GAZA, AN OPEN-AIR PRISON

The Gaza Strip, an area one-eighth the size of Rhode Island, represents one percent of historic Palestine. The strip is approximately twenty-five miles long and seven miles wide and is home to close to two million Palestinians making it the most densely populated place on earth. It is almost impossible to get into Gaza. To its north is the Eretz Crossing, a literal military/bunker-style installation controlled by Israel. Its eastern border, the site of the April 2018 demonstrations, is also controlled by Israel. To the west is the Mediterranean, patrolled by Israeli war ships and to the south is Rafah, a border Gaza shares with Egypt.

In 2012, myself and thirty-two other Americans were privileged to visit Gaza but to do so we had to first meet in Cairo. Against a demand made by the American ambassador to Egypt that for security reasons we cancel our planned visit to Gaza, we refused and instead turned to the Egyptian government for a military escort.  We left Cairo in the dead of night, our two small vans, accompanied by two white military tanks, and traversed the Sinai, a six-hour trek, before reaching Rafah, our entry point into the Gaza strip. This had been the first opportunity in over ten years for any group to visit Gaza and we were determined to make it happen.

The history of Gaza spans 4000 years. For centuries it served as a caravan hub of strategic importance linking southeast Asia to Europe. Pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves are but a few of the spices and goods that passed through Gaza and moved the world economy. Gaza has also weathered the region’s major empires-the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Ottomans

The founding of the state of Israel in 1948 changed Palestine’s map dramatically. Over 700,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes. Those in neighboring towns and villages were pushed into Gaza which had come under Egyptian administrative rule. During the June 1967 war Israel occupied Gaza and cut it off from Egypt. It was at that time that Israel also militarily occupied east Jerusalem, the west bank and Syria’s Golan heights.  See Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides for more details.

Until ’67, the Gazan economy was primarily agriculture and fishing based. After their lands were confiscated to build Israeli settlements and their orchards uprooted, Palestinians were obliged to become day laborers inside Israel.

In 2000, then prime minister Ariel Sharon abruptly closed the border between Israel and Gaza and overnight 100,000 men lost their day jobs in Israel. Once the most skilled labor force in the middle east, these men were reduced to aid-dependent consumers with a production sector at almost zero.

In 2005 Ariel Sharon carried out what he called a “unilateral disengagement” from the Gaza strip, pulling some 7,000 Israeli settlers who had occupied Gaza for 38 years (and using up most of the water) and placing them in settlements in the west bank.  These settlers comprised ½ of 1% of the population in Gaza yet they occupied 20% of the land while an additional 10% was kept under Israeli military control.

After the settlers withdrew the Palestinian authority made plans to revitalize Gaza’s economy. However, in order to accomplish this, they needed Israel’s cooperation.  Instead, Israel surrounded Gaza with concrete walls and high fences and strictly controlled all access in and out of the strip, including the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt for both people and goods.

In 2006 Hamas won democratically held elections which were monitored by then president jimmy carter. Israel and the us expected Abbas’s Fatah party to win. Instead, the Palestinians in both the west bank and Gaza, fed up with the corruption within the Fatah ranks, voted Hamas into power. They won 76 out of the 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament. The first thing Hamas did when it won elections was to propose a long-term truce with Israel. It has since agreed to accept a peace treaty based on the ’67 borders which is an implicit recognition of the state of Israel, a constant demand both of Israel and the us government. The truce offer was ignored by both Israel and the us. Instead, reprisals for voting the wrong way quickly followed both from the us in the form of sanctions and Israel which cut off the Gaza strip from the rest of the world, creating an open-air prison with some 1.7 million inmates, 55% of whom were under the age of 18.

The Gaza Strip could have become a prosperous Mediterranean region with its rich agriculture and a flourishing fishing industry, a highly educated population, marvelous beaches and good financial prospects due to the recent discovery of extensive natural gas supplies found within its territorial waters. By coincidence or not, this was precisely when Israel intensified its naval blockade along Gaza’s coastline. Since then, Gaza has been subjected to numerous Israeli assaults not least of which was the 2014 51-day pounding of Gaza resulting in 2,217 dead, 11,000 wounded and 111,000 homes damaged or destroyed, the vast majority of which have yet to be rebuilt because Israel strictly rations the building material it allows into Gaza.

