Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

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Six ways to stand with the people of Gaza

Gaza City, today.  Photo: The Guardian, UK

1.  Due to the long Israeli siege, Gaza’s medical system was already badly damaged before this latest assault.  Now it has to deal with a wave of traumatic injuries.  Medical Aid for Palestine (Canada) gets vital support to grassroots health-care organizations in Gaza.  Medical Aid for Palestinians (UK) does the same.

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions:

Israel will continue to wage war on the Palestinians until the cost becomes prohibitive.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is an effective way for people of conscience around the world to show solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and hold Israel – and all complicit institutions — accountable for occupation and apartheid.  The BDS movement has already made significant gains, causing economic damage to companies that support Israel’s crimes, persuading artists not to perform in Israel, winning support from major churches, trade unions and social movements, as well as pressuring governments to take action.

So, five more ways to express solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank:

2.  Boycott Israel.  Don’t buy Israeli goods.

Profits from exports from Israel help to fund the Israeli government and its crimes against the Palestinian people.  Refuse to buy Israeli goods and tell retailers that you are doing it.  Persuade friends and family to stop buying any Israeli products too.

Brands to avoid include Ahava, Jaffa oranges, Sabra and Tribe hummus and SodaStream.

3.  Join an active BDS campaign or start a new one.

Initiate action in your institution, union, group, etc., against the companies and organisations that support and profit from Israel’s system of oppression over the Palestinian people.

For example, in the US, campaigners have pressured major pension funds to divest from Caterpillar, a company that provides bulldozers used to destroy Palestinian homes.

Public bodies across the world have been successfully pressured to stop awarding contracts for public services to Veolia, a company that provides infrastructure to illegal Israeli settlements.  Veolia has lost contracts worth more than $14bn following BDS campaigns.

Campaigners recently persuaded a major bank to divest from G4S, a private security firm involved in Israel’s crimes against Palestinian prisoners, including children.

You can find out more about campaigns taking place in your area by contacting your local Palestine solidarity organisation.  There’s a great online database of Palestine solidarity groups here.

4.  Organise a BDS protest action.

Demonstrations, banner drops and flashmobs are great ways to raise awareness of the boycott of Israel.  Some actions target particular products, like the actions against Israeli cosmetics company Ahava, while others take place in supermarkets and remind shoppers not to buy Israeli goods or to target complicit companies.

There’s a useful guide to planning a BDS action here. The guide is written specifically for the Ahava campaign, but it’s full of useful ideas for similar campaigns too.

5. Urge organisations that you are a member of to divest from Israel.

Trade unions, student unions, faith groups and other organisations all over the world have passed BDS-related resolutions calling for divesting from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation.

The US Quakers’ investment entity recently sold its shares in Hewlett Packard and Veolia, two companies supporting and profiting from Israeli violations of international law, after having divested from Caterpillar a few months ago for the same reasons.

Student unions around the world have voted to support divestment and have successfully campaigned to have companies like Sabra Hummus and Eden Springs removed from their campuses.

Trade unions can participate in BDS campaigns and sell any investments they may hold in Israeli companies or raise rank-and-file awareness about Israeli products to boycott.

Ask organisations that you’re a member of to hold a meeting to discuss education about and support for the BDS campaign, and find out if it’s possible to pass a resolution to support BDS when the time is right.

6.  Pressure elected officials to impose a military embargo on Israel.

Military ties with Israel feed and encourage further Israeli violence.  Israel wouldn’t be able to maintain its occupation and apartheid system over the Palestinian people if it wasn’t for the military aid it receives from the US or the military trade it conducts with countries around the world.  Urge your government and elected representatives to support a military embargo on Israel.

Please, stand with the people of Gaza now.  They need us.

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Gaza, now.

Tal el Hawa neighborhood, Gaza city, Nov 16, after Israeli air attack.  Photo: Activestills.org

From The Real News Network, 16 November 2012: UN Holds Urgent Security Council Meeting, US Stands With Israel.

No surprise there.  Of 79 United Nations resolutions the US has killed with its veto power at the Security Council, 42 have been critical of Israel.  The United States remains Israel’s most faithful supporter and most lavish funder, even as the US economy fails the vast majority of its inhabitants.

In Canada, the government and the opposition parties either egg the bully on or remain shamefully silent.  Same in Britain, Australia, France, and so on.

Here too, no surprises.  For the 1% who control state power in the so-called western democracies, Israel’s aggression is comfortably familiar; it seeks to emulate precisely the violent grand theft of the Americas and other continents by European invaders.

Which is to say, Palestinians in Gaza face the most powerful and by far the most aggressive military state in the Middle East, backed by the most powerful and aggressive military state on the planet.

