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SWIFT sanctions against Israel

It is called the “ultimate sanction that would really hurt”. It worked in South Africa. It can work in Israel too. Swift sanctions against Israeli banks will isolate Israel from the world system of trading. Israeli banks will be unable to pay for imports or receive payment for exports.

Fellow Capetonian activist Terry Crawford-Browne used to be an international banker. Yet when South Africa was on the brink of a civil war in the 1980s, he became an activist. At the time he used his expertise to implement Swift sanctions against South Africa.

The importance of this intervention cannot be underestimated. The SWIFT sanctions were a game-changer. They were powerful, effective, immediate and they gave impetus to the non-violent resistance in South Africa. Now Terry advocates for a smiliar step against Israel.

The Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication system, known as Swift, is a secure messaging system used by more than 10,500 banks for international money transfers. Swift sanctions are also considered against Russia – as a “the ultimate sanction that would really hurt”. Read the article here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFour South African ecumenical accompaniers who served in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). From left to right: Marthie Momberg, Terry Crawford-Browne, Corbin August and Carol Martin. The photo was taken in the South African Parliament on 6 February 2014.

You can listen to Terry explaining his plan on YouTube, and/or you can read a shorter version of his recent talk in Istanbul at the IPRA conference:

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SWIFT SANCTIONS AGAINST ISRAELI BANKS

by Terry Crawford-Browne

The international banking sanctions campaign launched in October 1985 by Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr Allan Boesak and Dr Beyers Naude became the tipping point in South Africa’s relatively peaceful transformation from apartheid to constitutional democracy. It was a nonviolent strategy intended to avert a looming civil war. International trade and sports boycotts and numerous resolutions at the United Nations had created conscientiousness about apartheid, but in themselves could not defeat the system. The critical factor was the role of the US dollar as settlement currency in foreign exchange markets. Without access to the New York bank payment system, apartheid South Africa would be unable to pay for imports or receive payment for exports even from third countries such as Germany or Japan.

Under the “adopt-a-bank” strategy, the church leaders applied their influence with American churches to pressure the major New York banks to choose the banking business of apartheid South Africa or the pension fund business of the respective Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and other denominations. The City of New York later added the choice between the City’s payroll accounts or the banking business of apartheid South Africa. Even the Bush (senior) administration in October 1989 surprisingly issued an ultimatum to demand compliance by the apartheid government by February 1990 of the first three of five conditions, namely: (a) the end of the state of emergency, (b) release of political prisoners and (c) unbanning of political organisations.

That was the background to President FW de Klerk’s announcement on 2 February 1990. Mr de Klerk has subsequently conceded that the threat contained in that ultimatum to close off all South African access to the American financial system motivated his decision to release Nelson Mandela and to begin constitutional negotiations. The fourth and fifth objectives of the banking sanctions campaign were: (d) repeal of apartheid legislation and (e) constitutional negotiations towards a democratic, non-racial and united South Africa.

[…]

Three decades later, banking technology has advanced dramatically. The pressure point in the international payments system is no longer in New York, but is now at the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) which is headquartered in Belgium. In essence, SWIFT is a giant computer cooperatively owned by 10 500 international banks in 215 countries that daily authenticates interbank payment instructions for more than 20 million international financial transactions. SWIFT’s function has been to replace the cumbersome and labour-intensive authentication system traditionally known as “testing,” which verifies the payment instructions of correspondent banks.

SWIFT is overseen by the central banks of the G10 countries, with the National Bank of Belgium being the lead overseeing authority. Every participating bank has a SWIFT code, the fifth and sixth letters of which identifies the country of domicile. As examples, South African banks are identified by the letters ZA; Israeli banks by the letters IL.

The impact of SWIFT is such that a bank that is not part of the SWIFT network is essentially excluded from the international financial payments system. Banking is the lifeblood of any economy. Just as all South African banks were complicit in funding and upholding the apartheid system, so too the role of Israeli banks is fundamental to the Israeli government’s illegal occupation of Palestine. Money laundering and financial crimes are now regarded as serious international threats, and thanks to forensic auditing can increasingly be traced and identified. In fact, given the advances in technology, Israel is much more vulnerable to a banking sanctions campaign than was apartheid South Africa during the 1980s.

Israeli banks fund the construction both the “apartheid wall” and the settlements, which the International Court of Justice in 2004 found to be illegal in terms of international law. The banks provide heavily subsidised mortgages to induce over 700 000 Israelis to live in illegal settlements such as Ma’ale Adumin, Har Homa and Zufrim as well as providing regular banking services in those communities. Israeli banks are also a critical factor in repatriating the financial proceeds to Israel of blood diamonds, drug trafficking and Israeli arms exports, all of which are crucial to the Israeli economy.

