Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Paraphrase of the Week: July 26

Atallah, a Palestinian refugee living in Bethlehem:

People try to frame Arafat's refusal of a peace agreement as a grave mistake. This is not accurate. Arafat rejected an agreement which would have given away more than 80% of the historic land of Palestine, and would have also forgotten about some 6 million Palestinian refugees. According to the proposed plan, those refugees would have never had a chance to return to their land, a right of return guaranteed by international law. Arafat's rejection of this agreement in fact saved the lives and saved the hopes of millions of Palestinian refugees living around the world.

The Boycott Century:Decolonization might begin with promoting Palestinian products over Israeli ones.

“An underdeveloped people must prove, by its fighting power, its ability to set itself up as a nation, and by the purity of every one of its acts, that it is, even to the smallest detail, the most lucid, the most self-controlled people.” –Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism.

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There is an echoing sentiment here in Ramallah that Israeli milk is more “tasteful” and “nutritious” than Palestinian milk. The same goes for wine, apples, dates, juice and just about everything else … except for maybe olives. In fact, Palestinian shopkeepers even stock Israeli-made milk at the front of their store while Palestinian milk sits in a crate collecting dust in the corner.

Palestinians do this for two reasons: one, they truly believe their senses, the other – possibly more understandable than the first – is because selling Israeli products yield a much higher profit.

A recent study by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, an organization that aims to promote Palestinian products, found that Palestinians within the higher socioeconomic strata tend to buy more Israeli goods than those in the lower strata.

Appropriating the colonialist brand seems to imply prestige (a product, perhaps, of the inferiority complex) but if you push this aside as a psychological result of colonialism and consider the economic dependency Palestinians are forced to live with, one way to overcome the subjugation of the colonialist-settler (thus racist and discriminatory) policies would be to boycott Israeli products. Besides forcing Palestinians to consume their own products, it would promote and develop a domestic industry and manufactured goods. The Palestinians must ascertain that they can have a functioning society without being indebted to Israel.

This is, essentially, what the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement is about. Using Apartheid South Africa as a model, a coalition of Palestinian groups felt compelled to combat Israel’s economic power over Palestine and created the BDS in 2005.

Besides placing political pressure on corporations to divest from Israel, BDS focuses strongly on its consumer boycott efforts. According to the BDS website, this serves to put “pressure on companies whose exports are linked to some of the most evident aspects of the Israeli occupation and apartheid.”

One of BDS’s many campaigns is to target stores that sell Israeli products and persuade them to stop stocking them. While much of the campaign is based on Israel’s exports to the West, activists here in the West Bank also try to deter Palestinian shopkeepers from selling produce that is grown in Israeli settlements. (Again, these yield more profit for Palestinians.) It is highly unlikely, though, that Palestinians will collectively and instantaneously dump their Israeli products for Palestinian manufactured goods and produce because an activist tells them so. They want to know if there is proof of sustainability.

A BDS Victory: Enter the story of Veolia and the light rail.

In 1902 Theodore Herzl wrote in Altneuland that the future of Jerusalem would be made of “modern neighborhoods with electric lines, tree-lined boulevards” and that Jerusalem would become “a metropolis of the 20th century.” A century later his vision is materializing with the Jerusalem Light Rail project (JLR). When (and if) completed, the light rail will conveniently accommodate Jewish-Israelis, connecting West Jerusalem to Jewish settlements. The light rail travels through Palestinian neighborhoods but makes no stops in them. Also, as one Israeli blogger put it, “… all the windows have been reinforced to be resistant to stones and Molotov cocktails.”

But officials are now facing a major setback. In June Ha’aretz reported that Veolia, a French transportation company that was to operate the light rail post-construction, abandoned the project because of the “political pressure” it was facing: a direct implication of the BDS “Derail Veolia and Alstom Campaign.”

Founding BDS member Omar Barghouti said, “Veolia’s reported intention to withdraw from the illegal JLR project gives the BDS movement an important victory: success in applying concerted, intensive pressure on a company that is complicit in the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, enough to compel it to withdraw from an illegal project. This may well usher in a new era of corporate accountability, whereby companies that are profiting from Israel’s illegal colonial and racist regime over the indigenous people of Palestine will start to pay a real price in profits and image for their collusion.”

