Thursday, August 20, 2009

Can we talk? The Middle East "peace industry"

Dear friends,
an excellent article by Faris Giacaman on the issues of "peace", "dialogue" and "normalisation".

Originally published by The Electronic Intifada.

In solidarity,

Can we talk? The Middle East "peace industry"
Faris Giacaman, The Electronic Intifada, 20 August 2009

Photo by Active Stills

Attempts to establish "dialogue" while Israel continues to oppress Palestinians only undermine the call for boycott. (ActiveStills)

Upon finding out that I am Palestinian, many people I meet at college in the United States are eager to inform me of various activities that they have participated in that promote "coexistence" and "dialogue" between both sides of the "conflict," no doubt expecting me to give a nod of approval. However, these efforts are harmful and undermine the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel -- the only way of pressuring Israel to cease its violations of Palestinians' rights.

When I was a high school student in Ramallah, one of the better known "people-to-people" initiatives, Seeds of Peace, often visited my school, asking students to join their program. Almost every year, they would send a few of my classmates to a summer camp in the US with a similar group of Israeli students. According to the Seeds of Peace website, at the camp they are taught "to develop empathy, respect, and confidence as well as leadership, communication and negotiation skills -- all critical components that will facilitate peaceful coexistence for the next generation." They paint quite a rosy picture, and most people in college are very surprised to hear that I think such activities are misguided at best, and immoral, at worst. Why on earth would I be against "coexistence," they invariably ask?

During the last few years, there have been growing calls to bring to an end Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people through an international movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). One of the commonly-held objections to the boycott is that it is counter-productive, and that "dialogue" and "fostering coexistence" is much more constructive than boycotts.

With the beginning of the Oslo accords in 1993, there has been an entire industry that works toward bringing Israelis and Palestinians together in these "dialogue" groups. The stated purpose of such groups is the creating of understanding between "both sides of the conflict," in order to "build bridges" and "overcome barriers." However, the assumption that such activities will help facilitate peace is not only incorrect, but is actually morally lacking.

The presumption that dialogue is needed in order to achieve peace completely ignores the historical context of the situation in Palestine. It assumes that both sides have committed, more or less, an equal amount of atrocities against one another, and are equally culpable for the wrongs that have been done. It is assumed that not one side is either completely right or completely wrong, but that both sides have legitimate claims that should be addressed, and certain blind spots that must be overcome. Therefore, both sides must listen to the "other" point of view, in order to foster understanding and communication, which would presumably lead to "coexistence" or "reconciliation."

Such an approach is deemed "balanced" or "moderate," as if that is a good thing. However, the reality on the ground is vastly different than the "moderate" view of this so-called "conflict." Even the word "conflict" is misleading, because it implies a dispute between two symmetric parties. The reality is not so; it is not a case of simple misunderstanding or mutual hatred which stands in the way of peace. The context of the situation in Israel/Palestine is that of colonialism, apartheid and racism, a situation in which there is an oppressor and an oppressed, a colonizer and a colonized.

In cases of colonialism and apartheid, history shows that colonial regimes do not relinquish power without popular struggle and resistance, or direct international pressure. It is a particularly naive view to assume that persuasion and "talking" will convince an oppressive system to give up its power.

The apartheid regime in South Africa, for instance, was ended after years of struggle with the vital aid of an international campaign of sanctions, divestments and boycotts. If one had suggested to the oppressed South Africans living in bantustans to try and understand the other point of view (i.e. the point of view of South African white supremacists), people would have laughed at such a ridiculous notion. Similarly, during the Indian struggle for emancipation from British colonial rule, Mahatma Gandhi would not have been venerated as a fighter for justice had he renounced satyagraha -- "holding firmly to the truth," his term for his nonviolent resistance movement -- and instead advocated for dialogue with the occupying British colonialists in order to understand their side of the story.

Now, it is true that some white South Africans stood in solidarity with the oppressed black South Africans, and participated in the struggle against apartheid. And there were, to be sure, some British dissenters to their government's colonial policies. But those supporters explicitly stood alongside the oppressed with the clear objective of ending oppression, of fighting the injustices perpetrated by their governments and representatives. Any joint gathering of both parties, therefore, can only be morally sound when the citizens of the oppressive state stand in solidarity with the members of the oppressed group, not under the banner of "dialogue" for the purpose of "understanding the other side of the story." Dialogue is only acceptable when done for the purpose of further understanding the plight of the oppressed, not under the framework of having "both sides heard."

