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Children’s Lives in the Balance: Is One Worth More Than Another?

10:18 am in Uncategorized by codepink

By Pam Bailey and Medea Benjamin

Israeli settlement in Palestine, surrounded by a wall

Israel is engaging in violent, indiscriminate retribution after the death of 3 teens from an illegal settlement.

With the news that the bodies of three missing Israeli teens had been found in a field not far from the stretch of road where they disappeared June 12, people everywhere reacted rightly with sorrow and anger.

Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, also 16, were students who lived with their families in a Jewish-only settlement near the Palestinian city of Hebron in the West Bank. The settlement and others like it have been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice because they are located in occupied territory and impede Palestinians’ liberty of movement and right to employment, health and education. However, they were youth just starting out on life, sons and brothers whose families will forever grieve their horrific deaths. We must all condemn such violence.

We must also condemn the collective punishment and violence unleashed by the government of Israel in response. To date, the Israeli police and military have broken into and ransacked 1,500 homes, businesses and schools in its rampage, arresting more than 550 residents.  More than half of the abducted individuals are being held without charge or trial, more than 100 have been injured and at least six have died – including a 14-year-old boy who was shot in the chest at point-blank range and a 78-year-old woman who suffered a heart attack during a house raid. As this article was written, the 680,000 residents of greater Hebron had been surrounded by angry troops and settlers, with ominous reports trickling out of death and mayhem.

Imagine if similar homicides occurred in your town. Despite the tragedy of the crimes and the desperate desire to find the perpetrators, would civilized society countenance the widespread ransacking of property, imprisonment of hundreds and the death of innocents? No, of course not. So why should it be considered an acceptable response among a population pushed to desperation by decades of military occupation?

To fully understand just what happened and why, an analysis must begin before the June 12 disappearance of the three teenagers, residents of a Jewish-only settlement near the Palestinian city of Hebron in the West Bank. Rather, it should start with April 23, when the two main Palestinian political factions, Fatah (which had governed the West Bank) and Hamas (which filled the same role for the Gaza Strip) announced formation of a unity government. While the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority has long cooperated with Israeli security forces, Hamas continues to actively resist Israel’s control over the Palestinian territory. The announcement of the reconciliation was condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was enraged when the U.S. and other governments instead took a wait-and-see approach.

When the three Israeli teens disappeared, Netanyahu immediately blamed Hamas, although it has reportedly denied responsibility, and launched a campaign to punish any person associated with the party, as well as those it wanted to target for other reasons (such as previously released prisoners). An informed observer cannot help but conclude that he seized on the personal tragedy of the families involved to pursue a broader political goal. Israel’s intention to “perform a root canal to uproot everything green [Hamas-related] in the West Bank” was announced on the national Army Radio, while Economy Minister Naftali Bennett promised to “turn membership of Hamas into an entry ticket to hell.” A high-ranking Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz  that the mass arrests are “a kind of thorough cleaning.” Israel, he said, had decided “to use the upcoming days to arrest anyone ‘infected’ with Hamas.” In one Israeli news source, an IDF officer even admitted that the operation had been planned ahead of time, and that its goal was not to find the boys, but to provoke unrest.

With the discovery of the Israeli teens’ bodies, Israeli military and the settlers intensified the attack on Hebron and other towns, with a 17-year-old boy shot in the Jenin refugee camp. Renewing his vow that “Hamas will pay,” Netanyahu ordered an escalation of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip – more than 40 in just the first night, terrorizing the entire population of 1.8 million. Although the strikes in part are in retaliation for rockets shot into Israel by a faction that is not affiliated with Hamas, Netanyahu’s own words make the connection clear.

According to the prisoner advocacy group Addameer, about a quarter of the hundreds of arrested Palestinians are being placed in “administrative detention,” a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold individuals indefinitely based on secret information without charging them or allowing them to stand trial.  Israel routinely uses administrative detention in violation of the strict parameters established by international law, claiming to be in a continuous state of emergency since its inception in 1948. In addition, says Addameer, administrative detention is frequently used – in direct contravention to international law – for collective and criminal punishment rather than for the prevention of future threat.

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CODEPINK Protester Victorious Over AIPAC Assailant

11:33 am in Uncategorized by codepink

It is not every day that the voices for justice triumph over the actions of the rich and powerful, especially when it comes to the Israel-Palestine debate. That’s why it is so important to acknowledge and celebrate the settlement just negotiated by CODEPINK activist Rae Abileah and her lawyers after suing American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)volunteer lobbyist Stanley Shulster.

