Website update: Joining the Mondoweiss team

If you’re reading this blog, you probably read me over at Mondoweiss, and this won’t tell you anything new. Otherwise, here’s some important website/personal updates:

I have joined Mondoweiss as a staff reporter (announcement here), and so most of my writing will appear there.  Here’s my author page.  If you want to keep up with my writing on Israel/Palestine, stay tuned to Mondoweiss.

Otherwise, I’ll be using this website less frequently, and mostly to post other articles that have not appeared on Mondoweiss.

 

 

Wanted at #OccupyWallStreet: Coalition building across NYC communities

This article originally appeared in Waging Nonviolence.  It’s also worth checking out the response of journalist Nathan Schneider, who has been providing the best coverage of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests.

The burgeoning #OccupyWallStreet protest made headlines again on Saturday night when hundreds of demonstrators were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge.  And once again, the tried-and-true media narrative of protesters vs. police is played up.

It could be argued that the story here is not about police arrests and should instead be about the growing movement occupying public space across the United States as a symbol of disgust with the U.S. economic system.  That’s true, but you can’t expect corporate media to focus on the real story.  What’s also true is that the media’s focus on that narrative, and #OccupyWallStreet’s revulsion with the New York Police Department’s tactics, is an opportunity for coalition building with marginalized communities in the city.

Kai Wright, editor of the excellent ColorLines website, notes that the demonstrators are “largely young and white.” He also writes critically that the #OccupyWallStreet demonstrators have not included those “millions of people who have been kicked out of their homes, laid off or forced to work multiple part-time jobs, caught in predatory debt traps and, yes, so harassed by cops that they have petty criminal records that make them unemployable.”

Wright continues:

These millions are neither lobbying Congress nor marching across the Brooklyn Bridge; they’re trying to make it through the week without another crisis. They are also overwhelmingly and not in the least bit coincidentally black people. And I suspect that until we build our politics around their participation, we will continue to miss the point.

Wright’s point is salient, although there are certainly black people and those who have lost their homes now down at Liberty Plaza.  And there are probably few protesters at Liberty Plaza right now who would disagree with Wright’s call.  The question is how to garner the participation of those in marginalized communities and build strong links with the protesters who do come from those communities.

Labor’s willingness to get on board the occupation is one way.  The Transit Workers Union, which has come out strong for the protesters, has a largely Black, Latino and immigrant workforce.  But that’s not enough.

#OccupyWallStreet, which will continue to battle the police in the coming days, should be building bridges with communities who suffer the most from NYPD policing tactics.  Anger at the department’s “stop and frisk” policy, which is overwhelmingly directed at poor Black and Latino men in New York City, is high.  So is anger at the NYPD’s recently exposed spying program on NYC Muslim communities.  What’s a better way to connect the struggles of communities of color and the #OccupyWallStreet demonstrators than marching specifically against those policies and the heavy-handed NYPD tactics used on #OccupyWallStreet?

Last Friday’s protest against police brutality was certainly a start.  The upcoming October 22 protest against police brutality, an annual event, could be the next step.  #OccupyWallStreet should use existing anger at police brutality and connect the struggle against inequality to the struggle against police brutality.  After all, both the policing and economic systems in this country target poor people in communities of color.  Making those explicit connections could be a powerful boost to the growing movement to occupy Wall Street, and the United States.

Behind aid-cut to Palestinian Authority, more than meets the eye

This article originally appeared in Mondoweiss.

On the surface, reports over the weekend that Congress has blocked $200 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) indicate that long-standing threats from U.S. politicians over the PA’s United Nations bid have come to fruition.  But there’s much more than meets the eye on this issue.

First, Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now throws cold water on the piece that first ran in the Independent (UK) and reported that the frozen funds were to have been “dispersed in the US fiscal year that ends today [October 1].”  Not so, says Friedman, an expert on Congress’ involvement with Israel/Palestine:

U.S. direct assistance to the PA for FY2011, which amounted to $200 million, is already out the door. Congress can’t do anything to block funding that has already been spent, although some members of Congress are threatening to cut off this funding in 2012 to punish the Palestinian Authority for going to the UN.

If this aid continues to be frozen, it will certainly harm Palestinians on the ground, as the freeze targets “food aid, health care, and support for efforts to build a functioning state.”  But the Congressional aid freeze “leaves security aid intact,” as Bradley Burston pointed out in Ha’aretz.  This is the most important fact about the reported aid freeze.