It has been argued, however, by the Palestinian proponents of these dialogue groups, that such activities may be used as a tool -- not to promote so-called "understanding," -- but to actually win over Israelis to the Palestinian struggle for justice, by persuading them or "having them recognize our humanity."

However, this assumption is also naive. Unfortunately, most Israelis have fallen victim to the propaganda that the Zionist establishment and its many outlets feed them from a young age. Moreover, it will require a huge, concerted effort to counter this propaganda through persuasion. For example, most Israelis will not be convinced that their government has reached a level of criminality that warrants a call for boycott. Even if they are logically convinced of the brutalities of Israeli oppression, it will most likely not be enough to rouse them into any form of action against it. This has been proven to be true time and again, evident in the abject failure of such dialogue groups to form any comprehensive anti-occupation movement ever since their inception with the Oslo process. In reality, nothing short of sustained pressure -- not persuasion -- will make Israelis realize that Palestinian rights have to be rectified. That is the logic of the BDS movement, which is entirely opposed to the false logic of dialogue.

Based on an unpublished 2002 report by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last October that "between 1993 and 2000 [alone], Western governments and foundations spent between $20 million and $25 million on the dialogue groups." A subsequent wide-scale survey of Palestinians who participated in the dialogue groups revealed that this great expenditure failed to produce "a single peace activist on either side." This affirms the belief among Palestinians that the entire enterprise is a waste of time and money.

The survey also revealed that the Palestinian participants were not fully representative of their society. Many participants tended to be "children or friends of high-ranking Palestinian officials or economic elites. Only seven percent of participants were refugee camp residents, even though they make up 16 percent of the Palestinian population." The survey also found that 91 percent of Palestinian participants no longer maintained ties with Israelis they met. In addition, 93 percent were not approached with follow-up camp activity, and only five percent agreed the whole ordeal helped "promote peace culture and dialogue between participants."

Despite the resounding failure of these dialogue projects, money continues to be invested in them. As Omar Barghouti, one of the founding members of the BDS movement in Palestine, explained in The Electronic Intifada, "there have been so many attempts at dialogue since 1993 ... it became an industry -- we call it the peace industry."

This may be partly attributed to two factors. The dominant factor is the useful role such projects play in public relations. For example, the Seeds of Peace website boosts its legitimacy by featuring an impressive array of endorsements by popular politicians and authorities, such as Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, George Mitchell, Shimon Peres, George Bush, Colin Powell and Tony Blair, amongst others. The second factor is the need of certain Israeli "leftists" and "liberals" to feel as if they are doing something admirable to "question themselves," while in reality they take no substantive stand against the crimes that their government commits in their name. The politicians and Western governments continue to fund such projects, thereby bolstering their images as supporters of "coexistence," and the "liberal" Israeli participants can exonerate themselves of any guilt by participating in the noble act of "fostering peace." A symbiotic relationship, of sorts.

The lack of results from such initiatives is not surprising, as the stated objectives of dialogue and "coexistence" groups do not include convincing Israelis to help Palestinians gain the respect of their inalienable rights. The minimum requirement of recognizing Israel's inherently oppressive nature is absent in these dialogue groups. Rather, these organizations operate under the dubious assumption that the "conflict" is very complex and multifaceted, where there are "two sides to every story," and each narrative has certain valid claims as well as biases.

As the authoritative call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel makes plain, any joint Palestinian-Israeli activities -- whether they be film screenings or summer camps -- can only be acceptable when their stated objective is to end, protest, and/or raise awareness of the oppression of the Palestinians.

Any Israeli seeking to interact with Palestinians, with the clear objective of solidarity and helping them to end oppression, will be welcomed with open arms. Caution must be raised, however, when invitations are made to participate in a dialogue between "both sides" of the so-called "conflict." Any call for a "balanced" discourse on this issue -- where the motto "there are two sides to every story" is revered almost religiously -- is intellectually and morally dishonest, and ignores the fact that, when it comes to cases of colonialism, apartheid, and oppression, there is no such thing as "balance." The oppressor society, by and large, will not give up its privileges without pressure. This is why the BDS campaign is such an important instrument of change.

Faris Giacaman is a Palestinian student from the West Bank, attending his second year of college in the United States.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More old photos from Palestine

A while back, I posted up some old photos from Palestine taken before 1948. Here are a few more...

Fisherman in the Galilee, 1930s

Palestine stamp - Palestine for the Arabs.