The pressure from human rights activists and lawyers throughout Europe battered Veolia, costing it multiple contracts – a loss that amounted to more than seven billion dollars. From Stockholm to Bordeaux, companies dumped Veolia on account of its stake in a project that violates international law. Association France-Palestine Solidarit√© (AFPS) took Veolia, along with Alstom – the engineering enterprise behind the light rail – to a French court. AFPS filed the complaint against Alstom and Veolia in 2007, arguing that the 8.3-mile project violates international law since East Jerusalem is not sovereign Israeli territory. “Our main argument is that the light rail project is intended to serve illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and thus it’s part of illegal settlement infrastructure and by being involved in project, the French companies are violating international law,” says Azem Bishara, an attorney with the Negotiation Support Unit in Ramallah.

When the Arab League organized a boycott of Israel after its colonization of Palestine in 1948, Arab countries refused to deal with Israel by boycotting their products, services and even refusing to allow Israelis into their country. Lebanon and Syria are the only countries that allegedly adhere to the boycott today, as they have yet to sign trade agreements with Israel. The Israeli Chamber of Commerce reported Israel was losing an average of 10 percent in export revenue per year when the boycott was in its prime. This spearheaded the fight by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to pressure Congress to pass an anti-boycott legislation. In 1977 then-President Jimmy Carter, who now advocates the window-dressing of Palestinian national independence, signed a law that would impose a fine on American companies that cooperated with the boycott.

It seems safe to assume that this legislative effort by AJC indicated that it, at least, believed the Arab League boycott was having some effect.

American and European companies used similar calculations and campaigning to pull out of South Africa over 20 years ago, but how do we know anti-boycott Israeli investors won’t target companies like Veolia? Whether or not Veolia goes through with its withdrawal, the question remains: is it really a victory? And how can an effective boycott promote economic independence so that Palestinian milk will no longer end up in stores’ dustbins? These are questions the boycott campaign has to confront.

Sousan Hammad is a Palestinian-American writer based in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Villagers nonviolently resist Israeli military delivery of nine Stop Work orders; Soldiers strike child, arrest adult


At-Tuwani, South Hebron Hills, Palestine - In the afternoon of 20 July 2009, Israeli soldiers and representatives from the Israeli District Coordinating Office (DCO) delivered stop work orders for seven Palestinian houses, one cave, and one cistern around the village of At-Tuwani.

Palestinian children and adults gathered around the Israeli authorities. One Palestinian admonished the DCO officers to deliver demolition orders to the illegal buildings in the Israeli outpost of Havat Ma'on, which continues to expand. Palestinian children surrounded each house and chanted loudly to impede the DCO's efforts to leave the orders at each house and make using radio and phones difficult for the DCO and soldiers. In addition, Palestinians sat in front of the military and DCO and prayed together.

While delivering the stop work orders, a member of the DCO struck a small child and an Israeli soldier shoved a Palestinian civilian to the ground. Israeli police arrested a Palestinian man who was protesting the stop work orders and charged him "threatening soldiers."

One of the houses had already been destroyed the night of 16 July (See 20 July CPTnet release, AT-TUWANI: New Palestinian house and olive tree destroyed in the night ) The Palestinian homeowners suspect that Israeli settlers from Ma'on or the Havat Ma'on outpost perpetrated the destruction. The family began rebuilding their home the next day.

The Israeli military often issues a stop work order prior to a demolition order; after which the Israeli military may demolish the structure at any time.

Despite Israeli settler and soldier harassment to discourage the growth of the village of At-Tuwani, Palestinians continue to assert their right to develop and build on their own land.

Photos from the day are available at here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

An Analogy

From the Israeli daily, Haaretz, “Netanyahu met with the Quartet's Middle East envoy Tony Blair yesterday to discuss ways to improve the Palestinian economy. Netanyahu told Blair that the West Bank's Palestinian residents could achieve more if they were to increase their cooperation with Israel.

