Tag Archives: Palestinian territories

Divestment at UCSB

16 Apr

Moving Toward Divestment from Corporations Profiting from Israeli Militarism, Occupation, and Settlments

 

A few days ago I spoke to a student audience in support of a divestment resolution that was to be submitted for adoption at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The resolution was narrowly defeated the next day in the UCSB Student Senate, but this series of student initiated efforts to urge several campuses of the University of California to divest from corporations doing a profitable business selling military equipment to Israel represents an encouraging awakening on the part of American youth to the severe victimization of the Palestinian people by way of occupation, discrimination, refugee misery, and exile, a worsening set of circumstances that has lasted in its various forms for several decades, and shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

 

Ever since the nakba of 1948, either traditional diplomacy, nor the United Nations, nor armed struggle have been able to secure Palestinian rights, and as time has passed, Palestinian prospects are being steadily diminished by deliberate Israeli policies: establishment and expansion of unlawful settlements, ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, construction of a separation wall that the World Court found in 2004 was being unlawfully built on Palestinian territory, a network of Israeli only road, a dualistic system of laws that have an apartheid character, widespread abuse of Palestinian prisoners, systematic discrimination of the Palestinian minority living in pre-1967 Israel.

 

Israel has been consistently defiant in relation to relation to international law and the UN, and has refused to uphold Palestinian rights under international law. Given this set of circumstances that combine the failures of diplomacy to achieve a fair peaceful resolution of the conflict and the unwillingness of Israel to fulfill its obligations under international law, the only viable option consistent with the imperatives of global justice are a blend of continuing Palestinian resistance and a militant global solidarity campaign that is nonviolent, yet coercive.

 

The Palestinian struggle for self-determination has become the great international moral issue of our time, a successor to the struggle in South Africa a generation ago against its form of institutionalized racism, the original basis of the international crime of apartheid. It is notable that the Statute of the International Criminal Court designates apartheid as one type of Crime Against Humanity, and associates it with any structure of discrimination that is based on ethnicity or religion, and not necessarily a structure exhibiting the same characteristics as present in South Africa. Increasingly, independent inquiry has concluded that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is accurately considered to be a version of apartheid, and hence an ongoing Crime Against Humanity.

 

It is against this background that divestment initiatives and the wider BDS Campaign take on such importance at this time, especially here in America where the governing authorities turn a blind eye to Israel’s wrongdoing and yet continue to insist on their capacity to provide a trustworthy intermediary perspective that is alleged to be the only path to peace, a claim that goes back to the aftermath of the 1967 war, and more definitively linked to the brokered famous handshake on the White House lawn affirming the 1993 Oslo Framework as the authoritative foundation for the resolution of the conflict. It has turned out that Oslo has been a horrible failure from the perspective of achieving Palestinian rights and yet a huge success from the standpoint of the Israeli expansionist blueprint, which included the annexation of the most fertile and desirable land in the West Bank and the consolidation of unified control over the sacred city of Jerusalem.

 

Against this background, there is only a single way forward: the mobilization of transnational civil society to join the struggle mounted by the Palestinians for an end to occupation in a manner that produces a just solution, including respect for the rights of Palestinian refugees. If this solidarity surge happens on a sufficient scale it will weaken Israel internally and internationally, and hopefully, would lead to an altered political climate in Israel and the United States that would

at long last become receptive to an outcome consistent with international law and morality. Such a posture would be in contrast with what these two governments have for so long insisted upon– a ‘solution’ that translated Israel’s hard power dominance, including the ‘facts on the ground’ that it has steadily created, into arrangements falsely called ‘peace.’

 

After I presented this argument supporting the divestment resolution several important questions asked by members of a generally appreciative student audience:

–“some people object to this divestment effort as unfairly singling out Israel when there are so many other situations in the world where unlawful behavior and oppressive policies have resulted in more extreme forms of victimization than that experienced by the Palestinians. Why single out the Israelis for this kind of hostile maneuver?”

>there are several ways to respond: the American support of Israel is itself reason enough to justify the current level of attention. Despite Israel’s relative affluence American taxpayers foot the bill for $3 billion + per year, more than is given to the whole of Africa and Latin America, which amounts to $8.7 million per day; additional to the financial contribution is the extraordinary level of diplomatic support that privileges Israel above any other allied country, and extends to pushing policies that reflect Israeli priorities even when adverse to American national interests. This is the case with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. The most stabilizing move would be to propose a nuclear free zone for the entire Middle East, but the United States will not even mention such an option for fear of occasioning some kind of backlash orchestrated by an irate leadership in Tel Aviv.

>the world community as a whole, particularly the UN, undertook a major responsibility for the future of Palestine when it adopted GA Resolution 181 proposing the partition of historic Palestine, giving 55% for a Jewish homeland and 45% to the Palestinians; even since the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the wishes of the indigenous population of Palestine have been disregarded in favor of colonialist ambitions; Palestine remains the last and most unfortunate instance of an ongoing

example of settler colonialism, exemplified by the dispossession and subjugation of the indigenous population as a result of violent suppression. The settlers in this usage are all those that displace the indigenous population, depriving such people of their right of self-determination, and should not be confused with ‘settlers’ from Israel that establish enclaves of domination within occupied Palestine.

