Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June/July 2002, pages 86-97
American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) jointly held an urgent press conference May 6 at the National Press Club to condemn Israel’s detention of two American citizens, Dr. Riad Abdelkarim and Dalell Mohmed, and call for their immediate release.
According to AMJ director Khalid Turaani, Dr. Abdelkarim, who writes the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,’s “Islam in America” column, was arrested May 5 at Ben-Gurion Airport on his way home to California after completing a fact-finding mission for a medical relief organization. He had just e-mailed a first-hand account of the death and destruction he witnessed in Jenin refugee camp. This report by a seasoned medical doctor who was obviously severely shaken by the devastation he saw in Jenin most likely angered authorities and resulted in his arrest, Turaani said. Israeli authorities worked very hard to block reporters and aid workers from reaching Jenin until its troops cleaned up the area, he explained, and did not want this popular doctor, writer and speaker to return to the U.S. with his story and pictures on his video recorder and camera.
Gerri Bird, director of Partners for Peace, told assembled journalists that the U.S. government fails to offer the same protection to Arab-Americans held by Israel as it offers to other Americans. She has sworn statements from 13 U.S. citizens who were detained and tortured by Israelis seeking information. Since 1967, Bird said, Israel has arrested 600,000 Arabs, torturing 90 to 94 percent of the detainees. She noted that, when an American is arrested anywhere else in the world, authorities must inform the U.S. Embassy within 48 hours of the detention. This does not happen in Israel, Bird said. Dr. Abdulkarim’s family was informed of his arrest only because another doctor traveling with him and others in the airport saw it take place.
CAIR director Nihad Awad said that Israeli authorities routinely deny U.S. Embassy officials or lawyers access to arrested or detained Arab Americans. Non-Jewish detainees usually are emotionally and physically abused, he charged. “These arrests send a chilling message to members of our community,” Awad concluded: Israel doesn’t want Palestinian Americans to visit their friends or families or send them any help.
Dr. Shaker Elsayed, secretary-general of the Muslim American Society, added that the U.S. State Department has warned Americans of Palestinian heritage that Israel is not a safe place to visit. The U.S. government cannot do much to help Americans once they are arrested in Israel, he said, decrying the fact that Washington will not use its diplomatic or financial leverage to pressure Israel into releasing American citizens.
Abdelkarim, who finally was released two weeks later on May 19, is a board member of both American Muslims for Jerusalem and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He also coordinates the Independent Writers Syndicate, an editorial service that offers a Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. His commentaries have been published in newspapers nationwide. For more details see article on p. 12of this issue.
—Delinda C. Hanley
Scholars from all over the U.S. and from as far away as Lebanon, Spain, and Germany came to Washington, DC for a conference at Georgetown University April 26 and 27 on “The Role of the Intellectual in Contemporary Political Life.” The real purpose of their visit, however, was to pay their respects to scholar and political activist Dr. Hisham Sharabi, who recently retired from his position as professor of European intellectual history at Georgetown (1953-1998). Dr. Sharabi also held the Omar al-Mukhtar chair of Arab culture, and co-founded the Center for Contemporary Studies—the only program of its kind in the U.S.
The esteemed academic has been politically active all of his adult life. Among his more recent endeavors are the founding of the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine (CPAP) and the Jerusalem Fund. The latter is a charitable organization which provides scholarships to Palestinian students, and, as regular readers of these pages well know, CPAP is an important forum for the presentation of a range of ideas and opinions regarding Palestine, Israel and the rest of the Middle East. What readers may not know is that CPAP publishes a number of papers crucial to the dissemination of knowledge on the question of Palestine.
Dr. Sharabi has also added to the dissemination of knowledge through his own extensive writings on the government, politics and history of the Arab world. Nor does Dr. Sharabi confine his politics to the ivory tower of academic writing or the corridors of non-governmental organizations. He can be found at numerous demonstrations as he takes his place as an activist to swell the ranks of those gathered to institute popular change.
It was the confluence of these three roles—academic, political strategist, and activist—that provided the framework and inspiration for the Georgetown conference. Following introductory remarks by Sharabi’s Georgetown colleagues Dr. Judith Tucker and Dr. James Collins, the conference opened with an overview of academia in the modern Middle East. Dr. Halim Barakat and Dr. Michael Hudson, both also of Georgetown University, and Dr. Munir Bashshur of the American University of Beirut addressed “Aspects of Intellectual Life in the Contemporary Arab World,” discussing Mideast educational trends and their societal impact.
After lunch, retired Georgetown colleague Dr. John Ruedy moderated as Dr. Steven Tamari of the University of Southern Illinois and Dr. Lawrence Davidson of West Chester University examined “Intellectuals and Political Life in the Contemporary Arab World: A Contextual Presentation of the Life and Work of Hisham Sharabi.” Later, Dr. Michael Hardt of Duke University presented a lecture on “War and Empire.” The evening ended on a pleasant note as friends, colleagues and students of Dr. Sharabi shared memories at a lovely outdoor reception.
The following day, the conference expanded the scope of the discussions to a global level. The morning featured Dr. Peter Gran of Temple University and independent journalist Trevor Butterworth, both of whom presented papers on “Political Action by Intellectuals in the Contemporary World.” The final panel, “Intellectuals in an Age of Globalism,” brought Dr. Jose M. Portillo Valdes from the Basque Country University in Bilbao, Spain and Dr. Theodor Hanf from the University of Freiburg in Germany, together with Dr. Susan Buck Morss from Cornell University.
Closing remarks were offered by Dr. Barbara Stowasser, director of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, and Dr. Beshara Doumani of the University of California at Berkeley. It is noteworthy that, of the many speakers at the conference, a number were former students of Dr. Sharabi’s, paying tribute to his influence by carrying on work in the fields of intellectual, historical and cultural studies, particularly of the Middle East. An elegant dinner in the Riggs Library concluded the conference.
The writer must confess that this report was not written without some bias. Studying under Dr. Sharabi, and knowing him slightly on a personal basis, has added breadth, depth and articulation to my already-existing bent toward activism. Thank you, Dr. Sharabi.
An American Eyewitness to Ramallah Under Siege
On May 1, Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies hosted Adam Shapiro in his first public speaking engagement since leaving the occupied Palestinian territories. Shapiro made headlines when he was trapped in Chairman Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah compound during Israel’s recent reoccupation of Palestinian areas. Since graduating from Georgetown, Shapiro has been intensely involved in advocating peace in the Middle East. He worked for Seeds for Peace, a summer camp bringing Jewish and Palestinian teenagers together, and joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a grass roots organization aiming to end through peaceful means Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.