Just as South African banks during the apartheid era were actively engaged in “sanctions-busting,” so too Israeli banks all blatantly participate in illegal transactions under the guise of “national security.” It is impossible to separate legitimate transactions of Israeli banks from illegal transactions that violate international laws on money laundering and war profiteering. Accordingly, all transactions to and from Israeli banks must be deemed to contravene banking protocols such as international obligations imposed on financial institutions to “know your customer”(KYC) and other due diligence procedures to mitigate financial crimes.

Major international banks such as JP Morgan Chase, BNP Paribas, HSBC, Barclays Bank, Credit Suisse have recently been heavily fined for failures to meet such obligations. Seventeen European governments, including the Belgian government, in June 2014 warned their citizens of the reputational and other risks involved in financial transactions to and from the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. All countries, even including the United States, regard the Israeli settlements as illegal.

Norwegian, Danish and Dutch pension funds and banks are already blacklisting Israeli banks. SWIFT declares itself to be “neutral” in respect of sanctions. Since sanctions often only apply in certain but not all jurisdictions, SWIFT cannot voluntarily suspend transactions unless regulations are enacted by laws of its home jurisdiction, namely Belgium and the European Union (EU). To date, the EU government statements about financial transactions with the settlements are warnings rather than regulations, but the “writing is increasingly on the wall.” The image of the banking industry is currently poor, and SWIFT and its 10 500 members would certainly not wish to be publicly identified as complicit with Israeli war crimes.

Given these developments. SWIFT earlier this year has expanded its operations to include compliance management registry, including sanctions screening and testing. To this purpose, SWIFT will conduct a two day conference in Boston, USA during 30 September to 1 October to establish standards to assist banks in addressing financial crime compliance regulations. This registry is expected to go live at the end of 2014.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) — which met in Barcelona, London, Cape Town, New York and Brussels between 2010 and 2013 – has already collated a huge volume of evidence on Israeli government violations of international law, including that its behaviour towards Palestinians meets the legal criteria of apartheid as a crime against humanity.

The recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza prompted the United Nations Human Rights Council on 23 July 2014 to establish a commission of inquiry on Israeli war crimes. Similarly, the RToP has now decided to establish an extra, extraordinary session to be held in Brussels during 24 and 25 September 2014 to investigate the implications of the latest Israeli war crimes in Gaza. Just as the campaign against apartheid was driven by international civil society, so too it is now imperative for civil society to apply pressure upon EU governments to meet their obligations in respect of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Given the outrage over the disproportionate and illegal Israeli government actions in Gaza, there is increasing recognition of the need for a permanent resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indisputably, just as the international community judged apartheid in South Africa to be a threat to world peace, so too is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli government is a repeated violator of international law including the Geneva Conventions. SWIFT sanctions against Israeli banks offer a nonviolent instrument in the cause of peace in the Middle East to balance the scales between Israelis and Palestinians so that, unlike the failed US “peace process” and the Egyptian-brokered ceasefires, meaningful negotiations become possible.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign, which is supported by the broad spectrum of Palestinian society, has endorsed a proposal of SWIFT sanctions against Israeli banks. The proposal calls upon the EU governments and other members of the international community to require SWIFT to suspend transactions to and from Israeli (IL) banks until the Israeli government:

1. Agrees to relinquish its nuclear weapons, and to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty,
2. Agrees to release immediately all Palestinian political prisoners,
3. Agrees to end its occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem, plus Gaza, and that it will dismantle the “apartheid wall,”
4. Recognises the fundamental rights of Arab Palestinians will full equality in Israel-Palestine,
5. Acknowledges the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Being directed at Israeli banks, SWIFT sanctions are targeted at the financial and political elites who have the influence and clout to alert and warn the Israeli government of the consequences of financial isolation from the international community. The intention is not to destroy the Israeli economy but, instead, to bring the highly militarised Israeli government to its senses. Once the Israeli government agrees to these conditions, SWIFT sanctions can immediately be reversed in order to minimize economic damage to the Israeli economy.

Terry Crawford-Browne
19 August 2014

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SA-EAPPI calling on South African society, churches and government for action re Israel

South Africa’s members of the World Council of Churches EAPPI programme fully endorses the newly formed NC4P (National Coalition for Palestine) and they ask for more steps:

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STATEMENT BY SA-EAPPI ON PALESTINE AND ISRAEL
31 July 2014

We, as a group of 70 South African ecumenical accompaniers who have monitored and reported human rights abuses in Palestine cannot remain silent at a time like this. We remember how often Palestinians told us that if we as South Africans can have a just freedom, then it must be possible for them too.