Medea Benjamin in a pink shirt & helmet with a Make Out Not War badge.

Code Pink's Medea Benjamin at NoNATO Rally (Photo: Chicagosee / Flickr)

It all started on May 24, 2011, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington, DC speaking before a joint session of Congress. Abileah, a 29-year-old Jewish woman who has traveled to the West Bank, Israel and Gaza, was in the audience. She became more and more appalled as she listened to Netanyahu’s speech and watched our congress people giving him a stream of standing ovations. “I couldn’t watch this hero’s welcome for a man who supports the continued building of illegal settlements, won’t lift the siege of Gaza, and refuses to negotiate with the Palestinian unity government,” said Abileah.

So Abileah did what most people would never have the courage to do. She got up and shouted: “No more occupation! Stop Israeli war crimes! Equal rights for Palestinians!” And she unfurled a banner thatread: “Occupying land is Indefensible!”

She was immediately grabbed, violently pulled toward the floor, and gagged—not by the Capitol Police but by a member of the audience, Stanley Shulster, a retired attorney from Ashland, Oregon, who had traveled to Washington DC to attend the yearly conference of the Israel lobby group AIPAC. An online bio for Shulster revealed that he was an unpaid lobbyist, a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces, and a Navyveteran. In his bio Shulster bragged that he “grabbed the woman who heckled the Prime Minister while he was speaking.”

Abileah was rushed to the hospital, where she was treated for neck and shoulder injuries. She subsequently had to undergo months of physical therapy, chiropractic care and other treatments to heal from these injuries.

But Abileah was also determined to pursue her attacker.She pressed charges and got a warrant for his arrest, and she filed a civil suit for damages. Thanks to the tenacity and generosity of her attorneys, they just reached a settlement in which Shulster was forced to pay her medical fees  and issue an apology. In the joint statement issued by Shulster and Abileah, Shulster acknowledges that he “respects the right of Ms. Abileah to hold a different view on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes she holds this view in good faith,” and Abileah does the same. Both Abileah and Shulster recognize “the right, as Americans, to agree to disagree peacefully.” This might sound like a common sense statement but coming from a man who works with the IDF and AIPAC, which routinely categorizes any critique of Israel as anti-Semitic, this is extraordinary.

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Commemorating Palestinian Land Day in Jordan

11:33 am in Uncategorized by codepink

By Tighe Barry

On March 30, 2012, hundreds of demonstrations took place across the globe in commemoration of Palestinian Land Day. This important day in the history of the Palestinian people is a sorrowful reminder of the six Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces in 1976 while protesting the continued confiscation of their land.Land day protests

Generation after generation, Palestinians continue to call for an end to the brutal Israeli military occupation and the right to return to their lands. The continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Jerusalem has resulted in a massive outcry and demonstrations worldwide.

Today people from around the world came together in a massive orchestrated effort known as the Global March to Jerusalem (GM2J), timed to coincide with Land Day. Marches took place in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Italy, Korea, all over the United States, and in many more locations. A peaceful movement, the Global March to Jerusalem is a people-powered action designed to assert the importance of Jerusalem politically, culturally, and religiously to the Palestinian people and humanity as a whole.

I had the privilege of participating in one of those protests in Amman, Jordan.This issue is of particular concern in Jordan because it has the world’s largest concentration of Palestinian refugees. Nearly 65 percent of the country’s population are of Palestinian origin.

Throughout the day, throngs of Jordanian Palestinians were joined by tens of thousands of Jordanian supporters, as well as those from around the world. Many came from as far away as Malaysia, Indonesia, Canada, Europe and the United States. We all came together, tens of thousands, on a dusty plain on the furthest end of the Jordan Valley overlooking occupied Palestine. We were a sea of peaceful protesters calling for a free Jerusalem for all and for a return of stolen Palestinian land.

Although we could all see the occupied territories, the Israelis would not let us cross the border. Hundreds of Jordanian police and military personnel, along with dozens of tanks and police cars, made sure the crowd stayed about a mile away. So close yet so far.

Groups of youth, not satisfied with being kept away from the border, tried to test the limits. They moved back and forth along the police lines, trying to find a way through. But the authorities would have none of it, and after many rounds of police pushing back and protesters running, the civil disobedience ended in peaceful chanting, singing and dancing.

