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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "Palestine"

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Occupy Wall Street: New Politics and New Milestones

October 31, 2011 ·

This is an extraordinary time. The astonishing Occupy Wall Street movement emerged as the heart of our 99%, claimed the little scrap of earth in Zuccotti Park on behalf of all of us, and created a live-in soapbox from which to challenge inequality — how the 1% controls our economy, buys off our government, imposes their wars, and avoids paying their taxes. It both reflects and marks an end to the popular desperation that had taken over so much of our political life — instead, it applied the lessons of the Arab Spring, unexpectedly shaping a connection reaching far beyond the activist core, quickly moving from Wall Street to Main Street to the small parks, the steps of government buildings, the public squares from Oakland, California to Ames, Iowa, from Chicago to DC, to cities and towns across the country.

Occupying Wall Street with Laura Flanders and Judith LeBlanc.The challenges facing this new and different movement are legion, but joining its pop-up iterations is an incredible gift to those of us fighting that same outraged despair that first brought this vast disparity of folks to occupy what is now the people’s squares. In New York City, I huddled with GritTV’s Laura Flanders and Peace Action’s Judith LeBlanc, in the driving rain at the smaller-than-usual general assembly at Occupation Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park the other night. It was hard to see over the sea of umbrellas, and the meeting was pretty short. But the people’s mic functioned fine in the rain, as folks discussed a variety of ways to act in solidarity with our Oakland contingent, who had faced a particularly brutal police assault, critically injuring a young Iraq War veteran from Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace.

A couple of weeks ago while speaking at several places in Iowa, I visited the activists of Occupy Des Moines, who had regrouped in front of the state capitol after bailing out 37 of their number who had been arrested by state troopers at the order of the governor. While they stood with their signs, the progressive mayor of the city pulled up, offering a nearby city park as an alternative site, one that would be outside the right-wing governor’s jurisdiction. After a consensus decision, they moved their encampment, demonstrating again how this movement is creating new divides among the powerful.

Occupying DC

In Washington, we have two Occupy encampments. Both have been amazing in bringing new permanence and new breadth to the political resistance long present/absent/present in this city. With other IPSers and a variety of close friends and comrades, we’ve marched with the Occupy folks to protest at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and elsewhere. We’ve done teach-ins on the Iraq troop withdrawal and the renewed threats against Iran. We’ve had amazing discussions with folks occupying the squares.

Spending a day with the Institute’s Letelier-Moffitt human rights awardees, representatives of Wisconsin's progressive movement, I hung out for a while at Freedom Plaza, one of the Occupy sites, talking with a brilliant homeless woman. She taught me more about homeless policy in DC than I had ever known. She described life in the shelters, saying that “yeah there’re bedbugs, and there’s no security and they’re way too crowded, but that’s not the real problem. The real failure is that the city government’s mandate is to advocate for our rights, and it’s the rights of homeless people that are being ignored. Their mandate isn’t just for charity, they’re supposed to be advocates for our rights.” She knew the details of the city mandate and what obligations were being ignored — I hadn’t had a clue. This is what this new movement looks like.

Occupying the Future

There are huge uncertainties, of course. Will the encampments figure out how to survive the encroaching winter? Can the iconic center, at Occupy Wall Street’s Zucotti Park, remain the symbolic heart of the national, indeed global movement, as its working groups and caucuses extend out into other parts of the city? Will the Occupy movement figure out how to balance the focus on new ways of living with each other, creating new democratic norms that are, in the new dictum, horizontal instead of vertical, while simultaneously figuring out how to escalate the challenge to power that the creation of the Occupy sites began?

We won’t know for a while. But we do know now, already, that Occupy Wall Street — and Occupy DC, Occupy Des Moines, Occupy Los Angeles and Chicago and Atlanta and Taos, New Mexico — have already shaken up our political stasis in a critically important new way. I’ve been thinking a lot about the first Palestinian intifada, the nonviolent, society-wide mobilization that transformed Palestine’s nationalist struggle beginning in the late 1980s. Palestinian activists chose “uprising” as the logical English equivalent, but intifada doesn’t really mean that — it means something closer to “shake-up” or “shaking out” — exactly what Occupy Wall Street has done to our body politic. It’s our intifada, and it’s shaking up that money-glutted, war-mongering, tax-avoiding 1 % like nothing in a couple of generations.

