Palestine policy in a rules-based world

Beit Lahiya, Gaza Nov 2012, Marilyn Garson

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged APEC to ensure fair access to Covid vaccines, as a step toward a ‘rules-based’ Pacific region.  As a small, remote country, Aotearoa-NZ depends heavily on those rules. We have moral, legal and self-interested reasons to act and speak for a rules-based world and when we do, our voice carries.

We should use our voice now, while we are all staring at our contradictions.  Covid shows that our health is indivisible – while the old, morally vacant politics have eroded our ability to act collectively on health, climate, inequality, violence, or the massive flows of refugees driven from their homes by from great hardship.   Self-interest lies in restoring our international institutions.  Institutions are not just buildings, they are agreed behaviours and rules.  We need to reinvigorate especially those agreements which underpin our institutions of law, equality and science. 

Why should Palestine be on our agenda?  Israel’s forever-occupation is a product of the old power politics. Our donor and policy choices make us actively complicit: we are part of the Palestine problem.  In May we all watched the intentional destruction escalate once more:  over 260 Gazan lives lost and 13 in Israel, half a billion dollars of infrastructure and housing wrecked, one-fifth of Gazans left without running water, and ongoing expulsions of Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem. 

On the ground things are only worse, but the excessive violence has finally broken into the mainstream media.  The New York Times, Vanity Fair and others are publishing real images of Gazans’ experience.  Even staid diplomatic voices now declare that states must change their diplomacy in order to bring solutions about. 

And where does Aotearoa stand?  Contrast these two statements.  Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon used to appeal for humanitarian aid to Gaza. Now he speaks of cause, law and responsibility.

“Israel has pursued a policy of incremental de facto annexation in the territories it has occupied since 1967… This is not a conflict between equals… a powerful state is controlling another people through an open-ended occupation, settling its own people on the land in violation of international law and enforcing a legal regime of institutionalised discrimination. Calls for a return to unconditional bilateral talks every time there is a fresh flare-up in fighting will only serve to perpetuate the status quo if these root causes are not addressed. What has become increasingly clear in recent years is Israel’s intent to maintain its structural domination and oppression of the Palestinian people through indefinite occupation… a situation that arguably constitutes apartheid. It is now time for the international community to recognise and confront the consequences of Israel’s policies and actions in this regard.”

Compare that with our Foreign Minister, Hon. Nanaia Mahuta, writing on December 14, 2020:

“Successive New Zealand Governments have been clear that Israeli settlements are a violation of international law.  On 23 June 2020, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rt Hon Winston Peters issued a statement highlighting this and warning that annexation would also breach international law and have negative implications for the peace process… New Zealand has a warm relationship with the Palestinian Authority, but our policy to date has been one of non-recognition of Palestine, on the basis that it lacks sufficient control of its territory to constitute a state…  New Zealand will continue to pursue a principled and balanced approach to the Middle East Peace Process including support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Illegality without consequence.  Blind, bystanding balance.  We can’t recognise Palestine because, well, because it’s so successfully and perennially occupied, for reasons that we warmly decline to analyse.

Is that really where our principles lead us?

Rather than waiting for justice to sprout like magic beans, we could ground our voice in the institutions of law and equality.  International law and the Geneva Conventions are institutions of principle. They oblige our constructive intervention on behalf of all people in a rules-based world.  

Law and treaty and convention are only meaningful if they are supported by action when they are breached. This report by the UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk outlines the sources of states’ legal obligations to act on the many breaches in Palestine, and it notes the characteristics of actions that have helped elsewhere.

Lynk reiterated just last week that Israel’s West Bank settlements, which have transferred 680,000 Israeli settlers onto occupied Palestinian land, should be classified as war crimes.  

“The illegality of the Israeli settlements is one of the most settled and uncontentious issues in modern international law and diplomacy. Their illegality has been confirmed by the United Nations Security Council, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the International Court of Justice, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and by many international and regional human rights organizations… [but] the international community has been remarkably reluctant to enforce its own laws.”

We sponsored UN Resolution 2334 in 2016 to reiterate that illegality, but we have done nothing to make our action meaningful.  We speak up for principled fair access to Covid vaccines in the Pacific, but we have not spoken to Israel’s legal (and moral) failure to provide Covid vaccines to the people of occupied Palestine.  And so on. 

The rules-based order we seek requires more than that.

Ardi Imseis is a Canadian law professor and former Senior Legal Counsel to the Chief Justice of Alberta. He has made an excellent argument to go further and recognise the State of Palestine.  He elaborates Palestine’s qualification to be recognised, and outlines the legal and institutional value of regarding both Palestine and Israel as sovereign and territorially inviolable. In a world of state-based institutions, a State of Palestine would have access to “a number of legal principles that, by definition, can only apply to states and which are therefore the bedrock of the modern international legal order.”  Recognition would also “serve as a holding operation … to halt the ongoing colonization by the occupying power” of Palestinian territory and Palestinians’ lives. 

Alternative Jewish Voices has called for us to recognise Palestinians as a people with equal standing to speak about their resources, lives and aspirations.  Recognition would help to bring about the preconditions for any number of states to be governed in the interest of all citizens.  Isn’t that what our government says that it wants?

Early in our own uneven work of decolonisation, Aotearoa-NZ would bring a grounded, hopeful voice to the project of doing Palestine policy differently.  We would add to the external pressure for constructive change.  Surely that is where our values lead us. How much impact would it make, to uphold the laws that we sign or to act in the interest of a rules-based world? Absurdly, in all the decades of this occupation, it hasn’t been tried. 

No single policy will please the Jewish community, because we are not monolithic.  A quarter of the American Jewish voters – and a third of those aged under forty years – surveyed by the Jewish Electorate Institute now call Israel an apartheid state.  Locally, we are as deeply divided.  However, we are not the object of the policy and we must not be an excuse for inaction.  Israel’s forever-occupation is not about us.  As Sara Roy writes,

“Israel’s struggle against the Palestinian people is fundamentally about their presence and their representation to the world.  It is about diminishing if not removing their certainty by depriving them of agency and capacity and condemning them for their own privation.  Palestinians have resisted.  Yet, their resistance is not enough… They must be seen as a civil society with aspirations no different from ours.  They must be seen as the solution to the problems of their region.” 

In our Jewish community, in Aotearoa and in Palestine, there can be no future based on erasing a nation.  We need to embark on the work of listening, making good the harm that has been done, imagining and constructing a future together.  There is no other way forward – and that is the vision to which our national policy should speak.

Marilyn Garson

A future-facing Palestine policy will turn from power to justice

Photo by Marilyn Garson – water behind bars in Gaza

Weeks after the bombardment of Gaza, analysts are asking how to weaken Hamas, rather than writing that one-fifth of Gazans now live without running water to wash their hands during a Covid epidemic.  Israel’s blockade is obstructing precisely the materials needed to repair the infrastructure that Israeli planes bombed in May.  

