Monday, May 6, 2013

A letter to Morgan Freeman from the Dorothy Cotton Institute 2012 Civil And Human Rights Delegation to the West Bank



Our delegation to Palestine October 10-24, 2012 encountered apartheid. The Founding Amnesia of Israel is that Jews suffered a Holocaust in Europe but it is supposedly okay - even justified - to treat Palestinians as the Jews of the Occupied Territories and behave as almost - not quite, "we are not as bad as the Nazis" [see also Dr. Ralph Walden below on concentration camps for Africans that "would not shame the Nazis") - the worst in Europeans.

Morgan Freeman, from Greenwood, Mississippi, a fine actor - in "Invictus," as Nelson Mandela, in a role he sought out, a surpassing one - and civil rights activist, is to receive the Key of Knowledge award from the Canadian friends of the Hebrew University. We urge him to turn the award down until Israel stops practicing Jim Crow and ethnic cleansing in the Occupied Territories and in Israel toward Palestinians.

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You can sign a petition here or here. The award is tonight...


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Freeman points out that American history itself is black history. I make that point sharply in Black Patriots and Loyalists since it turns out that black soldiers, fighting for emancipation, were central on both sides at the crucial battle of Yorktown just as black soldiers, after the Emancipation Proclamation, were 80% of the new Union recruits, and drove the defeat of "the House of Dixie."

The Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution - which admit black descendants of revolutionaries only after long and arduous proving compared to white descendants - have it exactly backward. The most oppressed are the fiercest Patriots...

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On CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight in 2011, Freeman, with a Mississippi River metaphor, spoke the truth:

"Freeman: [the Tea Party's] stated policy, publicly stated, is to do whatever it takes to see to it that Obama only serves one term. What's, what does that, what underlies that? Screw the country. We're going to do whatever we do to get this black man, we can, we're going to do whatever we can to get this black man outta here.

Morgan: But is that necessarily a racist thing?...Wouldn't they say that about any Democrat?

Freeman: It is a racist thing...[The rise of the Tea Party] shows the weak, dark underside of America. We're supposed to be better than that. We really are. That's why all those people were in tears when Obama was elected president [me, too]. 'Ah look at what we are – this is America.' Then it just sort of started turning because these people surfaced–like stirring up muddy water."

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"A letter to Morgan Freeman

from the Dorothy Cotton Institute 2012 Civil And Human Rights Delegation to the West Bank.

Dear Mr. Freeman,

We are writing to you as members of a historic delegation of twenty three leaders from the nonviolent U.S. Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, younger civil rights and human rights leaders, peace advocates and educators, who traveled to East Jerusalem and the West Bank in October last year, to meet with leaders of the Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement and their Israeli allies. During our trip, we witnessed for ourselves the injustice and violence of the Israeli occupation, and the suffering inflicted on the Palestinians, in violation of international law and UN resolutions. For many of us, the systemic discrimination on the West Bank reminded us of the Jim Crow South.

Our experience on the West Bank compels us to join with so many others who have urged you to decline the Key of Knowledge Award from the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University for your work in “combating segregation and prejudice, and promoting knowledge and education throughout the world.” We honor your work in combating segregation and prejudice and it is precisely because of this work that we urge you to decline this award. By accepting the award you will implicitly legitimate Israel’s continued policies of oppression and discrimination on the West Bank.

During our trip we met countless courageous Palestinian nonviolent activists and their Israeli allies who are putting their very lives on the line in the struggle for basic human rights. These folk welcomed us into their homes and villages and shared their story with us. They inspired us and they asked us to do all we can to bring pressure to bear on Israel to end their policies.

By declining the award you would be adding your voice to those of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu who have consistently stood in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinians for justice and human rights. You would also be joining Stevie Wonder who declined to sing at a fundraising gala for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces last year.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr. said, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” An end to Israel’s 45-year occupation of the West Bank matters. Equality, security and human rights for everyone matters. The future of the children of Israel and Palestine matters.

By declining this award you have the opportunity to say that all this matters.
We trust that you will carefully consider this request and we hope that you will decide not to be silent. We who have seen with our own eyes cannot be silent, and we hope that you will use this opportunity to make your own statement in support of justice and dignity.

