On May 12, we arrived at Al Fakheit School where we were met by “Al Jazeera” journalists filming a documentary about the difficulty that children face in getting to school in Occupied Palestine. They told us about one school near East Jerusalem where children have to pass through a sewer pipe to reach their school.
As we were describing similar difficulties faced by children in the South Hebron Hills, and the dangers of living in a live firing zone, the headmaster approached us looking crestfallen. He told us that soldiers had just stopped three teachers as they were driving to Jinba School and told them that the police would arrest them since they were not allowed to be in a closed military area. Police then came and took the teachers into a nearby illegal Israeli settlement and held them for two hours before release. They allowed two teachers to continue on to the school, but made one return home. The police had previously arrested him at a non-violent protest against the firing zone, and said he was not permitted to return to the area.
Children in Al Fakheit and Jinba face daily disruptions from the army, whose helicopters often hover over their schools. As we were playing football with the children in Jinba, they suddenly started shouting “jesh, jesh” (army, army) and we saw a large military jeep whiz through the village, passing very close to the school and houses. Within five minutes it was back again, speeding through the village, kicking up stones and dust. Children have got used to the military presence near their homes, but are still fearful of what might happen. Will the army stop and arrest someone? Will they come to demolish something? On our way home, we stopped in the village of Mirkez. An old lady invited us in for tea. She told us that a few days ago, while a 14-year-old boy was herding his flock, the army took him into a nearby settlement but later released him.
Imagine the insecurity of living in an area where soldiers or police could pick you up any day for no reason. The people living in this area also face threats and acts of violence from settlers. A few days before our visit, settlers damaged 60 thirty-year-old olive trees. The olive tree is a symbol of peace. Villagers in the South Hebron Hills are committed to non-violent resistance. I am inspired by their continued strength and struggle. They face so many obstacles just trying to do things that people I know take for granted, like getting an education and grazing their sheep on their own land. Who knows how the daily intimidation and fear will affect these children in the future? I hope and pray that when they are ready to bring up children themselves, the occupation will have ended, and they will be able to go to school and herd their flocks free of fear.
Please sign this petition to tell Israel that this behavior must stop.
- “Nothing forbidden for them, but nothing allowed for us” (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- ‘Price tag’ attack in South Hebron Hills (palsolidarity.org)
It is an event ‘of cosmic proportions’, said one Palestinian academic, a befitting description regarding Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott an Israeli academic conference slated for next June. It was also a decisive moral call which was communicated on May 8 by Cambridge University, where Hawking is a professor.
Hawking is a world-renowned cosmologist and physicist. His scientific work had the kind of impact that redefined or challenged entire areas of research from the theory of relativity, to quantum mechanics and other fields of study. This towering figure is also wheelchair-bound – suffering from complete physical paralyses caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease. For Hawking, however, such a painful fact seems like a mere side note in the face of his incredible contributions to science, ones that are comparable to only few men and women throughout history.
What is considered a prestigious scientific conference in Israel is hosted by President Shimon Peres, most remembered by Lebanese and Palestinians for ordering the shelling of a United Nations compound near the village of Qana in South Lebanon in 1996. The compound was a safe heaven, where civilians often sought shelter during Israeli strikes. Not that time around, however. 106 innocent people that were mostly children and women were killed and 116 wounded, including UN forces. That harrowing event alone would have sent Peres, then Israel’s prime minister, to serve his remaining years in jail. But of course, Israel is above the law, or so the Israeli government believes and thus it has consistently behaved accordingly in the last 65 years with a price tag of uncountable lives, untold destruction and protracted suffering of entire nations.
Hawking’s response to the boycott call was immensely important. The man’s legendary status aside, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has proved more durable and successful than its detractors – mostly Israel’s apologists – want to believe. Hawking’s decision was also a testament that reason and morality should and must go hand in hand. Israel’s boasting of its scientific accomplishments should mean zilch if such technology is put to work to advance state violence, tighten military occupation and make killer drones available to other countries, thus exporting violence and mayhem. That very ‘science’ was used in abundance in Israel’s latest two wars on Gaza (2008-09 and 2012) which claimed thousands of lives between the dead and wounded.
Cambridge University, perhaps wary of a possible backlash, tried to mask Hawking’s decision as one that is compelled by health reasons, which, of course, was not the case at all. The university eventually retracted the statement, for the British scientist wished to make his decision crystal clear. The UK Guardian newspaper reported on Hawking’s rebuff of the conference, citing a statement by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, as it had coordinated with Hawking’s office:
“We understand that Professor Stephen Hawking has declined his invitation to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference Facing Tomorrow 2013, due to take place in Jerusalem on 18-20 June. This is his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”
Unlike other acts of boycott, sometimes dismissed by Israeli officials as insignificant, this one was manifestly shocking for Israel. Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry was quoted by the New York Times saying “never has a scientist of this stature boycotted Israel.”
And since it was unexpected, Hawking’s respect of the boycott generated disorganized Israeli and pro-Israeli responses, ranging from demeaning jokes and insults pertaining to his illness, unwarranted accusations and even shaming him for using technology supposedly developed in Israel to combat his deteriorating ALS condition.
Never before has the country lost control over its carefully tailored narrative of its military occupation and violations of human rights in Palestine as is the case these days. While on one hand, Israeli officials speak of ‘peace’, they continue to issue tenders to build more settlements or expand existing ones, all built illegally on Palestinian land. On the very day that Hawking’s decision to boycott the conference was announced, ‘civil administration’ in Israel agreed to the construction of 296 new housing units in the illegal settlement of Beit El, thus entrenching military occupation and ethnic cleansing. Israeli officials and media still insist that there are no links whatsoever between such stark violations of international and humanitarian law and the rising boycott movement. They indefatigably accuse their critics of ‘anti-Semitism’ (which is hardly effective anymore) and warn of attempts at the ‘de-legitimatization’ of Israel, as if they expect the world to remain completely oblivious to its perpetual war crimes, illegal occupation and institutionalized discrimination against non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine and Israel.
The dialectics of Hawking’s decision are also important. It is a proof that civil society remains relevant, can be effective and also shows that official venues are not the only platforms in which the occupation of Palestine can be discussed and justly addressed. Nearly 20 years have passed since the Oslo Accords were signed, yet the Israeli occupation seems much more rooted than it was in 1993.
There is little doubt that the boycott movement is in constant growth and not simply because of the recurring news of artists and academics refusing to visit Israel, or take part in Israeli-sponsored events. Equally significant is the existence of strong layers of support being provided by civil society that makes it possible for artists, academics and others to adhere to the call of boycott, without fearing serious repercussions.
