Saturday, November 10, 2012

Amira Hass and Vincent Harding: Israel and the segregated South

Amira Hass, the great and principled reporter for Haaretz who lives in the Occupied Territories – a good home for a jew, very familiar from the persecutions in Europe (as in Warsaw, so the Occupied Territories), and a way of saying by where one lives (or where one goes) that the state of Israel is not, without dramatic change for the Palestinians, a state of those jews who left Egypt or of Amos who spoke truth to power.

Unsurprisingly, Amira Hass alone interviewed a member of this delegation during the trip. Nonviolent resistance in Palestine is, of course, not covered in the Israeli press – for if the Palestinians are not hair-trigger violent types, what is one to say of the ever armed Israelis and their fixation with illegal Walls and "Jews-only" roads?

If the teenage Palestinian Davids, who throw occasional rocks at tanks and are often shot and sometimes murdered with tear gas canisters, are really not the worst of the worst, what is one to think of the Israeli army with its tanks, firing tear gas canisters?

In Beilin, we saw the silver shells littered among rocks and scraggly plants by the Wall where demonstrations had occurred, the black rubber bullet shells hard as rocks, and the residue of stench gas; and on Friday, in Nabih Saleh, we saw the army launching shells at nonviolent protestors...

“No no no – it is Palestinians who must, must be violent.”


Because if one uses one eyes, if the truth is not out of sight, out of mind and behind a mental wall more solid and obtuse than the physical wall, Israel is currently the most calculating and intense race state in the world. The American segregated South and South Africa are now, after great heroism from below, out of business….

Who are these “heroes” of racism, these Netanyahus, Bull Connors, Verwoerds, Pharaohs and these young soldiers, being trained in this?


I along with some others in our delegation sat in the room while Vincent Harding gave the wonderful interview reported in the article below. Amira begins from the American election because in Israel it was a big topic, a hook (the Israeli government and press are in such denial that a journey of a delegation including veterans of the civil rights movement, associates of Martin Luther King, dedicated to nonviolence needs some other “hook” for a story…). Sadly, many Israelis were for Romney because he would support/wage aggression against Iran (very likely, at great cost to Israelis…) and a resultant further brutalization of the Palestinians whereas Obama stood up against bombing in an election year - a rare incumbent to not use war to stir "patriotism" for reelection. Obama was terrible on Israel in the debates (never mentioned the settlements, held maneuvers against Iran so that he could "out-tough" Romney), pointing out just how much military aid he has showered on Netanyahu...


In Nabih Saleh, I handled some of those spent silver canisters and rubber bullets, contributed by American "aid" to Israel, met families who have lost brothers and sisters killed by these weapons which the Occupiers alone have, and whose family members, like Bassem Tamimi, have been jailed for nonviolent protest.

This aid has nobly been questioned by Protestant denominations, demanding that it not be used against the Palestianians. This will require a very dramatic shift in Israel...


I supported Obama in the election, but I am struck to my heart, worse as I come to terms with it being back in Denver, by what the United States government is doing...

The Isreali leadership and part of the Israeli public was desperate in its support for Romney. It is not enough to have allies in their evil; they must have a monster, and the rest of the world be damned...

American Jews were 70% for Obama and of course, about 80%, last time I saw a poll, against America bombing Natanz.


As someone who identifies as an older brother or father of Barack, Vincent names the courage and risk-taking of Barack’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham (read the biography of her A Singular Woman by James Scott, and you will get a picture).

Vincent sees, very sharply, the difference between Obama who never mentioned the poor in this campaign – there are now 60 million children living in poverty in the United States – and Martin Luther King who gave his life fighting for a poor people’s movement, between Barack who sends drones to murder innocents in countries the US is not officially at war with, like Pakistan, i.e. commits aggression against them, and Martin Luther King, an opponent of war and empire for whom (Martin was travelling three hundred days a year). Vincent drafted a deep speech on Vietnam and empire, one whose prophetic words are as apt about Iraq as they were about Vietnam, as apt today about Pakistan or about the 1280 American military bases abroad that eat, without mention in the corporate media, at the American soul like a cancer…

Vincent rightly faults Barack for his timidity. But the loud proclamations for FDR, made more often by Ralph Nader and the Green Party and argued for here by Vincent, have a sharp limitation. Yes, FDR had some more out there advisors (even my father in the late 1930s) compared to Obama who has been excessively timid and Barack hastily fired good people like Shirley Sherrod and Van Jones.

But FDR also dealt with a far more vibrant, radical labor and, in some ways, anti-racist movement which had the possibility in the 30s of revolution – one could see it from the bread lines...That is, on many issues, like unemployment insurance or industrial unions, FDR came round or supported them because there was a vehement mass movement, occupying factories.

FDR supported Democratic Governor Murphy’s national guard with machine guns trained on the plant during the great Flint Michigan sit-down strike. That strike organized the auto industry in 1936.

