Toward Palestinian justice in the Middle East

Scott Laderman

For years, the two largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid have been Israel and Egypt, which combined collect approximately $5 billion from American taxpayers annually. Two weeks ago, Rene Kosirnik of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the organization charged with overseeing the 1949 Geneva Conventions, told a news conference in Tel Aviv the development and existence of Israeli settlements in the occupied
territories is tantamount to a “war crime” under humanitarian law.

Last Monday, following a trial roundly condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the Supreme Security Court in Cairo sentenced sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim to seven years in prison for “defaming” Egypt, among other charges. Another 27 individuals linked to his Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies were similarly convicted.

In a mild statement, Washington claimed to be “deeply troubled” by the Cairo verdict. With respect to the unambiguous judgment by the head of the Red Cross delegation to Israel and the occupied territories, however, the State Department criticized it as not “helpful at this particularly volatile time.” (After U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) threatened to withhold aid to the Geneva-based ICRC in response to the articulation of its position, the organization’s president said last Wednesday it would refrain from using the term “war crime” when referring to Israel’s settlement policy. Nevertheless, “The case remains that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories are a violation of the Geneva Convention and the settlements are a cause of violence in the region,” an ICRC spokesman declared. )

Most Americans were prevented from learning about these stories. A Nexis database search revealed only two newspapers in the United States – the Los Angeles Times and the Seattle Times – disclosing the Red Cross statement, and both of these carried wire reports mentioning the Tel Aviv news conference merely in passing. None of the television networks reported it, nor did National Public Radio or the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, which did an extensive segment on the Middle East several days later. This is disturbing, to say the least. Given the widespread coverage granted the Mitchell commission’s recommendation that Israel freeze all settlement construction, and the fact that for years the occupation has been enabled by American financial, diplomatic and military aid, the issue could hardly be deemed un-newsworthy.

With several notable exceptions, the conviction of Saad Eddin Ibrahim generated only slightly more coverage. As he holds both Egyptian and American citizenship and his trial was so clearly a sham, it is unsettling just two U.S. newspapers editorialized against his conviction. Political imprisonment anywhere deserves media coverage; Professor Ibrahim’s mistake, however, was upsetting an American client – the despotic government of Hosni Mubarak – rather than, say, China or Cuba or North Korea. Thus his confinement to relatively brief reports in a handful of papers across the country, as well as a short interview with his wife on NPR. Again, the television networks were silent.

Amid these events and the eight months of violence devastating the lives of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis, many Jews and Arabs have been courageously seeking a just settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Last week Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, long a Palestinian-American voice for peaceful coexistence with Israel, passed away at age 72 after decades devoted to writing, speaking and educating people around the world about these issues.

In Chicago from May 4-6, nearly 200 Jewish activists from Israel, North America, Europe and Brazil met to mobilize in opposition and declare that “not in our name” does Israel maintain its colonial stranglehold over Palestinian lands. And then there is the heroic resistance of Noam Kuzar, the 19-year-old Israeli soldier jailed 28 days for refusing to participate in the brutal military suppression of the Palestinian uprising.

Contrast this with the unconscionable response of the Anti-Defamation League to the Red Cross statement regarding Israel’s
settlement policy. The ADL, which is bizarrely treated as a respectable human rights outfit by a number of American journalists, issued a press release expressing its “outrage” at the “unfair accusation.” The Red Cross charge is “completely unfounded and has no basis in reality,” complained the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman. Rather than speak out against “those nations who are guilty of real” humanitarian violations, Foxman intoned, “the Red Cross chooses to pin the blame on Israel for make-believe human rights abuses.”

As if there weren’t already sufficient grounds for doing so, such offensive and nonsensical drivel – which is entirely in keeping with the organization’s record on these matters – should henceforth preclude the ADL’s reception as a credible voice for universal human rights. Unfortunately, it will likely do no such thing.

The ongoing Israeli terror characterized by the ADL as “make-believe” has exacted a horrendous toll, including the desperate terrorism of relatively powerless Palestinian individuals. Somehow, though, the designation “terrorism” has been attached only to the actions of the colonized, who possess both the legal and moral right to resist Israeli occupation – although certainly not through the horrific killing of innocent noncombatants. For example, in an article last Wednesday, The New York Times referred to “Palestinian terror attacks and Israeli shelling (which) continue to inflame tensions.” Note the difference in language. The Palestinians are guilty of “terrorism,” while the Israelis are responsible only for “shelling,” almost evoking images of gathering mussels and clams along the seashore instead of the murder and dislocation of thousands.

Such a dichotomy is made possible by the persistent and misguided belief Palestinians have rejected Israel’s genuine offers of peaceful coexistence. That such a notion could be seriously held has nothing to do with the realities of the conflict, but rather with the incredible shortcomings of American press coverage and the propaganda campaigns waged by American apologists for Israel, such as the ADL and the American Jewish Committee. In the Twin Cities, Stephen Silberfarb, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, weighed in with his own shameful and misleading apologia on Saturday in the Star Tribune.

The most frequently cited example of the Palestinians’ alleged rejectionism is the non-acceptance of Ehud Barak’s Camp David proposal last summer. Silberfarb, for example, claimed the Israelis’ offer was “giving everything that could be given and the best hope of attaining a new reality.”

What the Palestinian Authority was being asked to do at Camp David, however, was capitulate to Israel’s unlawful demands, not negotiate a just peace. Put simply, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is illegal. It is accepted by no nation other than Israel. Even the United States realizes this. Compliance with international law should not be negotiable. Israel must agree – at a minimum – to end its occupation. Only then can a meaningful settlement be negotiated.

As Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee reminds us concerning the context of the current violence, “Palestinians (under the occupation) have endured for 34 years almost everything suffered by black South Africans – including political disempowerment, impoverishment, dependence on work and travel permits, curfews, land confiscations, home demolitions, and living under separate and unequal legal systems. Israel refuses to end its occupation; Palestinians refuse to endure it.”

Whether in Egypt or Israel and the occupied territories, the United States continues to finance such injustices and anti-democratic affronts. The peoples of these nations deserve better.