November 21, 2012

Mideast peace — one chick pea at a time

By Alice Rothchild

 November 21, 2012

While fears of a large Israeli invasion of Gaza mount and representatives of Hamas threaten not to “back down,” there is much frustration and weariness with the lack of any positive developments coming out of Washington. Despite President Obama’s inaction, there is growing awareness that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the intense blockade of Gaza are serious impediments to peace and that US military and political support make this all possible. At the same time we have a cautious president, not willing to expend his newly earned capital on this morass, a fractious Congress, and an increasingly belligerent Benjamin Netanyahu, threatening to extract a “heavy price” if Palestinians renew their bid for observer status at the UN, as he also seeks reelection.

One positive development in this evolving catastrophe is the growing citizen activism that is turning to grassroots organizing, merging socially responsible investing, food justice, and peace activism to create another voice that offers a way forward. Universities, businesses, investors, and citizens are increasingly interested in their social responsibilities, from investments to grocery shopping. Consumers are beginning to understand that supporting a corporation that not only makes cell phones but also high level security apparatus, makes the consumer complicit in the use of that equipment and its consequences.

Internationally, boycotts in Europe have caused several important industries to move out of the West Bank settlements, pension funds have divested from military companies, universities have severed ties with Israeli universities that work on military research and development. Agrexco, Israel’s largest fresh produce exporter is facing bankruptcy because the company markets 60-70 percent of the fruits and vegetables grown in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Nationally, Quakers, United Methodists, and Presbyterians have debated and moved toward ethical investing, divesting from companies that directly profit from the Israeli occupation. Universities are increasingly debating these issues, with student groups taking the lead. These efforts are supported by a number of trade unions as well as outspoken members of the African American community, like Angela Davis, who are drawing parallels between a segregated and discriminatory Israeli society and US civil rights struggles. Spearheaded by Jewish Voice for Peace, there is also a national campaign to pressure TIAA CREF, one of the largest ļ¬nancial services in the United States, to divest from a similar list of companies.

Mirroring a campaign in Philadelphia, a coalition of Boston area groups focused their efforts on the Harvest Co-op, a food co-op that prides itself in its social responsibility. The group collected signatures for a referendum to deshelve Sabra Dipping Humus. Sabra operates under an Israeli company, the Strauss Group, which proudly supports a brigade in the Israeli Defense Force, the Golani Brigade, known for particularly egregious treatment against Palestinians. Members of the coalition stood outside the Co-op for over a year and talked to thousands of shoppers, the vast majority grateful for information regarding Sabra and its ties to human rights abuses. Many Co-op shoppers pledged to stop buying Sabra, to tell their friends, and to learn more about the US and corporate ties to Israeli violence. While the call for a referendum was recently rejected after a less than open process, the Co-op also announced that it will no longer stock Sabra Humus because of lack of consumer demand; shoppers voted with their pocket books.

All these actions are responding to a call from over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations for a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions until the Israeli government abides by international laws. The efforts serve to educate the public about realities on the ground, to create economic and political pressure, and ultimately to reach a tipping point in public discourse and political behavior.
The campaign offers a welcome, nonviolent, creative grassroots challenge to the status quo. It is based on a long tradition, a form of resistance that has been used by people of conscience going back to the antislavery movement. After all the dialogue groups and peace songs, the calls to congress-people, letters to the editor, agonized conversations in temples, standouts in front of AIPAC, what progress has been made?

Ultimately, respecting human rights and honestly addressing long simmering conflicts that threaten to explode within Israel and the territories, rather than defending Israeli exceptionalism, can only enhance the security of all Israelis and Diaspora Jews, as well as improve life for Palestinians. I just spent two weeks in the region with the Dorothy Cotton Institute, a US civil rights organization rooted in the work of Martin Luther King. We met with Palestinians and their Israeli allies engaged in nonviolent resistance, working to protect village lands from the encroaching Jewish settlements and the separation wall; working to change Israeli policy one bulldozer, one olive tree, one chick pea at a time.

Alice Rothchild is a Boston-based physician, author and filmmaker. Her book, “Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience,’’ was published in 2010.



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For Immediate Release
November 21, 2012


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
                                                                             Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

An immediate end to Israel’s assault on Gaza, “Operation Pillar of Defense,” matters. An immediate end to the violence—the onslaught of missiles, rockets, drones, killing, and targeted assassination—matters. An end to Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza matters.  An end to Israeli’s 45-year occupation of Palestine matters. A resolution of the issue of Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes in 1948, many of whom live in Gaza matters.  Equality, security, and human rights for everyone matters.

We write as individuals who recently traveled to the West Bank with the Dorothy Cotton Institute’s 2012 Civil and Human Rights Delegation, organized by Interfaith Peace-Builders.  We cannot and will not be silent.  We join our voices with people around the world who are calling for an immediate cease-fire. Specifically, we implore President Barack Obama to demand that Israel withdraw its forces from Gaza’s borders; make U.S. aid to Israel conditional upon Israel’s adherence with relevant U.S. and international law; work with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to bring an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and to secure a just peace that ensures everyone’s human rights.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”  As Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared in 1993, “Enough of blood and tears.”  Enough!

