the Jewish people more, not less vulnerable, and that it was a recipe for annihilation.9  Leon Trotsky famously concurred, calling Zionism "a trap."  In short, Zionism is no liberation movement.

     There is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about pointing out what Israel does in the world, as critical analysts of Israel are frequently accused of being, and everything I have noted here is part of the public record.  Nor is there anything anti-Semitic about the BDS campaign focusing on Israel.  Anti-Semitism is about targeting Jews just because they are Jews.  The BDS campaign is only concerned with Israel's power and its abuse of power, not its Jewishness.   No one is proposing to boycott synagogues or Jewish businesses - unless, like Chapters/Indigo, their owners donate millions of dollars annually to fund Israeli military occupation.  (Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz are the founders of Heseg, which provides scholarships to individuals if they serve in the Israeli army.) The focus of BDS is on Israeli institutions, not on Jewish people, and anyone who argues that there can be no such separation because Israel is "the expression of the will of the Jewish people," or some such baloney, is confusing the narrow interests of a small Jewish elite with those of the Jewish people as a whole.  Israel has certainly not been an expression of the will of the Ethopian, and Russian Jews, who face racism and discrimination in Israel; or of the Jews from Yemen, who had their children kidnapped and sent to state residential schools and orphanages10; or of the once prosperous Jews of Arab lands, who upon arrival in Israel were sprayed with DDT, settled in border communities on the front-line of Palestinian resistance attacks, mocked for their religious ways, and relegated to second-class status as a marginalized proletariat; or of the hundreds of thousands of Holocaust refugees who faced social stigmatization and who today live disproportionately in poverty, receiving little help from the state11.  No one should confuse the Israeli state with being an expression of the will of the Jewish people.

What BDS is and what it hopes to achieve

     Israelis have always longed to be regarded as just another nation among nations.   The BDS movement shares that goal, and it is directed towards educating Israelis about what they must do to achieve it. This might sound bewildering at first given that boycotting Israel would seem to invite the opposite response - to drive Israelis deeper into the embracing arms of the state.  This, in fact, was the argument against boycott made by the late Baruch Kimmerling12, a distinguished writer and academic on the Israeli left.  Yet what is frequently misunderstood about the boycott movement - including, sometimes, in the movement itself - is that, as I noted earlier, it is directed at Israeli institutions, not at Israeli individuals.  No one is being told to stop speaking to their Israeli family or friends, though they would be recommended not to buy Israel bonds from them if asked.  Israeli academics under boycott can still be invited to speak - provided, of course, they are coming as individuals, not as representatives of Israeli universities, which are organs of the state.   By all means, shop at the Israeli grocer's and ask him about his kids, but don't buy products from him that are made or grown in Israel. 

     Obviously, individuals will be affected by boycott - institutions are, after all, made up of individuals - but the goal of boycott is not to drive hundreds of thousands of Israelis into poverty (an unrealistic goal at any rate, though one that is being accomplished quite effectively by the neo-liberal policies of their own governments).  The goal, rather, is to provoke in Israelis a change of consciousness by stripping away the veneer of normality that disguises from them the true nature of the Israeli state and enables them to believe they can continue to have an occupation and be a normal country.   Hopefully, this will be done through education, though failing that it will have to be done through shame and isolation from the international community.

        To be sure, there are may terrible things going on in the world, and much suffering being inflicted upon people by despotic governments.  Yet what makes Israel a target for boycott is that boycott has the potential to be an effective, peaceful tool by which ordinary people can bring about change, and many Jewish people - including me - support it for precisely the reasons I have listed above.  As George Bisharat wrote just as I was completing this article, "'the worst first' has never been the rule for whom to boycott. Had it been, the Pol Pot regime, not apartheid South Africa, would have been targeted in the past. It was not - Cambodia's ties to the West were insufficient to make any embargo effective. Boycotting North Korea today would be similarly futile."13 Israelis have deep ties to the West and generally like to see themselves within its liberal traditions.   Like people anywhere, they are no less prone to wanting to be liked and thinking well of themselves.  They are no more lacking in personal decency than people anywhere else.  And like people in many places - most places, perhaps - they have been ruled by bad leaders and indoctrinated since birth into accepting an unjust status quo.   As in apartheid South Africa, a boycott campaign has the potential to reach ordinary Israelis - to appeal to their sense of decency and invite them into the family of "ordinary" nations they so long to join.  All they have to do is end their apartheid now.

Jason Kunin is a Toronto teacher and writer.  He is on the Administrative Council of the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians (ACJC) and also belongs to Yosher Jewish Network for Social Justice, Educators for Peace and Justice (EPJ), and Not in Our Name (NION).


 
   
 
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