Veterans For Peace in Palestine: 12 Years of Resistance in Bil’in

The first of several documentaries to be produced about our recent delegation to the people and popular resistance movement of Palestine. This short documentary covers our first day in Palestine, as we took part in the 12th anniversary of weekly demonstrations in the village of Bil’in against the Apartheid Wall and the seizure of the village’s farming lands.

Will Griffin, who was a member of our delegation and runs The Peace Report, put this doc together and, along with film maker Chris Smiley, will be putting together further videos and documentaries.

Will also did me a great favor by finding and posting, on The Peace Report, the recent United Nations report that established “on the basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid” (emphasis mine). This report generated great controversy as the United States, Israel’s lone supporter in the world, with the exception of one or two other nations, forced the UN to pull the report from the world’s view. The UN Under Secretary General for West Asia, Rima Khalaf, resigned her position in response to the UN’s cowardice and the US’ obscuration. The report, Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid, can be found at The Peace Report.

Please give the documentary a watch and please share it widely. 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.

 

17,000 Dead Iranians. Who Knows? Who Cares?

Last month I had the privilege of answering an interview from an Iranian research agency dedicated to studying acts of terror carried out against the Iranian people. By their count 17,000 Iranians have been killed in acts of terror over the last 3 1/2 decades. Quite an astounding number, isn’t it? I have no reason to believe this number is inflated or exaggerated, but, even if the real count is only a tenth of the pronounced figure of 17,000, it would still signify a horrendously systematic attack of political violence on a people that, as elections again this past weekend in Iran have displayed, possess a desire for progress, civility, toleration and modernity.

Just as many of us do not embody in our personal lives, beings and souls the worst aspects of our American government, our wars overseas and our mass incarceration at home, so too are the Iranian people not representative of their government’s acts of militarism and repression. I  know, I know. Such a trite and cliched thing to say. But then why would so many in the US not know of the thousands killed by terrorism in Iran and why would many Americans say that those dead Iranians and their devastated families deserve it? If not for such a binary and Manichean way of looking at the world, we are good – they are bad, we could understand and communicate with one another better, and then, maybe, as a united and common people we could lead this world to prosperity and health, rather than to war, climate change and poverty.

The interview can be found here and is copied below:


Full text of Habilian’s interview with Matthew Hoh, Ex-US State Department Official
Sunday, 01 May 2016 09:51 Habilian

“…in 2001, al-Qaeda only had about 200 members and the Islamic State did not exist. The United States validated the propaganda and the doctrine of the terrorists with our response to 9/11 and provided many thousands of young men with a rationale for leaving their homes and joining terror groups.”

In an exclusive interview with Habilian Association, Iranian Center for Research on Terrorism, Matthew Hoh has answered the questions about the US military interventions in the Middle East following 9/11 attacks in the name of “fighting against terrorism” and its implications for the people of the region, terrorism developments in the Middle East after 2001, America’s role in the empowerment of terrorist groups in the region, US imperialism around the world, relationships between the Media and government in the US, and Machiavellian view of American leaders to terrorist groups such as MeK. What comes below is the full text of the Habilian Association’s interview with him.

Habilian: At the beginning of the interview, please tell us when you did join the Army? Would you speak about your motives in wearing the Army Uniform?

Hoh: I joined the United States Marine Corps in 1998 for a number of reasons. I was bored with the work I was doing (I was working for publishing company in New York City), I wanted adventure, I wanted to prove myself while serving others, I wanted to be involved in something bigger than I was, and I wanted to take part in history. In short I possessed the motives of many bored and unchallenged young men.

Habilian: Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, George W. Bush delivered a speech at joint session of Congress, in which “War on Terror” was declared. In that speech, Bush raised some questions quoted from American peoples, including who attacked the US and why; and how Americans can punish them. Now, after more than 15 years of American interventions in the region that led to death of more than one million civilians, if you, as an American journalist, have an interview with Bush, what questions will you ask him about the war?

