By Marivel Guzman
Sacramento, Calif. On September 29, 2016, Dr Cornel West at Press Conference at Sacramento State University.
I was aware of Dr. West’s role in advising the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, particularly on the Palestine Issue. For over 40 years, Dr. West has been a vocal advocate and supporter of the Palestinian people in their struggle against the Zionist occupation of their nation.
Knowing Dr. West’s position on this important issue-of-the-day, I was intrigued by his deep concern about the plight of the Palestinian people and the need for people in this country to gain an objective and historical understanding of the roots of the current plight of Palestinians.
In my familiarity with Dr. West’s books, he has almost maintained a very progressive stance by tying their oppression to foreign occupation of their country. Therefore, I very eager to hear more about his views when I attended his lecture and press conference at Sacramento State University.
Knowing that the mainstream media would not only shy away, but ignore the conflict in the Middle East, particularly in regards to the Palestinian issue, I made it a point to ask Dr. West about his role in advising the Sander’s campaign regarding the rights of Palestinian that live under Israel’s occupation. His response made it clear that he remained firm in his conviction that the people of this country must understand and support the Palestinian struggle to regain statehood.
When I asked why the Democratic Party after the primaries refused to acknowledge the Palestinian issue, his reply was unequivocally clear,
“if they didn’t address it, they were just wrong, this was cowardly and too indifferent, too unwilling to engage the level of suffering and misery and injustice of precious Palestinians brothers and sisters.”
Dr. West went on to explain that the position of the Democratic Party has been “tied too long to AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee).” He went on to explain that “AIPAC is not representative of Jewish-Americans, it represents a slice of centrist and conservative Jewish-Americans.” He went on to explain that the AIPAC is “very powerful, like the NRA, and any other powerful lobby that is shaping U.S. policy … and for too long the kind of policies that the AIPAC promotes has not recognized the humanity (of the Palestinians) and the evil of Israeli occupation …. I am against foreign domination, I think what we are about is that every human being has some security from domination.”
The topic went on to highlight Assembly Bill 2844 which Governor Brown recently signed into law opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) bill.
There is a broad campaign both nationally and internationally to boycott, divest and impose sanctions upon companies that financially benefit from the Israeli seizure of Palestinian lands and resources.
This campaign included a boycott of those products from the occupied territories. The intent of Governor Browns’ bill is to protect the State of Israel by silencing and suppressing the groundswell support of an every- growing number of people in this country and worldwide of the Palestinian people. Therefore, I asked Dr. West for his opinion of Assembly Bill 2844 and whether he thought groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) would challenge it on the basis of a denial of free speech. He responded that he felt that there would be legal challenges to this bill because he considers himself a libertarian when it comes to freedom of speech.
He went on to state that “there’s no doubt that there are many brothers and sisters in BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) who are being targeted and demonized because they have a critique of not just Israeli occupation, they have a critique of the Israeli state that is perceived by very powerful elite at the top as being anti-Semitic …” “It is very difficult to have that conversation in the United States and so those of us who are part of the BDS we get demonized, we get viewed as if we are anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic and we just have to make it clear that we have to rob that kind of shallow characterization of the substance, we have to be very explicit about that fact that we take principled stance against anti-Jewish hatred and anti-Jewish prejudice and anti-Jewish sensibilities and still have fundamental commitment to the self-determination of Palestinians…”
I was very heartened by Dr. West’s formulation of the Middle East conflict and his wholehearted opposition to bigotry of any type. It was evident that he has pondered the issue long and hard or in his words for “30 to 40 years.” I found that his comments about President Obama’s neo-liberal identity that leads him to support the State of Israeli to be on-target. He bravely criticized President Obama for his support and allowing himself to be captive to the right-wing elements in Israel. This included the passage of the $38 billion bill to the State of Israel. Dr. West concludes that the Middle East conflict is a very complex issue that demands “that we have enough people who are willing to tell the truth the best way they know it.”