Milestones: Iraq Withdrawal, Qaddafi is Killed, Prisoners Go Free

In the meantime, the news is full of milestones. President Obama’s announcement that almost all of the U.S. troops still occupying Iraq will come home by the end of the year certainly counts as a huge milestone-to-come. It’s not complete, but it’s a huge victory for our U.S. and global antiwar mobilizations, and especially for the people of Iraq so desperate to see an end to eight years of occupation. It means almost all the U.S. troops, and all the Pentagon-paid contractors will leave by the end of this year — so even with the biggest U.S. embassy ever built, with 5,000 staff, and thousands of security contractors (paid by the State Department this time, abiding by the letter though clearly not the spirit of the get-them-all-out-by-the-end-of-2011 agreement) this is a huge tribute to our years of work. I talked about the troop withdrawal on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR, including some of the history of what the years of war and occupation, plus the 12 years of Washington’s crippling economic sanctions, have meant for the people of Iraq. Also on RT, I examined the consequences of the war for Iraqis.

And of course the killing of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, after he was captured alive, marked another grisly milestone in the Libyan civil war. In my article on salon.com, I wrote about how vulnerable Libya remains: still oil-rich but more divided than ever, after Qaddafi’s death. Far from “liberation,” Libya continues to face a host of serious dangers.

We also had a nice victory for popular mobilization. CTV, the Canadian network that had given in to pressure and removed my interview on Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian UN statehood bid, put it back on the website when they got enough letters of protest to decide they had to reverse their decision. And they just invited me back, this time to talk about the consequences of Qaddafi’s death. You can watch that CTV interview here.

Occupy Wall Street, Not Palestine!

That’s the slogan coined by the BNC, the Palestinian leadership of the now-global movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions — BDS — that challenges Israeli violations of international law and human rights. And we have yet another milestone, this one on the Palestine-Israel front, the prisoner swap that saw the first 400 or so out of a total of 1027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the one Israeli soldier held by Hamas. It was certainly a "win-win" at the human level, but of course there are political causes and consequences too. Here's the link to the "Inside Story" show I did on al-Jazeera English, discussing the prisoner exchange with my old friend and Palestinian civil society leader Mustafa Barghouti as well as an Israeli colonel. Al-Jazeera also published my commentary on the prisoner swap.

Just as this newsletter was getting ready to go to press, we also got word from Paris that UNESCO voted overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine as a full Member State. According to U.S. policy, that will trigger an immediate cut-off of U.S. dues to the UN’s cultural, education and science organization, as well as ending U.S. dues payments to (and perhaps thus voting rights in) several other important UN agencies — possibly including the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors nuclear production around the world. Stay tuned for more analysis next time…

Amazing Times…

The Occupy movement is bringing new energy, new activists, new ideas, new strategies into our movements for peace, justice and equality. One of the chants I heard last week, from folks at Brooklyn for Peace where I was speaking, seemed to capture the moment particularly well: “How do we end the deficit? End the wars and tax the rich!

It’s good advice. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get there.

Ideas, Reaction, and Action in Canada

September 30, 2011 ·

When the issue of Palestinian statehood and UN recognition finally came to the United Nations, CTV, Canada’s largest commercial television network, invited me to comment. A CTV regular, I watched Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas address the General Assembly at the CTV studio, and went on the air moments after his speech. As usual, my comments were framed by international law, human rights and equality. I focused on the 20-year-long failure of the U.S.-backed “peace process,” Israel’s continuing violations of the Geneva Conventions and other international obligations of an occupying power, and the centrality of the United Nations. 

Shortly after the live interview, the B’nai Brith of Canada launched a public campaign against CTV, urging their supporters call the network to say that “biased reporting against Israel is unacceptable” despite their inability to identify a single error of fact in my commentary. In response, CTV removed the interview from their website, replacing it with an interview with the head of B’nai Brith who views Israel’s occupation as completely acceptable.

But then, following an immediate push-back by a number of Canadian organizations, including Canadian Friends of Sabeel, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and others, CTV quickly restored the on-line version of my commentary.  Watch it yourself (scroll down on the CTV News Video section on the right) – see why we need places like IPS that encourage independent ideas, and why IPS has friends in social movements in the U.S., Canada (and beyond) to turn them into action!

