Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

June 24, 2010


Yesterday, I attended an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that showcased the documentary “Budrus.

Budrus is a small, relatively unknown Palestinian village located near Ramallah with a population of about 1,500.  The documentary tells the story of the community’s struggle with the state of Israel in 2003 against plans to build part of the separation barrier through the village.  The proposed plan would have surrounded the village and confiscated 40% of the land.

The documentary follows a local leader, Ayed Morrar, who united the community to try and block the plans through nonviolent means.  He brought together an unlikely group, comprising of members of Hamas and Fatah as well as Palestinians, Israelis, men, and women.

Perhaps most crucial was the role of women.  Morrar was unable to mobilize the community until his 15-year-old daughter Iltezam brought women to the movement.  The women would stand in front of bulldozers or lie in front of olive trees, and IDF soldiers did not know  how to deal with them.  The documentary actually shows some soldiers beating women.  As a result, a woman IDF soldier was called in to handle them.

Israelis played a crucial role in the nonviolent movement as well.  Iltezam states how she did not think she would ever have an Israeli friend before; she never knew any, only IDF soldiers.  Morrar, who was at the event yesterday, commented on how through this event, he was able to see the good side of Israelis. He was able to see and meet Israeli that want peace and who want to raise their children in peace based on justice, not peace based on what Morrar calls the relationship between the slave and master.  Israelis are very important in the nonviolent movement, as they give credence to the Palestinian struggle by questioning the actions of their own state.

Also unlikely was the cooperation of Fatah and Hamas members.  Morrar recounted how politics were temporarily put aside, as both parties, even if they differed ideologically, desired the same results.  Politics is indeed an important issue in the struggle for nonviolent protest.  The pockets of resistance in villages such as Budrus do not have any national leadership yet, and the role of the PA in the nonviolent movement is still questionable.

Though the movie documents the struggle of just one village, its message offers hope for what is possible: eventual freedom.  The producers of the film, Just Vision, are trying to spread this message.  Just Vision is currently on a six month promotion tour through the U.S.  For Screenings of “Budrus” in your area, click here.

Spoiler Alert:

In the end, the villagers of Budrus, after 10 months of nonviolent protest, forced the IDF to move the separation barrier out of the village.  They saved 95% of the land, and the barrier was built almost entirely on the Green Line.  Some parts even went into the No Man’s Land area.  However Israel will not acknowledge the efforts of the Budrus villagers.  The official response from the government is that the barrier was not moved because of the villagers’ efforts, but for other reasons.


June 16, 2010

Muslim Student Union banned at California University after students heckle Israeli Ambassador

Filed under: Activism,American attitudes,Discourse in America — sabihankhan @ 11:30 am

In February of this year, eleven University of California-Irvine students (all members of the Muslim Student Union) were arrested for creating a disturbance at an event in which Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was speaking. In response to this incident, the University has decided to ban the Muslim Student Union for one full year, beginning Sept. 1. UCI MSU has since appealed the decision and is awaiting the results of that appeal.

This action is not only destructive to the UCI Muslim community, but the the college activist community as a whole. The “Irvine 11,” as they’ve been referred to, were  exercising their freedom of speech at a public event on a public school campus. Yes, what they did may not have been pleasant or polite, but it was their right. And when they were deemed to be too “disorderly,” they were removed from the building–and the Ambassador was able to finish his speech–as was his right.

Detractors point to the fact that this disturbance was planned as evidence for the MSU ban. “Detractors” and “Reserves” were identified within the group who were willing to be escorted out or arrested, if it came to that. This is not some sort of diabolical MSU plot but instead pretty standard fare for a well-planned protest on a university campus. At UCLA earlier this year, for example, students protesting tuition hikes followed an almost identical procedure in dealing with campus police and administration during a well-planned and meticulously executed sit-in on campus.  Planning their protest is not grounds for suspension. It’s just good planning and it shows that the MSU students did NOT want things to get out of control or turn violent in any way.

Sadly this kind of gross overreaction is typical in the US. Similar to the Helen Thomas incident, conservative and mainstream Americans seem to have a zero-tolerance policy where pro-Palestinian sentiments are concerned.