We deplore the firing of rockets on civilian areas in Israel.  We also deplore and are outraged by the asymmetry, the disproportionality, of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, evidenced by the growing number of Palestinian civilian deaths and casualties.  This is not a conflict between equal powers, but between a prosperous occupying nation on one hand, armed and sanctioned by 3 billion dollars in annual U.S. military aid, and on the other, a population of 1.7 million besieged people, trapped within a strip of land only 6 miles by 26 miles, (147 square miles) in what amounts to an open-air prison. 
United States military support to Israel is huge.  From 2000 to 2009, the US appropriated to Israel $24 billion in military aid, delivering more than 670 million weapons and related military equipment with this money.  During these same years, through its illegal military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, Israel killed at least 2,969 Palestinians who took no part in hostilities.

During our trip to the West Bank, we witnessed for ourselves the injustice and violence of the Israeli occupation and the suffering inflicted on the Palestinians, in violation of international law and UN resolutions.  

In the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, for just one example, we observed a weekly nonviolent protest.   The neighboring Israeli settlement of Halamish was illegally built on Nabi Saleh’s land.  This settlement has also seized control of the Nabi Saleh’s water spring, allowing villagers to access their own spring water for only 7-10 hours a week.  Demonstrators of all ages participated in the protest, including several who, in recognition of the civil rights veterans in our delegation, carried posters with quotations from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We watched in horror as heavily armed members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responded to this peaceful assembly with violence, strafing the demonstrators with a barrage of tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, gas grenades, and even a round of live ammunition.  

The IDF assault in response to these weekly nonviolent demonstrations can be deadly.  Rushdi Tamimi, a young adult Nabi Saleh villager, died this past week while he was protesting Israel’s attack on Gaza.  The IDF fired rubber bullets into Rushdi’s back and bullets into his gut, and slammed his head with a rifle butt.

Israel’s assault on Gaza is exponentially more violent than what we witnessed in the West Bank, but the context--the oppression of the Palestinian people—is the same.  Most of the inhabitants of Gaza are refugees or descendants of refugees expelled from their homes in Israel in 1948.   This dispossession of the Palestinians that they call the Nakba (The Catastrophe) continues on the West Bank where Israel has built extensive Jewish settlements on confiscated Palestinian land. We saw with our own eyes how this settlement expansion and the systemic discrimination has further dispossessed the Palestinian people and is creating a “silent transfer” of Palestinians who are either forced or decide to leave because of the oppression.   This injustice—Israel’s decades-long oppression of the Palestinian people—has to be addressed by honest and good-faith negotiations and a genuine agreement to share the land.  The alternative is a future of endless eruptions of aggression, senseless bloodshed, and more trauma for Palestinians and Israelis. This surely matters to all people of good will.

To President Obama, we say, use the immense power and authority United States citizens have once again entrusted to you, to exercise your courage and moral leadership to preserve lives and protect the dignity and self-determination, to which the Palestinian people and all people are entitled.   Israel relies upon the economic, military, and strategic cooperation and support of the United States.  You have the power to not only appeal to Israel to show restraint, but to require it.

Feeling ourselves deeply a part of “We the People,” sharing so much of your own tradition of organizing for justice and peace, we believe it is just, moral and in keeping with the best spirit of Dr. King to urge you to: 

§  Call for an end to violence by all parties and an immediate cease-fire for the sake of all people in the region.
§  Use your power to demand that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the IDF cease the bombardment of Gaza and withdraw their armed forces immediately. 
§  Join with the international community in using all diplomatic, economic, and strategic means to end Israel’s illegal, brutal siege of Gaza.
§  Insist that the United States condition aid to Israel on compliance with U.S. law (specifically the U.S. Arms Export Control Act) and with international law.
§  Work with the leaders of Israel and Palestine to secure an end to Israel’s occupation and to negotiate a just peace.

As citizens of the United States, we are responsible for what our government does in our name, and so we will not be silent.  Justice, peace and truth matter.  The future of the children of Israel and Palestine matter.  We cannot be silent and neither can you. 

Members of the The Dorothy Cotton Institute 2012 Civil and Human Rights Delegation:

donnie i. betts, Filmmaker, Denver, CO
Rabbi Joseph Berman, Chair, Boston Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, Boston, MA
Laura Ward Branca, Senior Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY
Prof. Clayborne Carson  Director Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Dorothy F, Cotton, Distinguished Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY.
Rev. Richard L. Deats, Ph.D.  Editor Emeritus, FELLOWSHIP magazine, Nyack, NY
Kirby Edmonds, Senior Fellow and Coordinator, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY
Jeff Furman, National Advisor, Dorothy Cotton Institute
Prof. Alan Gilbert, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Dr. Vincent Harding, Historian, Activist, Friend and Colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Denver, CO
Robert. L. Harris, Jr., Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Sara Hess, Ithaca, NY
Aljosie Aldrich Knight, Atlanta, GA
Rev. Lucas Johnson, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Atlanta, GA
Dr. Marne O’Shae, Ithaca, NY
The Rev. Dr. Allie Perry, Board Member, Interfaith Peace-Builders, New Haven, CT
Dr. Paula M. Rayman, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Watertown, MA
Dr. Alice Rothchild, American Jews for a Just Peace, Cambridge, MA
Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Freeman Fellow, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Boston, MA 
Dr. James Turner, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Rabbi Brian Walt, Palestinian/Israeli Nonviolence Project Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY

For More Information:
Rabbi Brian Walt
Palestinian/Israeli Nonviolence Project Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute
508 560-0589


Kirby Edmonds
Coordinator, Dorothy Cotton Institute