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

Emanuel Church Confronts Racial Violence

by James M. WallReuters:Randall Hill

When Barack Obama began his first term as the 44th president of the United States, he delivered a stirring inaugural address that called on  this nation to join with him in addressing the problems facing the nation.

It was an address of realism and challenges, as he noted:

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily nor in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

Racism was one of the major challenges our first African-American president had in mind. 

Racism, in all its violent hatred, exploded in Charleston, South Carolina during a Wednesday night Bible Study in the basement of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, June 17.

The picture above shows a gathering of men outside the church, shortly after the killings, praying together in their shock and grief. 

David Zirin describes the church which experienced that massacre and which evokes prayer as a response:

The more you read about Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, otherwise known as “Mother Emanuel,” the more awe you feel for its historic resilience amidst white-supremacist terror.

This church is now known as the scene of a massacre, which is being investigated as a “hate crime.”  Nine are dead, but this institution will not fall. We know this because it has stood tall amidst the specter of racist violence for 200 years.

What happened in Charleston after the killing of eight parishioners and the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a miracle of grace. There was no rioting in the streets, no cries for revenge.

What happened in the aftermath of a senseless slaughter, was that “Mother Emanuel” church once again stood tall and looked upward with forgiveness out of the depths of a dark and tragic event.

The church congregation, the bereaved families of the church’s pastor and Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, all, as though in unison, set an example of how challenges are met.

They must be met through grace, as President Barack Obama so eloquently put it in the moving eulogy he delivered at the funeral for Pastor Clementa Pinckney at an overflowing auditorium of the  College of Charleston’s campus on Friday afternoon, June 26. The full text of his eulogy is here.

As he stressed the significance of grace as the means by which the believer is called to address such dark events, the President paused for a few seconds and then began singing Amazing Grace, words written by John Newton, a clergyman who had once been captain of a slave ship.

The President was joined by the congregation as he sang: 

The “historic resilience amidst white-supremacist terror” that David Zirin examines in his Nation report, is an indication of how “Mother Emanuel” has confronted the evil of slavery and racism. Zirin writes:

It was 1816 when the Rev. Morris Brown formed “Mother Emanuel” under the umbrella of the Free African Society of the AME Church. They were one of three area churches known as the Bethel Circuit. This means that a free church in the heart of the confederacy was formed and thrived 50 years before the start of the Civil War.

It had a congregation of almost 2,000, roughly 15 percent of black people in what was, including the enslaved, the majority-black city of Charleston. Because the church opened its doors to the enslaved and free alike, services were often raided by police and private militias for violating laws about the hours when slaves could be out among “the public.” They were also raided for breaking laws that prohibited teaching slaves to read at Bible study sessions.

In his Nation article, Zirin reminds his readers that “it was at one of these Bible study sessions that the shooter opened fire Wednesday night, after sitting among the people for over an hour.”

The response of what President Obama correctly calls “the miracle of grace”, is in the tradition of Mother Emanuel AME Church.

The church and its members did not lash out in fury against racist hatred, which led to the deaths of nine African Americans sitting quietly in a Bible study group. It did what had been its style for the 200 years of its existence.  

It came together in prayer and a resolve to go forward, surrounded by, and filled with, the miracle of grace. There is a power in that grace, an unexplained mystery. 

When words feel inadequate, there is always the poetry of music, as President Obama demonstrated in leading his Charleston congregation with Amazing Grace

Music has been with President Obama since he took office.

Following President Obama’s first inaugural address in 2009, Dr. Joseph Lowery, delivered the benediction. Dr. Lowery, a civil rights leader with Martin Luther King, Jr., began his prayer with words from another notable African American song.

Lowery’s prayer began with the third verse of James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Every Voice and Sing, which, since its composition in 1920, has become known as the “national anthem” of the African American community.

An Emory University event honoring Alice Walker, another icon in the African American struggle against racism, ended with the singing of Johnson’s Lift Every Voice and Sing. Leading the singing is Emory graduate Garrett M. Turner

In the days following the Mother Emanuel massacre, two hymns seem appropriate for religious or secular groups wishing to honor the memory of the nine who died in that historic church. A good opening hymn would be Lift Every Voice and Sing.  

A concluding hymn? Try all the verses of Amazing Grace.

The picture at top was taken outside the Emanuel African American Methodist Church in Charleston, SC. It is a Reuters photo by Randall Hill, from The Nation website.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

“What Happens to a Dream Deferred?”

by James M. Wall014979_38

What happens to a dream deferred? 

The question comes from Langston Hughes’ poem, Harlem, which inspired Lorraine Hansberry to write her drama, A Raisin in the Sunthe first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. 

Her play was made into a 1961 movie which featured Sidney Poitier (above), as Walter Lee, the angry and ambitious son of a mother trying to give her family a safe and secure home.

Hughes’ poem, Harlem, is short and prophetic:

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes’ poem was an artistic cry of protest against racial injustice in the United States. He was addressing the increasing frustration and anger felt by African Americans whose dream of equality was continually being deferred.langston-hughes-1

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) (right) was known to possess a “strong sense of racial pride”. It was “through his poetry, novels, plays, essays, and children’s books, [that] he promoted equality, condemned racism and injustice, and celebrated African American culture, humor, and spirituality”.

Like all great art, Hughes’ poem transcends the context of immediacy. “A dream deferred”  applies wherever injustice exists.

Injustices, that is, such as Israel’s oppressive military occupation of the Palestinian people, an occupation that began either in 1948 or 1967, however one wishes to measure the history of stolen land and stolen lives.

Religious institutions have been notoriously slow in responding to that occupation, preferring instead to concentrate narrowly on their own institutional house keeping and growth.

In so doing, these institutions have followed the same plan of deferral practiced by an early generation that tolerated and encouraged racial segregation in U.S. life.

That deferral began to change when Palestinian Christians challenged these churches to denounce and attack Israel’s occupation with the non-violent campaign, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

BDS began with a call by Palestinian civil society to pursue the same sort of non violent action that earlier worked in the US civil rights movement, and in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. 

Some critics have objected (in good deferral style) to lumping BDS into a single assignment. Never mind about that, individuals, institutions and nations can all boycott and divest. Sanctions are the tactic of nations against nations (e.g. Russia and Iran).

The important thing to remember for those who want a way to fight back, non-violently, against an illegal, brutal occupation, is that each institution and each individual has a weapon of choice.

U.S. institutional church bodies have chosen the divestment route, debating proposals to remove church retirement and other fund investments from U.S. companies that continue to conduct business within illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

And yes, the impact of divestment on major businesses is less against the bottom line of the affected companies, and far, far more against the public image of the company and, in this instance, the state of Israel.

Is Israel worried about its public image? Is the Pope a Catholic? Just look at the desperate way in which Israel and its allies are spending big dollars to fight the BDS campaigns. Even Sheldon Adelson has gotten into the act.

Palestine’s dream of freedom has been deferred far too long. It is time now to “conquer” Israel, not on the battlefield, but in the war that hits Israel where it hurts, in the world of public opinion.