Palestine, Israel, and all the Countries the U.S. is at War with after 9/11

September 15, 2011 ·

September 11 commemorations were everywhere this past weekend. My own view is that the devastating attacks of September 11 were, along with an enormous human tragedy, a huge crime, a crime against humanity. But they did not threaten our country’s existence, they did not threaten our democracy. It was the acts of September 12, when the Bush administration decided to take the world to war in response, that threatened and continue to threaten our country, our democracy, our security, and the security of much of the rest of the world.

Many of you probably saw the piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, by one of their top editors, Bill Keller, one of the “liberal hawks,” sort of apologizing for having supported the Iraq War. I sent a letter to the Times (we’ll see if it gets in!) to say that his “hard look” back is appropriate, but not nearly hard enough. He spoke of the “monster argument” being so potent in convincing him to call for war against Iraq, but where was he in the 1970s and 1980s when Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was armed and financed by the United States? He ignored the 1990s when the people of Iraq faced not only the continuing brutality of that dictatorship but the monster of U.S.-backed economic sanctions that killed over 500,000 children.

But most of all Keller ignored the fact that the “broad consensus” he invokes was not absolute. He names one skeptic who “joined the hawk club” after Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council — but ignores all those skeptics who watched that same speech and weren’t convinced. Some of us published articles with titles like “Powell’s Dubious Case for War” within hours of Powell’s speech on February 5, 2003. He ignores — as his newspaper so often ignored — the voices of consistent skeptics, those of us who opposed the Iraq war as a drive toward power and empire, who cheered the UN when it joined millions of people around the world who said no to war. We opposed the war then, and we were right. We still are.

Now the 9/11 commemorations have come and gone, and our country is still at war.  Sometimes it seems that one way or another the United States is at war against almost the whole world: 

  • Official (though undeclared) wars in and against Afghanistan and Iraq
  • Official (but not really a war "because U.S. troops aren’t the ones at risk") war in Libya
  • Unofficial (though sort of acknowledged) war in Pakistan
  • Unacknowledged (because murder-by-drone doesn’t count as war) war in Yemen and Somalia
  • Indirect and diplomatic war (through $30 billion military aid enabling Israel’s occupation and by promising another UN veto) against Palestine
  • Unacknowledged and denied (through still-stealth drone campaigns) war in uncertain venues mainly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East
  • Untitled (though still accurately described as the Global War on Terror) war in the whole world
  • Then there’s the not-exactly-military war, like the war against the poor in the United States because of the hundreds of billions, now trillions, of tax dollars wasted on all those other wars.

It’s been a hell of an end to summer. The new census figures out this week are horrifying. Unemployment is staggeringly high, with more than 14 million people officially unemployed — which of course don’t include those who are under-employed, working two or three slave-wage jobs to survive, or who have simply given up looking. The current new jobs program is completely insufficient. What we need is a major federal jobs program, a real WPA, that we know works. Instead, we’re seeing billions diverted to continuing illegal, useless wars.

Poverty has surged to its highest levels in almost two decades, with one out of five children and one out of six people overall living below the poverty level, including lots of families where someone does have what passes for a job these days. And remember that the official “poverty line” is just over $22,000 for a family of four, no matter where they live! Imagine that for a family in New York or Washington or Chicago or Los Angeles…

And those devastating figures are far worse when we think about where our tax money is being spent. If President Obama ended the Iraq war “right away” — just the Iraq war, not even counting Afghanistan — he could bring home almost 50,000 troops and save almost $50 billion dollars. That’s enough for one million new green middle-class jobs — starting with those returning veterans.

How many of these flags represent countries we are in some kind of war with? Photo by Radar Communications. If the president ended the war in Afghanistan “right away” — and we’re seeing every day how the U.S. occupation is causing more, not less violence in Afghanistan — he could bring home about 100,000 troops and $122 billion of our tax money. Keeping those troops in Afghanistan costs a million dollars a year each. For every soldier we bring home, saving that million dollars, we could hire that once-soldier-now-civilian plus 19 more people in good green jobs.

That’s what I wrote about in response to the celebrations about August — the first month without U.S. casualties in Iraq — but with too many Iraqi civilians still being killed, and too many billions of our tax dollars still wasted. (I also wrote a short op-ed version that went out on IPS’s OtherWords op-ed syndication service.)

