Asylum for Julian Assange

I was very pleased and proud to be included on this call for asylum for Julian Assange by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS – I am an associate member).

VIPS Plead for Humanitarian Asylum for Julian Assange

Memorandum for: The US Embassies of Ecuador and the United Kingdom, and the U.S. State Department

From: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Subject: Humanitarian Asylum for Julian Assange

For six years, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange has been effectively imprisoned without charges at Ecuador’s London embassy. In that time, two international courts and dozens of respected legal and human rights organizations have decried actions of the UK, US and Swedish governments that confine the journalist in what now amounts to torturous isolation, deprived of space, sunlight, visitors, communication with the outside and necessary medical care.

The catalyst was an arcane effort by the Swedish government to extradite Assange for questioning about claims of sexual improprieties.1 The UK government subsequently arrested Assange and released him on bail.2 Ecuador granted Assange asylum at its embassy based on concerns he could be extradited to the US where he would not receive a fair trial and could receive a death sentence.3 (Former Obama DOJ spokesperson Matthew Miller has acknowledged that US officials intended to arrest Julian Assange but decided against it because of the expected impacts on press freedom.)4

The UK government threatens to arrest Assange if he leaves the embassy for “not surrendering at bail” and refuses to rule out extradition to the US.5 Under a new president, Ecuador has cut off Assange’s communications with the outside world.

Experts Criticize Treatment of Assange

In June, 2014, The National Lawyers Guild and 59 human rights and legal organizations petitioned the United Nations to act on violations of Assange’s “fundamental human rights.” In addition, “33 union, human rights, media and civil society organizations” petitioned the Human Rights Commission in Geneva on behalf of freedom for Assange. Reports submitted by the groups identified “numerous systematic deficiencies in Swedish pre-trial procedures like the routine placement of persons who have not been charged with any crime in indefinite, isolated, or unexplained pre-charge detention.”6

In February 2016, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that Assange’s situation constitutes “arbitrary detention” and violates both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.7 Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Per Samuelson, told The Guardian, 4 Feb 2016, “If he is regarded as detained, that means he has served his time, so I see no other option for Sweden but to close the case.”8

Another year would pass, however, before Sweden dropped its investigation, after finally consenting to interview Assange at the embassy.9 Recently obtained emails show that Sweden would have dropped the case years earlier but for pressure from UK authorities.10 In summary, Assange has been confined for six years over allegations that never resulted in charges, much less a criminal conviction.

On July 12, 2018, the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) sent out a ruling11 that was virtually unnoticed by US news media. The IACHR found “it is the duty of nations to allow for the passage of successful asylum seekers from embassies to the mainland territory of the state that has granted an individual asylum.”

For Julian Assange, this would mean that, according to the Court’s decision, Britain has a legal obligation to allow Julian Assange to exit the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in peace and allow for his safe transit to an airport from which he would be able to fly to Ecuador, the country that has granted Assange asylum and where he now also holds formal citizenship12

“[I]t is imperative,” the ruling states, “that Assange is allowed to make the safe passage to Ecuador demanded by the Court as his physical and mental health conditions have been described as deteriorating rapidly. If, nevertheless, UK authorities insist on arresting Assange, “the British government will have wantonly failed to uphold Assange’s rights as a legitimate receiver of asylum by Ecuador.”13

The IACHR ruling suggests further that outright abuses occurred when Ecuador removed security assigned for Assange;14 when the UK rejected Ecuador’s request for safe passage of Assange to Ecuador15; and when the US obstructed efforts to end Assange’s virtual imprisonment.16

Mistaken Assumptions Underlie Government Policies

President Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions hinted at a crackdown on the press.17 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Wikileaks a “non-state, hostile intelligence service” that is often “abetted by state actors like Russia.”18 Pompeo laments the “hero worship” of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and suggests harsh measures would prevent future “leaks” of classified information. But, it is government persecution, not the lack of it, that gives truth-tellers hero status. Also, what truly upsets senior intelligence officials is not (frequently condoned) “leaking” but blowing the whistle on government wrongdoing.

Harsh measures do not deter individuals with strong moral convictions from whistleblowing. Instead, these motivate potential whistleblowers to find more creative avenues for disclosure. Edward Snowden, for example, was well aware of the US government’s brutality toward Thomas Drake, who used “official channels” to express concerns about the legality of NSA surveillance activities. Drake’s experience, Snowden says, were his inspiration. “It’s fair to say,” Snowden said, “if there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake, there couldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.”19

Similarly, despite the bullying of Julian Assange, new websites have appeared that draw inspiration from WikiLeaks.20Should the US take custody of Assange and prosecute him like Drake, they could find success elusive in the opinion of Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith.