The Israeli Prime Minister telling the Palestinians that they could achieve more if they were to cooperate with Israel is like a wife-beater telling his wife that they could get along better if she just listens and cooperates a little more.

I don't think the answer is the battered woman cooperating, but the answer is more likely the wife-beater stopping his abusive and violent patterns.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Quote of the Week

Context: Two boys are out shepherding sheep in the South Hebron hills of Palestine. The flock is in a large valley (privately owned Palestinian land), on one side of the valley are cow barns, on the other side of the valley are chicken barns. Both the chicken and cow barns are run by Israeli settlers. All of the sudden an Israeli army hummer starts coming down the valley. The boys start running with their flocks because they were arrested just two weeks ago for grazing their sheep. The hummer chases the boys for some time, the soldiers often getting out of the vehicle and imploring the boys to come and talk with them.

Quote (from Palestinian shepherd): My God, that hummer is STRONG, strong like a donkey, it can go up and over big rocks, down in the valleys, and up on the hillsides. Strong like a donkey.

Commentary: Awesome. If only GM would have adopted this philosophy that donkeys are strong, maybe tax dollars wouldn't have been flushed down the toilet to prop up GM. If only the green movement talked about riding donkeys as a way of reducing your carbon footprint. If only there was a donkey company with a commercial that had the a strong, scruffy voice that told us about how tough and strong donkeys were, and then showed footage of donkeys and hummers traversing the same terrain. Maybe GM should start selling donkeys.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Newsflash: Nonviolence in Palestine

Today there was a nonviolent training in the South Hebron hills village of At-Tuwani. There was a workshop for women in the morning and men in the afternoon. People came from Mfaqqara, Rakiis, Juwayya, and of course, At-tuwani.

So this goes out to all the haters. This goes out to Obama, for critiquing Palestinian violence (not a mention of Israeli violence) without acknowledging Palestinian nonviolent resistance. This goes out to all the people who believe Hamas militants are representative of 100% of the Palestinian population. This goes out to people who don't recognize that there is an occupation of Palestine (I mean, why else would people be organizing nonviolent resistance). This goes out to all the people who think the sword is more powerful than the pen. This goes out to all the people who believe than guns are more powerful than the voice. This goes out to all the people who believe that power and oppression are louder than the cries for justice and peace. This goes out to all the people who don't believe there is hope.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Shocks and Boycotts

On July 1st, I attended my first ever book launch event. But, it wasn't so much as a book launch event as it was an occasion to call for an economic and cultural boycott of the State of Israel.

In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (a MUST read), Naomi Klein documents the rise of free-market fundamentalism around the world. Klein suggests that widespread fundamentalist economic reforms take place after a major shock has occurred (hurricanes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, bombing campaigns, etc.). For more see the Shock Doctrine website and the NY Times review.

Naomi Klein has been in Israel/Palestine for the last week because her book has been translated into Hebrew and Arabic. This is especially relevant because Klein dedicates a chapter of her book to the boom in Israel's economy that resulted from the continuous 'war on terror' and occupation of the Palestinian territories. Israel's economy is largely built upon the security and defense industries, and has marketed that expertise around the world. Israel thrives financially on continual destabilization in the region, specifically in the Palestinian territories.

Now that you have been briefed, and maybe convinced to buy the book (there's also lots of good stuff about the War in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina), I want to talk a bit more about Naomi's speech.

Klein's itinerary in the Holy Land involved participating in the weekly nonviolent protest against the separation wall in Bil'in, speaking engagements in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Haifa, Jaffa, and she also spent 2 days in Gaza. I saw her speak in Haifa, just after she had returned from Gaza, and she decided not to speak about her book because she wanted to tell some stories from what she saw in Gaza, she felt the stories were more important than the book. She told stories of heartbreak, but one particular thing stood out for me.

