I Must Write As Long As Israeli Settlers Burn Palestinian Schools

by James M. Wall

A regular reader wrote recently and asked why I write so often about Palestine and Israel.

It was a good question and after some time for reflection I have an answer for him, inspired by a 1971 Johnny Cash song, “The Man in Black”.

Cash had been asked why he always wore black. He explains that he did so because he identifies with the poor and the hungry, the prisoners, the lonely and the old, and those who are dying in a war in a distant land, at that time, the Vietnam War.

A few years later, after “The Man In Black” became a best-selling album, Cash said:

“With the Vietnam War as painful in my mind as it was in most other Americans’, I wore it ‘in mournin’ for the lives that could have been.’ … Apart from the Vietnam War being over, I don’t see much reason to change my position … The old are still neglected, the poor are still poor, the young are still dying before their time, and we’re not making many moves to make things right. There’s still plenty of darkness to carry off.”

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and our American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, are today providing “plenty of darkness”. Together, these wars are today’s Vietnam.

I am aware that I cannot sing, or write simple, powerful poetry as Cash has done. But I must write about the darkness that covers our nation as it continues its pursuit of empirical conquest at a tremendous cost at home, under the guise of “fighting terror”. Indeed, “terrorism” is today’s version of the Communism that Nixon and Kissinger used as their excuse for “defending” South Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.

Johnny Cash originally recorded “The Man in Black”  before a college audience in May, 1971, one year after the Kent State Massacre when, during a student protest against the invasion of Cambodia, Ohio national guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

In May, 1971, Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, were still conducting a secret war, the details of which were only fully revealed on June 30, 1971, when the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not prevent the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times.

The story of how those Papers were finally published in the Times is vividly presented in the 2010 documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America. The title refers to Daniel Ellsberg, the Harvard professor who courageously risked his freedom to deliver the Pentagon Papers to the Times.

Henry Kissinger, who once taught with Ellsburg at Harvard, bitterly described his former academic colleague as “the most dangerous man in America.”

Ellsberg writes of his experiences in his 2002 book, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

Along with the vast majority of the American public, Johnny Cash was unaware of the Vietnam war narrative which Nixon and Kissinger tried to keep secret, when he wrote the lyrics for  “The Man in Black”. What he did know was that young Americans and many Vietnamese were dying needlessly.

The lyrics are at the end of this post.

Today, with wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the West Bank Bank and Gaza our military forces, and our surrogate Israeli military forces, are involved in an overall war against what a previous American president misnamed as “the global war on terror”.

This 2010 midterm election have essentially ignored the thousands and hundreds of thousands who are dying in distant lands because of our wars. Instead,  public attention is riveted on the craziness of the Tea Party candidates, some of whom may very well end up in the Congress.

The American public does not know about the Israeli settlers who set fire to a Palestinian girls’ school building near Nablus this past week. Juan Cole, whose Informed Comment blog is a flashing light of warning to the American public, tells the story of the attack on the school:

The phrase “ethnic cleansing” conjures up a swift, comprehensive act of expulsion. But in reality, moving a large population off its land is the death of a thousand cuts, a slow, inexorable process of stealing property, harassment, forcing people into a condition of malnutrition.

The Native Americans in the Americas, the Aborigines in Australia, and the Palestinians in Israel/Palestine were only sometimes forced off their land suddenly and en masse. The gradual processes told, in the long run.

The amazing thing about what is being done to the Palestinians in the Palestinian West Bank by Israeli illegal aliens is that it is happening in full view of the world, reported on by wire services, and yet remains invisible to Western publics.

The world reacts in horror when the Taliban in Afghanistan torch girls’ schools. But Israeli squatters just set fire to the store room of a Palestinian girls’ school, and the whole school would have gone up in flames if that warehouse had not been near a water main. The Israeli illegals left behind graffiti saying ‘regards from the hills.’

Cole also reports that earlier in October,

Israeli squatters set fire to a Palestinian mosque in Bethlehem.

[Also this autumn] there is the seasonal vandalism against olive trees in Palestinian orchards, which reached a fever pitch this year. The Israeli authorities prosecute few of these offenses and almost never hand down a punishment to an Israeli squatter.

The 10 million olive trees in the West Bank and Gaza, occupying some 45 percent of the farmland, are the matrix of Palestinian existence. An attack on olive trees is a form of economic warfare of the first water.

The American public knows far more about the fumbling responses of the Republican candidate for Joe Biden’s old Delaware senate seat, than it does about the needless death of a 2-year-old Gaza child who was prevented by the Israeli army from traveling the short distance outside Gaza for specialized treatment. The Palestinian organization, Physicians for Human Rights, has that story on its website:

Nasma Abu Lasheen died on Saturday, October 16, 2010 in Gaza. Israel failed to issue her an urgent entry permit for life-saving medical treatment at Ha-Emek Medical Center in Afula, Israel. She was two years old.

Abu Lasheen, a young resident of Gaza diagnosed with Leukemia, was referred for emergency treatment in Israel on October 6, 2010. When requests to the Israeli Army for an entry permit went unanswered for several days, by way of B’tselem, the family contacted Physicians for Human Rights- Israel (PHR-Israel) for additional help.

That very same day, on October 13, 2010, PHR-Israel contacted the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO) demanding a permit be issued immediately to the baby and her father to enable their entry into Israel. A military approval was finally granted the next afternoon, October 14, 2010.

Abu Lasheen’s medical condition had been deteriorating rapidly and by the time the permit was received, the treating doctor in Gaza, Dr. Mohammad Abu Sha’aban, said she was too sick to travel. Nasma died in the early morning hours of October 16, 2010.

Ziad Abbas works for the Middle East Children’s Alliance on a project to bring clean water to the children of Palestine. He grew up in Palestine. He writes in Counter Punch, that his work is especially personal to him because of  his own childhood experiences of growing up deprived of water.

Israel controls and uses 89% of the water resources in the West Bank, leaving 11% for the 2.5 million Palestinians. The Israeli Occupation continues to limit Palestinian access to clean water as form of collective punishment by controlling the water resources and distribution and by destroying the water that we are able to get.

During Israeli military incursions, and especially during curfews, when we could not leave our homes, Israeli soldiers would shoot the water storage tanks on our roofs. Our water would pour down the sides of our buildings unused.

During the recent attack on Gaza, Israel targeted the entire water infrastructure including the largest water purification system in Gaza. They also targeted electrical generators that supported water purification and sewage treatment.

I write about these things because American churches are still hung up on not offending their Jewish neighbors, thus choosing interfaith harmony over justice.

I write about these things because major denominational meetings, like this past summer’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA, dickered and delayed and finally decided to study further how they might best deal with the “problems” in the Middle East.

Since that Presbyterian GA meeting, two-year-old Abu Lasheen died waiting for permission to travel to an Israeli hospital. Since that meeting, Israeli settlers set fire to a Palestinian girls school, leaving behind graffiti on the wall that said, “regards from the hills”. Something about the insensitive arrogance of that graffiti implies there was not enough room on the wall to add, in Clint Eastwoodian fashion, “we’ll be back.”

I write about the American media’s blindness to the narrative of the suffering in Palestine because Tom Friedman continues to fool his liberal readers by pretending to criticize Israel when his criticism always includes the AIPAC approved list of what he insists are “facts”, but which are either outright lies or distortions of reality.

The most recent example was Friedman’s October 20 column which calls on Israel to help President Obama line up world opposition to Iran by reaching a friendly agreement with Palestinian negotiators.

Friedman opens his column with a set of “stubborn facts” which are really just a repeat of the acceptable Israeli narrative which, of course, he assures his readers are “stubborn facts”.  Only, they are not.

Here is the start of Thomas Friedman’s latest  column, followed by corrections:

Say what you want about Israel’s obstinacy at times, it remains the only country in the United Nations that another U.N. member, Iran, has openly expressed the hope that it be wiped off the map. And that same country, Iran, is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Israel is the only country I know of in the Middle East that has unilaterally withdrawn from territory conquered in war — in Lebanon and Gaza — only to be greeted with unprovoked rocket attacks in return.

Indeed, if you want to talk about spoiled children, there is no group more spoiled by Iran and Syria than Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia.

Hezbollah started a war against Israel in 2006 that brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese — and Hezbollah’s punishment was to be rewarded with thousands more missiles and millions more dollars to do it again. These are stubborn facts.

Friedman’s “stubborn facts” are stubborn, alright. They are falsehoods or distortions he clings to “stubbornly”.

Iran’s President Ahmedinejad never used the phrase, “wipe Israel off the map”. That was an initial mistranslation into English which the media loved and never let go. The media has refused, as Friedman does here, to go back and obtain the original statement by Ahmedinejad in a speech he gave to a Persian audience.

The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran’s first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, when he said that “this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time” just as the Shah’s regime in Iran had vanished.

He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The “page of time” phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon. There was no implication that either Khomeini, when he first made the statement, or Ahmadinejad, in repeating it, felt it was imminent, or that Iran would be involved in bringing it about.

Another error: It is true that Israel took its military forces out of Lebanon and Gaza, but it did so because the cost in Israeli lives had become too expensive to maintain the garrisons in those two areas.

The invasions had proved to be a major loss for the vastly superior Israeli forces, a fact Friedman ignores as he praises Israel for its “unilateral withdrawal” from the two countries it had invaded and failed to control.

Friedman writes that “Hezbollah started a war against Israel in 2006 that brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese.”

Israel did launch a massive invasion of Lebanon in 2006, but who fired the first shot has been debated. Israeli sources have confirmed that Israel’s invasion plans were already on the drawing board when a border skirmish erupted, giving Israel the excuse it wanted to launch a war that, indeed, “brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese.”

Who brought those deaths, injuries and destruction to the Lebanese? Israel, of course.

Careful research would quickly demonstrate to Friedman and every other pro-Israel pundit and politician that Friedman’s “stubborn facts” are either false or distorted.

I will continue to write on Israel and Palestine as long as pundits like Thomas Friedman have access to the pages of the New York Times, and the American public remains ignorant of the actual facts on the ground in Israel and Palestine.

The Man in Black, lyrics by Johnny Cash

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black, Why you never see bright colors on my back,  And why does my appearance always have a somber tone. Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town, And I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, But still is there because he’s a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read, Or listened to the words that Jesus said, About the road to happiness through love and charity, Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose, In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes, But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back, Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old, For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold, I wear the black in mornin’ for the lives that could have been, Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died, Believen’ that the Lord was on their side, And I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died, Believen’ that we all were on their side.

Well, there’s things that never will be right I know, And things need changin’ everywhere you go, But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right, You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day, To tell the world that everything’s OK, But mabe I can carry off a little darkness on my back,

‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

The photo at the top of the page is of two Bedouin girls, in school uniform, returning to their houses after a school day in Abu Farda near the West Bank city of Qalqilia on October 6, 2010. MaanImages/Khaleel Reash.

The Youtube above, and the lyrics by Johnny Cash may be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLkmC2VuXA8.

Posted in Media, Middle East Politics | 16 Comments

Israel “Defends” Itself By “Mowing the Grass”

By James M. Wall

larger pix

Once every two years or so, depending on the U.S. and Israeli strategic and political calendars, Israel, the fourth largest military power in the world, descends on Gaza to “mow the grass”.

That obscene phrase, used to describe Israel’s military engagements with Gaza, was described by the Jerusalem Post as a legitimate Israeli tactic:

“Israel is acting in accordance with a “mowing the grass” strategy. After a period of military restraint, Israel is acting to severely punish Hamas for its aggressive behavior, and degrading its military capabilities – aiming at achieving a period of quiet.”

The “mowing the grass” image is an all-out Israeli air and ground attack on a largely helpless civilian population of 1.8 million Palestinians, all of whom are trapped inside prison-like Gaza walls.

Amira Hass, veteran Israeli writer for Ha’aretz, describes how difficult it is for Israel to understand that the Palestinians “refuse occupation”.