Shapiro described ISM’s work to his audience. The activists remove roadblocks built by Israeli soldiers to prevent Palestinians from traveling to schools, jobs, and hospitals. They also rebuild Palestinian homes demolished by Israeli bulldozers. Finally, the group acts as human shields, bringing media attention to the conflict while protecting Palestinian civilians from Israeli shelling and shooting. Judging by the success of this tactic, Shapiro asserted, it was clear that to the Israelis “our lives were worth more than those of Palestinian civilians.”
While Israel Defense Forces did not hesitate to use live ammunition against Palestinian protesters, even peaceful ones, Shapiro said, the IDF usually used stun grenades or fired in the air to disperse the crowd when ISM members joined the protests. He also indicated that it was difficult to tell Palestinians that civil disobedience against Israeli occupation should be adopted while Israel used all of its military might against this largely defenseless civilian population.
Only an international presence among Palestinians at a nonviolent action—including marches, tree replantings, home rebuildings and roadblock removal—could keep the participants safe, he said.
Shapiro told several anecdotes to describe the role played by ISM. He was able to convince Palestinian teenagers who were protesting the occupation by throwing rocks at Israeli tanks that holding a daily soccer match in front of the tanks would challenge the presence of Israelis through peaceful means. Holding such matches, Shapiro said, became a ritual practice of civil disobedience for these kids.
The next day, at the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine (CPAP) in Washington, DC, Shapiro opened his talk on a somber note, informing the audience that he had just learned that Israel had arrested his Palestinian fiancée as she was attempting to lead a peace delegation into the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Stressing that media coverage completely ignored the occupation and closure of Palestinian villages, Shapiro went on to describe his experiences in West Bank cities under siege. He spoke of running the gauntlet down empty streets lined with tanks, and described how Israeli soldiers pushed, kicked, punched, and hit ISO members with rifles. A camera was taken from an American, and a British member was left bleeding from his head wound. They complained to their respective consulates. Congratulations were in order for the European consulate offices, Shapiro said, but the U.S. office showed “a complete lack of interest,” unwilling even to make a phone call.
Shapiro also displayed some sympathy for the Israeli soldiers, whose orders allow them to use lethal force if they feel their lives are threatened. A young, callow Israeli faced with a chanting Palestinian crowd was very likely to feel threatened, Shapiro pointed out.
Shapiro also spoke, however, of Israelis’ use of lethal force in situations difficult to describe as threatening to heavily armed troops. For instance, he described an eerie scene wherein a lone Palestinian woman, despite the unending curfew, emerged from a hospital to make her way home to her family, She had just had a cast removed from her leg and was moving slowly down the deserted street. Two ISM members saw the woman and started toward her. Before they could reach her, however, she was shot in the face and in the back. Shapiro questioned why he, holding a U.S. passport, was free—despite harassment—to walk Palestinian streets, when Palestinians were not.
“Being Jewish doesn’t mean being Israeli,” Shapiro said, “and being Israeli doesn’t mean supporting the Israeli government. Rhetoric from the government claiming to be speaking for world-wide Jewry is very dangerous.”
Shapiro concluded by calling on Americans to let Congress know their views—via letters, phone calls, meetings, and votes—and on the international community to demand a role in the peacemaking process. He called on all who care about human rights to join him in passing through checkpoints, dismantling roadblocks, and crossing settler roads in a “Freedom Summer” in Palestine this year modeled on the U.S. civil rights movement. Its goal? Freedom of movement for Palestinians.
On a happy note, Adam Shapiro’s fiancée is now out of jail and back in Michigan, where she is preparing for their upcoming wedding. We wish them personal happiness and political success.
—Asma Yousef and Sara Powell
Events in Palestine-Israel since the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada—and, more recently, when the Israel Defense Forces devastated West Bank cities and towns, with barely a chirp of protest from Washington—have made it clear to many Americans how unbalanced U.S. foreign policy is and how unfairly the struggle for Palestinian independence has been portrayed in the American media. Is Congress in the pocket of the Lobby, and has the mainstream media now totally lost its perspective on basic American interests?
The Council for the National Interest Foundation sponsored a four-day workshop/ conference called to “Rescue U.S. Middle East Policy and Challenge the Lobby.” The aim of the April 27 to 30 event held in the national capital was to draw attention to the Bush administration’s lopsided pro-Israeli policies and to generate a wide-ranging discussion of where policy ought to go and how. Dedicated activists and concerned citizens came from as far away as Washington state, California, Colorado, Arizona and Florida to listen to experts, and offer their support and ideas. Many departed hoping to work to effect change at a grassroots level.
CNI was founded 10 years ago by former congressmen Pete McCloskey (D-CA) and Paul Findley (R-IL) with the aim of supporting a more balanced U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East. The CNI Foundation was established a year later to sponsor educational programs. Eugene Bird, who has been president of CNI since 1993, and Ambassador Edward Peck, current chairman of the board, provided an overview of U.S. policy at the beginning of the conference.
At a conference dinner talk, former CNI chairman McCloskey urged Americans to recognize that “Israel no longer deserves its present special relationship with the United States. Israel is following a deliberate process of trying to make its enemies our enemies, with an end result which could lead us into an un-winnable war like Vietnam. To Arabs and Muslims alike,” he said, “Israel is an arrogant bully created by and made so by the United States.” He warned that “the massive destruction of the Palestinian refugee camps would be seen as being the work of the United States.”
To change American policy toward Israel will require U.S. citizens to stand up to “the awesome power of the American pro-Israeli lobby,” McCloskey said. One of the main themes of the conference was exactly this challenge.
Earlier, former Sen. James Abourezk (D-SD), who is now the new chairman of the CNI Foundation, who received a warm welcome from the audience for his years of working on behalf of Arab Americans, said the simple solution to Israel’s problem with terrorism was “to get the hell out of the occupied territories. I feel sorry for the people of Israel,” he continued. “There will never be an end to their suffering or to the suffering of the Palestinians” under the policies of Ariel Sharon. “What’s good for America is no longer the basis on which policy is being made,” Abourezk maintained. “We’re paying Israel to destroy Palestine and next we’ll be asked to pay to rebuild it. Once again, we’re being asked to do Israel’s dirty work.”
In an emotional lunchtime talk, Ambassador Hasan Abdel Rahman, the Palestinian representative to the United States, stated, “I have become like a broken record, trying to tell people the original sin is the occupation. For 35 years, the Palestinians have endured one of the most brutal occupations in history. The Palestinians are the only people who live under military occupation today. Our ordeal,” Abdel Rahman pointed out, “has been longer than the Japanese occupation of Korea.” For three generations, he said, the Israelis have “humiliated and terrorized” the Palestinian occupants of their forefathers’ land.