Since December 2011, The Freedom Theatre’s Freedom Bus has engaged thousands of Palestinians and people from abroad in cultural actions that address Israel’s practice of settler colonialism, military occupation and structural apartheid. The Freedom Bus partners with village cooperatives, popular struggle committees and grassroots organizations to hold multi-day “solidarity stays” and “freedom rides” in villages, towns, refugee camps and Bedouin communities throughout the occupied West Bank. These events involve community visits, interactive seminars, guided walks, Hakawati (traditional storytelling), building construction, and protective presence activity.
A central feature of Freedom Bus events is the use of Playback Theatre. Through this method, a troupe of Palestinian actors and musicians invite stories from the audience and subsequently transform each account into a piece of improvised theatre. By sharing stories about the realities of life under colonization and apartheid, community members aim to mobilize audience members in the broader struggle for freedom and equality in historic Palestine.
Irene Fernández Ramos writes for her Storytelling, Agency and Community-building through Playback Theatre in Palestine What is Playback Theatre?
Playback Theatre is a form of non-scripted, interactive community-based theatre created in the 1970s in the United States by Jonathan Fox. A Playback Theatre event usually lasts around seventy-five minutes and it is constructed from the stories of members of the audience who are invited by a conductor to share short or long stories, or ideas, with the rest of the audience. The new storyteller steps forward and sits on the edge of the stage, where he or she is seen by the performers and by the audience. With the help of the conductor’s questions, this new ‘storyteller’ narrates his or her experience allowing the performers to understand the personal feelings lying behind the story and to translate them into improvised theatrical language. Read more on her essay here
Endorsers of the Freedom Bus include personalities such Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Judith Butler, Maya Angelou, Noam Chomsky, Omar Barghouti and Peter Brook. (Click for the full list of endorsers).
The Freedom Bus is also endorsed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), Code Pink in between other organizations.
Palestinian Solidarity Committee in India and 1 Shanthiroad last February organised a talk (Video) by Ben Rivers, a British-Australian drama therapist and co-founder of The Freedom Bus Initiative with The Freedom Theatre in Palestine, on playback theatre and popular struggle in Occupied Palestine. In the talk Ben focused on the cultural activities of the Freedom Bus Initiative, including ‘solidarity stays’ in which the team resides in a village for some days, acting as a protective cover or re-building homes . “We also work very closely with grassroots, popular struggle groups and organisations. We organize political actions together.” Excerpt from the Hindu.com
In his talk, Ben narrated some of his experiences working with the communities in occupied Palestine.
“In the South of the West Bank, in a region known as South Hebron Hills, we were on the outskirts of a village called Atwani, where a very small community lives. A lot of their land was stolen by people of a settlement nearby who were hostile. Palestinians who are grazing their sheep on the hills are regularly attacked by them. Palestinian children used to be stoned by the settlers as they walked to to school.”
Queen Rania, a Palestinian by birth, is an international celebrity and has been often noted for her commitment to charity work geared toward women’s education, but also Rania had dedicated her precious time to seek justice for Palestinians. As a first lady, consort to the King of Jordan, she probably can not speak broadly without diplomatic repercussions for her country, but she does it in her role of social activist and she does very well. Her vocal support for Palestine has been latent in the news since she married king Abdullah of Jordan.
As a Jordanian, Queen Rania whose family is of Palestinian origin, she is concerned with the plight of Palestinians, On 2011, Queen Rania led a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Jordan’s capital, Amman. She urged the international community to end the massacres being committed in the occupied territories.
In Jordan, where nearly a third of the population is composed of Palestinian refugees, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank is “a hurt we feel each day,” Queen Rania Al Abdullah told a packed audience at Yale on Sept. 22, 2009. (Video attached)
“Larry King Live” on April 16, Queen Rania seemed to almost usurp Jordanian foreign policy from her husband. When King asked her about Jordan’s position on Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians, she replied:
“Jordan has been very, very clear in this regard. We stand against any aggression committed against any innocent civilians, irrespective of the perpetrator or the victim. We do not approve of any aggression. We made that very clear.” Then — almost as an afterthought — she added, “King Abdullah also made that very clear.” said the Globalist
On 27 July UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl met at UNRWA Headquarters in Amman with Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah to discuss the severe crisis and to express the Agency’s gratitude for the support of the Kingdom of Jordan.
