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PerfectStormpicThe Perfect Storm: Civil rights in the era of Trump, Netanyahu, and Abbas 


Originally published by Mondoweiss

Having returned just this week from a 17 day human rights trip to Israel and Palestine (my 10th in as many years), I conclude that the best description of the emerging situation is this: a perfect storm is coming, all the most destructive forces aligning to produce (possibly violent) change and uncertainty early in the Trump administration.

Of course the Israeli/Palestinian situation has always been difficult: a product of mutually exclusive demands and massive power imbalances. Defying the advice of such early cultural Zionists as Buber, Arendt, and Einstein, the political Zionists, almost from the very start, were dedicated to creating an ethno-religiously exclusively Jewish state in Palestine. This required the “transfer” of Palestinians out of the path of the Zionist project.  Palestinians, on the other hand, while living peacefully with Palestinian Jewish communities, insisted on the legitimacy of their cultural and political claims to nationhood in the same land, and to human rights and civic equality in the public sphere.  Not only were the key demands contradictory, but the power imbalance favoring the Israelis (largely thanks to unlimited American financial, military, and diplomatic support) meant that one side had no reason to seek any resolution other than total victory.

What is changing today arises partly from the success of the Israeli state in pursuing its goals. The logic of the Zionist project is so deeply etched into the fabric of Israeli politics that it seems as if every Israeli leader begins each day by asking “what can I accomplish today, in the current environment, to promote an Arab-free greater Israel?”  The answers have been many: the massive military displacement of more than half the Palestinian population in 1948, the legal stratagems such as the Custodian of Absentee Property and the misuse of Ottoman land law to continue the displacement by bureaucratic means, more recently, the recurring massacres in Gaza, the accelerating project of settlement building to establish “facts on the ground,” and the displacement of the Bedouin citizens of Israel into the eerily named “concentration villages.” The very success of all these initiatives has brought Israel closer and closer to the end game, where its intentions can no longer be masked by the disingenuous peace process.

Now, in the context of this end game, all three parties – the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the Americans are seeing political changes within their own societies that hasten the approach of the perfect storm.

In Israel, the prime minister is being investigated for the same kinds of alleged corruption that landed his predecessor in jail.  In Netanyahu’s case, the public servants heading the investigation are all his appointees, so he may yet outrun Olmert’s fate.  But his position is weakened, and to his right, the calls for annexing 60+% of the West Bank grow bolder and louder by the day.  Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party, is said to be advising the Trump transition team to drop all references to the two-state solution, since annexation is imminent.

An anecdote reveals the relentlessness of Zionism.  Just south of Ramallah is the tiny Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar. The entire village would fit into any American Walmart with room to spare. Although the villagers are Israeli citizens, they are always denied building permits and forbidden to construct houses in the place they choose to live. Thus, Khan al Ahmar’s citizens live in lean-to shacks or, sometimes, in trailers provided by the Norwegian government. The village is tucked into the folds between two hills and surrounded on all sides by Israeli highways. One underpass leads to the larger world. Despite their difficult circumstances, the villagers insist on having good education for their children, and have constructed a handsome multi-roomed school out of tires and mud to serve this purpose.  An Italian diplomat, visiting this little village-that-could, offered to donate some playground equipment to the school.  And, good to his word, he appeared one day, with a truck full of swings, seesaws, and slides.  As soon as construction began, a neighboring Jewish community sent its privately owned drone to investigate. The Israeli authorities were alerted to illicit playground being assembled.  They arrived in full military strength to demolish the playground, acting with such speed and ferocity that the demolition was completed while the Italian diplomat was still in the village.

In Palestine, meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas, the 81-year-old leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), refuses to engage in succession planning, even as he is being treated for cardiac disease.  There is relatively little open opposition to the PA, which employs 150,000 West Bankers, most of whom support a family of at least six– making some ¾ million people directly dependent on the PA and many more indirectly so.  At the same time, however, there is little enthusiasm for the PA, which has failed to bring Palestinian self-determination any closer to reality.

Public opinion polls show that a growing number of Palestinians (65% of the population according to the most recent Khalil Shikaki poll this week) no longer believe that a two-state solution is possible.  On my trip, virtually all of the speakers – pollsters, university professors, human rights activists, even tour guides – insisted that the two-state solution was dead.  For most, this represents the ruin of their deepest hopes for a state of their own, even one that is territorially compromised.  At the same time, however, there is increasingly open discussion, especially among younger people, of converting what was once a national liberation struggle into a civil rights struggle within the Israeli state that seems intent on annexing almost all of what is left of Palestine.