Those analysts think that the aftermath of bombardment must be the restoration of the status quo ante – a resumption of the way things were before.  As a UN member and donor state, Aotearoa-NZ acts the same way.  We have one eye on Israel’s status quo interests, and the other eye closed.  We have no policy for Palestinians except as the objects of Israel’s regime. 

Even former UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon wants such policies to change.

“Israel has pursued a policy of incremental de facto annexation in the territories it has occupied since 1967… This is not a conflict between equals… a powerful state is controlling another people through an open-ended occupation, settling its own people on the land in violation of international law and enforcing a legal regime of institutionalised discrimination. Calls for a return to unconditional bilateral talks every time there is a fresh flare-up in fighting will only serve to perpetuate the status quo if these root causes are not addressed. What has become increasingly clear in recent years is Israel’s intent to maintain its structural domination and oppression of the Palestinian people through indefinite occupation… a situation that arguably constitutes apartheid. It is now time for the international community to recognise and confront the consequences of Israel’s policies and actions in this regard.”

What if we based our policy on justice?  What might a future-facing policy be, and where can we begin? 

One eye on power: stabilising injustice

As a UN member and a small donor state, our government waits for two states to sprout from decades of systemic injustice (Alternative Jewish Voices takes no position on any number of states. That is a decision for citizens to make).  In the meantime, we relate to Israel as our equal in legitimacy and sovereignty, needing no action from us to bring any solution closer.

Far from criticising Israel’s “structural domination and oppression of the Palestinian people through indefinite occupation,” as a donor we agree to defray Israel’s costs, and manage the humanitarian results.  We do this particularly in Gaza, the stubborn heart of Palestinian resistance and the target of Israel’s purest punishment.

Our interest in the status quo makes Palestinians appear as disruptors, destabilisers.  We send them the most passive forms of assistance.  Elsewhere, aid recipients are told to work for their food, while to Palestine refugee camps we send relief food. We tell educated, eager Palestinian workers to wait quietly.  We do not invest in food production or food sovereignty.

A sack of flour requires no political analysis.  Passive relief sees only impoverished people.  It  does not ask what made them poor, why Gaza has scattered economic activity rather than any coherent economy to speak of, or why Palestinians are so determined to overthrow the status quo.  A sack of flour can sustain life, but without analysis it says nothing about change.

Because we screen out the politics of cause and reduce Palestinians to a humanitarian problem, we find ourselves speaking absurdly. Palestinians must recognise the Israel which excludes them, while Israel need not recognise Palestinians’ most basic human rights.  We speak of Israel’s right to self-defense while the defense of Palestinians – who bear the overwhelming share of casualties – goes unspoken.  We speak of Israeli civilian space while we discount Gazan civilian protections. We deny Palestinian statehood because Palestinians do not fully control their territory.  Yes, exactly, and Ban Ki Moon has done a good job of explaining why that is so.

Policy grounded in law

When pressed, our leaders fall back on a learned helplessness.  They ask for the violence to stop, and they throw up their hands as if there were nothing we could do.

We greatly underestimate the role we already play.  Rewards – and peace proposals – have been cast in donor states’ neoliberal terms, asking Palestinians to forfeit their rights and their politics in exchange for investment in a normalised, occupied life.  See for example Toufic Haddad. Donors and diplomats reward the political and business elites who take up that offer. We ignore their illegitimacy and their obstruction of other leadership.

We overlook entirely the leverage we would have if we upheld the laws and conventions that we have signed.  Surely, any just policy begins by upholding the law.

UN Special Rapporteur and Associate Professor of Law Michael Lynk wrote in his October, 2019 report (A/74/507)

“No occupation in the modern world has been conducted with the international community so alert to its many grave breaches of international law, so knowledgeable about the occupier’s obvious and well-signalled intent to annex and establish permanent sovereignty, so well-informed about the scale of suffering and dispossession endured by the protected population under occupation, and yet so unwilling to act upon the overwhelming evidence before it… [T]he international community possesses a great deal of power to ensure a positive, durable and just solution to the occupation.” 

Lynk details the record of illegality, the treaties which oblige us to act today, and the characteristics of countermeasures that have worked elsewhere. The law is ours and we have neglected it.

When states are negligent in their duty, civil society leads – and civil society is not beholden to power politics.  America has no veto here.

Irish government and opposition parties recently adopted a unanimous motion condemning what they called Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank.  A Sinn Fein foreign affairs spokesperson called it “a true reflection of the strength of feeling in this country at the treatment of the Palestinian people by the apartheid state of Israel.”

Civil society can lead government to the podium to speak about justice.  Let’s do that. Let’s begin with a parliamentary debate that requires our elected representatives to publically state their positions.

If we ceased bowing to power and instead upheld international law, we would merely be meeting our obligations.  As a small state heavily reliant on a rules-based order, we would also be acting in self-interest.

Laws are a start, but they are technical minimums. Justice and morality are more aspirational than that.

A future-facing policy for Palestinians, especially for Gaza

Our current policy views Palestinians through the eye of Israel’s security regime. We have adopted the view from outside the blockade wall.  That wall lumps two million Gazans into a single enemy object, to be subdued by means of violence and hunger management. 

The very nicest thing you can say about that view is that it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t even stabilise. No one is deterred, no one runs out of weapons or stops using the weapons they have.  Less politely, our policy notices only two kinds of Palestinians, the violent and the victims.  It denies that a society of recognisable, whole persons lives behind those walls. We do not ask what it means to be stateless, to never travel 50 or more kilometers, or to be born behind walls as one million Gazans have been born – condemned before birth, because they are Palestinian.

Shame on us for wearing the wall’s dehumanising blinders so meekly.

A future-facing policy must see Palestinians as whole human beings: parents, people of every gender, professionals or job-seekers or students, people who live with chronic illness or physical disability, manufacturers and artists, scientists and poets, political actors and agents of their own future, citizens as of right and integral partners to any solution.  Why have we no policy that addresses Palestinians as whole people?

When we open both eyes and identify with Palestinians, we see how differently they live.  For me Gaza’s waste is particularly bitter because, as a society, Gaza has so much of what it needs to thrive: mutual assistance, social cohesion under terrible pressure, one of the world’s highest literacy rates.  Their achievement delineates the thing that is being withheld: their right to live normally.  Justice would place this set of rights at the center of our policy. We would not stabilise Gazans’ avoidable deprivation. We would demand their decent life prospects as we demand prospects for ourselves.

Water offers our policy-makers a starting point.

We in Aotearoa-NZ argue about water as taonga and commodity, its management and beauty and quality, our access and enjoyment and consumption.  We agree that water is essential, a basic human right, necessarily shared.