“There is method in madness, and the Israeli insanity, which refuses to grasp the extent of its revenge in Gaza, has very good reasons for being the way it is.

The entire nation is the army, the army is the nation, and both are represented by a Jewish-democratic government and a loyal press, and the four of them work together to stave off the great betrayal: the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize the normalcy of the situation.

The Palestinians are disobedient. They refuse to adapt. This is after we thought it was working for us, with VIP treatment for a few of them and an opportunity for swollen bank accounts for some, and with enormous donations from the United States and Europe that nurture the pockets of imaginary Palestinian rule.”

The current conflict is the third time Israel has “mowed the grass” in Gaza since 2007. There are no signs that Palestinians will stop being “disobedient”.

The  odious “grass mowing” tactic has worked before for Israel, calming things down to suit Israel’s agenda. But it is most certainly not a long term solution. It is also a tactic that always damages Israel’s image everywhere, it now seems, except in U.S. political, religious and media circles.

It is difficult to believe Israel lacks the ability to avoid excessive civilian casualties. Amira Hass reports one example that confirms Israel’s ability to identify, with precision, what and who, is being targeted. She writes:

The armed Hamas operatives who emerged from the tunnel shaft on Kibbutz Nir Am on Monday were dressed as Israeli soldiers. Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that in the first moments, the field commanders were not sure whether they were soldiers or terrorists.

“Finally, thanks to an aerial photograph taken by a drone, they were found to be Hamas operatives,” writes Harel. “They were carrying Kalashnikov rifles, which the Israeli army does not use.”

So the photographs taken by the drone can be very precise when its operators wish. It can discern whether there are children on the seashore or on the roof — children who, even for the legal acrobats in the Justice Ministry and the army, are not a justifiable target for our bombs.

The drone can also discern that a rescue team has arrived to pull out wounded people, that families are fleeing their homes. All this can be shown in a close-up photograph taken by a drone, at high enough resolution that the operators of the bombs and the shells have no reason to press the “kill” button on their keyboards.

But for some reason, the eye of the drone that can tell the difference between various makes of rifles cannot tell that this figure over here is a child, and that is a mother or a grandmother. Instead, all are given a death sentence.”

Does Israel really believe “mowing the grass” is the best way to deal with its neighboring population? Is that a tactic to build a strong Israel for the future?

Years from now, Israeli veterans of this and other wars, will be asked, “what did you do in your war, Daddy”? The answer Daddy gives about “mowing the grass” will tell us what sort of nation Israel has built for the future.

The children shown above were in an United Nations World Relief Agency (UNWRA) school during an attack.

Amira Hass writes further for Ha’aretz:

The Israeli military shelled a United Nations Relief Works and Agency (UNWRA) school today, killing and injuring some of the Palestinians who had gathered there after fleeing their homes following Israeli messages to do so.

CNN‘s Ben Wedeman, who is reporting from Gaza, said that medical sources told him 30 people were killed. Other reports put the death toll lower; the Associated Press reports that at least seven were killed, while Agence France Press reports nine dead.

UNWRA spokesman Chris Gunness has confirmed that there are “multiple dead and injured at designated UNWRA shelter in Beit Hanoun.” He said on Twitter that the Israeli military had been given “precise co-ordinates of the UNWRA shelter in Beit Hanoun.”

The children in the picture above are lying or sitting on the floor. This is not a hospital. It is clearly-marked UNWRA facility which hurriedly took in as many as 1500 Palestinians, seeking shelter from bombs.

Look closely in the upper right corner of the picture above and you will see the image of a green-clad nurse, offering what little help he can to one of the children.

This is how the world’s fourth largest military power “defends itself”?

Another way Israel defends itself is to raise questions about which side is responsible for attacks. In a factual report on the attack on the Gaza Beit Hanoun school converted to a temporary shelter, the New York Times gives the results of the attack.

“These days, even a school — clearly identified as a shelter run by the United Nations — cannot protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza from deadly attacks. Located in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, it was struck multiple times on Thursday as people who had taken refuge there were gathering in the courtyard and preparing to flee.

At least 16 of them were killed, bringing the total death toll in 17 days of war to more than 750, a vast majority being Palestinian civilians.”

The losses were so heavy and the ultimate responsibility for the explosion that caused the many losses, so damaging that it is quite possible that the Israeli hasbara team told its favorite New York city newspaper to proceed with caution.

Which the New York Times promptly did in the next paragraph:

“There are competing charges over who carried out the attack — Israel; Hamas, which controls Gaza; or one of Hamas’s allies — and that could take time to sort out. What really matters now is that some way be found to stop this carnage.”

Time to sort out, indeed. To even imply that Hamas could be responsible for this destruction in the Beit Hanoun school strains credulity.  Perhaps Israel is anticipating a need for cover in future war crimes trials.

NBC nightly television news did not waste any time debating responsibility for the  attack. It reported the grisly attack at an Israeli operation.

Even such an intelligent and sensitive leader like U.S. President Barack Obama, has learned to repeat the phrase almost as often as Netanyahu, “Israel has the right to defend itself”.

Palestinians, as any rational individual must know, also have the “right to defend themselves”.

Chris Hedges writes on the obvious limits of “rights”:

Israel does not have the right to drop 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on Gaza. It does not have the right to pound Gaza with heavy artillery and with shells lobbed from gunboats.

It does not have the right to send in mechanized ground units or to target hospitals, schools and mosques, along with Gaza’s water and electrical systems. It does not have the right to displace over 100,000 people from their homes. The entire occupation, under which Israel has nearly complete control of the sea, the air and the borders of Gaza, is illegal.

The  current “lawn mowing” process started in 2008, nicely timed to fall between Barack Obama’s November, 2008, election, and Obama’s inauguration in January, 2009. Obama demanded from Israel that it end its invasion before Inauguration Day.

Israel, comrades in arms, always eager to play nice with a new president, met the deadline.

Like Israel’s subsequent invasions that followed in 2012 and 2014, the pattern has been the same.

Israel builds up its military stock pile for up to two weeks of all-out attacks, starting with devastating air strikes, followed by Israeli ground troops crossing into Gaza.

They rarely go beyond two weeks, fearing world disapproval and fading home front tolerance  for troops losses. That tolerance point may not be far away. The Washington Post reported this week:

“Seven more Israeli soldiers were killed in fierce fighting Monday [July 21], bringing the Israeli military toll to 27 dead, more than twice as many as in Israel’s last Gaza ground incursion in 2009 and the highest toll since Israel’s war with Lebanon in 2006. Two Israeli civilians have died in the conflict.”

As the weaker of the two parties involved, the Gaza civilian death toll (many women and children) has varied, but so far it has ranged from more than a thousand in 2009, to more  than 560 people in Gaza, in this 2014 incursion, many of them women and children, according to the Post.

This invasion, if it follows the usual plan, will lead to a “cease fire” orchestrated by pro-Israel, U.S, anti-Hamas Egypt, Israel, and presumably Hamas. The first run at a 2014  “cease fire” was proposed with no input from Hamas.  Hamas refused to be told to sign something on which it was not consulted.

A second effort is currently ongoing.

The Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) has just finished its every-two year General Assembly national gathering, which included a narrow vote to take the mild step of withholding investment funds from three U.S. corporations involved in Israel’s operations in the occupied territories.

The PCUSA will not meet in General Assembly for another two years. Perhaps they will meet during the next “lawn mowing” exercise when Israel finds an excuse to begin cutting anew.

The World Council of Churches, not as obsessed with “good relations” with local rabbis as the Presbyterians, took the justice route and demanded an end to Israel’s current invasion and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

The U.S. National Council of Churches issued a press release on July 18 expressing its disapproval of the invasion.

These  Israeli “lawn mowing” exercises began after the 2006 elections in the West Bank and Gaza, to choose a new Palestinian parliament and later, a prime minister.

Israel and the U.S. did not like the results of that 2006 election. They did not like the fact that Hamas won the election fair and square, and gained control of all of the West Bank and Gaza.

In that election Hamas won in such Christian strongholds as Bethlehem, in the West Bank. The majority of Bethlehem’s legislative seats went to Hamas.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter headed an international group of monitors to help guarantee the 2006 election’s validity.

I attended a meeting of the Palestinian Election Commission the day before the election, at the invitation of President Carter and the Commission chair, Hanna Nasir, then the president of Bir Zeit University.

Hamas won the election in 2006. What followed was a brief moment of hope for a positive Palestinian future.

But what does the U.S. government (the congress and then President George W. Bush) and its Middle East mini-me empirical wanna-be, Israel, do about an election that does not follow the colonial template?

Simple, the U.S. and Israel told the losing political party in that 2006 election, Fatah, that it was time to go to war against Hamas. To help out, Israel locked up, on charges that are still not clear, the majority of Hamas’ victorious legislators.

With U.S. Army Lt. General Keith Dayton in charge of training—bringing with him U.S. money for military equipment—the Fatah army was organized and sent into battle to accomplish what the voters in the West Bank and Hamas had rejected.

In short, the colonial playbook was followed: Take power at the polls if possible, and by military force, if necessary. What followed was not meant to happen. The U.S and Israeli-backed Fatah lost that war as it had lost the earlier election.

Hamas quickly solidified its governmental responsibility on the Gaza area of the Palestinian territories. Israel promptly surrounded Gaza with its own version of the iron wall. Israel demanded that Fatah set up its own West Bank Palestinian government with Ramallah as its capital.

Maybe that came from a West Point class, “Divide and Conquer” on how best to build an empire. Great Britain perfected the tactic in the Middle East, India and Africa.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has struggled since 2007 to govern the West Bank on its own, always under the watchful eye of the Israelis, who dole out tax money taken from Palestinians and return it to the PA to run its government.

Following the failure of the most recent round of peace negotiations, Fatah invited Hamas to join in a unity government.

That sounded promising. But it did not fit the colonial template. Thus followed the latest “grass mowing” Israeli exercise, and many children like those above, continue to suffer.

A “cease fire” to this current conflict could happen at any moment. But then what? Does Israel think the tunnels will not be restored? Of course, they will be restored. Or maybe another and more effective method will be developed to resist the occupation.

Israel is indeed surrounded by Arab states which do not think Israel is a good neighbor in the region. At some point in the future these states may find ways to assist Hamas.

Military might, will not suffice to hold down a captive Palestinian population forever.  World opinion has turned against Israel.  The next U.S. president will face the same hopeless situation that has been such a burden for President Obama.

It is sad to see a brilliant president with so much promise, like Barack Obama, have to grovel and utter Israel’s mantra of this year, “Israel has a right to defend itself”.

What sort of a neighbor will Israel be in the future?

“Mowing the grass” to routinely kill men, women and children, destroy their homes, hospitals and schools, and  deprive them of the freedom to enjoy a normal existence, sounds more like a 20th century Nazi tactic than a tactic appropriate for a 21st century democracy.

It is also a tactic that will fail, because Palestinians will find other ways to resist oppression.

And just maybe a future U.S. president, told to repeat another Israeli talking point on the order of the noxious, “Israel has a right to defend itself”, will gag, and refuse to do so.

Like Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant revolution, that future U.S. president just might refuse to degrade himself or herself, tear up the script, and say those words long attributed to Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.”

The picture above is from the U.S. home page of UNWRA. It was taken by Letteris Pitarakis, for the Associated Press.

 

Posted in Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama, Presbyterian Church USA, Religious Faith | 5 Comments

Palestinian Children Have No Iron Dome

by James M. WallIslam Abdel Karim for The Washington Post

One day after a U.S. congressional committee voted to send more U.S. tax dollars to bolster Israel’s Iron Dome shield, four Palestinian boys were killed on an open beach by Israeli shelling from a naval ship offshore.

Defense for Children International  reported on the Israeli shelling:

“Eight children in Gaza were killed on Wednesday [July 16], including four boys who died as they were playing on the beach in Gaza City when they were directly targeted by the Israeli navy.  Israel’s military offensive on the Gaza Strip has killed at least 45 children according to DCI-Palestine documentation.”