Again, an anecdote will make the point. Elias is a Palestinian carpenter, part of the Christian community in Bethlehem.  Like many other Palestinians he has multiple Israeli-issued IDs: An identity card, a biometric card, and a security clearance card.  Because he runs his own carpentry business, he also has a Businessman’s Card (BMC) and, because he does most of his work for the church, he also has church-generated documents that support his ability to go to Jerusalem to work on church properties.  One day recently, Elias brought all these documents to the checkpoint between Bethlehem and his job in Jerusalem.  The guard waved him away with the words “No.  Rejected. Go back.”  Elias inquired why, when he has been allowed to pass just the day before, he was being refused entry now.  The guard refused to explain, insisting on saying only “Refused. Go back.”  So Elias picked up his tools and turned to leave.  “Wait,” called the guard, “come back and try again.” Elias returned, reinserted his fingers into the fingerprint machine and waited.  “No, refused, go back,” said the guard.  This unpleasant sequence, “come-here-try-again-no-refused” was repeated five times.  Finally, the guard looked Elias in the eye and asked him “How do you feel when I do this to you, refuse you entry and make you go away and come back. Are you humiliated?”  Elias took a moment to compose his reply.  He smiled at the guard and said “Oh, this is perfectly fine with me because I can walk around. It’s you who’s stuck behind that desk.”  Elias exhibits the quality Palestinians refer to as “sumud” or steadfastness.

Such steadfastness is the bedrock of Palestinian political life. Especially among younger Palestinians, it is linking itself, more and more, with anticipation of a civil rights struggle to come when Israel annexes the West Bank.  One young woman expresses it thus:  “We will say to Israel ‘Ok, Israel, you won.  You have won all of the land. You have won all of the water.  And, guess what else you’ve won?  You’ve won all of us.  Now where do we go to sign up for our voter registration cards and our health insurance cards?”

Unfortunately, the call for a civil rights struggle does not seem to have gotten much beyond this opening salvo and will need to be developed quickly should annexation and a collapse of the PA occur in the near future, as is very likely.

And that is where the role of Americans is important. As with the Israelis and the Palestinians, our politicians are doing more harm than good. Trump is off to the worst possible start, appointing an ambassador who is a champion of illegal settlements and promising to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Soft Zionists often describe the uncritical support America gives Israel as a case of “letting friends drive drunk.” In the case of the Trump administration, we can expect the American president to hand the driver a bottle of scotch along with the car keys. Nor is it easy to chart a course for a vigorous civil rights movement in Israel/Palestine or here, when both societies seem to be in the grip of a “post-factual” political climate in which rule of law has been gutted.

Popular resistance will be essential, but the form and substance of such resistance remains to be worked out. Amidst all this uncertainty, one point is clear.  The place where human rights forms the common ground for joint action among Palestinians, Americans and Israelis is in the area of police practices.  In 49 of 50 states (Hawaii being the sole exception) Israeli security consultants are training our city and state police.  No wonder then, that U.S. police forces are looking and acting ever more like an occupying army.  The slogan “from Ferguson (or North Dakota) to Palestine, Apartheid is a crime” rests on more than an idle juxtaposition of American and Palestinian civil rights. It rests instead on the recognition that the same forces, sometimes even the very same companies, are acting to suppress human rights in Palestine, in the United States, and against dissidents and refuseniks in Israel. It is from this recognition that a strategic popular resistance must begin.

- See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2017/01/perfect-rights-netanyahu/#sthash.0kQiuBun.dpuf

Palestine: The UN Debate and Beyond
A Panel Discussion held at the United Nations Chapel
Monday September 12, 2011

Watch video of Rashid Khalidi speaking on the Palestinian bid for Statehood.

Khalidi is Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and Director of The Middle East Institute of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs

(The panel also included Prof. Karima Bennoune, of Rutgers School of Law addressing Palestinian Statehood and International Law. Recording was not permitted for her portion of the Talk.)

This event was co-sponsored by Global Policy Forum and he NGO Working Group on Israel-Palestine, co-chaired by Rev. W. Mark Koenig, Director, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations  

With thanks to the Mennonite Central Committee and Roger Hawkins of DisasterTruck.com for the video footage.

Click here to watch the video.

Khalidi begins about 4.5 mins into the footage and has important input during the Q&A at the end.

President Obama’s Betrayal of His Own Landmark Speech

The Fall-out on the most recent U.S. veto at the U.N. Security Council


What a difference a couple of years makes.   On June 4, 2009 President Barack Obama gave his famous speech in Cairo that made everyone committed to justice for Palestine say to themselves:  “He gets it.  We wondered for awhile, but now we know, he gets it.”

Fooled again.

In his opening, Obama set things up by saying:  “no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust…” That comment seemed perceptive and demonstrated sensitivity towards his audience.   In retrospect, we now know it was nothing more than a clear statement of fact and not aspirational.