The Gaza of 2018 is a radically impoverished political powder keg where aid dependence went from 10% in 2000 to 80% with no autonomy and on the brink of ecological disaster through a combination of Israeli assaults and economic destabilization. While this also occurs in the west bank, Gaza is so tiny and its circumstances so extreme it serves as a sad illustration for understanding phenomena like aid- dependence, agricultural dumping and cash-crop farming. Gazans have essentially been discarded as an exploitable work force with Gaza being transformed into a cage full of consumers.

An Israel committee actually decides what to allow in on a weekly basis from a list which reflects their own market surplus. Economists estimate that for every dollar of aid which enters Gaza a portion ends up in Israeli pockets to the tune of a 120% profit. Gazan fruit trees, for example, are destroyed then Israeli fruit is sent in and sold at inflated prices serving as a profitable dumping ground for Israeli products. Since the borders are closed and since Gazan manufacturing and farming has been systematically destroyed either by Israeli bombs or by a ban on imports, Gazans are obliged to a large extent to depend on Israel to send in consumer goods which it does to the enormous benefit of its own export market. Ironically all of the millions of dollars poured into Gaza by the international community serves as an indirect subsidy for Israel.

Israel has worked hard to achieve its closure policy of reducing necessary imports and altogether banning the entry of things like factory equipment, machines and raw materials like cement as well as banning all exports. Gaza used to be famous for its strawberries and flowers. Not anymore. As for foods allowed into Gaza, according to Dov Weisglas, advisor to then prime minister Olmert, “the idea is to put Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger.” Israeli health officials actually calculate the number of calories Gazans need to avoid malnutrition. These figures are then translated into the number of truckloads Israel allows into Gaza each day.

Currently 90% of the water is unsafe for human consumption. In refugee camps water comes 15 minutes a day and is only fit for toilet use. The un estimates that by 2020 there will be no water in Gaza.

Israel has repeatedly claimed self-defense for its actions in Gaza, claiming it is only responding to rocket attacks from Hamas. Prior to the cast lead attack in December 2008, Hamas had maintained a 9-month truce. The goldstone report charged with reviewing the deadly assault on Gaza revealed that Hamas had indeed maintained its part of the truce agreement while Israel was the one who initiated aggressive behavior. Israel, therefore, cannot claim self-defense when it is the aggressor, nor can it claim self-defense when it is militarily occupying Palestinian land.

 

According to Israel’s defense minister, Avidor Lieberman “there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip. Everyone is connected to Hamas, everyone gets a salary from Hamas, and all the activists trying to challenge us and breach the border are Hamas military wing activists.”

You are mistaken, Mr. Lieberman. The vast majority of Gazans are innocent people tired of living in an outdoor prison and cut off from the rest of the world. They are simply demanding their most basic human rights.

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DON’T MESS WITH PALESTINE’S CULINARY HERITAGE

 

Why is it that any time someone dares to honor Palestinian cuisine or culture Israel goes ballistics?

Palestinians have seen their land confiscated, their homes demolished, their four-hundred-year-old olive trees uproot to make way for illegal Israeli settlement and they’ll be damned if they will let go of their culinary and cultural heritage. As much as Israel tries to rob them of both, they stand adamant and proud to be Palestinian and celebrating and enjoying a cuisine and its roots that is uniquely theirs is something they feel strongly about.

Joudie Kalla, author of Palestine on a Plate, expressed it best when she wrote “Palestinian food is an identity. It is something that we hold very dear to our hearts since it is drenched in history from generations. And it is about keeping Palestinian history alive.

The land we call Palestine, which has been populated by Palestinians since historical times, has a rich and turbulent history. Historically, it has come under the control of the Canaanites, Amorites, Ancient Egyptians, Israelites, Moabites, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottoman Turks and the British.

