Thursday, February 15

MCC Palestine Update #132

MCC Palestine Update #132

15 February 2007

A National Unity Government under Occupation

One of the big stories that has emerged out of this region this past week is the agreement between Fatah and Hamas over the formation of a Palestinian national unity government facilitated by the King of Saudi Arabia in Mecca. There has been a sense of optimism among some that this movement will lead to the end of the boycott that the international community has imposed on the Palestinian people (“Our unity can now pave the way for peace and justice,”,,2011657,00.html). However, there is no sign from the United States nor from Israel that they will ease their boycott. In fact, it looks the opposite with some in the U.S. actually saying that this unity government will “complicate” things (“Congress blocks $86m in aid to PA,”; “U.S. will boycott new Palestinian unity government,” Though ostensibly directed at the so-called Hamas government, this unfortunate boycott tactic on the part of Europe and North America has effectively disabled the Palestinian Authority for the past year—the main source of income for some one million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Despite the difficulties internally Palestinians themselves are experiencing, the great attention given to this has distracted many from the ongoing realities of occupation and dispossession Palestinians continue to experience. In an all too often dehumanizing manner, we point out these failures, asserting the inability of Palestinians to govern themselves and in the process not only ignoring the impossible context they are within that ensures failure but even legitimizing these structures of violence, concluding that they are not civilized enough and have therefore not earned the right to political, social, and economic freedom and deserve the “reservation” status imposed on them. A conclusion that is all too convenient for us.

See Amira Hass’ “Growing bitterness in Gaza” and Ali Abunimah’s “The American proxy war in Gaza” below for more on this context. And for more on the dangers of misplaced optimism, especially in light of U.S. Secretary of State Rice’s upcoming visit to Palestine/Israel next week, see my article “The road to hell is paved with personal commitments” at

Who Speaks for Whom?

In the last update, we shared a piece of the growing conversation over the usage of the word apartheid to describe Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories. In this update, we would like to share with you another conversation that has surfaced over the past few weeks, particularly in Britain. As an article in The Observer (“The New Jewish Question,” attached below) reports, “a furious row has been raging in the international Jewish community over the rights and wrongs of criticising Israel.” This rigorous debate has also surfaced in the American Jewish community, including voices such as New York University professor Tony Judt (who in the past has advocated for a binational state for both Israelis and Palestinians; see his “Israel: The Alternative,”

The following are just some in a series of articles in this discussion on who speaks on behalf of Jewish communities (read more at

· “Who speaks for Jews in Britain?”: We will not accept the vilification of those who protest at injustices carried out in the name of the Jewish people. Brian Klug, 5 February 2007;
· “Israel and the A-word”: Why does the word "apartheid" upset Israel's supporters? David Goldberg, 5 February 2007;
· “Israel and the rule of law”: In the occupied territories, human rights principles have been thrown to the winds. Geoffrey Bindman, 7 February 2007;
· “Occupation and human rights”: By remaining in the West Bank, Israel has done enormous harm to itself, its reputation and its long-term future. Tony Klug, 9 February 2007;

More on Alternative Forms of Resistance to End the Occupation

For the past year and a half, MCC has been encouraging Mennonite and Brethren in Christ communities in Canada and the U.S. to think about issues of stewardship, morally responsible investment / divestment, and economic justice as it relates to this conflict. In mid 2005, MCC produced “Peacebuilding in Palestine / Israel: A Discussion Paper” meant to help facilitate this conversation. This paper (available online at points out:

“Palestinians and Israelis working for a just resolution of the conflict lamented that decades of appeal to international law and resolutions have failed to end this story of dispossession, with Israeli power routinely trumping appeals to the power of law. Palestinian Christian partners, in particular, urged Christians in the West to take a stand for justice, peace, and reconciliation for Palestinians and Israelis alike, a stand that markedly differs from Christian Zionist theologies that deny Palestinians a secure place in the land. These trusted partner organizations urged MCC to consider ways in which Christians from Canada and the United States might invest in a future of justice and peace for both peoples and to examine ways in which our money either promotes justice, peace, and reconciliation in Palestine/Israel or contributes to the ongoing dispossession.”

