Saturday, June 16, 2012

A letter to Evergreen college students boycotting the Israeli occupation

Whitney Bard, my step-daughter, is part of the ecologically conscious and egalitarian Flaming Eggplant Café collective at Evergreen State in Olympia, Washington. When the proposal was made last fall to boycott Israeli products because of the occupation (see the Yossi Sarid commentary – “Human Beings whose bodies are one big black star” below – h/t Helena Kennedy), the collective members began a process of deliberation, debate and study, resulting ultimately in consensus. Whitney asked me to write a letter to them which I did below.

I admire the BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) especially for its nonviolence but I should note: the third demand for resettlement of the houses that were stolen in the original ethnic cleansing is probably unworkable if there is to be a two state settlement, one which will stop the killing and head off further, escalating war (Netanyahu’s and the Republicans’ idea of bombing Iran) or even a decent one state settlement (one democratic state, preserving the rights of every citizen). The Israeli government will need to accept some resettlement in what is now Israel – some of the $3 billion given yearly for arms by the United States could be directed to such purposes - and at minimum, compensate others for their stolen property. But that is something to be worked out by that government in negotiations over a settlement with the Palestinians and need hardly be in the demands raised by a movement from below.

BDS is a powerful, nonviolent movement for justice and deserves support.

For related posts on possible solutions in this new century, see Harriet Feinberg’s letter on what a regional Middle East and Mediterranean might look like here and here.

Here are the mission statement and one in support of the boycott by the Flaming Eggplant, my letter, and a telling article by Yossi Sarid:

Mission Statement

As a student-worker collective, the mission of the Flaming Eggplant Café is to nourish the local food system by making delicious, healthy, ecologically and social just food accessible to all. We strive to empower the campus and greater Olympia community to organize, study, teach, seed, and create an egalitarian society together beginning with the act of eating.

Statement of Principals

Our intention as a collective is to foster a strong, healthy and compassionate community by:

-supporting local food systems and the local economy
-supporting political participation and direct action to create a just and egalitarian society
-providing a safer space for community participation, engagement and enjoyment
-providing education opportunities around nutrition, food systems, collective business management and anti-authoritarian decision making
-promoting transparency within our organization, the food system, and society as a whole.


We, The Flaming Eggplant Cafe, have decided to join the call from Palestinian civil society to boycott Israeli products. “These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.” (from the Palestinian Civil Society call for BDS)

Our Mission Statement outlines a commitment to serving socially just food. Israel’s policy of illegal land seizure and destruction on Palestinian lands means purchasing items from Israel is in conflict with our mission.

As a student-run collective with the stated principle of supporting direct action for a just and egalitarian society, and as a café representing the student body at large, we feel it is important to uphold the desire for boycott and divestment as voted for by the students at The Evergreen State College.

Here is my letter:

“Dear Flaming Eggplant Collective members,

Whitney has told me of your commitment to the earth, to food, to treating each other and others as equals and with fairness. She has told me some of your struggles about this issue, since in no society do these things come for free, and we are raised in a very inegalitarian regime though one with important hopes for and which has made important contributions to democracy. We are each on a journey toward these things that you aspire to.

I am Whitney’s step-father and a Jew. I have spent most of my life teaching about democracy and nonviolence, and organizing campaigns and demonstrations against racism in the United States.

I quickly learned that the eugenics in the United States – that some “races” are better born than others – had its height in Nazism. Nazism murdered millions of Jews (how many millions will never be known), slavs, gays, and Roma. Racist murder is part of divide and rule. Nazis also murdered 25,000 “defective Aryan children” and every mental patient in Germany (some 300,000). These people were, in German “wertlos,” lives devoid of value.

The beautiful poem of Pastor Martin Niemoller here reveals how even those with Aryan privilege were hurt, and also why even people seemingly distant from an act of oppression should take a stand against it:

“First they came for the communists,
 and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, 
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, 
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
 and there was no one left to protest. “

We are all one web of humanity. We are brothers and sisters on this earth with the animals and plants. The earth is torn apart by killing, and by the rapacious in power.

As a teacher of nonviolence some fourteen years ago, two members of the International Solidarity Movement spoke to one of my classes. They told us that in the Occupied Territories, a Palestinian child cannot go to school in Israel or a young person to work without passing through a checkpoint manned by armed soldiers. Those who go through are at the least made to stay in a long line and verbally abused. They are often searched, sometimes beaten or jailed. The Palestinian “state” has no airport. The Israeli government feels no obligation to honor the rights of strangers (international law mandates this as does Jewish tradition – “honor the rights of strangers because you were once a stranger in Egypt…”) in the Territories it has seized.