“The most relevant law, the Espionage Act, is famously overbroad and thus an uncertain basis for prosecution,” observed Goldsmith. “This is one reason the government has never successfully prosecuted a member of the media for soliciting or publishing classified information. Nor has the government ever successfully prosecuted a non-media organization for solicitation or receipt of classified information.”21

“Failing in the effort would make the United States look even more ineffectual than it does as a result of the leaks,” Goldsmith concluded.

A successful prosecution could have worse consequences. With little that distinguishes Wikileaks’ activities from those of mainstream news gatherers22, a dangerous legal precedent would be established. Journalists employed by major newspapers that also published government secrets, including some of the same secrets published by Wikileaks, could be imprisoned by any administration with animosity toward the press. The impacts of prosecuting Assange would ripple around the world as officials in other governments followed the most powerful nation’s example. With no means of holding governments accountable, despotism would proliferate, triggering cascading crises and worldwide disruption.

UN human rights expert Alfred de Zayas observes that “Order depends on the consistent and uniform application of international law.”23

Governments could simply ignore the court directives on Assange’s asylum rights; but that too carries risks, undermining efforts by those countries to support dissidents of their choosing. Potentially, in the future, the diplomatic privileges of UK, US and Ecuadorian diplomats could also come under assault.

A Fork in the Road

Collectively, the governments of Sweden, the UK, the US, Ecuador (recently) and, through its silence, Assange’s home country of Australia have imposed six years of suffering on Assange and possibly life-long damage to his health. With their proxies, they pound Assange with threats, ad hominem attacks and misleading statements. He cannot defend himself because the government of Ecuador terminated his access to communications systems. This may have a temporary effect of confusing the public; but as more legal experts and human rights authorities hazard coming to his defense, the public may recognize these assaults as the desperate flailings of governments that lack credible defenses for their actions.

Public dissatisfaction with governments worldwide is currently high, as evidenced by numerous massive street protests, passages of referendums against centralized power, and wide-spread elections of anti-establishment candidates. Any additional erosion of public support risks a tipping point with unforeseeable consequences. Brutality against Julian Assange, particularly as his health declines, can only increase his stature as a journalist, enshrine his popular global status as a martyr for freedom, and effectively undermine support for his persecutors.

The involved governments have arrived at a fork in the road. They can continue the persecution of Assange, risking catastrophe for diminishing returns. Or, they can let Assange proceed to Ecuador, or home to Australia if it provides suitable guarantees,24 and boost their public standing as self-described supporters of human rights, the rule of law, and a free press.

We the undersigned members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity urge all governments to honor the OHCHR and IACHR directives with respect to Julian Assange and other asylum seekers.

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

William Binney, Technical Director, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Richard H. Black, Senator of Virginia, 13th District; Colonel US Army (ret.); Former Chief, Criminal Law Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General, the Pentagon (associate VIPS)

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) and Division Director, State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Bogdan Dzakovic,  former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence  Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator

  Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Larry C. Johnson, former CIA and State Department Counter Terrorism officer.

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (ret); Wing Commander, RAAF (ret); Intelligence Officer and Master SERE Instructor

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Karen Kwiatkowski, former Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.), at Office of Secretary of Defense watching the manufacture of lies on Iraq, 2001-2003?

Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East, CIA and National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)

Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)

Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA

Sarah G. Wilton, Intelligence Officer, DIA (ret.); Commander, US Naval Reserve (ret.)

Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)

Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret.); Foreign Service Officer (resigned)

Endnotes

1 Marchand & Schaus. European Court of Human Rights. 2016. http://www.ecchr.eu Accessed 2 Aug 2018.

2 BBC News. “Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy: Timeline.” 30 Jul 2018. http://www.bbc.com Accessed 2 Aug 2018.