“The average American is decent and fair-minded,” the Palestinian ambassador said, “but the distortion that has taken place since the founding of Israel blocks open discussion. Americans don’t know that Israel was the first state in our region that engaged in ethnic cleansing. Israel expelled over one million Palestinians in 1948 to make a place for Jews to build an exclusive Jewish state. Isn’t that what we mean by ethnic cleansing?” Rahman asked.
In a final address to the conference, former U.S. Ambassador Robert Keeley enumerated important myths that surround any discussion of the Palestine-Israel conflict. For those not familiar with the truth he tried to set the record straight, and masterfully tackled each myth: Jews were not welcomed in Arab lands; Palestine was virtually empty of people until the 20th century; the Oslo accords brought peace and prosperity to Palestinians; the Camp David negotiations in the summer of 2000 were generous; and Arafat had encouraged violence once the negotiations collapsed.
Conference speakers offered new arguments for changing U.S. Mideast policy. Energy specialist Tom Stauffer’s talk on the real costs to the American taxpayer of U.S. support of Israel stressed the many and costly measures of which average Americans are unaware. For example, in addition to billions of dollars in yearly economic and military aid, there are also special loans and grants that are often unreimbursed, guarantees of oil deliveries, and “first dibs” at “discounted” military hardware. It is now reckoned that, in one form or another, U.S. direct support for Israel comes to $20 million a day. The total cost of U.S. policy in the Middle East approaches $1 trillion—largely tied to support for Israel.
Ashraf M. Ismail, who teaches politics at Georgetown University, discussed the inter-linkages between U.S. policy toward the Middle East and the new “global” war on terrorism. Roger Normand, director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, talked about new ways to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Nadia Hijab drew parallels between U.S. and Israeli interest and disinterest in human rights. Though all too often ignored, the flagrant abuses of U.S. citizens’ rights in Israel is an issue that should concern Congress, stated Jerri Bird, president of Partners for Peace, which monitors such abuses.
Another panel of speakers, including Sarah Eltantawi of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, Rania Awwad of Palestine Media Watch, and former New York Times correspondent Kennett Love, addressed the use of media in changing foreign policy, as well as the need for monitoring media.
Other organizations, including the Arab American Institute, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and American Muslims for Jerusalem, discussed their media work and efforts on Capitol Hill. Joshua Ruebner, executive director of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, a new activist group, spoke on the reasons Jews in the United States and Israel felt the need to speak out.
Khalil Bendib, whose cartoons are often featured in the Washington Report, was on hand throughout the conference to pen his interpretations of the speakers’ major themes.
Particularly dramatic segments of the conference were reports from a variety of peace activists who had witnessed recent events in the West Bank. Adam Shapiro of the International Solidarity Movement, who gained national attention when he shared breakfast with Yasser Arafat the day after the IDF bombarded the Palestinian leader’s administrative compound in Ramallah, emphasized nonviolent means to temper aggression. He was joined by other activists who came especially for the conference, including Dennis Bricking, a lawyer from Louisville, and Liv Dillon and Joe Gesser, who were able to tell the conference participants about recent events in Bethlehem. They had gone out to Palestine to accompany ambulances carrying Palestinians to hospitals, and stand at roadblocks as independent observers to ward off unwarranted interference by the Israeli military.
Alison Weir, a former journalist from San Rafael, California, attempted to return to Palestine a second time in mid-April with a group of concerned Americans to offer peace activists’ assistance. She was stopped at Ben- Gurion Airport, however, and deported after spending a night in jail (see Weir’s special report on p. 26 of this issue).
The conference agenda included a day of activity on Capitol Hill. Armed with arguments, facts and figures drawn from two and a half days of presentations, 31 different appointments were made to discuss U.S. policy with congressional representatives or legislative aides. A particular effort was made to reach out to those congressmen and women who generally sit on the fence on important votes. The meeting concluded with a post- congressional luncheon at which participants discussed their meetings and offered suggestions for future efforts.
On the last evening of the conference, the “Dare to Speak Out:” awards were presented to Ambassador Keeley, Michael Tarazi, and to Adam Shapiro for their willingness to speak honestly and openly on Middle East issues, despite great pressure not to do so.
The full text of many of the conference speeches may be found on CNI’s conference Web site, <www.rescuemideastpolicy.com>.
Renowned author and activist Tariq Ali appeared at Georgetown University April 17 to debate the equally renowned and active Christopher Hitchens as part of a book tour sponsored by Verso, publishers of Ali’s new volume, The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads, and Modernity (available from the AET Book Club). The audience was clearly eager to hear the longtime colleagues go head-to-head on the topic “The Left and The War.” In some ways the debate did not disappoint, being articulate and spirited, with a passionate and vocal audience adding to the energy. Ultimately, however, the debate was somewhat sad, as Ali’s opening statement indicated. This was the first public debate between Ali and Hitchens on opposite sides of a question, he told the audience. The question being debated was whether or not the U.S. should pursue its “war on terrorism.” Ali maintained that it should not, Hitchens, that it should.
Ali’s position was multi-faceted. The U.S. essentially was fighting symptoms of an illness without addressing the cause, he argued—and, moreover, fighting the symptoms ineffectually. Putting aside the question of proof (or lack thereof) of Osama bin Laden’s guilt, Ali maintained that the massive bombing of the desperately poor war-racked country of Afghanistan certainly was not the way to deal with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda.
Instead, he maintained, a police action to bring suspects to justice before an international tribunal would have been a far better choice than a seemingly unending war against terrorism. Ali deemed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly with regard to unqualified U.S. backing of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, as a primary cause of the terror perpetrated on 9/11, and further argued that the problems with U.S. foreign policy were not limited to its Middle East policy but instead endemic of the new “American Empire.”
However, Ali also faulted the Arab and Muslim worlds for many corrupt regimes which, he said, frequently supported by the U.S. for its own ends, either fostered or led to the rise of so-called Islamic fundamentalism, as exemplified by the Taliban. Educated middle-class Muslims were attracted to radical Islamist groups like al-Qaeda, he contended, because of U.S. imperialism as manifested in support for Israel, support for corrupt and/or ultra-conservative regimes, and the kind of political games played by the U.S., backing first one side and then another (e.g., Iran and Iraq) in a new American version of “the great game.”
Finally, Ali noted, seven months into the bombing of Afghanistan the U.S. had not wiped out al-Qaeda, did not know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, and was only strengthening anti-American sentiment around the world.
Despite agreeing with Ali that U.S. support for Israel was fundamentally wrong, Hitchens countered Ali’s argument with the contention that the U.S., once attacked, had no choice but to strike back. One should not be indiscriminately anti-war, he maintained, because fighting back at times was justified. Hitchens contended, moreover, that there was no parity between fanatical Islamism attacking innocent civilians and governmental self-interest overseas. He seemed to equate the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan following the 9/11 suicide attacks with Israel’s military response to Palestinian suicide attacks on civilians—although still maintaining that Palestinians had a right to fight for self-determination. Rather than responding to many of Ali’s specific points, unfortunately, Hitchens instead devoted most of his talk to denigrating Islam and making personal attacks on Ali.
