Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

“A situation that screws up everyone”

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On June 30, 2012, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) will begin its 220th General Assembly.  Among other issues, it will tackle proposals from Church committees to divest from three companies that profit from the Israel’s military occupation of Palestine: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions.

In the light of intense pressure on the Church to not adopt such a policy, including the usual unfounded accusations, eg the divestment call is ‘one-sided and ill-informed’ and ‘anti-Semitic’— yesterday New Profile (an Israeli feminist organization of Jewish males and females working to counter militarism) sent an urgent plea to the Church.

New Profile protest in Tel Aviv, under attack by Israeli police

On the assumption that other organizations will inform the Church amply on the horrific experience of the 45-year occupation on Palestinians, the New Profile letter focuses mostly on the deeply corrosive impact it has on Israelis:

New Profile, an Israeli organization, wishes to express appreciation to PCUSA for contemplating the adoption of a selective divestment policy as a means of bringing peace to Palestinians and Israelis.  We fervently support such an endeavor, and hope that PCUSA will indeed adopt it as a non-violent means of ending Israel’s Occupation of Palestinians and their lands, by divesting from three companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions.

We wish to assure PCUSA that it is no more anti-Semitic to criticize and oppose Israeli government policies than it was anti-American to oppose the Vietnam war.

Indeed, ending the Occupation can only benefit Israelis.  For, the Occupation exacts a price from Israelis as well as from Palestinians.  In addition to loss of life and increased militarism, Israelis have witnessed these past years a steady devaluation of human life, as is evident from the socio-economic sphere and the affliction of post-traumatic distress. It also seems clear that without outside help, Israel’s Occupation of Palestinians and their lands is unlikely to end.

Successive Israeli governments have spent enormous amounts of money on expansion, to the detriment of social benefits for the Israeli population.  While it is true that had there been no Occupation, Israeli governments might not have spent the money on social benefits, the fact that expansion continues apace reveals Israel’s intent to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state and to rid the West Bank of as many Palestinians as possible.

To this end, money is spent on maintaining a large military presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, on erecting the apartheid wall at 4 million dollars a mile, with 400 miles planned (twice the length had it been built on the ‘green line’), constructing 6,000 more units in highly subsidized settlements (this past year alone, some 12,000 new settlers moved into the West Bank, 4,000 more than were evicted from the Gaza Strip).  Much money goes also for constructing super-highways for Israelis-only in the Occupied Territories, as well as for new lookout towers (that can double as sniper towers), and checkpoints galore (mainly separating Palestinian communities).

While all this is taking place at considerable economic cost, poverty in Israel has increased sharply.  Over ¼ of Israelis now live under the poverty line.  A staggering 34.1 percent of them are children.  Last year 1 of every 5 children lived under the poverty line; now 1 of every 3 children goes to bed hungry.  And every 4th elderly person is poor.  No wonder, then, that Israel’s elderly tend to be “suicidal,” as Yedioth Ahronot revealed in a report showing that over 50 percent of suicides in Israel every year are committed by people aged 65 and more.  There are additional worrying trends.  Not only are the few rich getting richer and the numerous poor getting poorer, but also many in the middle class who have jobs are sliding into poverty due to low wages.

One result of the increased poverty is that now 25% of Israelis forego medical care because they cannot afford it.  75% of the poor cannot afford medication.  But of all the sad statistics, one of the more shocking is that 60,000 Holocaust survivors now live in desperate straits.  It is shameful that of all places in the world, in Israel, Holocaust survivors live in dire poverty and misery.

The worsening economic conditions contribute, in turn, to escalation of stress and violence. Thus one of every five elderly Israelis is subject to abuse, mainly by spouses or children.  Additionally, the Israeli police recorded a 36 percent increase in violence among minors in 2004, a 24% increase in violence among them the first months of 2006, and a 55% increase of violence against children these past 10 years.

A direct cost of Occupation and a threat to Israel’s welfare is post-traumatic stress, which can result in addiction to drugs and alcohol, and can also contribute to violence.