DCI-Palestine identified the four boys killed, as Zakariya Ahed Subhi Baker, 10, Ahed Atef Ahed Baker, 9, Ismail Mohammad Subhi Baker, 9, and Mohammad Ramez Ezzat Baker, 11. The boys were all cousins from local families. They had been playing with a soccer ball on the beach in Gaza City’s harbor before they were killed in a missile strike just after 4 pm.

Hamada Baker, 13, was struck by shrapnel from one of the missiles fired from the Israeli ship. He and other boys ran or were carried, to the al Deira Hotel next to the beach where the four boys were killed.

Many western journalists. housed at the hotel, helped the wounded with first aid kits they brought down to the hotel terrace. One of them was William Booth of the Washington Post. Booth filed his account of the attack:

“I had just returned to the hotel to type up some notes and file inserts on the day’s news when there was a large explosion on the quay at the port, a little after 4 o’ clock in the afternoon.  .  . We saw a small fisherman’s shack on the quay, churning with gray smoke.

Then we saw a gang of kids running from the shack, down the breakwater and onto the sand, hurtling toward al-Deira.

A couple of waiters, the cook and a few journalists started waving at them. Run here!

Then a second strike landed right behind them. The staff were yelling, “They’re hurt!”

A half-dozen kids made it to the hotel. A young man also reached safety and fainted. He was bleeding from the abdomen. He was scooped up and carried to a taxi by a big, friendly bear of a bellman, room cleaner and night watchman named Mahmoud Abu Zbaidah.

Two young terrified kids (one of whom is pictured above) were bleeding and injured, and they were quickly bandaged on the floor of the terrace, where guests usually eat skewers of grilled chicken, suck on water pipes and watch the sun go down.

The kids suffered from shrapnel wounds, one to the head, one to the chest. They were treated by translators, hotel staff and journalists, who ran up to their rooms to grab medical kits.

On the quay, ambulances took away four more. They either died on the pier or at the hospital, I am not sure. The Gaza Health Ministry tweeted their names a few minutes later.  .  . .All cousins, we are told, scrawny fishermen’s kids whom we saw every day, running around on the beach, playing in the waves.”

Booth’s eye-witness account ran in the July 17 Washington Post, a daily newspaper which is a must-read for Washington elected officials and government personnel. In his story, Booth included the usual pro-forma response from the IDF:

“Later, the Israel Defense Forces issued a statement calling the civilian casualties “a tragic outcome, saying the target of the strike was ‘Hamas terrorist operatives.’ They promised that the incident would be investigated but blamed Hamas for its ‘cynical exploitation of a population held hostage.'”

Israel claims that its Iron Dome has successfully blocked more than 90 per cent of the Hamas rockets aimed at Israel.  Now the U.S. Congress is prepared to improve on that figure with an even stronger Iron Dome.

That narrative is shaped by Israel as are most details absorbed and passed on he western media.

The Christian Science Monitor has looked into these claims about the Iron Dome. It reports:

A popular narrative about the current face-off between Hamas and other Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip and Israel is that the Israelis, confronted with withering volleys of rocket fire, have had no choice but to respond with overwhelming force and that the failure of the rockets to do much damage has largely been thanks to the country’s US-funded Iron Dome missile defense system.

But it turns out that compared to the last major escalation between the two sides, the Palestinians in 2014 are firing fewer rockets than in the past, and those rockets they are firing are proving less accurate.

Israel sells  its “in danger” narrative by manipulating facts.

The problem for Washington elected officials is that they live under their own self-imposed ethical shield that keeps them focused on the mantra, “is it good for Israel?”

Neither the American public nor its elected leaders  are likely to be exposed to an interview like the one which ran on London’s Channel 4 after the deaths of the four boys on the beach.

The interviewer is Channel 4 host Jon Snow. He spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s  spokesman Mark Regev. To view the interview, click here. It runs for nine minutes.

Snow begins with a hard question: How does Israel defend the killing of four Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach as a way to “defend Israeli citizens.” Regev has no answer.

What he did have is the “cease fire rejection by Hamas” segment of Israel’s narrative which he utilized in his interview with Snow. Revisit the interview above and note how Regev plays the “cease fire” failure card.

Israel and the U.S. attempted to create a narrative of a “cease fire” which Hamas was told to sign on without having been a party to any “cease fire” conservations.

Hamas refused, of course. Jonathan Cook writes on why the refusal was Hamas’ only option. Here is the opening of Cook’s report:

“We now have confirmation from the Israeli daily Haaretz of what we should have suspected: that the idea for the so-called Egyptian “ceasefire proposal” was actually hatched in Washington, the messenger boy was arch-war criminal Tony Blair, and the terms were drafted by Israel.

The intention was either to corner Hamas into surrendering – and thereby keep the savage blockade of Gaza in place – or force Hamas to reject the proposal and confirm the Israeli narrative that it is a terrorist organisation with which Israel cannot make peace.

According to Haaretz, Blair secretly initiated his “ceasefire” activity after “coordinating” with US Secretary of State John Kerry. On Saturday he headed off to Cairo to meet with the US-backed Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to persuade him to put his name to the proposal.”

And just as the U.S. and Israel wanted, Hamas’ rejection of a “cease fire” Israeli-drafted proposal, becomes the official narrative for all future discussions of this summer’s brutal attack on Gaza.  It was an obvious fraud from the start but it served its purpose. 

Meanwhile, back in Israel’s motherland, the U.S, the decision by a U.S. congressional committee to add even more money to Israel’s Iron Dome funding, was reported by Kate Brannen on the Foreign Policy web page July 15. She writes, in part:

“Congress seems poised to give Israel, and one of the United States’ largest defense contractors, a jolt of good news: $175 million in new American aid that will help fund an expansion of the program.

The additional money for Iron Dome cleared one of its final hurdles Tuesday {July 15], when a key Senate appropriations subcommittee unanimously voted to double the Pentagon’s $175 million request for fiscal year 2015.

The full committee will consider the defense appropriations bill on Thursday. Meanwhile, three other panels have already signed off on the funding expansion, making it all but certain the additional money will be provided.

Iron Dome has received $720 million in American funding since 2011, when the United States became directly involved in the program. Iron Dome, which is built by the Israeli defense company Rafael, has kept Israeli casualties so low that it’s credited with bolstering the public’s support for a longer bombing campaign rather than an immediate ground invasion into Gaza.”

Even with more funding for the Iron Dome, Israel was determined to go ahead with its  ground invasion into Gaza on the night of July 17. Ha’aretz reported on the invasion:

“A large contingent of Israeli ground forces entered the Gaza Strip Thursday night for the first time since Operation Protective Edge began 10 days ago. 

The government made the decision after efforts to reach a cease-fire with Hamas collapsed.

Palestinian sources reported heavy IDF artillery fire throughout the entire Gaza Strip. A Gaza resident told Haaretz, “They’re firing from every direction, everything here is shaking.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the ground operation’s main goal will be to deal with the threat posed by the tunnels Hamas has dug along the Gaza-Israel border.”

The robotic American political response to Israel’s ground invasion on top of its bombing attacks on Gaza? “Israel has a right to defend itself”.

That mantra is a con man’s twin to the other central Israeli narrative mantra, “Israel has a right to exist”. The fundamental flaw in both mantras is that Israel considers itself to be the only party with rights.

Congress does not operate on the “General Conception of Justice” outlined in the late Harvard Professor John Rawls’ ethical philosophy:

“All social primary goods—liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect—are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any or all of these goods is to the advantage of the least favored.”

Israel chooses not to remember how Proverbs 24:24-25 speaks to those who claim they are always right:

“Whoever says to the wicked, ‘You are in the right,’ will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.”

Israel is bombing and invading a small country whose only defense is an unwise use of ineffective rockets directed at Israel with little hope of doing any serious damage.

The rockets give U.S. and Israeli television news programs videos of Israeli civilians running toward shelters, incarnating another Israeli mantra, “the Jewish people are  permanent victims”.

Gaza Palestinians have no shelters to run to. They have no Iron Dome to protect their children. All they have are “roof knocking” Israeli shells landing on a roof to warn a targeted family, get out quickly because a deadlier bomb is on its way.

The message behind “roof knocking” is cynical in the extreme. After the early bombings, Jon Stewart addressed this very serious topic in his usual acerbic manner:

What are the results of these asymmetrical attacks?  Since July 8, when Israel began daily bomb attacks, this summer’s round of asymmetrical bombing assaults on Gaza have killed more than 240 Palestinians, an estimated half of whom are women and children.

The ground invasion launched Thursday may be expected to add to that figure. Israel claims its air attacks target only Hamas militants. It is yet to say how it expects to avoid killing civilians in its ground assault.

Thus far the Israeli public appears to be in favor of the attacks on Gaza. The killing of four boys playing soccer on the beach however, could prove to be a tipping point against Israel in international public opinion.

The Washington Post’s account of the death of the four boys playing on the beach is one example.

On Thursday, the nation’s leading trend-setting media outlet, The New York Times, featured pictures and two stories about the deaths of the four Palestinian boys.

One of the Times stories is by Tyler Hicks, the Times photographer who took the picture (here) of a Palestinian man carrying the body of one of the four young boys killed.

Ahead of him in the picture is a second victim of Israeli naval fire.Tyler Hicks NYT

A second story that ran in the Times after the beach killings is by Anne Barnard, writing from Gaza City:

“The four Baker boys were young cousins, the children of Gaza fishermen who had ordered them to stay indoors — and especially away from the beach.

But cooped up for nine days during Israeli bombardments, the children defied their parents and went out Wednesday afternoon, the eldest shooing away his little brother, telling him it was too dangerous.

As they played on and around a jetty in the late-afternoon sun, a blast hit a nearby shack. One boy was killed instantly. The others ran. There was a second blast, and three more bodies littered the sand. One was charred, missing a leg, and another lay motionless, his curly head intact, his legs splayed at unnatural angles.”

At the moment, with the Israeli ground invasion under way, the  future looks bleak. Have we reached a tipping point?  Will the Gaza beach murders be the moment when the world wakes up?  

Or as Jon Stewart asks us in the clip above, “has the world gone mad?”

 

The picture above of the injured Hamada Baker, was taken on the terrace of the Gaza al Deira Hotel, where he was treated.  The picture was taken for the Washington Post by Islam Abdel Karim.  The picture further down of the man and the two dead  children was taken by Tyler Hicks of the New York Times. An editorial note: The Post spells the family name of the four dead boys as Baker.  The Tines uses Bakr, without the “e”. My Arabic authority says the name in Arabic is pronounced Baa keer, emphasis on the Baa.  The English transliteration is more properly rendered as Baker.

Posted in Human Rights, Media, Middle East Politics, Soccer, Television, USA, War | 8 Comments

Israel Destroys Gaza Home for Handicapped

by James M. WallWissam Nassar nyt

On the sixth day of its asymmetrical war against Gaza, Israel destroyed a home for the handicapped in Beit Lahiya, killing two handicapped residents, and wounding three others, including the caretaker.

The destruction of the home came on an early Saturday morning while only five of the 19 severely handicapped residents were in the building.

Jamila Elaiwa, who founded the center 20 years ago, told the New York Times the remaining 14 residents of the Mabaret Palestine Society home were visiting their families.

Ms. Elaiwa spoke to the Times at Gaza’s Shifa’s hospital’s burn unit. She was there visiting the wounded survivors of the building’s destruction, two of whom were Mai Hamada, 30, and Salwa Abu al-Qomssan, 53, the caretaker, both of them with severe burns.

Jamila Elaiwa, the founder of the Mabaret Palestine Society, suggested the attack must have been pre-planned, and was not one of Israel’s unfortunate “accidents”, as Israel claimed was the case with the bomb that killed nine Palestinians sitting on the beach watching a TV presentation of a World Cup football match.