South African ecumenical accompaniers have worked side to side with other internationals in occupied Palestine since 2004 in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine Israel (EAPPI). EAPPI was established by the World Council of Churches in response to a call from the Heads of Churches in the Holy Land. EAPPI provides protective presence to the vulnerable Palestinian communities and supports Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. We have witnessed multiple and layered injuries and losses by Palestinians whether Christian or Muslim. We value and recognise the safety and dignity of all those in Israel and Palestine. Yet we are not impartial when it comes to international law.

SA-EAPPI is appalled and devastated with the ongoing bombings, shelling and rocket firing in Israel and Palestine. However we absolutely reject any arguments that position the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis as two equal sides. The disproportionate killing of civilians including so many children horrifies us. That people are deprived of shelter, food, electricity, water and the hope of freedom is a source of shame to all who value the sacredness of life and the protection of international law. The current escalation in the conflict is not a war, let alone an act of self-defence, but a punitive, planned, strategic, militant expedition by a regional super-power to deepen Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. Moreover, Israel’s systematic, systemic, institutionalised oppression of the Palestinians that violates international law on a daily basis makes the conflict a-symmetric.

SA-EAPPI endorses the Memorandum to the South African Government issued by the National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P) on 28 July 2014 in Cape Town. In addition, we appeal to:

  • South African citizens to not buy any Israeli produce or services;

  • all faith communities to critically review their interpretations of sacred texts in a quest to uphold those values and principles that foster the flourishing of life for all;

  • South African churches to take a clear and unequivocal stand for justice and a viable peace;

  • the South African government to break its resounding silence and to demonstrate to the world what sustained, visible solidarity can mean for the freedom of an oppressed people;

  • the United Nations’ Security Council to agree on resolutions to end both the conflict and the occupation, and to appoint an honest and an impartial broker for peace talks between Palestine and Israel; and

  • the international society to ensure the consistent implementation of international law.

 

Twee Suid-Afrikaanse EAPPI span: Carol in die agtergrond, en Zodwa in die voorgrond.  Zodwa neem by Carol oor in die Jayyous span.

East-Jerusalem: Carol Martin and Zodwa Nsibande during the handover ceremony between EAPPI Teams 40 and 41 in September 2011.

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Jerusalem: It is done now

It happened. The people left. The dust settled. But you can still watch the children shouting, the adults trying to calm them down, the soldiers laughing, the grotesque Hyundai bulldozers hovering over the damaged furniture in the dusty rubble.

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You can also turn away – there are after all so much terror and injustices in this world. But there it remains – the flattened Palestinian house in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem.  The boy who doesn’t understand. The unsettled dust.

media_29ebc6919dd74f69ad4b1c1ff51d929e_t607(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

It happened on 5 February 2013 and it is one of thousands of similar stories.  Children returning home after school to see this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_U83yMFVFM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxCX9j230x8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-FySzDyOTI

nushi20130205223614270Photo: press tv

It is not the end.  More demolitions will follow on Palestinian land – in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank.  They will be executed by the hand of Israel who occupies Palestine illegally.

My EAPPI colleague Jan McIntyre (Group 41 Sept – Dec 2011) returned to Palestine for a second term.  This time she monitors human rights violations in Jerusalem.  She wrote as follows:

Hi Marthie,

…You know how your heart is broken open in this work?  This was one of those times.  I felt physically ill at the sight of all this and my voice broke as I told the young girl how sorry I was that this had happened.  But this isn’t about me….it’s about the ongoing suffering under Israel’s occupation….

I was there yesterday to check on the family.  The scene was beyond horrible. All that is left is a massive pile of rubble.  Iman, the oldest daughter of the Castero family, a very articulate 18 year old first year law student with excellent English, came up to speak with me.  She said that the house had been a 10 year old two storey stone house (typical Arab style), built without a building permit. (Building permits are virtually unobtainable for Palestinians in Jerusalem and so people build without). A demolition permit had been issued only days ago and they had been unable to stop it. The Israeli authorities allowed less than five minutes for the family to get their belongings out of the house, and did not allow neighbours to help.  As a result, they were only able to get a very few things out of the house. The majority of their household goods are buried under the rubble.

This house was home to Iman’s grandparents, their three sons and their families.  In total, this demolition has left 37 people homeless!  They have no access to water, no food, no clothes other than what they were wearing, and no bathroom facilities.  The ICRC (Red Cross) have supplied them with two tents and other agencies have contributed a small amount of food.  Neighbours are helping out as much as they can.

Apart from the obvious physical needs of the family, they also are suffering from considerable psychological trauma.  As well, the grandmother was taken to hospital during the demolition.