Although Friedman also reports that Congress is currently “blocking $150 million in funding for security assistance to the PA,” it’s likely that funding will be restored.  Security aid to the PA is the biggest reason why the West Bank has not flared up in revolt against the occupation yet.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows that, which is why he has been lobbying Congress to keep that aid flowing.

+972 Magazine’s Joseph Dana writes:

By withholding money from PA, the US, presumably with the full knowledge of their Israeli partners, is playing with fire. A severely bankrupt PA unable to pay 100,000 employees could spark outright rebellion against the Palestinian leadership. Growing Palestinian discontent with the PA leadership, easily detected on the streets of Ramallah, could transform into West Bank civil disobedience directed at the PA and, ultimately, the Israeli occupation. But this is not going to happen…

The American move to withhold a small portion of aid shows that no matter the Palestinian efforts to prepare for statehood they are still solely dependent on international aid and the good grace of the Israeli occupation. It is in Israel’s interest to maintain a strong PA which will control growing discontent among Palestinians and stop efforts for widespread civil disobedience. When and if, Israel decides that the PA is no longer operating according to its interests, the money will stop coming.

Congressional objections to continued funding to the PA may translate into actions that harm the Palestinian people.  But what it won’t do is damage Israeli-PA cooperation on security–cooperation that ensures the PA’s survival and the continuity of an cost-free occupation.  The recently reported aid-freeze does not damage the existing status quo.

Sidelined: U.S. fails for the second time in Quartet discussions on ‘Jewish state’

This article originally appeared in Mondoweiss.

While the Diplomatic Quartet scrambled to avert action on Palestine at the Security Council, the Obama administration was reportedly busy lobbying to commit the Quartet to affirming Israel’s Jewish character.  That the Quartet statement’s purpose was not achieved and that the Obama administration’s efforts failed further highlights the death of the Oslo era and the decreasing relevance of the U.S. in a fast changing Middle East.

The weak Quartet statement only proposed a timeline for more negotiations, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) didn’t find anything in the statement that might coax them to talk with an Israeli government continuing to colonize Palestinian land.  The UN bid by the PA further sidelines a Quartet whose envoy is strongly biased against the Palestinians.

And the Obama administration’s failure to turn the Quartet into even more of a biased mediator marks the second time they have failed to do so; Daniel Levy first reported for Foreign Policy that the U.S. tried to get the Quartet to state that Israel was the “homeland of the Jewish people” for the first time in July. (See this excellent piece in Mondoweiss—originally in the Journal of Palestine Studies—explaining why Palestinians can’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state.) The U.S. failure to get the Quartet to agree to sign on to Israel’s new condition that the Palestinians become Zionists surely marks a new, and low, era for U.S.-brokered negotiations.

Jonathan Cook correctly writes in the National that the whole Palestinian bid for statehood represents a death knell for the U.S. role in Israel/Palestine:

If Mahmoud Abbas, the long-suffering head of the Palestinian Authority, has  achieved anything for his people at the UN, it is not imminent statehood but the  fatal discrediting of the US as arbiter of a Middle East peace. US President  Barack Obama’s promised veto on a Palestinian state declares the demise not only  of the Oslo process but also of the US role as an honest broker.

The Palestinian statehood bid is fast making the U.S., who has spent decades as Israel’s lawyer, irrelevant. No one is crying over the loss.

Israel’s remaining friends rally around flag outside of UN

This article originally appeared in Mondoweiss.

PHOTO: ALEX KANE

 

Israel may be increasingly isolated globally, but you wouldn’t know it from the scene in New York today.  A right-wing crowd of thousands rallied earlier today at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza against the ongoing Durban III conference and the Palestinian Authority bid for United Nations recognition of statehood.

The demonstration was organized by a group called the Jerusalem Institute of Justice.  But by far the largest contingent of participants came from the evangelical Christian community.  The Eagles’ Wings, an evangelical Christian group, brought droves of Christian Zionists out to wave the Israeli flag, hold signs to insist that Israel will “stay on the map” and cheer against the division of Jerusalem.

“It’s important for the Christian community to stand up for Israel,” twenty-year old Rutgers University student Hannah Johnson told me.  “We’re from the same roots, we both hold a lot of the same ideals and beliefs, and their God’s chosen people, so we choose to stand with them.”