FDR persecuted the Lincoln brigade of communists and others, half of the soldiers black, which went to defend the Spanish Republic. Participants in the Lincoln Brigade often gave their lives – half died in Spain, many were injured or crippled - to fight against Franco. These were “premature anti-fascists,” and therefore harassed and later blacklisted.

FDR’s initial vice president Garner was from Texas, the urban party of the North rooted in the Klan/”Democratic” One Party South...

Against the criticisms of his wife and many others, FDR would not sign anti-lynching legislation passed by Congress.


Nader embarrassed himself about Barack in the last election (a Lebanese-American should know better than to speak of Obama as, on his view, an “Uncle Tom of the large corporations.” In the context of the enormous racism which has greeted Obama on the Right, this racist statement pretty well finished me on Ralph (I sometimes listen to his often smart points, but I do not take him seriously as a human being). For those who study the history of capitalism, after some reforms, socialists and communists often move to the right, come to serve the oligarchy rather than workers, once they come into power. Elections by themselves are no path of transformation.

The claim that FDR was so great domestically, Obama so weak, does not add up. FDR commendably passed, under much more pressure, real legislation to deal with the great depression; Obama passed a stimulus, the most decent measure in 50 years, which put a lot of people to work, stalled a deeper depression, and focused on a green economy. Obama is the first black President and the first President who celebrates the humanity of gays and lesbians...

But without a movement from below, one that will press Obama, on many issues notably the prison-industrial complex, there is no hope of further change.

Madison and Occupy made Obama recall himself, or "made Obama be Obama" (a slogan I used about such movements and support for Obama in the first campaign). He re-emerged as a decent candidate again because of them (and as Vincent suggests, not one who yet spoke for or would push for the poor).

And even to keep Barack from bombing Iran in the next year, a strong movement from below - stronger than what we have so far - is necessary…


Vincent has long been involved with jews. In Harlem, as he says, teachers who saw the possibilities in him and many others - real teachers – happened to be Jewish. He went to college with many jews, whose families had experienced the Holocaust, and in the civil rights movement, as he told us, Michael Schwerner and Andy Goodman, my childhood friend, joined James Cheney in the long fight for equality realized by Freedom Summer and were murdered by the sheriff of Philadelphia, Mississippi and a hellish mob.

The deputy sheriff, Cecil Price, eventually realized some of what he had done, wanted to testify about the crime he had committed, and was pushed to his death out of an upstairs window; perhaps he found some way out of the hell that they were and are. (Micki Dickstein's film "Neshoba" extensively interviews Edgar Ray Killens, the "preacher"/instigator of the murders who was finally convicted, at the age of 80, in 2008 here and here).


So Vincent, probably even more sharply than I, found the apartheid that we saw against Palestinians painful (as a lifetime teacher of and fighter against Nazism, including in its American forms, I find the racist crimes daily combined with hypocrisy and being the wrong side, of some powerful Jews, Israeli and American, unbearable, too).

He speaks, in this interview, very determinedly for a movement against the apartheid imposed by Israel.

Amira questions: don’t most Americans support Israel?

And one might add: aren’t Palestinians, behind a wall in Israel, one bolstered by an enormous racism among Israelis? The greater the crimes, psychologically, the more ruthless the denial of the humanity of the victims; it is Europe again, except that many Israelis have shockingly identified as European against the "inferior" semites…

Vincent replies: segregation was once popular. But those of heart and song lifted themselves up to fight against it. See here.


Soon I will post again on children, during a nonviolent demonstration protesting the arrest or murder of their relatives by armed Israelis. See Janna’s song here. Bassem Tamimi arrested for nonviolent demonstration in a settlement supermarket (I was in Jews-only Hebron – see here – and the atmosphere of racism and fear in the settlements is unspeakable) has been sentenced to four months in jail. See here.

I was at his house in Nabih Saleh…

I cast my vote with Vincent. For the honor of all those Jews who have fought against slavery and oppression, for the victims of pogroms and the Holocaust, for those who spoke out and risked their lives against apartheid and in the civil rights movement in America, this policy must change. Mass noncooperation - militant nonviolence - is the way. There must be a state or two states which uphold the rights and dignity of all the people in these territories, Palestinian and Jew.

This cannot go on.


This story is by
Amira Hass

"In one of my letters to my brother and son, Obama, I suggested to him that what he needed was the courage of his mother and the willingness to take chances that she represented in her life." The writer, Dr. Vincent Harding, is familiar to U.S. President Barack Obama, and we can assume that he also arouses feelings of affection, admiration and gratitude in him.

To Americans his name is immediately connected with Dr. Martin Luther King, because Harding was a close friend and partner of this leader of the struggle for equal rights in the United States, who was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The 80-year-old historian and theologian, a native of Harlem and a believing Christian, wrote (and says ) in polite words that Obama's problem is that he was not sufficiently daring.