June 14, 2010

Investigation into Gaza Raid

Israel has rejected UN demands for an external probe of the Gaza raid, and instead has announced that it is to administer an internal investigation.  Israel, trying to somewhat appease the international community, has added “two foreign observers” to the commission.  The observers include Irish Nobel Prize laureate David Trimble, and Canada’s former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces Ken Watkin.  David Trimble, one of the “foreign observers,” recently joined a Friends of Israel group.  If Israel is to include outsiders in the internal probe, it should at least let them be chosen by an external party.  The “observers” should also have an active participating role; simply observing the commission and not offering their input seems futile.  The structure of the commission is inhibiting in other ways as well.  The commission must use summaries of the events, as soldiers cannot be directly questioned.  It can ask for more information if not satisfied, though there is no guarantee they will receive more information (BBC).

The purposes of the commission are to: examine the “security circumstances” of the naval blockade on Gaza and whether this conforms to international law, decide if the actions of May 31st, conform to the principles of international law, and consider the actions of those who organized and took part in the flotilla “and their identities” (BBC).  The last requirement, not surprisingly, shifts the focus away from Israel and tries to make them the victims.  This culture of victimization and no sense of accountability will no doubt result in another travesty of justice. (more…)

June 7, 2010

Leaders Around the World Focus their Attention on Israel

Several days after Israeli commandos raided an aid ship headed for Gaza, heads of state around the world are focusing their attention towards investigating the events of May 31 and working towards ending the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been very vocal in condemning Israeli actions after the death of several Turkish citizens, has made a statement calling for the formation of an international investigation. According to Erdogan, the acceptance of such an investigation would be the only way to better Israeli-Turkish relations. He went on to say that if Israel refused an international investigation that, “it means that they are hiding some facts.” In addition, Prime Minister Erdogan has been reported to be considering a trip to Gaza aboard a Turkish Naval vessel. While this has caused some in Israel to threaten violence at another attempt to breach the blockade, the official tone is much more moderate and IDF leaders have made statements essentially telling their colleagues to calm down. (more…)

June 3, 2010

Aftermath of the Gaza flotilla mission

Activists are returning to their respective countries and funerals are underway for the nine slain activists in Turkey, one of whom was a 19-year-old dual U.S. citizen.  However, the atmosphere of the international community continues to exhibit volatility.

More accounts of the events are pouring in as the activists return. Following the attack, Israel had created an information blackout, barring the captured activists from speaking to media in Israel, but as they return home their stories are emerging.  Bulent Yildrim, the head of the Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), said: “I took off my shirt and waved it, as a white flag. We thought they would stop after seeing the white flag, but they continued killing people.”  Norman Paech, a former German politician accounts: “The soldiers were all masked, carrying big guns and were extremely brutal.”  Haneen Zoubi, an Arab-Israeli MP claims Israeli vessels fired on her ship a few minutes before soldiers descended from helicopters.  You can also hear an account of the events from former ambassador and former CNI board member Edward Peck, here. (more…)

June 1, 2010

Update on the Gaza Flotilla

Just a few minutes ago an interview with former CNI board member and frequent host of our radio show “CNI Jerusalem Calling”, Ambassador Edward Peck, was released by ABC News, giving an insider’s account of what actually occurred between the flotilla and the Israeli navy. In the interview, Ambassador Peck recounts his experience and deportation. He mentions that he and the other people captured were kept in isolation and knew very little about what was going on. He also mentions that another US citizen, Paul Larudee, was injured and remains in an Israeli hospital.

In addition, more countries have stepped forward to condemn the Israeli actions. The EU and Russia issued a joint statement earlier today condemning Israel’s actions and use of force, even going so far as to call for an end to the blockade on Gaza. Shortly after, France joined them in calling for the release of the civilian activists being held.

Even Hamas and Fatah seem united in condemning the attacks and urging the international community to open the borders into Gaza. Today, the PA’s Interior Ministry announced that the Rafah crossing has been opened and restrictions lifted. And Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, released a statement arguing that this attack could help unify Palestinians, stating

“Israel’s crime today is an opportunity for Palestinian unity on the right national platform. It is also an opportunity for the Arab world to re-take the initiative today and to take a strong position against the Israeli bullying and to open the Rafah crossing and to end the siege once and for all.”

Could this attack provide the catalyst for re-opening negotiations between Hamas and the PA? And could it possibly push the international community to get more involved in helping the Gazans and permanently lifting the blockade?