In a compelling eye-witness report, human rights advocate Adie Mormech writes from Gaza today, under Israeli bombardment.  And ends with an urgent plea to the rest of us who are not comfortable with crimes against humanity currently being committed in our name.

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The latest Israeli assault on Gaza is impossible to comprehend if one relies on the mainstream media.  Once again they obscure and distort what’s actually happening on the ground, and why.

On the ground, Gaza, Nov 14, 2012.

By contrast, I trust implicitly reports coming out of Gaza via the well-connected Mondoweiss website, run by American journalists Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz.  Here is a small selection of the most recent:

No safe haven: Civilians under attack in the Gaza Strip.  Sent by a team of international eyewitnesses in Gaza, November 16, 2012.

Day Three of Israeli Attack on Gaza.  Nov 16, 2012.

Two new resources: Timeline of Israeli escalation in Gaza and Israel’s history of breaking ceasefires.  by Adam Horowitz, November 14, 2012.  A close look at the real motives behind Israel’s assaults on Gaza.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and helpless in the face of these crimes, committed with Israel’s unique impunity, don’t count on our governments or the UN to stop the carnage.  They will not.  But there is something that the rest of us can do.  It may seem small, distant, even pointless, but just remember, in the 1980s ending apartheid in South Africa also seemed impossible.  Something we can do:

BDS Movement: Stop a new Israeli massacre in Gaza — boycott Israel now!

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A new approach to Palestinian ‘aid’

A fascinating essay by Nadia Hijab, Alaa Tartir, and Jeremy Wildeman, published last week in Foreign Policy, a prestigious journal based in Washington DC.

Olive harvest, Palestine

Nadia Hijab is the director, Alaa Tartir the program director, and Jeremy Wildeman guest author with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, an informative source.  [MR: Jeremy Wildeman, co-founder of Project Hope in Nablus, is featured in Our Way to Fight: peace-work under siege in Israel-Palestine.]

Their thoughts on Palestinian ‘aid’:

The U.S. State Department recently warned (again) that any move by the Palestine Liberation Organization to enhance the organization’s status at the United Nations would, among other things, put United States aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) at risk.

That day may not be far off.  PA President Mahmoud Abbas plans to ask the UN General Assembly to upgrade Palestine to non-member state status later this month.  But would a U.S. aid cutoff really be such a bad thing?  More voices are questioning international aid to the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, with some even calling for a full boycott of the aid industry.

Palestinians do need international assistance.  However, after decades of failure in assistance programs, it is well past time to devise an alternative aid agenda that goes beyond just helping Palestinians cope with occupation while Israel pulls their land out from under them.  An alternative model that makes aid effective must challenge the status quo and support the quest for freedom, rights, and self-determination.

Before discussing how, it is worth briefly revisiting the problems with international aid.  They are best illustrated by the World Bank’s latest growth report for the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs). The report offers a negative prognosis of the Palestinian economy and, unsurprisingly, it concludes that growth based on foreign aid is unsustainable.

Yet the World Bank’s own policy prescriptions have been a large part of the problem because they heavily influence the way donors design their aid programs.  Two examples:

  • Conventional economic theories are applied to the OPTs and, as a result, some policy recommendations are dangerously unrealistic.  The growth report actually called on the Palestinians to emulate the Asian tigers by “adopting an outward orientation and integrating into world supply chains” and said the PA should strive for a business environment “that is among the best in the world.”  Just how an “authority” that exercises no control over its own land, borders, and natural resources can carry out such export-based private sector growth is not explained.
  • The growth report repeats the dangerous belief that the OPTs’ economy can benefit from deeper integration with the Israeli economy.  The fact is Israel has made sure that such “integration” has been one-sided, allowing it to exploit a captive Palestinian market with international aid paying for the large trade deficit with Israel.

An alternative aid model would focus donors on ways to counter dispossession, keep Palestinians on their land, and challenge Israel’s occupation policies and practices without forfeiting the ability to function in the OPTs.  Here are three things donors can consider: promoting self-reliance in basic foods and reversing the decline of the agricultural sector; supporting cooperatives and local economic enterprises; and assisting sectors such as information technology that could break through the barriers Israel has erected around the Palestinian economy.  Most importantly, they should do no harm.

None of this is impossible.  During the first Intifada, and despite Israeli counter-measures, Palestinians in the OPTs reduced their economic dependence on Israel by promoting local consumption and generating local employment.  The situation is much more complex today given the far greater fragmentation of the territories and illegal Israeli settlement building. Nevertheless, there is still much that can be done.