The explosion of color in an otherwise amber hued surrounding was amazing. Waves of undulating flags, keffiyehs, balloons and kites filled the area. Many handmade signs claiming the injustices of 60 years of occupation abounded. Face painting was the mode of the day for the young children and teens. All this provided an almost celebratory background to an otherwise mournful event commemorating the ongoing suffering in the Palestinian people.

Palestinian dignitaries gave powerful speeches, and the organizers called on representatives from around the world to share their thoughts. The representatives from South Africa conjured up memories of the racist Apartheid system that Israel is mirroring today. Those from India spoke of the Ghandian peaceful protests to overthrow British rule, calling on the world to recognize this same form of civil disobedience, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement being used by the Palestinian civil society today.

But the speech that would spoke directly to me was the American, Michael Rabb. He reminded us about the similarities between the Palestinian struggle and the civil rights movement of the 60’s in our own country. He spoke of Martin Luther King, Mississippi and the long struggle to free a people who had long been promised justice only to be denied equal rights for over a hundred years.

As a representative from the United States, I gave interviews to the press and denounced the $3 billion dollars that the U.S. government sends to Israel every year to prop up its repressive military, while here at home our sick lack healthcare and our youth can’t afford a college education.

This is a day I will never forget. I was touched by the extraordinary power of a people in resistance for so many decades. One day, they will cross this border and enter a Free Jerusalem and a Free Palestine. I hope I can walk with them.

Tighe Barry

Tighe Barry is a member of the peace group CodePink.org.

“Freedom Waves” — Another Challenge to the Israeli Naval Blockade of Gaza and the U.S. Congress

2:27 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

“Freedom Waves” — Another Challenge to the Israeli Naval Blockade of Gaza and the U.S. Congress

By Kit Kittredge

 

Why I wanted to Challenge the Israeli Naval Blockade of Gaza

In the overland five trips I have made to Gaza since March, 2009, I have seen the disastrous effect of the brutal Israeli land and sea blockade has had on the Palestinian people.  I have seen the terrible level of destruction that the 2008-2009 Israeli attack wrecked on Gaza, in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the 22 day attack, 5,000 were wounded and 50,000 were made homeless.  I was on the Gaza Freedom March in 2009 and I was a passenger on the US Boat to Gaza, the “Audacity of Hope” that was forbidden from sailing June, 2011 by the Greek government on behalf of the Israeli government.

 

As one of two American citizens on the Gaza “Freedom Waves,” I represented hundreds of thousands of Americans who are challenging Israeli and US policies concerning Palestine.  We are using a variety of methods to let Israeli government officials know that international citizen activists are not going to stop challenging their policies.  Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions programs, international citizens who attempt to protection Palestinians as the farm, fish and go to school, students confronting Israeli officials as they speak around the world and flotillas and waves of boats are part of the international effort. I am very proud to be a part of this movement.


Passenger on the “Tahrir”

Passengers on the Canadian Boat to Gaza, the “Tahrir,” left Turkey in good spirits Wednesday, November 2, 2011 despite having its passenger list whittled down by the Turkish Port Authorities who allowed only 12 out of 35 passengers who had travelled to Turkey to get on the boat.  The Turks cited regulations that decreed that only 12 persons could be on a boat rated as a “pleasure craft” to depart Turkey for international waters, no matter that the vessel was rated for 50+ passengers. My fellow Americans Medea Benjamin, Robert Neiman, Paki Wieland, Tighe Barry and David Schermerhorn became our ground crew in Turkey when the passenger reduction was forced on us.  On the day we left the Turkish port of Fetiyah, they rented a third boat to attempt to transfer in international waters the 23 passengers who had not been allowed onto the boats in port.

 

Working with our sister ship, the “Saoirse”, from Ireland, we hit the high seas full throttle headed to Gaza  continuing the previous  flotillas  efforts  to end Israel’s Illegal, immoral  naval blockade of Gaza, which, in combination with Israel’s land blockade, has made the 1.6 million people of Gaza, prisoners in a tiny land that is roughly 25 miles long and five miles wide.

Our team, on the Tahrir, consisted of five journalists, including Democracy Now’s Jihan Hafiz, six international delegates and the captain.  We bonded quickly and settled in to our various chores.  Captain George delegated crew duties, journalists set up their satellites and computer stations, cooks and medics tended to physical needs and everyone vied for computer time to reach out to the world.