It was revealed that a letter to Hawking, aimed at dissuading him from joining the conference was signed by 20 top academics from many universities, including MIT, Cambridge, London, Leeds, Southampton, Warwick, Newcastle, etc. The professors told Hawking they were ‘surprised and deeply disappointed’ that he had agreed to take part in the conference, which is also to be attended by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President Bill Clinton, each with his own record of war crimes accusations spanning from Sudan, to Afghanistan, to Iraq.
But criticism of Hawking is not only emanating from Israel and its predictable circle of diehard supporters. It is also coming from some of those who count themselves as members of the Palestinian solidarity camp. The latter group, which is shrinking in number and outreach, argue that boycotting all aspects of Israel’s academic, cultural and political life will play into Israel’s ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘de-legitimization’ arguments.
But can the solidarity movement limit its boycott to the few Israeli companies with links to West Bank settlements and expect to achieve tangible, long term results? Those who think that boycotting the occupation is enough, seem not to understand the nature of the relationship between West Bank setters and the Israeli government. Israel treats the settlements and its well-armed inhabitants as part and parcel of the Israeli state and economy. They are residents of Israel, even if they live near Ramallah. There is no separation whatsoever except for some imaginary ‘Green Lines’ and such. And now with the Apartheid Wall, even that separation is being blurred and redefined.
Palestinians in Gaza or Nablus don’t see any difference between a solider who lives in an illegal Jewish settlement or another who lives inside Israel. They are all capable of committing murder, as many surely have, unhampered by geography or borders. International civil society should not fall into the trap of illusory distinctions. This also makes Hawking’s decision to boycott an Israel-based conference “of cosmic proportions”. It is morally defensible and ethically sound, qualities befitting a formidable man of reason like Stephen Hawking.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father Was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).
- Stephen Hawking Stuns Israel With Conference Boycott (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The Nakba must not be assigned to the shelves of history
Many Palestinians remember and reference al-Nakba, also known as the Catastrophe, on May 15 every year. The event marks the expulsion of nearly a million Palestinians, while their villages were destroyed. The destruction of Palestine in 1947-48 ushered in the birth of Israel. Older generations relay the harsh and oppressive memory of their collective experience to younger Palestinians, many of whom live their own Nakbas today.
In covering al-Nakba, sympathetic Arab and other media play sad music and show black and white footage of displaced, frightened refugees. They rightly emphasize the concept of Sumud, steadfastness, as they show Palestinian of all ages holding unto the rusty keys of their homes and insisting on their right of return. Other, less sympathetic media discuss al-Nakba, if at all, as a side note – a nuisance in the Israeli narrative of a nation’s supposedly miraculous birth and its progression to an idyllic oasis of democracy. What such reductionist representations often fail to show is that while al-Nakba started, it never truly finished.
Those who underwent the pain, harm and loss of al-Nakba are yet to receive the justice that was promised to them by the international community. UN Resolution 194 states that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date” (Article 11). Those who wrought this injustice are also yet to achieve their ultimate objectives in Palestine. After all, Israel doesn’t have defined boundaries by accident.
David Ben Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel, once prophesized that “the old (refugees) will die and the young will forget.” He spoke with the harshness of a conqueror. Ben Gurion carried out his war plans to the furthest extent possible. Every region in Palestine that was meant to be taken was captured, its people were expelled or massacred in their homes and villages. Ben Guiron ‘cleansed’ the land, but he failed to cleanse Israel’s past. Memory persists.
Ben Gurion referenced my own family’s village – Beit Daras – which witnessed three battles and a massacre. In an entry in his diaries on May 12, 1948, he wrote: “Beit Daras was mortared. Fifty Arabs (were killed). The (villages of) Bashit and Sawafir were occupied. There is mass exodus from nearby areas (neighbors in Majdal). We sustained 5 dead and 15 wounded. ” (War Diaries, 1947-1949).
More than fifty people were killed in Beit Daras that day. An old Gaza woman, Um Mohammed – who I discussed in my last book, My Father was a Freedom Fighter – refers to what is likely the same event:
“The town was under bombardment, and it was surrounded from all directions. There was no way out. The armed men (the Beit Daras fighters) said they were going to check on the road to Isdud, to see if it was open. They moved forward and shot few shots to see if someone would return fire. No one did. But they (the Zionist forces) were hiding and waiting to ambush the people. The armed men returned and told the people to evacuate the women and children. The people went out (including) those who were gathered at my huge house, the family house. There were mostly children and kids in the house. The Jewish (soldiers) let the people get out, and then they whipped them with bombs and machine guns. More people fell than those who were able to run. My sister and I…started running through the fields; we’d fall and get up. My sister and I escaped together holding each other’s hands. The people who took the main road were either killed or injured. The firing was falling on the people like sand. The bombs from one side and the machine guns from the other.”
Ben Gurion would not necessarily doubt Um Mohammed’s account. He candidly stated: “Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves…politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves…The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country” (as quoted in Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle, pp. 91-2).
It is precisely for this reason that neither the old nor the young have forgotten. Every day is another manifestation of the same protracted al-Nakba that has lasted 65 years now. Young people’s hardships today are inextricably linked to the violent and horrific uprooting decades ago.
Al-Nakba has also remained an ongoing project through generations of Israeli Zionists. When Ben Gurion died in 1973, current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in his mid-twenties. He was then serving his last year in the Israeli army, and today he rules Israel with a coalition that includes almost three quarters of the Israeli parliament. Like most Israeli leaders, he continues to contribute to the very discourse by which Palestine was conquered. He speaks of peace, while his soldiers and armed settlers take over Palestinian homes and farms. He makes repeated offers to Palestinians for ‘unconditional’ talks, as he repeats his violent rejection of every Palestinian aspiration. His lobby in Washington is much stronger than ever before. He reigns supreme, as he continues to fulfill the ‘vision’ of early Zionists.
Old keys and deeds of stolen lands attest to the intergenerational experience that is Al-Nakba. Today Palestinians continue to be herded behind military checkpoints. They are denied the right to proper medical care, and their ancient olive trees are ruthlessly bulldozed. What Israel has not been able to control, however, is the resolve of Palestinians. The prison, the checkpoint and the gun reside in our collective memory in a way that cannot be held captive, controlled, or shot.
In fact, al-Nakba is not a specific date or an estimation of time, but the entirety of those 65 years and counting. The event must not be assigned to the shelves of history, not as long as refugees are still refugees and settlers continue to rob Palestinian land. As long as Netanyahu speaks the language of Ben Gurion, other ‘catastrophic’ episodes will follow. And as long as Palestinians hold on to their keys and deeds, the old may die but the young will never forget.
- RamzyBaroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).
- A Hundred Deir Yassin and Counting: Beit Daras and the Buried History of Massacres (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Palestinian child injured by Israeli metal bullet in the head in Beit Ummar confrontations (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
University of Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking stunned Israel last week with his announcement that he would boycott the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference, scheduled to be held in Jerusalem, June 18-20.
