Getting on Board with Peace in Israel

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

An Israeli American explains why she will be among many boat passengers trying to break through Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

By Hagit Borer

Later this month an American ship, the Audacity of Hope, will leave Greece on a journey to the Gaza Strip to attempt to break Israel’s blockade. It will join an expected nine other ships flying numerous flags and carrying hundreds of passengers from around the world. I will be one of those passengers.

I am an Israeli Jewish American. I was born in Israel, and I grew up in a very different Jerusalem from the one today. The Jerusalem of my childhood was a smallish city of white-stone neighborhoods nestled in the elbows of hills. Near the center, next to the central post office, the road swerved sharply to the left because straight ahead stood a big wall, and on the other side of it was “them.”

And then, on June 9, 1967, the wall came down. Elsewhere, Israeli troops were still fighting what came to be known as the Six-Day War, but on June 9, as a small crowd stood and watched, demolition crews brought down the barrier wall, and after it, all other buildings that had stood between my Jerusalem and the walls of the Old City, their Jerusalem. A few weeks later a wide road would lead from my Jerusalem to theirs, bearing the victors’ name: Paratroopers Way.

A soldier helped me sneak into the Old City. Snipers were still at large and the city was closed to Israeli civilians. By the Western Wall, a myth to me until then, the Israeli army was already evicting Palestinian residents in the dead of night and demolishing all houses within 1,000 feet. Eventually, the area would turn into the huge open paved space it is today, a place where only last month, on Jerusalem Day, masses of Israeli youths chanted “Muhammad is dead” and “May your villages burn.”

It is a different Jerusalem now. It is not their Jerusalem, for it has been taken from them. Every day the Palestinians of Jerusalem are further strangled by more incursions, by more “housing developments” to cut them off from other Palestinians. In Sheik Jarrah, a neighborhood built by Jordan in the 1950s to house refugees, Palestinian families recently have been evicted from their homes at gunpoint based on court-sanctioned documents purporting to show Jewish land ownership in the area dating back some 100 years. But no Palestinian proof of ownership within West Jerusalem has ever prevailed in Israeli courts. Talbieh, Katamon, Baca, until 1948 affluent Palestinian neighborhoods, are today almost exclusively Jewish, with no legal recourse for the Palestinians who recently raised families and lived their lives there.

In his speech on Jerusalem Day, Yitzhak Pindrus, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, assured a cheering crowd of the ongoing commitment to expanding the Jewish neighborhood of Shimon Hatzadik, as Sheik Jarrah has been renamed.

This is not my Jerusalem. The tens of thousands of jeering youths that swarmed through its streets on Jerusalem Day have taken the city from me as well. That they speak my native tongue is almost impossible for me to believe, for there is nothing about them or about the society that gave birth to them that I recognize.

Did we know in 1967, in 1948, that it would come to this? Some did. Some knew even then that a society built on conquest and dispossession would have to dehumanize the conquered in order to continue to dispossess and oppress them. A 1948 letter to the New York Times signed by Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, among others, foretells much of the future. Martin Buber did not spare David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, his perspective on the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948-49.

But too many others, including members of the U.S. Congress who recently cheered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are determined to not hold the Israeli government responsible or the Israeli-Jewish society culpable.

Let us note that some Israeli Jews do stand up and protest. There are soldiers who refuse to serve, journalists who highlight injustice, and human rights organizations, activist groups, information centers. In a sense, all of us seeking justice have been on a virtual boat to Gaza all these decades. We have been trying to break through the Israeli blockade, in its many incarnations. We wish to say to the Palestinians that, yes, there are people in Israel who know that any viable future for the Middle East must be based on a just peace — not the forced imposition spelled out by Netanyahu to Congress — or else we are all doomed. We want it known that the soldier is not the only face of Israeli Jews. There are those who say to the government of Israel, “You do not represent us.” We say to the people of the United States in general and to American Jews in particular that yes, you do have an alternative. You can support peace. A true peace.

Hagit Borer moved from Israel to the United States to study in 1977. She became an American citizen in 1992 and is currently a professor of linguistics at USC.