Conquer is the right word.

 In the rarely heard fourth verse of the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key wrote, “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.'”

Key’s poem, which became our national anthem in 1931, was written after a British flotilla attempted to capture the port of Baltimore, a battle that culminated in the bombardment of Fort McHenry throughout the night of September 13, 1814.

In that context, “conquer we must” referred to “conquer” not as the act of an established nation at war with a neighbor, but as the challenges a new nation faced.

Or, on a more personal note, the word “conquer” to my mother, meant to “rise above” a barrier, in order to overcome it. How many times did she tell me, “you can conquer this”? I lost count at age 14. 

Art, like the poetry of Langston Hughes, can inform us that dreams too long deferred, will wither up like “a raisin in the sun”, or maybe simply “explode”.

Dreams are deferred by barriers, like those legal barriers established by American segregationists or by Israeli occupiers who employ periodic acts of “mowing the grass”, routine night raids into Palestinian homes, and armed checkpoints for a single purpose, to maintain the status quo for those in power.

It is time to fight against that oppression with whatever weapons we  have in hand. Later this month, three U.S. Christian denominations–United Church of Christ, Episcopalian, and  Mennonite–will decide whether or not to seize the BDS weapon to fight against injustice.

When Shakespeare’s English King Henry V rallied his forces to battle against the French, he called on their pride and their dedication to God, king and country.

In Act 4, Scene 3, Henry says:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

It is this same reminder that Christians in three U.S. denominations, and others who will follow, must hear: Fight against injustice or remain asleep in your beds.

Will these Christians fight injustice or will they continue to sip interfaith tea in an act that defers the dreams of Palestinian children in Gaza who have no beds in which to sleep because the Israelis have destroyed them?

Posted in Religious Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Adelson’s Anti-BDS Event Links Money To Action

by James M. Wallsouth africa

Stanford University professor David Palumbo-Liu alerted his Salon readers to a “secret” meeting held last weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada: 

If you did not know that this weekend some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world will meet in the Las Vegas desert to plot a massive and well-financed campaign against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, it’s not your fault.  

Palumbo-Liu notes that in order to be aware of this event, “you would have to be a reader of news sources such as the Forward or Haaretz, or Mondoweiss“.

Four days after the Salon posting appeared, The New York Times buried two paragraphs about the Vegas meeting inside a longer story which featured the success Israel was enjoying in gaining anti-BDS support in state legislatures in South Carolina and Illinois.

This campaign against American supporters of Palestinian freedom, was prompted by the alarmed awareness among Israeli leaders, and their U.S. allies, that the BDS movement is rapidly gaining ground.

The “secret” Vegas weekend focused on planning for, and funding, a campaign to kill BDS in its academic cradle.

This campaign links Israel, a foreign nation, with its U.S. “fifth column”, a term Wikipedia defines as “any group of people who undermine a larger group—such as a nation or a besieged city—from within.”

Wikipedia adds that “the activities of a fifth column can be overt or clandestine. Forces gathered in secret can mobilize openly to assist an external attack.”

The Vegas event took place away from the U.S. mainstream spotlight because U.S. mainstream media chose to ignore it.

With U.S. billionaires both funding and setting up its top down strategy with Israeli-inspired organizations on American campuses, Israel’s successful invasion of U.S. institutions takes another major step toward “occupying” American institutions. 

The meeting was held, appropriately enough, in Sheldon Adelson’s luxurious Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada,  This gambling center has already become an important stop for Republican presidential aspirants in search of Adelson’s money and backing.

This anti-BDS weekend gathering followed the same call and response strategy as the 2012 and the upcoming 2016 Adelson primaries, to choose a Republican presidential nominee.

More than Adelson’s millions are involved. Adelson is not alone in feeling that, as Forward reported,  there are other major conservative billionaires who want in on the action and who want to dictate how their money is used. The Forward reported:

Leading Jewish mega-donors … summoned pro-Israel [anti-BDS] activists for a closed-door meeting in Las Vegas to establish, and fund, successful strategies for countering the wave of anti-Israel activity on college campuses”.

Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson (right) was the host of the gathering which featured Bloomberg China 2012financial luminaries such as “Hollywood entertainment mogul Haim Saban, Israeli-born real-estate developer Adam Milstein and Canadian businesswoman Heather Reisman.”

The meeting was not exclusively Republican. Haim Saban, a Los Angeles billionaire, is a major Democratic donor who enjoys what the Forward terms “close ties to the Clintons”.

Those ties include Saban funding for the Clinton Foundation as well as for Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the White House.

Variety, the show business publication, reported that Saban declared his strong support for Clinton in May with a major fund raiser for her in his home.

Saban apparently has no qualms crossing party lines to join forces with Adelson where Israel is concerned.  Saban was an early prime mover behind the weekend strategy sessions. Accordimg to Forward:

“[Saban] has been discussing the idea for more than a year, one source with firsthand information of the initiative said. Saban has spoken to Israeli officials, including the former ambassador to Washington Michael Oren and top officials in the Israeli foreign ministry, about setting up a special task force to deal with increased calls on campuses to adopt measures of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, measures commonly referred to as BDS.”

According to “an official in the Jewish community, it was another California philanthropist of Israeli background, [Adam] Milstein, who put together the initiative. He got mega-donor Adelson and [Heather] Reisman, who in recent years has been increasingly involved in initiatives to support Israel, on board.”

In his second analysis of the weekend’s goals, the Forward’s Nathan Gutman wrote that New Jersey Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has close ties to New Jersey’s two Democratic senators, “will act as the new initiative’s point man”, a further indication that both U.S. political parties have their strong Zionist components. 

In contrast to the grassroots beginnings of the BDS movement, the Vegas anti-BDS program is structured from the top down. Participant groups were asked to prepare a 10-minute TED-style presentation to donors. In effect the anti-BDS groups will make their case to the donors, seeking funds for their programs, which will be blessed by the donors who approve of the direction the groups promise to go.

At the end of the conference, the donors were expected to “develop the conceptual framework for the anti-BDS action plan, assign roles and responsibilities to pro-Israel organizations, and create an appropriate command-and-control system to implement it,” again a top to bottom structure. 

The donors attending the conference were expected to make a prior commitment for an “average donation of $1M over the next two years”.

David Palumbo-Liu (right) one of the few media voices to report on the Vegas gathering, From DPL twitter accountdescribes it as a “collusion of conservatives and Clintonites, and U.S. and Israeli state operatives, to heavy-handedly interfere in campus discussions is pernicious and distasteful.”

In keeping with Israel’s practice of naming its numerous wars after biblical events, this new organization will be called “the Maccabees”, a name derived from the Jewish group of “patriots who freed Judea from Seleucid oppression (168-142 bc)”.

Palumbo-Liu traces the more recent history of the BDS movement which began with “the nearly 200 civil organizations in Palestine who put out the call for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions in 2005, and those in the U.S. and elsewhere who have answered that call.