The World Health Organisation says that every person needs 100 litres of water per day, for consumption and other uses.  West Bank Palestinians have access to only 90.5 litres of water each day.  650,000 illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank receive six times more water than 2.8 million West Bank Palestinians.  

In 2018 Gazans had access to 83 litres per capita, just 80% of the water that we all need to live.  Click here and scroll down to Fact Sheet #187 (6/29/21) to read how extensively Israel’s May 2021 bombardment damaged Gaza’s water infrastructure. One in five Gazans no longer has running water at all, while each Israeli consumes 230 litres per day.  Statistics and further detail here.

There is water in the space between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.  The problem is that Israel has forcibly fragmented the space, giving Israelis vastly greater entitlements than Palestinians – including entitlement to the water resources on occupied Palestinian land.  The problem is not an absolute lack of water. The problem is the endless, violent denial of Palestinian rights and sovereignty.

Donors, I’m sure, are right now negotiating the entry of additional truckloads of bottled water to Gaza and paying all the requisite fees in Israeli currency. They are stabilising the regime that permitted Gazans only 80% of the water they need to live. I welcome every delivery, ever drop, because water is urgently needed to sustain life – but this is not good enough.

The withholding of the human right to water is not altered by those stabilising trucks. Each truck reinforces Israel’s structural power to deprive. The blockade will not be fixed at the margins. 

A policy of water justice would begin with Palestinians’ equal, non-negotiable right to clean water.  It would refuse to engage normally with any regime that differentiates water rights ethnically.  It would recognise the national right of Palestinians to manage the water resources on land that we and the UN recognise as Palestinian land, temporarily occupied.

Finally, alongside law and rights, a justice policy would reach for the holistic justice of belonging.

Our stabilising policies don’t promote transformational work.  We acknowledge our own colonial legacy but we do nothing to promote Palestinian (or Israeli) decolonising projects. Our policy should enable the inclusive voices that are narrating a better way forward.

Alternative Jewish Voices supports the kaupapa and the mahi of the One State Democratic Campaign as a dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis about decolonising their shared future.  We read authors like Noura Erekat who writes that, unlike settler-colonising erasure, the Palestinian demand to fully belong is a broadening, inclusive vision.

We in Aotearoa-NZ are so well placed to speak from ongoing experience about this possibility, this abundance of belonging. If we articulated a Palestine policy in that voice, it would carry so much further than our aid budgets.

Marilyn Garson,

Alternative Jewish Voices

Not just antisemitism: protest that neither hates nor falsely equates

Members of Alternative Jewish Voices and Justice for Palestine sat down last weekend to explore the speech of protest that neither hates nor falsely equates.  

We find that language in the discourse of human rights, because rights are either everyone’s rights, or they are nothing. We reject any language which ethnically ranks and values human beings.  Rights value us according to a single, shared human standard.  Then the law can distinguish between the different obligations of occupier and occupied, and the wildly different proportions of actual harm.

We deplore the weapons of war because we are all flesh and blood and family.  We mourn all of the deaths. We do not equate the dangers or the damages. We protest Israel’s regime, wherein the weapons are wielded so disproportionately by the powerful against the powerless.  We call for legal accountability to replace the present, violent impunity.

That is not anti-Israel.  Accountability takes the side of civilians. The armed party which does the overwhelming share of the wrongful killing and destruction, earns the overwhelming share of the law’s attention.  The community which experiences the overwhelming share of the dispossession, loss and harm deserves the greatest part of our concern, our protection.  B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, tracks the casualties of this occupation.  Through the past twenty years, the casualites have been 88% Palestinian. 

Now another 256 are dead in Gaza; 12 in Israel.  It is wrong to decry these factual proportions as anti-Israel, or to attribute antisemitic motives to speakers who are simply counting.

Early in the Great March of Return, Ha’aretz published an Op-Ed by an American rabbi, titled, If You Call the Gaza Death Toll ‘Disproportionate,’ How Many Israelis Have to Die for the Sake of Symmetry?  On May 17, 2018, I responded.

“The deaths arising from Gaza’s weeks-old protests are one-sided: the IDF has killed more than 100 Gazans. They have injured more protestors than Gaza has hospital beds. Médecins Sans Frontières has noted an alarming pattern among the gunshot wounds, indicating a particularly harmful choice of ammunition. No Israeli has been injured or killed.

“You ask whether a person who observes these facts would like to see ‘a hundred Jewish bodies strewn across the desert.’  No, I would not. I am simply observing a fact. I am not seeking more deaths; I am seeking fewer. I am calling attention to avoidable killing. If I may not note the factual distribution of death, then what am I allowed to say?”

Facts are allowed.  Essentializing, dehumanizing hate is not.  Between them lies a hotly contested political vocabulary.

This vocabulary includes objective, discomfiting words like apartheid, a crime against humanity.  Human rights lawyers have repeatedly found that Israel’s arrangements of power constitute apartheid. Their legal analyses make the term available to the rest of us.  I object when anti-Jewish motives are attributed to people for using such substantiated terminology.  It is incidental that this apartheid happens to benefit Jews.  The point is that it illegally, systemically oppresses our fellow human beings. 

If it is antisemitic for non-Jews to conflate ‘Israel,’ ‘Zionist’ and ‘Jews,’ then why do we allow Zionist spokespeople to do precisely that – to hide Israel’s military regime in the protected religious sphere of Judaism?  Are they not essentialising all Jews as nationalists and occupiers? 

When the proponents of Israel’s occupation call their critics antisemitic, they also logically encroach on the meaning of semitism.  I am a Jew, a Semite.  The category is ancient and precious to me. See what they are doing to it. If it is antisemitic to pursue others’ freedom, if human equality is antisemitic, then tell me what they have made of my semitism.

In this era of accusations, how often do we condemn the speech that hates and dehumanizes Palestinians?

We must urgently equalize the hateful, deadly disparity we apply to the dense civilian-military intermingling that prevails in both Israel and Gaza.  Israel consistently ranks among the most militarized states on earth.  Its Ministry of Defense stands in the commercial heart of Tel Aviv.  You can’t walk a block in Israeli cities without seeing weapons, some carried by men and women wearing uniforms and some not.  Gaza is also militarized, some of it visible and some concealed.  Yet we allow ourselves to be told that Israel’s army shields civilians while Gaza’s civilians are deployed to shield Hamas fighters. Which is it? This perception conditions our understanding of justifiable and wrongful killing.

Israel has wiped out generations of Palestinian families on the pretext of striking at individual members of Hamas.  It beggars belief to suggest that Israelis – or anyone else – would accept the killing en masse of generations of the families of their own soldiers, teachers, civil servants, rubbish collectors or police with the same rationale. Nor, straying geographically, would Israelis or anyone else call it justice to blow up the family homes of people suspected of crimes, as Israel does in the West Bank.