THE UN IS COMING BACK TO TOWN

But the end of summer also means the UN General Assembly is coming back into session in the next couple of weeks. And Palestine is back on the agenda. After years (more than 20 years, actually) of a failed U.S.-controlled “peace process,” the question of Palestine is once again on the global agenda of the United Nations. And once again the United States is isolated with Israel, standing almost alone in the world in opposing a Palestinian initiative for UN recognition of Palestinian statehood that has long been the claimed, but never implemented, goal of U.S. policy. The fight is ostensibly over venue, not substance; the United States, we are told, supports a Palestinian state. But we don’t support them getting it in the UN. We only support it if it is created under our auspices and control. Otherwise we’ll call it “unhelpful.”

The United States has promised to veto a UN membership bid in the Security Council. But the Palestinians may avoid that by heading straight to the General Assembly where there is no veto, but where their state recognition will not include UN membership, though it would include the potentially powerful right to join the International Criminal Court. But there are a lot of negatives as well, primarily having to do with loss of representation at the UN for Palestinian refugees and support for their right of return, and many Palestinians are against this move. Developments are very uncertain, no one is sure yet what the Palestinian diplomats actually intend to do. What is clear is that we should not allow the United States to be the ones to say “no” to the Palestinian effort.

AND BACK IN THE REGION…

Lots of other Middle East news. I had a letter published in the Washington Post targeting U.S.-NATO hypocrisy in Libya and objecting to their misrepresentation of the UN resolution supposedly justifying the Western military intervention there. With regional developments changing so fast, at the moment changing especially swiftly in terms of Israel’s increasing isolation and changing relationships with its one-time allies in the region, I discussed the role of Egypt’s changes in determining Israeli actions in Gaza, with The Real News Network editor Paul Jay. (This video, along with some great footage of the protests in Israel, ends rather abruptly when the east coast earthquake interrupted our interview… it’s pretty funny.)

And I collaborated with my friend Richard Falk, the great international law scholar and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, on an analysis of the UN’s latest report on last year’s Israel attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla — in which they managed to claim Israel’s blockade of Gaza is somehow legal.

And last, as summer wanes, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is holding our annual national conference, celebrating ten years of work changing discourse and challenging U.S. policy towards Palestine and Israel, and looking forward to a (hopefully) short time left before we can fold up shop and take a vacation, because we’ve succeeded.

We have a lot of work to do.

Thanks for all your support and — for the first time — I’m urging you to follow me on Facebook! (And no snide remarks from those of you who know my Luddite tendencies…) You can find me here: http://www.facebook.com/PhyllisBennis

Sometimes a Veto Means Victory

February 19, 2011 ·

Sometimes a Security Council vote can mean a victory for human rights no matter which side wins. Today’s vote on a resolution mildly condemning Israeli settlement activity is one example. If the U.S. had voted for the resolution, or even abstained and allowed others to pass it, it would have strengthened the international opposition to the Israeli occupation, and perhaps helped set the stage for greater UN and international engagement in ending the Israeli occupation and challenging Israel’s apartheid policies and other violations of human rights. It would have been a great victory. 

But instead, the U.S. vetoed the resolution – the vote was 14 to 1, with no abstentions.  On this issue once again, the U.S. stood absolutely isolated.  And ironically, that was a victory too.  Because the unity of other countries – Britain, Russia, Brazil and others spoke after the vote, expressing stronger than usual support for the anti-settlement resolution, and referencing (Britain most strongly) their recognition of a Palestinian state that may be declared in September.

In actuality, that recognition by itself is unlikely to achieve an end to the Israeli occupation; the PLO’s 1988 declaration of an independent state quickly won close recognition from close to 100 governments and the occupation intensified. But the recent moves towards greater recognition – especially from a number of Latin American countries who had not previously recognized Palestine – may foreshadow greater UN involvement in holding Israel accountable for its violations.

The U.S. had been threatening the veto for weeks. But in the last few days there had been rumors of a possible shift.  A bribe was offered: if the Palestinians would withdraw the resolution, the U.S. would accept a “presidential statement” from the Council; a diplomatic step-down from the power and enforceability of a resolution.  The Palestinian diplomats, backed by global support for the resolution and facing massive popular discontent at home because of concessions offered to Israel during peace negotiations, stood firm.  Then there was another rumor, maybe the U.S. would abstain, allowing the resolution to pass.