The audience was clearly divided. Cheering and occasional booing punctuated both Ali’s and Hitchens’ statements. Wanting to make their voices heard as well, dozens of people lined up at the microphone for the volatile question-and-answer period. The most common audience comments were complaints about Hitchens’ attacks on Islam—although Ali agreed that he saw many of the same problems as Hitchens. Others railed against Hitchens for what they perceived as his anti-Palestinian stance—ironic for a long-time supporter of Palestinian rights.
Referring to the situation of schoolgirls under the Taliban, one questioner asked Ali if he could still say that the bombing of Afghanistan was a mistake. Unfortunately, this was the first half of a two-part question, and Ali answered only the second half. Ultimately, however, audience members seemed to have their minds made up before the debate, and most seemed to leave with the conviction that “their side” had come out on top. If the book-signing following the debate was any indication, Ali’s was far and away the bestseller.
On May 1, the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine hosted Diana Buttu and Michael Tarazi, legal advisers to the PLO.
Diana Buttu insisted that Israel and the U.S. must recognize the link between Israeli security concerns and the PA’s concern for Palestinian welfare. “We see the Palestinian infrastructure completely destroyed,” Buttu said, “because we’ve only focused on Israeli security.”
During Israel’s intensified assault against the Palestinian people, she explained, many Palestinian civil ministries were dismantled. Land records have been lost, she said, and transportation records destroyed, so that the PA has no record even of who holds a driver’s license. Ministry of Education records have also been destroyed along with student transcripts and teachers’ payment records. The infrastructure relating to water, electricity, telephones, etc. has also been severely damaged, Buttu claimed. And, she added, there has been concern expressed by diplomats that drinking water is being contaminated by sewage.
“The concern now,” she said, “is whether the American administration will continue down this same path,” allowing the Palestinian infrastructure systematically to be destroyed in the name of Israeli security.
Buttu demanded that the Palestinian infrastructure be rebuilt with a view toward a broader political horizon—namely, permanent status agreements and international intervention. She also stressed the more immediate need of international intervention, particularly in light of the absence of a Palestinian police force and Israel’s unchecked and unrelenting violation of laws governing the behavior of an occupying power.
Israel obviously has no interest in protecting the Palestinian people, she observed. An international protection force therefore is necessary to help rebuild the infrastructure, including the Palestinian security infrastructure systematically destroyed by Israel.
Michael Tarazi also demanded that the broader political horizon be kept in mind and final status agreements kept in clear view. “We need to know not where the process starts,” he said, “but where the process ends.”
He rejected the idea of interim agreements on the grounds that they only give Israel more time for settlement expansion, and so destroy Palestinian confidence in a viable peace. The big issues, such as refugees and settlements, must not be left for final status negotiations, Tarazi insisted, as disagreement on these key issues can overturn all the progress made in the interim stages.
He went on to outline his vision of peace negotiations. First, he said, Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories and settlers given the incentive to leave. Most settlers, he explained, are not there for ideological reasons, but because Israel has offered them incentives—namely, inexpensive homes. Israel must offer similar incentives to draw settlers back into Israel, he said.
Second, Tarazi insisted that refugees be given the right of return. Just as do Israelis, refugees must have the choice to exercise their rights, he said, by having the option to return. Similar to the tactic taken with settlers, Tarazi elaborated, refugees should be given various options, so that the right to return stands, but alternate options are also offered. This, he argued, would avoid a flood of Palestinians into Israel. According to Tarazi, such options should include remaining in one’s current home, moving to a third country such as the U.S. or Canada which could absorb a certain number of refugees, relocating to the Palestinian state, or returning to what is now Israel.
In order to avoid a loss of confidence in the interim stages, Tarazi demanded that these issues, typically left for final status negotiations, be addressed first. At the same time, Buttu insisted that an international protection force be installed immediately in order to protect the Palestinian people from Ariel Sharon’s campaign of destruction. This protection force is vital, she said, and could restore Palestinian confidence in Israel’s ultimate intentions.
Israeli Peace Activist Considers Future Negotiations
American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ) and Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI) co-hosted an “Eyewitness Report From Palestine” briefing at the National Press Club May 6. Leading Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper, a professor at Ben-Gurion University and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, described two very different Israeli and Palestinian plans for the future of the occupied territories. (See his special report on p. 6 of this issue.)
When peace negotiations began in 1991, Halper said, Israel never intended the final outcome to be a Palestinian state. Rather, it sought a mini-state with Palestinian municipal autonomy but no real independence. To make sure that Israel maintained control of the West Bank and Gaza, government policies resulted in the doubling of Jewish settlement building, demolition of Palestinian homes, and construction of a massive system of bypass roads—all during the “peace process.”
At Camp David 2000, Israel made its best offer yet. Contrary to what most Americans believe, however—thanks to the media—Israel never offered Palestinians independence. Americans believe that President Yasser Arafat rejected a “generous” offer—95 percent of the land—and chose violence instead. That perception, Halper noted, has allowed Israel to say it is now “off the hook” and not obligated to continue negotiations. In actuality, however, he argued, at Camp David, Israel was ready to offer 90 percent of the land—but the 10 percent it would keep was all Israel needed to control Palestinians. Halper used the example of a prison to illustrate his point: Inmates may live in 95 percent of the area, but the guards who control the remaining 5 percent—the prison walls, bars and watchtowers—dominate the prisoners.
Israel may believe its latest invasion has destroyed the Palestinians’ ability to resist and govern, Halper said, but he believes there are two reasons for hope. First Palestinians have given up waiting for Oslo negotiations to end their problems. Oslo just gave Israel more time to build facts on the ground and continue its occupation, Halper said. More importantly, he concluded, the conflict has become “internationalized,” with Europe, Russia and the Arabs taking more of an interest in finding solutions, instead of leaving it all to the United States.
—Delinda C. Hanley
Dr. Sami Al-Arian Continues to Speak Out
Since Sept. 11, Dr. Sami Al-Arian has come under attack, as the University of South Florida (USF) tried to fire the tenured professor, allegedy for neglecting to specifically state that he was not speaking for the university when he appeared on a Fox television show Sept. 26, 2001. On April 10, Al-Arian spoke to a small crowd at Georgetown University about the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
The computer science professor gave the audience a brief background of the wrangling between judges and courts that kept his brother-in-law and fellow USF academic Mazen Al-Najjar imprisoned for 1,307 days in his first battle with U.S. immigration authorities. Then, he continued, last November Al-Najjar again was taken into custody. This time, however, he no longer is treated like a normal prisoner, but is held in solitary confinement, in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell, for 23 of 24 hours a day. He receives one hour of recreation a day in a yard by himself, Al-Arian said, and is strip-searched on the way out to the yard, and again on the way back to the cell. Al-Najjar had been enduring this treatment for five and a half months on the day Al-Arian spoke at Georgetown.