Israeli police stations are civic installations, yet the IDF blew up “dozens” of Gaza’s police stations as military targets.  In all these ways, the prevalence of arms in Israel is not seen as forfeiting civilian status. The mere, unproven association with Hamas is allowed to militarize extended families and apartment towers in the Gaza Strip. 

Which is it?  Each inversion protects Israelis and strips Palestinians of their civilian protection. 

We begin discounting Gazan life when we allow “Hamas” to stand in for the name of the place being bombed. Israel does not bomb Hamas, because Hamas is not a place. We see with our own eyes that every bomb lands on the Gaza Strip, an overwhelmingly civilian community.  To euphemise the repeated bombardment of Gazan Palestinians as ‘mowing the lawn’ is the ultimate denial of their humanity. That speech drips with hate and incitement.

It is imperative that we continue to protest boldly, because this did not end with the grief and the wreckage of Gaza.  Since the ceasefire, another 800 Palestinians are facing expulsion from their homes in Silwan.  Naftali Bennett may become Israel’s Prime Minister despite declaring, “I’ve already killed a lot of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that.”  Ayelet Shaked may return to prominence despite reminding Israeli soldiers in 2014 to kill the Palestinian “little snakes,” to kill their mothers and to destroy their homes.

The triggers are all still cocked. 

Marilyn Garson, Alternative Jewish Voices of NZ

Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Hamas

A few simple facts to distinguish between the Israeli government’s claim that it is ‘bombing Hamas’ and the actual bombs that are landing on the Gaza Strip.

May be an image of fire and sky
photo credit: AFP

The Israeli armed forces are not dropping bombs on Hamas, because Hamas is not a place.  They are dropping bombs on Gaza, which is one of the most densely populated places on this earth.  The language of ‘bombing Hamas’ gives us the soothing impression that the bombs land in a distinct, guilty, non-civilian Hamas-place.  No such location exists in Gaza.

Israeli space also densely mingles the civilian with the military.  The headquarters of the Israeli Ministry of Defense stands in the commercial centre of Tel Aviv.  Uniformed and / or armed Israelis can be seen on every sidewalk of Israel’s cities and towns. The government of Israel has long justified its aggressive force-protection stance by labelling its army as civilians in uniform.  Yet Israel demands its full share of civilian protections.

Israel places police stations in every neighbourhood, yet it just blew up ‘dozens’ of Gaza’s police stations as ‘Hamas targets.’

I heartily wish that every combatant would stand at a distance from every non-combatant in this world, truly I do.  Until that happens, we must not allow anyone to discount the safety of Gaza’s civilian space as it is being discounted in this bombardment.

I have grappled with my dislike of Hamas in print and through four years of living under Hamas’s rule.  I am no defender of theirs.  I consider Hamas to be an unfortunate product of Israel’s occupation.

However, in Israel’s official speech, “Hamas” becomes a deadly strategic convenience that confuses our understanding of civilian Gaza.  So, a few simple facts.

Hamas is the governing authority in the Gaza Strip. It employs teachers, rubbish collectors and countless other non-combatant civil servants.  Those people are civilians.  The homes of combatant and non-combatant Hamas employees hold families.  Those families are civilians.  The family members of Hamas combatants have not forfeited their civilian protections. The children of Hamas combatants have the same protected status as any other child.

Human Rights Watch studied Israel’s targeting of Hamas persons in their family homes across Gaza in 2014.  Its findings are titled: “Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians: Bombings of Civilian Structures Suggest Illegal Policy.”

 

Hamas rockets did not start this.  Nakba started this.  Blockade.  Repeated bombardments and deprivation.  Now Sheikh Jarrah has triggered an uprising that Hamas joined with its rockets.  History books don’t begin their explanations with today’s events, and neither should our media.

Rockets do not let Israel off the hook for its bombs.  No number of rockets can relieve Israel of its legal obligations regarding Gazan civilians – not for one instant – because Israel’s obligations are not to Hamas.  In the laws of war and occupation, belligerents are not responsible to each other.  Each belligerent is independently responsible and accountable for its actions.  One violation does not release anyone else from their legal obligations.  

Israel fires at will and has time to make its choices.  It chooses to bomb overwhelmingly at night, exacerbating the fear and depriving everyone of sleep.  Israeli planes and drones and tanks and gunships could fire just as well in daylight because Gaza has no defensive weapons. 

We must hold Israel accountable for its choices. To understand what that means, here’s a good enquiry into military accountability for the deaths they call collateral.

I do not celebrate the rockets, because I hate weapons of war – but I do not equate the weapons of the powerful and the powerless.  Rockets make a hole in the ground.  Bombs blow up apartment buildings and essential infrastructure.  Common sense would never confuse them, and neither should our government in its official statements.

I am aghast when I see the wreckage, the shattered bodies and the now-homeless survivors, the petrified children and the grieving parents who will have this horror imprinted on their minds forever. When an unvaccinated, trapped populace flees before one of the world’s most powerful (vaccinated) military machines, I am speechless at the notion of Israel’s restraint – let alone its claim to victimhood. 

Just look, and you will see who is the aggressor and who in need of defense.

When I speak about Gaza, people sometimes tell me that they hesitate to stand up because they’re afraid that they might disrespect the Holocaust. 

Standing up to protect our fellow human beings does not disrespect anyone.  Indifference disrespects the memory of every person who ever needed us to act.

We honour history by living with moral courage.  A trapped community is under assault by one of the most powerful militaries on earth.  Stand up for it.

Help Gaza. Do you understand – we end this.  We own the laws of protection.  Israel always, only stops when it is told to stop by other states. Israel’s Office of the Comptroller assessed that the 2014 war was fought without a meaningful strategy.  They bombed until the world stopped them.  Now they are doing it again.

Jacinda Ardern, we beg you to tell them to stop. 

Marilyn Garson  

Alternative Jewish Voices

Tell it to a judge: why Gaza needs to be heard in a court of law

Tell it to a judge.

I am not Palestinian but I was a witness to the assault of 2014.  I want its alleged war crimes to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. Those warriors who were ‘brave’ enough to direct an assault on a trapped populace should be brave enough to account for their choices in a well-lit courtroom. 

Why is a court of law important?

Because the menace that underpinned the assault of 2014 is still present: the dehumanization of Palestinians.  Walled off and vilified, anything can be done to the people of Gaza. A trial will amplify their story of being under intensive attack behind a wall.  Let Gazans tell their story.

Because people will still be living with the memory and the imprint of this war.  The body remembers the singed smells that linger on your skin, the sight behind your eyelids of neighbours racing toward rubble to rescue neighbours, the sound of children with chattering teeth. The drifts of white dust in the corners of window sills.  The screams of people in the streets, seeking shelter before nightfall –  but there is no shelter behind a wall.