 

–“some persons have said that we should not push for divestment because it makes Jewish students on the campus uncomfortable. Is there some basis for taking such sensitivities into account?

>It is important not to allow Zionist propaganda to make us believe that being critical of Israel is tantamount to anti-semitism, and hostility to Jews as a religious and ethnic minority in this country and elsewhere. Because anti-semitism did produce such horrible historical abuses of Jews it is a cruel and opportunistic tactic to mislead public opinion in this manner. Not only Jews, but all of us must learn, that we are human  before we are Jews, or any other ethnicity. I am Jewish, but it is more important to privilege human interests, and to avoid the narrow partisanship of tribal loyalties. If we are to survive on this crowded planet we must learn, in the words of W.H. Auden, “to love another or die.” It would be odd if as citizens of the United States we were to refrain criticizing the government in Washington because we didn’t want to make Americans feel uncomfortable. At this stage, we have an obligation to make those who shield Israel from criticism to feel uncomfortable not because they are Jewish but because they are being complicit in the commission of crimes against a vulnerable people that have long endured unimaginable levels of abuse.

 

–“Is there any reason to believe that the Israeli government will change its policies as a result of the pressures mounted by divestment measures of this kind even if implemented, which seems highly unlikely?”

>The importance of this divestment campaign is partly symbolic and partly substantive. Such initiatives are only undertaken after a prolonged failure of traditional means of overcoming international situations of extreme injustice. As such, it sends a message of distress as well as seeks to discourage corporations from making profits from transactions relating to unlawful activities in Israel, especially relating to uses of force against the Palestinian civilian population. Beyond this, we never know whether a combination of factors produces such pressure that those responsible for policy recalculate their interests and make a drastic change that could not have been anticipated. This happened to the white leadership in South Africa, leading to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years, and a reconciliation process that allowed the oppressed black majority to assume leadership of the country on the basis of a constitutionally mandated inclusive democracy. No one now expects an analogous transformation in Israel, but it will surely not come about without making the status quo increasingly unsustainable for the oppressor as it has long been for the oppressed.

Open Letter to Blog Faithful

31 Mar

To the Blog Faithful:

I have had a recurrent struggle to set boundaries on the comments section of this blog. At first, I was determined to have an open forum welcoming critical commentary on any issue, excluding only those comments that seemed struck me as clear instances of hate speech. This approach seemed to work okay except with respect to Israel/Palestine, which increasingly attracted either long argumentative comments posing a list of rhetorical questions or angry serial comment contributors that insulted me as well as others who had submitted comments that were interpreted by them as being pro-Palestinian or hostile to Israel and Zionism. There was no symmetry in the sense the blog received no serial or long provocative comments written by those who more or less supportive of the Palestinian struggle for justice. From blog readers I received mixed reactions, but I was most persuaded by those who expressed dismay about the tendency to fill the comments section with insults and counter-insults or with argumentative views that did not invite serious dialogue.

In reaction after some months, I reached the conclusion that it was preferable, on balance, to limit the comment space of my blog to likeminded views on Israel/Palestine. This meant excluding those annoying serial comments and those pro-Israeli comments that struck me as merely argumentative or dismissive of pro-Palestinian positions. In my view, this more restrictive approach did succeed in raising the quality of interaction between my posts and the authors of comments, as well as enhanced the dialogue among comment writers.

At the same time, as might have been predicted, such selective monitoring provoked angry reactions from those whose comments were being excluded.[see David Singer, “Palestine-UN Special Rapporteur Bans Free Speech,” Canada Free Press, http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/print-friendly/54172] It was claimed that I was violating canons of free speech, and that this was especially wrong, given my position as Special Rapporteur for the UN Human Rights Council. I am not persuaded by these objections. A blog is not necessarily an arena that should observe standards that are respectful free speech or necessarily exhibit openness to all sincerely held viewpoints.

The media governs access to its arenas of expression by its editorial policies, and no one insists that it has no constitutional right to do this, although a newspaper or TV channel is more of a public entity than is a personal blog. If you do not like the editorial approach of say, the Wall Street Journal or Fox TV, you can in a democracy go elsewhere, or find ways to encourage the establishment of more congenial media. Public radio and TV makes a greater effort, partly because of tax policy and funding sources, to be ‘objective,’ that is, to present opposing responsible viewpoints without taking sides. Many of us, however, feel that what CNN views as impartial and objective, seems unduly reflective of the mainstream consensus, and is unreceptive to progressive critical viewpoints, especially those associated with the anti-militarist, anti-capitalist portions of the political spectrum.

As far as my UN role is concerned, it seems irrelevant in relation to a private blog that makes no claim to be associated with my formal position, which is essentially voluntary and unpaid. I retain my right as a private citizen to express personal views on a range of public issues, including those that pertain to Israel & Palestine. My reports to the UN are based, to the best of my ability, on an objective assessment of evidence and procedures of impartial interpretation. My efforts along these lines have been obstructed from the outset by Israel’s refusal to cooperate with this undertaking to gather facts even to the minimal extent of granting me access to the Occupied Palestine Territories; in fact, I was expelled from Israel on December 14, 2008 when I tried to carry out a UN mission to examine conditions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and was detained for some hours in a prison located near to the Ben Gurion Airport. Israel has been able to sustain this position throughout my tenure as Special Rapporteur, despite numerous attempts to request reconsideration and Israel’s treaty obligation as a member of the UN to cooperate with its official undertakings. As in other sectors of Israel’s behavior, the realities of impunity shield its officials and government from accountability.