Demonstration against Zionist colonisation/British rule, 1920

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Jaffa, pre 1914

Palestine, circa 1920s


Jerusalem, between 1898 and 1914

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Zionists try to counteract campaign to isolate Israel

Dear friends,
an article by Kathy Newnam in the July 2009 edition of Direct Action (no 13)on the attempt to stop the BDS campaign by Pro-Zionist forces.

In solidarity,

Zionists try to counteract campaign to isolate Israel
By Kathy Newnam
Direct Action, No 13. July 2009

A significant victory in the international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel was registered on June 8. It was reported in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper that the French-owned Veolia company plans to abandon its involvement in the light rail project being built to connect Jerusalem to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

This project had made Veolia a target of the campaign internationally — contributing to Veolia’s loss of contracts worth more than US$7.5 billion since the BDS campaign escalated in the wake of Israel’s assault on Gaza in January. The pressure will be kept up, because Veolia continues to profit from the occupation of Palestine — including running a waste dump in the West Bank for waste from Israel and the illegal settlements.

Gillard’s trip to Israel

As the BDS campaign continues to gather momentum, there are increasing efforts to counter it by supporters of Israel. British foreign secretary David Miliband released a statement on June 23 expressing “dismay that motions calling for boycotts of Israel are being discussed by trade union congresses and conferences”. In late June, Australian Deputy PM Julia Gillard led a delegation to Israel to attend the inaugural “Australia Israel Leadership Forum”. Australian trade and diplomatic missions to Israel are nothing new, but this high profile trip was clearly timed to counter the growing calls for a boycott of Israel. Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of the Australian, who was part of Gillard’s delegation, condemned the BDS campaign in his June 25 column, giving glowing praise to Gillard for attending the forum despite calls from the Palestine solidarity movement for the trip to be cancelled.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard and Benjamin Netanyahu

Gillard’s trip was also about trying to undo the impact that the Gaza war had on the popular view of Israel in Australia. This impact was reflected in a recent poll commissioned by the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (CJPP). The Roy Morgan poll thought that 42% of people thought Israel’s actions were “not justified” while only 29% found them “justified”. According to CJPP convener Peter Manning, this showed that Gillard “was well out of step with public opinion when she expressed sympathy for the few Israelis who died from rocket attacks rather than the 1400 Palestinians being slaughtered by Israeli gunfire on schools, hospitals and residential buildings”.

Roy Morgan Poll

Sheridan was sycophantic in his praise for Gillard, writing: “She delivered a remarkably gracious address to the gala dinner in Jerusalem’s majestic King David Hotel, kicking the forum off. Without any ambiguity, Gillard celebrated Australia’s friendship with Israel. She drew attention, with pride, to Australia’s long military involvement in the Middle East.” Gillard celebrated this history of imperialist military intervention — a history stained with the blood of hundreds of thousands of people. The Australian ruling class and both the major capitalist political parties have stood side by side with the major imperialist powers in their decades-long struggle to dominate the region. It is this that underlies their ongoing support for the Zionist state, which is aptly described as the “US watchdog” in the Middle East.
Laborite support for Zionist state

Both Australia and Israel were founded as colonial-settler states. Support for Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine is ideologically consistent with support for the ongoing dispossession of Australia’s Indigenous people. The Australian Labor Party has played an especially important role in supporting Israel, starting with the Chifley government, which was one of the first governments to recognise the Zionist state in 1948. ALP representatives in the labour movement have fought consistently, though not always successfully, against unions extending solidarity to Palestinians. The latest example is the initiative of Paul Howes, Australian Workers Union national secretary and ACTU vice-president, to establish “Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine” (TULIP) — formed explicitly to counter the BDS campaign.

Howes and his collaborators Michael Leahy, secretary of Community, a British union covering the clothing, textiles, footwear, steel and betting industries as well as workers with disabilities, and Stuart Appelbaum, president of the US Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, have launched TULIP as an international organisation. On May 23 the Australian reported that their “international launch” would “not be remembered so well. Only two reporters rolled up, so plans for speeches and a formal press conference had to be dropped.”

Paul Howes (left on the end) at the failed offical launch of TULIP in New York.

In a statement in the Australian two days earlier, the TULIP founders said, “We believe in engaging with workers and their unions in Israel and Palestine, promoting co-operation and reconciliation”. When a people are being oppressed, such calls for “reconciliation” are nothing but mealy-mouthed cover for support to the oppressor. The TULIP statement lauds what it claims are “outstanding examples of co-operation between Israeli and Palestinian unions”. It makes no mention of the fact that the Palestinian unions signed on to the BDS call that launched the campaign in 2005 (with the support of more than 170 Palestinian organisations). It also does not mention that the Israeli “trade unions” played a central role in the establishment of the Zionist state and in the oppression and exploitation of Palestinian workers, or that they supported the Gaza war.