The rally took aim at the Durban III conference, which marks ten years since the first UN conference against racism in Durban, South Africa.  Many hard-line supporters of Israel have advocated against the Durban conferences because of what they see as an unfair focus on Israel.

“The whole Durban conference…is appalling to us, and we don’t want our children to be taught [anti-Zionism] and we don’t want it spread in the United States via the UN,” said Sheree Krause, a Christian Zionist from Virginia, as her and her son passed out free Israeli flags.

It wasn’t only Christian evangelicals that came out to the rally, though.  Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI), a pro-settler organization whose executive director spoke at a memorial event for the far-right extremist Meir Kahane last year, was also present.  One member of Americans for a Safe Israel carried a sign that read “Jews Want Peace, Arabs Want Pieces.”

“The whole land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people,” said Helen Freedman, the executive director of AFSI.

“The unilateral declaration of independence is very, very dangerous, because what it does is signal to the Arabs that they now have a state…There’s no legitimacy to their claim for a state, but the population will get the message that they do have entitlement and the whole situation will really spiral out of control.”

And of course, the Israeli government’s point man on outreach to Christian Zionists–Likud Party member Danny Danon–was there.  Danon recently appeared with Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry at a press conference where Perry blasted President Obama’s record on Israel.

At the rally, Danon told Obama to loud cheers to “wake up” and focus on the threat of Iran.

The rally came just after President Obama finished up his remarks at the UN General Assembly for which he was praised by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman. 

Despite that praise, though, the rally served as a reminder that Obama will spend a good portion of his re-election campaign defending his record on Israel, especially against the likes of Perry.  But no matter how deferential Obama is to Israeli wishes, winning over the crowd at a rally like this isn’t going to happen.

September uprising? Hopes, prospects and obstacles for Palestinian popular struggle

This article originally appeared in Mondoweiss.

The Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations (UN) was on the mind of the Tamimi family. Tea flowed and the coals on top of the nargileh pipe smoked on a warm Ramadan night last month in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh as a snapshot emerged of the divisions across Palestine regarding the bid for recognition at the UN.

“The UN move is a mistake,” one woman remarked, worrying aloud about some US officials’ threats to cut funding for the Palestinian Authority (PA). Her husband works for the PA’s security forces, and any further strain on the PA budget could prove detrimental to their livelihood.

Bashir Tamimi, though, was unequivocal in his support for the PA strategy of asking for UN membership at the upcoming General Assembly session in September, although he too wondered about the future. Tamimi is a member of the popular committee in Nabi Saleh that organizes weekly demonstrations against the nearby settlement of Halamish.

“It will be a long month. It’s difficult to understand what will happen,” he said, dragging on a cigarette as a Real Madrid vs. Barcelona soccer game crackled over the radio. “As leaders of the popular committees and popular resistance, we will demonstrate all over the country in order to support this decision of our leaders in order to make pressure on the world.”

The lines of thought expressed in the village about the Palestinian leadership’s decision to apply for some kind of membership at the United Nations are only two of many. There remains uncertainty about what exactly the Palestinian Authority is looking to attain this month, and what might come next. Perhaps the biggest question is what the reaction on the ground will be.

And so as debate over the UN strategy among the Palestinian disapora, those in refugee camps and Palestinians living under occupation continues, Palestinian activists are preparing the ground for a renewed wave of popular nonviolent resistance to Israel. Still, there is little consensus in occupied Palestine and around the world about the UN bid’s effect on the Palestinian struggle.

Palestinians “appear to be greeting the entire UN episode with considerable skepticism, a result of growing frustration with the leadership and of concrete questions regarding the impact of the move,” reads a recently released report by the International Crisis Group. “Ironically, [many Palestinians would be] hostile to a decision to drop the bid, viewing it as yet more evidence of the leadership’s powerlessness and vulnerability to outside pressure.”

Negative sentiment is even more pronounced in the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas leadership has criticized the UN bid and young bloggers have spoken out against what they see as an undemocratic and potentially rights-damaging move by an unrepresentative leadership.

The skepticism that exists, though, is not stopping West Bank popular committee leaders from preparing to seize the spotlight the UN bid will give Palestine.

“I don’t think the people here will be quiet,” said Mousa Abu Marya, a soft-spoken popular committee coordinator in the village of Beit Ommar.

His village, located near Hebron and surrounded by six settlements, has been a target of the Israeli military in recent weeks. “Maybe in September, many demonstrations will happen. But not only because of September, but because of the situation. [After], the Israelis will cut the money [to the PA]. The people will have no salaries and no good food…They will do something.”