She recalled a small explosion on the building roof a few minutes before the bomb hit that destroyed the home for the handicapped.

That smaller explosion would have been an Israeli “roof knocking” message, which Israel claims is meant to warn occupants to leave the building. These were occupants, however, who were not physically capable of making a fast exit.

Two other wounded survivors of the blast are in intensive care. Killed in the bombing attack were Ula Wisha, 31, and Suha Abusada, 39, whose family reports “had been born severely handicapped and unable to speak.”

In its story reporting the bombing of the home, the Times reports that Israel bombed a mosque which Israel claimed “aerial photos indicated was harboring a weapons cache”.

The mosque was destroyed. No casualties were reported.  What the Times did not report was that the “weapons cache” claim is a frequent Israeli excuse for bombing sacred buildings.

This is clearly an asymmetrical (as in excessively one-sided) war.  It is also an ongoing war that is renewed almost every two years or so.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is not interested in a cease fire.  Of course he is not.

Mideast Israel Palestinians  APHe will stop this recurring devastation when he feels he has weakened Hamas for this round.  The bell will ring when he gives the signal for it to ring.

That is his pattern. After Hamas’ 2006 victory over Israel’s preferred US military-trained  Fatah army, Israel has found some convenient pretext to repeatedly launch vicious and highly destructive air, and sometimes ground, assaults against Hamas.

The assaults are like clockwork, starting in 2007. That assai;t was followed by the 2008-09 assault, then, after pausing during Obama’s first year in office, it was back to the attack in 2012. Now, right on schedule, in 2014,  we are in the midst of “Operation Protective Edge”.

Israel gives its Gaza recurring attacks, nice media-friendly, noble-sounding names.  In 2012, the attack bore the memorable monikers, “Pillar of Defense” or literally: “Pillar of Cloud”. In 2008-09, the name was “Operation Cast Lead”.

Like the Bob Gibson folk song, “The Thinking Man”, Israel is reported to have a department with the sole responsibility of “thinking up names” for its lethal incursions into Gaza and Lebanon.

Each round of violence on Palestinians is marketed with the same non accountable predictability, an Israeli-designed narrative that American mainstream media and American politicians, accept and then sell to the American public, performing their duties as Israel’s peddlers.

During the 2012 attack, in a Wall Writings posting, I described Israel’s handling of Gaza to be “the managing of a crisis”. The management involved the rationing of foodstuffs, medicine, and other vital human needs.  Israel has maintained its detailed management of “the crisis” since that 2012 war.

There are occasional signs that Netanyahu may be losing control of some in the main stream media.  Brian Williams, of NBC news, did a piece this week on his nightly report which he headed, “Gaza trapped in lop sided conflict”.

One major U.S. media star, ABC news anchor Dianne Sawyer, was doing her best “two sides” are suffering story in this asymmetrical conflict, when she put up two pictures of destruction which she said were from Israel.

Sawyer later apologized, but apologies for obvious errors never quite catch up to the first impression of “destruction on both sides” that ABC gave its viewers.

An alert journalist should have been aware that the two pictures ABC’s Sawyer displayed were not taken in Israel, but in Gaza

Some staffer in the production chain should have raised a red flag, shouting error, error.

Did these people not watch Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant cable television series Network? That fictional crew made its mistakes, but they would know which side has the more destructive arms.

Outside the U.S., crucial international support for Israel’s blank check to attack at will, may also be lessening. The United Nations Security Council, and just about every other international organization witnessing this one-way carnage, has called for a cease fire, an indication that Israel may have to end this round sooner than Netanyahu had planned.

Away from the main stream media, the alternative media is hitting hard at Netanyahu. The message there is seen by opinion makers, but they are slow to present it to the public.

A Real News Network interview of Jewish American journalist Max Blumenthal and Palestinian American journalist Ali Abunimah refutes Israel’s narrative with a discussion of “Israeli Propaganda and the Politics of Revenge against Gaza”.

Netanyahu knows that as long as he wants to drag out this 2014 assault, the U.S. Congress has his back.

The most recent example: Two U.S. Senate leaders, Republican Lindsay Graham, of South Carolina, and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, the bipartisan pro-Israel twins of the upper chamber, demonstrated their undying loyalty to a sovereign foreign nation.

Together with fellow bipartisan pro-Israel senators Robert Menendez, Democrat, New Jersey, and Kelly Ayotte, Republican, New Hampshire, they introduced a “resolution expressing support for the State of Israel as it defends itself against unprovoked attacks from the Hamas terrorist organization”.

The resolution endorses Israel’s current assault, calls for Fatah to withdraw from its unity talks with Hamas, and most importantly insists “Israel has the right to  defend itself”.

For future reference, take note:

Each succeeding Israeli government prepares for its recurring Gaza attack by following the same script that always ends with the victim-oriented mantra that “Israel has the right to defend itself”.

During its two-year long pause between attacks, Israel plays the “peace process” game. However, after the dismal failure of this year’s proceedings, Israel and the U.S. will have to come up with a new reason to hit the pause button between Israel’s wars.

After the pause, Israel always begins its recurring (2007, 2009, 2012, and 2014) Gaza attacks by building up Israel’s ever-present “existential anxiety”— fear and anger–that seethes within its easily manipulated population.

Next, Israel grabs whatever provocative event that emerges. The event is then manufactured to serve Israel’s plan to play the victim card. In their need to defend the homeland, Israel starts another war.

For the 2014 attack on Gaza, an especially lurid provocation arrived with the deaths of three Israeli teen agers in IDF controlled territory in Hebron.  Israel knew from the outset that from the recording of gunshots behind a desperate cell phone call for help, the search for the three Israelis would be a search for three dead Israelis.

Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exploited the story of the missing teenagers to charge up the emotions of his population. He even sent the mother of one of the teen agers to Geneva to appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council for help.

When the three bodies were finally found, buried by the side of the road under a few rocks, Netanyahu repeated his initial accusation that Hamas was behind the disappearance of the Israelis.

He also had the names of two Hamas operatives who lived in the area. They were deemed, by fiat, as guilty of kidnapping the teen agers. Netanyahu ordered the homes of both men destroyed. No evidence or charges have surfaced.

It was time to start the 2014 War on Hamas.

Cue the massing of troops on the border, artillery at the ready, and send the bombers aloft. Operation Knife’s Edge was ready to roll.

If this were a work of fiction, about this time in the story the reader would be demanding to know where the two so-called Hamas “killers” are hiding in an area swarming with Israeli police and soldiers.

The reader just may think, maybe, just maybe, Israel has found the two Hamas agents. If so, still with no evidence against them, they may be now be dead, their bodies hidden until a more propitious time when they will appear in the Israeli narrative, more likely dead than alive.

Who can say, but in the narrative according to Netanyahu, the two “missing” Hamas men have served their purpose. They were only the latest pair of provocateurs utilized by Israel to kick off its next act of war.

A number of Israeli journalists, many from Ha’aretz, know that Netayahu’s narrative is damaging Israel to within an inch of its future as a nation.

Unfortunately for the citizens of Gaza, this current round of the recurring War Against Gaza means many Gazans, as of this weekend more than 160, will die.

Richard Silverstein is reporting that “an invasion is imminent”, which means that an invasion could come at some time Sunday morning, Gaza time. The invasion threat is day to day, guaranteeing more Gaza deaths.

Hamas militants insist on firing rockets at Israel. It is a self-defeating action, one that hands Netanyahu his rational for going to war.  The rockets are largely ineffective. Yet the US mainstream media including the more “progressive” NPR and MSNBC, repeatedly report the rocket attacks as equally frightening as Israeli bombs and artillery shelling.

Pay close attention, you can usually hear at the end of a “progressive” broadcast report, come the good news, “some rockets got through the protective dome, but there were no injuries”.

The ineffective rockets from Hamas serve no one but Israel. Not a single Israeli death had been reported by this Saturday night.

What matters for Israel is that the rockets fired by militants in Gaza keep reaching targets deeper and deeper in Israel, sending Israelis fleeing for bomb shelters.  What better way to keep the Israeli public in perpetual fear and hatred.

CNN, which is trying to outdo Fox News in selling the Israeli narrative, has sent its ace journalist, former AIPAC staffer Wolf Blitzer, into Israel to report on those rocket attacks.

The problem for the stronger side in an asymmetrical war is that a case must be made that the stronger side is always in great danger.

Max Blumberg, an America Jewish journalist, has reported on Twitter that CNN’s favorite and oft-repeated visual from Israel’s home front is a scene of Blitzer in Israel when an Hamas rocket is reported to be on its way.

Blitzer races to the nearest bomb shelter, a CNN cameraman close behind showing the “danger” Israeli citizens face. No CNN visuals yet of the bombs falling in Gaza. Meanwhile, the asymmetrical bombing of Gaza, with the ultimate destruction of Hamas, and Israel’s complete control of all Palestinian land, as its goal, is about to enter its second week.

What about President Barack Obama in all this?

Obama has talked with Netanyahu. What does our President say after those “chats”. He says what  all American politicians say, “Israel has a right to defend itself”.

That is the height of absurdity.  In response to ineffective rockets, bombing a home for the handicapped, destroying mosques, eliminating an already battered Gaza water works, highways, cities, killing more than 160 Palestinians, a large number of whom are women and children, while keeping 1.7 million Palestinians locked up in a Gaza prison, is most certainly not “Israel defending itself”.

It is, rather, Israel destroying itself, and like Samson of old, Israel is pulling down the temple on the entire region, starting with Palestine.

 

 

The picture at top of the destruction left after Israel bombed Gaza’s Mabaret Palestine Society home is from the New York Times.  It was taken by Wissam Nassar.  The lower picture of the destroyed Mabaret home, with men in the basement where the bomb exploded is from AP. It was taken by Khalil Hamra.

 

Posted in Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama, War | 6 Comments

Palestinian Boy Burned to Death

by James M. Wallfather of Muhammad

The headline for Jodi Rudoren’s July 5 New York Times story captures the ugly report in all of its appalling harshness.

“Autopsy Suggests Palestinian Teenager Was Burned to Death After Abduction”

The picture at right, from the New York Times, is that of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir’s father, greeting guests at his home Saturday.

Standing with him is Mousa Zaloum, 8, a boy from a neighbor’s family, whose neck was said to have been cut in a kidnapping attempt.

The Times story begins:

Muhammad Abu Khdeir, 16, spent his last hours before being abducted, beaten and most likely burned to death in one of his favorite places, doing some of his favorite things.

Until about 1 a.m. Wednesday, a close cousin said, Muhammad was at the recreation center named for his respected, expansive Palestinian family in the ancient section of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat, impressing friends with his defensive prowess at the foosball table and watching World Cup matches on a flat-screen television he recently helped install.”

The Associated Press reported Sunday that Israeli police have arrested several “Jewish suspects” in connection with the crime. No names were released.

Palestinians believe the death of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, “was a revenge killing for the earlier deaths of three Israeli teens” near Hebron, in the West Bank.

The Jewish Voice for Peace web site reported this week that the Israeli government has responded to the recent rash of violence by sealing off Palestinian towns, arresting more than 400 Palestinian and raiding over 100 homes. Israel has also carried out bombing raids in the same time period.

At a time when American Protestant church leaders continue to debate how best to respond to the asymmetrical struggle between Israel, the military occupation power, and the Palestinian people, the cycle of violence builds with all the furor of a fierce storm.

The fierceness of that storm stands in contrast to the conversation within U.S. religious ruling circles in which leaders continue to float along above the immorality of this conflict.

Pete Seeger’s classic folk song asks, “when will they ever learn”? What needs to be learned in this conflict is that this is no ancient blood feud which has led to this suffering.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces on the West Bank in June.The conflict derives from a military occupation in which thugs on the occupiers’ side of the conflict are allowed to increasingly spin out of control, roaming streets and forests to brutalize a captive population whose only weapons are stones and largely ineffective rockets.