During the meeting, which included several members of the UNRWA team, Her Majesty said that the attacks on helpless civilians on UNRWA premises and other humanitarian spaces in Gaza “demonstrate the blatant disregard for human life in this conflict. What more proof does the world need that there is no safe place in Gaza? No safe place for tens of thousands of desperate and defenseless civilians seeking refuge from the violence?”
Queen Rania addresses the audience during her visit to Yale University.
NY, USA/ September 22, 2009
Queen Rania makes an urgent plea on behalf of all the civilians living in Gaza for a “humanitarian ceasefire” and for the international community to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering.
Amman, Jordan/ January 5, 2009
Occupied Ramallah, 20 August 2014 – The Israeli Military Governor in the West Bank has signed a military order expelling Palestinian Legislative Council Member and Addameer board member Khalida Jarrar to Jericho for a period of six months, with immediate effect.
Military Judge Advocate General
6 David Elazar Street
Harkiya, Tel Aviv
Fax: +972 3 608 0366; +972 3 569 4526
Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
OC Central Command Nehemia Base, Central Command
Neveh Yaacov, Jerusalam
Fax: +972 2 530 5741
Ministry of Defense
37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya
Tel Aviv 61909, Israel
Fax: +972 3 691 6940 / 696 2757
Legal Advisor of Judea and Samaria PO Box 5
Beth El 90631
Fax: +972 2 9977326
If any person, acting through the representatives of the Protecting Power, voluntarily demands internment and if his situation renders this step necessary, he shall be interned by the Power in whose hands he may be.
An open letter for the people in Gaza
This letter is published under the Freedom of Information Act: “Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”
We are doctors and scientists, who spend our lives developing means to care and protect health and lives. We are also informed people; we teach the ethics of our professions, together with the knowledge and practice of it. We all have worked in and known the situation of Gaza for years.
On the basis of our ethics and practice, we are denouncing what we witness in the aggression of Gaza by Israel.
We ask our colleagues, old and young professionals, to denounce this Israeli aggression. We challenge the perversity of a propaganda that justifies the creation of an emergency to masquerade a massacre, a so-called “defensive aggression”. In reality it is a ruthless assault of unlimited duration, extent, and intensity. We wish to report the facts as we see them and their implications on the lives of the people.
We are appalled by the military onslaught on civilians in Gaza under the guise of punishing terrorists. This is the third large scale military assault on Gaza since 2008. Each time the death toll is borne mainly by innocent people in Gaza, especially women and children under the unacceptable pretext of Israel eradicating political parties and resistance to the occupation and siege they impose.
This action also terrifies those who are not directly hit, and wounds the soul, mind, and resilience of the young generation. Our condemnation and disgust are further compounded by the denial and prohibition for Gaza to receive external help and supplies to alleviate the dire circumstances.
The blockade on Gaza has tightened further since last year and this has worsened the toll on Gaza’s population. In Gaza, people suffer from hunger, thirst, pollution, shortage of medicines, electricity, and any means to get an income, not only by being bombed and shelled. Power crisis, gasoline shortage, water and food scarcity, sewage outflow and ever decreasing resources are disasters caused directly and indirectly by the siege.1
People in Gaza are resisting this aggression because they want a better and normal life and, even while crying in sorrow, pain, and terror, they reject a temporary truce that does not provide a real chance for a better future. A voice under the attacks in Gaza is that of Um Al Ramlawi who speaks for all in Gaza: “They are killing us all anyway—either a slow death by the siege, or a fast one by military attacks. We have nothing left to lose—we must fight for our rights, or die trying.”2
Gaza has been blockaded by sea and land since 2006. Any individual of Gaza, including fishermen venturing beyond 3 nautical miles of the coast of Gaza, face being shot by the Israeli Navy. No one from Gaza can leave from the only two checkpoints, Erez or Rafah, without special permission from the Israelis and the Egyptians, which is hard to come by for many, if not impossible. People in Gaza are unable to go abroad to study, work, visit families, or do business. Wounded and sick people cannot leave easily to get specialized treatment outside Gaza. Entries of food and medicines into Gaza have been restricted and many essential items for survival are prohibited.3 Before the present assault, medical stock items in Gaza were already at an all time low because of the blockade.3 They have run out now. Likewise, Gaza is unable to export its produce. Agriculture has been severely impaired by the imposition of a buffer zone, and agricultural products cannot be exported due to the blockade. 80% of Gaza’s population is dependent on food rations from the UN.