As before, I welcome, and have learned from, a wide range of thoughtful and gracious comments, some critical, some supportive, some inbetween. I have tried to be responsive to well intentioned criticism, learn from my mistakes, and express gratitude to all those who have used the comment section in a constructive spirit. I welcome further discussion on this theme, a continuing struggle to find the right balance for a blog with an avowedly emancipatory political agenda. I offer no apology for this posture of dedication to the pursuit of global justice.

I am most grateful to all those that have given me feedback and support, and made me feel that despite the overcrowded blogosphere, these posts of mine are not completely superfluous wilderness whimperings, and reach a community of co-believers that shares with me the vision that our lives on this planet are spiritual journeys, really pilgrimages.

You make a reasonable case against my blog policy that I have adopted reluctantly. My main disagreement with you is that I do not consider a blog to be a venue for free speech, but rather for civil discourse. I had many complaints about allowing recurrent email that took issue repeatedly and consistently with my views. This blog has nothing to do with my role as a UN Special Rapporteur, which in any event is a burdensome unpaid position that I do as conscientiously as possible. I consider the blog, a birthday gift from my daughter, to be a semi-private way of communicating with likeminded persons, not that all the comments, such as the one you refer to, are to my liking. I do not expect you to understand or accept my view on this issue, but at least I thought it worthwhile to offer this response, and it leads me to think that I should address the issue briefly in a future post.

Investigate the Death of Arafat Jaradat

1 Mar

What follows is a news report prompted by my press release on the shocking treatment of Arafat Jaradat who died while being held in an Israel prison.

27 February 2013 – A United Nations human rights expert today called for an international investigation into the death of Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat, who died in Israeli custody just a few days after his arrest.

“The death of a prisoner during interrogation is always a cause for concern, but in this case, when Israel has shown a pattern and practice of prisoner abuse, the need for outside, credible investigation is more urgent than ever,” stressed the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Richard Falk.

“The best approach might be the creation of an international forensic team under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council,” he added in a news release.

Both the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, and the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, have also called for an independent investigation into Mr. Jaradat’s death, which occurred on Saturday.

Mr. Falk pointed to the assessment made by the Palestinian Authority’s chief pathologist, Dr. Saber Aloul, who observed the autopsy carried out inside Israel, and found there were clear signs of torture on the body of the previously healthy, 30-year-old detainee.

Israeli officials initially claimed Mr. Jaradat died of a heart attack, but the preliminary autopsy findings did not include a cause of death, noted the news release.

“In light of Dr. Aloul’s findings that there was no evidence of heart disease or damage, and that there were signs of torture on Jaradat’s body, an independent international investigation should be launched,” stated Mr. Falk.

According to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, more than 700 Palestinian detainees have filed complaints against agents of the Israeli security agency Shin Bet for mistreatment during interrogation throughout the last decade. However, noted the news release, not one has led to a criminal investigation.

Mr. Jaradat hailed from the small village of Sa’ir near Hebron and was a gas station attendant. He leaves behind a four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son; his wife Dalal is pregnant with their third child.

“As an occupying power, Israel has special responsibilities under international humanitarian law to deal humanely with Palestinians held in detention, and the international community has similar responsibilities to ensure that these are carried out,” Mr. Falk underscored.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

An Indispensable Book on Palestine/Israel

8 Feb

Responding to Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland by Pamela Olson (Berkeley, CA: Seal Press)

 

I realize that without knowing it, I have long waited for this book, although I could not have imagined its lyric magic in advance of reading. It is a triumph of what I would call ‘intelligent innocence,’ the great benefits of a clear mind, an open and warm heart, and a trustworthy moral compass that draws sharp lines between good and evil while remaining ever sensitive to the contradictory vagaries of lives and geographic destinies. Pamela Olson exhibits an endearing combination of humility and overall emotional composure that makes her engaged witnessing of the Palestinian ordeal so valuable for me as I believe and hope it will be for others.

 

Early on, she acknowledges her lack of background with refreshing honesty: “Green and wide-eyed, I wandered into the Holy Land, an empty vessel.” But don’t be fooled. Olson, who had recently graduated from Stanford, almost immediately dives deeply into the daily experience of Palestine and Palestinians, with luminous insight and a sensibility honed on an anvil of tenderness, truthfulness, and a readiness for adventure and romance. Upon crossing the border that separates Israel from the West Bank, enduring routine yet frightening difficulties at the checkpoint, she find herself in the Palestinian village of Jayyous, not far from the Palestinian city of Jenin. Her first surprise is the welcoming warmth of the villagers whose hospitality makes her feel almost as if she is on a homecoming visit to Stigler, the small town in eastern Oklahoma where she grew up. Almost at once Olson finds herself in the midst of a social circle in Jayyous that harvests olives during the day and sits together on porches in the evening puffing on a nargila (water pipe) and conversing about the world.