The Times provides a medical report and describes  the immediate aftermath of the death of Muhammad Abu Khdeir:

“On Saturday, the Palestinian attorney general said that an autopsy had found soot in Muhammad’s lungs, suggesting that he had been burned alive before his charred body was found in a forest.

The preliminary autopsy findings, and reports that a 15-year-old, American-born cousin of Muhammad had been brutally beaten and then arrested by Israeli police officers during a violent clash in the neighborhood on Thursday, only increased the outrage Saturday in Shuafat and among Palestinians elsewhere.”

This is what happens in an occupation. Violence spirals and law disappears into chaos.

Superior military power solves nothing,  Rather,  it emboldens violent conduct.  As a consequence, that conduct evokes the memory of brown-shirted party members rampaging through the streets of Germany’s towns and cities as the Nazis came to power.

More from the Times:

“Today is my cousin, tomorrow my son,” said Abir Abu Khdeir, 45, one of scores of mourning women in the shaded courtyard outside Muhammad’s home. “All Shuafat is in danger, all the settlers around us. It’s like a monster — they want to eat us.”

Muhammad’s mother, Suha, sat in the center, interrupting interviews to cover her tears with an orange washcloth. Muhammad was the fifth of her seven children, a goofy jokester who danced the dabke, a traditional line dance, in a folk troupe. He was a devoted fan of the Real Madrid soccer team and went weekly to a barber to keep the sides of his head closely shaven.

His mother said she had just given Muhammad breakfast when he left at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday for the prayer that starts the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

There is a stark contrast between this Jerusalem domestic tableau of community and family grief, and the game-playing of those U.S. religious leaders who refuse to take even minor economic steps to demonstrate solidarity with an occupied people.

When will they ever learn?  The answer is not until we learn to see ourselves as history will one day remember us.

Start with the ongoing conflict over divestment within the Presbyterian Church USA, and look at this conflict as a replay of an American southern religious struggles in the the early 1960s.

The horrific stories of this past week recall a development in the struggle for justice in Life Getty ImagesApril, 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was confined in the Birmingham city jail. King, (right) and several colleagues had been arrested for demonstrating against racial segregation.

In April, 1963, a group of church leaders refused to take action to stop the brutality and killings of racial segregation in the American South.

Go slow, they advised King, a man who had lived in the state of Georgia under the tyranny of segregation his entire life. He was finished, he said, with “going slow”.

In his jail cell he sat down and wrote, at first on scraps of paper, the famous document that came to be known as the “Letter from Birmingham jail”.  That letter was first published in The Christian Century magazine.

American church leaders who want to “go slow” in Palestine in 2014, should spend this week contemplating the relationship of the 1963 church leaders’ counsel to King to “go slow”, to the “go slow” mindset of those 2014 U.S. denominational leaders who continue to “debate” what should be done to deal with the asymmetrical power struggle between Israelis and Palestinians.

The parallel between a U.S. segregated society in 1963 and the asymmetrical struggle between Israel’s occupation military force and an occupied Palestinian population should be painfully obvious.

Scholars who study the 1963 American segregation era concur that the only religious leader who later expressed regret over the 1963  religious “go slow” letter was a Birmingham Jewish leader, Rabbi Milton L. Grafman, of Temple Emanu-El,

There were divestment supporting Jewish observers at the 221st Presbyterian USA General Assembly—the denomination has been around more than two centuries—when that body voted to divest all financial holdings from three U.S. corporations doing business in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

The vote was close but the GA did vote to get out of the business of financing military occupation.

The vote to divest from three companies, Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, was a political contest between Presbyterian delegates who favored the divestment resolution and pro-Israel  delegates and their Jewish Zionist-oriented observers, who opposed divestment.

One Jewish observer tried a tactic that smacked of good old fashioned U.S. political horse trading.

That observor, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, offered to guarantee the delegates a personal meeting between the PCUSA General Assembly moderator, Heath Rada, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if the delegates would vote down the divestment resolution. That ploy failed.

heath-rada Danny Bolin Assembly siteRada (shown here) maintained a good spirit during the debates. As votes were tallied, he had to respond to efforts to halt the voting through procedural maneuvers.

As each maneuver was tried, he said it looked like he might be packing his bags to fly to Tel Avi. When the maneuvers were rejected, he joked that he would have to unpack his bags.

During the Assembly, an attempt was made by the pro-Israel contingent in the GA to ban sales of the study book, Zionism Unsettled, from the denomination’s book stores. That effort was defeated by assembly delegates.

The Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) web site gives the history of that parliamentary maneuver:

“At the 221st GA, in the commissioners’ resolution that was overwhelmingly approved in the plenary as part of the consent agenda, the GA clarified that the publication [Zionism Unsettled] “does not represent the views of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” and directed “all Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) entities to express this statement in all future catalogs, print or online resources.”

Zionism Unsettled is, of course, a study guide that did not claim to be church doctrine. It was a guide designed by IPMN to explain the mysterious hold that a 19th century political ideology called Zionism holds over contemporary 21st Protestant church leaders.

Well after the General Assembly adjourned and the delegates returned home, IPMN received an unexpected shock.

The PCUSA executive committee announced that “since Zionism Unsettled was not in keeping with current church doctrine”, it would not be sold from the denomination’s book stores nor on the denomination’s website.

In short, despite the defeat of that action by the GA delegates, the defeated action became official church policy.

Despite this setback, IPMN reports that it will continue to distribute ZU through its web site.

The U.S-based United Methodist Church will meet during the summer of 2016. A  battle over divestment is expected

Delegates for that 2016 General Conference are already being elected in regional conferences. Predictions vary, but the Methodists are expected to be as divided on the issue of divestment as their Presbyterian colleagues.

In a recent posting, I called attention to a quote from Rashid Khalidi,  who quotes William Quandt.

Quandt sums up the Palestinian dilemma in past U.S. secular presidential decision-making with a simple declaration: “the Palestinians had no domestic constituency”.

Religious communities in the U.S. are supposed to function as the nation’s conscience, the moral center that speaks for the voiceless and the oppressed.

Unfortunately, in the matter of Israelis and Palestinians, with some scattered but notable exceptions, our religious communities  remain trapped in their own self-imposed political prison, euphemistically referred to as “interfaith dialogue”.

Despite its innocuous appearance,  the phrase, “interfaith dialogue” refers to the amazing assumption that to maintain friendly relations with people of the Jewish faith, Christians must overlook the atrocity of the modern state of Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian people.

Or to put it in the vernacular, “Me and the rabbi, we go way back. Palestinians?  Don’t know any. What’s for lunch?”

 

 

 

The picture at top is by Rina Castelnuovo of The New York Times. The picture depicting stone throwing Palestinians is from The Guardian by Barcroft Media. The picture of Dr. King is from the History web site.  It is a Life/Getty Images.

Posted in Middle East, Middle East Politics, Presbyterian Church USA, United Methodist Church | 9 Comments

“When First We Practice to Deceive”

by James M. Wallunnamed

“Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive.”

These words from Sir Walter Scott (1808) describe the political template of the modern state of Israel.

Israel is a nation built on deceptive lies, preserved by deceptive lies. Israel is a nation practiced in the art of using whatever is available to keep alive their carefully “tangled web” of deceptive lies.

The latest addition to this tangled web came June 12, when three Israeli teenagers disappeared in the occupied territory of the West Bank. The boys were from three Orthodox Jewish settler families living in illegal settlements in the Hebron area.

Their families had placed them in a danger zone. Juan Cole writes:

“It should be fairly obvious that if you take adolescents into the middle of the Palestinian West Bank and steal Palestinian land and build houses on it and shoot at Palestinians trying to harvest their crops nearby and bulldoze down their homes or dig tube wells so deep as to cause the Palestinian wells to run dry– if you engage in this settler-colonial enterprise, then you are exposing those adolescents you drag with you into it to danger.

It is still wrong. Violence in anything other than direct self-defense is always wrong, and innocent non-combatant life must never be taken. A resistance movement is legitimate, but its quarrel must be with soldiers.”

The latest narrative of Israel’s tangled web continued as Israel sent its occupying army on an extensive search for the teenagers.

The search extended well beyond the reasonable area where the boys might be found. Instead, it focused on homes and areas known to house Hamas supporters and leaders, the Palestinian party Israel wants to prevent from joining a unified Palestinian government.

From the outset the search was a deceptive lie.

The teenagers were not missing, they were dead.  What was missing were the bodies of the three boys.

Knowing this from the beginning, the government of Israel put a media “gag order” on news of the search.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed a narrative of national outrage and grief to grow, providing cover for a military assault on Hamas.

The teenagers had been dead since June 12. The government knew this. And yet, it allowed the lie that they might be found alive to fill the hearts of three grieving families and the collective heart of the nation.

Buzzfeed described what the government had known since shortly after the teenagers disappeared:

“Within minutes of stepping into the battered Hyundai i35 on the night of June 12, Israeli teens Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach knew they were in trouble.

The three teenagers were squished into the backseat of the vehicle, which had picked them up in the southern West Bank’s Alon Shvut junction, just feet away from a nearby military base. It was just past 10 p.m. at night, and the three were making their way home to their homes in the West Bank settlement bloc of Gush Etzion.

They rang their parents to say they were hitching a ride, as they often did. But then, within minutes of entering the car, one of them managed to make a two-minute phone call to police at the local Kiryat Arba police station, and in hushed tones said, “We’ve been kidnapped.”

“They knew immediately what had happened to them,” said Yoav, one of two Israeli army officers involved in the kidnapping case who spoke to BuzzFeed on condition he be quoted with only his first name since many of the details are still under gag order. “They got into the car after 10 p.m., and at 10:25 they called police.”

The local officer on call, however, didn’t pass on the information about a possible kidnapping to his superiors for hours, and gave up trying to re-dial the cell phone after eight attempts. By the time anyone more senior had been notified, the three teens were dead.

“We don’t know yet what led the kidnappers to shoot the teens. But we know it happened quickly, within hours, maybe within an hour, of when they were taken,” said a second Israeli officer involved with the case. “They were shot. There was no chance they could survive.”

Previously under gag order were details that a shot could be heard in the background of the phone call to police, and that forensic evidence found in the Hyundai indicated that there had been foul play.

“We have been operating, for some time now, with evidence that these boys were killed,” said the officer in Hebron. “It is with a heavy heart that we realized we were looking for bodies.”

The Hyundai, which was abandoned, torched, in the Palestinian city of Hebron, shows that the three teens were shot at close range inside the car. The kidnappers then moved their bodies to a second vehicle, which they drove approximately 10 minutes down the road to an empty field in the north of the city.”

This truth could not surface, the web could not reach a new tangle, until the three bodies were located.

This finally happened June 29, when local volunteers and IDF soldiers dug into a pile of rocks by the side of the road where the teenagers had been traveling June 12.

Their bodies had been hastily buried under a pile of rocks. As one Israeli official admitted, “this was not a well-planned” abduction and killing.

An IDF statement on the discovery of the bodies, reported by Ma’an, ended with a final display of planned deception: “The families of the abducted teens have been notified.”

The Jewish families had been allowed to hope their sons were alive for 18 days, as the IDF looked not for live boys,  but for three dead bodies.

The deceit continued with further deception of the Israeli public. The Israeli government promoted a mass rally in Tel Aviv one day before the bodies were found, focused on the bogus hope that the boys might still be found alive.

Earlier, Israel, in an egregious exploitative use of a grieving parent, sent one of the Jewish mothers to Geneva to address the UN Human Rights Council, where she asked for help in finding her son and the two other teenagers.

This narrative of hope and grieving stretched out for 18 days; it ended only when volunteers, who had to beg to be allowed to help in the search, assisted the IDF in finding the bodies.

Responding to the news of the discovery, Prime Minister Netanyahu was ready with his statement of outrage. He had three weeks to polish his statement.