The organizations which heard and acted  on the call began with the Association for Asian American Studies, followed by “the American Studies Association and several other academic organizations, progressive Jewish groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, student organizations throughout the country that have passed divestment resolutions (including the student government body representing the entire University of California system), and now labor unions”.

National U.S. religious organizations are slowly cranking up their peace and justice agendas to focus on the human rights brutality of Israel’s occupation. Mondoweiss continues to be virtually the only media outlet, religious or secular, to report on progress, or lack of progress, toward justice in the American church organizations.

Mondoweiss reported, “last year, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) and United Methodist Church (UMC) divested from several U.S. companies involved in the occupation. Various Quaker bodies have done the same.”

This month, three more U.S. churches—the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA)—will join the growing list of those denominations responding to the Kairos Palestine call and voting to end financial support for Israel’s occupation.

The 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church will meet from Thursday, June 25 to Friday, July 3 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

On the Episcopal Convention agenda will be a proposal developed by a new group, the Episcopal Committee for Justice in Israel and Palestine

The UCC General Synod will meet June 26-30, in Cleveland, Ohio where it will consider a Resolution of Witness which will call for “divesting from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and for boycotting products produced in such territories by Israeli companies”.

The third national body considering specific action on the issue is the Mennonite Church USA Convention, which will meet June 30-July 5, in Kansas City, Missouri.

Anti-BDS forces, as usual, will arrive at the three assemblies with their Protestant religious allies (delegates who oppose BDS) to campaign against BDS among delegates. Some may even be granted time to speak to groups of delegates.

This may be the last chance for these three major U.S. denominations to fix themselves firmly on the side of justice alongside a growing number of other religious and secular groups who have finally faced the reality of the evil of occupation.

When delegates to the assemblies held by Episcopalians, the UCC, and the Mennonite church vote this summer on BDS resolutions, they will be choosing to endorse or “continue to discuss” the occupation of Palestinians. 

Before they vote, these delegates will want to reread Joshua 24:15, where it is recorded that “for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. 

The picture of David Palumbo-Liu is from his website. The picture of Sheldon Adelson is from Bloomberg. The BDS poster is from South Africa.

Special Note: If you are not on a special Wall Writings Alert mailing list. and would like to make sure you receive each posting as soon as it is published, write to jameswall8@gmail.com with the message,  “Please add me”.  

Posted in Hillary Clinton, Israel, Media, Middle East, Palestinians | 7 Comments

Bibi Coalition Echoes Groucho’s “Duck Soup”

by James M. Wallgroucho_marx_in_duck_soup

The Times of Israel, Israel’s leading right wing newspaper, can usually be counted on to lead the cheers for any Benjamin Netanyahu Israeli government. Not this time.

After his recent narrow election victory Netanyahu turned to a right wing collection of politicians to construct his latest coalition. 

Haviv Rettig Gur, The Times’ political correspondent, wrote that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition-building has been “a disaster,” even “a farce.” He blames it on Netanyahu’s strange amalgam of cabinet ministers. 

 The list of seemingly incoherent appointments is a long one. The minister of justice has no background in law, the minister of science none in science, the minister of tourism is also in charge of the police and prisons.

There is a full minister in the Communications Ministry, but he’s not the communications minister; that title is reserved for the prime minister, who is also the minister of health (but promises not to act as such) and of foreign affairs, a portfolio effectively leaderless at a time of growing diplomatic tensions. The absorption minister is also the strategic affairs minister, while the transportation minister is also in charge of a newly christened “Intelligence Ministry.” And on and on.

In the 1933 movie comedy classic, Duck Soup, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx, shown above) is building his own coalition to govern Freedonia.  

Netanyahu’s series of appointments to his 2015 Israeli cabinet reads like the draft for a movie sequel to Duck Soup, in which Freedonia’s next-door enemy Sylvania, sends two spies to infiltrate Groucho’s government, Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx).

Chico marxGroucho sees Chicolini (left) on the street and promptly selects him as his Minister of War. Next thing you know, Groucho has insulted the Sylvania ambassador because he does not trust him as a partner for peace. 

The rich widow of the former Freedonia president, Gloria Teasdale (played by Margaret Dumont) plays politics with her late husband’s money. A female 1930s version of the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson, Mrs. Teasdade offers to  keep Freedonia’s economy flourishing but only if Groucho becomes Freedonia’s leader.

In the clip below, the widow Teasdale tells Groucho she doesn’t want her money financing a war. 

Groucho ponders her request. After a brief internal debate with himself, he decides he cannot trust Sylvania. He insults the Sylvania ambassador and instantly, war threatens! 

“This means war.”

Ha’aretz,  more moderate than the Times, also predicts a dark future for Netanyahu’s 2015 coalition. In their May 18 editorial, Ha’aretz’s editors ask, “Who Will Save Israel from Bibi”? 

Simple logic strongly suggests that the new government formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not bring peace, certainly not on its own initiative. Netanyahu renounced the two-state solution during his election campaign, does not consider Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a partner, and sees the United States administration as the enemy.

All this is enough to suppress any hope for a diplomatic turnaround.

Will Netanyahu engage in his own internal Groucho debate in any future standoff? Or will he simply refuse to accept anyone as a partner for peace even as he claims more Palestinian land for Israel? 

In a follow-up profile of Ayelet Shaked, Netanyahu’s choice for Justice Minister, Ha’aretz offers this analysis:

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked by AFPThe Justice Ministry doesn’t usually garner much interest among Israelis. It is, after all, a mid-level prize, modest compared to more lucrative ministerial posts like Defense, Finance and Foreign Affairs. However the announcement last week that Ayelet Shaked (left) of Habayit Hayehudi would be Israel’s new justice minister seems to have struck a raw nerve. .  .  .

A rather obscure (but combative) right-wing activist up until a few years ago and the only secular woman in the otherwise religious Zionist party led by Naftali Bennett, Shaked has entered politics with the outspokenness and indignation of an activist.

Among other things, she is one of the originators of the so-called “nation-state bill” that aims to turn Israel’s democratic values into unwanted subordinates of its Jewish identity. One of the major pieces of legislation she intends to promote as minister is her own so-called “NGO bill,” which limits the donations received by human rights groups and other left-wing organizations.

In Mondoweiss, Allison Deger reported that: “In her inaugural speech to the foreign ministry last Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely explained she is on a mission to convince the world that Israel inherited the occupied Palestinian territories from God.

Motti Kimchi:Ynet“This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologize for that,” said Hotovely in a meeting of the foreign ministry.

During the address she went on to quote from religious scholars explaining why Israel is not an occupier over the West Bank. Israel’s i24 translated:

“Rashi says the Torah opens with the story of the creation of the world so that if the nations of the world come and tell you that you are occupiers, you must respond that all of the land belonged to the creator of world and when he wanted to, he took from them and gave to us.”