The first time there was a clear use of the name Palestine was in the 5th Century BC in Greece, where it refers to the whole area encompassing Syria and Jordan. Heredotus wrote of a district in Syria called Palestine. It appeared again in 350 BCE from Aristotle. (See Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides.)

What is more fundamental to a people’s history and culture than its food? It is not enough that the Palestinian people have been subjected to fifty years of occupation. Some Israel supporters find the use of the word “Palestinian” offensive. It should be noted that most Israelis, who inhabit this tiny speck of geography with the indigenous Palestinians, refuse to even utter the word “Palestinian,” calling them Arabs.

This travesty recently resurfaced again when Virgin Airlines listed one of the items on its in-flight menu as “Palestinian couscous salad.” Maftoul, a traditional Palestinian couscous, is complemented with tomatoes and cucumbers and seasoned with parsley, mint and lemon vinaigrette. Some Virgin Airlines customers took to social media to accuse the company of being “terrorist sympathizers” for using the descriptor.

This is the latest episode in a pattern of attempts by Israel and its supporters to either erase-or appropriate as “Israeli” Palestinian cuisine and culture.

 Christiane Dabdoub Nasser, author of Classic Palestinian Cuisine,” said, “The world is a sad place when people get offended by the word “Palestinian” and when a company like Virgin Airlines considers removing that word in order to do “right by its customers.” Caving into pressure, the airline renamed the dish “couscous salad.” To add insult to injury, the airline apologized that the mention of “Palestinian” might have caused its customers.

Again, according to Christiane Nasser, “There is constant pressure to kowtow to Israel and to the Zionists under the erroneous, not to say, perverse, belief that acknowledging Palestine or anything Palestinian is offensive to Israel and could be considered anti-Semitic. This is the result of decades of Israeli propaganda, which not only tries to deny the very existence of the Palestinian people, but also their culture, their history and their memory.” (Semites, by defintion, are the indigenous peoples who have lived since millenia along the Levant. Ashkenazi Jews who come originally from eastern Europe, are not Semites.)

In defense of its capitulation to Israeli pressure, Virgin Airlines said, “Our customers’ experience on board is a key focus and we are constantly refreshing our food offerings. We are aware that Maftoul is not a widely known ingredient, so the dish was listed as a Palestinian couscous salad, and later as a couscous salad. We’d like to reassure all customers that our sole intention is to bring new flavors on board, and never cause offense through the naming or renaming of a dish.”

Shame on Virgin Airlines.

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DEAR AMBASSADOR HALEY

It is hard to understand how, as the US Ambassador to the United Nations, you can be so far removed from reality with regard to relations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Your constant refrain demanding that the Palestinians take “the path of negotiation and compromise,” suggests a level of ignorance and arrogance rarely seen on the international stage unless, of course, you are speaking on behalf of the Israeli government.

 

You suggest that “the Palestinian leadership has a choice to make between two different paths. There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence. That path has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people.”

You insist, too, that the path to negotiation and compromise remains open, if only the Palestinian leadership had the courage to take it. You go on to accuse the U.N. body of using the most democratic country in the Middle East as a scapegoat for the region’s problems.

The problem, Madame Ambassador, is not the Palestinian leadership or its people, even though both have made mistakes. The problem is Israel and its almost fifty-one-year-long occupation of the Palestinian people and the policies it continues to pursue.

Imagine, Madame Ambassador, you are a Palestinian. You would be the descendant of one of the 700,000 Palestinians who were evicted from, or fled from, areas in 1949 that had been allocated to the State of Israel, or occupied by Jewish forces during the fighting, and could quite possibly still be living in a deplorable refugee camp. At the time, and to deter any attempt to return to your village, Jewish forces razed your home after you left and declared your village part of the then newly established Absentee Law which claimed your village henceforth to be the property of the Israeli government.