3 Wallace, Arturo. “Julian Assange: Why Ecuador is offering asylum.” BBC News, 16 Aug 2012.

4 Greenberg, Andy. “The US Charging Julian Assange Could Put Press Freedom on Trial.” Wired, 20 Apr 2017.

5 The Telegraph. “Arrest warrant for Julian Assange still valid.” 6 Feb 2018

6 National Lawyers Guild. “NLG and Nearly 60 International Organizations Urge UN to Remedy Human Rights Violations in Pre-Charge Detention of Julian Assange.” 19 Jun 2014

7 United Nations. UN News, 5 Feb 2016.

8 Addley, Bowcott, Elgot, Farrell & Crouch. “Julian Assange is in arbitrary detention, UN panel finds.”

The Guardian. 4 Feb 2016

9 BBC News. “Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy: Timeline.” 30 Jul 2018. http://www.bbc.com Accessed 2 Aug 2018.

10 Bowcott & MacAskill.“Sweden tried to drop Assange extradition in 2013, CPS emails show.” The Guardian,11 Feb 2018.

11 Inter-American Court of Human Right. “Advisory Opinion on the institution of asylum and its recognition as a human right in the inter-american system of protection.” [press release] 12 Jul 2018. http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/comunicados/cp_28_18_eng.pdf

12 Garrie, Adam. “Julian Assange Scores Major Legal Victory as Court Orders Safe Passage of Wikileaks Founder Out of Embassy.” EurasiaFuture, 13 Jul 2018.

13 Ibid.

14 “Ecuador orders withdrawal of extra Assange security from embassy in London.” Reuters, 7 May 2018

15 Saul, Heather. “Julian Assange: British Government denies Ecuadorian request for ‘safe passage’ to get Wikileaks founder to a hospital.” The Independent, 15 Oct 2015.

16 Solomon, John. “How Comey Intervened To Kill Wikileaks’ Immunity Deal.” The Hill, 25 Jun 2018.

17 Ainsley, Julia Edwards. “Trump administration goes on attack against leakers, journalists.” Reuters. 4 Aug 2017

18 Milman, Oliver. “Trump CIA director blames ‘worship of Edward Snowden’ for rise in leaks.” The Guardian, 24 June 2017.

19 AJ Plus. “Exclusive: Edward Snowden on the man who inspired his work.” (video) 5 Aug 2015.

20 Reitman, Rainey. “Will the rise of WikiLeaks competitors make whistleblowing resistant to censorship?” Electronic Frontier Foundation. 6 Feb 2011.

21 Goldsmith, Jack. “Why the U.S. shouldn’t try Julian Assange.” Washington Post, 11 Feb 2011.

22 ”Quite simply, our motive is identical to that claimed by the New York Times and The Post — to publish newsworthy content,” Assange wrote in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post. “Consistent with the U.S. Constitution, we publish material that we can confirm to be true irrespective of whether sources came by that truth legally or have the right to release it to the media. And we strive to mitigate legitimate concerns, for example by using redaction to protect the identities of at-risk intelligence agents” (CNN, 21 May 2017).

23 UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “UN rights expert urges the UK and Sweden to give good example to the world and implement the Assange ruling.” 15 Feb 2016. Retrieved on 1 Aug 2018 from http://www.ohchr.org.

24 Murdock, Jason. WikiLeaks: Australia has ‘obligation’ to protect Julian Assange, Lawyer says.” Newsweek. 1 Aug 2018.

Call For Action – Help Free Issa Amro

Update: 9/11/2017. Issa has been released. He has charges filed against him by the PA and so will have to go through the secret, sham and kangaroo court that the PA runs. This is in addition to the Israeli military trial he is currently enduring with 18 charges against him, charges that nearly all outside observers agree are baseless and absurd. The Israeli military court has a conviction rate of 99.7% for Palestinians. Thank you to everyone who called on his behalf.

Our friend in Palestine, Issa Amro, a Palestinian Human Rights advocate and non-violent community leader who is facing trial in an Israel military court, has been arrested by the Palestinian Authority.

I met Issa earlier this year in Palestine and I was awed by his leadership and his commitment to his people, to justice and to peace. You can read what I wrote about him here. You can read the details about Issa’s arrest from Peter Beinart and Ariel Gold. If you look at the top of my website you will see a photo of him in the streets of Hebron as the Israeli police and military fire at us.

A few months ago over thirty members of the US House of Representatives and four members of the US Senate wrote to the US State Department in defiance of Israel and on behalf of Issa. He has support throughout the world and that is why Israel and the Palestinian Authority see him as a threat.