This movement toward alternative measures became very visible in the summer of 2005 when Palestinian civil society launched a boycott/divestment/sanctions campaign on the one-year anniversary of the International Court of Justice ruling condemning the Wall as illegal (see Seemingly “critical” or “negative” measures such as divestment are being called for in the present context, including calls from MCC’s partners, due to the sense that these political and legal mechanisms have largely been ineffective.

The following are some recent articles that speak to this conversation:

· “Political Statement and Call to Action on Palestine—Statement of Palestinian Delegation to the World Social Forum,” Palestinian Delegation to the World Social Forum, January 2007;
· “Israel Boycott and Its Discontents,” Educators for Peace and Justice, Znet, 29 January 2007;
· “Using sport as a political weapon,” India eNews, 17 January 2007;
· “Why an academic boycott of Israel is necessary,” Lawrence Davidson, The Electronic Intifada, 3 January 2007;
· “SOUTH AFRICA: Avocados, Diamonds at Core of Anti-Israel Trade Campaign,” Moyiga Nduru, Inter Press Service News Agency, 27 January 2007;
· “The Strangulation of Palestine,” Ruth Tenne, The Palestine Chronicle, 31 January 2007;
· “Support of a British Campaign for Medical Boycott of Israel,” Derek Summerfield, Bulletin of Transcultural Special Interest Group (TSIG) of Royal College of Psychiatrists, Winter 2006;
· “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions - Palestinian Trade Unions Call upon International Labor Movement,” The Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, 13 February 2007;

We would ask that as you continue to keep the people of land in your thoughts and prayers that you would prayerfully discuss these important issues in your communities, reflecting on how MCC and Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches should respond in our pursuit of a peace born of justice for all, where everyone will sit securely under vine and fig tree with no one to make them afraid (Micah 4:4).

Peace to you all,

Timothy Seidel

Timothy and Christi Seidel
Peace Development Workers
Mennonite Central Committee – Palestine

Attachments and Links:

· James M. Wall, “Apartheid Denial,” The Christian Century, 20 February 2007
· Ronald Bruce St. John, “Of Walls and Bantustans: Apartheid by Any Other Name,”, 2 February 2007
· Shulamit Aloni, “Don’t slam Carter: Israel’s grip is real,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 24 January 2007
· Gaby Wood, “The new Jewish question,” The Observer, 11 February 2007
· Nir Hasson, “Just like life under Pinochet,” Haaretz, 11 February 2007
· Amira Hass, “Growing bitterness in Gaza,” Haaretz, 9 February 2007
· Ali Abunimah, “The American proxy war in Gaza,” The Electronic Intifada, 3 February 2007
· John V. Whitbeck, “What ‘Israel’s right to exist’ means to Palestinians: Recognition would imply acceptance that they deserve to be treated as subhumans,” Christian Science Monitor, 2 February 2007
· Meron Benvenisti, “40 years of aggressiveness,” Haaretz, 5 February 2007
· Palestinian Delegation to the World Social Forum, “Political Statement and Call to Action on Palestine--Statement of Palestinian Delegation to the World Social Forum,”, January 2007


The Christian Century
Apartheid Denial
James M. Wall
20 February 2007

Time magazine senior editor Tony Karon writes a personal Internet blog that he calls the "Rootless Cosmopolitan," a term Russian dictator Joseph Stalin used as a euphemistic pejorative for Jew during his anti-Semitic purges of the 1940s.

Karon explains that he can wear Stalin's negative description of a Jew "as a badge of honor" since he is an African Jew with roots in Eastern Europe. He also worked for a decade in his native South Africa as an activist in the struggle against apartheid.

His background qualifies Karon to have a voice in the current debate over former president Jimmy Carter's book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. In a recent blog entry, Karon defends Carter's use of the term apartheid as "not only morally valid [but] essential, because it shakes the moral stupor that allows many liberals to rationalize away the daily, grinding horror being inflicted on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza."

In January, at a conference on the 30th anniversary of Carter's inauguration, I talked to Carter about the reception his book has received. In public sessions, he has said that the personal attacks on him have "hurt" him and his family, but to me he said, '"I am not going to back down. . . . I am at peace." Let his critics take their best or worst shots; they cannot touch the inner core of a man who believes he has identified injustice and has written a book to expose that injustice.