 

Canadian Boat to Gaza organizers did an excellent job stocking the boat with food, water and medical supplies plus $30,000 of medical aid to be delivered in Gaza.   The next two days were filled with blogging, filming, battling seasickness, sleeping, eating, non-violent training and preparation for probable Israeli confrontation and imprisonment.

 

Arriving in Danger Zone in the Daylight

Getting into international waters without the Turkish Coast Guard turning us back was our first success.  In hopes of not being boarded by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) during darkness, we slowed our speed so it would be daylight Friday morning, November 4, 2011, when we approached 100 nautical miles off Gaza’s shore and probable contact with the IDF.

Each hour brought us 10 miles closer to Gaza.  We were thankful to make it past the 70 mile mark where the Mavi Marmara was so brutally attacked in June, 2010.

 

3 Giant Warships Looming on the Horizon

A momentary excitement permeated the ship as the captain announced we were 50 miles offshore– until we saw the 3 giant warships looming on the horizon.

 

We got on the satellite phones and computers to get out our last messages.  I was on the phone with CNN and I remember them saying, “call me when something happens” and I said, “This is probably the last you’re going to hear from me as our communications will be cut….” and then they were.


17 Israeli Warships Surround and Force collision between Freedom Waves boats–Water Cannons blew out windows and almost sunk the Irish boat Saoirse

We were told by the Israeli Navy to change our course.  Organizers of both boats restated that we were sailing to “the goodness of humanity.”

 

Within a half an hour we were surrounded by 17 boats; gunboats, water cannon boats, zodiacs.

The IDF radioed that they wanted to inspect our boats, meanwhile two zodiacs were harassing the Saoirse by driving in circles around them, finally forcing the Irish boat to crash into the Tahrir causing damage to the Saoirse.

The Saoirse pulled away and was chased by the IDF commandos who proceeded to blow out there windows and fill the ship with water from the water cannons.  If the Saoirse’s auxiliary power had not kicked in, the boat would have sunk.

Meanwhile, the IDF blasted the Tahrir with water cannons.  Over bullhorns, IDF soldiers told us to go to the bow of the boat where they were hitting our boat with the most force with the water cannons. We tried to protect ourselves by staying behind the wheel house.

One passenger and a cameraman attempted to remain on the bow of the Tahrir but moved away as the commandoes jumped the rail.  Commandos snatched the camera and 25 masked commandos shoved their way on board screaming, “Shut Up! Sit Down,! Move! Get Up!,  Shut Up!, Move!”  over and over for the next half hour.

 

1 Passenger Tasered by IDF

Two passengers  stayed at the wheelhouse and one was tasered by the IDF commandos.  They were shoved out the wheelhouse and dragged to the benches where they were forced at gunpoint to sit.  Commandos continued to yell, “Sit! Shut up! Don’t move!”  Our male passengers were searched first with commandos pointing guns and tasers at them.  Everyone had to keep their empty hands visible at all times.


Computers, Cameras, Satellite Phones Taken

I asked if  we could go down below as it was getting dark and cold and they corralled us into the tiny galley room and “guarded” us  while other soldiers  searched our backpacks and suitcases and threw our computers, cameras,  and bags on the floor.  Computers, cameras and other electronics confiscated on the boat were never returned to us.


IDF Commandos Brainwashed into Committing Horrific, Illegal Actions

I felt sad and angry looking into the young masked eyes of the IDF soldiers who had been so successfully brainwashed into doing horrific, illegal acts for the Israeli government.  They pirated our ship, kidnapped us and tasered us and now many of them were asleep on the benches, every bit as tired as we were.


Strip Searched at Port of Ashdod

About three hours later we arrived at the Israeli port of Ashdod, where Israeli officials strip searched, demeaned and dehumanized us. However, nothing they did to us is comparable to what the Palestinians endure.

 

The officials in the Israeli Immigration and Deportation office processed us.  They told us that if we signed a document that stated we had entered Israel illegally, we would be deported the next day.  This was one of the many lies we were told by Israeli authorities. Another untruth that they told us was that after 72 hours we would be deported automatically.


3 Days in Israeli Prison

After processing at the port, we were separated again and taken in small groups to the Givon prison where once again we were strip searched.  Our packs pawed through by at least ten people and we were then handed a list of our possessions that they were going to keep.