The first step must be to reverse the decline in the agricultural sector: Its contribution to GDP fell from around 13.3 percent in 1994 to 5.2 percent in 2010.  This was largely due to Israeli colonization practices, particularly in Area C, which constitutes some 62 percent of the West Bank and includes its best land and water resources.  However, it is also due to PA and donor neglect that left the sector seriously under-resourced.  No more than 1 percent of the total annual budget has been allocated to agriculture sector since the PA was formed (around 85 percent of which goes to staff salaries), and agriculture dropped to around 0.74 percent of international total aid by 2006.

Moreover, the sector was steered from key staples to cash crops for export such as flowers, even though Israel controlled access to and from the OPTs thus reducing self-reliance.

Instead, policies should support low-intensity agriculture, using targeted subsidies to enable farmers to stay on their land and reinforce its productivity, which can also help create jobs.  The food produced should be directed primarily to local markets, reducing dependency on food aid and Israeli imports.

Integrated agricultural units can be supported, as Palestinian environment expert George Kurzom suggests.  For example, herbs can serve as fodder in winter, trees can provide food as well as animal feed and fuel, with tools and machinery maintained by local mechanics.  Other possibilities include urban agriculture, aquaponics, and “vertical gardens” that have been piloted among Palestinian refugees in camps in Lebanon and in the OPTs.  Recent youth initiatives to support farmers in their lands and encourage volunteerism, such as Fariq Saned, are inspiring examples.  PA departments can assist by providing access to finance, technical assistance, and institutional memory, among other support.

Secondly, it is important to promote cooperatives and local economic enterprises.  Cooperatives have also been neglected in the OPTs despite their economic potential in agribusiness, small industry, and crafts production.  Cooperatives can help break barriers, overcome geographic isolation, and expand markets — and build social solidarity and self-reliance.  [MR: A spectacular example is the Palestine Fair Trade Association, which provides olive oil and other Palestinian food products to Zatoun, a grassroots fair trade organization in Canada, and counterparts in other countries.  The PFTA and Zatoun are both featured in Our Way to Fight].

Although some aid has been directed to cooperatives, there is insufficient donor understanding that this is an economic enterprise albeit with social responsibility.  Some aid unwittingly weakens cooperatives by dealing with them as charitable grant-making organizations, feeding into a culture of dependency rather than self-reliance among communities.  [MR: For precisely these reasons, the Palestine Fair Trade Association consistently refuses donor aid.]

Rather, investment should be made in building the capacity of both the government’s cooperative department and existing cooperative associations on sound governance, enterprise development, and cooperation principles.  Recent investment in the capacity of women-majority Union of Cooperative Associations for Savings and Credit in the OPTs provide useful lessons.

Indeed, women’s economic activity can be targeted through cooperatives since most women already work in family-based agriculture and in food and handicrafts micro-enterprises.  There is in addition a need to identify new niche markets, especially in services, so as to increase both the scope and diversity of women’s work.

Another avenue for donor assistance to the OPTs is to develop sustainable local enterprise networks (SLENs) that promote local market-based approaches.  Samer Abdelnour has documented experiences in the Sudan as well as in Lebanon and in the OPTs.  Efforts in the OPTs that could be developed among these lines include community permaculture projects in Nablus and Beit Sahour, and the fair trade initiatives Zatoun, Zaytoun and Canaan Fair Trade that reach international markets.  Other interventions could include rooftop farming, small-scale health franchises, and certified midwives.

A third promising area for investment is the Palestinian Information Technology (IT) sector, which may be relatively impervious to strict Israeli limitations on Palestinians’ freedom of movement.  Investment in the sector during the aid induced upswing of 2008 to 2010 buoyed hopes.  Since 2009, $78 million has been invested while IT grew from 0.8 percent to 5 percent of Palestinian GDP from 2008 to 2010 — albeit on modest revenue of $6 million. Still, for the Palestinian economy this is a rare growth area dependent less on foreign aid than it is on private sector investment.

U.S. technology firm CISCO, which invested $15 million in the OPTs, went so far as to say that “Palestine is on the brink of becoming the next high tech global hotspot.”  In pointing to Palestinian strengths in education and English-language skills, Google’s Gisel Kordestani says they could help “build something for the Arab world.”

However, even the IT sector is held hostage to the occupation.  For example, Israel impeded the upgrade of Palestinian communications hardware necessary for an IT sector to flourish and does not provide frequencies for 3G services putting them at a great competitive disadvantage.  Moreover, there is the danger that Israeli companies will reap the lion’s share of the rewards, reinforcing unjust hierarchies of control that make growth impossible under occupation.  A warning sign is that Israel itself is soliciting European donors for this sector.