The Gaza Flotilla

The international community is in a furor after yesterday’s events on the Gaza flotilla that left at least 9 activists dead by the hands of the IDF.  Major protests were sparked around the world, from Paris to Istanbul, against the actions of Israel.  Strong condemnation was elicited from the UN, though the U.S. had it watered down a bit, Turkish PM Erdogan, who called the raid a “massacre,” the EU, and many other nations.  It is clear that most of the world is united such condemnation of Israel, and the state is facing further isolation than ever before.

It is difficult to fathom what went wrong on this humanitarian mission, and the UN has called for an impartial inquiry into the raid.  Naturally, there are two differing narratives.  The Free Gaza flotilla left Cyprus with the intention of trying to open up three year blockade on Gaza by delivering  10,000 tons of aid.  Israel intercepted the flotilla 40 miles away from the Gaza coast, though its formal blockade of Gaza only extends 25 miles off the coast.  When the flotilla said its destination was Gaza and would not stop, Israeli forces proceeded to board the ships.  Under the UN Charter on the Law of the Sea, a vessel can only be boarded in international waters if it is suspected to be transporting weapons or weapons of mass destruction.  Seaborne special forces, which are trained for combat and not crowd control, proceeded to board. (more…)

May 27, 2010

The Gaza Blockade

Israel claims the borders of Gaza are closed in order to block out violent forces and ensure protection of Israeli citizens.  Why, then, does a Turkish-led convoy of international pro-Palestinian activists and humanitarian supply intimidate Israel?

Israel has said it would block the 9 fleet ship, which is carrying over 20 million Euros worth of supplies, and 700 activists.  If allowed, the supplies would be the largest amount given to the Palestinian territories.

The convoy is spearheaded by the Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) of Istanbul, and the fleet includes ships from Britain, Greece, Algeria, Kuwait, Malaysia and Ireland. The fact that the parties are international and non-political in their advocacy of human rights shows how paranoid Israel is through its decision to block the IHH. (more…)

March 19, 2010

Corries Seeking Israeli Military Accountability and Spreading their Message

The Corrie family recently arrived in Haifa on Wednesday, March 10th for their civil suit against the Israeli government for the death of their daughter, Rachel Corrie. Rachel, a member of the International Solidarity Movement, was killed in Gaza in 2003 by an Israeli army bulldozer while trying to protect Palestinian civilians. Witnesses claim that the driver should have clearly seen her atop of the mound of dirt but continued forward and ran her over while she was fleeing. The Israeli government denies responsibility by declaring the incident “a military action in the course of war” and accused Rachel of  “illegal, irresponsible and dangerous behavior.”

Ever since, the family has been devoted to seeking a proper investigation and justice. With guidance from the U.S. government and support of over 70 congressmen, the current court claim against the State of Israel and the Israeli Defense Ministry is currently playing out. The Corries are represented by Hussein Abu Hussein, an experienced human rights activist in Israel. According to The National, Mr. Corrie said, “The verdict is the ability to get some sort of accountability [and] responsibility. It’s the only way to do it.” One challenge in the courtroom on Wednesday was the quality of translation to Hebrew, which was of concern for the Corries.

Whatever the outcome of the case, the Corries are succeeding in their goal to raise awareness. By using the case as a platform, the Corries hope to bring to light abuses by the Israelis in the Palestinian Territories and a lack of legal fairness and Israeli accountability.

February 11, 2010

“When there is no coverage, the first victim is the truth…”

Filed under: Activism,Global concerns,Humanitarian challenges,West Bank — colbyconnelly @ 1:47 pm

Those were the recent words of Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store, in response to disparaging Israeli media coverage of his country and its policies towards Israel.  During Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s most recent assault on the Gaza Strip, to which Minister Store was referring, international media was denied access and the ability to disseminate independent information on an event of great importance. Minister Store’s evaluation of this predicament is correct. As demonstrated by the reactions to the Goldstone report, much of what took place in Gaza is still disputed between Israel, Gazans themselves, and the international community.

Yet the West Bank and East Jerusalem are in danger of facing their own kind of blockade, and the international press is largely ignoring the story. Israel has ceased to issue “B1” work visas to employees of international non governmental organizations (INGOs) operating not in Gaza, but in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (more…)

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