Natfhe and the academic boycott

The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) has put forward a motion to boycott Israeli academic institutions, that is to be voted on at the NATFHE conference this weekend. Via Engage, here is the letter that was published in today’s Guardian in opposition to the academic boycot, which explicitely condemns the occupation:

‘We call on Natfhe to reject the motion that “invites” academics to blacklist Israeli “institutions and individuals” that do not “publicly dissociate themselves” from “Israeli apartheid policies”. The purpose of the apartheid analogy is not to shed light on the conflict but to mobilise an emotional vote for a blacklist. We oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the daily violence that is necessary to sustain it, as we oppose campaigns to kill Israelis. We are for peace and mutual recognition between Israel and Palestine. But this boycott proposal would do more harm than good, if the aim is to bolster the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements.’

Those who live in glass houses…

…should not threaten to sue Ahmadinejad.

‘A group of Israeli diplomats wants to sue Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide.

Lawyers are preparing to send a file on Mr Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, to the International Court of Justice.

… The UN convention defines genocide as the intent or actual destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.’

Incitement to genocide? Look, anti-semitism, like any other form of racism, is never ok. That said, Israeli dioplomats should check out the activities of their government and the IDF. If you represent a government that routinely and systematically ennacts anti-Arab policies and violence, is “incitement to genocide” something you should be so eager to cry?

‘In 2004 the court ruled that parts of Israel’s West Bank “security barrier” that ran through Palestinian land were illegal.’

Quite.

On a separate note, JVP informs me that the “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2006” (HR 4681) passed the US House of Representatives and is now headed for the Senate. The bill would stop all funds that go to Palestinians, but as the PA has not directly received US funds for some years, the funds being stopped are not funds that would go to Hamas anyway — they’re funds that would go towards humanitarian aid for Palestinians. Cutting funds for humanitarian aid will on worsen the shortages in Gaza and the West Bank.

Quick roundup.

  1. The Israeli Supreme Court has upheld a racist law that prevents Palestinian Arabs from living with Israeli Arab spouses or family.
  2. The Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has said that the ceasefire will be extended if the Israelis withdraw to the 1967 borders.
  3. A White House official is quoted as saying that Israel would “be willing to go bilateral” if Abbas dismantles terrorist organisations. However, Israel knows full-well that Abbas is in no position to do this because he does not control Hamas or Islamic Jihad; which casts doubt on the sincerity of the offer. Ehud Olmert was quoted on the radio as saying he was “willing to devote six to nine months to find a Palestinian partner” before going ahead with his unilateral plan for a withdrawal in the West Bank, thus making it clear that he is not engaging in a genuine negotiation with the Palestinian government.

The effects of cutting off foreign aid

As Gideon Levy points out yet again, not only has it caused a humanitarian crisis for which the Israeli government and the Quartet are responsible, but because it ultimately attracts support for Hamas and involves the Quartet in a diplomatic farce which it has now lost:

‘Two or three months and the “boycott” party of the Palestinian Authority ended. It was also an especially stupid masked ball: Hamas can now brandish a real achievement. Israel and the world have surrendered unconditionally, and the flow of money to the territories is being renewed.

The problem is that some of the masks have remained, and the foolishness continues: Israel and the world will not transfer monies “directly” to the Hamas government, but rather by means of a special “Hamas bypass” mechanism. This unnecessary mask will also be removed quickly.

What has Israel gained from this game? Nothing. It has only lost. The pictures of shortages and distress have been chalked up, and rightly so, to Israel. …

It is necessary to go back to the two eternal verities: First of all, the Palestinian people elected Hamas in democratic elections, which were held at the initiative of the United States and with Israel’s agreement; secondly, the state of Israel bears the responsibility for the fate of the population in the occupied territories. You wanted elections? Hamas was elected. You wanted to topple the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization? Here are the results. You want occupation? You have to pay the price. There is no way of escaping this.’