A rehabilitation center that opened in 2001 with capacity for 25-30 addicts, soon discovered that most of the problems resulted from experiences addicts had while in the military.  The center, Kfar Izun, then publicized itself, and was shocked to receive 900 requests for help in the single week following its revelation.

A counselor at a rehabilitation center terms the malady  “a ticking bomb.”  Help, he says, is unavailable for many soldiers who have gone “into terrible distress of drugs, beatings, violence, impatience … soldiers who clashed with a civilian population, and when they were discharged understood that they had been wrong.”  Hundreds, he reveals, “are roaming about with the feeling that there is no point to living, and the path to suicide and drugs is very easy. We are afraid that former soldiers will commit criminal acts as a result of their distress.”

One young woman, having succumbed to drugs after her discharge, blames the drug phenomenon on the “sick Israeli society”— a “society of war.”  The soldier who killed “a man or a child” or “entered the home of an Arab family at night, beat a child, a mother and took the father into detention” upon release takes drugs “to try to forget the pictures that are with him all the time since then.” She said that drugs are “an expression of the strong desire of young Israelis to escape from the insanity that has been forced on them.”

Yehuda Shaul, a former conscript, caps it all: “It’s a situation that screws up everyone. … People start out at different points and end up at different points, but everyone goes through this process. No one returns from the territories without it leaving a deep imprint, messing up his head.”

I hope that the above data will help PCUSA realize that every non-violent endeavor to end Israel’s Occupation would be a humane act to Israelis as well as to Palestinians.

Dorothy Naor*,
for New Profile

(*Meet Dorothy Naor and other members of New Profile in Our Way to Fight.) 

New Profile’s policy statement on Selective Divestment:

New Profile Policy on Divestment

“We, a group of feminist women and men, are convinced that we need not live in a soldiers’ state.  Today, Israel is capable of  a determined peace politics.  It need not be a militarized society.  We are convinced that we ourselves, our children, our partners, need not go on being endlessly mobilized, need not go on living as warriors.  We understand that the state of war in Israel is maintained by decisions made by politicians—not by external forces to which we are passively subject.  While taught to believe that the country is faced by threats beyond its control, we now realize that the words “national security” have often masked calculated decisions to choose military action for the achievement of political goals.”  [opening paragraph of the New Profile Charter, www.newprofile.org]

New Profile aims to transform Israel from a highly militaristic society to a civilian society dedicated to equality of gender and ethnicity and firmly based on universal human rights.

One of several characteristics of militarism is the use of force to obtain political objectives.  New Profile deems Israel’s Occupation of the Palestinians to be a use of force to obtain the political objective of creating the ‘greater Israel.’

New Profile opposes the Occupation on three counts:

1.      Its destruction of Palestinian life, society, land, and property.

2.      Its role in maintaining militarism in Israel.

3.      Its erosion of Israel’s socio-economic and moral fabric

We therefore seek non-violent means of ending this catastrophic Occupation.  One such means is using economic sanctions to pressure the government to change its policy.  To this end New Profile welcomes and supports selective divestment aimed at divesting from companies that contribute to the continuation of the Occupation by supplying arms, other equipment, or staff.

We welcome all such endeavors, believing firmly that ending the Occupation is not only to the benefit of the Palestinians but also necessary for the welfare of Israel, its youth, and future generations.  Over 22,000 Israeli soldiers have died in its wars since 1948.  Enough. It is time to beat our swords into ploughshares, to bring security to Israel by giving the Palestinians their freedom and recognizing their absolute right to exist, and to build a future for today’s Israeli youth and generations to come by creating a civilian society whose underpinnings are equality of gender and ethnicity and universal human rights.

Dorothy Naor* also notes:  It is especially important at this point to write, fax, email, phone the Church to encourage it to divest from companies that help maintain the Occupation.  PCUSA contact information is available here.

Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

One thought on ““A situation that screws up everyone”

  1. Israeli Jewish group urges U.S. Presbyterians to adopt #BDS resolution — important to know this — some Jewish Israelis support BDS.


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