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Of Walls and Bantustans: Apartheid by Any Other Name
Ronald Bruce St. John
2 February 2007

In any case, the media storm in the United States over Carter's use of the word apartheid remains difficult to understand since Israelis themselves have long used the word to describe Israeli policy in the Occupied Territory. This helps explains why the book has drawn so little attention in Israel. As one example, Shulamit Aloni, a former education minister under Yitzhak Rabin, in early January 2007 published an article, "Yes, There is Apartheid in Israel," in which she candidly acknowledged "the government of Israel practices a brutal form of Apartheid in the territory it occupies. Its army has turned every Palestinian village and town into a fenced-in, or blocked-in, detention camp."

Some critics go further in applying the term apartheid beyond the occupied territories. UCLA professor Saree Makdisi, in a mid-December op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, criticized Carter's book because the author limited his discussion of apartheid to the West Bank. Makdisi argued the concept of apartheid was equally applicable to Jewish and non-Jewish citizens within Israel itself. On that score, the Arab Center for Alternative Planning in mid-January 2007 revealed the results of a recent poll that showed that per capita Gross Domestic Product in the Israeli Jewish sector was three times that of the Israeli Arab sector.

That which we call apartheid, to echo Shakespeare, by any other name would smell as rotten. Israeli policy in the West Bank is a form of apartheid in intent and implementation. Ethnic-based, as opposed to race-based, it shares an important characteristic with the South African model. Both have their genesis in the desire by the minority to control land occupied by the majority. To achieve this result, the Israelis have imposed a legal framework on the Palestinians in the West Bank that ensures perpetual economic, political, and social dominance.

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Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Don’t slam Carter: Israel’s grip is real
Shulamit Aloni
24 January 2007

Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what's right in front of our eyes. It's simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of apartheid with the native Palestinian population.

The U.S. Jewish establishment's onslaught on former President Jimmy Carter is based on him daring to tell the truth which is known to all: Through its army, the government of Israel practices a brutal form of apartheid in the territory it occupies. Its army has turned every Palestinian village and town into a fenced-in, or blocked-in, detention camp. All this is done in order to keep an eye on the population's movements and to make its life difficult. Israel even imposes a total curfew whenever the settlers, who have illegally usurped the Palestinians' land, celebrate their holidays or conduct their parades.

If that were not enough, the generals commanding the region frequently issue further orders, regulations, instructions and rules (let us not forget: they are the lords of the land). By now they have requisitioned further lands for the purpose of constructing "Jewish only" roads.

Wonderful roads, wide roads, well-paved roads, brightly lit at night — all that on stolen land. When a Palestinian drives on such a road, his vehicle is confiscated, and he is sent on his way.

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The Observer
The new Jewish question
Gaby Wood
11 February 2007

'The issue is not whether Israel has a right to exist,' Judt says plainly, 'Israel does exist. It exists just like Belgium or Kuwait or any other country which was invented at some point in the past and is now a fact. The question is what kind of a state Israel should be. That's all.'

Anti-Zionism has, like Zionism itself, a long and complicated history. 'The thing that we tend to forget,' Judt explains, 'is that until the Second World War, Zionism was a minority taste even within Jewish political organisations. The main body of European Jews was either apolitical or integrated, and voting within the existing countries they lived in. So to be anti-Zionist, at least until the late 1930s, was to be lined up with most Jews. It would make no sense to think of it as anti-Semitic.

'After the Second World War, for a fairly brief period - from let's say 1945 to about 1953 - the overwhelming majority of Jews who were politically thinking were Zionists, either actively or sympathetically, for the rather obvious reason that Israel was the only hope for Jewish survivors. But then many of them, like Hannah Arendt or Arthur Koestler, both of whom were Zionists at various points, took their distance, on the grounds that it was already clear to them that Israel was going to become the kind of state that as a cosmopolitan Jew they couldn't identify with.

'Ever since then, there has been an unbroken tradition of non-Israeli Jews who regard Israel as either unrelated to their own identity or something of which they sometimes approve, sometimes disapprove, sometimes totally dislike. This range of opinion is not new,' Judt concludes. 'The only thing that's new - and it's a product of the post-Sixties - is the insistence that it's anti-Semitic.'