Hoh: The first question I would ask President Bush is why he is not remorseful. Does his desire for a positive view of his legacy preclude his ability to empathize with the millions who have suffered because of these wars? Secondly, I would ask him why can he not be humble and admit his policies were wrong and counter-productive. I would not be asking him to say the terror of 9/11 was not horrific and I am not asking him to compare himself with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, but to simply recognize that the wars he launched and the wars that are still ongoing have made the world worse and not better. Two simple truths: the number of dead in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and other places number well past one million since September 12, 2001. Millions more have been wounded and are refugees from their homes. Those who suffer the horribly debilitating psychiatric and moral effects of the wars number in the tens of millions. And none of those wars are close to ending. The second truth is that, according to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and based upon documents found in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda only consisted of approximately two hundred members in 2001. Now the organization has thousands of members in countries across the globe. Of course the Islamic State didn’t even exist in 2001 and only came into existence because of the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. Clearly American policy in the Middle East has failed. I would ask President Bush how he ignores such truths. To be fair, I would ask President Obama the same.

Habilian: In the mentioned speech, George Bush had said that Americans are asking him what is expected of them, then listed his expectations of American people: “to live your lives, and hug your children”, “to uphold the values of America”, “to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions” and “continued participation and confidence in the American economy”. If we go back to September 20, 2001 and you had an opportunity to speak in Congress and announce your expectations from the government, what would you said?

Hoh: I am not sure if anything anyone said would be listened to. In 2001, we did have people in the United States counseling against acting on fear and anger. In Congress, however, we had only one member, Barbara Lee, from California, who voted against giving the President unlimited authority to carry out war, an authority that President Obama still utilizes nearly 15 years later. Out of 535 members of Congress only one had the wisdom, the intelligence and the courage to say that war was not just the wrong approach to terrorism, but that it would be foolhardy and prove to be counter-productive. Americans at that time were scared and angry. Politicians were scared and angry as well, but, more so, they were eager to capitalize on the public’s emotions for their own political advantage and security. So, sadly, I don’t think my stating my expectations of my government to follow the dictates of morality, justice and rule of law would have been listened to.

Habilian: On February 14, 2003, George W. Bush released “The United States’ strategy for combating terrorism” in which the US administration’s objectives in the War on Terror had been listed. The core of that strategy were weakening and isolating terror networks such as Al Qaeda. Regarding the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and its violent ambitions, do you believe that the announced goals of these wars have been achieved? In your opinion, are Al Qaeda typed groups stronger or weaker now?

Hoh: Terror groups are much stronger now than in 2001. The greatest recruitment for al-Qaeda and affiliated groups was not the murders of Americans in the 9/11 attacks, but the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, the continued occupation of Afghanistan, torture of prisoners by American guards, and the bombing of Muslim peoples throughout the world by the West. Remember, in 2001, al-Qaeda only had about 200 members and the Islamic State did not exist. The United States validated the propaganda and the doctrine of the terrorists with our response to 9/11 and provided many thousands of young men with a rationale for leaving their homes and joining terror groups. Of course, this is all a consequence of American military and diplomatic involvement in the Middle East since the end of the Second World War. As an American I have to understand that much of what we are seeing now in the Middle East is a consequence of decades of American backed coups, American backed dictatorships, American military interventions, American backed wars, unlimited American support for Israel, American arms sales and the American formation of religiously inspired cadres to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s, one of which famously became al-Qaeda. However, I do not believe the wisest among us in the United States, of which I must admit I was not a part of in 2001, ever thought our policies would prove to be so disastrous.

Habilian: Why despite the American intelligence agencies’ estimation that the ISIS poses no immediate threat to the United States, Obama administration decided to send the country on a military campaign against that group, knowing that such a war may take several years?

Hoh: There are a few different reasons for this. I think there are some in the US government that do believe the United States has an interest in trying to bring about stability to Iraq and Syria and that military means are the only, or the predominant, manner of doing so. I believe those assertions to be wrong, that those assumptions are not based on history or experience, but I do understand them to be sincere.

Unfortunately, there are a number of other reasons why President Obama is intervening militarily in Syria and Iraq. The most important is political. President Obama, and the Democratic Party, is afraid of being viewed as weak. It is that simple. Additionally, it is nearly impossible for an American politician to say he or she is wrong or made a mistake. American politicians would rather see more American soldiers killed, more American families devastated as a result of those losses, and more innocent civilians destroyed than to admit they are wrong. Again, it is just that simple.