It was obvious to me instantly that the kind of rule there was authoritarian and reminiscent of the concentration camps. Under international law, stemming from the seizing of non-Israeli territory in the 1967 war, this imprisonment is outlawed.

I later read a report of an Israeli policeman in the New York Times about stopping a car, strip searching a 10 year old. I hate to do it, he said, and I can see that he fears and hates me. But if I don’t do it, and he has a bomb...

Very few had bombs. In the second intifada, the highly armed Israeli military killed 7 Palestinians for every Israeli killed. And in the slaughter in Gaza in 2008, 1400 Palestinians were killed by the army of Israel in comparison with 11 Israelis. The army killed 300 Palestinian children; 1 Israeli child was murdered by a Palestinian rocket. And you may have heard of the relief ship to Gaza, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters, attacked by the Israeli military, slaughtering 7 Turkish citizens and 1 American.

Morally speaking, this aggression and occupation poisons the spirit of Israel. Israel was once a democracy with kibbutzes, an attempt to create a more cooperative society in which everyone was recognized. It has become increasingly exclusive, the property of those who fear others – with a paranoia or trauma shaped by the long European persecution of Jews and the genocide, as well as hostility from Arab regimes. It is a government whose policies make many Israeli protestors against it like the reporter Gideon Levy whose story I give below or Amira Hass or Ury Avnery or the 1,000 students and others turn out in Tel Aviv to resist, in the face of police harassment and abuse, ever new Israeli slaughters in the Occupied Territories. In addition, hundreds of Israeli young people in the organization Yesh Gvul or on their own have refused to serve in the Occupied Territories.

Your fellow student at Evergreen, Rachel Corrie went to work nonviolently against the oppression of ordinary Palestinians. She was there, protecting the house of a doctor and his family from destruction by a Caterpillar tractor, when the driver, an Israeli soldier, drove the tractor over her and backed up over her, too. Her death was dealt with by a poor imitation of a trial (the military “withheld” a film of what happened, scenes from which were shown in an Israeli television documentary, as Rachel Corrie’s parents underlined). The law of that land is increasingly thin, particularly for Arab Israelis – some 20% of the population of Israel – and Jewish Israeli protestors, but even for most Jews. One cannot fear and despise the humanity in others and be genuinely strong, nurture the earth and one’s place in it.

We have now reached a terrible crossroads. There are those like the Flaming Eggplant who are trying to work and live together, and nurture the earth. Through the discussion of this boycott, your collective may learn, as I have learned, that even persecuted ethnicity is not the slightest justification for the persecution of others.

In Palestine, a movement has developed again to lift this oppression nonviolently. It has learned from Martin Luther King and from Bishop Tutu. It asks all of us not to cooperate with companies which profit from and batten off the suffering in the Occupied Territories, to make a strong and real movement to stop this. The boycott is right. It is a far better and more humane tactic than the violence (often striking at innocent Israeli citizens) which it is replacing. In addition, it is also right for Jews including Israelis. At the bottom, I include a sad and powerful newspaper column in Haaretz, written by Gideon Levy, about what the government in Israel and its supporters have become. 9 Palestinian children were killed in a bus accident this past Thursday. On Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Facebook page, Israelis who have lost their way as human beings, grotesquely and by name, revel in this.

Is there a child in this world, Israeli or Palestinian or American or Mexican or South African, who is not of infinite worth?

The phrases Levy quotes from Facebook, were these not the sentiments of some Germans when Jewish children were sent to the gas chambers? As Levy’s own example reveals, no decent Israeli shares this sentiment. No decent Israeli fails to be with Pastor Niemoller in that poem; and for the others who have lost their way, their existence and well being is also under threat. Can they look again in a mirror before they have named these statements for what they are, been struck with sorrow about them, apologized for them? If South Africa could achieve Truth and Reconciliation, why not Israel and Palestine?

You might think that a discussion at the Flaming Eggplant, in far off Olympia, Washington, among people who are seeking food security and the truth, does not matter much for the world. In a way, this is true. But one never knows what small effort contributes to moving a mountain. In the early 19th century in England, many people refused to buy sugar because it had been produced in English colonies by slaves…

And when people reach out nonviolently against injustice, it is the hope and humanity and compassion of the rest of us to reach back. Students often take the lead, as happened in the American civil rights movement and many others, and it has now come to you.

You have explored this terrible issue. You are from the same school as Rachel Corrie, who had, as we now know, beautiful words, someone whose writings might have lived with us for a long time and whose surviving words do so even now...