I simply ask that you include this Castero family in the prayers of the people of your congregation on Sunday.

Peace,

Jan

It is all done now. The incomprehensible destruction. The shattered lives of ordinary civilians.  Israel’s repeated breaching of international law continues.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_U83yMFVFM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxCX9j230x8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-FySzDyOTI

In 2011 almost 1,100 Palestinians, over half children, were displaced due to home demolitions by Israeli forces in violation to international law. This is over 80% more than in 2010. What is the world doing about it? Why do we think it does not matter if we pretend to not see it?

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An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man from the anti Zionist Neturei Karta (Guards of the Walls) in solidarity with praying Palestinians against the Jerusalem municipality’s house demolition policy.  (Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Joligheid: Oktober olyfoes

Oktobermaand is olyfoestyd vir Palestyne – tradisioneel ‘n vrolike kulturele, sosiale en ekonomiese bedrywigheid.  Almal werk saam en hou tydens middagete heerlik piekniek in die koelte van die bome.

In Yanoun het ek iets hiervan beleef, maar dinge was nie algeheel idillies en sorgvry nie.  Maar tog, as almal saam werk, vuil word, sing, en eet, vergeet ‘n mens amper van die besetting.

Boere mag dikwels nie by hul boorde kom om te oes nie, en indien wel, moet hulle beskerm word.  Beskermingsbegeleiding is een van die sleuteltake van ekumeniese werkers in die WRK se EAPPI-program. (Terloops, Linda wat links sit, en Ueli wat nie op die foto is nie, het beide tydens die oes van die wankelrige houtlere afgeval – Ueli met taamlik rampspoedige gevolge vir sy rug, en albei met ‘n groot geterg van die res van ons.)

Die inwoners van ons dorp (en elders) het weke in spanning gewag om te hoor of hulle permitte sou kry om by hul (eie) boorde uit te kom – en uiteindelik mag hulle nie by al hul (weer eens eie, wettige) boorde gekom het nie.  Tydens die oes was daar weermagvoertuie wat op en af gejaag het en ons was heeltyd op die uitkyk vir setlaars wat wou amok maak.

Oktober 2011:

Ons begin soggens net na sonop.  My hande is gaar en elke stukkie van myself en my klere is stofbedek, maar dis vreeslik lekker.

 Middagete is vars taboonbrood met olyfolie, za’tar, gebakte eiervrug en soetrissies, volryp tamaties, uie, skaap- en bokmelkkaas en piekels, en dan tee met salie – absoluut heerlik!

Middagkoffie

Ek wens ek het ook handskoene hier (te ver van die winkels)

Foto deur Jan Egil Berg, Ekumeniese Begeleier, Noorweë.

Hoewel dit goed gaan in Yanoun (buiten vir die drie groepe onwettige, gewapende Israeliese setlaars wat  deur die dorp en die landerye gestap het), gaan dit moeiliker in die ander dorpe waar ons werk.

Dit neem jare voordat ‘n olyfboom begin vrugte dra.  In die eerste jaar het so ‘n boom daaglikse aandag nodig en later weekliks of maandeliks.  Teen die tyd dat die bome groot is, word hulle amper soos “kinders” beskou.  Dis hartverskeurend om dan te sien hoe die bome doelbewus beskadig en vernietig word deur setlaars.

Die olyfolie-industrie beslaan 14% van Palestyne se landbou-inkomste en verskaf inkomste aan sowat 80 000 gesinne.

Ongeveer die helfte van die besette Palestynse gebied (48%) is beplant met olyfbome waarvan die meeste in die Wesoewer–  omtrent orals waar ‘n mens kyk.

Elke stukkie word gebruik – selfs die afvalmateriaal wat oorbly nadat die olywe gepers is.  Hierdie korrelrige afvalmateriaal word weer huis toe geneem en daar gedroog vir  gebruik in die winter om vuur mee te maak (die olierigheid laat ‘n klein vuurtjie sommer goed ontvlam):

Die ontwrigting van die olyf-industrie raak die hart van die Palestyne.  Juis daarom word dit gereeld geteister deur Israeli setlaars.  Organisasies soos Rabbis for Human Rights (www.rhr.org.il) en Joint Advocacy Initiative (www.jai-pal.org) doen geweldig baie deur vrywilligers te reël wat in die oestyd saampluk met die mans, vrouens en kinders en ‘n teenwoordigheid handhaaf.

Maar deur die loop van die jaar moet die bome versorg word.  Dit moet gesnoei en die grond moet omgeploeg en bemes word sodat die winterreën kan indring.  As dit nie gebeur nie, is die oes klein en swak – soos ek laas jaar in Yanoun beleef het.