Because courts prosecute individuals, not nations.  Individuals make choices, and are accountable.  Individual responsibility lets everyone else get beyond blaming whole states. Someone wrote the doctrines, chose the weapons and the targeting parameters and the order of battle.  They should be judged for their handiwork. 

Because of the 18,000 homes destroyed, the 100 family homes targeted in the first week, and the millions of tons of rubble that altered the very landscape of the Gaza Strip.  In 51 days, Gazan forces fired roughly 6000 rockets and artillery shells while Israel’s armed forces acknowledge dispatching 5000 tons of munitions to fire at a trapped populace.  The tonnage and the stated doctrines of disproportionate force like the Dahiya Doctrine await judgement.

Because someone knew that the UN shelter-schools were filled with displaced Palestinians. They knew, because I told them.  As a member of the UNRWA team operating those shelters, one of my tasks was to confirm the pre-existing protections of each flagged United Nations school building that was sheltering displaced people.  Over and over they were told. Those schools were clearly marked on military maps. Everyone knows their location and their signature colours. Someone in Israel knew and fired at them anyway. Seven times they fired, killing 44 Palestinians and injuring 227.  Let those people explain their actions to a judge.

Because the earth trembled with the tonnage of bombs that the IDF used to destroy the homes of 92,000 Palestinians in Shuja’iyya, and because of the quieter killings in Khuza’a.  The stories of Gaza’s neighbourhoods need to be heard and responsibility assigned.

Because of the 73 medical facilities, the ambulances and every other illegal target. Because of the civilian infrastructure destroyed, the water pipes and the power plant, and all the gratuitous hardship that Gazans endured.  The lesson of the war, they said later, was that Israel no longer saw any civilians in Gaza at all.  A court must restore Gazans’ civilian status and protections.

Because of the 293,000 displaced Gazans who endured such trying conditions in 90 UNRWA shelters – because there was no safer place behind that wall.

Because 6,000 airstrikes and 14,500 tank shells and 35,000 artillery shells equates to 100,000 kg of explosives every day, day after day. Israeli forces killed 2251 Gazans including 1,462 civilians, a third of whom were children.  The human consequence of the IDF’s choice to inflict such massive violence must be heard.  Battlefield explosive weapons must not rain down upon crowded cities with impunity again. 

Because beneath those bombs in Gaza, the minutes were interminable.  There was nowhere to flee, no way to help, nothing to do but wait for the next bomb through nights when there were more bombs than minutes. Let a trial record and weigh the harm of those 51 merciless days and nights of minutes of witness.

Because some debased Israelis sat on hillsides eating popcorn. They watched the bombs land on human beings and homes as if it were entertainment.  Around the world, many, many others turned away and did nothing.  Perhaps both sets of people will be shaken to realize that they were enjoying, or averting their eyes from, a crime.

Because what is demonstrated in Gaza with impunity today, is normalized elsewhere tomorrow at the expense of other inconvenient human beings. The assaults upon Gaza are relevant even here, because New Zealand is buying military robots that were tested on the trapped people of Gaza and the West Bank.  Is this who we aspire to be?

Because as a Jew, I have heard the rationales for that massive violence. “It’s necessary.” “Kill all the little snakes.”  “This time we’ll finish the job.”  Now I want to hear the evidence and the verdict on this ethno-nationalist project of ours.

Our world must not value human life so differently when the life is Palestinian. Because our lives are of equal value, Gazans must be heard in court. 

Marilyn Garson

When you read the reports, look for the people

Three recent publications analyze Israel’s regime as Jewish Supremacy, Apartheid, and Settler Colonialism

Analysis is important because it is the context for the lives and deaths of Palestinians.  They should live on every page.  And every time you read about ‘apartheid in the West Bank,’ say under your breath ‘and the Gaza Strip.’  Although the West Bank is more visible, Tareq Baconi calls  Gaza ”the very embodiment of Israel’s settler colonialism… the confinement of Palestinians to urban enclaves entirely surrounded by Israel or Israeli-controlled territory.”  

I lived in Gaza 2011 – 2015.  There, the walls become the horizon and concrete delineates the earth.  I loathe those choking walls.  I don’t give a rat’s ass who built them. That they were built for Jewish benefit confers a responsibility which I accept, but it does not make this a story about us.  I intend to dismantle those walls, with my pen and with my fingernails if need be, because two million people are trying to breathe behind all that concrete.  They are the point of the story.

Behind those walls, even the air and the dust have been made dangerous.  Concentrations of heavy metals are accumulating in Gaza’s environment and in the bodies of its people, as a result of the weapons that the IDF has chosen to use in repeated bombardments.  Gazans are now born with more birth defects and non-communicable diseases. They develop more cancers, and they die an average of nine years younger than Israelis.  This is what is means to devalue life.

Gazans know they are being slowly poisoned, but where should they go? I remember visiting the UN Al Fakhoura school during the 2014 war.  Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN allege the illegal use of white phosphorous shells in that schoolyard in 2009.  Imagine the chemical burns, and then imagine bringing your children back to the same place to shelter from the next bombardment – the very place that could not keep you safe last time.

That is what it means to read that Israel’s military blockade is “effectively trapping [Gazans] in a territory it continues to actively destroy.”  It means having no safe place to bear and protect your children.

And each time I read that Israelis in illegal West Bank settlements enjoy the rights assigned by Israel’s civil law while Palestinians live under military law, I think back to August 2, 2014. 

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza was nearly a month old and a quarter of a million people had been shoehorned into 90 UNRWA shelter-schools (soon there would be 293,000).  The houses of 92,000 Palestinians had been obliterated in Shuja’iyya, and many of the homeless had been squeezed into Jabalia’s already bursting shelter-schools.  In the pre-dawn of July 30, the Jabalia Elementary A&B Girls School was itself shelled.  Around 3000 Palestinians had taken shelter in the building, which was clearly flagged and legally protected as a United Nations installation. The shells killed 16 people while they slept or prepared for prayers, and injured 99 more.

On August 2, I went with Bob Turner, then-Gaza director of UNRWA and my employer, to meet with the head of UNRWA’s Jabalia shelter operations.  We drove through a cratered landscape, everything the colour of concrete dust.  Our colleague was an older man, slumped and unsteady from exhaustion.  Day and night, he had made himself present and visible, mediated local politics and intervened in every clash, harranged me for supplies, listened and resolved disputes among Jabalia’s 80,000 shelter residents.  His hands, his jowls, his voice all trembled from lack of sleep – but he was in his element. He could not stop the bombs but he could personally impose order over chaos on his patch of ground. He could maintain civility in under-supplied shelters that held as many as 100 people per classroom.

When we left, I fretted to Bob, “He’s going to have a heart attack.  Any minute.”

Bob agreed and added with admiration, “You want to try to stop him?  He’s unbelievable – he is holding that together.”