PLEASE CALL THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES AND DEMAND THAT ISSA AMRO BE RELEASED

United States: General Delegation of the PLO to the US (202) 974-6360
United Kingdom: Palestinian Mission  +44 20 85 63 0008
France: Mission of Palestine in France +33 1 48 28 6600
Germany: Representative Office of Palestine in Berlin +49 30 20 61 77 0
Italy: Embassy of Palestine in Italy +39 06 700 879
Belgium: Palestinian Embassy in Brussels  +32 2 735 24 78

Interview with Chris Hedges, my friend takes on Israel’s travel ban, summer reading and heroes on film

When I was in DC at the end of May, I taped an interview on Afghanistan with Chris Hedges. Chris is a Pulitzer Prize winning former NY Times reporter and author who has for so many years been a brilliantly dominant force in writing painfully objective, truthful and explosive articles, essays and books on American foreign policy and society. It was my first time getting to spend any substantial amount of time with Chris, as we had the better part of the afternoon together, an afternoon I am very thankful for having had. I basically feel like I got a free graduate seminar 🙂

Here’s the interview:

Here also is Chris’ speech from the previous day at the Lincoln Memorial during the Veterans For Peace antiwar rally:

 

My friend Ariel Gold, who works for Code Pink as their Middle East Campaign Director, is in Palestine to support Issa Amro. Issa is a Palestinian human rights leader who recently was put on trial by the Israeli military. Ariel, who is Jewish and from NY, actively supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). BDS is a Palestinian led, international, nonviolent effort to change the government of Israel’s well documented apartheid policy towards the Palestinian people; much the same way boycotts were used in the American South to support the Civil Rights movement and all three actions were used against the South African government. I support BDS as well. I strongly urge you to do so too. You can find out how to do so here.

Earlier this year, the government of Israel declared that people who support BDS would be denied entry into Israel. Israel also continued to declare BDS to be an anti-semitic movement, which it is not; claiming that BDS is anti-semitic is about as justifiable as claiming the boycott movements that were utilized against the Jim Crow American South or Apartheid South Africa were anti-white or anti-Christian. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks ago, Ariel was not denied entry. However, after attending Issa’s trial, a right wing newspaper announced Ariel’s presence to the Israeli government, complaining that the Israeli government was not living up to its promise to ban people like Ariel. Of course, Ariel could be deported, but there is also the danger that members of the often violent communities that compose the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank may identify Ariel and take matters into their own hands. Ariel, true to her self, has not backed down and, showing great courage, is still in Palestine working alongside her Palestinian brothers and sisters. You can read more about this here:

and watch this short video:

 

Peter Van Buren, whose book on his time in Iraq, We Meant Well, got him fired from the State Department has a new book out: Hooper’s War. It is a novel of alternative history, set during an American invasion of mainland Japan. It is an anti-war novel and it is excellent. Peter sent me an advance copy and asked me to blurb it. This was my honest-to-God response after reading it:

“PVB obviously is a scholar and historian both of Japan and America, there is no doubt to that as you read Hooper’s War, a modern day Catch 22 or Slaughter House Five that we desperately need. Peter has obviously been to war, as have I, and his heart has been broken, as has mine. He broke it again, several times in Hooper’s War, I wasn’t sure I had that much left to break. He’s owed a debt of gratitude for this, for bearing such witness and testimony for so many millions who cannot do so for themselves, those who have been so ghastly immolated in our past and current wars and who can only cry out when people like Peter do so for them.”

Peter has done a number of interviews on Hooper’s War over the last several months, but this one, with Scott Horton, is one I very much recommend for Peter and Scott’s deep, thoughtful and moving discussion on war and moral injury. For those who don’t have a full hour or if you only have a few minutes, I recommend beginning the interview at around the 27 minute mark, where Peter defines moral injury and speaks about veteran suicide.

My friend Bill, who runs the blog The Contrary Perspective, recommended B. Traven’s The Death Ship to me. Traven is best known for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Written eighty years ago, Traven’s prose, style and tone is reminiscent of that generation’s cadre of post WWI ex-pats, of which he was one. The book is an excoriation of the world post-war, of the new establishments and conventions that arose post-war, of the stupidity of the war itself of course, but of the new ways of the world in particular. The resemblances and similarities to today’s world are genuine and rattling. My response to Bill upon completing The Death Ship, with a bit redacted so as to try not and spoil the ending:

“I used to keep all my books, however several years ago I decided to unload my library with the exception of the books that had personal meaning to me or with the exception of the books that caused me to think or kept me thinking. I thought about The Death Ship every day I read it and I’ve thought about it in the days since I finished it. I have a feeling, in a few months, when I make a run to the used book store to sell back my books that The Death Ship will remain behind in my house.