 

Women’s Wing of the Prison

Five women including myself spent the next three days in our own wing of the prison.  We were locked in our cells, locked in the women’s section of the prison and then locked behind two more locked gates.  Still, the guards repeatedly counted us and checked to make sure we weren’t plotting an escape, as if we could dig our way out through the floors. Maybe they thought “the criminals” could break out with the flimsy toothbrushes we were given!  Again, only a small taste of what Gazans have felt for years.


No American Embassy Presence or Phone Call for Two Days

I didn’t get my phone call out, nor did we see any one from the American Embassy for two days, whereas a representative of the Irish Embassy to Israel met the Irish boat when they arrived at the Port of Ashdod.

When the American Embassy officials finally arrived at the prison, they recommended I sign the form saying I had entered Israel illegally.  I refused.

 

The Embassy officials did contact my family and continued to keep in touch with them during my stay in the Israeli prison.  However, the official later told me there wasn’t much the US Embassy could do since we were in Israel and Israel was calling the shots, despite the US giving $3 billion in military aid annually to Israel!


Inside the Prison

We were locked in our cells for hours on end and ended up having a sit down strike in the corridor demanding that we be allowed out of the cells more than once a day.  We were tormented all one night by an irate guard beating on our door and awaken many times a night so they could “count us.”  We were berated and treated like criminals the entire time.


Paying for My Own Deportation

Finally Monday night, November 7th,  after almost 72 hours, the Israelis said I could “leave” if I paid for my own deportation air ticket.  I agreed so that I could get back to the U.S. and tell the story of the “Freedom Waves.”  I was taken to the notorious Ben Gurion Aiport Detention Center with a fellow passenger, who flew out that night. I was locked up in the airport facility for another 14 hours until my flight left on Tuesday, November 8.


Israeli Defiance of International Law and Basic Human Decency

There is no surprise in Israel’s act of piracy in attacking two civilian boats in international waters trying to sail to Gaza, imprisoning the passengers, and stealing the cargo and personal possessions. This is yet another example of Israeli defiance of International Law and basic human decency.

In my interactions with the IDF commandos and the Israeli government officials at the Port of Ashdod, in the prison and at the airport, I was struck by the desensitized, robotic, inhumane behavior they displayed consistently—and, again, I only experienced a small taste of what Palestinians routinely face.


“Freedom Waves” to Freedom Riders

There’s another dangerous passage – this time over land – that’s about to set forth: On Tuesday, November 15th, Palestinian activists plan to board settler-only public buses in the West Bank and attempt to sit down and ride the bus, in the great tradition of the Freedom Riders that challengedsegregation in the American South. These brave change-makers have called on the international community to stand in solidarity, and many actions are planned around the US where activists will protest Veolia, the French company that runs many of the settler buses and is the subject of an international boycott campaign.  If the Palestinian Freedom Riders are arrested and detained, it will be important for us to speak up and take action as well.

US Congress should be Investigated for giving $3 Billion in Military Aid Annually to Israel instead of Demanding that the State Department Investigate Citizen Activists

Because of this experience in trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, I am more resolved than ever to work to stop the US government allocation of military aid to Israel and policies supporting the Israeli government’s apartheid treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Some Congresspersons are now going after US citizens on the Gaza flotillas!
Who is part of a terrorist organization: International activists saying Israeli and U.S policies toward the Palestinians are unjust and illegal, or the US Congress?

I think the US Congress should be held accountable for the illegal and unlawful uses of the weaponry that the U.S. has provided to Israel – including the F-16s, Apache helicopters, white phosphorous and dense inert metal explosive bombs that killed 1,400 Palestinians, wounded 5,000 and left 50,000 homeless during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09.

Instead, 13 Congresspersons want those of us who have challenged Israeli and US policies on Palestine investigated for terrorist links and have introduced House Resolution 3131 toward that end.

 

The legislation introduced in the United States Congress in October, 2011, by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), would require the State Department to “submit a report on whether any support organization that participated in the planning or execution of the recent Gaza flotilla attempt should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization and any actions taken by the Department of State to express gratitude to the government of Greece for preventing the Gaza flotilla from setting sail in contravention of Israel’s legal blockade of Gaza, and for other purposes.”  Twelve other strong supporters of the Israel Occupation have signed onto the bill: Engel, Ros-Lehtinen, Sarbanes, Carter, Frelinghuysen, Young, Grimm, Diaz-Balart, Rothman, Roskam and Sires.  Coincidentally, these representatives, especially Ros-Lehtinen, receive big contributions of campaign funding from the right-wing Israel lobby.