Much of Gaza’s buildings and infrastructure had been destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, 2008—09, and building materials have been blockaded so that schools, homes, and institutions cannot be properly rebuilt. Factories destroyed by bombardment have rarely been rebuilt adding unemployment to destitution.
Despite the difficult conditions, the people of Gaza and their political leaders have recently moved to resolve their conflicts “without arms and harm” through the process of reconciliation between factions, their leadership renouncing titles and positions, so that a unity government can be formed abolishing the divisive factional politics operating since 2007. This reconciliation, although accepted by many in the international community, was rejected by Israel. The present Israeli attacks stop this chance of political unity between Gaza and the West Bank and single out a part of the Palestinian society by destroying the lives of people of Gaza. Under the pretext of eliminating terrorism, Israel is trying to destroy the growing Palestinian unity. Among other lies, it is stated that civilians in Gaza are hostages of Hamas whereas the truth is that the Gaza Strip is sealed by the Israelis and Egyptians.
Gaza has been bombed continuously for the past 14 days followed now by invasion on land by tanks and thousands of Israeli troops. More than 60 000 civilians from Northern Gaza were ordered to leave their homes. These internally displaced people have nowhere to go since Central and Southern Gaza are also subjected to heavy artillery bombardment. The whole of Gaza is under attack. The only shelters in Gaza are the schools of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), uncertain shelters already targeted during Cast Lead, killing many.
According to Gaza Ministry of Health and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA),1 as of July 21, 149 of the 558 killed in Gaza and 1100 of the 3504 wounded are children. Those buried under the rubble are not counted yet. As we write, the BBC reports of the bombing of another hospital, hitting the intensive care unit and operating theatres, with deaths of patients and staff. There are now fears for the main hospital Al-Shifa. Moreover, most people are psychologically traumatized in Gaza. Anyone older than 6 years has already lived through their third military assault by Israel.
The massacre in Gaza spares no one, and includes the disabled and sick in hospitals, children playing on the beach or on the roof top, with a large majority of non-combatants. Hospitals, clinics, ambulances, mosques, schools, and press buildings have all been attacked, with thousands of private homes bombed, clearly directing fire to target whole families killing them within their homes, depriving families of their homes by chasing them out a few minutes before destruction. An entire area was destroyed on July 20, leaving thousands of displaced people homeless, beside wounding hundreds and killing at least 70—this is way beyond the purpose of finding tunnels. None of these are military objectives. These attacks aim to terrorize, wound the soul and the body of the people, and make their life impossible in the future, as well as also demolishing their homes and prohibiting the means to rebuild.
Weaponry known to cause long-term damages on health of the whole population are used; particularly non fragmentation weaponry and hard-head bombs.4, 5 We witnessed targeted weaponry used indiscriminately and on children and we constantly see that so-called intelligent weapons fail to be precise, unless they are deliberately used to destroy innocent lives.
We denounce the myth propagated by Israel that the aggression is done caring about saving civilian lives and children’s well-being.
Israel’s behavior has insulted our humanity, intelligence, and dignity as well as our professional ethics and efforts. Even those of us who want to go and help are unable to reach Gaza due to the blockade.
This “defensive aggression” of unlimited duration, extent, and intensity must be stopped.
Additionally, should the use of gas be further confirmed, this is unequivocally a war crime for which, before anything else, high sanctions will have to be taken immediately on Israel with cessation of any trade and collaborative agreements with Europe.
As we write, other massacres and threats to the medical personnel in emergency services and denial of entry for international humanitarian convoys are reported.6 We as scientists and doctors cannot keep silent while this crime against humanity continues. We urge readers not to be silent too. Gaza trapped under siege, is being killed by one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated modern military machines. The land is poisoned by weapon debris, with consequences for future generations. If those of us capable of speaking up fail to do so and take a stand against this war crime, we are also complicit in the destruction of the lives and homes of 1·8 million people in Gaza.