Moreover, he said, Al-Najjar is in this situation for nothing more than a visa violation. As a Palestinian, however, al-Najjar is stateless, and thus cannot be deported. The fact that his parents, children, and siblings all are U.S. citizens has made no difference—especially not in a post 9/11 United States, Al-Arian said.
Patriotism is now being defined as blind agreement with the government, Al-Arian said, although he called that a definition of nationalism rather than of patriotism. Of 2,000 people of Middle Eastern descent arrested since 9/11, he pointed out, only one has been charged with any crime related to the attacks—and that man already was in custody when the sweep began. Another 8,000 Arabs/Muslims have been questioned because of their ethnicity and/or religion, Al-Arian said, leading him to question whether the majority of Americans would be willing to sacrifice the civil rights of the minority in order to feel secure.
Al-Arian then proceeded to describe the surreal nature of his own post 9/11 experience. Appearing on “The O’Reilly Factor” to present the Muslim view of the tragedy, Al-Arian was harangued by host Bill O’Reilly for several minutes before O’Reilly ended the segment with the statement, “If I were the CIA, I’d follow you everywhere.” The hate mail started arriving the next day, Al-Arian said, and soon afterward the university put him on paid leave. An orchestrated campaign to get him fired culminated in just that action on Dec. 19, for the stated reasons that Dr. Al-Arian failed to offer a disclaimer on television and for receiving threats which put the university at risk. Not only was he banned from campus—but not informed of the ban—he was fired at a meeting which he not only was barred from addressing, but even from attending. Now, Al-Arian said, the American Association of University Professors is at the forefront of the fight against USF, and the university is under threat of censure.
Al-Arian contended that despite President Bush’s assertion that the U.S. is at war with terror and not with Islam, U.S. actions indicate otherwise. Citing the mid-March raids on Islamic institutions, charities, and private homes—among which were the institution that issued the fatwa effectively endorsing U.S. plans to continue raids on Afghanistan during Ramadan, and the university certified by the Department of Defense to train Muslim chaplains for the military—Al-Arian argued that Islam was indisputably under attack.
Turning from civil rights to foreign policy, Al-Arian addressed the issue of Palestine. Noting that, of the two parties involved, Israel was very strong and Palestine was very weak, Al-Arian opined that it would be Israel’s choices that would determine the future of the region. Of three possible choices—a democratic state, a Jewish state, or a two-state solution, each having implications for ownership of the land—only two options are possible, according to Al-Arian. Al-Arian’s preference was for the choice of a democratic state and ownership of all the land. That would entail one person, one vote—regardless of ethnicity or religion—and would include Palestinians and Israelis living in a single nation. Another choice would be for a Jewish state and Jewish ownership of the land, which Al-Arian described as an apartheid state, certainly not a democracy. The final option, a two-state solution, would entail a democratic state for the Jewish people, but could not then include Palestinian land.
Al-Arian concluded by saying that if the U.S. wished to continue its current foreign policy toward the Middle East, as well as attacks on free speech and other civil liberties at home, Americans would do well to remember Benjamin Franklin’s observation that those who sacrifice liberty for freedom deserve neither.
Imposed Peace or Imposition? A Proposal for Palestine
Longtime activist Jerome Segal, founder of the Jewish Peace Lobby and senior research scholar at the University of Maryland Center for International and Security Studies, addressed the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine March 13, 2002 with a proposal that the U.N. Security Council exercise its legal authority over the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem by imposing a solution. The U.S. was not playing a leadership role, he argued, and the situation in Israeli-occupied Palestine was growing so grim that immediate action was necessary.
The action Segal advocated, however, was somewhat problematic. The U.N., he argued, should—after consultations with Israel—force peace on the region by settling boundary disputes, the status of Jerusalem, and the problems of Jewish settlements and Palestinian rights of return or compensation. In other words, according to Segal, the U.N. should consult with Israel, but simply impose the resulting solution on the Palestinians.
The U.N., of course, already has imposed a plan on Palestine, in the form of 1947’s U.N. Resolution 181 (II) partitioning Palestine. That resolution took Zionist concerns into account while ignoring Palestinian concerns. Half of historic Palestine was given to Zionist Jews for a homeland—thus creating the present dilemma. Moreover, the U.N. has been passing resolutions ever since, in one attempt after another to rectify the situation created by partition. Israel, for its part, has ignored virtually all these resolutions. It seems naive to expect that Israel would accept U.N. dominion over the outstanding questions of Israeli and Palestinian sovereignty now—even after being consulted. It is disturbingly patriarchal as well as naive, in this writer’s opinion, to think that any solution arrived at without taking Palestinian concerns into account could be just.
Segal is correct in his assessment that the U.S. is not taking the leadership role it could, and that concerns voiced by the EU, other Arab nations, and humanitarian and human rights groups are being ignored. The situation does indeed need immediate action. Because Segal’s plan for peace is based on inequality, however, it cannot bring justice—and hence it cannot bring peace. The audience seemed to agree.
Teaching Tolerance in Tunisia
The Hannibal Club USA and the Tunisian Embassy co-hosted a panel discussion April 25 at Georgetown University to share ideas for “Teaching Tolerance and Modernity: the Tunisian Experience in Education.” Jawida Ben Afia, the chief inspector of English in Tunisia, addressed an audience of teachers, students, diplomats and others who share an interest in her country. Education shapes Tunisian citizens, said Afia, who has written textbooks and teaching manuals. Her colleagues teach tolerance and promote all aspects of modernity to their students, she added, including equality of the sexes. Since its independence from France, Tunisia has guaranteed education for all its citizens. As a result, 99.1 percent of all 6-year-olds attend school. Not resting on their laurels, however, Tunisia is building preschools to give children a head start in school, and increasing popular adult education programs.
Tunisian children start off learning Arabic, their national language. In their third year, however, they also begin instruction in French. In the fifth year of primary school Tunisian children start studying English, because, as Afia pointed out, “If you want to survive in the world the global language is English.” It’s the language of choice in technology and on the Internet, she added.
Courtesy of the Ministry of Education, every teacher is given a free e-mail account. Students are taught pride in Tunisian history but also in mankind’s universal culture. Afia also stressed the strides made by women in her country, noting that they receive the same salaries for the same jobs as Tunisian men. There are 111,500 primary and secondary school teachers in Tunisia, she said, of whom 57,700 are men and 53,800 women. Not only do girls outnumber boys in secondary school, she added, but more girls go on to pass their baccalaureates.