It was not, however,  a measured statement of a leader. It was rather, a statement to keep alive public anger and fear, the fuel on which his government depends for its existence.

The Jerusalem Post reported on the Prime Minister’s reaction:

“our hearts bleed, the entire nation cries” with the families of the deceased.  “They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals,” he said. “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.”

These words were a part of the tangled web of deceit. They supported the ongoing attacks on Hamas, a “search” which served to justify military assaults intended to eradicate an important partner in a new Palestinian government.

By July 1, the “search” had led to the deaths of six Palestinians. This count was before the Israel Air Force struck more than 30 Gaza targets the day after the bodies were found.

Ma’an reports: “Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian teenager during a military operation in Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank early Tuesday, locals and medics said.”

“Palestinian Red Crescent medics told Ma’an, 16-year-old Yousef Abu Zagha was shot by Israeli fire in the chest during clashes with troops who raided the camp overnight.”

Richard Silverstein writes that “One day before the bodies were discovered Israel ordered armored units to report to the Gaza border where they are mobilizing for what may happen.

He quotes the words of Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon: “Israelis have the willingness and the fortitude necessary to endure the hardships of a long-lasting operation aimed at eradicating Hamas. We will not stop until Hamas is completely defeated.”

Silvestein gives the context for these attacks:

“This is the same rhetoric that preceded the 2006 Lebanon war and the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead. I predict one of two things: either there is a full-scale invasion of Gaza; or a punishing air assault accompanied by some dramatic targeted killings over the next six months which try to eliminate some of Hamas’ senior leadership.”

As part of the narrative, Israel identified its prime “suspects” before the discovery of the bodies. Two Hamas activists in the Hebron area, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha, were “fingered” by Palestinian security forces who reported to Israeli operatives that the two “suspects” had “disappeared” from Hebron “within 24 hours of the abduction”.

The Al Monitor web site suggested that Israel used the coincidence of two Hamas activists disappearing the day after the three Israeli teenagers disappeared as “the first clue” which prompted Israel to focus its assault against Hamas.

There is, however, an equally logical reason to assume that the two Hamas activists, if indeed they had anything to do with the murders (their disappearance being the only “evidence” against them), could have operated alone.

“According to Palestinian sources, Palestinian security forces had already reported to Israel that these two suspects had disappeared from Hebron within 24 hours of the abduction. That was the first clue in the investigation and the reason why Israel pointed an accusatory finger at the Hamas infrastructure in Hebron. 

While Israel continues to accuse the Hamas movement and its leadership of being responsible for the abduction [and subsequent deaths], Palestinian security forces attribute the abduction to the Qawasmeh clan of Hebron, specifically.

Though the clan is known for identifying with Hamas, it also has a well-earned reputation as troublemakers. Not only does it tend to ignore the movement’s leaders. It even acts counter to the policies being advocated by the movement.”

As of Tuesday, July 1, nothing further has been heard of the whereabouts of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha. One thing is certain to IDF, the two men are not in their homes. The army has made frequent and destructive visits to their homes and found no signs of the missing Hamas-related Palestinians.

Guilty or not, it is highly unlikely that they will be found alive.

They have already served their purpose, guilty or not.  They fit into Israel’s narrative of obsessive fear and anger, the detailed plot twists of which are orchestrated by Israel to fit its purposes.

Andrew Levine​, a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote recently:

Israel thrives on what it calls “existential threats,” fabricated perils that are just plausible enough to be believed.  As social divisions mount, they help hold Israeli society together. They also keep “diaspora” Jews on board.  And they keep Western, especially American, diplomatic, military and economic support, coming.

These manufactured “existential threats” also keep alive the myth prevalent within American religious communities (most recently, the Presbyterian Church, USA), that Israel is a nation in peril.

Israel is not in peril, except from itself and its own self-destructive, paranoid narratives of deceptive lies, the latest of which exploited the deaths of three Israeli Jewish Orthodox teenagers.

The picture above, of Israeli bombing attacks on Gaza, is from Foreign Policy.

 

Posted in Human Rights, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, United Nations | 8 Comments

PCUSA Divests from Occupation Support Firms

by James M. Wall

Observer Robert Ross reacts: Joshua Lott for The New York Times

Ten years after the start of their divestment campaign against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and people, the Presbyterian Church (USA) anti-occupation forces have finally removed that denomination’s funds from the occupation.

In their 221st biennial General Assembly Friday, PCUSA commissioners (delegates) voted 310-303 to divest all financial involvement in three U.S. corporations whose products are used to enforce Israel’s occupation: Hewlett Packard, Motorola and Caterpillar.

Hewlett Packard manufactures eye and face scanning devices used at Israeli checkpoints, Motorola provides communications facilities within the occupied areas; while Caterpillar makes bulldozers used by Israeli authorities to destroy Palestinian homes.

The removal of PCUSA investments in those firms will neither end the occupation nor change Israel’s tactics over a captive population.  Total PCUSA investment in these firms is but a tiny portion of the Israeli military budget, a substantial amount of which is derived from annual U.S. gifts and loans.

The vote was not about the money; it was a moral vote against the occupation.

Through their divestment vote, U.S. Presbyterians are telling Israel, we do not support your occupation, no matter how hard you try to incorrectly shape the conversation as anti-Israel and anti-Hewlett Packard, Motorola and Caterpillar.

What will be the impact of the vote on U.S. public opinion? As with most major changes in history, the impact is usually incremental.  This vote was a small vote for humankind, a vote that should be remembered the way the 1833 vote taken in the British Parliament to end the slave trade, is remembered.

Christian evangelical William Wilberforce was a leader in the fight against slavery through much of his life. He was fighting against a strongly-entrenched economic system that profited from the slave trade. . Here is one account of that British Parliament vote:

Despite the groundswell of public opinion, Parliament still refused to ban slavery, until parliamentary reform removed many of its supporters. Despite this, it was still not clear that Parliament would act. Wilberforce wrote a last petition. The Parliamentary debate lasted three months.

On the 26th July, 1833, the Abolition of Slavery bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons. A messenger rushed to Wilberforce’s house. They told him that slavery in British colonies would finally be abolished. Just three days later, on 29th July, William Wilberforce died.

Other denominations now have the Presbyterians as a moral bellwether. If they pay attention, they have also seen the Israeli narrative playbook in operation.

With approximately 1.76 million members in 2013, the PCUSA is the third largest denomination among the seven major U.S. mainline churches.

The largest denomination among the Big Seven is the United Methodist Church (UMC), which reported almost 8 million U.S. members in 2008. Anti-occupation UMC forces recently achieved a major divestment victory when its Pension Board withdrew church funds from G4S, a British firm that supplies equipment for use in Israeli prisons housing Palestinian prisoners.

Word on the church “street” is that the UMC is gearing up for its own divestment battle at its 2016 General Conference. The results of the USPCS vote should encourage Methodist anti-occupation leaders to prepare for their own exit from the immoral occupation business.

The Methodists can expect to encounter the same playbook in 2016 that the anti-divestment forces used in the PCUSA General Assembly.

That playbook may well have contributed to the narrowness of the Presbyterian vote Friday. The New York Times story at the end of the 2012 General Assembly in Pittsburgh, PA, echoes stories that swept through the media this year after the 2014 vote.

In 2012 the vote was even closer than it was in 2014. It also achieved the opposite result. The New York Times story reported in 2012 that the General Assembly voted 333 to 331, with two abstentions not to divest from Hewlett Packard, Motorola and Caterpillar.

As Yogi Berra once said, the 2014 vote was “deja vu all over again”, except with a different ending.  Here is Laurie Goodstein, who also covered the 2014 GA, writing in the Times, July 5, 2012:

The decision not to divest, the culmination of an eight-year process, was watched intensely by Christians, Jews and Palestinians in the United States and in the Middle East.

It is likely to bring a sigh of relief to Jewish groups in Israel and the United States that lobbied Presbyterians against divestment, and to dismay the international movement known as B.D.S. — Boycott, Divest and Sanctions — which advocates using economic leverage to pressure Israel to return occupied land to the Palestinians.

In 2012, the General Assembly voted “to toss out the divestment measure and replace it with a resolution to encourage ‘positive investment’ in the occupied territories.”

The anti-divestment playbook was very much in evidence in Detroit last week. Hanging over the commissioners as they debated and finally voted, were passionate pleas not to divest, from commissioners who were terribly afraid that relations with their Jewish friends would be damaged.

This should have been evident to those observing and voting in Detroit’s Cobo Center. It was certainly evident to those of us who spent many hours on Friday watching proceedings on a public live internet feed.

One young commissioner was so emotional over the impact of the divestment vote on employees he knew personally who worked for Caterpillar, that he could hardly speak. The presiding officer had to gently tell him his time had expired.

That is the pro-Israeli playbook: Step One, tap into the personal feelings of commissioners where they “live”, American workers and Jewish neighbors.  Step Two: hit the internal mute button on the suffering caused by the occupation.

The internal mute button kept the occupation out of most of the GA discussion, except for the occasional testimony from commissioners who have visited the occupied areas.

One commissioner, Paul Tallarico, moderator of the Presbytery of the Palisades in New Jersey, spoke from the floor and told of visiting a Palestinian shop keeper just off Bethlehem Square.

In their conversation, Tallarico said to the shop-keeper, “I know how you feel”. The shopkeeper asked him where he lived.. Tallarico answered, “in the United States”.  The shopkeeper responded, “Then you don’t know how I feel. I live in a prison all of the time”.

There was a poignant authenticity in that exchange. Did it change votes inside Cobo Center? Only the voting commissioners know.  But what it does do is to highlight the stark contrast between the pro-Israel playbook narrative, which keeps the discussion focused on American “feelings” and keeps it away from the sufferings of those who live under a tight military occupation.

There were many non-voting “observers” inside Cobo Hall, many of them people of all ages who belong to Jewish organizations opposed to the occupation.

The picture at top of this posting captures one of those “observers”, Robert Ross, as he reacts joyfully and in amazement just as the final divestment victory vote is posted on the big screen behind the podium. The picture is from the New York Times.

The battle is joined in this moment of victory against the occupation.

It will be a long battle. Not only will it be against the pro-Israel forces deeply embedded in all church bodies, but it will be a battle against an Israeli government that genuinely hates any criticism of their control of the occupied territories.

In its story on the anti-divestment vote, the Voice of America web site reported:

In a statement posted Friday night on its Facebook page, the Israeli Embassy in Washington called the resolution “shameful.”

“Voting for symbolic measures marginalizes and removes its ability to be a constructive partner to promote peace in the Middle East,” the statement said. “We would have hoped that (the Presbyterian church) would have joined us in promoting peace and denouncing terrorism.”

Mount up, you Methodists and you other five denominations in the Big Seven church bodies, the PCUSA has shown you how to fight the occupation. It has also shown you what you are up against.  It will not be easy.

When you think about the hard fight ahead, remember that Bethlehem shop keeper whose words are now in the hearts and minds of all who heard him quoted on the floor of the  2014 PCUSA General Assembly.

‘Then you don’t know how I feel. I live in a prison all of the time’.”

Words to fight by.

 

Posted in Media, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Presbyterian Church, Religious Faith | 14 Comments

PCUSA Tries Again to Divest From Occupation

by James M. WallLogo

The Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) is holding its biennial national General Assembly this week in Detroit, Michigan (June 14-21).

A number of overtures (resolutions) will be debated and voted on during the Assembly by 654 commissioners (elected representatives).

One overture before the Assembly will offer Presbyterian General Assembly commissioners the opportunity to have the denomination divest from three major corporations–Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola–that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

As of December 31, 2013, the PCUSA Board of Pensions’ total investment assets were $9.2 billion. The PCUSA has a membership of over 1,800,000 members related to 10,262 congregations.

The overture on pension funds and the Palestinian occupation has been presented to the General Assembly by the PCUSA’s “socially responsible investment committee”. It is a hard-hitting overture that follows ten years of failed discussions with representatives from the three targeted companies.