As a path toward peace, Yassir Arafat agreed to sign the Oslo Accords with Prime Minister Rabin in September 1993 even though it offered only a vague promise of self-government after five years. Unbeknownst to the Palestinians at the time, Israel intended this agreement to function as a civilian arm of the its military occupation forces, making Arafat’s PLO unwittingly Israel’s enforcer in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Accords called for limited autonomy in parts of Gaza and Jericho in the West Bank, neither of which ever materialized.

As a Palestinian, and you still owned a house or an apartment, it could, with scant notice, and at the discretion of the authorities, be demolished to make way for an illegal Israeli settlement. As if that indignity was not enough, you would then be handed a bill to clean up the demolition site or pay a stiff fine.

As I explained in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides, in case you haven’t yet read it, you would, as a Palestinian, also be subjected to subtle, bureaucratic and legal restrictions which would entangle you in a web of closures, work discrimination, restrictions on movement, displacement through exile, limits on planting of crops and their sale.

With the construction of Israel’s Separation Wall, you would be one of the millions of Palestinians affected on a daily basis by the barrier’s route, preventing you access to primary urban centers where essential services such as hospitals, schools, markets and places of worship are available.

The areas in the Wall’s path include the most fertile in the entire West Bank and contain just about all of the region’s water resources. If your father was a farmer, he would need permission from Israeli forces to access his land and tend to his crops.

As a Palestinian, you suspected all along that the wall had little to do with security but then Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed you suspicion when he admitted that the Wall’s purpose was to maximize the number of Jews in East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank, while minimizing the number of Palestinians.

So, Madame Ambassador, Israel’s survival as a democracy, a questionable status as an occupying force, is dependent on the concessions it is willing to make to ensure peace with the Palestinians, not the other way around.

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A CASE FOR DEBUNKING ZIONIST CLAIMS

According to the American Jewish Congress (AJC) Executive Director, David Harris, Israel is the only UN member subjected to a relentless chorus of nations and institutions denying its political legitimacy and actions.

With few exceptions, the vast majority of nations recognize Israel. What Mr. Harris fails to understand is that those nations and institutions that do criticize Israel do so based on behavioral standards that are of paramount importance to the preservation of international law. Any country, if left unchecked, risks eroding a global mechanism that strives to maintain stability and security through a balance of power that is based on legitimacy and responsible behavior.

He goes on to claim that “no one would question the right to exist of countries whose legitimacy is more questionable than Israel’s, including those nations that were created by brute force and occupation.” The continuous criticism of Israel is based on the fact that its creation was, in fact, a function of “brute force and occupation,” having expelled over 700,000 Palestinians, and that fifty years later is still ongoing.

In Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides, I quote Dr. Jeff Halper, Coordinator of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, who calls Israel’s system “a Matrix of Control,” that has created facts on the ground including expropriation of land, construction of hundreds of illegal settlements on confiscated Palestinian land, massive systems of highways for Israeli-use only, control over aquifers, closures, work discrimination, travel permits, restricting movement, displacement, to name but a few of the hardships Palestinians endure on a daily basis. Such conditions remain largely unseen by the outside world and are, therefore, rarely, if ever, covered by the media.  At issue, therefore, is not the political legitimacy of Israel but rather the political legitimacy of its guiding ideology, and by extension, the political legitimacy of a state operating in a racist and oppressive way against others.

Harris also claims that Israel is the only UN member state targeted for annihilation by another member state. Here he refers to Iran and more specifically to a 2005 NY Times article that claimed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” The misquote came from an Israeli enterprise founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer and it wasn’t until 2012 that Dan Meridor, then Israeli Minister of Intelligence, conceded this quote was a common ploy put forth by the Israeli government for propaganda purposes. Ahmadinejad, in fact, expressed the opinion that the Zionist state was an “unnatural creation” and was, therefore, unlikely to survive. While not flattering, it by no means suggested that Israel should be wiped off the map.

According to Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to then Secretary of State Colin Powell, “Zionist influence spreads far beyond Israel’s area of domination and now influences, and oftentimes corrupts, many of the policy makers in the U.S., turning such entities into accomplices in Israel’s abusive policies. This makes it imperative that Israel’s criminality be signed out as a high-priority case for protest and boycott.”

