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?