Church holdings in those companies will not have a major impact on profit and loss statements, but a divestment decision would be a major blow to the public image of the corporations, that all-important public face which leads big corporations to spend considerable money, time and energy, to protect and polish.

A vote for divestment would also further tarnish Israel’s international reputation, that precious commodity which Israel’s hasbara (propaganda) programs also labor mightily to protect and polish.

Previous religious divestment actions have come nationally in the Mennonite Church, and within the Quaker retirement fund. Other divestment victories have been won in regional bodies of the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ.

Most recently, the Pension Board of the national United Methodist Church joined the Bill Gates Foundation in divesting from G4S, a British-based corporation which runs services for cash transportation and prison management in more than 125 countries.

Israel’s prison system in Palestine uses the services of G4S, a moral concern that played a part in the United Methodist Pension Board’s decision to withdraw portfolio funds from G4S.

Liz Ingenthron, writing in her pro-divestmenet Jewish Voices for Peace blog, emphasizes a point often misstated or ignored in pro-Israel media outlets: The divestment resolution does not call for divestment from Israel, from Israeli companies, or from Jewish-owned companies.

Rather, it mandates that the church’s pension board specifically divest from three multinational corporations doing business in Occupied Palestine.

Presbyterian layman Robert Ross is an Assistant Professor of Global Cultural Studies at Point Park University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His research and teaching focus on the political-economic geographies of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and the United States.

In his most recent posting for Mondoweiss, Ross provides background for the divestment vote:

The [PCUSA] does not invest in any companies that sell weapons, regardless of where, how, and by whom they might be used.

The three companies on the divestment docket this year—Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard—are in clear violation of this policy.

According to extensive research conducted by the Church’s Mission Responsibility through Investment (MRTI) committee,

Caterpillar provides weaponized bulldozers to the Israeli military, which are used to demolish farmland in Gaza and Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem;

Motorola Solutions manufactures fuses for Israeli bombs, the communications system for Israel’s military, and surveillance equipment for illegal Israeli settlements;

and Hewlett Packard furnishes the computer hardware for the Israeli Navy and the biometric scanners for checkpoints, through which all Palestinians (but no Israelis) in the occupied West Bank must pass. .  .  .

The overture to divest is thus in line with Church policy and stands as a clear reaffirmation of the denomination’s commitment to the Christian ideals of peace, justice, and human rights.

In short, there is no reason the Presbyterian Church (USA) should vote against divestment.

MJ Rosenberg, a Jewish progressive journalist who once worked for AIPAC, succinctly describes the occupation work of the three corporations targeted in the GA overture:

Caterpillar manufactures the bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes to make way for settlements.

Hewlett-Packard supplies Israel with the hardware to maintain the blockade of Gaza and the software to enable Israel to segregate and separate Palestinians at West Bank checkpoints.

Motorola provides the surveillance equipment used to monitor Palestinian civilians throughout the West Bank.

These three are to the occupation what Dow Chemical was to the U.S. war in Vietnam.

Rosenberg has sound moral advice to offer pension board members:

I don’t understand why any religious group would invest in any of these companies in the first place. All three [Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola] are members in good standing of the military industrial complex and have been involved in unsavory activities around the globe. But that argument is for another day.

Right now, the Presbyterian Church has the opportunity to say NO to the occupation in a tangible, concrete way. It has the opportunity to support Palestinians without harming Israelis.

I can hardly imagine any progressive voting NO on this resolution, choosing big corporations over the people of both Palestine and Israel.

In spite of the obvious morality of a YES divestment vote, there is still no guarantee that this year’s General Assembly will support this particular overture.

A General Assembly 2012 vote to divest investment funds from these same companies, , failed by two votes. Intense lobbying from both sides of this issue–including both Christian and Jewish activists–is expected on and around the Assembly floor.

The divestment vote is expected this week on Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

The illustration above is the official logo of this year’s 221st General Assembly.

Posted in Middle East, Presbyterian Church USA, United Methodist Church | 7 Comments

The Demonization of an American Soldier

Sean Smith The Guardianby James M. Wall

My experience as a member of the U.S. armed services was a long time ago.  It was also far removed from a battlefield. I was an Air Force public information officer during the Korean War.

I was part of a team, serving my country. All these decades later, I still feel a loyalty to, and a deep respect for, anyone who signs up for active military duty.

For this reason, though far removed from my own active duty days, I can still feel an intense fury toward the journalists and politicians who have stumbled over themselves to demonize a U.S. army sergeant who has just been saved from enemy captivity through a prisoner exchange orchestrated by his Commander in Chief.

Do these people have no shame? Do they not see that because of their need to either attack or stand apart from the President’s decision, they are acting as jury and judge against an American citizen?

Do they, some of whom have also served on active duty, like Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, realize that those who judge U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, expose themselves as political sycophants?

The majority of the politicians who have rushed to demonize a 28-year-old army sergeant, are Republicans, egged on by the Republican party’s media bull horn, Fox News.

It was on Fox that one talking head, angered by the long beard Sgt. Bergdahl’s father has grown, blurted out, in a display of religious bigotry, “he looks like a Muslim”.

Another Fox commentator added racism to her religious bigotry by saying “if his skin were darker, he would look like a Muslim”.

These Fox commentators were also disturbed that Bergdahl’s father had been studying a major Afghani language.  Why would a father learn a language his son has been been forced to use for five years?  Why, indeed.

Democrats were more discreet, but just as self-serving, when they quickly turned on President Obama with whining complaints that had more to do with their political egos and political security, than with the rescue of an American soldier.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, says she was disturbed that the prisoner exchange was conducted without final consultation with her congressional committee, as mandated by recent congressional action.

Two things are wrong with her demand.  One, she knows that the negotiated agreement with the Taliban would fall apart if word of it leaked; and two, she knows the congress leaks like a sieve.

The President and his leadership team, including the head of the Joint Chiefs, determined that Bergdahl was in a seriously deteriorating health condition.

Feinstein told Politico that she had seen no evidence that Sgt. Bergdahl’s life was in any danger.

Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat from the conservative state of West Virginia, after seeing a video of the soldier, disagreed with the decision to move quickly on Bergdahl’s release. He did not think Bergdahl’s condition was fragile enough to justify a swift swap.

Senator Mark Kirk, Republican from Illinois, who recently was hospitalized for a stroke, and who returned to duty in the senate with a courageous walk up the senate steps, had a different take on Bergdahl’s situation.  He found him to be in a shaky fragile condition.

Who you gonna believe, a senator protecting her committee prerogatives, a senator fearful of losing his Senate seat, or the President and his leadership team, who are responsible for the life of an American soldier?

The New York Times, which earlier used the term, “demonizing” to describe opponents of Obama’s rescue action, offered a report on the platoon in which Sgt. Bergdahl (pictured at left above) served:

The platoon was, an American military official would assert years later, “raggedy.”

On their tiny, remote base, in a restive sector of eastern Afghanistan at an increasingly violent time of the war, they were known to wear bandannas and cutoff T-shirts. Their crude observation post was inadequately secured, a military review later found. Their first platoon leader, and then their first platoon sergeant, were replaced relatively early in the deployment because of problems.

But the unit — Second Platoon, Blackfoot Company in the First Battalion, 501st Regiment — might well have remained indistinguishable from scores of other Army platoons in Afghanistan had it not been for one salient fact: This was the team from which Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl disappeared on June 30, 2009.

After Bergdahl’s disappearance, he spent five years in captivity, held by the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan.

On May 31, he was turned over to the U.S. army in exchange for five Taliban prisoners who had been held since 2002 in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

How the sergeant (promoted from the rank of private during his captivity) was captured by the Taliban is unclear.  But, for the moment, that does not matter.  The army will determine, through its own legal system, what placed this particular soldier in the control of the Taliban.

At the moment, Sgt. Bergdahl is under medical care, preparing to return home to his parents in Hailey, Idaho. The military justice system will have to determine what comes next for Sgt. Bergdahl.

For now, this nation can rejoice that our last remaining soldier held by enemy forces, is finally free.

As for the 30-day stipulation requiring congressional notification, congressional leaders, including Senator Feinstein, are well aware, as The Nation magazine recently wrote:

The administration’s legal authority to move the men who’ve been cleared for release is much clearer than it appears in the Bergdahl swap. According to the National Defense Authorization Act passed last year, the secretary of defense needs only to notify Congress of any prisoner transfers thirty days beforehand.

Secretary of State John Kerry defended the prisoner exchange against political and media criticism. Appearing Sunday on the CNN program “State of the Union”, Kerry said

that he felt confident the five Taliban detainees freed in a swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl posed little risk to Americans, adding that Qatari officials were not the only ones monitoring them — and that while the five might be able to return to the battlefield, “they also have the ability to get killed doing that.”

Mr. Kerry, in some of his first public remarks on the exchange, struck a decidedly tough tone, dismissing as “baloney” the suggestion that terrorists would have new incentive to kidnap Americans.  .   .  .

Broadly defending the swap, Mr. Kerry said that it would have been “offensive and incomprehensible” to leave Sergeant Bergdahl in the hands of people who might torture him or “cut off his head.”

Zoe Carpenter, writing in The Nation, put the Bergdahl exchange in the larger context of the future of Gitmo:

Just weeks ago the president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica Cordano, offered to accept six of the cleared men as refugees. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on May 28 that he would decide to reject or accept the proposal “fairly soon.” Now that Obama has shown a willingness to push legal boundaries in order to move detainees whose designation as a threat seems at least plausible, the circumstance of men like Diyab, who the government never intends to charge with a crime, is even more indefensible.

“What’s changed is that the president has finally taken the initiative,” said Wells Dixon, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents eight Guantánamo detainees. “What we’re hoping is that he will continue to take bold steps to transfer the remaining men, who are not nearly as complicated or as controversial.”

“Leave no one behind on the battlefield” is a sacred and long-standing U.S. military commitment.  President Obama honored that commitment with his carefully-negotiated prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. 

Presidents are fair game for criticism. When they get it right, we must say so.

The picture at top of Sgt. Bergdahl, taken in 2009 on the battlefield in Afghanistan, is by Sean Smith of  The Guardian.

 

Posted in John Kerry, Obama, Politics and Elections, The Human Condition, War | 12 Comments

Searching for Justice In Church and On Campus

by James M. WallAP

In less than two weeks, elected representatives of the Presbyterian Church USA, will gather in Detroit, Michigan, June 14-21, for their biennial General Assembly.

Meeting in solemn assembly, they will debate and vote, again, on how best to speak to the state of Israel.

To  those who do not follow American church politics closely, it pains me to report that, yes, the Presbyterians still remain divided on the issue.

Israeli Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy has delivered to the Presbyterians, and indeed, to the entire world, one of the most eloquent messages to Israel I have yet to encounter.

The fact that the statement comes from a native Israeli journalist, written for a mainstream Israeli newspaper, makes it even more compelling.

Written in a tone of sadness tinged with hope, Levy’s recent column is entitled, “International Kowtowing to Israel Must End Now”. He begins:

If there is a world, let it appear immediately. For now, there’s the sense of an ending of the international intervention in Israel. The Americans folded, the Europeans gave up, the Israelis rejoice and the Palestinians are lost.

As a result, he writes, those who depart “leave the conflict to the sighs of the Palestinians and the occupation in the hands of Israel, which is sure to perpetuate it and to ground it even more firmly”.

Levy writes, of course, not only to the Presbyterians, but to the entire world, which he believes is in danger of turning its collective global back on the Palestinians when he writes:

The world’s withdrawal is unacceptable: The international community does not have the option to leave the status quo as is, even if that is Israel’s most fervent wish.

To call the world back from withdrawal, Levy says we must embrace “a new way, one that has never been tried before”.