Hawking was responding to an incongruity: He had been invited to attend an Israeli conference of scientific, economic and political world leaders under the lofty title: ”The Human Factor in Shaping Tomorrow”.
Many usual political suspects are expected to speak at the conference, including noted Israeli friends Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.
Also listed as speakers are Stuart Eizenstat, Larry Summers and David Axelrod. George W. Bush was a speaker for the 2008 inaugural conference.
As a matter of conscience, Hawking will not be there.
What makes this conference such an incongruous event is that it will hold its “Shaping Tomorrow” sessions in close proximity to what is essentially a prison wall built to separate an occupied, entrapped Palestinian population, from the rest of the world.
Is this the future Israel would have us shape? Prison walls enforcing ethnic cleansing?
In his conference withdrawal statement Hawking explained his boycott decision:
“I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank”
“However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference.
Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”.
The term “boycott” is part of the Palestinian civil society’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) non-violent campaign, a grassroots movement launched in 2005 to non-violently bring an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and people.
Israel is holding its fifth conference in close proximity to the Israeli-built prison wall that enforces that occupation.
Stephen Hawking has not been known for political activism. His story unfolded in a different arena. It is a story of his enormous personal courage and significant achievement as a physicist and cosmologist.
Hawking, who tells his personal story in “Living With ALS“, has to be the most high-profile invitee yet to boycott an Israeli Presidential conference, an event which in the past has attracted little media attention. Hawking has changed that.
In her 2012 Scientific American essay, “How Has Stephen Hawking Lived to 70 with ALS?”, (on January 7, 2013, he turned 71) author Katherine Harmon provides background both on Hawking and his disease:
The famous theoretical physicist has helped to bring his ideas about black holes and quantum gravity to a broad public audience. For much of his time in the public eye, though, he has been confined to a wheelchair by a form of the motor-neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). And since 1985 he has had to speak through his trademark computer system—which he operates with his cheek—and have around-the-clock care.
But like his mind, Hawking’s illness seems to be singular. Most patients with ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the famous baseball player who succumbed to the disease—are diagnosed after the age of 50 and die within five years of their diagnosis. Hawking’s condition was first diagnosed when he was 21, and he was not expected to see his 25th birthday.
But his disease seems hardly to have slowed him down. Hawking spent 30 years as a full professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge. And he is currently the director of research at the school’s Center for Theoretical Cosmology.
Hawking is the sort of high profile public figure whose boycott action is most feared by Israel.
The Guardian takes note of the blow Israel has received to its scientific prestige:
Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott the Israeli president’s conference has gone viral. Over 100,000 Facebook shares of the Guardian report at last count. Whatever the subsequent fuss, Hawking’s letter is unequivocal. His refusal was made because of requests from Palestinian academics.
Witness the speed with which the pro-Israel lobby seized on Cambridge University’s initial false claim that he had withdrawn on health grounds to denounce the boycott movement, and their embarrassment when within a few hours the university shamefacedly corrected itself.
Hawking also made it clear that if he had gone he would have used the occasion to criticise Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.
While journalists named him “the poster boy of the academic boycott” and supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement celebrated, Ha’aretz, the most progressive of the Israeli press, drew attention to the inflammatory language used by the conference organizers, who described themselves as “outraged” rather than that they “regretted” Hawking’s decision.
That the world’s most famous scientist had recognised the justice of the Palestinian cause is potentially a turning point for the BDS campaign. And that his stand was approved by a majority of two to one in the Guardian poll that followed his announcement shows just how far public opinion has turned against Israel’s relentless land-grabbing and oppression.
General Efrain Rios Montt has been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. He has already begun his “irrevocable” sentence of 80 years in prison.
The court that convicted Rios Montt has also ordered the attorney general to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes.
This important and unexpected aspect of the verdict means that there now exists a formal legal mandate for a criminal investigation of the President of Guatemala, General Otto Perez Molina.
As President, Perez Molina enjoys temporary legal immunity, but that immunity does not block the prosecutors from starting their investigation.
At that time, Perez Molina, operating under the alias “Major Tito Arias,” commanded troops who described to me how, under orders, they killed civilians.
At first, Perez Molina refused to answer, then CNN’s satellite link to him was cut off, then, after it was restored minutes later, Perez Molina replied that women, children and “complete families” had in fact aided guerrillas.
Offering what appears to be a rationale for killing families may not be a sufficient defense. But that is up to Perez Molina.
He too deserves his day in court.
- Genocide in Guatemala: The Conviction of Efrain Rios Montt (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Guatemala: Ríos Montt Trial Implicates Current President (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Washington Insider Eduardo Stein Tries to Protect Ríos Montt from the Genocide Trial in Guatemala (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Just two days before Palestinians commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, the names of two Palestinian cameramen targeted and killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza last November were dropped from a dedication ceremony held to honor “reporters, photographers and broadcasters who have died reporting the news” over the past year. The move followed an Israel lobby pressure campaign led by anti-Palestinian organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the American Jewish Committee, efforts that were openly supported by the Israeli government.
The Atlantic Wire’s J.K. Trotter summarizes:
Two days after Washington, D.C.’s Newseum announced its intent to honor Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al-Kumi, who were killed in November while working as cameramen for the Middle East-based Al-Aqsa TV, the well-known temple of journalism has decided — for now — not to recognize Salama and al-Kumi, citing their employer’s deep ties to Hamas, a Palestinian organization currently designated by the United States as a terrorist group.
The Newseum, which honored 82 journalists on May 13, 2013, stated that it had “decided to re-evaluate their inclusion as journalists on our memorial wall pending further investigation,” even though just last week, in response to the hysterical reaction to Salama’s and al-Kumi’s initial inclusion, the museum had affirmed and defended their decision, noting that “the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line of duty.”
Indeed, as Joe Catron notes, Reporters Without Borders has pointed out, “Even if the targeted media support Hamas, this does not in any way legitimize the attacks,” while the Committee to Protect Journalists “found that the Israeli military’s official justifications for its attacks on journalists…’did not specifically address CPJ’s central question: how did Israel determine that those targeted did not deserve the civilian protections afforded to all journalists, no matter their perspective, under international law?’”
The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers includes both Salama and al-Kumi on its list of “69 Media Employees Killed in 2012,” as does the International Federation of Journalists in tis report, “In the Grip of Violence: Journalists and Media staff Killed in 2012.”
Human Rights Watch, in its December 20, 2012 report on “Unlawful Israeli Attacks on Palestinian Media,” concluded,
Four Israeli attacks on journalists and media facilities in Gaza during the November 2012 fighting violated the laws of war by targeting civilians and civilian objects that were making no apparent contribution to Palestinian military operations.