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WILL ISRAEL ATTACK LEBANON A SIXTH TIME?

Lebanon is once again being subjected to threats of a new war by the Israeli government. Their claim, this time, is that Iran is about to build a precision missile factory in Lebanon and that such an action would cross Israel’s ‘red line.’ Israel is the most technically advanced military on earth. It is not only supplied militarily by the US, it has its own thriving weapons-producing industry which boasts its weapons as “battle-tested,” having proven their efficacy in Israel’s repeated assaults on Gaza.

If Israel can produce some of the most lethal weapons in the world without condemnation, why then doesn’t Hezbollah in Lebanon have the right to build up its own defense arsenal as a deterrent to renewed Israeli aggression, particularly since Lebanon has already been subjected to five major Israeli invasions?

Is it because Israel claims Hezbollah is a terrorist organization? “Terrorist” is a useful rhetorical bludgeon that the US has repeatedly wielded to outlaw or de-humanize radical or revolutionary groups. The PLO was labeled for years by the US and Israel as a terrorist group just as Hamas and Hezbollah are now. Nelson Mandela before them was, for decades, called a dangerous terrorist. Israel claims Hezbollah a terrorist group because it wants a reason to destroy them. As I explained in The Syrian, when George W. Bush declared in his war on terrorism-that you are either with us or against us- Israel joined in on the act and demanded the US declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization and insisted it give up its arms.

Is Hezbollah a terrorist organization? According to the conservative Wall Street Journal, Hezbollah is a home-grown resistance movement born out of an illegal twenty-two-year Israeli occupation of large swaths of South Lebanon. Hezbollah is often associated with the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and the Marine barracks in October of the same year. Robert Baer, a former CIA agent with extensive experience in Lebanon, claims it was Iran who carried out these acts and it became a political issue in the US because the Israelis wanted the Americans to go after Hezbollah.

Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the Lebanese government to ward off Israeli aggression? Normally, it would be, but the Lebanese army is not capable of defending the county against an Israeli attack. The US gives Israel over $3 billion annually in military aid. The US gives the Lebanese Army pittance in aid and that aid is not allowed to be used against Israel, another reason there’s popular support for a non-state resistance movement like Hezbollah, which is capable of facing off with Israel. And why most Lebanese argue that Hezbollah should never give up its arms because it is Lebanon’s only deterrent against another Israeli attack.

Why does Israel look for any excuse to attack Hezbollah? Because it threw Israel out of south Lebanon in 2000. No Arab force before has ever dealt Israel such a humiliating blow, but that’s just part of the equation. Geopolitically, there’s a much larger issue at play-the proxy war between the US and Iran. Using Israel to attack Hezbollah is an indirect attack on Iran, since they are the ones who back Hezbollah. But the real target is Syria. It is the conduit between Iran and Hezbollah. In order to weaken both Iran and Hezbollah, so the thinking goes, the US and Israel must destroy Syria. Complicating matters even more is the question of religion. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf nations, mostly Sunni, support the US and Israel’s attempt to destroy the three Shiite entities-Iran, Hezbollah and Syria. They fear a Shiite revival and want to maintain their Sunni dominance over the region.

Recently, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman, Brig. Gen. Roan Manelis said that Hezbollah’s actions are turning Lebanon into a powder keg. According to him, one of every three homes in south Lebanon is a command post, position, weapons warehouse or hiding place for Hezbollah. We know these assets and will know how to attack them accurately if necessary. The future of the people of Lebanon is to be pawns in the hands of the dictator from Tehran.” This is the same nation (Iran) that has not attacked another country in over 500 years. And, Manelis’ IDF command, after the July 2006 war, had to admit that most of the rockets fired against Israel were launched from nature reserves and not from urban areas.