 

Olson’s authenticity pervades the book, whether it is a matter of adoring the cuisine or acknowledging her infatuation with a Palestinian young man who crosses her path. She learns to speak a bit of Arabic, reads up on the struggle, and stays alert. The style of the book is an enchanting mixture of personal journal, travelogue, political primer on the conflict, and coming of age memoir. She writes with clarity, humor, and self-scrutiny (in a tone of almost asking herself, ‘Who is this girl from rural Oklahoma who is experiencing this extraordinary encounter with people and the sad conditions of their lives?’).

 

As the title implies, it is primarily a book about Palestine and what occupation means for Palestinians trapped under Israeli military rule for more than 45 years, and how their extraordinary qualities of humane coping make Jayyous and Ramallah so inspirational for her.  It instills an intense longing to return and share the dangers and deprivations, which are more powerfully satisfying than the pleasures of ‘freedom.’ (I am reminded of a friend from Gaza, a leading human rights activist, whose family has been living in Cairo in recent years. He tells me that when he plans a vacation, his university age children who are studying abroad insist on going to Gaza rather than Paris or London.)

 

Yet the book is sensitive to the tragic experiences of both peoples. Through the whole of her experience, Olson remains open to her Israeli friend, Dan, as well as to a Christian appreciation of the Holy Land, not as a believer but as someone whose identity was formed in a religiously Christian community. Early on in the book, when she tells Dan how disturbed she is by the occupation, he reminds her of Israeli grief and distress. Dan’s words: “Last year there was a suicide bombing practically every week, it was… unbelievable. The mall we went to yesterday was bombed last year. Three weeks ago a suicide bomber killed twenty people in a restaurant in Haifa. Just innocent people having a meal.” Olson’s response is characteristically empathetic: “I sighed and looked out over the water. What I had seen in the West Bank was terrible, but there was another side to the story, after all. I tried to imagine the horror of people sitting around having a meal, and then all of a sudden—” But in the end it becomes clear that Israel’s human rights violations have, if anything, a negative impact on Israeli security.

 

One of the most moving chapters is a description of a visit by Olson’s mother and stepfather. She pressured them to come so that “they would never have to wonder whether I had exaggerated either the beauty or the horror.” Because this was her mother’s first trip outside of America, she saw what was to be seen with fresh eyes. This experience produced joy and wonder along with tearful reactions at checkpoints, such as: “Good Lord… How can this be happening over here and no one in America even knows or cares?” Is this not the question we should all have been asking for decades? During the visit, they also spend time touring the Christian sites in and around Jerusalem and the Galilee that are particularly meaningful to her religious mother.

 

The timeline of the book covers 2003-2005. But the essentials of the occupation emerge, especially the encroachment of the separation wall, the settlements, and checkpoints, and what it means for a Palestinian to live day by day under systematic violations of human rights that show no sign of ending in the foreseeable future. When Olson inserts information about history, Israeli and Palestinian politics, international law and elementary morality, she is accurate, concise, and perceptive. She also is honest enough not to suppress her emotional responses to some extreme situations.

 

In the end what gives the book its special value is the compelling credibility of her “love affair with a homeless homeland,” a sub-title that says it all! It is one thing to lament the suffering and humiliation of the Palestinians or to condemn the cruelty and harshness of the Israeli occupation. It is quite another to be able to observe these defining realities and yet see beyond to a proud and gracious people with a generous sense of humor who manage to live as vibrantly as possible even under almost unimaginable circumstances of oppression. It is this combination of feeling the Palestinian hurt while celebrating the warmth and genuineness of the Palestinian embrace that allows a reader to achieve what I had previously thought impossible without an immersion in the place itself. Olson is a twenty-first century example of how a reassuringly normal American woman might best visit the Arab world. She is intensely curious, with a gift for observation and dialogue and a sensibility that is not afraid of danger or to acknowledge shades of gray or to register her disappointments with others, and above all with herself. Her own evolution is also relevant, from a ‘Bible-centric’ youth in Oklahoma to a scientifically oriented skepticism to a wonderfully caring person who managed to have this incredible ‘love affair’ with occupied Palestine, amid the ruins. In her words, “I couldn’t imagine a better university of human nature.”

 

Obviously Pamela Olson is blessed with talent. A girl from rural Oklahoma who had to struggle to find the funds to attend college does not make it to the likes of Stanford very often, where she majors in physics and political science, nor does the typical graduate defer entering the job market and go about exploring the world to find out what it is like, and how best to live her life. It is thus not entirely surprising that after her experiences in Palestine, Olson returned to work for a ‘Defense Department think tank’ to try to understand why American foreign policy was so dysfunctional, and found it ‘educational but disillusioning.’ She lasted less than two years before deciding to write Fast Times in Palestine, her attempt to bring what she learned in Palestine directly to the American people.

 

I have the following daydream: If everyone in America could just sit down quietly and read this book, there would be such an upsurge of outrage and empathy that the climate of opinion on the Israel/Palestine conflict would finally change for the better—even in the polluted air that now prevails within the Beltway. At the very least, as many people as possible should read the book, and if your reaction is similar to mine, give a copy to friends and encourage them to spread the word. We in America should stop subsidizing and facilitating the systematic creation of ‘a homeless homeland.’ As a close friend in Jayyous named Rania tells Pamela, “Imagine if there was no occupation! Palestine would be like paradise.”