As I write this now, I am struck by the prescient savagery of Traven’s thesis, summarized _______________at the very end of the book. All because of bureaucracy, all because of man-made borders; borders that didn’t exist prior to________, borders that were soon to be erased again _________. The nonsense of it all, the cruelty of it all, and it all still plays out now.

I think you are aware that I was just in Palestine in February and March, where I spent time with people who have been ruined by such borders and their attendant walls. In October, prior to that, I was North Dakota, where to my embarrassment and shame, I spent the first moments of my life, ever, and it is half over, with the Native American community, those people who are the living lineage of 500 years of genocide, but whose more modern history and current lives are dominated by these inventions of borders, treaties, walls, reservations, etc. And, of course, my own time in Iraq and Afghanistan, two nations that had their borders drawn by the West, their people corralled, marshaled, divided and amalgamated.

So now I have Traven’s other book’s on my list to look for when I step into used books stores :)”

Finally, Sonia Kennebeck’s documentary on our drone killing program National Bird is available on Netflix. I am mentioning this because I want you to watch it. Not just as it is so well done, so important, and because Sonia does such an admirable and honorable job in informing us of the reality of the brutal, criminal and senseless killings we are conducting with our flying robots against thousands and thousands of innocent people, every day, but also because Sonia documents so very well the lives of three people who were involved in the drone program AND WHAT THEY DID ABOUT IT. One of them, Lisa Ling, has become a friend of mine these last few years, and a hero of mine. So if you haven’t seen it, please give National Bird a viewing, even if you know about the drone program, you’ll see what three courageous people did about something they knew was wrong.

Wage Peace.

 

 

A US veteran reflects on protesting alongside Palestinian human rights activists in Hebron

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Last month I was in Palestine with a delegation from Veterans For Peace. I’ve been on several such delegations over the past year, traveling with VFP to stand in solidarity with resistance movements against occupation, oppression and militarism in Japan, in the US and, in February and March, in Palestine. To be on the other side of the rifle barrel, to go from being occupier to being in support and in line with those resisting those with the guns has been humbling and rewarding, and I say that with the full knowledge that their resistance is very far from over and that their resistance is not my struggle but theirs, and, at most, I can only support and stand with them.

Below is an article I wrote about one experience myself and my comrades from VFP and CODEPINK had in Hebron in the occupied West Bank. In particular I speak of Issa Amro, known as the “Palestinian Gandhi”. Those of you who know me personally can attest to my cynicism and my self described black heart, so I think you’ll find it striking the enthusiasm and praise I offer for an individual. However, Issa Amro is a transformational leader and, as I explain in the essay, that is why the Israeli government, and the United States government, is afraid of him.

You can see video of the encounter in Hebron here.

http://mondoweiss.net/2017/03/protesting-alongside-palestinian/

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Before joining the hundreds of other marchers, VFP links arms with Issa as noon prayers come to a close in Hebron. Credit: Ellen Davidson

I hadn’t been shot at in seven and a half years. In the week prior, some tear gas cans were fired by the Israeli army at my fellow Veterans For Peace members and me in the Palestinian town of Bil’in. But for a former tough guy Marine, that doesn’t count.

Hebron was different.

For over a decade, peaceful, non-violent Palestinian residents of Hebron, along with friends and allies from Palestine, Israel, and foreign countries, have marched through the streets of Hebron annually to demand the re-opening of their former main market place on Shuhada Street. What many hope is one of the several first steps in a process to restore dignity and human rights to the Palestinian people.

Each year the peaceful march is stopped violently by the Israeli military and police forces, as similar non-violent resistance is violently met by the Israeli military and police forces throughout all of occupied Palestine.

At this year’s march, my comrades and I, including organizers of the march, were roughly one-third of the way from the head of the protest of several hundred people, and, when we wound through the streets of Hebron, linked arm in arm, and made blind turns, walking deeper into the old city. As we descended down a hill and bent to the left, weapons were fired and the crowd came back toward us.

Explosions from concussion grenades echoed off the concrete streets and stone buildings, and the white wispy fingers of tear gas followed the crowds. The gas soon ballooned into thicker clouds of chalky white. My mate on my right arm, I now know is no simple activist. Issa Amro is his name and he said “let’s go”, and we did. Through the tear gas and toward the gun line of the Israeli army and police, we went.