Collective punishment of the Palestinians is downright morally appalling, and we’ve seen that it doesn’t work.

The policies of the Israeli government and the Quartet have only served to strengthen support for Hamas. The more the Israeli government continues in its current policies of starving 3.5 million Palestinians, most of whom are living in what is essentially a prison (the occupied territories have no sea port or airport or free movemtn even within the occupied territories), the more Palestinians will turn to the extremism that seems to be fighting back.

There is one positive thing here, however: the blockade and the shortages it caused are finally being chalked up to Israel, instead of Palestinians suffering because of those policies.

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PSC meeting on the blockade, Euston 10th May

Last night I went to a Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) meeting at Euston on the crisis in the Territories. The PSC organised a strong platform, with Tony Benn, Karma Nabulsi, Lindsey German and Tariq Ali amongst others. Plenty of strong feeling, but the big hall in the Friends’ Meeting House was only half full–maybe a couple of hundred people. Karma Nabulsi had a strong quote from one of her contacts in the OT:

“The silence of the West hurts more than the bullets of the Israelis”

Allowing for a degree of overstatement, it’s still an arresting thought. I’ll say something more about this “silence” in my post about today’s news. The most interesting and controversial speech was from Tariq Ali, who was kept to the end as a rousing finish. The PSC obviously need him more than he needs them, as his speech was far from the party line. He was very emphatic that you couldn’t understand what is happening without understanding the Palestinian election, which he interpreted for our benefit: it’s because they realised that Oslo would never have given them a viable state (and also, to be fair to Tariq, because they were fed up with Fatah corruption). He didn’t say what would represent viability, though he allowed that a retreat to the 1967 borders would be “a first step” to towards a viable Palestinian state. His views on the future for the region were summed up in this wonderfully dogmatic line:

“Abandoning fantasy politics means a one-state solution”

Most of the speakers made complimentary (and often, I thought, condescending) reference to JfJfP (which is organising a vigil on Monday night to protest at the EU’s position).

The PSC is organising a national demonstration in London on May 20th against the blockade.

Not just Gaza

Cutting off aid to the Hamas-controlled PA is having a severe impact on Palestinians. The West Bank economy has been dependent on foreign aid since before the election, and the lack of aid now means that public-sector employees are not receiving wages, crushing the already fragile economy:

‘The World Bank estimates that only 12 per cent of the PA’s economic activity was ever internally generated. The rest came from outside, either through Palestinians earning wages in Israel or foreign donor support. When Yasser Arafat, then the Palestinian leader, launched the armed intifada in late 2000, Israel closed the checkpoints to the occupied territories, reducing the income from foreign earnings to a trickle. By the time Hamas won power in January’s general election, the PA was in debt to the tune of £451 million.’

Border closures that prevent Palestinians living in the West Bank from getting to their jobs in Jerusalem are also taking their toll, and have now sparked protest from the UN Relief and Works Agency:

‘Anders Fange, director of operations in the West Bank of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East … said: “I do understand the Israeli security considerations but the government of Israel should also live up to its obligations under international law to allow freedom of movement for U.N. personnel. This recent development impedes our work capacity at a time of increased need.”‘

Civilian casualties

There’s another excellent editorial by Gideon Levy.

‘Does anyone among our excellent artillery forces think about the great fear they are causing to the children upon whose homes they are launching their shells? Have they been shown pictures of the destruction they sowed, whether deliberately or not? No Qassam rocket justifies this terrible, disproportionate bombing, thousands of shells in a densely populated area, on its fields and occasionally on its homes; the echoes of this shelling did not reach Israel and did not interest anyone here. Last week we went to bombarded Beit Lahiya, in the row of houses that was shelled there, two dead and several wounded, this week in bombarded Beit Hanoun, three children wounded and dozens suffering from shock. ‘

The IDF response?