 

The book can be pre-ordered from Amazon. It will be available in mid-March. 
http://www.amazon.com/Fast-Times-Palestine-Homeless-Homeland/dp/158005482X

I urge you to do so!

 

Losing Control: A Blogger’s Nightmare

6 Jan

 

            When I started this blog a couple of years ago, the thought never entered my mind that I would need to defend the terrain. Although I knew my views were controversial on some issues, I assumed that those who disagreed strongly would stay away, losing interest, or express their disagreements in a spirit of civility. To a large extent this has been true, with the glaring exception of Israel/Palestine. Here my problems are two-fold: (1) very nasty personal attacks that challenge the integrity, balance, judgment, and overall demeanor of myself and those that agree with me; (2) very insistent and determined requests to engage my views from highly divergent standpoints, so divergent that I can find no useful meeting ground or value in such exchanges. By and large, I have excluded defamatory comments from the first group to the extent I have taken the time to monitor the comments section of the blog. I neither feel any obligation to give space on the blog to those who wish me ill, nor do I wish to respond to such allegations unless it seems absolutely necessary to do so. My recent Open Letter to CRIF was an illustration of such a necessity. I have refrained from responding to the UN Watch campaign despite a strong temptation to explain their distortions and deny their falsehoods, which are clearly intended to bring me harm.

 

            The second cluster of responses has been more troublesome for me: as someone who has enjoyed classroom teaching for almost 60 years I have always welcomed the challenge of divergent viewpoints that differ dramatically from my own, and the valuable sort of dialogic conversations that have so often enlivened my academic career.  At the same time, I do not think that by posting interpretations of events and issues, I am committing myself to debate with those who disagree to an extent that ensures that the interaction of our viewpoints will result in an argument incapable of resolution, and essentially going nowhere. I have always found debate between those with sharply antagonistic views to be, at best, a species of performance art or a theater of ideas that may be useful in some instances to clarify disagreements or to entertain an audience. In my experience debates almost never succeed in finding common ground or even in leading one side or the other to modify their position in significant ways. I raise this issue because some of those who defend Israel most passionately seem to feel that I have a responsibility to enter detailed and frequent discussion with them to consider our points of difference.

 

            I am sympathetic with the view that because I have this position as UN Special Rapporteur on human rights violation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 that I have a duty to engage with those who are concerned with these issues. In some ways I wish that my schedule was less crowded and my energies were more extensive, but I have to make choices. It should be remembered that my UN appointment is not a UN staff position. I am in effect an unpaid volunteer, and accept the burden of considerable added work because I believe that the Palestinian people deserve an independent and honest voice to express their grievances on the global stage, and I do this in a manner that tries to take account of Israeli claims relating to its occupation policies. I would also insist that due to my independent position within the UN System, it is entirely appropriate to maintain a blog of this sort that expresses my views as a citizen of a democratic society, which I regard as falling within the sphere of conscience and reflection. I do make an effort to avoid public partisan stands in activist contexts that could create ambiguities as to my commitment to speak the truth as best I can.

 

            I draw a distinction between those who share some core commitments, for instance, respect for rights under international law or commitments to seek peaceful resolution of disputes, and those that seem to be taunts rather than serious efforts to gain mutual understanding of difficult and complicated issues. Interpretations of the issues that are so completely tilted toward legitimizing the positions and claims of Israel, which occupies the dominant position in the conflict, fall outside the boundaries of useful discussion so far as I am concerned. My sense of fairness is always conditioned by the structure of the underlying relationships, placing me on the side of those social and political forces that are struggling for emancipation from situations of oppression and rightlessness. Given this perspective, siding with the Palestinians is partly a matter of identifying with the party that has for decades been victimized by the cruel play of hard power reinforced by geopolitics. Let me be clear: my underlying commitment is to a sustainable and just peace for both peoples, but I believe this can only happen if ‘facts on the ground’ give way to a full-fledged diplomatic appreciation of ‘Palestinian rights under international law.’

 

            Even if I was inclined to devote more time to responding to hostile and divergent comments on Israel/Palestine I would disappoint other readers of the blog, who are already offended by the degree to which this one conflict sucks up all the oxygen. I have received many emails, that is, a cyber path that avoids direct comments the blog, which have strongly recommended that I not respond to comments at all and that I take steps to avoid this disproportionate concentration of energy on this one conflict. There is, I have discovered, an analogue in the blogosphere to the crude version of Gresham’s Law (‘bad money drives out good money’) so beloved by economists: It is ‘bad comments drive out good comments.’ Some of my correspondents have even gently suggested in response to the uncivil tone of many comments that I abandon the blog altogether and instead create a mailing list that serves as an alternative outlet for my views, which would have the advantage of limiting posts to a community of likeminded persons. Supposedly, this would protect my bruised ego. But I remain foolish enough to sustain the blog a bit longer, and see what happens. I will continue to struggle with balance on a tightrope that keeps the blog open to strangers, including those who disagree and disapprove, while working on behalf of an identity and level of discourse that accords with my values, and is faithful to my initial motivation to engage in the hard work of writing posts on a variety of topics to address some public issues in a manner that seems at variance with mainstream media interpretations. I do this partly because self-expression has always been a satisfying form of self-discovery, somewhat similar in this manner to teaching and scholarly writing. And partly because there might be a few others on the planet that share my worries about the present and future, and seek a community brave enough to hope when there is no hope!