Switching to English, Hotovely closed “by stating she will ‘demand’ world leaders ‘declare Israel as a Jewish national state,’ and back settlement growth in the occupied Palestinian territories”. Mondoweiss posted this short video from The Guardian, of Deputy Minister Hotovely’s closing words (to view the video click below):  

[https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/world/video/2015/may/22/israel-world-west-bank-deputy-foreign-minister-tzipi-hotovely-video]

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s picture is by AFP.  The video of the Hotovely’s closing speech is from The Guardian. The picture of Minister Hotovely is by Motti Kimchi of Ynet.

Posted in -Movies and politics, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Movies, Netanyahu, Palestinians | 4 Comments

Obama Panders in the D.C. Adas Israel Synagogue

by James M. Wallgaza5

All that is said or written about President Barack Obama during these final days before 2016, must be said or written within a darkness that reminds us that our current president will soon be replaced by either Hillary Clinton, or any one of a dozen right wing Republicans, any one of whom will, in comparison, make Obama look like St. Francis of Assisi.

Before his nation’s Memorial Day week-end, President Obama managed to make us even more aware that the Candidate of Hope is certainly no St. Francis.

Against a background of three successive Israeli death-dealing invasions of Gaza, President Obama delivered a speech in Washington’s Adas Israel Conservative Jewish synagogue Thursday.

With no reference to the Gaza invasions, President Obama bragged about being a member of the Jewish “tribe” the way a nerdy kid might try to convince leaders of a Chicago South Side gang that he is truly “with you fellows”.

American liberal Jewish writers gave the speech favorable reviews. My review is more negative.

The speech was a campaign effort to win votes in favor of Obama’s attempt to persuade Congress to support his Iran nuclear arms agreement. The President feels he needs American Jewish support.

It was a worthy cause, to be sure, but at what price did he solicit those votes?

I have read the speech in search of at least one sign that Barack Obama knows he is our last best American hope to release the world from its bondage imposed by the modern state of Israel.

There were no signs, not one. To me, it was a surrender speech coupled with the plea:  Let us keep our horses and our deal with Iran, and we will give you our love.

In this instance, “love” means protection in the United Nations, and all the military fire power Israel’s heart desires. 

Nathan Gutman gave the speech a favorable review in the Jewish Forward:

Obama chose a complex and subtle message for his Jewish American Heritage Month address at Adas Israel congregation, Washington’s prime Conservative synagogue, where many of the city’s Jewish government official, high profile politicos and journalists come to worship. He sought to explain, not to retract, his criticism of Israel and was met with a welcoming crowd.

“I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America,” Obama said, explaining this is the reason he feels “a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland.”

His audience applauded freely as Obama reminded them that in the White House he had surrounded himself  with Jewish advisors. 

He made his customary, grinning nod to Rahm Emanuel, who added his White House Chief of Staff job to his ability to raise money from Corporate America, to emerge as a U.S. Congressman and now as the mayor of Chicago.

Gutman quotes Obama:

And as an honorary member of the tribe, not to mention somebody who’s hosted seven White House Seders and been advised by two Jewish chiefs of staff, I can also proudly say that I’m getting a little bit of the hang of the lingo. But I will not use any of the Yiddish-isms that Rahm Emanuel taught me because I want to be invited back. Let’s just say he had some creative new synonyms for “Shalom.”

Obama repeated his “aw-shucks” appreciation of the honorary “Jewish president” title bestowed on him by Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the Jewish writer who served his tour of duty with the Israeli Defense Force by “making friends” with a Palestinian prisoner he was guarding.

In another rhetorical flourish, he praised the makers of Jewish history and Jewish values. Then sadly, he jumped over Israel’s invasion, destruction and subsequent occupation of Palestine, and landed squarely in the midst of the modern state of Israel, where Obama gave unqualified support for Israel’s absolute “right to exist”.

Does that “right” without question, include the right to create the prison of Gaza?

Obama ignored the Nakba. He quit being an historian of Jewish values and became a southside Chicago politician begging for votes in Tel Aviv. You want jobs? Your uncle need medical help? We are here for you. How about all the weapons your heart desires?

Donald Johnson is especially harsh on the speech under a headline, ‘The grotesque injustice of Obama’s speech at the Washington synagogue”.

He writes that President Obama was “pandering” to what Johnson correctly identifies as Israel’s “sense of entitlement”.

“Obama is pandering to alleged liberals at this synagogue, liberal Zionists, and he gets laughter for saying that Palestinians are not easy partners”. 

President Obama surrounded his mention of a future Palestine state with a heavy emphasis on Israel’s need for security, and a tasteless quip: He said:

Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land, as well. (Applause.)

Now, I want to emphasize — that’s not easy. The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners. (Laughter.) The neighborhood is dangerous. And we cannot expect Israel to take existential risks with their security so that any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility.

“‘Taint funny, McGee”, as Molly McGee would have said to her husband Fibber. It is not only not funny, but it underscores the pandering nature of the speech.

President Obama reminded his Jewish audience that he has visited the Jewish town of Sderot, which has suffered through rocket attacks from Gaza. By virtue of its proximity to Gaza, Sderot is the only community living in constant danger of the largely ineffective Gaza rockets.

That too is tasteless, comparing Sderot to the invasion destruction and on-going violence in Gaza. The President touches on Gaza suffering by couching it with “rights” language for Israel:

The rights I insist upon and now fight for, for all people here in the United States compels me then to stand up for Israel and look out for the rights of the Jewish people,” Obama said. “And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me. That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me. These things are connected.”

Obama’s speech might have referenced a child in Gaza. No way.  Imagine the scene in the speech-writers office, as writers, eager to please a totally Jewish audience, argue:”Don’t use a city in Gaza, use Ramallah. Do not use a city which will remind the listeners of what happened in Gaza”.

The speech says: “And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity.”

The “rights” of the Jewish people have emerged as Israel’s favorite right-wing trope.

Obama says the unnamed child in his speech “feels” trapped?  This unnamed child does not just “feel” trapped. He or she, unspecified as to gender in the speech, IS trapped inside a military occupation.

In public speeches , Obama likes to point to a member of his audience, young or old, and identify the member by name, age and circumstance. In this speech, he made no pretense of ever having spoken with a Palestinian child trapped in an occupation prison. 

Obama does know that Palestinian children are growing up under occupation. They don’t just feel trapped, they are in fact, trapped behind the occupation’s prison walls..

You know that to be true, Mr. President. You should say so and stop all this pandering.  You have two years left. Use those years to redeem the campaigner of Hope.

The picture at top is from Oxfam. It appeared in Mondoweiss and shows a “check point”, a closely-guarded entrance to a walkway from Gaza to Israel at the Erez crossing. The 1948 picture from the Nakba is was provided by the Israeli Goverment Press Office on May 4, 2008. It  shows two Palestinian women fleeing with just tthe possessions they are able to carry as they make their way toward Lebanon from villages in the Galilee during the early stages of the Nakba. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Deception, Thy Middle Name is Divert

by James M. Wallal watan Jerusalem

The New York Times’ Jerusalem bureau slavishly responds to unfolding Israeli stories as though the computers there are set on robotic control to: “Divert, Divert”.