His name is Khalil el-Halabi and he held that together.  He survived Israel’s military bombardment, only to encounter Israel’s military courts.

In June 2016, Khalil’s son Mohammed was arrested by Israelis.  They charged Mohammed with diverting millions of dollars of donor funds to Hamas, although neither his employer, their auditor nor the Australian government could find any financial irregularities to answer for.  Journalists have investigated the absurdity of this case of not-missing money.  Mohammed has not been told the details or the identity of his accuser – although he has been brought from Israeli jails into Israeli courts 154 times over a period of four and a half years.  He remains in detention, his children remain without their father, and Khalil and his wife remain without their son. If anyone in Israel has evidence that a crime has taken place – let alone evidence that Mohammed committed it – they have not made that evidence known. 

“Mr el-Halabi’s arrest, interrogation and trial is not worthy of a democratic state,” say the UN Special Rapporteurs. “What is happening to Mr. el-Halabi bears no relation to the trial standards we expect from democracies, and is part of a pattern where Israel uses secret evidence to indefinitely detain hundreds of Palestinians.”

Mohammed el-Halabi’s 155th court appearance is scheduled for January 31, 2021.

Khalil behind a blockade wall, and Mohammed behind bars – this is what apartheid injustice has meant to the el-Halabi family.  Their experience is egregious, but it is hardly unique.

Mohammed is detained alongside the Palestinians that Israel holds in ‘administrative detention’, which is imprisonment without charge.  According to Defense for Children International, 500 – 700 Palestinian children pass through Israeli military detention each year, mostly for throwing stones.  Then there are Palestinians criminalized by joining any of over 400 illegal political organisations; a list which includes every major Palestinian political party.

This is what it means to control lives and award rights and privileges ethnically.  It has gone on so intergenerationally long that ‘occupation’ no longer names it, because occupation is a temporary status. 

Further, the end of occupation would not constitute the transformation that Israel / Palestine needs.  That calls for a decolonizing vision like the one state project, which imagines a de-racialized community of Palestinians and Israelis.

The series of recent publications calls us to action, to generate the pressure for transformational change.  So read them, but peer through their analysis to see the lives that are being lived today, on every line of every page.

Marilyn Garson

Alternative Jewish Voices has arrived (fashionably late) on social media.  Please visit. 

Facebook:  Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices

Twitter:  Alternative Jewish Voices NZ – @JewishNZ

Vaccination without discrimination

Vaccination without Discrimination

Our post last week called out the spurious charges of antisemitism used by NZ Jewish institutions to deflect attention from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.  They were deflecting attention from Israel’s illegal policy of not providing Covid-19 vaccinations to the Palestinian people who live in the territory it occupies. 

We called on the Israel Institute of New Zealand and the New Zealand Jewish Council to cease labelling speakers for Palestinian rights as antisemites.  Our human equality is not antisemitic.  It isn’t anti-anyone. 

In response, some readers replied that they thought the NZ Jewish Council represents all NZ Jews.

Indeed, the NZ Jewish Council records its mission thus: “The Council is the representative organisation of New Zealand Jewry. Its objective is to promote the interests, welfare and wellbeing of New Zealand Jewry.” 

However, calling the organisation a the representative is different from being representative in practice.

As we understand it, NZ Jewish Council members are chosen by a number of regional Jewish councils.  The NZ Jewish Council members seem to be appointed through a series of indirect institutional processes.  Members of Alternative Jewish Voices who belong to synagogues, some for many years, have never had any sort of direct say in who should be on the Council.  Jews who are not members of a synagogue don’t appear to have any voice in these processes at all.  The NZ Jewish Council does not attempt to elicit, include or represent the spectrum of views within the Jewish community.

We came together as a collective to demonstrate that the Jewish community is diverse in every sense, including our politics.  The ardent Zionist voices of the NZ Jewish Council and Israel Institute do not represent the whole community of New Zealand Jews. 

As with any other diverse community, more voices need to be heard. 

Having condemned the name-calling, it remains to address the urgent issue of Covid-19 vaccinations for Palestinians living in the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967.  Newshub reported on the name-calling, as if a social media scrap could stand in for the larger issues.  It cannot.

Israel’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been touted internationally as a success.  It is essential to situate that claim within the framework of law and ethics.  But why – why does it always need that context?

When we write, we ground the occupation in law and human rights as well as morality, for two reasons.  First, the law and the overwhelming preponderance of international institutions agree on the framing of this issue (Donald Trump’s administration being the major outlier).  Occupation happens within a legal framework, not a difference of opinions.  We want the media to incorporate that factual context. 

Second, the laws of occupation and human rights are ours to uphold or abandon.  Law and justice make the rights of Palestinian people everyone’s business, and we call once more on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Manuta to make it New Zealand’s business.

Why do we say that NZ has a particular responsibility to Palestinians? The situations of occupier and occupied people are not equivalent.  They have different obligations and protections.  The violence and the losses of this occupation are grossly one-sided.  The law recognizes this imbalance when it protects the occupied people, but the law relies on others to bring it to life and impose penalties.  If we New Zealanders wish to live in a world of laws, a world more aspirational than that of Donald Trump and his beneficiary Netanyahu, we need to take up our responsibilities. 

To understand the obligations of states toward occupier and occupied people, see Part III of this report on “Accountability, Impunity and the Responsibility of the International Community,” written by UN Special Rapporteur and associate law professor, S Michael Lynk.

States’ responsibilities are prominent in the media right now, because Israel is vaccinating Jewish citizens and some Palestinians within its borders at a great rate.  In the occupied West Bank, Israel is vaccinating its Jewish settlers in illegal settlements, but not the Palestinians on whose land those settlements have been built. 

Israel is not providing vaccine to the blockaded Gaza Strip, although Gaza’s suffering is most acute and its options are disastrously limited. Behind concrete walls, 9373 people are crushed into each square kilometer.  2.05 million people are facing Covid without reliable supplies of clean water or electricity – or vaccines.  More than 47,500 cases of Covid have overwhelmed Gaza’s medical services.   Israel’s military blockade is “effectively trapping them in a territory it continues to actively destroy.”  The Al Shabaka Policy Network writes this week that Gaza as “confronting total collapse … arguably in a state of post-collapse.” 

What is Israel’s responsibility?  UN human rights experts said this week:

“According to the World Health Organisation, more than 160,000 Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian Territory have tested positive for the coronavirus … with more than 1,700 deaths…. [A]s the occupying power, Israel is required under the Fourth Geneva Convention, ‘to the fullest extent of the means available to it’, to maintain health services in the occupied territory… [T]he occupying power is required under the Convention to facilitate relief schemes ‘by all means at its disposal’.  Even if relief consignments, including ‘medical supplies’ are provided by others, Article 60 states that such consignments ‘shall in no way relieve the occupying power of any of its responsibilities’…

“The right to health is also a fundamental human rights issue…. International human rights law… applies in full to the occupied Palestinian territory… The denial of an equal access to health care, such as on the basis of ethnicity or race, is discriminatory and unlawful…. [T]he Oslo Accords cannot derogate from [the law’s] broad protections.  The ultimate responsibility for health services remains with the occupying power until the occupation has fully and finally ended.”