Please call these Congresspersons at (202) 225-3121 and give them an earful.

About the Author:  Kit Kittredge is a 53-year-old mother, grandmother, and peace advocate.  She is an active member of peace groups CODEPINK: Women for Peace, Seattle Mid-East Awareness Campaign, Veterans for Peace and Ground Zero Center for Nonviolence.  When not promoting peace and social justice, she works as a massage therapist, and is a volunteer Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).  She enjoys organic gardening and playing with her grandkids.  She lives in Quilcelen, Washington.  Kit is planning a speaking tour and is willing to travel to speak in your community or school.  Contact Kit at marnykit@gmail.com.

Does Your Congressperson Represent You – or Israel?

9:51 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

By Medea Benjamin

 

In this time of economic austerity, when jobs are being slashed and Americans are fearful about their future, the Congressional recess is the time for our elected representatives to be home in their districts, reaching out to their constituents and servicing the people they are paid to represent. Instead, this August one out of every five representatives will be taking a junket to Israel, compliments of an affiliate of the Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) but still clocked in on the taxpayer’s dime.

 

Americans who have lost their jobs and seen their life savings evaporate because Congress can’t seem to get it together deserve an explanation of how this crisis will be solved. Following the recent debt debacle, the public is hungry for information about the mysterious 12-person “super committee” that will slash over one trillion dollars from the federal budget. But instead of opening their doors to their constituents, 81 members of Congress will be getting briefings from Israeli government officials, touring historic religious sites, and perhaps “seeking a salty dip in the Dead Sea.” Representative Steny Hoyer, who is leading the Democratic delegation, said he is pleased members of Congress have this opportunity “to gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved in increasing stability in the region.” One has to wonder whether our elected officials are more concerned about the stability of Israel or the well-being of American families.

 

Not surprisingly, trip expenses are being paid by an affiliate of the all-powerful AIPAC lobby, the American Israel Educational Foundation. AIPAC lobbies hard to ensure that Israel is kept on the U.S. dole, with $3 billion of US taxpayers’ dollars a year going to the Israeli military. Without AIPAC and the financial contributions to Congressional campaigns made by its affiliate organizations, our representatives would be freer to speak out against funneling precious taxdollars to this already wealthy nation. This junket goes to show that those who claim AIPAC has a stranglehold over our Congress are not far off the mark.

 

Going on an AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel is the moral equivalent of using an Anglo-Boer travel company to visit apartheid-era South Africa. Although they claim to be visiting leaders “across the political spectrum”, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, you can bet your bottom dollar that AIPAC will not be giving these 81 Congresspeople a fair and balanced view of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They won’t observe one of the weekly demonstrations in Bi’lin or Nabi Saleh, where Israeli soldiers routinely tear gas and arrest non-violent protesters. They won’t spend time with grieving Palestinians whose homes have been demolished to make way for more Jewish-only housing. They won’t spend a few hours at a checkpoint to witness how Palestinians are detained, abused and humiliated, or how this “thriving democracy” forbids Palestinians from driving on Jewish-only roads. They won’t go to Gaza, where 1.5 million people are suffering under an unbearable siege, unable to travel freely, conduct business transactions across borders or even rebuild their homes destroyed by the Israeli invasion. And they won’t likely be visiting the burgeoning tent cities in Tel Aviv where hundreds of thousands of Israelis are currently camped out, protesting the lack of affordable housing, gas and food.

 

With the disapproval rate for Congress at a record 82%, now is not the time for our representatives to pander to AIPAC. Now is not the time for “free” junkets to Israel—with an implicit promise of $3 billion of our taxdollars in return. Now is the time to stop the freefall of the American economy. If our representatives want to earn more respect from the American public, they better prove that their allegiance is not to a foreign government or a group that lobbies on behalf of a foreign government, but to their constituents back home.

 

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK. She encourages you to contact your congressperson and ask where they will be this August recess. Call  202-224-3121.

Challenging AIPAC’s Abuse of Taxpayers Money – By Omar Barghouti

1:08 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

The Arab democratic spring, striving to end authoritarian rule and establish freedoms and social justice, has not been welcome by all. Israel and its main lobby in the U.S., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), for instance, appear to have been caught off guard and visibly disturbed by the seemingly irreversible transformations that these uprisings promise to bring about in the Arab world and, to an extent, the world at large.