The most recent Times “Divert, Divert” example came in an overlong Times examination of what Pope Frances said in a Vatican private exchange with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Divert is the operative word through which Israel keeps the world from focusing either on positive Palestinian stories, or on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians under its military control.

It does so with the dutiful assistance of publications like the New York Times.

The picture above shows two Israeli soldiers arresting a Palestinian child in East Jerusalem. That photo is not from The New York Times.  It is from a daily Arabic newspaper Alwatan, published in Oman.

The most recent New York Times diversion story carries the ludicrously misleading headline: “Vatican Seeks to Quiet Uproar Over Pope’s ‘Angel of Peace’ Remark”.

What prompted this so-called “uproar”? The Times reports further:

Did the pope tell Mr. Abbas “You are an angel of peace,” as many news outlets, including the main Italian news agency ANSA, The Associated Press and The New York Times, reported?

That phrasing pleased Palestinians, but infuriated some Israelis and Jewish leaders around the world.

Or was the pope encouraging Mr. Abbas with the words, “May you be an angel of peace,” as other major Italian news media, like La Repubblica and La Stampa, reported, a formulation that suggested more exhortation than commendation, and sounded better to pro-Israeli ears.

It all seemed to boil down to the difference between the verb “sei,” Italian for “you are,” and “sia,” which means “may you be.” Pro-Israeli advocates were quick to pick up on the discrepancies, but Vatican officials did little to clarify the matter.

Little done by the Vatican to clarify? Not true. 

In a statement issued by Vatican spokesman the Rev. Frederico Lombardi, the Times informs its readers, still pushing its Israeli narrative, that Father Lombardi engages in what the Times called ” some of his own diplomatic ambiguity”. 

The reader is expected to believe the following words from Father Lombardi are ambiguous?

 The pope had presented Mr. Abbas with a gift often given to visiting presidents: a bronze medal that represents an angel of peace. In the statement, he said that the word angel refers to a “messenger.”

When the pope presents the medal, Father Lombardi said, “he offers a few words of explanation of the gift as well as an invitation to a commitment to peace on the part of the recipient.”

The Times dutifully reports that, according to The Vatican, “angels are, in fact, ‘messengers'”. Right, and in baseball, a double play is making two outs on the same play.

Father Lombardi further informs the Times that the Vatican never reports on what the Pope says during private discussions, and that what is expressed during an exchange of gifts is not meant to be recorded.

“What he says in private conversations are not official declarations, so they are not officially documented,” he said. “It was a conversation between two people, not a moment of official declarations.”

The Times then solemnly declares that “Israel has made no public statement on the issue, apparently having no interest in a public spat with the Vatican.”

Oh, so now it is just a public spat. Well, that’s not the way Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, sees it.

Nahshon got word to the Times that he had actually heard a recording of the conversation, had consulted with Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican and was satisfied that the pope had said, “May you be an angel of peace.”

A private conversation between the Pope and a guest was recorded and now is in the hands of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Does this mean the Vatican is bugged?

The Times then adds to its story about the honoring of President Abbas by quoting Israel’s Nahshon:

He is far from an angel of peace,” Mr. Nahshon said of Mr. Abbas, adding, “If he was, perhaps by now there would be peace.”

As the story grinds to an end, we finally receive a word from someone who knows how to interpret this story of a “spat” for what it really is, a typical pro-Israel diversion from the more important and positive reports about the Vatican and Palestine. 

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, laughed when asked about the controversy, saying she was not about to provide “a biblical exegesis on ‘may you be’ or ‘you are’.

“Either way,” she said, speaking by telephone from Ramallah in the West Bank, “the analogy and the connection is there.”

Ms. Ashrawi was not at the meeting in the Vatican and said she had not bothered to call and ask exactly what words were spoken to Mr. Abbas. She pointed to the wider context of Mr. Abbas’s visit, including the recognition issue and the canonization of two 19th-century nuns.

The canonization refers to an earlier Times report that “Two Arab Nuns From Palestine Are Canonized by Pope Francis”, which began:

“Two 19th century nuns from Ottoman-ruled Palestine were made saints at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, just days after the Vatican recognized Palestinian statehood.”

For a more complete take on the canonization story, click here. This story adds a detail left out of the Times account, answering the question of why President Abbas was in Rome in the first place.

Wham, bam, two big stories: Canonization of two Palestinian women, side by side with  Palestinian statehood recognition by the Vatican. That is the big news out of the Vatican.

Not so for the Times. After its initial report on canonization and recognition, the Times turns quickly to the “importance ” of the difference between “may you be” and “you are”, concluding with soothing words from Abe Foxman, leader of the Anti-Defamation League: 

“The good news is that there are all sorts of efforts to step back,” he said, referring to the Vatican spokesman’s efforts to smooth the atmosphere. “That is more important than how that phrase got there,” he said, adding, “Whatever it is, whether it was misspoken, miswritten or misread, we welcome it.”

By welcome, we must presume Mr. Foxman means, the Times report on the Vatican’s linguistic clarification?

Less welcome to Mr. Foxman, we may also presume, are the facts that Pope Francis has presented President Abbas with “a bronze medal that represents an angel of peace”, canonized two Palestinian nuns, and recognized Palestine as a state. Neil Flickr

A closing reminder to American Protestant church leaders who will meet in a variety of venues this summer to continue their debates on how best to relate to their Jewish neighbors (Jewish neighbors, not Israeli neighbors).

The words above are written on one of the many walls Israel built to keep Palestinians within their own homeland.

In their deliberations, these church leaders will need to remember that, as the wall proclaims, “Criticism of Israel is Not Anti-Semitic”. They also need to remember that Israel is a nation that believes it must divert rather than face the reality of its conduct. 

The picture at top was taken in East Jerusalem. It appeared in Alwatan, a daily Arabic newspaper published in Oman and distributed internationally. The words witten on a Palestinian wall is a Neil Flickr photo from Mondoweiss.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

“I’m From that Hell Called Gaza”

by James M. WallPalestinian girls walk past buildings in Gaza Thomas Coex AFP Getty

Former President Jimmy Carter has concluded his trip to the West Bank area of Palestine. He “deeply regretted” that he was unable to visit the Gaza enclave of Palestine.

President Carter traveled with former Norway Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. It was their fourth Elders’ mission to Israel and Palestine since 2009.

The two Elders were prevented for security reasons from seeing for themselves, in Carter’s words, “Gaza’s 1.8 million people [who] are besieged, isolated and desperate”.

As the occupying military power controlling both Gaza and the West Bank, Israel offered no explanation as to why it could not provide adequate security for Carter and Brundtland.

Had the Elders gone into Gaza, they would have spoken directly to Gaza mothers like the one who wrote to British author Stuart Littlewood:

I’m from that hell called Gaza. Extreme poverty, unemployment and insecurity destroy life and future of people who can hardly survive…. It is difficult for us to live or to leave. Gaza, my beloved home, is like a curse!