I admire the Jewish prophets, those on the outside, who speak truth to power, name the oppression of kings, even that of elected leaders. In the enduring words of Amos in the Old Testament, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everlasting stream.” I see the occupied territories, with settlers crazed on hatred, destroying the olive trees that are a family’s thin livelihood, trees 50 years or older, and the desolation of the family that has lost its tree of life...And I think of the Warsaw ghetto and the protests of Jews in World War II. Every effort made to stop this, nonviolently, is a hope for humanity. No, the Israeli government will not withdraw the settlements and stop these crimes against the earth just because of efforts in Olympia. But Rachel Corrie and those efforts in Olympia will contribute to reaching a decent resolution.

I had a Rachel Corrie in my life. As a child, I was friends with Andy Goodman. We were in a small class together at Walden School in Manhattan. I played at his apartment and he at mine. Later, we were not so much in touch. But both of us thought of going to Mississippi with Freedom Summer in 1964. I had been on a freedom ride in Chestertown, Maryland, and seen the violence of a mob led by the sheriff. I decided after some reflection not to go. Still living in New York, Andy did decide to go. He and James Cheney and Michael Schwerner, nonviolently protesting oppression, were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi by a mob led by the sheriff.

The great nonviolent movement led by Martin Luther King eventually lifted the oppression. The South and America are now a different and better place because of the sacrifice of those who stood up and the support and small and large actions of millions of others. I did not go to Freedom Summer then (though I have often gone before and since). But every effort that any of us makes to lift the terrible shadow of racism, oppression and violence from humanity, to defend food and the growing of it on this earth, does a powerful thing. None of us can be sure how long we are here or how things will look to us in the future. But doing the right thing when it is difficult, when the powers and newspapers are full of falsehoods and errors, when one has to think and struggle with it, was something for me to build a life on. I hope it will be for you.

You have already done much in discussing this issue. In joining the boycott, you, too, can join this growing movement to defend the earth and all its people.

Best wishes,
Alan Gilbert

Haaretz, published 19.02.12
Enemies, a hate story

It is impossible to ignore what is happening to us: Palestinian children die in an accident, and many Israelis are happy about it - and are no longer even ashamed of it.

By Gideon Levy

The all-clear was sounded as soon as the news came that the school bus was Palestinian.

Only the most perceptive viewers of Thursday's accident - in which nine children and one adult were killed when their bus collided with a truck north of Jerusalem - could make the distinction. But something in the manner of the coverage intimated at it immediately.

Then the reports and images started flowing in. The coverage was workmanlike overall, if faceless and depersonalized. It is not difficult to imagine how such a horrific accident would have been treated had the children been Jewish: with a lot more blood and tears. There is no disputing that, as the Talmud says, "Every person is partial to himself" - and to his own people, we might add. One can also excuse the ridiculous way the Jerusalem-Ramallah road by Aram, near the north side of the capital, suddenly became "beyond the Israeli border," in the language of reporters - the Green Line springs to life when it suits us.

But what came next cannot be excused. The Internet roiled - not with the usual anonymous comments, the last refuge of boors and perverts. This time they revealed their names and their Facebook photos, spewing forth nauseating, hate-permeated racism that seemed to exceed anything seen here previously.

"Relax, these are Palestinian children," Benny Dazanashvili wrote on Twitter. To which Tal Biton responded, "It seems these are Palestinians ... God willing." Itai Viltzig offered up a prayer: "I hope every day there is a bus like this." Dozens, if not hundreds, of Internet surfers said a prayer of thanks - for the terrible death by fire of young children on a school field trip - and the responses were featured on the web pages of the prime minister and the Israel Police and the Walla! web portal.

"They'll want money, because money is more important to them than the children who were killed," one person wrote. Others commented, "Can we send another truck?" and "I'd have sent a double semi-trailer to obliterate all those shits."

On the official Facebook page of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was actually quick to express his sorrow from faraway Cyprus over the accident, the comments are still visible like some mark of Cain on their authors and their host.

From Yisrael Ohana: "I don't care; for my part every Palestinian child is a future suicide-bomber candidate. Tomer Ben Haim: "There is just one thing that anyone who attacks Judaism deserves." The only light came from Meira Baruch, who wrote: "I'm 63 years old. Only a few times in my life have I been ashamed to be a Jew. Today I am ashamed. How can anyone rejoice over the death of little children?"

No longer can all this be waved away with the argument that these were the responses of a handful of crazies that do not reflect the whole. Perhaps we should also give thanks for the democracy that allows these responses to be published, and to flood public awareness. But it must be recognized that the sentiment they express is common and that it runs deep in Israeli society.

Enemies, a hate story. In the past few years, anti-Arab hatred and racism have reached monstrous proportions and are no longer restricted to a negligible minority. Many people dare to express it, and many more agree with them. All the discriminatory, separatist laws of the past few years are an authentic expression of that hatred.