The TULIP statement pointed to an “initiative launched by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) to make life much easier for Palestinian drivers”. It called the initiative “a small but ground-breaking union agreement encouraging dialogue between the Palestinian and Israeli national trade union centres, as well as individual unions and their members on both sides of the divide. This agreement will help improve the livelihoods of hard-working union truckers and their families.” This agreement was between the Israeli Transport Workers’ Union-Histadrut and the Palestinian General Federation of Transport Workers. A report on the ITF website about the meeting that struck the agreement noted: “The Palestinians described their working lives as drivers, overwhelmingly dominated by the difficulties they face from over 500 military checkpoints and barriers which divide communities from each other”.


The agreement did not mention that these checkpoints are illegal under international law, deliberately designed to restrict the movement of Palestinians. The “difficulties” created by the checkpoints include the fact that to get from Ramallah to Hebron can take up to 10 hours when it should take just under two, or that the trip from Ramallah to Jenin, which should take two hours, can take up to six (figures from International Checkpoint Watch). This does not include checkpoint closures, which are frequent and completely arbitrary, making it impossible to pass.

Another example of the “difficulties” caused by the checkpoints is the following story told in a report by B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights. On August 1, 2006, “Mater Khamaiseh was on his way back to Jenin from the vegetable market in Beita, a village south of Nablus. He knew that the army did not allow Jenin residents to cross the ’Anabta checkpoint, which is situated east of Tulkarm, so he bypassed the checkpoint. As he was driving, an army jeep with four soldiers inside stopped him. The soldiers removed him from the truck and led him to a nearby olive grove, where one of the soldiers fired a long volley of bullets over his head for no reason at all. Then the soldiers beat him all over his body, punching him and hitting him with their rifle butts, and kicking him.”

Palestinian workers waiting in cages at Israeli checkpoints to get to work. Some arrive at 2am in order to get work at 7am.

The “ground-breaking union agreement” lauded by TULIP agreed only that “the Histadrut Transport Workers’ Union will approach the Israeli security forces and request that they assign a representative to participate in the committee when security issues, including checkpoints and barriers, are under discussion” and “that the Palestinian Transport Workers’ Union will develop fast response mechanisms, such as a telephone hotline for transport workers facing urgent problems. The Palestinians will handle relevant problems in coordination with the Israeli Union.”

Leaving aside the bizarre assumption that a representative of the Israeli Defence Force on a committee would make one iota of difference, the ITF report also states that Histadrut “pledged its commitment to provide positive help where it can without compromising security”. But it is under the guise of “security” that the IDF prevents ambulances and women in labour from crossing checkpoints. According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, in the two years 2000-2002 there were 69 recorded deaths of Palestinians waiting at Israeli checkpoints, the majority of whom were stopped on their way to hospital. If women in labour are a “security” risk in the view of the Zionists, it’s a safe assumption that the same excuse would be used for truck drivers.

The May 23 Australian implied that Howes initiated TULIP to build “his political profile”. But this misses the point. According to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce website, Howes will lead a “timely trade mission” to Israel in September. Not only is he aiding the Zionist state within the Australian labour movement, but he will also do the bidding of the Australian ruling class in securing trade deals with Israel. TULIP is entirely consistent with the Zionist politics of the ALP.

The Zionists have taken their campaign into the labour movement because they know the threat posed by the growing support within unions for BDS. The TULIP website itself states that the BDS movement “has already won considerable support from trade unions in South Africa, Ireland, Britain and Norway. It seems unstoppable.” Israel is already suffering the effects of consumer boycotts. If the growing union support was turned into action, like the South African dock workers’ refusal in February to unload a ship of Israeli goods, then the campaign would start to have a serious impact on Israel. Furthermore, unions can play an essential role in educating and mobilising workers to support sanctions.

This is also why building support within the unions needs to be a priority for the BDS movement. This campaign won’t be starting from scratch; many unions have longstanding positions in support of self-determination for the Palestinians — a product of many years of education and solidarity actions. The stepped-up Zionist activity highlights the importance of continuing such work.

The likes of Howes have to couch their support for Israel in hollow rhetoric about workers’ solidarity because they do not have the truth on their side. Workers’ solidarity means siding with the oppressed. This can be served only by siding unequivocally with the struggle of the Palestinian people, because Israel is the oppressor. The BDS campaign gives the international solidarity movement a powerful weapon.