The injustice in Gaza and the West Bank is, indeed, a curse. It is a curse President Carter knows all too well. He grew up in the segregated state of Georgia, the same state that Martin Luther King, Jr., called home.

Dr. King lived and died confronting the curse of segregation in the American South.

His letter from the Birmingham jail is a vivid witness of his frustration and grief over the failure of white southern clergy leaders to give support to peaceful street demonstrations against that curse.

The evil of injustice in Gaza is an especially insidious evil because it is largely ignored by those in a position to confront it. It was the injustice in Gaza that brought Carter and Brundtland to Israel and Palestine.

It was the injustice and brutality of segregation in Georgia that led to King’s presence in a Birmingham jail cell.

The letter he wrote from jail on April 16, 1963, was addressed to seven southern white clergy leaders who had signed a joint letter to ask him to reduce his agitation against segregation.

The report Jimmy Carter wrote after his trip to Israel/Palestine echoes that letter, for it too, was written in sadness and barely concealed anger. 

Carter’s report, like King’s letter, tells a story of how one nation, Israel, with the support of the American government, degrades the humanity of an entire population.

King had gone to Birmingham, Alabama to demonstrate against the evil of segregation. In his letter he wrote:

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

President Carter’s own report, written 52 years later, laments his inability to enter Gaza to personally witness its devastation and suffering. Carter begins:Jimmy-Carter-Israeli-Palestine-Gaza-newsletter_600

Gro Harlem Brundtland and I have just returned from Jerusalem, where we undertook our fourth Elders’ mission to Israel and Palestine since 2009.

Our focus on this trip was on peace and reconciliation – not just between Israel and the Palestinians, but also between Fatah and Hamas to secure viable and lasting Palestinian unity.

We also wanted to draw attention to the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza eight months after the devastating war of summer 2014.

We deeply regretted not being able to visit Gaza to see the situation at first hand, but what we heard from independent experts and UN officials confirmed our worst expectations.

What we saw and heard only strengthened our determination to work for peace and the lifting of the blockade.

The situation in Gaza is intolerable. Eight months after a devastating war, not one destroyed house has been rebuilt and people cannot live with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Gaza’s 1.8 million people are besieged, isolated and desperate. They cannot enjoy any of the aspects of normal life, from trade and travel to health and education, that people in my country – and indeed in Israel – take for granted. (To read the full report, click here.)

How did the western world respond to Israel’s blocking a Gaza visit by the Elders? The U.S. mainstream media played its usual role as guardian of Israel’s public image.  

Mainstream media ignored the story of the Elders’ inability to witness for themselves what Carter terms, “Gaza’s 1.8 million people [who] are besieged, isolated and desperate”.

Shame on these media leaders, and shame on all who remain silent. Shame on U.S. secular and religious leaders who debate the issue as a way of avoiding its reality

Israel is more than just aware that the Elders, an organization of world leaders, initially called together by Nelson Mandela, investigate world problem areas like Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel hates any and all exposure of its conduct.  

When a former U.S. president joins a former Norway prime minister to travel to the region to call attention to the imprisonment of an entire population, Israel knows its American benefactors are always there, standing by to help.

“Attention should be paid”, as Arthur Miller once wrote, by American church leaders, American media leaders, and money-hungry American politicians. 

This summer, starting in late June, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. will assemble for  national leadership policy making.

On its agenda will be a resolution for delegates to  discuss a proposal on how their corner of God’s moral army should  respond to Israel’s decades-long occupation.

A half century after mainstream American churches remained racially divided in their organizational structure, here come the Episcopalians, still debating  oppression.

Check out this non-mainstream secular media story on the upcoming discussions. In one of its resolutions to be considered on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) are these words:

Fundamentally, we believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a U.S. civil rights issue for our time. It is an American issue because Washington repeatedly vetoes United Nations resolutions criticizing Israeli settlement building and other violations of international law; it conveys billions of dollars annually to Israel in unrestricted foreign military aid, requiring no accountability as required by law for the use of U.S.-supplied weapons and munitions to enforce the Occupation; and because publicly-traded U.S. corporations profit from the Occupation.

Well-stated, but will it pass or will it be watered down? 

Delegates who address this resolution must decide: Will they join the seven southern clergy who, 52 years ago, told Martin Luther King Jr., to “go slow” on racial segregation?

Or will they stand with Martin Luther King, Jr., and former President Jimmy Carter, and say the time for debate is over?

If they vote their consciences, they know it is well past the time to drag down the curtain of invisibility our religious and secular leaders have placed around “that hell called Gaza”.

I call the question, Bishop. 

The picture above of two young girls walking through the ruins of Gaza, is by Thomas Coex /AFP/Getty Images  It is from the NPR website..

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Gaza Crisis “Unsustainable and Intolerable”

by James M. WallCarter-Brundtland

Former President of the United States Jimmy Carter and Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, concluded their trip to Israel and Palestine with a statement calling for “meaningful steps to stop the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and reconcile the different Palestinian factions”.

The statement, released  by the Elders’ media office, said Carter and Brundtland “regretted that they were unable to go to Gaza on this visit but expect to have future opportunities to travel there, to witness the situation firsthand”.

The two Elders said they remain convinced that “only a two-state solution can bring a just and lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians”.

Carter and Brandtland are two of The Elders, “independent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity”.

In her statement following the visit, Brundtland, who is currently the Deputy Chair of The Elders, said:

We came here to visit Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. As you know, we were unable to go to Gaza. We deeply regret not having had the opportunity, on this occasion, to see the situation there at first hand.

However, over the past three days we have received comprehensive briefings from many independent experts, including Israelis and Palestinians and the UNRWA Commissioner-General, which unfortunately have confirmed our worst expectations.

The situation in Gaza is unsustainable and intolerable. A complete paradigm shift is essential. This shift demands the lifting of the siege. It also requires an end to Israel’s policy of separating the West Bank and Gaza.

It demands freedom of access for goods, not least the large amounts of reconstruction material that are so badly needed,

It demands freedom for Gaza to export – to the West Bank, Israel and the rest of the world – so that its economy can be revitalised

It demands freedom of movement for people, so that families can be united, students can study in the West Bank or abroad, and patients can receive the medical care they need.

In short, all the aspects of normal life that people in our own two countries, and in Israel, take for granted.

Without this paradigm shift, which most of the world recognises as vital, we fear that further conflict is inevitable.

In his separate statement, Carter added that “reconciliation between [the Palestinian parties] Fatah and Hamas, and the full establishment of the government of National Consensus in Gaza, is vital to end further suffering”.

trioOn Saturday, the final day of their trip, Carter and Brundtland conferred with Palestine President Abbas in Ramallah.

The Palestinian media news outlet, Ma’an, reported that Abbas used his meeting with the Elders “to emphasize the importance of speeding up reconstruction efforts in Gaza, in particular pressing the need for donor countries to meet their pledges”. 