"I quoted somebody [in the letter] who mentioned Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of the ways he developed to serve the nation was that he was willing to go outside the traditional borders in search of advisors. He sought out advisors that nobody ever heard of, because he was willing to go out of the expected respectable ways.

"Obama was not able, was not free maybe to make those kinds of choices. Because, cautious man that he so often is, he probably didn't want to bring in too visible associates with him, too many people that would simply be counted as African Americans. I think he has continued to suffer from the paucity of creative inventiveness that deviate from the accepted norms."

Harding does not conceal the warm place in his heart for the black president: He formulated his opinions based on a reading of Obama's memoirs, which were written before Obama thought of running for the presidency. He saw Obama as a man of "deep integrity, intelligence and deep concern for those who were in trouble in this society and around the world," and in his opinion "he probably came into the presidency not recognizing all of the mechanism of American presidential power and responsibilities that he should take on and work with. I think he did think he was going to change much and did hope, but didn't know what a fight it would require.

"He still has a magnificent heart. What is happening to that heart, when he allows himself to be the keeper of the hit list of the CIA drones, is another deep and difficult question that I would not try to go into very much, but I often wonder what is the nature of the conversation that he has when, thank God, he tries as often as he can to sit at the dining room table with his daughters and wife and mother-in-law, because his girls are going to a Quaker school [belonging to a Christian denomination that is committed to social equality and an anti-militaristic approach, which supported King and his friends] and I wonder what kind of questions are coming up about what their father is doing, in the light of what I hope the school is teaching them."

Those remarks about Obama were given three days ago in the village of Nabi Saleh, in the home of Neriman and Bassem Tamimi, among the leaders of the popular struggle in their village.

Harding is a member of a delegation that is currently visiting the West Bank, composed of American social and political activists including several veterans of the struggle for equal rights in the United States, such as Harding and Dorothy Cotton, an educator and a dedicated activist since the 1950s who worked alongside King. The initiative for the visit came from the eponymous Dorothy Cotton Institute, an education and resource center that trains leaders for a global human rights movement.

Harding wrote King's speech against continuing the war in Vietnam, which was delivered to a huge audience at a New York church exactly a year before King's murder. Harding reassures us that King usually wrote his speeches by himself, but "at the time he apparently assumed that college professors had more time than freedom leaders."

They formulated their views against the war together. Harding and King told the skeptics within the black community that "we have been very glad whenever voices came from outside the U.S., especially from the Third World, to stand in solidarity with us."

For the same reason it is natural for Harding and his friends to come now and listen to the Palestinians and Israelis who are actively fighting the occupation: In Jerusalem and Bil'in, Ramallah, Hebron, the Deheisheh refugee camp and the village of Walaja. One of the things that he learned immediately in the first two days was "how ignorant I was about what is really happening in this part of the world, how little I know and how little I have thought about how little I know - which is not characteristic of me. I come to this situation not simply as somebody who has been involved with non-violent actions of various kinds over many years, but as someone who for some known and unknown reasons, ever since I was in high school, was deeply concerned about learning about the Holocaust.

"Part of it was inspired by the Jewish teachers that I had in high school, a number of whom loved me deeply and inspired me to take my own possibilities very seriously, and then going on to the City College of New York. When I went there in 1948 it was still about 96 percent Jewish in the student body, I was surrounded by the world of the children of the Holocaust and survivors themselves, and that was all part of my reality.

"I also was closely related to some of the many Jewish people who had come to join us in the freedom movement in the South, and some gave their lives for that. So I came to this situation with all kinds of sensibilities. That's part of the large space that I have, to be deeply hurt by what I have seen and felt.

"I come from an American situation in which apartheid has been in one shape or another the reality of the country from its beginning up to the 1950s and 1960s, and then a struggle with how to get rid of it. As I have listened to my sisters and brothers here I felt familiarity and identification. I could identify on both levels - it's important to emphasize I came here as someone deeply in love with specific Jewish people, and deeply concerned by the great tragedy of the Holocaust experience. I came here as someone who experienced and fought against racial segregation and racial domination for half a century or more. So all this was very fresh and painful to me and very recognizable."

And what will you do now with what you've learned?

"I have been gifted with a great network of acquaintances, friends and colleagues, and I see a great responsibility right now to disseminate this knowledge and information in writing and by word. I will meet with lawmakers."

And with Obama? "If I could I would, if people I know, who have some access [arrange a meeting]. I believe deeply in participatory democracy, so that my focus is not simply on Obama but on the people who must push Obama for a reexamination of what our relationship to Israel is all about, in the light of the official Israeli policy toward its indigenous Palestinian populace."

But this is American policy no less than it is Israeli policy, which people in America also want.

"People wanted segregation until a major movement against it created a change." .

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