She and other inspectors make sure that textbooks carry images of women in the modern world. Hands shot up throughout the audience following Afia’s comment that there are no pictures in Tunisian textbooks of women cooking. Just who cooked in Tunisian households? American audience members wanted to know. Some in the audience scoffed when Afia replied that couples take turns. Then she good-naturedly admitted that, like their American counterparts, Tunisians are beginning to eat more and more carryout dinners.
Next to speak was Dr. Mohamed Mahjoub, dean of the Higher Institute of Human Sciences of Tunis. “You may be wondering how a Muslim country deals with the modern concept of tolerance,” he observed. Dr. Mahjoub proceeded to explain that Tunisia has a rich history of tolerance because of its geographical location at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East. “The spirit of moderation is quite natural and deeply rooted in the spirit of Tunisia,” the professor of philosophy noted, adding that Tunisians have always shared an openness to others. Now, as distances shorten and globalization increases, Mahjoub said, there must be a new general melting pot of virtues, ethical principles, and self-criticism in the world. Tunisians, he pointed out, find it easy to accept differences and deal with “otherness.”
Man is not born tolerant, Mahjoub added, but learns tolerance through education. Religion should also teach tolerance, he argued, but, more often than not today, religion makes tolerance impossible. The Qu’ran teaches tolerance, the professor noted, and the Prophet worked hard to battle fanaticism. Tunisian schools teach universal values alongside Islamic values. “If Islam is the last message from God,” Mahjoub advised, “mankind must continue to study on its own.”
To help students in Tunisian universities study philosophy around the world, they learn Latin and Hebrew as well as English and French. They explore different trends and schools of thought and concentrate on openness and tolerance while avoiding fanaticism and dogmatism, Mahjoub concluded.
When asked how education in Tunisia could improve, Mahjoub and Afia admitted their schools would benefit from smaller class sizes (currently each teacher has an average of 35 students), higher teacher salaries, and more equipment. Nevertheless, they are proud of Tunisia’s educational system and of the fact that Tunisian students do very well when they attend the best universities around the world.
—Delinda C. Hanley
PAWA Gathers 3,000 Blankets For Palestine
Americans from around the country sent more than 3,000 blankets to the Palestinian American Women Association (PAWA) of Washington, DC, to send on to Palestinians who have lost all their possessions in the recent Israeli incursions in the West Bank. According to May Abdul Rahman, many of these blankets arrived with notes and prayers. Her favorite was a note pinned to a donated blanket scrawled by 6-year-old Sharma. “This is my blankie,” Sharma explained. “I hope it keeps you safe.”
In addition to its continuing clothes and blanket drives, PAWA also hopes to gather materials for a mobile library, complete with crayons, paper, paint and books, and plans to start a program to help Americans adopt a Palestinian family. For more information write to PAWA, P.O. Box 8721, Falls Church, VA 22041 or call (703) 644-5415.
—Delinda C. Hanley
The Peace Café Hosts Stars of “Promises”
Washington, DC’s Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge held two special showings of the riveting documentary “Promises” followed by a meeting of The Peace Café. While “Promises” played at Visions for nearly a month, two of the Palestinian girls featured in the film, Sanabel Al-Fararja and Kayan Al-Saify, hosted special question-and-answer sessions April 17 and 19. The 15-year-old Dheisheh refugee camp residents were stranded in the U.S. after Israel’s March and April invasion of the West Bank made travel home impossible. They were in the United States to attend the Academy Awards ceremony because “Promises,” directed by Justine Shapiro and B.Z. Goldberg, had been nominated as Best Documentary Feature.
“Promises” follows the lives of seven Palestinian and Jewish children living in the Jerusalem area who discuss the difficulties of growing up and living amid the conflict. Although they live only 20 minutes from each other, the Palestinian and Israeli children exist in totally separate worlds. After moviegoers watched the film, Andy Shallal, owner of Mimi’s American Bistro, and Ari Roth, director of Theater J at DC’s Jewish Community Center, presided over two excellent Peace Café sessions. Arabs, Jews and other people of conscience in Washington, DC regularly visit The Peace Café, which provides an opportunity for people to break bread together and talk politics in a non-threatening environment.
Sanabel told attendees that she and Kayan have used their time in the U.S. to talk to as many Americans as they could about what daily life is like for Palestinians living under occupation. She vividly described that occupation and “the constant humiliation by Israeli soldiers; our inability to travel even within the West Bank; the lack of water because Israelis control our water supply—not to mention the constant presence of Israeli tanks. This has been the condition under which we have lived for the past 35 years,” she emphasized. “The press in the States makes Palestinians seem very one-dimensional. I think Americans are fair people. I think that if they understand us and hear us then perhaps they will feel with us.”
“Promises” may not have won an Academy Award, but the film and its stars won the hearts of many Americans in the nation’s capital.
—Delinda C. Hanley
American Jewish Peace Activists Protest Occupation
Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI), Brit Tzedek V’Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace), and Women in Black, DC, held a silent vigil April 26 in Washington, DC’s Farragut Square. Protesters held signs and banners calling for an end to Israel’s occupation and demanding a just resolution of the conflict in Israel and Palestine. The vigil was the prelude to a conference that culminated in the formation of Brit Tzedek V’Shalom. The new national peace organization—whose members are American Jews dedicated to providing a voice for the large number of their compatriots who seek a just, nonviolent resolution—is intended to provide a progressive alternative to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
—Delinda C. Hanley
Prayers for Peace at the National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral was the dramatic setting for a May 5 interfaith prayer vigil for peace in the Middle East. Washington, DC Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders shared the text and spirit behind “The Alexandria Document,” an historical statement recognizing the sanctity of the Holy Land for all three faiths. The document also calls for an end to the “violence and bloodshed that denies the right to life and dignity.”
Saif Rahman of the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, VA, opened the evening vigil with the Muslim call to prayer. The Very Reverend Nathan D. Baxter, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, welcomed hundreds of worshippers from every faith and asked everyone to pray for their brothers and sisters in the Middle East.
Reverend Baxter said he had just received a call that the siege on the Church of the Nativity had been lifted as people were filing into the church to pray for an end to the standoff. He thanked God and blessed the peacemakers. Unfortunately, however, after churchgoers left the service they discovered Reverend Baxter’s caller had been wrong. Israel still surrounded Jesus’ birthplace and, in fact, the siege continued for another five days.
Rabbi Scott Sperling, director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in the Mid-Atlantic Region, read from the Hebrew Scriptures. Rabbi Jack Luxemburg, president of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, shared his reflections that the deepest desire of the hearts and souls of all people is to live side by side in peace. “Each of our peoples have national aspirations for the land deemed holy by three faiths,” Rabbi Luxemburg said. “We each believe that this land is our inheritance. The Alexandria Declaration shows that we can all live in the same Holy Land.”