The attacks killed two Palestinian cameramen, wounded at least 10 media workers, and badly damaged four media offices, as well as the offices of four private companies. One of the attacks killed a two-year-old boy who lived across the street from a targeted building.
The Israeli government asserted that each of the four attacks was on a legitimate military target but provided no specific information to support its claims. After examining the attack sites and interviewing witnesses, Human Rights Watch found no indications that these targets were valid military objectives.
“Just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center does not make it so,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Journalists who praise Hamas and TV stations that applaud attacks on Israel may be propagandists, but that does not make them legitimate targets under the laws of war.”
HRW added, “The two men’s families, interviewed separately, said the men were neither participating in the fighting nor members of any armed group. Human Rights Watch found no evidence, including during visits to the men’s homes, to contradict that claim. Hamas’s armed wing, al-Qassam Brigades, has not put either man on its official list of killed fighters – an unlikely omission if the men had been playing a military role.”
For the Newseum to be bullied into omitting Salama and al-Kumi from its rededication ceremony by avowedly Zionist groups and right-wing media outlets demonstrates that the institution itself is no less a propaganda outfit than Al-Aqsa TV. This shameful last minute decision effectively grants the U.S. and Israeli governments the ability to decide who is and who is not a journalist and who should and who should not be honored for their work.
But the decision also reeks of hypocrisy and Manichean double standards.
The Newseum is essentially suggesting that sycophantic journalists parroting government propaganda may be legitimate targets in military operations and should be labeled combatants, rather than civilians who enjoy press freedoms and are subject to protection.
Yet this only extends as far as the U.S. State Department says it does.
The ADL’s Abe Foxman called Salama and al-Kumi “members of a terrorist organization advancing their agenda through murderous violence” and “terrorist operatives” who “were working for a propaganda outlet, not a legitimate news organization.” The AJC’s David Harris echoed these sentiments, labeling Salama and al-Kumi as “brazen terrorists” and “two individuals who were integral to the propaganda machine of the Hamas terrorist organization,” that could not be considered “a legitimate media operation.”
Such terms as “terrorism” and “terrorist” are perhaps the most loaded, politicized, exploited and, consequently, meaningless words in our current lexicon, employed as a bludgeon against critical thinking in order to reinforce “us vs. them” narratives.
Apparently, the Newseum has determined that our propaganda deserves respect and admiration, while their propaganda (in this case, documenting on camera the effects Israeli bombs and missiles have on the human flesh of Palestinian people at Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital) should be condemned, targeted and investigated.
By this measure, plenty of alleged propagandists grace the memorial wall of the Newseum already, with more added during today’s ceremony.
Mohamed Al-Massalma, a freelance reporter for Al Jazeera, was killed by a sniper while covering the Syrian civil war in Busra Al-Harir in late January 2013. The Syrian journalist, working under the pseudonym Mohamed Al-Horani, was “an activist in the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad,” before joining Al Jazeera.
In January 2012, Mukarram Khan Aatif was gunned down in the Pakistani town of Shabqadar by members of the Pakistani Taliban. Aatif was a journalist working for Deewa Radio, the U.S. government’s Voice of America Pasto-language service. He was among those honored by the Newseum this year.
The taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) and its affiliated services have been legally banned from broadcasting or distribution here in the United States for the past 65 years because of a Congressional act prohibiting the government from propagandizing to its own citizens. Only last year was this law reversed; the ban will be officially lifted this coming July 2013. VOA is literally U.S. government propaganda, yet its reporters are accorded due protection from violence, as they should be.
Another VOA journalist, Mohammed Ali Nuxurkey, was killed in an al-Shabab bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia, this past March There is no doubt he will be added the Newseum’s wall next year.
If any distinctions are to be made among different categories of journalists caught in the line of fire or deliberately targeted for murder, international law does not, in fact, favor the Foxman’s and Harris’ of the world.
While war journalists who are not embedded with troops or themselves soldiers taking direct part in hostilities are legally protected by the law of armed conflict, embedded reporters are not necessarily similarly protected.
According to international law professor Sandesh Sivakumaran, writing for the Oxford University Press, embedded journalists, while civilians, may be “casualties of lawful attacks” as “[t]he law allows for the targeting of troops and that targeting may result in bystanders or embedded reporters becoming casualties.”
Still, embedded journalists who were killed while accompanying American occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan – a policy promoted by the U.S. military in order to ensure positive reporting on American actions (some might call that propaganda) – have also rightly been accorded a place in the Newseum’s memorial. Journalists like Spanish reporter Julio Anguita Parrado and German correspondent Christian Liebig, killed by Iraqi missiles in an April 7, 2003 attack on the U.S. Army’s 3rd Division headquarters in Baghdad, are honored by the Newseum as is NBC News soundman Jeremy Little, killed in Fallujah in July 2003 while embedded with the Army’s 3rd Infantry.
Sivakumaran also explains that “[j]ournalists who work for media outlets or information services of the armed forces” are legally considered “members of the armed forces,” and therefore “don’t benefit from the protections afforded to civilians and their deaths don’t constitute a violation of the law.”
As such, the Newseum’s glaring duplicity is all the more evident when considering the case of James P. Hunter. A staff sergeant, reporter and photographer with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Hunter was killed on June 18, 2010 by an IED while covering the massive U.S. offensive taking place in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for The Fort Campbell Courier, an Army newspaper in Kentucky. He was an active duty soldier and the first Army journalist to die in combat since 9/11. Still, the Newseum saw fit to honor Hunter on its memorial wall.
Yet in the case of Salama and al-Kumi, “Israeli officials sought to justify attacks on Palestinian media by saying the military had targeted individuals or facilities that ‘had relevance to’ or were ‘linked with’ a Palestinian armed group, or had ‘encouraged and lauded acts of terror against Israeli civilians,’” according to Human Rights Watch. “These justifications, suggesting that it is permissible to attack media because of their associations or opinions, however repugnant, rather than their direct participation in hostilities, violate the laws of war and place journalists at grave risk.”
If repellant statements, including the justification of and praise for acts of violence against civilians, are the benchmark of propaganda and thereby constitute legitimate targeting for death by those opposed to such statements, then countless American journalists and commentators from across the political spectrum would be subject to the same fate as Salama and al-Kumi.
Warmongering and incitement abound in the editorial pages of The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Liberal commentators like Joe Klein and former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs exhalt the extrajudicial executions by flying robot of countless civilians, including a 16-year-old American citizen in Yemen and hundreds of children in Pakistan. Right-wing pundits like Jennifer Rubin and her friends at Commentary and The Weekly Standard openly advocate for the murder of Iranian and Palestinian civilians, endlessly call for permanent war and occupation, support torture and indefinite detention, advocate for the assassination of whistleblowers, scientists and foreign officials, and justify the war crimes of their preferred military forces and governments.