In the end, the Obama administration’s early threats proved accurate. The U.S. stood alone. Ambassador Susan Rice’s statement was astonishingly defensive – she went to great lengths to claim that the U.S. actually agrees with the resolution, that no one has done more than the U.S. to support a two-state solution, that the U.S. thinks settlement activity (not, we should note, the continuing existence of longstanding settlements now home to 500,000 illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, only new settlement activity) violates Israel’s international commitments and more.  She tried to convince the world that “opposition to the resolution should not be misunderstood” to mean that the U.S. supports settlement activity – only that the Obama administration “thinks it unwise” for the United Nations to try to stop that settlement activity.  She defined settlements as one of the “core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians,” not as a violation of international law and a host of specific UN resolutions – therefore, she claimed, the issue was just one of the wrong venue for this debate. 

We’re really against settlements, she pleaded, we just want to end them our way. On our terms.  In our peace talks.  And we all know how well that’s gone so far.

In fact, the U.S. veto in the Security Council was consistent with a long and sordid history. As of 2009, fully half of the vetoes ever cast were to protect Israel from being held accountable in the UN for violations of international law and human rights. Another -third were to protect racist regimes in southern Africa -- South Africa and pre-independence South-West Africa -- from the same accountability.  Taken together, fully five out of six or more than 80% of U.S. vetoes have been cast to protect Washington’s allies accused of apartheid practices.

The Middle East is in the throes of a new wave of democratic revolutionary motion, and it is high time Palestinians were able to be part of that wave. While the U.S. use of the veto remains part of a sordid history, this time the veto may be different. It may actually help set the stage for much greater international engagement in the United Nations that, if combined with the mobilization for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions as well as growing opposition to U.S. military aid, could move once and for all to end the Israeli occupation and apartheid.

Housing Demolition in East Jerusalem

November 8, 2010 ·

East Jerusalem

Walking through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City is a pleasure to the senses: smells of garlic and tea sift through the air, bright colored scarves, coffee pots and evil eye jewelry hang in tiny shops, and crowds of locals and tourists clog the tiny, stone-paved streets. Though most tourists are drawn to Jerusalem for its historical and religious sites, the city is actually a huge locus of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The most tangible manifestation of injustice in Jerusalem is arguably the government sanctioned housing demolitions in Palestinian-dominated East Jerusalem.

During a recent trip to Israel, I saw firsthand the discrepancy between Jewish and Muslim communities and the physical divide between West and East Jerusalem. I went on a day tour of East Jerusalem with the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions (ICAHD), a non-violent organization that resists housing demolitions in East Jerusalem through direct action, domestic and international advocacy, as well as tours.

The difference between East and West Jerusalem is stark: where West Jerusalem has tree-lined sidewalks and functioning infrastructure, East Jerusalem has dusty, narrow streets, no trash pick-up, and water storage containers on top of houses because most residents are not connected to the municipal water mains. The separation wall stands eight meters high with barbed wire at the top, dividing Arabs in East Jerusalem from their families in the West Bank. Along with the lack of infrastructure in this area, there are no zoning laws so Palestinian residents are not permitted to build new houses: the legal measure that allows the Israeli government to demolish homes. This system serves as a means of making Palestinians leave East Jerusalem. The situation is complex, however, because once Palestinians leave the city, they lose their residency and therefore access to the Old City, their old homes, and their community. Because of this, many people do decide to remain in East Jerusalem despite the constant threat of housing demolitions.

While on the tour, we spoke with a Palestinian woman in the contested neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah. She had been displaced over a year ago – the Israeli government evicted her family and gave her home to Jewish settlers who often spark violence in the area. An international solidarity tent stands nearby where someone sleeps every night to keep watch on the neighborhood. The neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah has entered the limelight because of the scope of its injustice and the ways in which the Israeli government uses its legal system to expand Jewish settlements thereby shrinking the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem.

The most recent East Jerusalem protest ensued on October 25th after the Israeli police gave 231 demolition orders to Palestinian families all across East Jerusalem, including Silwan, an Arab neighborhood in close proximity to the Old City. According to Human Rights Watch, Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes peaked this year, reaching 141 in July. This is the largest number of demolitions per month since 2005. Meanwhile, the Israeli government subsidizes Jewish settlements all over the occupied territories and in East Jerusalem as well.

Though Israel places most its inexcusable violent measures under the banner of “security,” this particular form of destruction is purely discriminatory and does not fall into the category of Israeli defense. If Israel intends to continue the peace process, it must stop demolishing Palestinian homes and building Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

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