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Issa leads us towards the Israeli Army and Border Police troops, with Will Griffin, Mike Hanes, Tarak Kauff and Ariel Gold (CODEPINK) credit: Ellen Davidson

Amro scares Israel. If the Trump administration weren’t so ignorant and arrogant Amro would rightly scare them as well because he is an archetype of popular non-violent leadership against oppression, occupation and fascism. Recognized as a Human Rights Defender by the European Union, Amro is currently facing 18 charges in an Israeli military court. These charges are largely nonsense, meant to silence Amro and take him away from being a witness to the world and prevent his role in fighting for a Free Palestine.

In a report issued last November, Amnesty International stated: “The deluge of charges against Issa Amro does not stand up to any scrutiny,” and the group noted that some of the charges were previously made against him and already dismissed, were charges for which he was not physically present. Or, they were charges for actions that are not internationally recognizable criminal offenses. Amro is a very real threat to Israel, and if it—a racist apartheid state— is not to go the way of the Jim Crow South or pre-1994 South Africa, then it must do everything it can to silence him.

Amro works professionally as an electrical engineer. From what I understand, he’s a pretty good one, as he travels and lectures on the subject internationally. It was while studying electrical engineering at college when the Israeli military closed his university. Amro started then as a leader of the Palestinian nonviolent resistance. At his school, he led his fellow students who remained on campus to sleep there in protest until the military left. The Israeli forces relented, and the university was reopened. Issa understood the asymmetric power of nonviolent resistance, the moral authority of it, and he began to study the classic leaders of non-violent resistance and change so that he could lead and inspire his own people in their struggle for freedom. He started his organization Youth Against Settlements in Hebron a decade ago, founded a kindergarten, and is in the process of opening a cinema. He is constantly targeted and harassed by the Israeli military and settlers in Hebron and throughout Palestine, and, for good reason, he is incredibly effective.

I spent ten years in the Marine Corps. I went to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once. I’ve traveled a lot, been on television, and for a time revolved in a world of big shots and important people in Washington DC and New York City. But true leaders, people whose presence is unordinary, occur less often than we would like and, as we in America know, selfless and dedicated leaders cannot be manufactured by the military rank on one’s shoulder, the attention of a TV camera lens, or the ballots of voters.

In Hebron, I was with a leader. Amro said “let’s go, “and we went, into the gas and towards the guns of a fascist state, towards an Israeli military that wantonly kills Palestinians not just without repercussion, but also with the conscious financial reward of my own government.

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The gas was too much for us on that first attempt to reach the army and police line, an effort we were making just to speak with them. We retreated, back up the street from where we came, our eyes sealing shut, our chests convulsing, and everything else burning from the gas. We regrouped around a corner where a fortunate breeze helped dissipate the gas. Between the seven members of Veterans For Peace, we had nearly 60 years of military service between us. We all looked to Amro.

A few minutes passed, the street below us was quiet, no one else continued to march, no one else was making a move to restore the lost dignity and rights to the people of Hebron. “Let’s go,” Issa said again. And we went. We linked arms again, down the hill and around the bend towards the gun line of the Israeli police and the army. No words from the army or police, no movement at all from them. As we got closer some shouts from us, “we are unarmed,” “we want to talk.” Those of us whose arms weren’t linked had hands and fists raised in the air, perhaps to show defiance, but also to show our absence of weapons and to plead with the soldiers and police not to shoot.

Halfway down the street, maybe 50 yards after the turn, the first tear gas cans rush directly over our heads. The cans are fired level at us so that we were forced to duck. If struck in the head or chest, we could be killed. Many Palestinians have died that way, on our trip I met the relatives of several who were murdered in that manner. Amro doesn’t duck. He stood tall, said, “Don’t do that” and kept us advancing. As we moved, having to duck further, we were fortunate that the gas canisters, just several feet off the ground, passed wide of us. The gas, some from American corporations, is more powerful than the human body and we had to retreat once again.

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Forced to leave the street Issa still tries to conduct a dialogue with the Israeli security forces. Credit: Ellen Davidson

And here it is. Here is why Israel is scared of Amro. After ten minutes, when the gas wore off because that magnificent and benevolent breeze has worked its wonders, we walked for a third time to that same gun line. The army and police have killed people in Hebron, they have done so routinely and often; the murder of a wounded Palestinian by an Israeli soldier in Hebron has recently been one of the major news stories in Israel and Palestine. A costume of the soldier who murdered the Palestinian was a top choice among Israelis for the Purim holiday.