Having stood on the wrong side of history during the Tunisian and then the Egyptian revolutions, supporting the despots and authoritarian regimes against the people, Israel has a lot to lose from the democratic winds of change in the region. When Hosni Mubarak was about to be overthrown by the people’s revolution in Egypt Israel launched a diplomatic campaign to convince key Western capitals to support him lest stability is lost and Israel’s other tyrannical friends in the region feel abandoned.

In Tunisia, as well, the vaunted electronic surveillance apparatus of the former dictator Ben-Ali was run in close cooperation with Israel, as exposed by Tunisian civil society organizations. With more of Israel’s friends in the region being dethroned, it is becoming abundantly clear how much Israel and its Western partners have invested in safeguarding and buttressing the unelected, autocratic regimes in the Arab world, partially to make a self-fulfilling prophecy of Israel as the “villa in the midst of the jungle” — the myth often repeated by AIPAC. The impact of debunking that myth cannot be overstated. Israel has, for decades, extracted billions of dollars, not to mention diplomatic, political, and scientific support from the U.S. and European states partially based on this misleading image of Israeli democracy, and despite all the evidence to the contrary. A state that has been imposing an occupation regime for almost 44 years on Palestinians in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, that has denied on racial grounds millions of refugees their UN-sanctioned right to return home, and that is regularly condemned by its chief benefactor and ally, the U.S. government, for its “system of institutional, legal and societal discrimination” against its own Palestinian minority carrying Israeli citizenship cannot reasonably be regarded as a “democracy.”

The fact is, U.S. citizens have been bankrolling Israel’s system of occupation, racial discrimination and denial of basic human rights to the tune of billions of dollars annually without knowing what they were funding and why. AIPAC is the main culprit in this process of defrauding the American people, while one cannot ignore the fact that the U.S. military and oil establishments have also stood to gain from Israel’s colonial expansion, endless bloody wars of aggression, and role as the police of the region, preventing popular revolt from threatening the pillage of its vast strategic resources.

For many years AIPAC has falsely advertised Israel as a democratic state that best serves U.S. interests in a turbulent and unpredictable part of the world, covering up Israel’s suppression of human rights and its very nature as a state premised on fanatic militarism, racial segregation and injustice, contrary to the supposed “shared values” with the “West” that AIPAC has fed to the American public so effectively with its well-oiled media machine and its unmatched power of intimidation as well as suppression of debate and dissent by anyone who dares to slightly step out of line and question the “Israel-first” agenda.

But given that Israel in the last few years, especially since the start of the recent Arab revolutions, has largely and quite demonstrably failed in hindering the outbreak of popular uprisings and democratic transformations in the Middle East, leading pundits have started to raise serious doubts about the taken-for-granted mantra of convergence between Israeli and American interests.

Furthermore, at a time when average Americans are losing jobs, benefits and hope, should the U.S. be spending billions to help Israel maintain its regime of oppression and violations of international law? When schools and hospitals in the U.S. are being closed, and when hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers are mired in endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere, where they sow mass destruction and death among the populations of these countries, while they themselves suffer increasing casualties, should U.S. taxpayers continue to fund this immoral war agenda? Should Israel and its lobby groups be allowed to pull the U.S. into more wars or to continue to justify Israel’s own brutal and patently illegal wars of aggression, as the one against Palestinians in Gaza in 2008-09 and on Lebanon in 2006?

If members of the U.S. Congress dare not ask these critical questions for fear of AIPAC’s wrath – perceived and carefully marketed as invincible – and an almost certain loss of career, shouldn’t the working people of the U.S. pose them and demand accountability and, indeed, democratic regime change?

It is in this context that one cannot but highly admire the courage, creativity and resilience of human rights and advocacy groups in the U.S., like CODEPINK, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace and many others that insist on challenging AIPAC’s domination of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond and its detrimental and deeply corrupting influence over U.S. decision making in general. The CODEPINK-led campaign to “expose AIPAC and usher in a new foreign policy,” to be launched in Washington, DC in May is a badly needed and truly inspiring effort that should be widely supported by all those who care about the cause of justice and peace in the U.S. and, by extension, the entire world.

Omar Barghouti is a human rights activist and author of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS): The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (Haymarket, 2011)
Take action by attending Move Over AIPAC, a gathering in Washington DC from May 21-24, 2011, to expose AIPAC and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East! More information can be found at www.MoveOverAIPAC.org.