There are those who believe that these wars in the Middle East can simply be broken down into terms of good people versus bad people and we, the US, are on the side of the good people. There are philosophical, religious, nationalist, racist, and other reasons for such beliefs, but simple binary thinking, much like the thinking that under lay the assumptions of the Cold War, is prevalent in Washington, DC and throughout America.

There is a lot of money involved in Iraq. American companies have a good deal of interest in the oil fields of northern Iraq and the US government is keen to see those oil fields in Kurdish control, while projected sales of weapons to the Iraqi government range from 15-30 billion dollars over the next one or two decades. Such money has enormous influence in Washington, DC and the fear of the loss of such money would motivate an American President to act militarily.

Finally, the United States has an empire around the world that it must maintain. This is different in appearance or in kind than say the British or Roman Empires of the past, but it is nonetheless an empire. The United States has over 800 military bases around the world, has client states across the globe, many of which are the worst human rights violators in power, depends upon weapons sales as one of the leading aspects of the American export economy, and spends approximately one trillion dollars a year in total in support of this complex. Any threat or challenge to this established system must be confronted. In this established system in Washington, DC, as well as in American universities and corporations, it is seemingly impossible to understand any other option for the world; in fact this world view of the United States being “responsible” for the rest of the world is taken as a praiseworthy virtue and any deviance from this view is considered naïve, ignorant or silly. Combine that with America’s cultural and religious view of itself as an “exceptional nation” or as a nation with divine purposes and you can understand why America is so quick to use its military tens of thousands of miles from its borders. It is worth noting only the Western allies of the US act similarly so far from the borders; no other nation behaves this way, with the exception of the recent limited Russian involvement in Syria.

Habilian: Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a “farce”. Why the US media are advertising this story?

Hoh: Terrorism scares and angers people, and fear and anger make for good audiences for the US media. The media in the US depends on ratings for advertising revenue (US media is privately funded) and so stories about terrorism get people’s attention causing more people to watch, listen or read, which brings in more money for the media.

There are also informal relationships between the media, the US government and politicians that lead all three to work together to support one another. The media needs the support of people in the government and politicians to get the best stories and get the best interviews, while the government and politicians need the media to present the best views of themselves and their policies. It is a mutually supportive relationship between many members of the media, the government and politicians that many in the United States see to be corrupt. That is why the American public has incredibly low opinions of the media, government and politicians in the US (recent opinion polls show that only about 10% of the public trusts these institutions).

Finally, there is the ongoing narrative of the United States being a morally correct and righteous nation that is on the side of “good” overseas. I believe the media feels it would cost them their audiences, and so their revenue, if they tried to explain world events, including terrorism and the wars, in a more complex yet accurate manner.

I must say that there are many good media sources in the US, but they tend to be small and independent of the larger corporate media that most Americans depend upon for their news. These men and women are often unfairly characterized as un-American, ideological or overly politically partisan, yet they are often the ones with the journalistic integrity the larger corporate media lacks.

Habilian: To this day MEK terrorists have been carrying out attacks inside of Iran killing political opponents, attacking civilian targets, as well as carrying out the US-Israeli program of targeting and assassinating Iranian scientists. In your opinion, how America’s government came to the conclusion that MeK no longer should be in the Terrorist List?

Hoh: The MeK has been very successful in the United States in paying American politicians and former government officials to represent the MeK. Along with the demonization with which the American government has colored Iran with since 1979, these political efforts by the MeK have succeeded in making many American leaders believe the MeK can be useful to US interests in the Middle East. Whether or not they know or care that the MeK has made many, many innocent Iranian people suffer is not something American leaders consider. I am quick to denounce the violent actions of my government, just as many Iranians are quick to denounce the violent actions of the Iranian government. Groups like the MeK and actions like the assassination of Iranian scientists serve only to prolong hostilities between the United States and Iran, hostilities that have gone on for far too long and which only serve the elites who hold power in both countries and which cause both the American and Iranian people to suffer.

Last Few Seconds of my Veterans for Peace Keynote

Thanks to Dan Shea for posting the last thirty seconds or so of my Keynote Address for the Veterans for Peace Annual Convention.

It was quite an honor to address the 300+ delegates who met the last weekend of July in Asheville, NC. It is an organization I am proud to be a part of and one I hope will continue to grow and become a stronger advocate for peace, sanity and compassion.

I’ll post the full version of the video when I get it, but until then here’s the conclusion: