Peace in our Time?

March 29, 2008

Remarks by Barack Obama: ‘A More Perfect Union’

Filed under: Annapolis, Barack Obama, Blogroll, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 9:16 pm
http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0319/p25s01-uspo.html
Delivered Tuesday March 18, 2008, at Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters.And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame aboutmemories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know – what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

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December 9, 2007

NOWHERE LEFT TO GO – Forced Displacement of Bedouin

Filed under: Annapolis, Bedouin, Blogroll, Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 8:28 pm

Read NOWHERE LEFT TO GO about Jahalin Bedouin forced displacement: http://www.icahd.org/eng/articles.asp?menu=6&submenu=2&article=411

JERUSALEM DISPOSSESSED PHOTO EXHIBITION

Filed under: Annapolis, Bedouin, Blogroll, Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 8:23 pm

See ActiveStills/ICAHD exhibition JERUSALEM DISPOSSESSED:
http://www.activestills.org/jerusalem/jerusalem.html

See JERUSALEM DISPOSSESSED catalogue: http://www.icahd.org/eng/images/uploaded_admin_content/books/Jerusalem_Dispossessed_Booklet.pdf

November 9, 2007

Coming to terms with the right of return

Filed under: Annapolis, Bedouin, Blogroll, Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 8:57 pm

by Tom Pessah

Damn it, those neighbors!

It’s a hot and humid August in Tel Aviv, and I have no wish to my old room in my parents’ house. During two years of studying in the States I had forgotten just how unpleasant August was here. Crossing the road would be an expedition that would require an extensive shower when I got back.

But I can’t stay, either. There is a horrible clanging going on upstairs, people are drilling into walls and making the whole house shake.

Over breakfast my dad wonders if this isn’t the third time that apartment has been renovated in the past couple of years. What for? Why did they buy the place if they didn’t like the way it looks? Is there nothing we can do?

He supposes not, it is their apartment, after all.

The apartment is, but not the house, my mom explains. We all lease the land on which the house was built.

Who do we lease it from?

From the Jewish National Fund. Everyone does either from them or from the State. Almost no one in Israel owns the land their houses are built on. “And where did the Jewish National Fund get it from?” I ask myself. My parents have moved on to more comfortable topics. But I can guess the answer: I know the houses of a Palestinian village, Sumeil, were just a few blocks south of my parents’ house, until 1948. And while I always liked to tell myself that “that’s where the village was”, in fact that’s just were the houses were. The villagers had land. All the land in the country was divided, none of it was empty. And this land, that my parents’ house is built on, must have belonged to them.

I grew up in Israel thinking I was left-wing. I went to all the right demonstrations against the occupation. The Ministry of Defense is located conveniently in the middle of Tel Aviv, just a few stops away on the bus.

You can just go and demonstrate, and then go out to a café. So we turned out and chanted all the right slogans: “ahat, shtaim, shalosh, arba’, teforak Kiryat Arba’ ” “One, two, three, four, dismantle Kiryat Arba” (one of the most famous settlements, near Hebron/al-Khalil).

Settling on other people’s land is wrong, I thought, so all we need to do is move the settlers back into Israel and then we’ll have peace. And we went on chanting these slogans at the same place, through the first intifada, during the Oslo years, after the shock of Rabin’s murder and the ascent of Netanyahu, until the second intifada. It was around then I met with some students from Nablus. The meeting between Israeli and Palestinian college students was organized by Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salaam, a community that tries to promote coexistence between Jews and Arabs. Unlike other groups, their idea wasn’t to help us find friends, to realize the “Other” wasn’t so bad, to create a shared belief in some kind of vague peace, tame and apolitical. It was quite the opposite: they tried to push us to confront some of the hardest issues, without guaranteeing any agreement would be found.

I had been getting along quite well with the Palestinian students, showing off my well-rehearsed tolerance, distancing myself from settlers, from the other Israelis in the group, from Israelis in general–I thought I was simply too open to be like them. And I understood some spoken Arabic, so I could listen a little to the Palestinians’ stories, about the checkpoints they avoided and the beatings they took just in order to come and meet us.

The organizers asked us to split into groups to discuss some of the biggest issues. I wanted to be on the group discussing the right of return. We Israelis came up with an especially tolerant proposal: we would allow a hundred thousand Palestinians to return! This was much to the left of the Israeli consensus and we felt very generous.

To our surprise, the Palestinians weren’t taken aback by our liberality.

They even seemed offended by our discussing the issue in terms of allowing them to enter our country! But how else could it be discussed, I wondered?

What is their solution? Could they really want to live among us? But how is that possible? Israel is a Jewish state, after all. What would happen to us Jews? Would we become a minority?

Five years have passed since then. I learned a lot, and I was lucky enough to study at UC Berkeley. As a famous Israeli song goes, things that you see from here, you don’t see from there. It seems much simpler to me now:

Palestine/Israel isn’t mine to give; Palestinians have as much of a right to it as I do. The former inhabitants of Sumeil don’t need my big-hearted generosity: they need my recognition of the injustice committed towards them when they were expelled from their homes in 1948. They need me to remind people that most of Israel is built upon land that belonged to Palestinians.

They need me to invite them and their children to come and live with us.

In Berkeley, I live a couple of blocks from some of my closest Palestinian friends. That could happen in Tel Aviv too. Inshallah.

Tom Pessah is a graduate student of Sociology at UC Berkeley.

November 6, 2007

NOWHERE LEFT TO GO

Filed under: Bedouin, Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 12:35 am


                                         

Jahalin Bedouin Refugees – Nowhere Left to Go
New ICAHD Publication – Edited by Angela Godfrey-Goldstein
Sunday, October 28, 2007

Download 50-page booklet (6MB file) at
http://www.icahd.org/eng/articles.asp?menu=6&submenu=2&article=411.

Over the past few months, Jahalin Bedouin have remained under sustained pressure by the Israeli authorities to relocate outside the planned route of the Wall and the area set for the construction of the new E1 colony (settlement). Their forced relocation to land belonging to other Palestinian villages would cause tensions with local communities, constitute forced displacement and would be detrimental to their semi-nomadic way of life. As available land shrinks, Bedouin are faced with nowhere to go.

The case brought by the residents of Abu Dis concerning the route of the Wall near their village, which may also impact the Bedouin communities living nearby, was heard by the Israeli High Court in June, 2007. The Court ruled at the beginning of August that the Defense Minister (Mr. Barak) had 45 days to review the route of the Wall in this area and advise the Court as to whether or not the route of the Wall could and should be changed. Depending on the opinion of Minister Barak, the route of the Wall may be re-routed further away from the village of Abu Dis, which could also allow nearby Jahalin communities (around 10) to remain where they currently reside. If the Minister does not advise to change the route of the Wall, construction of the Wall will go as planned and these Bedouin communities will most certainly be forcibly displaced in the next few months.

Meanwhile, Jahalin Bedouin are seeking ways to improve their living conditions. A number of Bedouin communities living in the area, and in particular near Kedar, have appealed to local and international organizations to support projects that will contribute to improve their living conditions. They have identified the most pressing needs of their communities: water, electricity (generator) and education for their children. Projects should help the Bedouin build sustainable livelihoods. The Jahalin welcome and are happy to host visitors, in the longstanding traditions of ancient Bedouin hospitality.

As the world, and this region specifically, faces increasing pressure on receding water resources and gradual desertification, these indigenous survivors of desert will be sorely needed for their wisdom and advice as to how to survive in extreme desert conditions. We shall miss and value them. When it is too late?

October 7, 2007

Jews for Justice for Palestinians’ open letter to British Foreign Secretary in The Times [click on ad. to read signatories]

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 2:15 pm

Rt Hon David Miliband MP
Foreign Secretary
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles St
London SW1A 2AH, 28th September 2007

Dear David,

In your address to the UN today, we urge you to oppose Israel’s sanctions against the people of Gaza. Amnesty International, Israeli organisations and distinguished Israeli writers have all condemned this move, announced on September 19th, to extend these sanctions.

As British Jews and voters, we call on the UK government to stand against this collective punishment, a direct violation of international law. The Israeli Deputy Prime Minister described the proposal as cutting off “infrastructural oxygen”. In fact, the threat is to the real water and real electricity supplies to the entrapped population of Gaza. Euphemisms cannot disguise the genuine danger to health and lives.

Indiscriminate punishment of Palestinian civilians does not protect the people of Sderot but, as Gush Shalom (the Israeli Peace Bloc) put it, unites all Palestinians “in bitterness and hatred” against Israelis “who will bear the price
eventually.” As you said in your speech to the Labour Party Conference – there may be military victories, but there is no military solution.

The UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee (August 2007) has called the decision not to speak to Hamas “counterproductive”. This week a petition from Israeli writers, including David Grossman, Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua says ‘In the past Israel has negotiated with its worst enemies, and now the correct course of action is to negotiate with Hamas… to prevent further suffering on both sides’. (Jerusalem Post 23.9.2007)

We urge you to heed these words.

Yours sincerely,

September 25, 2007

Disrupting the separation policy

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 11:45 am

By Amira Hass

A woman chatting idly in Ramallah on Sunday said dismissively: “The High Court of Justice’s decision to move the separation fence in Bil’in proves nothing about the effectiveness of the popular Palestinian-Israeli struggle. Israel needs it to portray itself as a democracy.”

Her frustration is understandable. The lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians are disrupted by a fence whose route elsewhere is no less “disproportionate” than it was in Bil’in. After two and a half years of weekly demonstrations by Palestinians, left-wing Israelis and foreign activists – demonstrations that were brutally dispersed, with numerous protesters being injured or arrested – the fence was moved a mere 1.7 kilometers. And the same High Court that moved the fence also legitimized the Jewish neighborhood that had already been built on Bil’in’s private land.

The gap between the huge effort and the meager results is characteristic of the activities of all Israeli groups that work against the occupation. Last Friday morning, the eve of Yom Kippur, Machsom Watch activists had to spend hours making frantic telephone calls and using their connections with high-ranking officials to enable three sick people to traverse the Qalandiyah checkpoint and reach Jerusalem for urgent treatment. Media reports had promised that despite the hermetic closure, humanitarian cases would be allowed through the checkpoints, but by noon, most of those cases had given up and returned home.

In other cases, Machsom Watch’s female volunteers try to alert commanders when soldiers are harassing people passing through the checkpoints. Months of correspondence and requests, reports in Haaretz and monitoring by B’Tselem resulted in two commanders being removed from the Taysir checkpoint. This did not stop a soldier from harassing people at that checkpoint a few months later, nor did it prevent similar abusive conduct at other checkpoints. Needless to say, the checkpoint and roadblock policy continues, despite the reek of apartheid it emits.

But those frustrated by the limited impact of Israeli anti-occupation activity are ignoring two of its salient characteristics. First, by helping to return one dunam of land to one individual, enabling farmers to complete an olive harvest without harassment and attacks by settlers, shortening the waiting time at a checkpoint or releasing a patient or a minor from detention without trial, life is made a bit less difficult for particular individuals at a given moment. This results from the activity of people who, by exploiting their immunity as Jewish Israelis, challenge the occupation bureaucracy.

Moreover, this immediate personal relief is interwoven into a more fundamental, longer-term Israeli-Palestinian struggle against the occupation. Since the 1990s, Israel has endeavored to separate the two peoples. It has restricted opportunities to meet and get to know one another outside the master-serf framework, VIP meetings or luxurious overseas peace showcases from which the term “occupation” is completely absent.

Because of this separation, the Palestinians know only settlers and soldiers – in other words, only those whose conduct and roles in the system justify the Palestinians’ conclusion that it is impossible to reach a just agreement and peace with Israel. This separation also reinforces Israelis’ racist – or at best, patronizing – attitudes toward the Palestinians.

The anarchists, Machsom Watch, Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Physicians for Human Rights and other activist groups – few as their members may be – disrupt the separation policy and its ills. They remind the Palestinians that there are other Israelis, so perhaps there is still hope. And in their immediate environment, they expose Israelis to facts and experiences that make it difficult for them to keep wallowing in their voluntary ignorance and disregarding the dangers that our oppressive regime poses over the Palestinians.

www.haaretz.com/hasen/objects/pages/PrintArticleEn.jhtml?itemNo=906923

The Tide is Turning

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 5:51 am

Opinion/Editorial
The tide is turning
Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, The Electronic Intifada, Sep 24, 2007

Israelis and Palestinians protest in Tel Aviv against Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, 5 August 2006. (Matthew Cassel)

The years 2007 and 2008 are landmark ones for those campaigning against occupation and for the Palestinian right to self-determination. Forty years of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was nonviolently marked around the world in June; next year, peaceful demonstrations will observe the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel during which approximately 700,000 Palestinians were forced from or fled their land — an event that Palestinians call the Nakba, or “catastrophe.”

Next year’s worldwide campaigns will reinforce grassroots initiatives, reaffirm the numerous UN resolutions which reaffirm the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and call for the establishment of civil society networks.

As for Israeli civilians, since 1967, as many as one million have voted with their feet and left Israel, and some say the rate of those refusing to serve in the Israeli army is as high as 50 percent and that 30 percent of Israeli pilots refuse to bomb the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This occupation is unsustainable and Israeli civilians are losing faith in militarism. It has to end, and we must work out viable alternatives for living together peacefully, in full recognition of our mutual rights, not least the fundamental human right to self-determination.

Central issues such as acknowledgment by Israel of responsibility for the refugees must be addressed. Not least for the sake of Israeli “closure” and an end to the exceptional nature of Israel, which prevents it from participating as a normal state in this Parliament of Man, which is the UN.

Regarding Israel’s cozy relationship with the US, which just announced a $30 billion military aid package for Israel, journalist and filmmaker John Pilger recently observed, “No other country on earth enjoys such immunity, allowing it to act without sanction, as Israel. No other country has such a record of lawlessness: not one of the world’s tyrannies comes close. International treaties, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, ratified by Iran, are ignored by Israel. There is nothing like it in UN history.”

In fact, in direct negation of UN recognition of Israeli statehood, Israel has ignored over 60 UN Security Council resolutions.

However, as Pilger also points out, the tide is turning. “The swell of a boycott is growing inexorably, as if an important marker has been passed, reminiscent of the boycotts that led to sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Both Mandela and Desmond Tutu have drawn this parallel; so have South African cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils and other illustrious Jewish members of the liberation struggle.”

In Palestine this year, Kasrils said the situation there is 100 times worse than it was in apartheid South Africa. UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, and (in a parliamentary debate) British Member of Parliament Clare Short, have both said that human rights conditions in the EU trade agreement should be invoked and Israel’s trading preferences suspended. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, John Dugard, speaks of crimes against humanity, as the occupation is characterized by elements of colonialism and apartheid.

After five years of working with diplomats, politicians and aid workers in Israel and Palestine, I see on an individual basis enormous personal support and empathy for the Palestinian cause because the picture of injustice is clear. But we stand at the edge of a dangerous chasm, a widening gulf between realpolitik and policies of peace and democracy.

To compel diplomats or politicians to change policy, we must build grassroots movements like the anti-apartheid movement in the ’80s or civil rights in the ’60s.

In Palestine there are daily home demolitions, arrests, settler violence, the building of the wall on Palestinian land, expropriations, tree uprootings, detentions, closures, checkpoints and military raids. Israeli society is dysfunctional, and Palestinian society powerlessly disenfranchised, so outside help and solidarity are vital. Only this will send the message to Israel and its sponsor the United States that the crimes of occupation are intolerable and must end.

For the sake of both Israel and the Palestinians, we must save Israel from itself. Living in South Africa under apartheid, I saw boycott efforts encourage public awareness, apply pressure and state disapproval for the government’s racist policies. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has said boycotts “will not change positions in a day, but they will send a clear message to the Israeli public that these positions are racist and unacceptable … They would have to choose.”

We must halt the Israeli government’s suicidal policies. This means lobbying those in power (especially in Washington, but also Europe) and insisting they visit Palestine with critical guides to see what’s really going on.

The Israeli government and the neoconservative Bush administration are not acting for peace and it’s up to us as citizens of the world to voice our disapproval. We are fighting a spiritual battle that we shall, insha’allah, eventually win. Together.

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein is Action Advocacy Officer of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, a peace and human rights organization based in Jerusalem.

This commentary is adapted from a speech given by the author at the EU Parliament on 30 August 2007 at a United Nations civil society conference for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

September 23, 2007

Carter Centre Press Release: Prospects Dim for Middle East Peace

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 3:06 pm

Israeli Actions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank:
Prospects Dim for Middle East Peace

21 September 2007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In a statement issued today (see below): The Carter Center deplores the decision taken Wednesday by Israel to declare the Gaza Strip a hostile territory and its threat to cut off provision of essential services such as electricity and fuel to the civilian population. The Center strongly believes that such actions would defy Israel’s obligations toward the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights laws, and urges Israel to rescind this decision.

While The Carter Center recognizes Israel’s right to defend its citizens and condemns the continued indiscriminate firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip, as an occupying power, Israel is expressly prohibited under international law from collectively punishing the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Israel is obligated to “take all the measures in [its] power” to ensure public order and civil life of the Palestinian civilian population. Israeli threats to cut off the supply of electricity and fuel to Gaza contradict these legal obligations and would have devastating humanitarian consequences.

“The people of Gaza have been reduced to conditions of poverty, malnutrition, and imprisonment that should be considered totally unacceptable by the civilized world,” said Carter Center Field Office Director Scott Custer. “The deliberate Israeli policy to reduce the Palestinians to penury does not meet the standards required by international humanitarian and human rights law of Israel as an occupying power.”

The latest crisis in Gaza underscores the escalating costs of failing even to seek a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. A peaceful solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict will only be possible if all Palestinians unite behind a single peace initiative. The Carter Center calls on the two major parties, Fateh and Hamas, to repair the breach that occurred with Hamas’ illegal takeover of the Gaza Strip. At the same time, The Carter Center calls on the international community to support efforts for national reconciliation. The Carter Center believes that the forthcoming international meeting in Washington D.C. ultimately will be successful only if a strong majority of the Palestinian people supports the outcome and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are reunited under a single governmental authority.

Finally, The Carter Center calls for renewed attention to the greatest obstacle to a viable two state solution, namely continued expansion and consolidation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, protected by increasing internal checkpoints and the encroachment of a separation barrier. The infrastructure of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is fast becoming permanent, making a two-state solution and viable independent state in Palestine nearly impossible. As U.S. government aid is needed for Israel to continue the expansion of settlements and related infrastructure projects, it bears a special responsibility for undermining the prospects of lasting peace.

The Carter Center reopened its field office in May 2007 in the Palestinian territories in support of peace for Israel, justice for the Palestinians, and the emergence of a viable, democratic Palestinian state. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter led missions to observe Palestinian elections held in 1996, 2005, and 2006.

The Carter Center long has been committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinian people and the advancement of democracy and human rights in Palestine. The Center maintains a field presence to closely monitor political developments on the ground, publish periodic reports on critical issues of democratic development in the territories, and work with local partners on human rights and democracy activities.

Scott Custer, Carter Center Ramallah field office director, is formerly chief of the International Law Division, at the U.N. Relief and Works Agency Headquarters in Gaza.

September 22, 2007

None Dare Call It Genocide

Filed under: Blogroll, Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Peace, Peace Now, Saudi, Uncategorized — angelajerusalem @ 10:20 pm

by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

How comfy we are all in the United States, as we engage in living-room debates about the US occupation of Iraq, whether “we” are bringing them freedom and whether their freedom is really worth the sacrifice of so many of our men and women. We talk about whether war aims have really been achieved, how to exit gracefully, or whether we need a hyper-surge to finish this whole business once and for all.

But there’s one thing Americans don’t talk about: the lives of Iraqis, or, rather, the deaths of Iraqis. It’s interesting because we live in an age of extreme multiculturalism and global concern. We adore international aid workers, go on mission trips abroad, weep for the plight of those suffering from hunger and disease, volunteer in efforts to bring plumbing to Ecuador, mosquito nets to Rwanda, clean water to Malawi, human rights to Togo, and medicine to Bangladesh.

But when “we” cause the calamity, suddenly there is silence. There is something odd, suspicious, even disloyal about a person who would harp on the deaths of Iraqis since the US invasion in 2003. Maybe a person who would weep for Iraq is really a terrorist sympathizer. After all, most of the deaths resulted from “sectarian violence,” and who can stop crazed Islamic sects from killing each other. Better each other than us, right?

Well, it’s about time that we think about the numbers, even though the US military has decided that body counts are not worth their time. Opinion Research Business, a highly reputable polling firm in the UK, has just completed a detailed and rigorous survey of Iraqis. In the past, the company’s results have been touted by the Bush administration whenever the data looks favorable to the US cause. But their latest report received virtually no attention in the US.

Here is the grisly bottom line: more than one million people have been murdered in Iraq since the US invasion, according to the ORB. Yes, other estimates are lower, but you have to be impressed by what they have found. It seems very credible.

In Baghdad, where the US presence is most pronounced, nearly half of households report having lost a family member to a killing of some sort. Half the deaths are from gunshot wounds, one-fifth from car bombs, and one-tenth from aerial bombs. The total number of dead exceeds the hugely well-publicized Rwandan genocide in 1994.

You are welcome to inspect the detailed data.

Aside from the astonishing detail, what jumps out at me is the number of dead who are neither Sunni nor Shia. It is also striking how the further geographically you move from US troop activity, the more peaceful the area is. Americans think they are bringing freedom to Iraq, but the data indicate that we are only bringing suffering and death.

If you have ever lost a family member, you know that life is never the same again. It causes every manner of religious, social, and marital trauma. It’s bad enough to lose a family member to some disease. But to a cold-blooded killing or a car bomb or an airplane bomb? That instills a sense of fury and motivation to retribution.

So we are speaking of some 1.2 million people who have been killed in this way, and that does not count the numbers that were killed during the invasion itself for the crime of having attempted to oppose invading foreign troops, or the 500,000 children and old people killed by the US-UN anti-civilian sanctions in the 10 previous years.

And let’s not flatter ourselves into thinking that these are nothing but ragheads killing each other for no good reason. Just this past weekend, there is an example in point. Some of the legendary contractors for the State Department were driving through the Sunni neighborhood of Mansour in Baghdad. They were driving their SUVs when witnesses reported an explosion of fire that lasted 20 minutes. The SUVs drove off, leaving at least nine people dead on the road. Why? No one knows. Sure there will be investigations. There have already been apologies. The company in question has had its license to practice occupation revoked by the Iraqi government. For how long, no one knows. But these are merely symbolic gestures. There will be no justice, and no forgetting.

To the extent anyone pays attention to this stuff, they only hear the words of the State Department spokesman: “The bottom line is that the secretary wants to make sure that we do everything we possibly can to avoid the loss of innocent life.”

In light of the one million plus figure, such statements come off as evil jokes. The US has unleashed bloodshed in Iraq that is rarely known even in countries we think of as violent and torn by civil strife. It is amazing to think that this has occurred in what was only recently a liberal and civilized country by the region’s standards. This was a country that had a problem with immigration, particularly among the well-educated and talented classes. They went to Iraq because it was the closest Arab proxy to Western-style society that one could find in the area.

It was the US that turned this country into a killing field. Why won’t we face this? Why won’t we take responsibility? The reason has to do with this mysterious thing called nationalism, which makes an ideological religion of the nation’s wars. We are god-like liberators. They are devil-like terrorists. No amount of data or contrary information seems to make a dent in this irreligious faith. So it is in every country and in all times. Here is the intellectual blindness that war generates.

Such blindness is always inexcusable, but perhaps more understandable in a time when information was severely restricted, when technological limits actually prohibited us from knowing the whole truth at the time. What excuse do we have today? Our blindness is not technological but ideological. We are the good guys, right? Every nation believes that about itself, but freedom is well served by the few who dare to think critically.

An essential postulate of the Western idea, or so we tell ourselves, is the universal and ultimate value of human life. And indeed it is true. No person or group of people is without value – not even those whom our own government chooses to label the enemy.

September 18, 2007

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail] is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, editor of LewRockwell.com, and author of Speaking of Liberty.

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