Dr. Diane Sherwood, associate director of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, read a passage from the New Testament about a new Jerusalem. The Right Reverend Allen L. Bartlett, Assisting Bishop of Washington, described how Holy Land religious leaders gathered together to try to end the bloodshed and bring about a new Jerusalem where three religions could live in peace and reconciliation.
Leaders from the three faiths met together in a symbolic location, Bartlett said, the cathedral in Coventry, England, which was destroyed by Germans in World War II. All that remained of the grand cathedral after the war was a charred cross, he noted, but the cash-strapped British decided to rebuild. The cathedral now houses a ministry of reconciliation, launched with a mutual forgiveness conference along with the Germans. It was in this historic location that Israeli and Palestinian religious leaders were able to join together and write the inspired Alexandria Declaration.
Reconciliation requires accepting pain and loss, Reverend Bartlett explained, saying we’re sorry and extending mutual forgiveness though hearts may still ache. He asked worshippers to join in the reading of the Declaration, support its words, and help bring the Declaration to reality in the Middle East. He also asked Americans not to let hostile voices in our country or the Middle East divide us from one another. Finally he offered a prayer to the one God all three faiths worship to bring true peace and security to all peoples of the Holy Land.
Saif Rahman then read from the Qur’an and Imam Shaker Elsayed, secretary-general of the Muslim American Society, called on people of faith to take the peacemaking lead. “We have waited for 54 years for politicians to make peace between our peoples,” he said. “It’s high time for the three monotheistic religions to come together and make peace.” Elsayed added that he was humbled and encouraged to hear religious leaders talk about peace in the National Cathedral. He asked people to not just “talk the talk of peace” but to “walk hand in hand with all of us to work for peace.”
Reading a Litany of Peace were Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, Muslim chaplain at Howard University; Rev. Jeffrey Haggray of the DC Baptist Convention; Iris Lav, representing the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington; Reverend Dr. Clark Lobenstine of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington; Imam Mahdi Bray with the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations; and Rev. Dr. Sherman Hicks of the United Religions Initiative.
After Bishop Felton Edwin May of the United Methodist Church, Baltimore-Washington Conference gave the final blessing, Rabbi David Shneyer of Amkolel inspired a renewal of hope as he blew the traditional Jewish shofar, or ram’s horn.
—Delinda C. Hanley
ISU Christians and Muslims Join to Support Palestine
Iowa State University Muslim and Christian students came together to organize Palestine 101, a panel discussion and multi-media presentation about the crisis in the Holy Land held April 23 in the university’s Memorial Union Gallery Room.
Well over a hundred students and faculty and interested Ames residents crowded into the popular university venue on a Tuesday evening to hear Palestinian music, view Palestinian art and images of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, and listen to a panel discussion on the nature and importance of the Palestinian people’s continuing struggle for freedom, justice, sovereignty in their own land, and peace.
Because Palestine 101 was sponsored by the ISU Muslim Students Association, Muslim students actively participated in organizing the event. The panel, however, was composed of Christians, and was indicative of the diversity and cooperative spirit evident among the Muslim and Christian activists involved. Sana Akili, an instructor in ISU’s College of Business, moderated the discussion.
Akili, an American citizen and a Muslim, originally is from Syria. Panelist Betsy Mayfield, a prominent Ames pro-Palestinian activist, writer, editor and film producer, is an American of Scottish/Irish German heritage. Osama Saba, a Palestinian whose family lives in Ramallah, is a research assistant in the bio-medical engineering program at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He came to the U.S. in 1996 to pursue his graduate studies as a Fulbright scholar. Omar Tesdell, an ISU journalism major and on-line editor for the Iowa State Daily, is a Palestinian American whose mother’s family originally is from Al-Lydd, Palestine.
Mayfield urged Americans to speak out publicly and address the crisis in the Holy Land. “We in America have a valuable gift given to us by the founding fathers,” she said. “That gift is the Bill of Rights. We have freedom of speech, and we have freedom to dissent. It is part of our heritage to speak and to be heard.”
Mayfield highlighted the efforts of Rabbi Michael Lerner, who has called for the creation of an economically and politically viable Palestinian state and for the government of Israel to treat Palestinians with respect and dignity.
Saba spoke eloquently about his own life in Palestine under Israeli occupation and the inequalities and humiliations that Palestinians face daily. “Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law,” said Saba, “but settlers have more rights than we Palestinians have in our own land. We live under an apartheid rule, like in South Africa—only worse.”
Saba told the audience of being stopped as an eighth-grader by Israeli soldiers who demanded his identification card. He was detained for several hours, rudely and roughly interrogated, and intimidated by an Israeli intelligence officer for no apparent reason other than that he was riding his bicycle on a public roadway. It was, Saba pointed out, an experience that few American schoolchildren could imagine.
“We want our freedom and we want our country back,” said Saba.
Tesdell spoke about the now widely acknowledged bias against Palestinians in America’s mainstream media. “The label ”˜terrorist’ dehumanizes people,” said Tesdell. “There is also the matter of ”˜illegally occupied’ Palestinian territories becoming ”˜disputed’ territories, and there are now suicide bombers who are being called ”˜homicide bombers’ by the Israeli and U.S. governments. This word game is important,” Tesdell emphasized. “Word choice is important.”
Urging his audience to be polite when dealing with journalists, he noted several positive developments, including an increasing awareness among Americans of the complexities of life in the Middle East and the role of the U.S. government in the region.
Akili moderated an enthusiastic hour-long question-and-answer session following the panelists’ prepared remarks.
The event sparked a lively exchange of letters in the Iowa State Daily, which declined to mention the participation of Daily staffer Tesdell in its coverage.
Admiral Moore Remembers Bahrain Service
Vice Admiral Thomas J. Bigley, USN (Ret), president of the American Bahraini Friendship Society, welcomed guests to an April 17 reception hosted by Dr. Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, Bahrain’s ambassador to the U.S. The American Bahrain Friendship Society was founded in 1990 by a group of American friends who had lived in Bahrain because of U.S. diplomatic, military or business affiliations and had developed a special affection for the country and its people
After a buffet dinner, guests enjoyed a lively talk by Vice Admiral Charles W. Moore, USN, recently returned from Bahrain after a three-year-and-eight-month tour as commander of the U.S. Naval Force Central Command and of the Fifth Fleet. Admiral Moore, who was succeeded in Bahrain by Vice Admiral Timothy J. Keating, USN, said that their time in what is now the Kingdom of Bahrain was the best in their lives.