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Life in Gaza… and the Peace Process

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

New York City–August 12th–It is hard for the Muslim to realize that Jews are not the enemy for the atrocities within our mutual Holy Land, rather the perverted doctrine of Zionism is the culprit.

I was fortunate to be on a conference call with Mitchell Plitnick, the Director of the U.S. Office of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.  This independent Israeli Information Center documents abuses under their law, and has been able to make a difference legally and in the sight of public opinion.

This call was sponsored by Churches for Middle East Peace to examine the conditions on the ground especially in Gaza and how it impacts the larger peace prospects.

Mitchell Plitnick, the Director of the American Office of B’Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories–is a highly respected analyst.  He was born into an Orthodox Jewish family here in New York, and was educated in a Yeshiva (much like an Islamic Madrassa).   Strangely, he had grown up in an extremist Jewish environment, and during his earlier career supported the Settler Movement until he began to question the status quo.
Plitnick’s B’Tselem attempts to guarantee rights within the Occupied Teritories. 

Yet Gaza itself, which is no longer under law “an Occupied Territory” although Israel still holds responsibility for it under International law due to its brutal blockade — has not changed since the War.  Historically, the Strip has been a dependent district for centuries – Turks, Egyptians, British Israelis et al.  At the moment it is legally beholden to Tel Aviv for supplies which responsibility the IDF (Israel Defense Force) has been ignoring.

There has been no post-War reconstruction of Gaza City and its hinterlands due to the blockade.  Besides, little food or medicine is permitted by the Egyptian and Israeli Commands.

This blockade cannot be justified for Israeli security.  “Gazan human rights cannot be bargained away for Israeli security!” The conditions are desperate!  It is in Israel not Hamas’ hands while the United States has not moved forward along the lines of our new Executive‘s rhetoric.  The situation in Gaza has remained static since Hamas’ 2006 election.  Israel’s raison d’être for the Blockade was to force the Palestinian Arabs to suffer and to overthrow Hamas.  Well, “Collective punishment is illegal!”  Plitnick, further, stated that “The condition on the ground can’t be argued morally or legally.  The International community should add the suffering of the people” into the equation!

On the other side of the struggle, “Most [Israelis] thought Operation Cast Lead [the Gaza War] was not a success… [for its] objectives were not met.”  Most of the post-conflict coverage center on how the War was conducted.  Gaza’s economy has been decimated by the Operation.  The anger in Gaza, of course, is not against their government, but the Jews and Egyptians.  There is a good chance that Hamas could carry the upcoming elections, too, on the West Bank.

The Egyptians are, further, fearful of the Hamas government because of their close relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the second largest party in Cairo’s Parliament.  Furthermore, Alexandria does not wish to see refugees overflowing from the Rafah boundaries where there was a revolt of a sub-sect two weeks ago who wished to spread an even more stringent form of Islam over the whole of Palestine than the Islamist Hamas.  Although, at the same time, Egyptian businessmen feel they may be able to wrench the wretched electrical blockage away from the Israelis and to supply the Gazans to Egypt’s economic advantage. 

WHO (the World Health Organization) et al. has declared that medical supplies are grossly inadequate.  The Israeli Branch of Physicians for Human Rights has been able to provide the bulk of medical relief in Gaza itself and, also, to much of the Occupied Territories.  

To a question, Mr. Plitnick replied that Hamas would have a hard time to deny elections now although their relations are still confrontational with Fatah.  Hamas is in firm control of their miniscule republic although the human rights situation is less than optimal (human rights can only arise and thrive in situations where there is political stability with no outside threat bearing down on the “commonwealth”).  Yet their citizens overwhelmingly support their administration.  Still, on the other hand, Gaza City is desperately attempting to discover an open door to the Obama Presidency.

The issue of the Israeli Cabinent’s demand for the one missing Israeli soldier is a question of one to thousands of Palestinian prisoners.  The Palestinians on the West Bank are desirous for change, too, while back in Gaza, none of President Obama’s promises have come to fruition.  In both areas, there has only been the ebb and flow of violence:  In Occupation this is a constant! 