Just days before the car in which Salama and al-Kumi were traveling, marked clearly as a press vehicle, was blown up by an Israeli bomb, Rubin published a post praising the IDF assault on Gaza. Hardly able to contain her glee, Rubin anonymously quoted “an old Middle East hand” declaring that, after weeks of sporadic Israeli airstrikes (“a form of messaging to Hamas”), “the Israelis escalated. But still they are avoiding infrastructure, hitting pinpoint high-level Hamas target.”
A recent B’Tselem report on Israel’s actions last November, however, “challenges the common perception in the Israeli public and media that the operation was ‘surgical’ and caused practically no fatalities among uninvolved Palestinian civilians,” noting that, “in some cases at least, the [Israeli] military violated IHL [international humanitarian law] and in other cases there are substantial reasons to believe IHL was violated.” Israeli airstrikes killed 167 Palestinians in Gaza, at least 87 of whom were noncombatants, including 31 minors.
Two days after cheering Israeli war crimes, Rubin set her sights on a bigger target. “Israel can keep swatting down Hamas, using air power or, if need be, going into Gaza on land,” she wrote. “It has a solemn obligation to defend itself against what was a deliberate escalation by Hamas in the number and quality of weapons launched against Israel’s civilian population. But even with the most robust U.S. support this is not a long-term solution. That will only come when Iran is dealt with, either militarily or via regime change.”
Anyone arguing that Rubin could be targeted with violence for writing her opinions would be labeled sociopathic and lambasted for incitement, and for good reason. And there is no doubt that if correspondents from Israeli Army Radio or employees of the state-run Israel Broadcasting Authority were killed, they would be honored by the Newseum, without so much as a whiff of dissent, let alone outrage.
It is evident that, as always, Palestinians are subject to unparalleled scrutiny and suspicion due to the tireless defamation and lobbying efforts of big-moneyed Zionist organizations and ideological zealots.
But is it surprising that the Newseum should jump on this bias bandwagon?
In the late 1940′s, Bugsy Siegel’s former publicist Hank Greenspun was recruited by Jewish militias in Palestine to help them fight against both the occupying British and indigenous Palestinians. He hijacked a yacht and laundered $1.3 million through Mexico in order to smuggle machine guns stolen from the U.S. Navy in Hawaii to the prolific terrorist group Irgun, which had blown up Jerusalem’s King David Hotel the year before and would massacre the residents of Deir Yassin a year later. Soon thereafter, Greenspun was apprehended by the FBI while attempting to illegally ship surplus combat airplane engines to Haganah.
In 1950, he was convicted of violating the U.S. Neutrality Act and fined $10,000 for his arms deals. The same year, he purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal and renamed it the Las Vegas Sun, serving as publisher for the next four decades.
Upon his death in 1989, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres called Greenspun “a hero of our country and a fighter for freedom – a man of great spirit who fought with his mind and his soul; a man of great conviction and commitment.” In 1993, a one-acre plaza in the Jerusalem Botanical Garden of Hebrew University was dedicated to him.
- Jewish groups slam ‘Newseum’ for honoring Palestinian journalists killed by Israelis (alethonews.wordpress.com)
BETHLEHEM – A Facebook page promoting Nakba commemoration events in Jaffa was temporarily blocked overnight, Palestinian activists said Monday.
Fatima Huleiwi, an activist with Jaffa Youth, told Ma’an that it was not the first time that Facebook had blocked the group’s user page.
“When we published material urging people to support hunger striking prisoners, our pages were blocked. Last night the invitation to an event commemorating the Nakba anniversary in Jaffa was also blocked on several accounts for hours,” she said.
Sometimes right-wing Israelis report violations on the group’s Facebook pages, Huleiwi says, and as a result Facebook temporarily blocks the site for several hours.
Jaffa Youth has to send a complaint to Facebook before they eventually unblock the page, she added.
Members of Jaffa Youth will commemorate the 65th Nakba anniversary in Jaffa’s Clock Square from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The event will include artistic activities and public discussions about the Nakba, with Dr. Thabet Abu Ras from Adalah, and Eitan Bronstein from Zochrot, or ‘remembering,’ among the participants.
“We will continue to prepare for this event and will try to make it the most prestigious commemoration of the Nakba in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948,” Mahmoud Abu Arisha, an activist from Jaffa Youth, told Ma’an.
More than 760,000 Palestinians — estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants — were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.
Around 160,000 Palestinians, who remained in Israel after 1948, now number around 1.36 million people, or 20 percent of the country’s population.
Qaryut, Occupied Palestine – Settlers from the illegal colony of Shilo set fire to land belonging to the nearby village of Qaryut. Around 25 families own land in this area. The land contained wheat crops and olive trees and is next to land previously stolen by settlers, which they had been cultivating for themselves only two days before.
Illegal Shilo settler Moshka takes pictures of his handiwork, torching Palestinian land (Photo by Qaryut villagers)
Red Crescent paramedics went to the scene of the fires at around 6pm, where many villagers had already arrived hoping to put out the fires. However they were prevented from doing so by four settlers and half a dozen soldiers who had turned up to protect the settlers. Villagers were made to stand and watch their future harvest go up in flames. With the fires building up they had nothing to do but argue in vain with the soldiers about the gross immorality of the situation.
The settlers present also prevented the fire from spreading on to the annexed land they have been cultivating. It was clear to see the fires had been deliberately lit as there were many separate fires in a close range, rather than one large fire spreading on the overcast and wet day. Villagers witnessed Moshka, one of the settlers – (who is a regular problem causer; his son is a patrolman for the settlement too) – use a lighter to set fire to their land. The fire was only put out by the arrival of heavy and atypical rain from a thunderstorm an hour later.
Two days prior to this attack the settlers had started ploughing stolen land and cut down four trees. They have been expanding the settlement on the Palestinian side of the highway to Ramallah and Jerusalem. Fifteen dunams of land was torched. Meanwhile two dunums of wheatfields had been burnt in the South Hebron Hills earlier that day.
A familiar sight, soldiers and settlers working together (Photo by Qaryut villagers)
- Tree planting met by tear gas and settlers’ death threats (palsolidarity.org)
- Witnesses: Settlers open fire at Palestinian homes in Hebron village (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- Settlers Attack Palestinian Property, Graves, Near Nablus (imemc.org)
Beit Ummar, Occupied Palestine – At 3am on 13th May, Nasri Sabarna of Beit Ummar woke up to the sound of Israeli soldiers kicking down his front door. The sound of them shooting tear gas, rubber bullets and sound bombs at people passing his house on their way to the Mosque for morning prayer also woke up his 3 year old granddaughter, whose crying in turn woke up the rest of the Sabarna household.