“Any upcoming battle depends on two parameters,” Manelis said. “Whether Lebanon and the international community will permit Iran and Hezbollah to exploit the naiveté of the Lebanese leaders and set up a precision missile plant, as they are currently trying to do; and whether Hezbollah, under the auspices of the new election system, will manage to elbow out the Sunni camp in the upcoming May 2018 elections and officially turn the country into an Iranian client state. The Israeli army is ready and prepared for any scenario and will be improving its military readiness.”

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BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT, SANCTIONS UPDATE

 For those unfamiliar with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign (BDS), it is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. It upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

Israel is occupying and colonizing Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and refusing Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. For nearly seventy years, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights and has refused to comply with international law. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, BDS urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law. The BDS campaign is thoroughly discussed in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides

Celebrating its 12th year, BDS is having a major impact and is effectively challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism.

Israel sees BDS’s success as a danger and has called up its minions to act.

US Governors, at Israel’s urging, have been competing with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participation in any boycott aimed at illegal Israeli settlements and their products. On US campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticism of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as “the Palestine Exception” to free speech.

Now 234 Congressional members are trying to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. The most shocking aspect of this piece of legislation is its punishment.  Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

Apparently Senator Cardin did not know exactly what was in his bill, insisting, when interviewed, that it contained no criminal penalties.

In fact, the bill itself makes no mention of penalties. It is in the underlying amended statute where it mentions the $ 1 million dollar fine and the 20-year prison sentence which could be brought in and used, at will, by a judge or prosecutor.

By trying to enact this legislation, Israel and the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) are trying, through congressional action, to preempt a database due to be published by the U.N. that will list companies that are engaged in commerce in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

According to Rabbi Joseph Berman, Government Affairs Manager for Jewish Voice for Peace, “AIPAC is a very effective lobby, and no different in its influence than the National Rifle Association which keeps Congress from passing much-needed gun reform. AIPAC is very much a part of a broken system and they do a very good job at playing that system. They have immense resources and are able to move legislation like this forward.  However, they do not speak for the Jewish community which is incredibly diverse especially when it comes to relationships to and views on Israel-Palestine.”

If its authors and other Congressional members who are supporting this legislation don’t exactly know what’s in the bill why are they supporting it?

According to Senator Chuck Schumer, speaking at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in June 2017:  “Sometimes anti-Semitism is cloaked in rhetoric that profess no bias but suspiciously holds Israel—and by extension the Jewish people—to a different standard than others. There is no greater example than this insidious effort to harm the Jewish state than through BDS. The global BDS movement is a deeply biased campaign aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state, sometimes wittingly, sometimes unwittingly, while all the while practicing a modern form of anti-Semitism.”

The Intercept’s Ryan Grim suggests another reason the bill’s supporters don’t know its content. “The bill is a kind of proxy opposition to BDS. If you have not signed onto this bill, whether you have read it or not, you can be accused by AIPAC of supporting BDS. If you’re not with us, you are against us.”

The irony here is that it does not criminalize all boycotts of Israel. A neo-Nazi group that is driven by explicit anti-Semitism and calls for a boycott of Israel does not fall under this statute.

Again, Roger Grim: “Only if you’re supporting BDS from a pro-Palestinian perspective would the same precise action be criminalized. According to the ACLU, this is the definition of a First Amendment violation because the same acts become criminalized only based on your political motivation for carrying out that act.”

According to Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS National Committee: “Israel concluded that its former strategy for fighting BDS was failing so they adopted a new two-pronged strategy that was based on using their intelligence services to spy on BDS activists and try to tarnish their reputation, and by using legal warfare to force legislation through the US Congress.”

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LEBANON’S CIVIL WAR, 42 YEARS LATER

 

Lebanon recently marked the mournful anniversary of the start of its fifteen year-long civil which began in April 1975. Tragically, the Lebanese commemorate the start of their civil war but never its end in 1990, which in theory constitutes the beginning of peace. The problem, of course, is that insecurity, bombings, murders and disappearances continued after the civil war, and still do today.

The dead, estimated at anywhere from 150,000 to over 200,000 have been buried and resurrected by journalists but not by the Lebanese people.