In Ramallah Saturday, Carter and Brundtland also met with key members of the Palestine Liberation Organization and other political figures to discuss the struggle to achieve Palestinian unity.jimmy-carter-gro-harlem-bru

Included in the discussion were: Nabil Shaath, Husam Zumlot and Mohammed Shtayyeh from Fatah; Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) (Al Mubadara); Majida Al-Masri, Former Minister of Social Affairs; Basam Salhi, Palestinian People’s Party; and Omar Shehada, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Chief Editor of Al-Hadaf Magazine.

Mustafa Barghouti, well-known Palestinian political figure, is at the far right corner in the picture above.  President Carter and Gro Harlem Brundtland are across the table at left.

The trip’s original schedule had called for the Elders to travel to Gaza to confer with Hamas and other political figures. That trip was cancelled for reasons still not disclosed.

Before the Elders arrived, Israel’s government had already announced it would not allow any of its leaders to meet with the Elders.  Also forbidden was what would have been essentially a ceremonial visit between Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. 

This is the action of a nation which has locked itself into a self-imposed  isolation from any outside interaction it deems unfriendly.

Israel holds tight military control over the West Bank and Gaza. This suggests that the only reasonable explanation for the cancellation of the Elders’ Gaza visit, is that Israel wanted to hide as much as possible the destruction of Gaza from outsiders, especially those with the influence of the Elders. 

Brundtland, no doubt knows this, but ever the diplomat, she said that while it was unfortunate that she and Carter had not been able to visit the Gaza Strip, she emphasized that they had discussions “with people who know the issues in Gaza.”

Since highlighting the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was one of the delegation’s “key aims” during the visit, they were deprived of first-hand personal observation.

This has not, however, deterred them from using their visit to highlight the suffering in Gaza. which, most recently, was left behind by the devastating Israeli military attacks on Gaza in the summer of 2014.

The Elders said that since their last visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories in October 2012, they have watched “with dismay the intensification of animosity and misunderstanding between the two parties.

Their statement insisted: “the steadily deteriorating situation in Gaza must be reversed: the enclave has been under siege for eight years, and in 2014 suffered the third of three devastating wars since 2008/09.” The statement added, “Reconstruction is painfully slow.”

It was evident in statements following their three-day visit to Israel and a part of Palestine, that Jimmy Carter and Gro Harlem Brundtland will continue to use their influence to end Israel’s self-imposed world isolation, an isolation damaging both to Israel and Palestine.

The two of them, a 90 year old former U.S. president, and his much younger colleague from Norway, have become a crusading international dynamic duo determined to end the immediate Gaza suffering that is both “unsustainable and intolerable”.

The picture at top of former President Carter and former Norway Prime Minister Brundtland, is from The Elders’ website. The second picture is from Ma’an News. The lower picture is from The Elders.

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Why Was Carter’s Gaza Meeting Cancelled?

by James M. Wallgro-harlem-brundtland-jimmy-carter-ziad-abu-amr_620x400

Former President Jimmy Carter, and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, met with Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amir, Thursday, at the Council of Ministers in Ramallah.

During the meeting, Carter and Brundtland discussed with Dr Abu Amir, “matters concerning Palestinian reconciliation”.

The announcement of the Ramallah meeting came from the Elders’ website. The site describes the Elders as a non-governmental group of “independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights.”  

On Wednesday of this week, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, reported that Carter’s previously planned Thursday visit to Gaza was “removed” from his itinerary “without reason”.

Absent any official explanation, speculation is rampant as to what led to the cancellation, raising the question, why was Carter’s Gaza meeting  cancelled and what prompted the cancellation?

The Elders’ site earlier reported that Carter and Brundtland came to Israel/Palestine directly from a successful Elders’ delegation visit to Moscow where six members of The Elders, led by Elders’ Chair, Kofi Annan, concluded a successful visit which included a two-hour meeting with the six Elders and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After their arrival in Jerusalem, Carter and Brundtland hosted a roundtable to discuss “approaches to solving a broad range of issues facing the region”. The return trip to the Middle East is intended to “support the two-state solution and highlight Gaza’s humanitarian crisis”.

The roundtable included Katleen Maes from the United Nations OCHA* (see below), who talked of  “a humanitarian overview”; Nathan Thrall from ICG*, who discussed Fatah-Hamas and GNC political dynamics; Tania Hari from Gisha*, on Israeli policy towards Gaza; and Lani Frerichs who talked about policy tools for greater accountability.

Carter’s trip to Gaza was to have been the first stop of the three-day Elders’ visit to Palestine and Israel.

Ma’an describes the curent Elders’ visit to the Middle as one designed “to address pressing political issues and bring international attention to the current humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip”.

Israel had earlier agreed to allow Carter to enter Gaza on this trip, but, according to Israeli media. “in response to Carter’s decision to meet with Hamas leadership, Israeli President Rivlin said April 20, he would refuse to meet with the former president due to his ‘anti-Israel’ positions”.

In his role as an international mediator, Carter has long maintained that meetings with “the perceived enemy” is essential to any reconciliation between groups, tribes or nations. While president, Carter was instrumental in organizing and directing the historic Camp David reconciliation between Egypt and Israel.

Earlier in April, a PA government delegation from Ramallah held meetings in Gaza with Hamas officials, seeking answers to troublesome issues, including salaries to government employees. That meeting failed to resolve any substantial problems.

Rivlin’s refusal to meet with Carter on this trip, according to the Jerusalem Post, followed a recommendation from the  Israeli Foreign Ministry that Rivlin not meet with Carter, “in order to convey the message that those who harm Israel will not meet with the [Israeli] president.

Over the decades since he left office as U.S. President in 1980, Carter has met frequently with leaders on both sides in international conflicts.

The Elders have an intense interest in bringing peace to this region. In October, 2012, former Prime Minister Brundtland visited a hospital in East Jerusalem which also treats patients from Gaza and the West Bank. (right).

Gro Harlem Brundtland at a hospital in East Jerusalem which also Elders treats patients from Gaza and the West Bank, October 2012

Carter’s schedule this week was to have included a meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh “to discuss national reconciliation”, according to Hamas leader Ahmad Yousef.

Under an accusatory headline, PA Sought Cancellation of Carter’s Visit to Gaza, the Middle East Memo points to a Palestinian news outlet, Quds Presse, which quotes a “well informed Palestinian source” who claims the Palestinian Authority had sought the cancellation. 

The Middle East Memo offers no specific names behind the accusation. So far this is the only explanation in print:

A well informed Palestinian source said yesterday that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had sought the cancellation of the former US President Jimmy Carter’s visit to the Gaza Strip.  Quds Press reported.

Since the source, Quds Press, is known to be affiliated with Hamas, it is possible that a faction within Hamas wants to accuse the PA of scuttling Carter’s trip, in order to further hamper the unity talks.  

Further reports on why Carter’s visit to Gaza was either cancelled or simply postponed, could emerge during the remaining Elders’ visits in Israel and the West Bank. 

As usual in such situations, finding the answers to why and who wanted to keep Carter from Gaza, we must begin by asking who benefits from the failure of the Palestinian Hamas-Fatah unity talks, and who possesses the clout to influence the cancellation. 