The 6 jeeps full of soldiers had come to arrest his 21 year old son Achmed – for the fifth time. Achmed is a 21 year old student who has yet to be charged with any crime. As Achmed was not home at the time the soldiers invaded his home, the whole family were ordered to go to the police station in the illegal settlement of Gush Etzyon the following morning at 9am. It was here that Achmed was taken into interrogation. Despite not being guilty of committing any crime, his father does not expect to see him anytime soon. Achmed has already been forced to miss two years of university because of similar incidents, which have cost his family a lot of money – Achmed was arrested for the first time when he was 13 years old.
His father, Nasri is no stranger to the Israeli culture of injustice practiced against Palestinians. At the age of 13, he himself was arrested by Israeli soldiers without charge and imprisoned for 10 months. His whole life has been shaped by the occupation around him. He remembers seeing Israeli bulldozers demolish three historic homes in his village of Beit Ummar at the age of 10 – such events inspired him to become politically active. In 1978 he established the first student council in Palestine, going on later to become mayor of his home village of Beit Ummar. In Israel’s bid to crush any Palestinian political organisation, Nasri was imprisoned for 6 years between 1988 and 1994 for the sole reason of being a member of the political party Fatah.
Nasri’s main concern now is the effect that Israel’s systematic use of administrative detention, harrassment and abuse will have on the younger generations of Palestinians born under occupation. When he was mayor, 40 soldiers broke into his house and destroyed most of their belongings. They wore balaclavas as they did so and terrified his youngest son Abdullah.
Over the following weeks Abdullah’s teachers told his father that his mood had changed, he had become aggressive, argumentative and unusually violent. Nasri sought the help of psychologists from Medicenes Sans Frontiers who worked with Abdullah regularly. He told the psychologists of times where soldiers had lined him and his classmates up when walking home from school and made them jump over their guns before beating them.
The psychological treatment helped Abdullah, who is now ten, to deal with such issues and his behaviour is now back to normal. But Nasri worries for those hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children who are not so lucky to receive treatment. A combination of abuse and detentions coupled with the daily destruction of homes, land, resources and opportunities for young people in the West Bank diminishes any hope they may have for the future and ultimately leads them to seek out revenge through violence.
Nasri emphasised that this is not a struggle between religions, nor are different religious groups inherently incapable of coexisting in harmony. Colonialism and Zionism are the driving forces behind the brutality of the occupation and only granting Palestinians their freedom can bring around real peace. To summarise, Nasri said “No nation can just get rid of another nation.”
- Israeli settlers’ attacks continue: Vineyards poisoned in Beit Ummar (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
- Israel’s occupation forces targets medic and injures 17 in clashes in Beit Ummar (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
The name of the report is/was ‘The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘Promised Land.’” Authored by the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, it basically came to the conclusion that the Bible accords the Jews no privileged claim over the land of Palestine, nor does it provide any justification for the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the blockade of Gaza, or the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and lands.
The report was posted at the Church of Scotland’s website—ah, but regrettably only temporarily. It has since mysteriously disappeared, to be replaced by a statement that includes the following:
The Church of Scotland and representatives of the Jewish Community in Scotland and the United Kingdom, held useful discussions facilitated by the Council of Christians and Jews this afternoon, Thursday 8 May. We agreed that the drafting of the report published by the Church and Society Council for discussion at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has given cause for concern and misunderstanding of its position and requires a new introduction to set the context for the report and give clarity about some of the language used.
Did the church cave in to Jewish pressure? This appears to be the case, although the report apparently is to be discussed at the church’s upcoming General Assembly, later this month.
I first became aware of “The Inheritance of Abraham?” after reading an article about it on Wednesday of last week. Intrigued, I went to the church’s website to access the full report. Fortunately, I had the foresight to download it and save it, for when I returned to the site on Saturday, lo and behold it was nowhere to be found. The statement above, dated May 9, 2013, seems to promise a re-posting at some point, though with “a new introduction to set the context for the report”—which presumably means the old introduction will be gone, and that there may be other changes in the original wording as well.
However, you can go here and read the report in its entirety and with the original wording intact. You will find that it cites passages in Genesis—specifically 12:7, 13:15-17, 15:18-21, and 17:7-8—which have God promising the land to Abraham and his descendants without any conditions attached. Or as the report phrases it, “There are no ‘so long as…’ or ‘until…’ clauses in them” and “alone they can be read to show that God promises the land to the Israelites unconditionally.”
But the report, in the next section, goes on to note “a second view,” which, among other things, says we should read “the Pentateuch in the light of the prophets.” In this view, “the land is a gift, not a right, and one which brings with it obligations, most particularly to practice justice and to dwell equitably with the stranger.” The report cites the prophet Jonah as an example.
The book of Jonah is a key text for understanding the Hebrew Bible’s promise of the land to Abraham and his descendants. Written at a time when Jewish people were turning inwards, the book presents Johan as a Jewish nationalist to drive home the point: God’s universal, inclusive love is for all. God in Jonah is merciful, gracious, a liberator of the oppressed and sinful who looks for just living. The people of God even include the hated Assyrians. So Johan suggests a new theology of the land, because God was not confined within the land of Israel, but also embraced the land of Assyria.
And then, of course, there are the New Testament and the words of Jesus, whose teachings the report describes as “inclusive,” not only in their own right, but also in Christ’s view of the Old Testament prophets—a view that is offered in Luke 4:25-30… along with the reaction it provoked among the Jews of Nazareth at the time:
“But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
By expressing the view that God had love in his heart for others than just Jews, Jesus seems, then, to have caused feelings of jealousy and anger amongst his Jewish listeners that day. The report goes on to observe:
Jesus offered a radical critique of Jewish specialness and exclusivism, but the people of Nazareth were not ready for it. John’s gospel speaks of Jesus being lifted up and drawing all people to himself (John 12:32). Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple means not just that the Temple needs to be reformed, but that the Temple is finished. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 makes it clear that God is no longer confined to the place of the Temple. Temple and land give way to a new understanding so Paul can say that all the barriers that separated Jews from the rest are down—“there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male or female in Christ Jesus.” The new ‘place’ where God is found is wherever people gather in the name of Jesus.
Or in other words, “the promise to Abraham about land is fulfilled through the impact of Jesus, not by restoration of land to the Jewish people” and “no part of the New Testament gives any support to a political state of Israel beyond that to any other state.” Thus, the requirements for justice and the protection of human rights apply to each land, and to every inhabitant in the land.
Promises about the land of Israel were never intended to be taken literally, or as applying to a defined geographical territory. They are a way of speaking about how to live under God so that justice and peace reign, the weak and poor are protected, the stranger is included, and all have a share in the community and a contribution to make to it. The ‘promised land’ in the Bible is not a place, so much as a metaphor of how things ought to be among the people of God. This ‘promised land; can be found—or built—anywhere.