Often at demonstrations, after the gas and the concussion grenades are used and a greater degree of force is desired, the Israeli army and police will add the use of live and rubber ammunition. This is something we witnessed them do in the village of Nabi Saleh the following week—for those of you who have not been gassed in Palestine, the gas the Israeli army and police forces use is of a potency well beyond anything any of us in Veterans For Peace had ever encountered in the U.S. military, or U.S. law enforcement—At that point Israeli army and police had shot directly at us, and we were lucky not to have been severely injured or killed. Although there was a very strong possibility that we would now encounter rubber bullets or live ammunition. Yet we went back onto to the street because Amro led us there once more.

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Me after the second gassing. It would take more than five minutes for me to be able to open my eyes and begin to function again. What we had been told that the Israelis use the Palestinians as a weapons laboratory I can attest to. Credit: Ellen Davidson

The Israeli army and police held their fire this time and we reached their line where we encountered a heavily armed and armor plated phalanx comprised primarily of apparent scared and confused 18 and 19-year old conscripted soldiers and border police officers. Nothing came of our attempts to speak with the army and police, as they quickly deployed squads to raid Palestinian homes, which punished the residents of the city for the actions of those who demanded dignity and human rights that day.

It was by no means a wasted effort to have endured the gas to reach their line, as I now understand very well that it is madness to assume that Israel’s occupation can endure, particularly if it were to ever lose its backing from its patron the U.S. As we stood in front of those young, terrified boys and girls, some not much bigger than the rifles they carried, the actuality of the legendary and mythic “Israeli Defense Forces” was evidently morally and ethically haphazard, and the folly of the occupation was too clear.

Israel is dependent on a massive infusions of cash and patronage from one of the wealthiest nations in the world, as political shielding from—well deserved—sanctions that the near entirety of the rest of the world seeks to enact against the Israeli government as a response to the decades-long Israeli governmental crimes against the Palestinian people. To keep control within its borders and within the lands it illegally occupies, Israel must heavily arm tens of thousands of teenagers, many of whom have no interest in the fundamentalist, sexist and racist views of the far hard right in Israel, a nationalist movement that takes orders from an invisible real estate agent in the sky who demands the theft and occupation of Palestinian lands. Such a position is morally bankrupt, strategically impossible and bound to collapse. Dissolution of America’s support of Israel’s apartheid and occupation is the most important element in this eventual collapse.

Desperation is now clear in Israel’s actions, how else to describe the bill passed this past week to ban the Muslim call to prayer?

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VFP member Tarak Kauff approaches Israeli forces for a third time. We were unsure if they would escalate and utilize rubber or live ammunition as they have in the past, and as they used in other locations during our delegation to Palestine. Watching Tarak and the other members of our team still go forward, despite this knowledge, will stick with me for the remainder of my life. Credit: Ellen Davidson

Men and women, like Amro were raised under occupation, harassed, silenced, humiliated, arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and tortured. Every action the government of Israel can take to keep alive the occupation and the apartheid state, they have been on the receiving end.

When Dick Cheney spoke of going to “the dark side” I now no longer believe he spoke of Star Wars, but believe he was referencing the policies of Israel. What has occurred has not been a stamping out of a Palestinian people, a destruction of the Palestinian nation, or a subdued land of collaborationists and cowards. Rather Israel’s terrorism has grown a generation of non-violent popular leaders.

Throughout our time with the non-violent popular resistance in Palestine we met and worked with men and women committed to restoring dignity and human rights to their people. Many of them were of the caliber, temperament and quality of Amro: able to inspire, capable of transferring confidence and infusing hope. These Palestinian men and women are what terrify Israel; and as the Trump administration moves further along a path akin to Israel’s, President Trump and his legions will see as well a rise of such leaders from within the American people—of that I am sure.

Israel is pursuing its charges against Amro in military court. A petition has been started to remind the United Nations that Amro is a designated and recognized international human rights defender and as such, the United Nations, and its member states, have certain obligations to him.

Please take a moment to add your name to the petition and then share it with your friends and allies. Amro is a tremendous leader and he, like many other, will end the occupation of Palestine through their non-violent resistance, so long as we follow them, support them and stand with them.