Abu Marya, Tamimi and a host of other popular committee organizers are busy trying to turn their “maybes” into definite answers. They are planning to take action in the form of rallies and demonstrations against the occupation. The fate of their plans, while depending mostly on their ability to mobilize large numbers of Palestinians to challenge the occupation, will also be determined by the response of Israel and the US, the PA and the newly empowered Arab public in surrounding countries. The big question mark is whether a fragmented Palestinian polity can catch the winds of the Arab uprisings and put intense pressure on Israel’s occupation regime. It’s a high-stakes moment for the Palestinian popular struggle.

Going to the UN “is a positive step,” said Hassan Mousa, spokesman for the Nil’in village popular committee. “We expect Palestinians to continue their struggle through a comprehensive strategy…It needs struggle on the ground and diplomatic and political struggle at the United Nations. So both struggles come together.”

In July, the Palestine Popular Resistance Conference was held in three villages: Beit Ommar, Nil’in and Budrus. The conference was dedicated to the protests Palestinians continue to hold in villages affected by the separation barrier and settlements. It ended with the drafting of a statement that laid out the coalition of West Bank activists’ position on the PA going to the UN.

“Next September is the immense popular battle for the recognition of the State of Palestine,” the statement read. “The committees commit themselves to initiate to work in order to develop intensive action and mobilize people to expand the struggle for recognition of a Palestinian state in the Palestinian and the international arenas using an immense popular struggle program.”

The conference closed out amidst the firing of tear gas canisters by the Israeli military in response to an unarmed protest in Budrus—the usual response of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The response to the Budrus protest and other popular resistance campaigns by Israel, though, could pale in comparison if Israeli media reports pan out.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that the UN move could lead to “violence and bloodshed.” But Palestinian activists, based on the crushing experience of the second intifada, say that there is no place for armed struggle anymore in resistance against Israel’s occupation.

“The nonviolent resistance is the important resistance at this time,” Abu Marya said. “The second intifada was a big mistake. It moved Palestine 100 years into the past. So now the people are starting to think about something new.”

The IDF, though, has been instructed to meet any mass demonstrations by Palestinians in September with force. Last month, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that if Palestinian protesters cross a “red line” in approaching illegal settlements, “soldiers will be allowed to open fire at the legs of the demonstrators.” In addition, the IDF has armed settlers with tear gas and stun grenades to confront Palestinian protests with.

There have been recent previews of how the Israeli army will react to any large-scale Palestinian protests. Last May’s actions to commemorate the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe, ended in bloodshed as thousands of unarmed Palestinian refugees in neighboring countries calling for the right of return marched to the border with Israel. Over a dozen were killed and scores injured when the Israeli army opened fire on the Syria and Lebanon borders. However, recent events, like the September 9 Egyptian protest that resulted in the Israeli embassy being broken into, will also be on the mind of the Israeli military establishment.

“Everybody feels that everything in the Middle East is changeable. The people will change the situation at any time,” well-known Palestinian activist Ayed Morrar told me as we sat in an office of Fatah, the political party Abbas belongs to. “So I think the Palestinian issue after the Arab movements will be different in the future than what it was before.”

To stem the possibility of large protest actions in the West Bank, the Israeli military is working closely with PA security to respond. To prepare, the PA has reportedly purchased tear gas grenades and rubber bullets from Israel.

Although PA President Mahmoud Abbas has called for mass protests in September in support of the UN strategy, the PA has also made it clear it wants to keep them confined to major urban centers under its full control (Area A under the Oslo agreement).

Having the PA control protests in the West Bank could also put to rest Israeli worries about the regional reaction in response to their soldiers opening fire on unarmed Palestinian protesters.

The PA, it seems, is hoping that the combination of the UN bid and controlled protests are a way out of their quandary: having to both show the Palestinian public that they are doing something to end the occupation and pleasing the US and Israel by keeping control.

But while some Palestinian activists are loath to commit to actively confronting their own leadership as the occupation remains present, criticism of the PA has been heard loud and clear.

“If they decide to fight us in any way, we will never turn back. This is our official stance,” said Morrar. “[PA Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad succeeded in controlling the situation this time because after seven years of oppression, and suffering [as a result of the Israeli response to the second intifada], the people need the time to take rest. But sooner or later they will wake up and discover that their targets are not achieved yet.”