The report also includes several quotes from Kairos Palestine, a document published in 2009 by Palestinian Christians and which I have commented upon previously. Among the quotes from Kairos Palestine we find this one:
Our land is God’s land, as is the case with all countries in the world. It is holy inasmuch as God is present in it, for God alone is holy and sanctifier. It is the duty of those of us who live here, to respect the will of God for this land. It is our duty to liberate it from the evil of injustice and war. It is God’s land and therefore it must be a land of reconciliation, peace and love. This is indeed possible. God has put us here as two peoples, and God gives us the capacity, if we have the will, to live together and establish in it justice and peace, making it in reality God’s land: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).
And also this one:
We believe that our land has a universal mission. In this universality, the meaning of the promises, of the land, of the election, of the people of God, open up to include all of humanity, starting from all the peoples of this land
And this one:
Our Church points to the Kingdom, which cannot be tied to any earthly kingdom. Jesus said before Pilate that he was indeed a king but “my kingdom is not from this world.” St. Paul says: “The Kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:7). Therefore religion cannot favour or support any unjust political regime, but must rather promote justice, truth and human dignity.”
So does the modern day state of Israel meet these conditions? Hardly. And the report says as much.
From this last perspective, the desire of many in the state of Israel to acquire the land of Palestine for the Jewish people is wrong. The fact that the land is currently being taken by settlement expansion, the separation barrier, house clearance, theft and force makes it doubly wrong to seek biblical sanction for this.
Church leaders from South Africa, following a visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the autumn of 2012, observed similarities to the concluding years of the apartheid regime in South Africa. They concur with proposals to consider economic and political measures involving boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against the state of Israel focused on illegal settlements, as the best way of convincing Israeli politicians and voters that what is happening is wrong, and that Christians around the world should not contribute in any way to the viability of illegal settlements. This raises particular questions for the Church of Scotland as we seek to respond to the question: “What does the Lord require of you…?”
And the conclusion reached is:
From this examination of the various views in the Bible about the relation of land to the people of God, it can be concluded that Christians should not be supporting any claims by Jewish or any other people, to an exclusive or even privileged divine right to possess particular territory. It is a misuse of the Bible to use it as a topographic guide to settle contemporary conflicts over land. In the Bible, God’s promises extend in hope to all land and people. Focused as they are on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, these promises call for a commitment in every place to justice in a spirit of reconciliation.
The report then goes on to assert that “the current situation is characterized by an inequality in power and therefore reconciliation can only be possible if the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza, are ended.” Note: it does not say that Israel has no right to exist, although this is the interpretation being given by a number of Jews, some of whom seem quite upset over the whole thing.
So let’s cut to the chase, and see what some of these people have been saying about the report.
“Scottish Jews said they were ‘outraged’ by a recent Church of Scotland paper which denies Jews any special claim to the land of Israel.” So begins a report in the JTA dated May 3. The article makes reference to a statement issued by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, who denounce the report as “an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for”, insisting as well that it “reads like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism.”
In the opinion of the Scottish Council, the report also “closes the door on meaningful dialogue,” and quite naturally we find a demand that the Church of Scotland “withdraw it ahead of its forthcoming General Assembly.”
Interestingly, the Council’s statement additionally frets about “the arrogance of telling the Jewish people how to interpret Jewish texts,” although of course there are plenty of Jews telling Christians how to interpret the New Testament, not to mention those who have lambasted the Gospels as “anti-Semitic.”
Israel Hayom, the Israeli newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson, calls the report “a culmination of more than a decade of increasingly strident anti-Zionism and pro-Palestinian activism by the church, especially by its local Palestinian Christian chapters,” while the always amusing Algemeiner characterizes the Church of Scotland as waging a “war on Judaism,” and committing a “moral crime” to boot, while the church’s report, Algemeiner asserts, is “immersed…in anti-Semitic clichés and malicious distortions of Jewish theology.”
Also, Israel’s ambassador to Britain has gotten in on the act. A later report by the JTA, dated May 11, quotes Ambassador Daniel Taub as saying, “This report not only plays into extremist political positions, but negates and belittles the deeply held Jewish attachment to the land of Israel in a way which is truly hurtful.” Taub reportedly made the comment over Israel’s Army Radio.
Not to be outmatched by these pikers, the ADL’s Abe Foxman has called the report “stunningly offensive,” as well as a “classic rejection of Judaism.”
“By brazenly dismissing Jewish self-understanding of its own bible—the Torah, the Church of Scotland has disregarded nearly five decades of progress in Jewish-Christian theological dialog by promoting religious principles which deny the legitimacy of Judaism and were used for centuries to justify the brutal repression of Jews,” Foxman goes on to add.
Will all this pressure result in a complete capitulation on the part of the Church of Scotland? Will we see the report fundamentally altered, perhaps beyond recognition, or even withdrawn altogether? Hard to say, but you’ll recall I began this article by quoting from a statement on the whole matter which has been posted on the Church of Scotland’s website. The statement, I mentioned, replaces the report itself, which has since been taken down. What I neglected to say is that this is a joint statement, signed not only by the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, but also four Jewish organizations: Here is the rest of it:
In particular the Church of Scotland needs to be explicit about some things that are implicit policies of the Church:
- There is no change in the Church of Scotland’s long held position of the right of Israel to exist.
- The Church condemns all violence and acts of terrorism, where ever they happen in the world.
- The concern of the Church about the injustices faced by the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories remain firm, but that concern should not be misunderstood as questioning the right of the State of Israel to exist.
- That the Church condemns all things that create a culture of anti Semitism.
There is an equal sense of concern amongst both communities for justice and peace for all the people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Sitting round the table and listening to each other more deeply has created a real opportunity for both communities to better understand each other and that this report now becomes a catalyst for continued and growing conversation.
The two communities have agreed to work together both here and in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to continue what was a very positive dialogue.
Church and Society Council, Church of Scotland
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities
Board of Deputies of British Jews
Movement for Reform Judaism
Rabbis for Human Rights
Note the dictatorial tone: “the Church of Scotland needs to be explicit…”
One might ask: Or else what?
Of course it isn’t only the Jewish media who have weighed in on the issue. Here is a report from Iran’s Press TV, which includes an interview with Anglican Vicar Stephen Sizer:
During Israel’s latest onslaught against the Gaza Strip in November 2012, a major conference was held in Tel Aviv: the 2nd Israel HLS International Conference. Among the most prominent sponsors of the homeland security event were two of Israel’s largest weapons companies, Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), both of which cooperate closely with the Israeli military. But the conference also had another grandiosely advertised partner: the European Commission.
As is often the case, this undisguised cooperation between the EU and Israeli military companies went fully unchallenged – let alone noticed – in the European media. Not even the rather conspicuous fact that the EU-sponsored conference occurred simultaneously with Israel’s devastating Gaza assault in which Israel used the equipment of both Elbit and IAI.