‘The IDF spokesman: [said] “The IDF operates to defend the citizens of the State of Israel, and in response carries out firing toward the sources and points of launching, while trying as much as possible to avoid hitting populated areas. Unfortunately, the terror organizations are exploiting the IDF’s sensitivity in regard to harming civilians, and deliberately operate near and from populated areas, using the Palestinian population as a ‘human shield.'”‘

Thoughts about Pesach

Since Pesach, I have been thinking a lot about the ideas central to the seder: liberation of the oppressed, celebration that our basic needs are met and of our freedom, and sharing what we have with those less fortunate. I cannot help thinking about these ideas in the context of current events. There’s a post over at IrrationalPoint’s blog about precisely this:

‘How is it possible to read [the Haggadah] and not think of people who are hungry, who are in need, and who are not free? Moreover, how can we discuss oppression in Jewish history, and then turn a blind eye to oppression in the modern world?

It is not, of course, only the human tragedies that involve Jews that we should be thinking of. Oppression and hardship do not, after all have a special Jewish dimension. There are many many places across the globe where people are hungry or in need, through war, irresponsible human activity, extreme poverty, or natural disasters: Darfur, New Orleans, Tibet, Nepal, Iraq, and countless other places.

Yet Jews cannot ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the deaths and hardship that have resulted, both directly — through suicide bombings or military attacks on civilians — and indirectly — through malnutrition in Gaza, for example.’

Updates on the Gaza crisis posted below.

The blockade is biting

I wrote on April 13th and 16th about the human disaster that can be predicted as a result of the EU, American and Israeli policy towards Hamas, and about the resolute silence in the media about it. The silence was broken on Tuesday night by a report on Channel 4 news (you can watch it again here) from Gaza, where hospitals are running out of essential supplies and people are dying as a result. It’s one thing to write about economic blockades, another to actually see a person with cancer or kidney failure, deprived of treatment and even of pain relief by this savage policy.

Do any of the people responsible for the EU policy actually think about what they are doing? I suppose the theory must be that if enough suffering is inflicted on the Palestinian people they will, in desperation, force Hamas to recognise Israel and thus allow the peace process to resume. This idea is wrong on at least three different counts

  1. First and most important, it is a form of collective punishment and therefore wrong by definition. The suffering is being inflicted on people regardless of their opinions, how they voted, whether they support violent action, or anything else about them. They are suffering because they are Palestinians.
  2. It won’t work in changing Hamas policies. Palestinians will only become more angry over the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, and more determined to defy it. There is a big debate in Hamas at the moment on how to proceed after the elections; this policy can only help the hardliners.
  3. If it did work, the long-term effect would be to hugely increase the bitterness of the Palestinians towards Israel and the occupation. How is that a basis for the reconciliation that is supposedly going to be the foundation for peace in the region?

We expect nothing better from the American and Israeli governments; we know how much they are influenced by humanitarian concern for the Palestinians. But the EU, which has claimed the higher ground in the past, has now joined them. It seems that “The International Community”, so keen in principle on the idea of democracy in the Arab world, is in reality prepared to go to any lengths to stamp it out when it actually happens.

There seems little we can do about this. At least sign the petition and write to your MEPs.

Yom Haatzmaut

Today is Israeli Independence Day, the 58th anniversary of the declaration of the independence of the state of Israeli in 1948 by Ben-Gurion.

Via Engage, Hillel Schenker talks about attending a memorial service for the Israelis who have died in Israel’s wars since 1948, and marking Independence Day:

‘So we sat together, Israelis and Palestinians in East Jerusalem, musing about where we’re at. The second intifada and the violent Israeli response have left both people’s licking their wounds. […]

We have lunch together, Israelis and Palestinians, sharing some felafel, humous and full, with pita bread and olives. I say that I will only feel capable of celebrating a really happy Israeli Independence Day when it will be accompanied by a Palestinian Independence Day. And I do believe that that day will come.

“Inshallah,” says Najat.’