borders, boycott, and the continuing ethnic cleansing of palestine

Strike day two. I went to the university today–yesterday as today–at the usual time. But it was a ghost town. There were not services and buses full of students unloading at the gates. Even the coffee shop was closed. Rami’s felafel stand was empty–no customers. I found out today that there are 13,000 who travel to Nablus–out of some 19,000 students overall–for classes at An Najah National University. But no one is traveling now, at least not students, because of the strike. Faculty are still required or asked to make an appearance each day for a few hours. It has given me some extra time to read and to run some errands. Yesterday I went downtown for a few hours to visit a bookshop, pick up some fresh bread and dates, and go to the bank. As I was sitting down with my banker, a lovely young man whom I’ve gotten to know over the past few months, we got into a conversation about politics. Somehow we started talking about Hezbollah and he expressed his disapproval of them. “They’re Shi’a, you know, they’re not really Muslims,” he said. Another division. Layer them on. Like Palestinians don’t have enough divisions inside Palestine based on political parties, class, whether or not one is from a village or a city, whether or not one is Christian or Muslim, whether or not one is a refugee, whether or not one is from 1948 or 1967 Palestine (and news about Israeli recruitment of Palestinians in 1948 for their terrorist army does not bode well in this regard). Let’s add another. The U.S., Israel, Europe have created this monster of divide-and-rule colonialism that infects the brain at such a dizzying rate. It’s overwhelming. This is a time when we need solidarity among people at every level across political, class, ethnic, national lines. It feels exhausting sometimes having to challenge these points of view whenever I encounter them. I feel like I encounter them far too often.

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The only way I seem to be able to deal with these hurdles is to keep Rania’s ever optimistic, ever inspirational voice in my head. I keep trying to think of ways people can think of coming together through boycott, for instance. I wondered today if there is a way to connect this strike–the need of faculty members to seek a better wage with the need to support other economies in Palestine. There was a report today about the staggering rate of Israeli imports into Palestine that furthered this thinking:

An overwhelming 74% of goods imported into the Palestinian territories come from Israel, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) reported on Monday.

PCBS’ figure is based on the vouchers of the value added tax (VAT), which is collected by Israel, for 2007.

Imports increased by 9% compared with 2006, including a 19% increase in imports of petroleum products and electric power compared with 2006, the increase in chemical products and medicines was 15%.

Palestinian imports totaled over three billion US dollars.

Exports totaled 392 million US dollars, reflecting a 7% increase over 2006.

One argument too many Palestinians use to resist boycotting Israeli products is a defeatist one. They say that it’s impossible because to live one necessarily has to use goods and services from the Israeli colonial occupiers. This is true. For instance, the water and electricity in our homes or workplaces comes from them. We pay bills to them even though they steal the water from Palestine they sell back to us. Or there are also some products that are produced by Palestinians but that are made with Israeli raw materials because they cannot be found here. But this is precisely why one must boycott whenever and wherever one can: since we have so few choices in our lives here, we must boycott Israeli products wherever possible (and I would add we should boycott American products as well–but as you may imagine if it’s impossible to get people to agree to boycotting Israeli products, boycotting American products is even more of a challenge).

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Rania reminded me of some good news that could be related to the boycott campaign against Starbucks, especially because there are so many awesome forces working against them:

Starbucks has seen its fourth-quarter profit almost wiped out by the cost of closing under-performing outlets and falling customer numbers.

While, of course, those of us who refuse to spend money at American businesses that give substantial profits to the Zionist state, there are other reasons why people boycott Starbucks as well:

The protests are designed to call attention to a number of issues, including Starbucks’ use of genetically engineered ingredients in their brand-name products, as well as the company’s refusal to brew and seriously promote Fair Trade coffee.

Of course, we don’t have Starbucks here in Palestine–thank God!–though as I’ve commented before people continue to purchase Nescafe (or anything from Nestle), which is worse in many respects. One of the many crimes of Nestle, which is also known as Osem in Israel and here, is the fact that one of its main factories is on the village of Najd, which is one of the 531 Palestinian villages ethnically cleansed by Jewish colonists in 1948. The photograph below is one I took of Osem in Najd (the name of the village has been ethnically cleansed, too, as it is now called Sderot).

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When there are choices, however, as I stated above, one should make those choices and there is a choice as can be seen in this photograph. I found Al Wald instant coffee, which is made in Jenin. This company is Palestinian owned and of course does not profit off of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Given that ethnic cleansing began as soon as the Jewish colonists/terrorists arrived here has continued unabated since then there must be solidarity on all levels: economic, political, cultural, social. In particular there must be solidarity surrounding the continued expulsion of Palestinians from their home as in the case of the al-Kurd family from their Sheikh Jarrah home in Al Quds this week. As I wrote the other day, this campaign the cancer that is Israel is spreading into Palestinian lands house by house, olive tree by olive tree. The forced removal of the al-Kurd family from their home reveals a rather interesting conundrum for Israeli settler colonists who took over the home:

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The story of the al-Kurd house is long and disputed and involves complicated legal and political battles. Mohammad al-Kurd and his parents were one of several families of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war who were housed in the Sheikh Jarrah district in 1956, a time when it was under Jordanian control.