The same inability, or unwillingness, by the European media to report such collaboration, let alone deplore it, manifested itself even more prominently in January 2009. A day after Israel’s 22-day long assault on the Gaza Strip, the leaders of six European states, including the UK, France, and Italy, arrived in Israel for a gala dinner, voicing their support for Israel. The dinner was hosted by Israel’s then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. The European leaders vowed, of all things, to stop the flow of arms to Hamas. Meanwhile, the Israeli strikes on Gaza would kill 926 civilians.
As a trading and co-sponsoring partner, Elbit is among the most disagreeable of all the Israeli military companies. Being at the very core of Israel’s breaches of international law, Elbit is deeply involved in Israel’s drone programs that have targeted and killed scores of civilians, including children. The former president and chief executive of Elbit proclaimed that the company is “the backbone” of Israel’s drone operations. Elbit also provides surveillance equipment to the illegal wall Israel has built in the West Bank. Besides being an instrumental partner of the Israeli air force, it also sells equipment to the Israeli navy.
The EU also funnels funds to Elbit through allocating EU-taxpayers’ money to the company under the umbrella of scientific research. Indeed, another barely publicized yet lucrative form of EU-Israeli cooperation that directly benefits Israel’s private military sector are scientific research subsidies. David Cronin, who has put together a pioneering compendium on the EU’s complicity in Israel’s illegalities, estimates that by the year 2013, Israel will have received EU research grants for more than €500 million. Israel currently takes part in over 800 schemes with European universities and corporations.
The massive EU-Israel bilateral trade remains one of the least talked about, yet among the most crucial enablers of Israel’s ever-continuing breaches of international law.
The EU is Israel’s main trading partner with a total annual trade of approximately €30 billion (€29.7 billion in 2012). The volume of the trade is more than ten times that of the US foreign aid to Israel. While it is reasonable to assume that US-Israeli relations will remain intact in the coming years, the EU has the required economical leverage and legal means to exert unprecedented pressure on Israel, compelling it to abide by international law.
According to a 2003 European Commission poll, 60 percent of the EU citizenry sees Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. In this respect, European public opinion is more informed than that in the US. Another factor that makes it feasible for EU to alter its policy towards Israel is that the EU-Israel Association Agreement that governs all trade and cooperation between the EU and Israel states that “[r]elations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles.”
Hence, whereas a drastic shift in the US-Israeli relations remains an unlikely scenario, the EU has both the informed public opinion required for, and a no-brainer legal case demanding, relatively swift and highly momentous changes.
As of now, however, the EU is both a major client for Israel’s occupation-powered, export-oriented and multi-billion military manufacturing and homeland security sector as well as a major exporter of military equipment to Israel.
Besides the military and homeland security imports from Israel, the EU also continues to violate its own regulations on arms exports. The EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports states that the EU is “DETERMINED [sic] to prevent the export of equipment which might be used for internal repression or international aggression or contribute to regional instability.”
How determined exactly has the EU been in its adherence to this provision? Based on the criteria set out by the EU in the above regulation, Israel is an illegitimate country for arms exports. After all, in addition to violating a whole list of UN resolutions, Israel has been and remains exceptionally committed to violating international law.
Although Israel is an invalid trading partner according to the EU Code of Conduct regulations, the value of licenses granted by the EU over the past decade for arms exports to Israel amounts to billions of Euros.
Whereas 18 of 27 EU member states export military equipment to Israel, the bulk of the total EU exports originate from the major EU states: Italy, France, Germany and the UK, according to Amnesty International’s “Fuelling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza.”
In terms of violating EU arms exports regulations, Italy has the most abominable track record. Italy’s biggest defense contractor, Finmeccanica, announced in July 2012, that it had won and signed a $1 billion (€752 million) deal with Israel. Finmeccanica will provide training jets to the Israeli air force, which repeatedly carries out egregious attacks against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians and infrastructure.
Out of the total €752 million deal, the most sizable part belongs to Finmeccanica’s subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi which provides 30 M-346 advanced trainer aircraft to the Israeli air force. It is reported that the Italian government played a major role in brokering the contract.
Another EU member state that carries out large-scale military trade with Israel is France. Between 2003 and 2008, France exported more than €521 million worth of weaponry to Israel.
An Amnesty International report from February 2009 revealed that electrical components made in France were found in the rubble of buildings destroyed by the Israeli military during the 2008-2009 Gaza massacre. The components were installed in Hellfire AGM missiles manufactured by the US company Hellfire Systems, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. France also exported specialized equipment for reconnaissance, such as laser systems, to Israel.
Another major arms exporter to Israel is Germany. Germany sold major conventional weaponry to Israel for more than €580 million between 1996 and 2000, including Dolphin Class Submarines, which are assumed to be capable of launching nuclear warheads. In 2000 alone, German weapons trade with Israel was worth more than €130 million. Germany exported torpedoes, armored cars, and parts for the Israeli Merkava tanks used in occupied Palestine.
The UK also exports considerable amounts of military equipment to Israel. In 2009, after Israel had destroyed the Gaza Strip, the UK authorities granted export licenses for electronic warfare equipment, naval radars, and sniper rifles to Israel. In 2009, the then-Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary David Miliband revealed that the Israeli equipment used in Israel’s murderous and destructive assault against Gaza “almost certainly” contained components that had been delivered by the UK.
In recent years, the UK government has annually licensed arms exports directly to Israel for between €12 million and €36 million. In 2008, UK authorities granted military export licenses for more than €34 million.
Besides these major European powers, one state enjoys exceptional clout as a strict adherent to international law, but has excelled at conducting arms trade with Israel, namely Finland. The total value of the Finnish-Israeli arms trade is €200 million.
In addition to the fact the Finland has conducted more military trade with Israel than a number of much bigger EU member states, what sets Finland apart from all the other arms trading partners of Israel is the severity of domestic criticism the trade has elicited.
A petition signed by more than 250 Finnish dignitaries from the arts, academia, and politics is a telling indicator of the wave of criticism arising from the military trade between Israel and Finland. Among those calling for an immediate discontinuation of all forms of military trade with Israel are the foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja and world-renowned expert on international law Martti Koskenniemi.
It merits emphasis that the continuation and, often the mere existence, of the trade has arguably had no support in the Finnish mainstream media.
As the 2003 European Commission poll already revealed, the ever-continuing business-as-usual attitude by the EU to Israel’s actions fully contradicts union public opinion. The freezing of the EU-Israel Association Agreement and the seizing of all weapons exports from the EU to Israel – both actions required by EU provisions – could force Israel to finally recognize and respect the rights of the Palestinians.
- Brazil says no to Israeli arms (bdsmovement.net)