 

            It is strange that I should also receive complaints as to why I do not discuss wrongdoing in the world other than that of Israel. One of the sharpest criticisms that I receive is that I must be an ‘Israel-hater,’ or worse, ‘a Jew hater,’ because I do not denounce instances of human suffering other than that of the Palestinians with the same vehemence that I accord to Israel’s wrongdoing. It is a strange line of attack for two reasons: firstly, to my knowledge, those who make such an allegation are themselves single-minded defenders of Israel, and exhibit no interest in other issues beyond the rhetorical point that there are other humanitarian ordeals that from their standpoint are far worse than what the Palestinians have endured; and secondly, I have devoted my research and teaching skills to many other international concerns other than those associated with the Israel/Palestine conflict. Even a superficial glance at my CV would show a career emphasis on general international law and world order issues, and far more criticism devoted over the years to American foreign policy than to Israel’s behavior.

 

                        I am prepared to entertain other ideas about my claim to have a right to control the tone and substance of the comments section of my blog. In effect, I have been reflecting on the presumed basis that I have a proprietary right to exercise control according to my discretion. There are a huge variety of other sites enabling those who wish to denounce me or my views, so why must I make this space available for uncongenial ventures? And why should I have to depend on friends and allies coming to my rescue when the going gets too tough. Hilary Clinton in the 2008 presidential campaign taunted Obama by saying “if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” But I ask myself, ‘what is the point of such discomfort if the heat sheds no light,’ mixing metaphors inexcusably.

 

            Another response to this kind of squabble is to adopt the ethos of my younger son, who likes to say ‘chill!’  whenever emotions rise above his comfort level. His intention is to encourage ‘letting go,’ ‘backing off’’, ‘allowing a hundred flowers to bloom,’ and the like.  But there are deep feelings at stake when these blog issues are being discussed, and little willingness to grant respect to those who defend positions that seem abhorrent. I include myself in this indictment, often feeling too engaged with the abuse of Palestinian rights to treat controversy as mere differences of opinion, but this is a reflection of my understanding of the relevant facts and law, and not a matter of blind passion or blinkered vision. 

An Open Letter of Response to CRIF (Conseil Représentif des Institutions Juives de France)

30 Dec

An Open Letter of Response to CRIF (Conseil Représentif des Institutions Juives de France)

I am shocked and saddened that your organization would label me as an anti-Semite and self-hating Jew. It is utterly defamatory, and such allegations are entirely based on distortions of what I believe and what I have done. To confuse my criticisms of Israel with self-hatred of myself as a Jew or with hatred of Jews is a calumny. I have long been a critic of American foreign policy but that does not make me anti-American; it is freedom of conscience and its integral link with freedom of expression that is the core defining reality of a genuinely democratic society, and the robust exercise of these rights are crucial to the quality of political life in a particular country, especially here in the United States where its size and influence often has such a large impact on the lives and destiny of many peoples excluded from participating in its policy debates or elections.

It is always difficult to negate irresponsible accusations of this kind. What follows is an attempt to clarify my honestly held positions in relation to a litany of charges that have been given currency by a defamatory campaign conducted by UN Watch ever since I was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to be Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2008. What follows are brief attempts at clarification in response to the main charges:

–the attacks on me by such high profile individuals as Ban ki-Moon, Susan Rice, David Cameron were made in response to vilifying letters about me sent to them by UN Watch, and signed by its Executive Director, Hillel Neuer. The contention that Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also attacked me is misleading. She regretted the posting of a cartoon on my blog that had an anti-Semitic cartoon, but she took note of my contention that it was a complete accident and that the cartoon was immediately removed when brought to my attention;

–it was the cartoon that has served UN Watch as the basis of their insistence that I am an anti-Semite. Their bad faith is demonstrated by their repeated magnification of the cartoon far beyond what I had posted on the basis of its size on the Google image page for the International Criminal Court. As I have explained many times, I was unaware when I posted the cartoon of its anti-Semitic character, and pointed out that the post in which was inserted was dealing with my argument that the ICC was biased in its use of its authority, in this instance by issuing arrest warrants against the Qaddafi leadership in Libya. Israel was not mentioned in the post the content of which had nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism or Jews. To ignore such an explanation is to my way of thinking and to reprint the cartoon in an enlarged form is a sign of malicious intent; any fair reading of the 182 posts on my blog, including one devoted to Jewish identity would make it very clear to any objective reader that I have not expressed a single sentiment that can be fairly described as an anti-Semite. It is a grave disservice to both Israel and Jews to confuse criticism of Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians with anti-Semitism.