We register with dismay that only 5% of our Israeli academic colleagues signed an appeal to their government to stop the military operation against Gaza. We are tempted to conclude that with the exception of this 5%, the rest of the Israeli academics are complicit in the massacre and destruction of Gaza. We also see the complicity of our countries in Europe and North America in this massacre and the impotence once again of the international institutions and organizations to stop this massacre.
by Oded Na’aman
I was born in Israel. I served in the Army. Israel is the only home I know. You would think my speaking to students at Hillel would be welcomed. Yet my presentation to students at Washington University’s Hillel in St. Louis last month sparked a storm of controversy.
I had been invited by J Street U and was graciously hosted by Hillel at their beautiful new building. As a member of Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli combat veterans that collects and publishes the testimonies of soldiers who served in the occupied territories, I was on campus to discuss the practices and principles of Israel’s military rule.
In the days leading to my visit, many in the Jewish community called for the event’s cancellation, claiming our sole goal was to “bash Israel.” Jacqueline Ulin Levey, executive director of St. Louis Hillel at Washington University, backed the event. She did, however, impose certain restrictions, asking that I not show any photographs or mention any testimonies besides my own. Hillel also flew in an Israel Fellow from Yale University to “balance” my talk by debriefing the students before and after.
Despite the constraints, the talk went well, with a long question and answer session. After the event, Lawrence Wittels, the chair of the school’s Hillel board, congratulated me.
But in the days following, the assault on Hillel and J Street U escalated. Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO of Hillel International, subsequently wrote to members of the Hillel community defending the organization’s decision. “While we join with the majority of the community in deeply resenting the actions of the former IDF soldiers in Breaking the Silence, who come to college campuses in America to disparage the IDF,” Fingerhut wrote, “it is, regrettably, part of the broad tent of dialogue regarding Israel.” By housing the event within Hillel, he argued, the staff could control and mitigate an unfortunate debate.
I applaud Hillel’s work facilitating a broad dialogue within the American Jewish community. But Fingerhut and those whom his letter addressed, seem to be more concerned with their own feelings toward Israel — their “tent” — than with Israel. Mention of the actions of the IDF, the values to which Israel is committed, and concern for the well being of Israel’s residents, whether Israeli or Palestinian, are noticeably absent from Fingerhut’s letter.
I don’t doubt Fingerhut’s genuine concern for Israel. I am sure those who called for the event’s cancellation are also sincerely dedicated to my country. But their concern does not protect Zionism. Rather, it threatens it. If Zionism is the dream of Jews to overcome a state of mere survival and forge our own destiny, then claiming that the occupation is necessary, that Israel “has no other choice,” is the betrayal of Zionism. Israel’s rule of force over a civilian population threatens our democratic integrity, moral character, and international standing – in short, it threatens that future.
Israel is a strong and thriving country. We can take responsibility for our actions, hold our institutions and military accountable, acknowledge our mistakes, and correct them. We can forge our own future, but only by ending the occupation.
Naturally, our claims are met with doubt. But we encourage critical debate based on evidence. We have testimony from over 950 soldiers about their service, many of them on film. Incidents we exposed have been confirmed by the Israeli media and we have been invited to speak at the United States Air Force Academy. Carmi Gillon, former head of the Shin Bet, has praised our work.
The testimonies portray a system of control and expropriation of land that is founded on the use of military force. Arbitrary violence is of the essence of military rule, which cannot rely on democratic legitimacy.
Instead of an actual dialogue about our reality and future, they are content to have a conversation about the conversation about Israel. Rather than respond to what they hear, they argue over whether they should plug their ears. This may serve some staff and some donors of Hillel International, but it doesn’t serve Israel. It takes some chutzpah to claim that by silencing our voices you are protecting our own country from us.
Oded Na’aman served in the IDF between November 2000 and October 2003. Since 2005 he has been a member of Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli veterans that collects soldiers’ testimonies from the West Bank. Oded is currently pursuing his PhD in Philosophy at Harvard University.