That could mean the usual suspect, the Israelis, or a faction within one of the two Palestinian parties involved. Or it could be an outside force seeking to keep this conflict alive.

With Israel continuing to control Gaza’s borders, it is difficult to imagine any force other than Israel with the ability to bar Carter from Gaza. 

Meanwhile an Elders’ delegation remains in the region. It is expected to return to Ramallah Saturday, May 2, to meet with Palestinian President Abbas.

The picture above from Ramallah is from the Elders’ website. The picture from a hospital in East Jerusalem is from the Middle East Memo site.

*OCHA is the part of the United Nations Secretariat responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. OCHA also ensures there is a framework within which each actor can contribute to the overall response effort.

*The International Crisis Group ICG is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.

*Gisha was founded in 2005 and is based in Tel Aviv. Gisha aims “to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents”.

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Carter Going to Gaza for Fatah-Hamas Talks

Middle East Monitorby James M. Wall

The Turkish Anadolu Agency (AA) reported Sunday that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is expected to arrive in the Gaza Strip on Thursday to meet with Palestinian Hamas officials.

A Palestinian security source, who requested anonymity, told the Agency “Carter will arrive in Gaza on Thursday through the [Israeli-controlled] Erez border crossing to meet with leading Hamas officials,”

Maher Abu Sabha, head of the Palestinian border authority, told AA that the director of Carter’s office would arrive in Gaza Sunday accompanied by a security delegation to prepare for Carter’s “imminent visit”.

As of late Sunday, no U.S. news sources had reported on the purpose of the expected visit.

A week ago, Israel officials, advised of the Carter visit, announced that “Israel has officially decided to boycott Carter’s visit”.  The officials added that “Israel would not bar Carter from entering Israel or from crossing to Gaza”.

The Middle East Monitor added in its visit announcement that Carter “is undertaking Saudi-backed mediation efforts between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah”.

Carter recently met with prominent Saudi officials and urged their intervention to achieve reconciliation between Palestinian factions. His intervention was welcomed by the Saudi officials in Riyadh, the same Palestinian source told the Anadolu Agency.

This Palestinian source added, “The Saudi government has begun preparations for mediation between the two [Palestinian] movements to reach a ‘Mecca II’ agreement.”

“The Saudi government is seeking guarantees from both Fatah and Hamas that they’re serious about reconciliation before mediation efforts would start,” the source added.

Carter had recently visited Qatar and met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal who assured him that his movement is serious about reconciling with Fatah, the source said.

Carter visited the Gaza Strip in 2009 where he held several meetings with leading Hamas figures, including the group’s deputy leader Ismail Haniyeh.

The first Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah was reached in 2007 through the efforts of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

This agreement followed the formation of a Palestinian unity government which held West Bank and Gaza legislative elections in January, 2006.  President Carter was prominently involved in monitoring that election.

To the shock and amazement of the U.S. government of President George W. Bush, Hamas won that election decisively, sending a majority of legislators to a newly formed Palestinian Parliament.

Instead of supporting the electoral will of the Palestinian voters, President Bush, through CIA forces in the region, sided with Fatah and helped train military forces aligned with Fatah.

Israel cooperated in the action by arresting a large number of recently elected members of the legislature and, in some cases, held them for long periods of time. This effectively prevented the recently elected legislature from holding any formal meetings.

The historical background of the current Fatah-Hamas standoff was presented in careful detail in a New Republic article, February 13, 2013 by John B. Judis. entitled, Clueless in Gaza: New evidence that Bush undermined a two-state solution.

Judis turns first to Elliott Abrams to examine what became of the official narrative of the start of the Palestinian government split in 2007.  He also reports on an effective debunking of that narrative.  He begins:

A decisive turning point in the recent political history of Palestine came in June 2007, when Hamas defeated Fatah’s security forces in Gaza and took over uncontested administration of the strip. This was the moment that Palestine became divided in two with rival governments in charge—Hamas in Gaza and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in West Bank—which meant the end of a single, coherent Palestinian leadership that could negotiate with the Israelis.

The political effects of “Hamas’ ousting of Fatah are clear enough”, writes Judis, who then traces the birth of the prevailing narrative of the Fatah-Hamas split.

Washington’s prevailing narrative about that version of the narrative has been “self-serving”, in a book written by Elliott Abrams, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Judis writes that Abrams worked for George W. Bush’s National Security Council, supervising American policy in the Middle East. His book offers the standard line,

charging that Hamas staged a “coup” in Gaza because it feared that “time might bring greater strength for what Hamas saw as Fatah and we saw as the legitimate PA national security forces.” Abrams acknowledges that Hamas leaders might have believed there was “a conspiracy to crush it,” but dismisses the possibility that there actually was one, and that the United States might have played any role in it.

Abrams’ account, Judis writes,  

is in marked contrast with the testimony put forth independently by two journalists, Paul McGeough and David Rose, by a former British intelligence official, Alistair Crooke, who had served as a special advisor on the Middle East to the European Union, and by UN Under-Secretary General Alvaro de Soto.

Key parts of this alternative narrative have been confirmed by leaked government documents and contemporary newspaper accounts and by David Wurmser, who was Middle East advisor at the time to Vice President Dick Cheney.

This version of events is considerably more damning about Washington’s role in the events leading up to the Hamas “coup”. According to the alternative narrative, the Bush administration blundered at every turn in its dealings with the Palestinians.

It encouraged an election on the assumption that Abbas and Fatah would win. When Hamas was victorious, it sought to nullify the results and to block a unity government between Fatah and Hamas, even though such a government might have actually become a credible partner in peace negotiations.

And the Bush administration helped arm Fatah’s security forces against Hamas, which stoked the civil war and led to Hamas taking over Gaza. According to this narrative, Hamas was basically right about American intentions.

. .. Abrams’ reputation is tarred by his admission that he withheld documents from Congress during the Iran-Contra investigation. On the other side, Rose published credulous accounts in 2001 linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda.

But I believe that the alternative narrative fits the outward events much better than what Abrams recounts in his book.

The remainder of the Judis article puts these conflicting narratives in the context of contemporary American diplomacy.

It is not a pretty picture, both because of the impact of the Bush and Abrams 2007 record, and because Judis demonstrates what an Israel-U.S. controlled narrative, dutifully reported and maintained by western media, does to hold the western public in bondage to Israel’s grip on public opinion.

Jimmy Carter remains as one of the very few American public figures willing to break with that grip and broker a unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah.

The fact that Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to meet with an ex-U.S. president, and prevents any of Israel’s leaders with even a courtesy visit with Carter, is but one more sign of Israeli disdain of any and all, who do not embrace Netanyahu’s vision of Israel’s exceptionalism.

Beginning with his meetings in Gaza Thursday, Carter plows ahead, ignoring Netanyahu’s insults, determined to use his abilities to build toward a united Palestinian government.

The picture above, of Jimmy Carter, is from the Middle East Monitor.

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