Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September-October 2002, page 92
Civil Rights Defended
About 1,000 ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) activists from the middle Atlantic region gathered in Washington, DC between the Justice Department and FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue to protest the assault that American civil liberties—particularly those of Muslims and Americans of Middle Eastern descent—have suffered since 9/11. The demonstration was one of many held across the country on June 28 and 29 to spread the message that such actions as the “sneak and peek” laws allowing searches without notification, incarceration without charges or access to legal counsel, and the invasive and unwarranted tracking of immigrants and dissidents are not in keeping with the Constitution or the principles on which this country was founded.
Protesters also carried the messages that they did not wish the U.S. to continue to back Israel in its brutal and illegal occupation of the Palestinian people, nor to spread the “war on terrorism” to Iraq. Though police did not shut down Pennsylvania Ave. as the demonstration permit allowed, the ANSWER group was permitted to wend its way through the national mall. Police tried to stop protesters from handing out leaflets on civil rights, Palestine and Iraq to hundreds of tourists visiting the museums, but ANSWER organizer Brian Becker cited a recent Supreme Court decision upholding the right to distribute literature. A brief conversation with Department of the Interior lawyers confirmed Becker’s argument, and the march continued, with participants handing out fact sheets along their way. That day, at least, civil rights won a victory.
A Jagger in Jenin
Longtime human rights advocate Bianca Jagger addressed the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine July 16, 2002, regarding her experiences in Palestine and Israel as part of the United Nations Population Fund. The native of Nicaragua first became interested in politics and human rights while still a teen living under the Samosa regime, and by the 1970s was working with the British Red Cross. She later joined the International Red Cross, focusing her work on Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, as well as aiding in the evacuation of children from Bosnia. For her work Jagger has received numerous awards from such diverse groups as the U.N., the ACLU, and an honorary doctorate from Stonehill College. Her April trip to Jenin, following the devastating massacre that occurred during the Israeli invasion, marked her first trip to Palestine. Since then, she has made a second trip to the West Bank as part of a human convoy to deliver basic supplies to Hebron, Nablus, Jenin and Ramallah.
Jagger told the audience that she had witnessed the IDF preventing aid delivery, and was able to confirm that even U.N. and Red Cross officials suffered lengthy delays at checkpoints. Moreover, she said, even though she enjoyed a certain amount of celebrity, she was not immune from checkpoint delays under the guns of Israeli snipers. Jagger described a Red Cross worker’s statement that she had been shot at innumerable times as endemic of “one of the most unconscionable things I’ve found, because it directly targets the civilian population.” She called the current situation in the West Bank a “catastrophic humanitarian crisis for the Palestinian population,” as it was aimed at “ordinary Palestinian men, women, and children.”
Jagger called for Israel to allow freedom of movement and to halt collective punishment. While unequivocally condemning suicide bombings, she equally condemned disproportionate excessive force.
During her trip to the West Bank and Israel, Jagger met with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. She reported that she expressed her understanding of Israeli security concerns to him, but said she failed to understand why ambulances were stopped. According to Jagger, Peres told her that the IDF had found a bomb on an ambulance once, and therefore, to curtail their use as arms transport, prevented them from completing their lifesaving missions. Jagger received no satisfactory response, she said, to her suggestion that searches might be more understandable.
As the occupying power, she contended, Israel had responsibilities under international law, as well as U.N. resolutions and the Geneva conventions, to ensure the safety of the civilian population it occupies. However, she pointed out, Israel had publicly admitted to extrajudicial executions.
“I was appalled by the degree of human suffering I witnessed,” Jagger said. “I do not understand why we have double standards for human rights and international law when it comes to Israel.” If the British government had responded to violent resistance out of Belfast by hitting Ireland with planes, tanks, and helicopters the way Israel assaulted Jenin, she noted, the government would have fallen immediately.
Regarding her first West Bank trip to Jenin, Jagger said she and others were offered credible evidence that civilians were not given enough time to evacuate their houses before Israeli bulldozers demolished them, and that some of the wounded were left buried in the rubble, without access to food, water, or medical help, for 13 days. Having visited some Palestinian houses that were destroyed by missiles fired from helicopters, Jagger wondered what prevented a proper on-the-scene inquiry from taking place over the issue of Jenin. Calling for such an inquiry, she said that if a fact-finding team were ever allowed, it must have freedom of movement and access to all resources.
Jagger said the mood in Palestine was despairing, and urged Americans to get involved. The issue is an important one for the U.S., she said, in that President Bush was not a mediator, but rather allied with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Jagger praised American Jewish peace groups for their involvement, saying that, as a mother herself, she knew all mothers felt the same pain when they lost a child. She concluded by reminding the audience that peace requires compromise.
The presence at CPAP of a celebrity, rather than an academic or politician, brought out some listeners not normally concerned with the grim situation in Palestine and Israel. The growing constituency concerned with the Palestinian plight is a welcome turn of events.