–the claim that I am a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, actually a leading one, is false, as well. I have consistently maintained that I have insufficient knowledge to reach any conclusions about whether there is an alternative narrative of the 9/11 events that is more convincing than the official version. What I have said, and stand behind, is that David Griffin and many others have raised questions that have not been adequately answered, and constitute serious gaps in the official version that were not closed by the 9/11 Commission report. I would reaffirm that David Griffin is a cherished friend, and that we have professionally collaborated on several projects long before 9/11. It should be pointed out that Griffin is a philosopher of religion of worldwide reputation that has written on a wide range of issues, including a series on inquiries into the post-modern world and the desirability of an ecological civilization.

–The recent UN Watch letter that led me to be removed from the Human Rights Watch SB city Committee also claims I am a partisan of Hamas, which is a polemic charge and is untrue. What I have encouraged is a balanced view of Hamas based on the full context of their statements and behavior, and not fixing on language in the Hamas Charter or a particular speech. When the broader context is considered of Hamas statements and recent behavior is considered, then I believe there exists a potential opportunity to work with Hamas leaders to end the violence, to release the people of Gaza from captivity, and to generate a diplomatic process that leads to a period of prolonged peaceful co-existence with Israel. I have never insisted that this hopeful interpretation is necessarily correct, but I do maintain that it is worth exploring, and a preferred alternative to the current rigid insistence on refusing to deal with Hamas as a political actor because it is ‘a terrorist organization.’ It was evident in the recent violence preceding the November ceasefire in Gaza that leaders throughout the Middle East were treating Hamas as the governmental authority in Gaza and as a normal political entity, and this helped bring the violence to an end.

–Finally, UN Watch charges that I am biased and one-sided in my treatment of Israeli behavior, and cites Susan Rice and others for support, as well as noting my failure to report on violations by Hamas, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority. I can only say once more that I am trying my best to be objective and truthful, although unwilling to give in to pressure. I did make an effort in my initial appearance before the Human Rights Council to broaden my mandate to take account of Palestinian violations, but was rebuffed by most of the 49 governmental members of the Council for seeking to make such a change, and reasonable grounds were advanced for not changing my mandate. I have noted Palestinian violations of international law wherever relevant to the assessment of Israeli behavior, as for instance in relation to the launch of indiscriminate rockets. Palestinian abuses of human rights of Palestinians under their control while administering portions of Occupied Palestine is outside my mandate, and I have no discretion to comment on such behavior in discharging my responsibilities as Special Rapporteur.

It is my view that Israel is in control of the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and is primarily responsible for the situation and the persistence of the conflict, especially by their insistence on undertaking provocative actions such as targeted assassinations and accelerated settlement expansions.

I would grateful if this account of my actual views and beliefs can be circulated widely in response to the CRIF repetition of the UN Watch attacks.

Richard Falk

29 December 2012

For What?

20 Jul

 

             Being disinclined to look in mirrors, not only to avoid evidences of aging, but also because of an autobiographical deficit, I have recently started to question the vectors of my motivation. Not to raise doubts but to seek some understanding of ‘for what?’ I am especially wondering the reasons behind my solidarity with the struggles of distant strangers, why such solidarity is not more widely shared with likeminded friends, and why the inevitable priorities as to what is emphasized and what is ignored have the shape they do. Most pointedly, why am I giving the Palestinians so much more attention and psychic energy than the Kurds, Tibetans, or Kashmiris, and a host of other worthy causes? And how do I explain to myself a preoccupation with the unlawful, immoral, and imprudent foreign policy of the U.S. Government, the sovereign state of my residence upon whose governmental resources I depend upon for security and a range of rights?

 

            There are rational answers that tell part of the story, but only a part, and probably the least illuminating part. I was drawn to the Palestinian struggle as a result of friendship with prominent Palestinian exiles while still a student. I formed a well-evidence belief that the U.S. Government and the organized Jewish community were responsible for the massive and enduring confiscation of Palestinian land and rights. And with this awareness came some added sense of responsibility. ‘Just don’t sit and stare, do something.’

And with this modest kind of engagement came pressures to do more by way of public identification and witnessing, which led to a somewhat deeper awareness, greater familiarity, and of course, a dumpster full of harsh criticism. After many years of speaking and writing, the opportunity and challenge to do more in relation to Palestine/Israel conflict came my way unexpectedly in the form of an unsolicited invitation in 2008 to become the next Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council.

 

            I never sought such a position, and realized that it would expose me to an escalating onslaught of vicious personal attacks and threats, an expectation that has been amply fulfilled. It is always uncomfortable to be the target of toxic language, and it is even more scary and disturbing to expose my closest partner in life and love to such calumny. Besides the hotly contested terrain that exists whenever Israeli policies are subject to objective scrutiny and criticism, a position within the UN hierarchy is both burdensome and often frustrating. True, being a Special Rapporteur is essentially a voluntary post, without salary or civil service affiliations, although ‘compensated’ to some degree by institutional independence within the UN, which I have discovered in my four years, can be a considerable blessing. There is little doubt in my mind that if I had been a paid employee I would long ago have been handed a pink slip. As it is I have merely endured a barrage of slanderous insults, including from the Secretary General and Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the UN in New York.