Respectfully,
The Dorothy Cotton Institute 2012 Civil and Human Rights Delegation:

• donnie i. betts, Filmmaker, Denver, CO
• Rabbi Joseph Berman, Chair, Boston Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, Boston, MA
• Laura Ward Branca, Senior Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY
• Prof. Clayborne Carson, Director, Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
• Dorothy Cotton, Associate and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a member of his executive staff, and Education Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Distinguished Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY
• The Rev. Richard L. Deats, Ph.D. Editor Emeritus, FELLOWSHIP magazine, Nyack, NY
• Kirby Edmonds, Coordinator, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY
• Jeff Furman, National Advisor, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY
• Prof. Alan Gilbert, University of Denver, Denver, CO
• Dr. Vincent Harding, Historian, Activist, Friend and Colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Denver, CO
• Prof. Robert. L. Harris, Jr., Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
• Sara Hess, Ithaca, NY
• Margo H. Hittleman, Senior Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY
• Rev. Lucas Johnson, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Atlanta, GA
• Aljosie A. Knight, Activist, Ackworth, GA
• The Rev. Carolyn McKinstry, Civil Rights activist and author of “While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement” Birmingham, AL
• Dr. Marne O’Shae, Ithaca, NY
• The Rev. Dr. Allie Perry, Board Member, Interfaith Peace-Builders, New Haven, CT
• Dr. Paula M. Rayman, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Watertown, MA
• Dr. Alice Rothchild, American Jews for a Just Peace, Cambridge, MA
• The Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Freeman Fellow, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Boston, MA
• Dr. James Turner, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
• Rabbi Brian Walt, Palestinian/Israeli Nonviolence Project Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY"

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Below is an interview in Haaretz with Dr. Ralph Walden. His family in France were protected from the Holocaust, thinking that their Jewishness was a secret, by their neighbors. He has compassion and common sense, and, as a Doctor and a human being, is returning their honor and kindness to the Palestinians. His stories of welcome in the Occupied Territories are striking and illustrate how near a decent settlement we all might be if the leaders of Israel were decent...

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Dr. Walden does not identify with "the Left" (as one can see from his final remark). His stories of democratic solidarity show a lot about how a settlement in which Israelis and Palestinians could flourish together - as part perhaps of a larger Mediterranean economic union in the 21st century - might come to pass.

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"A different kind of Israeli: Prof. Raphi Walden on why the Jewish people stopped caring

Walden, co-chairperson of Physicians for Human Rights, says that Israeli leaders cynically exploit our fears in order to stay in power. Still, he has not lost hope for peace.

By Ayelett Shani |

Haaretz: Apr.25, 2013

We are meeting on Holocaust Remembrance Day. I know that you have an extraordinary Holocaust-related story.

I was born in France. During the war, my family and I resided in a small village under an assumed identity and with false papers. We were certain no one knew. One day, a neighbor came running over and told us, Be careful, the Germans are coming. And then we discovered that everyone knew.

They knew and said nothing.

Yes. I have just come from the ceremony at the hospital, where I told that story. On the way, I heard Moshe Arens being asked on the radio what the lesson of the Holocaust is. He replied, “The lesson is that we have to be strong. I say the lesson of the Holocaust that we have to be strong and firm has already been internalized. The true lesson is that we must be compassionate and attentive, as we expected the Gentiles to be compassionate toward us, but found that this was not the case.

The Holocaust taught your family compassion and solidarity. Those values were implanted in you.

They were implanted in me, but this matter is not confined to my personal story. These are Jewish values. Obligation to strangers is mentioned 36 times in the Torah, far more times than Shabbat observance, keeping kosher and the like. Yet you see what is happening today, when people who declare themselves to be the keepers of the embers of Judaism are so fundamentally opposed to Jewish humanism. That saddens me very much.

What happened to Jewish humanism? Where did it vanish to?

Jewish humanism became self-defensive. We are still behaving here as though we were in a Diaspora shtetl, and have to beware the goyim who are out to attack us. Hence the emphasis on force, power, toughness.

How much weight do you think governmental rhetoric has in this game? One of today's headlines is: Netanyahu: Never again a Holocaust, I promise.

I think that is a twisted use of the Holocaust. Like frightening us with all kinds of Iranian threats, or by warning that a million Africans will invade Israel this is actually a primitive method to keep the masses of the people of Israel in a state of constant fear: If they do not heed the strong leader, a second Holocaust will befall us. The leadership assiduously cultivates, maintains and preserves this Holocaust neurosis, because it is its device for staying in power.

Is it a right-wing device?

It is unequivocally a right-wing device.

Your detractors will say that you are representing the left and living in a bubble with them. Are you sure Israel is in such a strong position?

Stronger than most Western countries. And even the threats that do exist against us do not justify the Holocaust fear that hangs over us like a Damoclean sword. That is intimidation. I would say that it is a cynical exploitation of the fears that nest in everyone. Instead of a sagacious leader showing the way, our leaders nourish these fears.

Like a kind of opium for the masses.

There is no easier way to unite the masses than by depicting an enemy who is out to destroy us.