Israel’s responsibility is unconditional and non-negotiable.  And the morality?  Ask yourself how we would regard a policy to vaccinate and care for Pakeha New Zealanders.  It would be repugnant, and to us, it is just as repulsive to know that an occupied people, an ethnic group, are being left susceptible to contagion, illness and death. 

Palestinian people are not beyond our reach.  Their rights are our responsibility.

We call on the media to report this story more appropriately and more prominently.  When the experience of occupation is grounded in human rights, settler-colonial wrongs, and the equal value of human lives we recognise it as being our business.  Those experiences resonate with us and link Palestine to our own work on Aotearoa’s colonial legacies and contemporary racism. 

If those are issues that you care about, then Palestine is your issue, too.

Jacinda Ardern, Nanaia Mahuta, where are you?

Ask them at  j.ardern@ministers.govt.nz and n.mahuta@ministers.govt.nz

Signed by Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends

Marilyn Garson        Prue Hyman

Fred Albert David Weinstein

Ilan Blumberg Tami Louisson

Sue Berman Sarah Cole

Jeremy Rose Lynn Jenner

What is the Israel Institute, and for whom do they speak?

What is the Israel Institute, and for whom do they speak?

Yesterday, the Israel Institute of New Zealand got press coverage for calling Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman antisemitic.  Ms Gharaman was noting Israel’s refusal to vaccinate the Palestinians under its control. 

In the guise of security for the Jewish community, a director of the Israel Institute has circulated reports that call NZ’s support of the UN agency for Palestine refugees ‘NZ-funded antisemitism.’

The same director has written to members of Alternative Jewish Voices, condemning our ‘alignment’ with ‘exposed antisemites’.  We did, happily, add our names to a petition that was also signed by Cardinal Dew, an Archbishop, the Islamic Women’s Association, and a number of others. 

Are they all – MFAT’s advisors to the government of NZ, the Cardinal, the Archbishop, the Islamic Women’s Association – antisemitic?

We are calling out the Israel Institute.  This has gone too far.

The Israel Institute calls itself an independent think-tank. Its three co-directors are David Cumin, Perry Trotter and Ashley Church.  It is not a registered charity, or charitable trust, or incorporated society.  It is not tax exempt.  We found no accountability documentation. 

The Israel Institute represents and accounts to no one but themselves – much like Sh’ma Koleinu.  We speak only for ourselves.  The Israel Institute is not the community.  It is one voice, very strongly promoting views aligned with the Israeli government.  The Israel Institute seems determined to drain the term ‘antisemitism’ of any meaning by hurling it at anyone who opposes Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

The Harvard Law Review noted this kind of action in the course of its finding that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is not antisemitic:

“A primary tool of Israeli advocacy organizations has long been public vilification of Palestinian rights supporters as anti-Semitic, a charge that carries a powerful chilling effect… [T]here are certainly respectable reasons for disfavoring complicity in Israel’s human rights record.  Moreover, the status of being Jewish is not ‘inextricably tied’ to such conduct or complicity – and to suggest otherwise would in fact ring anti-Semitic.  Zionism does not reflect the views of all Jewish people.”

Exactly.  We are non-Zionist Jews.

Let us focus first on the Israel Institute’s insult to Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman.  She circulated a tweet written by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).  The tweet calls on Israel to end its policy of not vaccinating the Palestinians under its occupation.  The Israel Institute finds this JVP message antisemitic, but –

  • From the Jewish Voice for Peace website: “JVP has over 200,000 online supporters, over 70 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.”  Are they all antisemitic?
  • The Israel Institute objects to the word ‘apartheid’, although the London Review of Books did not hesitate to title an article on its website this week:  Nathan Thrall on Israel’s Apartheid.  Apartheid is a legal category of crime, not a religious matter.  It describes an ethnic power arrangement, which repeated legal and human rights assessments have found to be prevailing in Israel.  When lawyers use the term, it is surely available to the rest of us.
  • On Israel’s behalf, the Israel Institute disavows responsibility for Palestinians, but the Geneva Conventions state –
    • “To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”
  • The Israeli human rights organisation Gisha summarises Israel’s ‘unconditional’ responsibilities as follows:
  •  
    • Israel is obligated to protect the health and safety of all people living under its control, including by ensuring that the vaccine is available in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. This will necessarily require close cooperation with Palestinian authorities and the international community, but their involvement does not absolve Israel from its ultimate responsibility toward Palestinians living under occupation. Where needed, Israel must contribute to covering the cost of the vaccine and its distribution, unconditionally.
  • Rabbis for Human Rights is presently collecting signatures for a petition calling on Israel to meet its moral and legal obligations to vaccinate Gazan people.  As of this morning, Gaza has reported over 45,000 cases of Covid, behind the concrete walls of an illegal Israeli blockade.

So, can they all be antisemitic?  The rabbis, the editors, the universities, the lawyers, the Israeli human rights specialists – all of them? 

We think they share a different condition.  They disagree with the Israel Institute.  However, antisemitism is a pathological hatred of Jews and Jewishness.  It does not mean, ‘people who disagree with the Israel Institute.’

Vigorous disagreement is integral to the world of political ideas.  Brian Klug, senior research fellow and member of the faculty of philosophy at Oxford University recently wrote,

“Excessive criticism is just a fact of political life… There is no requirement in human rights ethics or law that, in order to merit protection, political speech has to be measured or reasonable or balanced.  This point is fundamental to the principle of freedom of expression…. Being contentious and being antisemitic are not at all the same.  The line between contentious and non-contentious speech is different from the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech… It is vital these these two lines are clearly distinguished.”

(italics in the original)

The actions of the Israel Institute concern us for several reasons. 

First, they are harming people’s reputations and trying to prevent the very mention of Palestinians’ human and political rights. 

Second, this weaponisation of the term antisemitism is misdirecting and stoking fear within the Jewish community.  We, the Jewish community, are being told in the guise of security that we are endangered by people who disagree with a hardline Zionist view of the Israel’s nationalist project of occupation.  We are being told that even polite disagreement with Zionism signifies a threat to us as Jews.  History does not bear this out.  Disagreement may be used by hateful people, but disagreement is not per se hateful.

We will expand on this in a post to follow.