Plitinck acknowledged that Iran was a major International supplier to Hamas for the Farsis own propagandistic purposes –  to demonstrate their unwavering support of Palestine to the Islamic world, but Hamas itself is not an extension of Tehran’s foreign policy agenda.  If Persia and Gaza’s ties were severed, the modern Philistines could and would find alternative aid and support.  The regime in Gaza City is a Palestinian National Movement!

Speaking on the politics of his own country, Mitchell Plitnick stated that the sectarian (Foreign Minister) Lieberman, who is now under investigation for corruption, is one of the worst disasters to overtake his nation’s body politic.  Although our human rights NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Director stated that he (Lieberman) was not listened to within the Cabinet, he represented a severe tilt towards the right in Tel Aviv, and that is why U.S. pressure must be applied to the government there.  American Jews are much more liberal than Israeli officialdom as a whole, he argued; and, thus must let their voices be heard in American-Israeli debates while taking into account Israel’s legitimate security concerns.  (One of the problems in Israel’s Commonweal is that they over accentuate their security requirements over what is reasonable.) 

For instance, building materials should be permitted into Gaza; so, the Strip can be reconstructed!  

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McKinney Released, Returning to United States

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Rhonda Cook, Larry Hartstein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s (D-G-11th and 4th) mom said she’s learned that her daughter is on the way home.

Cynthia_McKinney_250_JPG80 Leola McKinney said a friend who contacted the U.S. Embassy in Israel reported that the former congresswoman was released from Israeli custody and taken to Ben Gurion International Airport.

“We finally got word that she was released,” Leola McKinney said late Sunday afternoon. “We don’t know what time she is supposed to fly out. All we know is that they took her to the airport.

“I would be more relieved when I know she’s on the flight,” Leola McKinney added. “But I am relieved that she’s away from there.”

McKinney had been in custody since Tuesday, when she and 20 others were swept up by the Israeli Navy while allegedly trying to sail through a navy blockade. The group says it was attempting to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

McKinney and the rest of her group could have been released soon after they were taken into custody but they refused to sign a document admitting they violated Israel’s blockade, according to McKinney’s parents. The group was due to appear in an Israeli court Sunday.

Leola McKinney said she had no information about the court hearing.

Leola McKinney said she had not spoken with her daughter since shortly after she was taken into custody.

Cynthia McKinney and other members of the “Free Gaza Movement ” left Cyprus Tuesday on the Greek-registered ship Arion.

Their ship was stopped when they tried to pass through the Israeli Navy’s security blockade at Ashdod. The group was taken into custody and their ship was seized. Israel officials promised to deliver by ground all of the humanitarian supplies that were on the boat.

Family, friends and supporters say Cynthia McKinney believed she was in international waters and was free to pass.

“The Israelis hijacked us because we wanted to give crayons to the children of Gaza,” Cynthia McKinney said in a recorded statement delivered via telephone and posted on the internet site YouTube [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkPvzSZRuDo].

The office of the Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta said in a statement released Friday, “According to Israeli law Ms. McKinney and her fellow crew members were suggested to sign a form acknowledging their deportation… Since Ms. McKinney has refused to do so, she is expected to appear before an Israeli judge on Sunday, July 5, and afterwards be returned home as soon as possible.”

Civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph Lowery, head of the Atlanta-based Coalition for the People’s Agenda, said he and others have spoken by phone with the Consulate General of Israel.

“Whatever happened, there was no harm done,” Lowery said. “She was not carrying munitions, but medicine. We hope Israel will show compassion and release her and let her go on to deliver the much-needed medicine to the Gaza Strip. … If she were carrying guns, that would be a different thing. [But] she was carrying humanitarian aid.”

Israeli officials blame McKinney and her group for the controversy, saying they were looking for confrontation to attract publicity. The officials note that Palestinian Authority and the rest of the international community had agreed to the off-shore blockade to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, which is classified by the U.S. and European Union as a terrorist organization.

Leola McKinney said the trip would have received no “publicity if they had been allowed to deliver supplies to Gaza. They [Israel] made an issue out of it by taking the boat and escorting them into Israel.”

Billy McKinney, Cynthia McKinney’s father and a former state legislator, said his daughter was only trying to show “the devastation in Gaza… Anybody who has a humanitarian spirit would not want to see those people live in those conditions.”

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