Initially, when getting down to the brass tacks of the Israel/Palestine conflict, the President navigated well, avoiding the landmines yet saying it the way it needed to be said:

“America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known.  This bond is unbreakable.  It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.” Even those of us who recognize that the lion’s share (by far) of human rights violations are committed by the Israel Defense Force know that this is the required refrain before one says anything critical of Israeli government activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

But the speech continued:

“On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people—Muslims and Christians—have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.  For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation.  Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.  They endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation.  So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.  And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”


“The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.  That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest.  And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires.”

Finally, the truly damning words of all:

“Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s.  The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace.  And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society.  Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank.  Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.”

Before the world, President Obama declared that we will not turn our backs on the Palestinians. He promised to personally pursue this outcome with everything required, and made it clear that we will not accept the legitimacy of illegal Israeli settlements in the OPT.

So what exactly did we witness on February 18, 2011 when the United States vetoed the United Nations Security Council resolution condemning continued settlement construction by Israel in the OPT?  There seems to be only three possible options:  1) The President lied in his Cairo speech; 2) He has since changed his mind; or, 3) He has concluded that when it comes to bringing human rights and peace to the Holy Land, he and his administration are impotent and he didn’t know that before giving his speech, which also makes him a little less smart than we thought he was.

In response to this action, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches criticized the U.S. veto of this resolution and expressed its “deep concern and disappointment” in regard to it, observing that this was a resolution co-sponsored by 130 countries and supported by every other member of the 15-member Security Council.   The WCC has called this veto “a deeply regrettable mistake.”

The Steering Committee of the Israel Palestine Mission Network has stronger language for that:  It is a tragedy of the highest order.    If President Obama’s administration cannot do this, no one can.    This means that we have now officially announced to the whole world (some of us have been aware of this for quite some time) that when it comes to seeking security for Israel, justice for Palestine, and peace for both, the United States is not, and cannot be a true “honest broker.”

Calling the maintenance and construction of Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory “illegal” is basic to everything else that needs to be addressed.  Those who are committed to a Just Peace in the Holy Land simply do not know where to turn any longer, as the momentum of Israel’s increasingly exponential “facts on the ground” steamroll over every last remnant of evidence that an indigenous Christian people ever lived in the land where Christ walked, preached and taught.  The only player on earth that could stop this in its tracks, or at least slow it down, has folded at the table.

My assignment from the IPMN Steering Committee was to express our network’s dismay at the recent U.N. veto and call upon the Obama administration to do something.

And then I got to thinking:   Do what?    The President has already betrayed his own speech of hope (the follow-through of which would have had him actually earn his Nobel Peace Prize).    I don’t think there’s anything else for him to do except contradict himself again…but unfortunately it appears that this time he won’t.

A Just Peace in Israel/Palestine will have to find a way of happening without him, his administration, or the United States as an honest broker.   Like South Africa, the crisis will someday reach critical mass in spite of all the setbacks because this kind of justice, although delayed, cannot be forever denied.       Barack Obama will then march in that long line of Presidents who wound up on the wrong side of history, not because of what he said but because of what he didn’t do.   And it will be a very long time before the Nobel Committee ever again gives away its Peace Prize on the strength of hope unfulfilled.

An open letter to President Obama,


I read your speeches to the State Department on May 19 and to AIPAC on May 22, 2011with dismay! Disingenuousness and exceptionalism form the basis of your rhetoric to appease Israel and its friends in the United States and such a stance is not conducive to understanding and peace.

Mr. Obama, you propose to “maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge” and “remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons” yet you propose a demilitarized Palestine and an Israel armed with nuclear weapons.

You “will stand up to groups like Hezbollah who exercise political assassination, and seek to impose their will through rockets and car bombs” but yet you allow Israel to terrorize, assassinate, and kill thousands of Palestinians annually.

You are “unwavering in our [United States] support of Israel’s security” but yet do not seem to be aware that it is the Palestinians who desperately need security from Israel’s aggression.

You “will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric” but yet allow Israel free reign in terrorizing Palestinians – demolishing their homes and taking more of the supposed remaining 22% of Palestine for more Jewish only settlements on Palestinian land.

I agree that “strategies of repression and diversion won't work anymore”. It is about time that you offer concrete and viable alternatives to Israel’s repression of Palestinians both in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and within Israel. Pursuing the never ending Arab-Israel peace process has always been used by Israel as additional time to expropriate more of Palestinian lands.

You “once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years” but you do not seem to care about the thousands of Palestinian men women, and children who are in Israeli prisons and who regularly undergo torture.

You say that “Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist” even though Palestinians and many groups have done exactly that on many occasions. You “will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements” but yet you do not require the same of Israel who has violated international law, countless UN Security Council resolutions, and who does not recognize Palestine as a state.

You demand that Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist. No state in the world insists on its “right” to exist. Israel further wants to be recognized as a Jewish state. This is a racist notion as it automatically relegates the 22% of its Christian and Muslim citizens to second rate status. Furthermore, only states recognize each other. Hamas is a political party and not a state.