Our third and final question is for the media.  When will you begin to elicit other Jewish views?  When will you cease writing these stories without context?  The Israel Institute’s latest insult did not happen in a vacuum.  We propose a more accurate lead for the story:

The law of occupation is clear in the Geneva Conventions and elsewhere.  The United Nations’ Security Council and General Assembly, the International Court of Justice, the International Committees of the Red Cross, human rights and legal NGOs all agree that the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are occupied Palestinian territories, wherein International Humanitarian Law and the laws of occupation apply in full.  Those laws oblige Israel to vaccinate the people of occupied Palestine.

Green Party MP Golriz Gharaman agrees.  In the face of all that law and authority, the Israel Institute (again) defaults to calling people names.

We, members and friends of Alternative Jewish Voices call on the Israel Institute to apologise for their name calling and stop insulting everyone who speaks up for equal human rights – including the rights of every Palestinian.  The equality of human beings is a foundational Jewish belief, just as it is integral to other religions and to the principles of many secular people.  Let us return to the real meaning of antisemitism – a hatred of Jews and Jewishness – place it alongside other hatreds, and take up the work of anti-racism together.

Stop portraying Zionism as Jewishness.  The occupation of Palestine and the blockade of Gaza are parts of a nationalist military project, subject to International Humanitarian Law and the laws of occupation. 

Occupation is not our Judaism.

Signed by Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends

Marilyn Garson Tamar Louisson Prue Hyman

Fred Albert Ilan Blumberg

Sue Berman Jeremy Rose

David Weinstein Lynn Jenner

Note:

Please see our page of international resources on the confusion between anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is not antisemitic

We, Alternative Jewish Voices and friends, support the call sent out by the signatories to the statement below to reaffirm and insist that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is not antisemitic.

Marilyn Garson, Fred Albert, David Weinstein, Ilan Blumberg, Tami Louisson, Sarah Cole

We want to state unequivocally that the Palestinian-led global movement for justice, which speaks in the name of international law and human rights, and the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is not antisemitic. We want to state unequivocally that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. We strongly oppose any and all efforts by the US, Israeli or any other government to conflate support for BDS or opposition to Zionism with antisemitism.

Eva Ackerman, Arielle Angel, Peter Beinart, Judith Butler, Jonathan J. Cohen, Jane Hirschmann, Adam Horowitz, Alan Levine, Richard Levy, Nina Mehta, Hannah Mermelstein, SarahAnne Minkin, PhD, Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, Sheryl Nestel,Donna Nevel, Kathleen Peratis, Rosalind Petchesky, Jacob Plitman, Rabbi Brant Rosen,Deborah Sagner, Mark Tseng-Putterman, Rebecca Vilkomerson, Rabbi Brian Walt,Lesley Williams, Dorothy M. Zellner

What would change, if we recognised the State of Palestine?

What will change, when we recognise the State of Palestine?

138 of the UN’s 193 member states recognise the State of Palestine, consisting of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.  Whatever diplomatic outcome they envision, 138 states believe that a solution starts by recognising the parties involved.  Recognition implies that, like powerful and powerless parties to a lawsuit, Israel and Palestine approach the court with equal rights.

Aotearoa-NZ is in the minority.  We do not recognise Palestine. We let the power disparities stand.  We do nothing to acknowledge Palestinians’ national voice, as if that mythical court case should somehow decide about them, without them.

Recognition of Palestine would re-frame the issue.

As an occupied people subsisting under a violent military regime, Palestinians have a right to our legal protection.  As the State of Palestine, they have a land and they own its natural resources. Recognition unifies the State of Palestine, which the occupation seeks to divide by policy and force.   The unified State of Palestine lives under a single occupation, although it is differently enacted within Israel, in the areas where Israel is the occupying power, and with respect to refugees elsewhere. 

As citizens of a state in a world where states remain the defining political actors, Palestinians would have access to the institutions, agreements, interactions, enforcement and responsibilities that we all take for granted. They would have access to the websites that we use, to the banking transactions and passports and mail and myriad other systems that are enabled by state agreements.  They would map their own geographies, rather than being administered by military documents that aim to chart the loss of their land and their autonomy.  When settlers occupy, or when Israel openly vows to take, additional land from the State of Palestine; the illegality of those acts would be clear – none of this ‘annexation’ obfuscation. 

These benefits are so normal that we really must re-phrase our question:  why has Aotearoa-NZ withheld all this from Palestinians for so long?  Why should a child be denied all that normalcy, by virtue of being born Palestinian?

Rights and law and diplomatic acts like recognition will not end the occupation. Rather, they describe the internationally agreed minimum standards by which we all live.  When they are upheld, they restore Palestinian lives to those minimum standards.  That sets the stage for two national groups to negotiate in a forum of international law.  We will not be the negotiators, but it is our responsibility to establish fair conditions for that political project.  We uphold the laws.  We drag this occupation into a forum of law for a resolution based on justice, not brute power.

Why do Palestinians live so far beneath those minimum standards now?  The law of occupation, the Geneva Conventions, all those UN resolutions – where are they?  It’s mystifying, we agree.  The tools are all waiting for us to pick them up and use them.  We call on our Prime Minister to uphold the laws and conventions that NZ governments have signed in all of our names – and to bring the State of Palestine fully into the same systems by means of recognition.

We are impatient, because the passage of time is not neutral.  It never was, and Covid has doubled the urgency.  Palestinian living standards, their environment and life prospects are deteriorating sharply: doing nothing is not a cost-free alternative.    

We call on our government to recognise Palestine now.

Withholding recognition is a willful refusal to see a nation of five million people, to insist on their equality and inclusion.  The occupation is exclusive, denying Palestinianhood, downgrading and ultimately erasing it.  Recognising Palestine is an inclusive act.  Recognition affirms Palestinians’ full right to exist in a space that will need to be shared.  We in NZ know that states may colonise blindly, but they must learn to see and listen and speak new languages.  Recognition sees the indigenous people of Palestine. That is the right side of history for NZ to take.

Recognition will also help to correct a conversation that has become toxic.

Too often, protest is merely anti-occupation or merely anti-Zionist; a protest against Israel’s failure to observe law and uphold Palestinians’ rights.  Recognition reframes the issue by centering Palestinians, and normalising their full, equal human and political rights. With that established as our baseline, we can protest the deficit, the rights withheld.  Recognition will strengthen Palestinians’ platform to speak and act on their own aspirations.

Too often, this occupation has been about exceptionalism (Israeli and Trumpian).  We spend too much time on the justifications of the powerful.  Recognition rejects all that.  It brings the occupation back into unexceptional focus: one state occupies the land of another.  Occupation is a military act, governed and limited by law. 

We should be working to invoke that law. As a first step, let us join the majority, the 138 members of the UN who recognise the State of Palestine.

Signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends,

Marilyn Garson                          Sarah Cole

Fred Albert                                  Prue Hyman

Jeremy Rose                               Sue Berman

Denzelle Marcovicci                Justine Sachs

David Weinstein