And one of the results of this approach, you believe, is our attitude toward the refugees.

In our work with the refugees in Physicians for Human Rights, we encounter dramatic human situations. You should know that in Sinai there are concentration camps that would not shame the Nazis. The refugees are held there for weeks, sometimes months, and subjected to hellish torture in order to extort money from their families in Sudan or Eritrea. We find people with burn marks and other signs of abuse; people who have been starved to the extreme; women who were raped and became pregnant and then need an abortion.

It is horrific. The Egyptian authorities have no access to them and also have no motivation [to deal with the problem]. The Bedouin do as they please with the Eritreans. It's an unfathomable situation.

Not so many years ago, people dressed in black with side curls and speaking a strange language knocked on doors and wanted to cross the border into Switzerland. They were turned back and ended their lives in Auschwitz. Where is Jewish compassion? How have we failed to learn that what was done to us, we must not do to others? It is so important for our leadership to strike a posture of force that compassion was simply erased.

That narrative of forcefulness has always existed here.

But now we are in a position to allow ourselves to be compassionate. We are strong enough to have compassion.

Physicians for Human Rights is like a prosthesis for the health establishment: you treat those whom the system ignores.

We treat a population that no one else deals with. They are people without status. The refugees are here, whether we like it or not. The National Health Law stipulates that people who are in critical condition must be treated. But what about people who suffer from chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, and do not have money to buy medicines? Or who need an operation?

We also have a problem of a poor population in this country, people who live on National Insurance allowances and have to decide between medicines and food. The situation is particularly dire for elderly people who have a long list of medicines because, even if they are cheap, it adds up to amounts which they cannot afford. We are here for them, and we also hold a public dialogue with the decision makers in these areas.

And also in regard to political issues.

Indeed. We fight the occupation fiercely and consider it the mother of all sins. We work both at the public level and the grass-roots level. Every Shabbat, a group of physicians and nurses goes to the territories.

A kind of mobile clinic.

Yes. We also take a mobile drugstore and distribute medicines free. The Palestinians are desperately poor. They have no industry and their labor market Israel is blocked to them.

How are you received there?

With great love. We arrive in a village or town and are usually met by the mayor or mukhtar. We exchange greetings, have a coffee and get to work. For the most part we set ourselves up in a school or a community center, and each of us treats patients in his specialty; there's a dermatologist, internist, orthopedist, etc.

We see about 400 patients on an average day 400 people who, for the first time, encounter an Israeli in an experience that is not threatening or violent.

Most of their encounters with Israelis are with the soldier whom I also pity, spending hours at a checkpoint in the heat who arrests them. Or the settler who chops down their olive trees; or the Shin Bet security service man who pulls their father out of bed at two in the morning.

This is an opportunity for them to see a different Israeli. An Israeli with an outstretched hand. And because the 400 people have families and neighbors and friends, we touch the hearts of thousands of people. And even if we didn't change anything and we make no pretense of changing the health situation in the West Bank, or even in a small village, we have succeeded in creating a small light at the end of the tunnel. We have performed an act of human solidarity.

The day ends with a big meal at the hosts home in a wonderful atmosphere of jokes and joy, and we see how things could be.

But it must also be frustrating.

The truth is that we create this microcosm which, on the one hand, offers hope, but on the other produces a great deal of frustration. If only we could forgo the messianic longings of this extremist minority that is leading us to perdition.

I have met thousands of people in the 20 years in which I have been doing this. What we hear from all of them is that they want only to live in peace and raise their children. They recall nostalgically the period before the intifada, when they worked in Israel and invited their employers to family events. And when the money they made – which was, of course, the minimum wage – was like a treasure for them. With it they built homes and planted vineyards.

In those 20 years, have you ever encountered hostility?

Never.

Really?

Not even once. You remember the horrific [1994] murder perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, right? He killed almost 30 people. We were scheduled to go to the territories on the following Shabbat, but we hesitated. The whole region was like a seething cauldron. In the end we decided to go. And even on that day, we were received with boundless warmth and love.

How do you cope with the authorities, such as the army?

There are all kinds of stories. When Hamas seized control in the Gaza Strip, they started to harass Fatah people in one of the most barbaric ways imaginable: by kneecapping them. We received requests from Gaza to treat wounded people who were in danger of losing their legs. The army viewed them as a security risk and refused to authorize the visit. Three requests were rejected, but with the fourth request we succeeded somehow the mercy of the authorities was aroused. I operated on a young man. Later, he came for a follow-up check. He was walking on two feet. I looked at him and thought of the three whose requests were turned down and lost their legs.

The state is paying, and will pay, a steep price for its shortsightedness.