His family came from Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, and his wife’s family was from Talbeyieh in west Jerusalem. Under an agreement with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees the families gave up their food ration cards and were given the properties under 33-year leases, which would revert to full ownership as long as they paid a token rent and kept the properties in good order.

It appears, however, that the land was previously owned in the late 19th century by Jews – it is close to an old Jewish tomb long popular with pilgrims. In 1967, when Israel captured east Jerusalem, the property was taken by the custodian for absentee property, an Israeli institution that had also taken control of all property left behind by the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced out in the 1948 war.

Two Jewish groups began a legal process to reclaim ownership of the property and in 1972 the court gave control of the land to the heirs of two rabbis who appeared to be the 19th century owners.

The al-Kurd family say their Israeli lawyer made the agreement without their knowledge.

The couple became ‘protected tenants’, liable to pay rent to their new Israeli landlords but they refused on principle.

“Why should I pay rent for my own house?” said Fawzieh al-Kurd, 57, who sat yesterday by a tent on a patch of wasteland not far from her house. In 2001, several settlers began to occupy an outer part of the house and remain in place today – despite court orders to evict them.

As soon as the couple was evicted at 4am on Sunday, a group of Jewish settlers moved in. They remain there today while armed police officers and private security guards patrol the surrounding area where several settler families live.

“The Israeli government did what they wanted to do,” said al-Kurd. “Because we are Palestinians they have to humiliate and insult us like this? Don’t we deserve to live in peace on our land?”

The United Nations relief and works agency (UNRWA) said it opposed the eviction of the al-Kurds and of all Palestinian refugees.

“Throwing an elderly couple out of their house in the early hours of the morning is shameful,” said Chris Gunness, a spokesman. “UNRWA will continue to offer the family assistance but nothing we offer can compensate for the loss of a home.”

Although Israel’s absentee property laws were applied on the al-Kurd family in favour of the original Jewish owners they are rarely, if ever, applied on properties in Israel that were owned by Palestinians before the 1948 war.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, of the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights, acknowledged that the al-Kurd land may have belonged to Jews before 1948 but told the Associated Press: “Do any of us Israelis really want to go back to the situation where everyone owns what they owned in 1948?”

The fact that the al-Kurd family is a family of refugees from Yaffa and west Al Quds makes this case all the more interesting. Indeed, I actually think we should take up Rabbi Ascherman’s question and pursue it. If Israel is the democracy it claims to be, and if legal cases set precedents, then why not now argue that, okay, there is now a legal case stating that those who owned land in the 19th century are the rightful and lawful owners and therefore all Palestinians should reclaim their land. I fully think that this should pursued. And, in the meantime, we should see who it is living in the al-Kurd family’s home or on their land in Yaffa and West al Quds. If it is a Jewish family, let’s find a way to evict them so the al-Kurd family can claim their right to return under international law. This seems fair to me. But, of course, Israel is not a democracy, except in rhetoric, and of course the Zionist state subsists on hypocrisy and double speak.

The situation in Al Quds is made all the more interesting because as I type, people in Jerusalem are voting for a new mayor. Supposedly only the top two candidates support the continuing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land in Al Quds through illegal settlement expansion. There are two interesting Al Jazeera stories on this election, the first one compares the three candidates and gives you a sense of how normalized and institutionalized racism is in Israeli society:

The second story from Al Jazeera focuses on Arcadi Gaydamak, who supposedly is trying to win Palestinian votes in the election, though most Palestinians are boycotting it entirely since regardless they have no power over the colonial regime occupying their city and always stealing more land:

One thing that strikes me from this second clip are the images of the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon when Gaydamak apparently funded tents for Israelis during the war. Check these out. Do you have any idea what happens to Lebanese under siege? There are no bomb shelters. There are no resort-like cabanas masquerading as refugee tents. It’s really sick and disgusting as it looks as if they are having a beach party while at the same time Gaza and Lebanon were being bombarded back to the stone age.

The ever expanding settlements of Al Quds, like the rest of Palestine, should be a symbol of why there should be increased resistance to this immoral colonial regime. As I’ve written over the past few weeks, there is certainly a growing movement of boycott around the world–especially in Europe–but it is problematic to say the least to isolate and boycott only goods from illegal Israeli settlements. Boycott must be comprehensive and total as the entire land of Palestine is occupied. Omar Barghouti makes this case very lucidly:

Politically speaking, though, and even if distinguishing between produce of settlements and produce of Israel were possible, activists who on principle – rather than out of convenience – advocate a boycott of only the former may indicate that they themselves are merely objecting to the Israeli military occupation and colonization of 1967 and have no problem whatsoever with Israel as a state that practices apartheid, or institutionalized racial discrimination, against its own “non-Jewish” citizens and that denies Palestinian refugee rights, sanctioned by the UN. Even if we ignore those other grave injustices committed by Israel, and irrespective of what solution to this entire oppression any of us may uphold, one cannot but recognize the inherent flaws in this argument.