Both the message and the medium must change, to a message of civil rights and the medium of punishment. The previous route included sycophancy toward Israel, one carrot after another in order to please it. It was a resounding failure. It only gave Israel an incentive to further entrench its policy of disinheritance.

Levy tells the world that it cannot “lend its hand” to Israel’s “policy of disinheriting” the rights of Palestinians.

It is unacceptable in the 21st century, for a state that purports to be a permanent member of the free world to keep another nation deprived of rights.

It is unthinkable, simply unthinkable, for millions of Palestinians to continue to live in these conditions. It is unthinkable for a democratic state to continue to oppress them in this way. It is unthinkable that the world stands by and allows it to happen.

The two-state discussion must now become a discussion of rights. . . .Equal rights for all; one person, one vote – that should be the message of the international community. After all, what could Israel say to this new message? That there cannot be equal rights because the Jews are the chosen people? That it would endanger security? .   .   .   .

At the same time, the entire approach to Israel must be changed. As long as it does not pay the price for the occupation and its citizens go unpunished, they will have no reason to end it, or even to deal with it. .  .  .   .

For this reason, only punitive measures will remind us of [occupations's] existence. Yes, I mean boycotts and sanctions, which are greatly preferable to bloodshed.

Levi’s case is both overwhelmingly moral, and it is unassailable. And yet, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. will once again argue among themselves on the matter of Israel’s right to occupy and oppress the Palestinian people.

Nor will the argument be limited to representatives of the Presbyterian Church. They will be backed by a campaign of Israeli hasbara (propaganda) which infects every U.S. major denomination, and which makes itself heard on U.S. college and university campuses.

The strongest voices against supporting “punitive measures” against Israel’s occupation  have been liberal Zionists.

One consistent voice exposing the role of liberal Zionism in these church and campus debates, has been that of Charles H. Manekin, an orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor, who divides his time between Israel and the US.

Manekin writes the blog, Magnes Zionist, under the nom de plume, Jeremiah (Jerry) Haber.

Haber notes that liberal Zionists are able to “influence the mainstream from within”, operating as liberal Zionists who are more Zionist than liberal.

Reporting on a recent Washington campus debate and vote, Haber writes:

Optimist that I am, I thought the younger generation of liberal Zionists was different.  These young activists seemed to have none of the self-induced neuroses of the 1967-generation, those of us who had been taught to believe that Israel was on the brink of extinction before the Six Day War,  a tiny David surrounded by murderous Arab states  (a myth put to rest by historian Avi Shlaim, inter alia, in The Iron Wall.)

Unlike their parents, the millennial generation of liberal Zionists had grown up with a powerful Israel that built illegal settlements, collectively punished Palestinians, erected walls ostensibly for security, but actually for more expropriation of land.  

These young people listened avidly to the testimonies of the soldiers of Breaking the Silence, and in some instances were willing to cosponsor events with Students for Justice in Palestine and other Palestinian rights group.

This generation of liberal Zionists may not have endorsed the global BDS movement, but it was not shocked or scandalized by that movement, nor did it see it as anti-Semitic or illegitimate.

Reporting on the campus debate and vote at the University of Washington, in Seattle,  Washington, Haber writes that “the scales have fallen from my eyes”.

At stake in Seattle was:

“a divestment to examine [the U of W’s] financial assets to identify its investments in companies that provide equipment or services used to directly maintain, support, or profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” and “instruct its investment managers to divest from those companies meeting such criteria within the bounds of their fiduciary duties.”  

This was a rather modest proposal, not calling for divestment from Israel companies per se, only divestment from companies that profit from the Occupation.

One would have thought, one would have hoped that J Street U would have linked arms with over fifty Palestinian civil society organizations on this one point, despite its disagreements with them on other points.  

A group calling itself J Street U in a campus BDS debate ? Where did that come from?  It came, of course, from that parental liberal Zionist lobby group which calls itself J Street and goes by the slogan, “Pro Israel, pro peace”, without any reference to Palestinians.

J Street has sold itself as the anti-AIPAC liberal Jewish alternative, reaching out to moderate and progressive Jewish voters, organizations and funders.

Now we find that J Street has formed campus chapters, J Street U, with the same orientation. Hasbara is an operation run from Israel and the U.S. It is highly sophisticated and extremely knowledgeable about American culture, religion and politics.

As Haber notes, despite its parentage, “One would have expected that J Street U would stand with the oppressed, even if it meant being barred from the communal tent”.

That did not happen.  The recently-born J Street U at the University of Washington went straight home to the communal tent. It joined, as Haber writes, “not with the oppressed, not even with Jewish organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace,  but rather with AIPAC and with StandWithUS,”

In a remarkable show of Jewish unity, J Street U combined with the other “pro-Israel” forces.”

To the cheers of the right-wingers, another BDS battle had been won by Israel, and now, certainly, J Street U had earned its place at the Jewish communal table.  “Mazal tov, J Street U at U Wash!”

To those who are keeping score, the final student Senate vote was 59 to 8 with 11 abstentions.

Haber records in dismay,

Just like their parents and their grandparents generations, the progressive Zionists of J Street U wimped out, preferring tribal loyalty to fighting for justice, preferring it even to their own principles. Or perhaps tribal loyalty is their principle.

After the campus vote, Jerusalem-based Ha’aretz reported from the U.S. campus battle front:

In marked contrast to the seemingly intractable Israeli policy-related divisions that have plagued internal debates at Hillel and Jewish organizations throughout the United States and Canada in recent years, the University of Washington’s pro-Israel community was able to overcome disagreements among its students due to a combination of preplanning, student-driven activism and open dialogue.

“The campaign to defeat divestment had to be student-driven. I was not going to take part in a response that positioned students as puppets of outside Jewish organizations,” said University of Washington Hillel rabbi and executive director Oren J. Hayon.

So, be forewarned you Presbyterians, stay on the alert, you equal rights pro-Palestinian campus political leaders, you face a formidable foe, highly trained to win hasbara battles right in your own backyard.

Finally, in concluding this update on the struggle in churches and on campuses for Palestinian justice, it is appropriate that we conclude with the words of an Olympia, Washington native, Rachel Corrie, who died in the struggle for justice on May 16, 2001.

In the video clip here, famed civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. who died at age 86 on May 28, 2014, reads from an email written by Rachel Corrie, just before Rachel left her home in Olympia, Washington for Gaza.

Two women, one young, another much older, both with a common purpose, the search for justice.

The picture above is of Israeli settlers from the settlement of Yitzhar during a confrontation with Palestinians over an area in Burin village in the West Bank. It was taken on January 14, 2014. The photo is an Associated Press picture from Ha’aretz.  

Posted in Middle East Politics, Politics in Religion, Presbyterian Church USA | 4 Comments

What the Pope Did Not Say

by James M. Wallpope-quds

It is what the Pope did not say that should disturb the world.

The Turkish World Bulletin’s New Desk  points to crucial words missing from his Holy Land Papal trip May 25-26:

“Although the Pope has prayed at the separation wall in Bethlehem and called for a Palestinian state during his visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), he has not commented on Israeli abuses or on the blockade on 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza.” 

Also missing was the essential point that the Pope’s visit was made in a political environment in which Israel and the U.S. have once again insisted on their “two sides” recurring diplomatic dodge.

President Obama repeated the dodge following the collapse of the latest round of “peace talks” between Israel and Palestine:

“What we haven’t seen is, frankly, the kind of political will to actually make tough decisions, and that’s been true on both sides.”

Not so, by any standard of political realism.  The prisoner is never equal to the jailer.

Naim Ateek, the Palestinian Anglican priest who founded Sabeel, told Time magazine before the Pope’s trip:

“I would hope that the Pope will show great courage to speak against the injustice of the Palestinians, that he will speak against the occupation.  I mean if he will just talk about the occupation, it will reflect the prophetic stance.”

Ateek was identified by Time as:

founder of Palestinian liberation theology, a movement that for three decades has identified Palestinian occupation with Jesus’ suffering and response to injustice.

Ateek’s 1989 book, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, is the movement’s foundational work, and he runs the Sabeel Ecumenical Center in Jerusalem.

As yet, no Papal prophetic reflection and no condemnation of occupation, has emerged.

What we have, instead, is an invitation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres, to visit the Vatican where the Pope and the two leaders will pray for peace.

Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, a modern Jewish prophet, had more than prayers on his mind when he wrote this past week:

When one says that “both” did not . . . make the “necessary hard decisions” . . . one consciously or unconsciously assumes that they are equal. Nothing is further from the truth.

Israel is immeasurably stronger than Palestine in every material respect. One resembles a sleek American skyscraper, the other a dilapidated wooden shack.

Palestine is under occupation by the other half of “both”.

Palestinians are totally deprived of all elementary human and civil rights.

Average income in Israel is 20 times higher than in Palestine. Not 20%, but a staggering 2000%.

Militarily, Israel is a regional power, and in some respects a world power.

In this reality, speaking of “both” is at best ignorant, at worst cynical.

Anyone who uses the term, “both sides”, is saying there is only one version of reality, the Israeli version.

The Pope was on his three day trip to the Holy Land, his first as a pope, when Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinian teen-agers on May 15, 17-year-old Nadim Siam Nuwara and 16-year-old Muhammad Abu al-Thahir.

The Pope is most certainly aware of the deaths of these two teen-agers, both of whom were shot near the Ofer military prison in the West Bank on the 66th anniversary of the Nakba.

Parents of the two young boys  appealed directly to the Pope to “speak out against their murders and to watch video footage of the killings”.

The Abu al-Thahir and Nuwara families said in their joint statement to the Pope:

“We appeal to Your Holiness as a religious and spiritual leader to call on international human rights organizations to seek justice in the prosecution of the perpetrators and hold their leaders accountable for the murder of our sons,” the parents say in a message issued through Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-Palestine).

“Our hearts are torn in anguish for the loss of our sons, whose young lives, dreams, and hopes were cut short by the bullets that struck them…they were murdered with the utmost cruelty and disregard for human life, at a time when our people were recalling the tragedy of the Nakba that befell upon us at the hands of the Israeli occupation.

“We attach high hopes to your historic visit to our holy and blessed land, and we hope it will be a good start to exert every possible effort at the international level to end the occupation, so that our children may live in peace and security in the land of love and peace.” 

The murders of the two teen-agers did not occur in darkness, away from the prying eyes of television eyes of modern media.  Instead they took place in daylight. A security camera, and an alert CNN cameraman. were there to film their deaths.

The Electronic Intifada posted the videos with an accompanying story:

CNN has an important break in the story of the deadly shooting by Israeli occupation forces of two Palestinians teenagers.

As this report by Ivan Watson shows, CNN’s cameras were apparently trained on the Israeli occupation soldier who shot one of the boys.

(Click here for the story and video, in addition to an interview with one boy’s father, and pictures of the two boys)

CNN adds a warning to viewers that the video may be disturbing to some viewers.  It is indeed, disturbing.  What matters now is how Israel will react to the charge that the deaths of the two teenagers could not be blamed on them because they only used rubber bullets.

Both teen-agers were killed with live ammunition. As the video footage from CNN and from Israel’s Ha’aretz, indicate, they posed no threat to the Israeli soldier or soldiers who shot them.

How will Pope Francis respond to the letter from the Abu al-Thahir and Nuwara families?

What will he say to them and to the thousands of other Palestinian families whose children have been imprisoned, tortured, beaten and killed in the name of a false “both sides” peace talk charade?

Those upcoming Vatican prayers involving the Pope and his Israeli and Palestinian guests, are not without merit.

It is neither presumptuous nor unreasonable to hope that the Pope will include in his prayer the names of two Palestinian teen-agers, 17-year-old Nadim Siam Nuwara and 16-year-old Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, both shot to death on the 66th anniversary of the Nakba.

 The picture of the Pope above is from the Turkish World Bulletin. The video is from CNN by way of the Electronic Intifada. 

Posted in Middle East, Middle East Politics, Obama, Television | 4 Comments