Several Gazans shared with Klein the sentiment that during Israel's onslaught in Gaza, there was hope. People, despite the fear, pain, and destruction, had hope. Gazans truly believed that Israel was finally digging it's own grave. The videos, images, and reports of the destruction and annihilation in Gaza were all over the airwaves and the printing presses. The world saw that Israel had innocent blood on its hands. Surely the international community would put pressure on Israel, and things would be different. Gazans believed that they would be entitled to something more than living in the biggest-open-air prison in the world, the Gaza Strip. But alas, six months after hundreds of Palestinian children were slaughtered by Israeli bombs, the siege continues, Gaza remains destroyed, and people continue to camp in the rubble of their former homes, as they mourn the loss of their loved ones.

Klein used this point to transition into her main point of the night, a call for the boycott of Israel. She emphasized this boycott is not against Israelis, but is against Israel. It is a boycott of the Israel economy and Israeli institutions. It is a call for individuals, churches, institutions, governments to boycott the Israeli economy. To divest from the Israel economy. To place sanctions on the State of Israel. See the website dedicated to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign.

These same tactics were used against South Africa to place pressure on the government to end apartheid. The reason the strategy worked is because once the business sector began to falter because of BDS (boycotts, divestments, and sanctions), it petitioned the South African government for help. The only thing that would 'work' is to end the apartheid system so that BDS would be lifted. In order to keep South Africa afloat, the white government was forced to end apartheid.

Palestinians have exhausted most forms of nonviolent resistance. The 1st intifada was nonviolent, and was crushed violently by Israel. Demonstrations, protests, and actions continue to happen around the world and around Palestine. These acts of resistance need to continue, but it's time to take measures which will force Israel's hand. In the present situation, Israel benefits economically from the occupation, and continues to get unconditional support from the U.S. and continues to develop trade agreements with blocs such as the European Union.

Palestinian groups have been calling for BDS since 2005. It's well past time the international community hears that call. It's time for people of conscious to put pressure on churches, universities, large investors, and governments to boycott Israel.

For too many years, Israel has been granted exception from international law, such as Geneva Conventions and UN Resolutions. Rather than listening to Israel's calls for continued exception, it's time to boycott Israel until they abide by international and end the criminal occupation, siege, and disappearance of the Palestinian people.

The Best Way to Serve and Protect

Returning from shepherding, I spotted something green on the roof of our house. As I removed my sunglasses and squinted a bit, my suspicions were confirmed, soldiers. What the hell? Seriously? What are they doing at our house?

Walking towards the village, I remember that there was a group of 30 college students visiting Tuwani to speak with villagers and to speak with us. The group had been stopped at a military checkpoint and questioned about their purpose for being in the South Hebron hills. The soldiers proceeded to 'escort' the group into Tuwani. So that 'escort' had now resulted in 2 soldiers outside of the door of our house, 1 soldier on the roof, and one walking up and down the road outside of our house.

As I walked down towards our house I saw that H., a leader in the village, was already speaking with the group about the situation in Tuwani (exhibit A: the soldiers standing 5 feet away from them). As we engaged with the soldiers, well no, actually, we first demanded that they leave. When they refused to do that, then we entered a dialogue.

The soldiers claimed they were there to protect the young people, because their job is to protect and provide security. Weird, cause YOU are the only ones with guns. So are you protecting them from yourselves? That's awfully postmodern of you.

Wait, but hold on a second. This group of students called us, and asked if they could visit the village, and were then extended an invitation by the villagers and by us, the internationals. So you are protecting them from their hosts? Protecting them from the people who served them tea, and are now speaking with them about hardship in their lives? Protecting them from those people?

The soldiers went on to explain that most of the young people were American citizens and the American government had asked the army to protect it's citizens. I became internally infuriated by this comment.

First off, I am an American, and I have NOT asked for your protection, and I am disgusted by the billions of dollars that the United States government provides to Israel every year. Disgusted by it. Secondly, your presence here makes this situation infinitely more dangerous for me. The BEST way that the Israeli army can protect me is to end the occupation of the West Bank and end the criminal siege and imprisonment of Gaza. Ending the occupation and the systematic subjugation of the Palestinian people would provide infinitely more protection than bringing your hummers and your guns to my house.