The Moores’ action-packed stay in Bahrain spanned the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, the fall 1998 crisis in Iraq, Desert Fox missions over Iraq, and the attack on the USS Cole. After Sept. 11, Moore led U.S. forces in the “Enduring Freedom” operation in Afghanistan from the American base in Bahrain. He joked that some people started to whisper that Admiral Moore began to fling cruise missiles every time he was in a bad mood.
He and his wife,Lydia, formed fast friendships in Bahrain. They had decided on the plane journey there that they would commit themselves to working for peace in the region and making friends for America. It was not long, however, before they found out that it was difficult to explain to their new Arab friends U.S. foreign policy with regard to the Palestinian crisis and the war in Iraq. Luckily, Moore said, Arabs love Americans even if they hate U.S. foreign policy. He warned, however, that Middle Easterners are becoming increasingly anti-American as a result of that foreign policy. U.S. support for Israel also is causing problems for Arab leaders and jeopardizing security throughout the area.
Admiral Moore recalled the jubilation in the Arab world when George W. Bush was elected president. Everyone had great hopes, he said, that this new administration, full of knowledgeable Middle East experts, would change America’s Mideast policy. “Not much happened,” Admiral Moore regretted. “It was like all the air was slowly released from a balloon. Arabs’ great expectations were let down.”
He found it hard to explain, Moore said, that the U.S. genuinely wants peace and stability in the region and that Americans aren’t anti-Muslim or anti-Arab.
The American admiral especially enjoyed his friendship and golf games with Bahrain’s King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa. They were able to discuss politics and enjoy each other’s company, he said. Admiral Moore paid a very special tribute to his wife, Lydia, who, he told the guests, made many friends for America wherever they traveled. She raised a great deal of money for charities, he said, including an order of Mother Theresa nuns in Yemen. Until Lydia raised funds for a truck from private donors, these sisters had to carry on their backs to the closest hospital people who were too sick for them to nurse.
Admiral and Mrs. Moore said they already miss their Bahraini friends, who made them feel like part of the family.
Moore’s new assignment is deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics. He will be based inWashington, DC.
—Delinda C. Hanley
Palestinian Representative Speaks to National Press Club
At a May 9 news conference at the National Press Club, Palestine National Authority (PNA) Representative in the United States Hasan Abdel Rahman provided an answer to the $6 billion question: “Where to Go Next in the Middle East.” Abdel Rahman first described Israel’s recent destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, as well as businesses, homes, crops and trees. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s spring campaign caused damage estimated at $350 million to the fledgling state that European and Arab donors have helped build.
“Sharon has made his plans very clear,” Abdel Rahman told reporters. “He is not interested in making peace with Palestinians. He is interested in dictating his terms of peace.”
That became especially obvious when Sharon met with President George W. Bush in the White House. When the Israeli leader was asked to discuss Palestinian statehood, Sharon said the topic was “premature.” The establishment of a Palestinian state, Abdel Rahman said, should have been clear from the beginning. Palestinians will lose hope if they think a democratic state is not the end goal of negotiations, he warned.
Palestinians are living under siege and in misery, Abdel Rahman said, with 60 percent unemployment. They see Israel building settlements at an alarming rate, while every Palestinian city is encircled by Israeli soldiers or settlers who humiliate people and restrict their movement. Parents have to walk their children to school because they are not permitted to drive their cars. They can’t walk to their businesses. These tormented people won’t listen when Palestinian leaders tell them to stop the violence, Abdel Rahman argued. “We have to give them an incentive,” he said, “a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Abdel Rahman thanked President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as European and Arab leaders, for their efforts to pull the region back from the brink and return to the political path.
In answer to a question about the sudden interest the United States and Israel have shown in reforming the Palestinian Authority, Abdel Rahman replied, “We read about it in the papers. No one has approached us to reform. We feel that good government and democracy are also Palestinian objectives. We want an effective government that serves the interests of the Palestinian people. But we don’t need advice from abroad. We also want to reform our security forces, as these newspapers have pointed out. We want our security forces to preserve law and order and provide for the security and safety of the Palestinian people.”
As Abdel Rahman addressed the Press Club, Israeli reservists were gathering to attack Gaza in response to a suicide bombing. Sharon had been looking for a pretext to destroy Gaza, the Palestinian diplomat said: “He could use this tragic event or any other event. We hope enough pressure will be put on Sharon to prevent another invasion. Each killing of a Palestinian, each destruction of property only generates more defiance and hostility.”
As for the suicide bombings, according to Abdel Rahman they provide a fig leaf for Sharon and others not to deal with peace. President Arafat has said time and again he is against any actions directed against Israeli civilians, but it hasn’t stopped suicide bombers. “He is against Israeli actions directed against Palestinian civilians also,” Abdel Rahman noted. “He wants civilians out of the conflict.”
Even President Bush said that hopelessness creates suicide bombers. Abdel Rahman added that he himself is opposed to what the bombings do to Israel—but he also hates what they do to Palestinian society. “We want Palestinian youth who love life,” Abdel Rahman said. “That was how I was brought up. I blame Israel for brutalizing Palestinians. Before 1967, when I was growing up, violence was unknown. Today it’s the norm, as a result of the occupation and what it has done to Palestinian society.”
Abdel Rahman concluded by admitting that his people have failed to reach the American public with their simple message: Palestinians want peace and an end to the occupation and settlements. They haven’t been able to cut through the overwhelming propaganda machine which claims Israel is fighting a war for its existence, or a war against terrorism. “Peace cannot be left to Sharon to withhold or bestow,” Abdel Rahman concluded. “There are repercussions for the whole world if this continues. Sharon keeps focusing on Arafat instead of focusing on the issues. He doesn’t want to deal with the occupation and settlements, which are the fundamental issues.”
—Delinda C. Hanley
London Rally Attracts 50,000 For Palestine
London was the scene May 18 for a spirited demonstration by 50,000 pro-Palestinian supporters. Organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the march and rally for “Justice for Palestine: End Israeli Occupation,” was called to show support for Palestinians and outrage over Israeli atrocities. Speakers included trade unionists; Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups; students; MPs Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway, both backbench members of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s governing Labor Party; Palestine Delegate to the U.K. Afif Safieh; members of the Palestinan Community UK; PSC organizers; prominent actors and artists; many other NGOs; and surprise guests Nawal Al Saadawi and Leila Khaled.
Hundreds of cyclists from the human rights/environmental group “Critical Mass,” decorated in Palestinian colors, rode around central London as the march proceeded from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. PSC branches from throughout England gathered for the event, in addition to Irish, Welsh and Scottish solidarity groups. After the speeches, hundreds of red, green and black balloons were released following a minute of silence to mark “al-Nakba,” Arabic for “the Catastrophe,” as Palestinians call the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
The mood was good-natured but solemn, united in the demand for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and for sanctions until it does so.