Palestine: Global Actions, Local Actions

Members of the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation talk with representatives of US Senator Claire McCaskill July 7, 2011. Photo by Allison Pasek for The Missourian

I was in college when I first got involved in agitating for Palestinian rights. The precise event was the 1978 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Since then, Israel has invaded Lebanon more times than I can recall and has continued the process of ethnically cleansing (not a pleasant phrase but the one that has the widest currency now) Palestine, a process that began in earnest in late 1947. Simultaneously, Israel has made every effort to deny Palestinians internationally recognized rights to their lands; to return to their homes; to democratically determine their political future; to move freely; and a list of other rights, a list too long to detail here.

Throughout, the US has given Israel unconditional support; a blank check to violate even official American policy (UN Resolution 242 is a case in point).

Over these last three decades, there have always been moments when I thought the weight of American public opinion might be shifting in the direction of supporting Palestinian rights. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and occupied an Arab capital for the first time. Around 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians were killed in that assault and cracks in Israel’s standing in the West began to appear. During the first intifada (popular uprising), former Prime Minister and then Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s “break the bones” policies alarmed even the mainstream American press. I remember Bob Simon’s reporting from that period. In 1993, Israel expelled Palestinian leaders to Lebanon amid an international outcry. In 1996, during the bombing of a UN refuge for civilians fleeing an Israeli bombardment, another outcry…

You get the picture. Over and over, it seemed like an Israeli outrage had elicited enough outrage to finally tip the balance in favor of Palestinian rights. And, almost without fail, after a short period of hope and optimism, Israel and its supporters would recoup.

This is all to say that over last few years–  the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008-2009 was the tipping point– the movement for Palestinian human rights in the US has consistently gained popular support, support shows no sign of abating.

This summer has seen an unprecedented level of such activity among Americans. I have been following two particular efforts. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Palestinian-initiated campaign that began in 2005, spurred the American group Jewish Voice for Peace to ask TIAA-CREF (the largest retirement provider for people in the education, research, and health fields)  to divest from four companies that facilitate the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The group US to Gaza attempted to break the Israeli siege of Gaza again this summer, this time with famed novelist Alice Walker on board.

Even in my own backyard, the greater St. Louis, Missouri area, there has more activity than ever before. Our own Hedy Epstein tried for the fourth (or fifth?) time to deliver letters and good cheer to the children to Gaza. Anna Baltzer, national organizer for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and a resident of St. Louis,co- led an Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation to Palestine/Israel. Members of the St. Louis Palestinian Solidarity Committee Colleen Kelly and Michael Berg blogged (and Michael continues to blog) from the West Bank on the site St. Louis goes to Palestine. Members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Columbia, MO marched in support of humanitarian efforts on behalf of Gazans.

Will the old pattern return or are we in a new era of popular American support for Palestinian rights?

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About Steve Tamari

Ever since I was a child I wanted to blog. Here goes. I have crossed many borders and boundaries. My father is from Jaffa, Palestine and my mother is from Little Rock, Arkansas. We lived in the United States, Algeria, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and Haiti as I was growing up. Since then, I've lived in Greece, France, Palestine/Israel, Syria, Germany, Lebanon, and, now, southern Illinois. I study the Middle East and Islam and I live in the Midwest on the edge of the Bible Belt. I am a Quaker (and a pacifist) and I am attached to my students, many of whom serve(d) in the military. There are other contradictions and ambiguities in my life and in our world that I want to explore here. Please give me your feedback.
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4 Responses to Palestine: Global Actions, Local Actions

  1. Rolo Baez says:

    On top of taking your class, I’ve been reading some of your posts and have really found myself intrigued by the conflict between Palestine and Israel. I’m not sure I’m ready to commit myself to one side or the other, but one of the things I’ve found most disturbing is how little I knew about the human rights issues at the center of the conflict. In the media and in regular conversation the focus seems to always be on the fact that Israel is a liberal democracy and our ally while the Palestinians are Muslim terrorists. It always amazes me how complex and ambiguous things become the closer you look at them.

  2. Steve Tamari says:

    Rolo,
    I so appreciate your commenting. I have recently lost the stamina to keep up with my blog but I am energized by your comment once again. I can talk/write for longer than you want about Israel/Palestine. As you know, I don’t think there is much to debate about the fact that Israel was created through the forcible dispossession of at least 750,000 Palestinians. The fact that it is explicitly a Jewish state is reason enough I think to question its supporters commitment to justice and democracy. If you are interested in further reading or discussion, let me know. There is also the phenomenon of Christian Zionism which you may be familiar with. Christian Zionism as powerful as Jewish Zionism in this country as a source of political support for our countries Zionist foreign policy when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. Nuff said. Thanks again for your interest.

    • Rolo Baez says:

      No problem, I definitely enjoy reading your blog posts in general since often times they offer in-depth takes on esoteric things that I otherwise would never know about. As for the whole Christian Zionism thing, as a former Southern Baptist I’ve definitely heard of it. What I’m curious about, however, is why people would support things like Zionism or Israel’s occupation of Palestine if the issue of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians is so clear cut. From your perspective, what would be the strongest arguments against your own position or why do you think so many people are attracted to Zionism?

  3. Steve Tamari says:

    As always, a good question. I try to teach my class on the subject (I am hoping to offer it in spring 2014) by starting with Jewish history, particularly European Jewish history, rather than staring with the history Zionism itself. Zionism makes sense given the history of the Jews (again, particularly those in Europe). After centuries of persecution culminating, first, with Russian pogroms of the late 19th/early 20th centuries and, of course, the Holocaust, it’s easy to understand why many Jews (most by the time of the Holocaust) thought/think that the only way to find security and preserve their identity was to create a Jewish state. As for oppression, many Zionists will say that it isn’t worse than what goes on, say, in other Middle Eastern countries, of Copts in Egypt, of dissidents in Asad’s Syria or the Islamic republic of Iran, etc. In addition, Israel is a democracy for the majority who live in Israel, Jewish Israelis that is. Arab Israelis (the 20% of the population of Israel proper, ie. not including the West Bank/Gaza) have the right to vote, to serve in government. Their are Arabs serving on the Supreme Court and as ambassadors.

    There are other arguments too. Most Zionists would not acknowledge the gravity of human rights abuses. I don’t think it is, in some ways, that different from the African-American reality. Yes, we can have a black president, but most white Americans (the majority for the time being) refuse to recognize that African-Americans are second class citizens in this country. They suffer disproportionately from poverty, incarceration, you know the story.

    There is a great scene in the Zionist film “Exodus” where the main character played by Paul Newman,, a liberal Zionist, confronts his radical uncle who makes the main point above about the necessity for a Jewish state. I recommend the film for that scene alone.

    Finally, I don’t think it is hard to find pro-Zionist arguments in our own media. How often does anyone on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, NPR, what-have-you suggest that Israel is an abusive country. If you want an alternative source of news, my recommendation is “Democracy Now!”(http://www.democracynow.org/)

    Nuff for now.

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