When a state X occupies another “state” Y and persistently violates UN resolutions calling for an end to this occupation, the international community often punishes X and not some manifestation of X’s occupation! Governments aside, international civil society organizations have repeatedly boycotted entire states implicated in prolonged belligerent occupation, apartheid or other severe human rights violations, and not just parts of those states. Was there ever a movement calling for boycotting the bantustans alone in South Africa? Are there calls for boycotting only the Sudanese army and government officials present in Darfur today? Did any of the free-Tibet activists ever call for boycotting only those Chinese products made in Tibet?

Forgetting for the moment the fact that it was born out of ethnic cleansing and the destruction of the indigenous Palestinian society, Israel is the state that built and is fully responsible for maintaining the illegal Jewish colonies. Why should anyone punish the settlements and not Israel? This hardly makes any sense, politically speaking. Despite their noble intentions, people of conscience supporting peace and justice in Palestine who accept this distinction are effectively accommodating Israeli exceptionalism, or Israel’s status as a state above the law.

Finally, and most crucially, there is a moral problem that must be addressed in this approach. Ignoring Israel’s denial of refugee rights and its own system of racial discrimination against its “non-Jewish” citizens, the two other fundamental injustices listed in the BDS Call, is tantamount to accepting these two grave — certainly not any less evil — violations of human rights and international law as a given, or something that “we can live with.” Well, we cannot. Why should European civil society that fought apartheid in South Africa accept apartheid in Israel as normal, tolerable or unquestionable? Holocaust guilt cannot morally justify European complicity in prolonging the suffering, bloodshed and decades-old injustice that Israel has visited upon Palestinians and Arabs in general, using the Nazi genocide as pretext.

Indeed. What about the slow genocide–and denial of that–happening in Gaza? We know what happens to those why deny what happened during World War II to the Jews–and of course I would never advocate that. It happened. But why does that necessitate the specter of the Nazi holocaust whenever one states the facts of Palestine–its past or its present? Look at what the ITF is doing in Jayyous, because they do not only uproot families, but also olive trees:

Less than a week after an Occupation High Court decision to change the route of the Apartheid Wall in Jayyous, Occupation forces began destroying farmland in the south of the village to make room for the construction of the Wall. They are currently in the process of cutting down some 200 olive trees that have already been marked for uprooting.

Look at what the Israeli media said about the effect of its denial of fuel to Gaza:

As fuel terminals close in response to recent Qassam attacks, Gazan residents suffer blackouts due to shutting down of power stations. Vilnai: ‘Pity we’re falling for this propaganda; if there is one kilowatt in Gaza it’s in a rocket-manufacturing workshop’

In contradistinction, here is what the BBC has to day about the same situation (and the last time I checked, the BBC was not a Hamas propaganda outfit):

Residents said Gaza City was plunged into darkness as the plant’s last two turbines were shut down late on Monday, a day after the other one was stopped.

Today, the Zionist state has allowed some fuel into Gaza, but it is limited and it is likely that the same situation will repeat itself before long and Gaza will yet again suffer darkness and cold.

And make no mistake: this will continue. In spite of Hamas’ repeated claim that they are willing to settle on 1967 borders, Livni made it clear that she is not interested on this, in spite of UN Resolution 242, or the fact that this has been the main negotiating point since the horror that has been the so-called “peace process” (otherwise known as the war process for those who live here). Here she shows her true colors (perhaps emboldened by Barack Obama’s selection of Rahm Israel Emanuel?):

Kadima Chairwoman and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni distanced herself Tuesday from outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent assertion that Israel needs to return to its pre-1967 borders.

“I as Kadima Chairwoman am not committed to the outgoing prime minister’s comments – but to Kadima’s platform, and this is what determines exactly how we will hold negotiations,” said Livni, speaking in an interview with Army Radio.

Olmert called on Monday for withdrawing from the territories and “returning to the area that was Israel until 1967.”

Livni continued: “Between myself and Olmert there have been differences. When I wrote the platform of Kadima, upon its establishment, Olmert spoke in terms of ‘consolidation.’

“You can’t just throw the key to the other side and hope for the best, especially not in Judea and Samaria.”

She was referring to the plan for a pullout from the West Bank touted by Olmert when he headed Kadima’s 2006 electoral bid. Livni herself will be seeking to bring the ruling Kadima party victory in the upcoming general elections in February.

However, Livni did affirm the importance of continuing peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, and of reaching a final agreement based on territorial compromise.

“We want to maintain a safe state in Israel and this cannot be done on all of it. We need to finish the conflict with the Palestinians and look out for the security of our citizens,” she told Army Radio.

Let’s be clear: I am by no means advocating that the border is the 1967 border. Not one inch of Palestine can ever be negotiated away. Truth, international law, and human rights will win in the end. But, Livni’s claims are important in the sense that it reveals in a very obvious way how Israelis are never interested in peace and always interested in continuing expansionism as is the case with every colonial regime over the course of history. But like South Africa and India and Algeria and Haiti and so many other former colonies one day Palestine will be free and the fact that Israelis make it so easy by revealing their true colors so clearly for all the world to see makes our jobs that much easier.

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