Mr. President, why do you not ask Israel to recognize Palestine?

For all those who continually affirm Israel’s “right” to exist or who insist that Palestinians must recognize Israel’s “right” to exist and even now to recognize Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state”, I say that what is being asked is approval of the destruction of the Palestinian homeland and the continued subjugation of an entire people. It tells all Palestinians that it was “right” to terrorize, massacre and dispossess them in 1947-48. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians both within the 1949 armistice lines was deemed necessary so that a state free of Palestinians be formed. A further sequel to this wish is the continued dispossession of Palestinians both within Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The governments of Israel and the United States must acknowledge the wrongs against the Palestinian people in forming the state of Israel. The partition plan in 1947 was against the wishes of the majority of Palestine’s inhabitants, and the subsequent deprivation of their inalienable right to self determination, to home, and country are wrongs that must be acknowledged. To continually affirm that Israel has a “right” to exist is to affirm the morally objectionable tactic of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians employed in its formation in 1948, in 1967, and continuing to this day.

You proclaim that “the United States will never abandon our support for those rights that are universal” and that you have “respect for the rights of minorities” in the Middle East; however we do not hear you ask for the human and civil rights of the Christians and Muslims in Israel and in the rest of what is left of Palestine!

You say that “prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress” but I do not hear you demand that Israel remove the separation barrier (wall/fence) built on Palestinian lands.

Mr. President, you claim that “the United States wishes to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy”, yet the United States and Israel through economic measures brought about the downfall of a democratically and fairly elected government in the Palestinian territories in 2006.

Mr. Obama, in claiming that antagonism toward Israel is used as a means to redirect Middle Easterner’s grievances away from their governments, ignores the facts on the ground. There are real grievances such as the past ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their country; the continued land grab to build Jewish only settlements on Palestinian land, contrary to international law; the brutal occupation of the Palestinians’ territories, the daily terror that Palestinian children experience particularly in Gaza; and the daily humiliation of Palestinian parents under occupation.

Mr. President, you demonize Palestinians by saying that they teach their children to hate and are terrorists but ignore the rampant hatred and racism exhibited by Israelis. On the issue of terrorism, it is Israel that kills many more Palestinians. Violence is intolerable, but both must stop the violence: Palestinians should stop resorting to stones and homemade rockets and the Israeli army should stop using its mighty and modern arsenal to bomb and shoot Palestinians including unarmed, peaceful resisters.

Mr. Obama, you think that the Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state, but at the same time you characterize the Palestinian’s wish for a country of their own as a ‘symbolic’ action and a wish to isolate and delegitimize Israel. This discordant talk betrays a lack of evenhandedness which is also demonstrated by all too frequent United States vetoes in the United Nations Security Council in defense of Israel’s flouting of international laws.

Mr. President, when will you hear the anguished cry of Palestinians yearning to be free from occupation of their country?

The majority of the Israeli and Palestinian people just want a normal life. They can be helped only with a firm commitment to the truth, to justice, and to reconciliation.

With the beliefs and statements in your speeches to the State Department and to AIPAC, Mr. President, how can you be an agent for peace?

Nahida Halaby Gordon

May 22, 2011


Nahida Halaby Gordon is a professor of statistics. Professor Gordon, a life-long Presbyterian and currently a church Elder, is a Palestinian-American who experienced, first hand, the 1948 Palestinian Nakba.

Dear Colleagues in The Society of Christian Ethics,

I am sharing my article AN ETHICAL CRITIQUE OF THE UNITED STATES/ISRAEL ALLIANCE: REVIVING THE PROPHETIC TASKS OF REMEMBRANCE AND CRITIQUE OF POWER, from The Journal of Religion, Conflict, and Peace (www.religionconflictpeace.org)

I send it in the hope that you will get back to me with your comments, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank">daniel.maguire@marquette.edu.  Dialogue and debate need not be limited to our annual busy and brief meetings.  

I am simultaneously sharing this article with The Society of Jewish Ethics and inviting comments from its members.

The ethical issues in the Middle East and the U.S. and international involvement in the founding of Israel have existed—and multiplied--- since the very founding of our Society.  Yet, in the entire history of the SCE we have never done justice to the ethical issues involved, starting with the conflicting narratives of what happened in 1948.  We have, to put it gently, been skittish on the subject, perhaps even more so since our meetings linked with The Society of Jewish Ethics.  There is no need for that hesitancy.  

Our neglect mirrors the disinclination to address U.S.-Israeli issues in this nation.  Those issues are faced with more vigor and candor in Israel.  This has begun to change in the United States, but it has not yet changed in The Society of Christian Ethics.

I look forward to your responses.

Dan Maguire
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

you may access the article free of charge at www.religionconflictpeace.org.
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