Judt tells a story about an Israeli journalist who was in Washington in the 1960s. 'The Israeli ambassador was retiring, and the journalist asked him what he thought was his biggest achievement. The ambassador said: "I've succeeded in beginning to convince Americans that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism." There has been a progressive emergence of a conflation,' Judt explains. 'It didn't just happen naturally. And it was pushed quite actively in the Seventies and Eighties, to the point at which it became so normal in this country that it was for a while the default assumption. It's really only in the last five to eight years that it's started to be questioned.'

Please read more at,,2010302,00.html


Just like life under Pinochet
Nir Hasson
11 February 2007

"The Palestinians' lives under the occupation are reminiscent of the lives of Chile's citizens under the dictatorship," says Chilean Judge Juan Guzman, who is visiting Israel, last week. "There, too, people who thought differently were considered enemies: They were imprisoned, tortured and killed. There, too, people couldn't move from place to place, they didn't have freedom and they didn't have equality before the law. But here it's harder. It has been going on for longer," he added.

Guzman, 68, became known at the end of the 1990s as an investigative judge pursuing Augusto Pinochet, Chile's military dictator between 1973 and 1990. Guzman waged a long legal battle against Pinochet. Despite the former dictator's immunity, Guzman succeeded in filing several indictments against him and bringing him to trial. Pinochet's trial was never completed because of his health, and he died two months ago at age 91.

Last week Guzman came to Israel as a guest of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the Alternative Information Center (AIC) to examine indicting Israelis responsible for house demolitions in European courts. Thus far, legal proceedings have been initiated only against military officers. The committee wants to indict civilians as well.

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Growing bitterness in Gaza
Amira Hass
9 February 2007

What is important is that the security establishment is easing the travel restrictions for some chosen individuals who are close to senior Fatah officials, teaching the public to be suspicious of anyone who receives such favors and to identify them with the clandestine game of "give and take."

Three pages in the document deal with the arrangements for the entry of citizens of Western countries (most of them of Palestinian origin) to the territories. While the diplomats were promised in December 2006 that, in effect, their citizens, mainly the non-Jewish ones, would not suffer discrimination, the Interior Ministry continues to block their entry.

For example, Mahmoud Ali, 70, from Chicago, wanted to see his wife, a resident of the West Bank. On January 20, his entry was denied. Abd al-Jammal, 67, and Qawthar Ali, 52, flew from Florida to visit their daughters. After seven days of detention at Ben-Gurion International Airport, they were flown to Amman on January 16.

In reply to a question about the contradiction between the promises and the reality on the ground, a COGAT spokesman said that "the procedure for the entry of foreigners is being formulated jointly with the Interior Ministry. Today exceptions are approved at the recommendation of COGAT, under the aegis of the Interior Ministry.

This is the essence of the easing of restrictions: Basic rights are enjoyed by "exceptions," according to the decision of the security establishment. And, thus, the exceptions become suspects. The Palestinians ask themselves: What made these people acceptable to the occupation authorities? Why were they lucky? And if this is not suspicion, what we have here is bitterness, jealousy and animosity - surefire components for any civil war.

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The Electronic Intifada
The American proxy war in Gaza
Ali Abunimah
3 February 2007

In recent days the unremitting, murderous brutality of the Israeli occupation has been eclipsed by the carnage in Gaza as dozens of Palestinians have been killed in what is commonly referred to as "interfactional fighting" between forces loyal to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction on the one hand, and the Hamas-led government on the other.

The airwaves have been filled with anguished calls from every sector of Palestinian society -- political parties, nongovermental organizations, and Christian and Muslim religious leaders -- for the fighting to cease and for a return to dialogue.

Perhaps for fear of exacerbating the already bitter situation, few of these voices have directly confronted the engine of this violence.

In the fevered minds of Bush administration ideologues, Palestine has become another front in what they conceive of as a new Cold War against "Islamofascism." They see Iran as the central target and proxy battles are being waged against a phantom enemy from Afghanistan and Pakistan, through Iraq into Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia and ever onwards wherever Arabs and Muslims are to be found. In every case, local conflicts with specific histories are being escalated and marshalled into this grand narrative .

