This weekend was in many was a great reprieve as I was able to get out of Boise, Idaho and go to Washington DC where I was among friends and activists for Palestine at the annual U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation conference. I ran into the other American who was arrested with me by the Israeli Occupation Forces a couple of years ago, which was nice. But it was a bit disconcerting to be in this sort of space again in the U.S. having forgotten how mild the political positions are here; the U.S. Campaign’s framework is one based on the principle that Israel is an apartheid state (the entire state including 1948 territories as well as the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan, and occupied Lebanese territory) and yet there were far too many people there, most of whom were Jews, who were uncomfortable using the language of apartheid to educate and mobilize people on the subject in their communities. We voted to create a traveling speaking engagement, but it seems as if it was necessary to require “balance,” that is having an Israeli and a Palestinian speak, in order to make it viable. One Palestinian man I went out with one night talked about having Israeli friends, including those who have served in the army, and not seeming to have any problem with that. This is not Lebanon. Unfortunately. Even still the conference received all sorts of threats from people like Lee Kaplan so much so that there was some question as to whether or not it would be allowed to continue and there was quite a bit of security there to protect us from Zionists who threatened to disrupt the weekend’s activities. The U.S. Campaign released a response to this as well.
I got caught up on what I’ve missed in the U.S. over the past couple of years, some of which was enlightening. Some things seem so normal and go unquestioned here such as the Boeing advertisements all over the Washington DC Metro system that were advertising its military planes and equipment. Who exactly are they selling these products to? Why is it necessary to advertise this to ordinary passengers when the U.S. Department of Defense is their only client for these products? There was some 9/11 freedom walk going on in DC on Sunday and I saw all of these Americans walking around in their t-shirts because, of course, in this country the only dead and wounded who matter are Americans. Some things don’t change. But it appears that the discourse has changed in some ways. In the U.S. now it is not only important for governments to acknowledge Israel as a state, they must acknowledge it as a Jewish state. I wonder if this is in response to calls for a one-state solution and to honor UN Resolution 194. In Idaho there are ads every few minutes on CNN with a man telling viewers that all of these attempts to stop the U.S. occupation of Iraq are just political maneuvering and that we’re really winning the war and that we need more time. The Republican group sponsoring these ads is spending millions of dollars on this and they are not being shown everywhere; I did not see them at all in Washington DC, for instance. Rather they are airing them in the heartland, in their base, which I suppose suggests that they are losing ground even among their constituents.
At the conference, I spoke about Nahr el Bared at the conference and gave a powerpoint presentation on the subject and raised some money for the Nahr el Bared Relief Campaign. The war seems to be officially over, but no one has been allowed into the camps yet. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is now offering $55 million to displaced refugees from the camp, but I can’t help but feel that this just like a parent beating up a child and then taking him to the hospital. And, I wonder whose hands the money will go into and what sort of Lebanese government control this money will necessitate. But even if the government were to stand on the side of Palestinian refugees from Nahr el Bared and rebuild the camp as they see fit, a recent article in IRIN news suggests that the surrounding community may make this difficult.
The conference also enabled me to network with people in my region who are working on the campaign in their areas. Most prominently was Rachel Corrie’s mother, Cindy, who lives next door in Washington. She started the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice and I learned about their Caterpillar law suit which includes a number of Palestinian families in the case who have also lost loved ones and/or their homes because of their bulldozers. There is also a group in Utah doing some good work as well with the Just Peace in the Holy Land organization.
One of the things that everyone is talking about here has to do with the Khalil Gibran Arabic Langauge School where its principal, Debbie Almontaser, was fired because she correctly defined what the word intifada means. As reported on Democracy Now!:
Her remarks, made last weekend, were in response to questions from The New York Post over the phrase “Intifada NYC,” which was printed on T-shirts sold by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media – or AWAAM, a Brooklyn-based girl’s empowerment organization. The shirts have no relation to her school. Almontaser was widely criticized for not denouncing the use of the word and condemning its use on the T-shirt.
There is a petition to support Debbie Almontaser at the Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media website. Ironically Almontaser had worked with various Zionist organizations in the past, including the Anti-Defamation League.
Other bad news here: David Horowitz has organized something called Islamo-Fascism Terrorism Week that he is encouraging students to organize on their campuses. And…Norman Finkelstein resigned his post at DePaul University.
Some of the best projects that I learned more about this weekend that are either upcoming or ongoing were:
There were lots of great church groups and organizations there who are doing some amazing awareness work and also taking people to Palestine to learn about what’s going on and to get them involved in activities related to the anti-apartheid movement.
Other good news to report (I must tip my hat to Rania for these hopeful posts…): one of the Palestinian villages, Bil’in, where I worked with the International Solidarity Movement (and where I was arrested) recently was handed a micro victory: “Tuesday morning, even the highest court of Israel that usually support the occupation and the settler colonialist project, had to declare that the two kilometer route of the separation fence cutting the lands of Bil’in as illegal.”
But this important, though small, victory in Palestine comes just as some anniversaries this week and a couple weeks ago remind us that there are more battles to continue to fight in Palestine and elsewhere. Ironically, in Lebanon today they will begin their commemoration of the massacres of Shatila refugee camp and the neighboring area of Sabra. Al Jana Center is organizing some activities today and on Thursday. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee is organizing events in the U.S. The recent anniversary of hurricane Katrina was a reminder of the lack of responsiveness of the U.S. government as it offers Israel $30 billion of military aid. The people of New Orleans, particularly Curtis Muhammad, have been speaking in terms that resonate with Palestine, including using the phrase “right of return” referring to the right of people returning to their homes. I suppose it makes sense: one racist state prefers to give its money to another racist state in order to keep from supporting its own brown people, including indigenous Native people who were also displaced by the hurricane. These are anniversaries that I think are worth remembering, particularly today.