Finally, there is the crucial issue of doing no harm.  Some of the same donors who fund Palestinian development also fund PA security collaboration with Israel and projects aimed at “normalizing” the occupation. They are now being challenged by the youth movement as well as by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.  Some voices are calling on Palestinians to decline aid from nations that directly support Israeli military activities.

An alternative aid agenda would need political protection by donor agencies and their governments because it would pose a direct challenge to Israel’s colonial enterprise.

Further, an alternative model encompassing the kinds of policies and programs described above would have to be linked to a political process that secures Palestinian rights under international law.  Otherwise donors are simply soothing the pain while Israel continues to colonize and dispossess the Palestinian people.


I will not be fuel to the fire of your war

At age 18, Omar Saad, a young Druze Palestinian musician from the Galilee village of al-Mughar received the usual summons to enlist in the Israeli army.  Recent studies show that if given the choice, two thirds of Druze youth would not enlist.  But they do not have a choice.  Since 1956, enlistment in the Israeli military has been compulsory for Druze citizens of Israel.

Omar Saad

The Druze are a monotheistic religious community which emerged during the 11th century.  They live primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine (now Israel), and Jordan.

Soon after the 1948 war, the newly created state of Israel instituted a divide and conquer policy to separate the Druze from other Palestinian Israelis.  This included providing the Druze with greater financial and political support than other Palestinians, registering them as a separate ethno-religious group (“Druze”, not “Arab”) in official ID documents, and creating a separate education system for them.  As intended, this policy led to increasing Israelization of the Druze, and to reinforcing the idea that in the Middle East conflict, the Druze and the Jews share common interests as opposed to Palestinians and Arabs.  As a result, in 1956 the Druze leadership accepted conscription (it is not applied to other Palestinians).  However, from the beginning there has also been active resistance to forced conscription.

Omar Saad is one of a growing number of Druze youth who refuse to serve in the Israeli military.  He explains his reasons in this letter (translated from Arabic) to the Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister:

I the undersigned, Omar Zahr Eldin Mohammad Saad from the village of Mughar – Galilee, have received a notice to appear in the military recruitment offices on 31.10.2012 to conduct tests according to the conscription law imposed on the Druze community.  I would like to make the following points:

I refuse to appear for tests, because I oppose the law of conscription imposed on my Druze community.  I refuse because I am a man of peace and I hate all forms of violence, and the military institution represents for me the peak of physical and psychological violence.

Since I received the notice to appear for tests, my life has changed.  I became more nervous, my thoughts were distracted, I remembered thousands of cruel images, and I couldn’t imagine myself wearing military uniform and participating in the suppression of my Palestinian people or fighting my Arab brothers.

I oppose the recruitment to the Israeli military and any other military for conscience and nationalistic reasons.  I hate the injustice and oppose the occupation; I hate intolerance and restriction of freedoms.  I hate those who detain children, the elderly and women.

I am a musician, I play the Viola.  I have played in many places, I have musician friends from Ramallah, Jericho, Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, Jenin, Shfa’amr, Eilabun, Rome, Athens, Amman, Beirut, Damascus, Oslo.  We all play for freedom, humanity and peace; our weapon is the music and we shall not have any other weapon.

I am from a community that is unjustly treated by an unjust law.  How can we fight our relatives in Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon?  How can I hold arms against my brothers and people in Palestine?  How can I be a soldier standing at Qalandia checkpoint or any other checkpoint, after I experienced the injustices at these checkpoints?

How can I prevent someone from Ramallah to visit his city, Jerusalem?  How can I guard the apartheid wall?  How can I be a jailer to my own people while I know that the majority of prisoners are freedom prisoners and seekers of rights and freedom?

I play for joy, for freedom, for a just peace based on halting settlements, the end of the occupation in Palestine, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem its capital, the release of all prisoners in prisons and the return of displaced refugees to their homes.

Many of the youth from my community have done the compulsory service in the army, what have we received?  Discrimination in all areas, our villages are the poorest, our lands were confiscated, there are no master plans, and no industrial zones.  Percentages of university graduates in our villages of the lowest in the region, the unemployment rates in our villages are the highest.  This mandatory law has kept us away from our Arab connection.

This year, I will finish high school, and I seek to complete my university education.  I’m sure you will try to make me abandon my human ambition, but I announce it loudly:

I, Omar Zahr Eldin Mohammad Saad, will not be the fuel to the fire of your war, and will not be a soldier in your army.

Omar Saad

[MR:  Druze men who refuse military service face severe punishment, and serve longer prison terms than other non-Druze refusers.  Stay tuned.]