Of course. Take the story of the prisoner who died in jail [Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh]. He had been suffering from throat pains since August 2012. He was diagnosed with cancer in February 2013. He was hospitalized on March 30 and died on April 2. Here you have all the wrongs in the world and also all the stupidity in the world. Cancer is not a lightning bolt. Obviously he reached the hospital in serious condition, as he died three days later. And besides that, over and above the ethical and moral aspects, a little common sense is called for. If he had been discharged four or five days earlier, he would have died at home and all the riots in the territories would not have taken place.

Where is Jewish common sense? There are all kinds of dumb bureaucracies; there were holidays and the relevant committee couldn't be convened. A few phone calls could have been made and the grievously ill man discharged.

But that is more an example of the establishment's insensitivity, not human insensitivity.

Bureaucracy leads to cruelty, too. I served in the Paratroops. I held the rank of lieutenant colonel. I was badly wounded but refused to be discharged from the army. I fought in three wars, but Avigdor Lieberman called me an accomplice to terrorism.

How did you feel when he called you that?

I thought it was foolish to view someone who criticizes you as a troublemaker for the Jews.

It's a Bolshevik way of thinking.

Exactly. My criticism comes from love. I proved my love for the country and I continue to prove it. I am not some off-the-wall leftist living in a bubble.

That was the first time the criticism of you was voiced publicly. Have you had to cope with political pressures aimed at stopping or silencing the activity of your group?

No. There was the attempt in the last Knesset to restrict the activity of human rights organizations.

Was that the only time? Have you never been personally asked to stop, to lower the group's profile?

No. No such request was ever made to me. And when I speak to people in the defense establishment about Palestinian prisoners' hunger strikes, for example, they try to help them. If those people die in jail, there really will be an intifada here.

Do you call them personally?

Of course.

At what rank?

I can't tell you. But I call people in the defense establishment with whom I have personal ties to alert them.

When you examine the big picture of what you are doing, do you feel empowered or despairing?

I do not feel despair.

How do you explain that? You are exposed to so many systemic malfunctions and unfortunate stories.

Maybe it's because I see the relations that are created between people. When I come to a Palestinian village or meet a Palestinian physician, there’s this instant click that occurs in the most natural way. There are nations between which there was a fundamental, deep grudge − the French and the Germans, for example. Yet look what is happening now. We do not have such deep residues. There are, of course, dead and wounded and bereaved families on both sides, but from what I have seen for the past 20 years, human ties are forged very easily, and those ties are a foundation. I also do not think the political problems are irresolvable.

But no one wants to solve them.

That is because we are being led by the nose by an extremist minority. Look at even the economic angle. We have here a market of 3.5 million Palestinians who are making every effort not to buy Israeli products. But if there were peace, we would have a paradise here. Instead of the dire poverty and the ghettos in south Tel Aviv, people could come and earn a dignified living in construction and go back home at the end of the day.

Do you really think there is a chance, that there is hope?

I am a tour guide by training. In the Paratroops I was a brigade medic in the Jordan Rift Valley. I have been all through the valley, and Judea and Samaria. I am connected to those places. I am not one of those leftists who says these places mean nothing to them. But for the sake of peace I am willing to make this sacrifice. It is a sacrifice, and I am emotionally ready to make the sacrifice. I understand that the messianic hilltop youth expect millions of Palestinians to disappear into thin air; but there is also a large part of the public that is indifferent as long as there is no sword at its throat.

Happily, there have been no exploding buses and terrorist attacks lately, but that casts a veil over the fact that we are still sitting on a powder keg. In regard to the Palestinians, all our fondest dreams of a decade ago have come true: for there to be rational, serious people in their leadership, for the terrorism to stop. Those were our conditions.

But instead of this putting the subject on the agenda, the exact opposite happened.

That is precisely the folly of our leadership, who are worried only about their current term in office. This is as good as it will get.

Are we becoming more racist?

Without a doubt.

To what do you attribute this?

To the psychological pressure that is being implemented from above and here I accuse the authorities harshly. The interior minister and MKs make flagrantly racist remarks and everyone takes it in their stride. Imagine if some cabinet minister abroad were to talk about Jews the way [former Interior Minister] Eli Yishai talked about the Africans. We are growing more insular and ignoring human dignity.

How do you manage to stay optimistic?

It's because I think that, basically, we have a good nation and these others are deviations and not the mainstream. I don't think there is any other concentration of over five million people with these talents anywhere else on the planet. Not in Paris and not in New York and not in Los Angeles. In art, in painting, in sculpture, in science, in research, in technology, in startups. We are in third place in the world in terms of medical devices.

We are truly overflowing with talent. Except in politics, where we are hard up."



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