When Netanyahu's Israel demands that the Palestinian Authority stop the incitement against Israel, it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps it is difficult to measure precisely, but after 25 years of covering the Israeli occupation, and after innumerable meetings with ordinary Palestinians, I think I can safely say that the hate and racism on our side is not matched on the Palestinian side. I repeatedly find myself astounded by the fact that the majority of the thousands of Palestinians I have met over the years, all of them victims of the occupation, speak about their dream of living together in peace (while the majority of Israelis dream of "the separation" ). Yes, there are those who hate, those who carried out murderous attacks against Israelis - and only a few protested against it. But the Palestinian hatred is focused mainly on the Israeli occupation. During the Carmel forest fire of December 2010, the PA dispatched fire trucks to Israel, and apparently no one protested against it. It is doubtful that Palestinians rejoiced over the Israeli deaths then in the way that Israelis are rejoicing over the Palestinian deaths now.

But even if I am wrong, even if I am blind to the facts and the hatred is indeed mutual, nevertheless it is impossible to ignore what is happening to us: Palestinian children die in an accident, and many Israelis are happy about it - and are no longer even ashamed of it.


Human beings whose bodies are one big black star
Xenophobia is a permanent variable, only its victim changes from time to time.
By Yossi Sarid | Jun.01, 2012 | 4:26 AM

We bought a basket of cherries at the greengrocer's, and on our return home we noticed the label: "Yattir Forest Cherries." No name of the grower, no phone number, no post office box, nothing. Is someone out there in the South Hebron Hills, beyond the Green Line, trying to hide? Do they intend to deceive us?

And what will we do with the suspicious cherries - eat them or throw them into the garbage can? Even if they're sweet, a bitter taste will remain in our mouths. For a moment I thought of consulting with Ovadia & Sons, with the "Beit Yosef" kashrut supervisors, but they specialize in a different kind of swinishness, and give a seal of approval to different abominations. Oh, holy impurity: It's all in the family, Kosher Nostra.

And then I thought of contacting the South African ambassador, maybe he knows: What do Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu do in such cases? What do they do when they don't want to eat pickles, to drink stolen water, or wine from the vineyard of Naboth?

But over the radio I heard that the ambassador had disappeared. After he found out about the meeting in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem where he would be reprimanded, he went underground; where is he? The Danish ambassador is also thinking of changing his address and cutting off contact. The low-chair method is proving itself - they're afraid.

Because what will they have to say in their defense? They have no chance of leaving this inquiry safely. "This is singling out Israel unfavorably on a clearly political basis," said the spokesman when the scandal was revealed: They are plotting to force us to engage in truth in advertising, to distinguish between products of the settlements and Made In Israel. And who has ever heard of a government that decides "on a political basis," and of another country that offers the fruits of stolen land.

And here is a reminder: The Israeli government promised 10 years ago to mark the difference clearly - Yesha (Judea and Samaria ) is not here. Since then the government has been using our money to compensate factories in the settlements for their losses. But the Ahabs who are being robbed insist on both benefiting and deceiving. Israel did not keep its promise, blurred the borders and mixed up the products. And they still come with complaints to those who have been deceived, who wanted to buy grapes and cherries and were sold rotten fruit.

And perhaps the ambassador is hiding out somewhere and refusing to go up to Jerusalem because he fears for his safety. He is liable to look like a foreign worker, a cancer or a microbe, and Miri Regev is liable to stone his car on the way and shatter the windshield. Never mind that she is now a Knesset member, but only yesterday this cow was a brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces, and we can wonder why she wasn't appointed a major general on the basis of her profile. I won't forgive her and her girlfriends, MKs Ronit, Tzipi H., Anastasia, Yulia and Limor for undermining my hope for a better world under female leadership.

The South African government, with all due respect, is also not exempt from suspicion of ulterior motives - is it possible that they remember there what Israel did to them? Do they still bear a grudge against us for remaining among the last of the collaborators with the racist regime? Do they know in South Africa how to smell apartheid-like regimes from afar?

The moon of Alabama [from the Lotte Lenya song composed by Bertolt Brecht to music of Kurt Weill in “Happy End”] is shining on Tel Aviv and Eilat. How fortunate that its light did not reveal crystal dishes, mahogany furniture and pianos. After all, what are we talking about here: about human beings who are in any case broken and battered, whose bodies are one big black star.

And another good thing: For a brief period another "other" [see here] has been found to whom we can condescend and whom we can blame for everything, and a million "non-Jews" who live among us will enjoy a temporary respite. Xenophobia is a permanent variable, only its victim changes from time to time, and he doesn't have to be an Arab, who is harder to identify in the street, whereas all the blacks have the same face, especially at night.

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