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Christian Science Monitor
What ‘Israel’s right to exist’ means to Palestinians: Recognition would imply acceptance that they deserve to be treated as subhumans
John V. Whitbeck
2 February 2007

Since the Palestinian elections in 2006, Israel and much of the West have asserted that the principal obstacle to any progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace is the refusal of Hamas to "recognize Israel," or to "recognize Israel's existence," or to "recognize Israel's right to exist"…

There is an enormous difference between "recognizing Israel's existence" and "recognizing Israel's right to exist." From a Palestinian perspective, the difference is in the same league as the difference between asking a Jew to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened and asking him to concede that the Holocaust was morally justified. For Palestinians to acknowledge the occurrence of the Nakba – the expulsion of the great majority of Palestinians from their homeland between 1947 and 1949 – is one thing. For them to publicly concede that it was "right" for the Nakba to have happened would be something else entirely. For the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, the Holocaust and the Nakba, respectively, represent catastrophes and injustices on an unimaginable scale that can neither be forgotten nor forgiven.

To demand that Palestinians recognize "Israel's right to exist" is to demand that a people who have been treated as subhumans unworthy of basic human rights publicly proclaim that they are subhumans. It would imply Palestinians' acceptance that they deserve what has been done and continues to be done to them. Even 19th-century US governments did not require the surviving native Americans to publicly proclaim the "rightness" of their ethnic cleansing by European colonists as a condition precedent to even discussing what sort of land reservation they might receive. Nor did native Americans have to live under economic blockade and threat of starvation until they shed whatever pride they had left and conceded the point.

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40 years of aggressiveness
Meron Benvenisti
5 February 2007

In 1967 the annexation of East Jerusalem was presented as a liberal step, which equalized the services in both parts of the city. By contrast, in 2007, subtracting parts that were annexed (along with their residents) is seen as a peace-building effort and as a solution to the problems of Jerusalem. Nobody is asking the opinion of a quarter of a million Palestinians.

The petrifaction of the public discourse regarding Jerusalem is not surprising. After all, the Israeli approach, which demands the right to set the conditions as well as dictating their interpretation, has not changed, and therefore the summaries and the assessments for the 40th anniversary will be for the most part preaching to the converted.

The symbolic date that is approaching need not serve as an excuse for scientific publications and academic conferences, but should be a focus for political activity to break the Israeli monopoly on the organization of life in the shared city. The Palestinian public, which is caught between the separation wall and the Jewish neighborhoods that do not want it nearby, and which is neglected and discriminated against, must announce the creation of a separate municipal authority, which will offer to cooperate with the Jerusalem municipality, but will operate even without it. This voluntary body will receive assistance from international groups as well as support from a substantial part of the Jewish citizens of the city.

Several Palestinian think tanks have planned a Palestinian municipal authority in Jerusalem down to the last detail. The time has come to implement these ideas. The Jewish public must enlist in this struggle, which could end 40 years of aggressive domination and begin a new era in Jerusalem, one of balanced relations.

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Political Statement and Call to Action on Palestine--Statement of Palestinian Delegation to the World Social Forum
Palestinian Delegation to the World Social Forum
January 2007

Forty years after Israel's occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and almost 60 years after the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948, the Palestinian people is at a critical juncture. Global solidarity and support will be decisive in enabling the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and durable peace to prevail.

To date, official diplomacy has failed in enforcing scores of UN resolutions and relevant principles of international law aimed at ending Israel's occupation, colonization, displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people. US-led Middle East diplomacy, favoring military intervention and unilateralism over respect for international law, is also directly implicated in wars and occupation in Iraq and Lebanon, complicit with Israel's colonial regime in Palestine, and actively encouraging division and civil war in the region. Rather than being part of the solution, the US and the entire Quartet--including the EU--have become part of the problem in the region…

Based on the above, Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly advocates Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (or BDS) against Israel, similar to the international community’s measures against apartheid South Africa in the past. Consumer boycotts of Israeli products; boycott of Israeli academic, athletic and cultural events and institutions complicit in human rights abuses; divestment from Israeli companies, as well as international corporations involved in perpetu ating injustice; and pressuring governments to impose sanctions on Israel are all examples of effective, morally sound, non-violent measures that ought to be initiated and maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

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