According to Robert Fisk, a journalist writing in The Independent, “Lebanon’s dark past was concluded with an amnesty that effectively ruled all killers innocent and left the families of the dead with neither justice nor comfort.”

Though never acknowledged by Lebanese authorities, there are believed to be around twenty mass graves still untouched in Lebanon. Some of their locations are widely known, one of which is the mass grave of Palestinians murdered during the Sabra-Shatilla massacre of 1982. As I describe the scene in A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War, Robert Fisk was one of the first journalists to discover the grave when he entered Sabra-Shatilla immediately after the slaughter. To get a better view of the camp, he climbed onto a huge pile of dirt about ten feet tall. On the way up he slipped and lost his balance. Trying to catch himself, he grabbed hold of what he thought was a dark red rock. It was a man’s head.

In my book The Syrian, which takes place in Syria and Lebanon in 2006, Andrew Sullivan has heard about Lebanon’s disappeared and wants to know more. He is dining with Sonia and Ali, both journalists, when he initiates the conversation.

“Tell me about the disappeared,” Andrew said.

Ali put down his fork and knife. “Seventeen thousand men,” he said, frowning. “That’s how many were disappeared more than twenty-five years ago. The issue is huge. Unfortunately, it’s the elephant in the room—isn’t that what you say in America? —that no one wants to talk about.”

“Why hasn’t the Lebanese government investigated?” Andrew asked.

Sonia explained. “In the mid-90s, Lebanon’s parliament passed an Amnesty Law that exempted all political leaders from prosecution. This crafty piece of legislation gave our illustrious leaders license to bury anything that had to do with our civil war, including the disappeared. One would expect this of the Syrian regime and their Intelligence Czar, but for the Lebanese to put sectarian interests over national and humanitarian interests—it’s outrageous.”

“Bowing to pressure,” said Ali, “the government six years ago finally appointed a commission to look into the disappearances.”

“And it went nowhere,” said Sonia. “They claimed that if a mass grave was found to contain, say five hundred Muslims, then they would need to find the same number on the Christian side in order to avoid sectarian violence.”

“There’s something even more troubling. The commission actually knows the location of several mass grave sites, and these aren’t obscure laces. One is a cemetery in Achrafieh. Apparently, mass graves were also discovered at every reconstruction site downtown during the reconstruction but the evidence was buried as quickly as it was discovered.”

“Other countries build monuments to commemorate their dead and disappeared, a place where bereaved families can come to remember and honor their loved ones,” said Sonia. “Tragically, truth is the first casualty of war, at least in Lebanon.

                Sami Hermez, in his new book War is Coming: Between Past and Future Violence in Lebanon, argues that the amnesty law encouraged the Lebanese to forget their crimes but since the perpetrators of supposed crimes “did not face trial, were not found guilty, and did not have to admit or confess their crimes what were people being called to forget? Politicians could be persecuted at a later date but a violation against innocent civilians was, through an act of pardon, silenced and its status as crime left ambiguous and open to interpretation.”

Wadih el-Asmar, the president of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, has spoken of the need for a real work of memory and reconciliation in which the dead could be lifted from the earth in which they had been flung or bulldozed during the war and carefully identified.

Waddad Halawani, who runs the Committee of Families of the Disappeared and of People Kidnapped in Lebanon, argues that “we want only to know their fate and offer them a proper burial site.”

The debate about the mass graves, however, reveals the demons of the past, because to admit their existence is to accept that the war was not an accident but truly a succession of organized and planned crimes.

The war in Syria was not an accidental event either. It was a carefully planned and orchestrated tragedy carried out by Western powers hell-bent on initiating regime change.

And therein is the rub. If there are crimes, whether in Lebanon or Syria, there must be criminals. In Lebanon a national amnesty saved the criminals from persecution. In Syria, Western historians will simply re-write the history of that tragedy, leaving them unaccountable for their crimes against humanity and free in the future to perpetuate the same crimes elsewhere.

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