           

            Lest I protest and complain too much, I hasten to add that there are also deep and moving satisfactions. I find particularly satisfying the extent to which my two reports each year on the Israeli occupation of Palestine provides a truthful witnessing to the unspeakable ordeal of this prolonged and harsh occupation. Actually, it is less and less an occupation and more and more an apartheid style form of annexation, aggravated by continuous land grabs, various instruments of ethnic cleansing, and a range of gratuitous cruelties most recently dramatized by a series of heroic hunger strikes by Palestinians protesting those aspects of their plight resulting from violent arrest procedures, administrative detention, and deplorable prison conditions falling far below accepted international standards. Bearing witness, giving the Palestinians an authentic voice with which to formulate their grievances, and having the means to issue press releases calling attention to particular incidents of abuse, makes me feel as though my time is well spent even if the bodies keep piling up on the Palestinian side of the border. Part of the challenge in such a role is to realize the discouraging constraints on what can be achieved. Governments mainly don’t listen, and even when they do, their actions and policies are rarely informed by moral imperatives, and so nothing changes however much the evidence is present.

            The devastating impact of the Gaza blockade has been known and lamented for years by political leaders, and yet the costs of doing anything about it have seemed so great that even those who complain most loudly in the chambers of the UN are silent or worse when it comes to doing something. Someone at my level is shouting to be heard amid the clamor that prevails in the diplomatic discotheques of New York and Geneva, and even when heard, must learn to expect nothing to be done or else despair, even madness, will soon follow.

 

            Beyond this rational balance sheet of gains and losses, is a deeper less accessible convergence of feelings and impulses, which cannot be explained, but only acknowledged. I am not sure why direct exposure to victimization has such a powerful animating effect on my behavior, but it does. I do feel that a sense of responsibility emerges with such knowledge, especially that derived from direct contact with the suffering of victims caught in some historical trap not of their own making. Also, whether visiting North Vietnam as a peace activist during the Vietnam War or seeking to understand the Iranian Revolution by talking with its leaders as the extraordinary process was unfolding in Tehran, I felt a meta-professional obligation to share this privileged exposure by talking and writing about it, however inadequately, particularly, as seemed generally to be the case, that the mainstream media distorted and manipulated their presentations of such historic happenings as misleadingly seen through their Western optic of (mis)perception.

 

            Somewhere in this agonizingly slow formation of my character there was being constructed a self that took the shape of ‘engaged scholar’ and ‘citizen pilgrim.’ In retrospect, I think I was reacting somewhat dialectically to my academic colleagues who mostly felt it inappropriate to speak out on controversial issues although they viewed it as entirely professional to consult with the government and quite all right to avoid the public sphere altogether by packaging themselves as experts who should not be expected to take public stands on partisan issues that divided the polity. I felt, increasingly with age, the opposite. I came to believe that it was an organic part of my integrity as teacher/scholar to create a seamless interface between classroom and sites of political struggle. In truth, not entirely seamless as the classroom must always be treated as a sacred space by a faculty member. It should be maintained as a sanctuary for the uninhibited exchange of views however diverse and antagonistic in an atmosphere of disciplined civility. I have always felt that it is a primary duty of a teacher is to establish sufficient trust with students, that is, permission and encouragement of openness of expression with a clear understanding that performance will be objectively assessed, and not affected by agreement or disagreement with what the teacher happens to believe. This is a delicate balance yet far more conducive to learning than a sterile and journeyman insistence that what people beyond the campus are dying for can be usefully addressed with sanitary dispassion.

 

            In the end, this vital domain of conscious pedagogy and unconscious morality, is spiritually validated by an unmediated and uninterrogated sense that this or that is ‘the right thing to do.’ It certainly helps to remain as free as possible of vested interests and career ambitions that tend to crush an implicit pledge of truthfulness that authentic witnessing depends upon. And beyond witnessing there exists an iron wall of moral obligation: caring about the future, doing what I can to make the world a better place for human habitation and co-evolution with nature, which I have understood as a species obligation that has been made historically urgent ever since an atomic bomb was exploded over the Japanese city of Hiroshima and is now also deeply connected with protecting the planet from the multiple hazards of global warming hopelessly embedded in our carbon-dependent life styles as promiscuously promoted in disastrous directions by the greed of superrich fossil fuel billionaires and their far too powerful corporate allies.

 

            I have not rested these life commitments on the teachings of any particular religious tradition or institution, although I have long found the great world religions, East and West, despite their menacing contradictions and multiple readings, as providing me with the most profound sources of wisdom and guidance. It is the basis of my ecumenical longing for human solidarity, along with my feelings of awe produced by contact with cosmic and natural wonders, and deeply informs my sense of the spiritual ground of the human adventure. These sentiments are reinforced in my case by a commitment to an emergent form of cosmopolitan citizenship that owes allegiance to the ethics and praxis of human sustainability, the individual and collective dignity of all human beings, and a respectful kinship with and love of our non-human co-inhabitants of the planet. Such perspectives, I believe, respond to our historically precarious situation as a species, and here in America, this concern is accentuated. For this is a country with a surfeit of moral and political pretensions. It exhibits hubris to an alarming degree, and in extravagant ways, and is endangering itself along with the rest of the world by a refusal to heed what the geopolitical mirror of reflection warns about. 

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