The PA has, in fact, stopped protests from reaching Israeli checkpoints. On the May 15 Nakba protest, PA security stopped demonstrators from approaching a checkpoint.

Morrar criticized the PA’s protest strategy. “It will not make pressure on the occupation to force them to feel that there are another people that need their freedom,” he said. “We must pressure the occupation, to force them to feel that this is a loser project. And all these activities, we don’t aim to kill anybody from the other side, from the Israelis. We want to initiate a nonviolent struggle in order to achieve freedom and justice.”

Besides the PA and Israel, Palestinian activists also have to worry about galvanizing a tired and frustrated Palestinian public. Some are skeptical.

“I don’t expect that huge of a reaction on the ground. It will be a little bit more than now, but not huge. I don’t expect that. We are working to push it that way to make it huge, and I wish, I hope I’m wrong,” said Younes Arar, the executive manager of the Beit Ommar-based Center for Freedom and Justice and a popular struggle activist. “People they are really, really frustrated. They are frustrated with the situation…. Somehow they give up. And that’s bad.”

In the meantime, popular struggle leaders are continuing to push to use the UN bid as an opportunity to focus the world on the Palestinian plight.

“This is a decisive stage,” said Mousa. “It is a matter of life or death…When Palestinians realize that their existence is at stake, I think they will be having the courage, the resolve to participate and join in our struggle.”

Pro-Israel lobbyists work to save Palestinian Authority funding (and why should this be a surprise?)

This article originally appeared in Mondoweiss September 14.

Congressional threats to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) have grown in recent weeks as the PA leadership forges toward action at the United Nations.

But at least some Israel lobby groups are voicing opposition to any reduction in aid to the PA–not because they support the bid to attain UN recognition of Palestine but because they realize a US aid cut-off could lead to the PA collapsing, which would in turn harm Israel.

Reuters reports:

It is difficult for pro-Israel groups to publicly support maintaining aid to the Palestinians given the Palestinians’ stated determination to flout the wishes of the United States.

However, at least two groups have explicitly done so — The Israel Project, which says it has laid out an argument to members of Congress that US security aid should not be cut; and J Street, which has issued a statement defending the aid.

“We have made the case that the security cooperation, which is largely funded and supported by America, needs to continue if we want to see the progress … in reducing terrorism continue,” The Israel Project’s president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, told Reuters, stressing her group does not lobby.

J Street said last week: “We must make clear to American politicians, particularly in Congress, that being pro-Israel does not require cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority in retaliation for approaching the UN

“Such a move will hurt Israel’s interests by undermining moderate Palestinian leadership and defunding productive security cooperation.”

The right-leaning Israel Project and J Street have both come out against the Palestinian move to the UN.  Their position on funding for the PA, though, is a reminder of what the PA’s actual role in the West Bank is and why US officials like Senators John McCain and John Kerry and Elliot Abrams (all quoted in the Reuters report) are becoming increasingly vocal about maintaining aid to the PA.  It also may be a harbinger of the Obama administration’s line on PA funding if a vote takes place at the UN.

The PA’s most heralded accomplishment over their decade-plus tenure was the establishment of “law and order” in the West Bank, which in part meant cracking down on political dissidents through the creation of a repressive security force.  The PA security forces, which have been accused of detention, arbitrary arrest and torture, have worked hand-in-hand with the Israeli military, the US and the EU to keep the West Bank void of resistance to the occupation.

State Department cables released by WikiLeaks clearly show this dynamicOne recently released cable shows the PA’s efforts at containing protest against Israel’s 2008-09 assault on Gaza:

Hamas leaders called for mass demonstrations in the  West Bank and East Jerusalem starting January 2. PA security  personnel are deployed to contain violence or clashes with Israeli forces after Friday prayers. PA security contacts told ConGenOffs that the PA will allow the demonstrations but will not permit demonstrators to approach IDF positions. These contacts say they anticipate Palestinian-Israeli clashes in areas without a PA security presence, including Qalandia, Hebron’s H2 zone, and villages west of Ramallah and Bethlehem. Palestinian press report that GOI DefMin Ehud Barak ordered a general closure of the West Bank on January 2-3, and raised the IDF’s alert status.

That cable and others show why the US and Israel–bluster from right-wing politicians aside–are keen on keeping the donor tap flowing to the PA.  It wouldn’t be surprising if the Obama administration bucked Congressional calls to cut off the PA–after all, the aid benefits Israel in the end, and that consideration dictates US policy.