Israel maak dit so moeilik as moontlik vir boere:

  • Daar is 73 Israeli “hekke” waarvan die meeste (52) heeljaar gesluit is sodat boere nie by hul boorde kan kom nie buiten tydens oestyd vir ‘n beperkte aantal ure wat meestal te min is om alles te oes.
  • In 2011 is 42% van aansoeke om permitte vir toegang tot die boorde tydens die oestyd verwerp (39% in 2010).
  • Tussen Januarie en middel Oktober 2012, het Israeli setlaars in die Wesoewer sowat 7 500 bome van Palestyne beskadig of vernietig (uitgetrek, verbrand, vergif, afgekap) (dis ongeveer 2000 minder as in dien ooreenstemmende periode in 2011).
  • Volgens Yesh Din, ‘n Israeli vredesorganisasie wat Palestyne help, het net een van die 162 klagtes teen setlaaraanvalle op Palestynse bome gelei tot die aankla van ‘n beskuldigde.
  • In Gaza is 7 300 dunums boorde al langs die grens met Israel platgevee deur Israeli militêre operasies.

Foto’s Oktober 2012: Olyfoes in Hebron: vrywilligers gearresteer deur die IDF

Ek hoop om binnekort my eie twee olyfbome te plant 🙂

Gallery

The Jordan Valley, a Finish film crew and two settlers

I fell in love with the sweltering Jordan Valley and all its flies during my time in the West Bank. I’m not the only one though… Israel wants it too.

The Jordan Valley is the only remaining connective tissue between the cut-up, isolated Palestinian villages surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements.  It is considered the food basket of the land.

The West Bank (where the Jordan Valley is) was previously occupied by the British and by Jordan, and before them by others, but during those times, the Palestinians could cultivate fruit and vegetables and roam their sheep and goat on their fertile land.  Under Israeli occupation, this is no longer the case.

Since the Nakba (Arabic for “The Catastrophe”) in 1948 and the 1967 war, life has become increasingly unbearable for Palestinians.

Israel denies the right of the Palestinians to make a living and systematically tries to remove them by forced evacuation.  The photo above shows an Israeli sign to keep Palestinians from their own land.

In violation of the Geneva Convention, Israel as the occupier uses the occupied Palestinian land for Israel’s economic benefit – and more specifically, for produce they export with labels calling it “Produce of Israel”:

Israel breaches applicable international law by severe water restrictions, demolitions of buildings (mosques, houses, schools, animal shelters, etc.) and the confiscation of Palestinian land.

(this photo by EA Eduardo Minossi de Oliveira from Brazil)

They use these measures to take land away from the Palestinians – supposedly for “military reasons”, but actually to cultivate that land with water they also take from the Palestinians.

Pointing to the land his family used to own when he was a child, Ghassan explained that his family had been harassed by the IDF to the point where they had feared for their lives (their tent was blown up amongst other things).  Eventually, after years of harassment, they were forced to choose between their lives and their land. So they chose to live. Today Ghassan is a taxi driver and he talks peace. The land is now used by the nearby Israeli settlement for agriculture.

In the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea area, about 10 000 Israeli settlers have the same amount of water allocated to every 833 000 Palestinians.  This explains why the Israeli settlements’ gardens and  fields are lush green while the Palestinians barely have enough for washing and drinking.

The stark difference between a Palestinian farm and an illegal Israeli settlement with lots of water.

Israeli wells and boreholes literally drain the Palestinian underground water sources. Palestinians wells may be up to 90m deep, whilst Israeli wells (that pump up Palestinian water for exclusive use by Israeli settlers) are 600m deep.  Palestinians in the Jordan Valley (JV) have no electricity and have to use (expensive) gasoline to pump water.  Israeli settlers, in turn, use subsidised electricity to power their modern water infrastructure:

My EA team member Emma Idestrand (from Sweden) and I accompanied a Finish film crew who were shooting footage for two films –  one on the work of EAPPI and another on advocating for a boycott of illegal produce by Israeli settlers.  We showed them how the Israelis benefit from the water in the Jordan Valley, and how little there is available to the Palestinians:

As most of the Jordan Valley is zoned as Area C and hence under full Israeli military control, the Palestinians may not even repair or upgrade their own equipment, so this is what it looks like:

As the film crew, Emma and I got into the minibus, Ghassan was still closing the back door of the vehicle on the film equipment.  A car stopped next to us. Two people got out and immediately started to angrily harass Ghassan, asking him what he was doing there. Yes, they who live illegally in the West Bank, asked Ghassan, a legal and indigenous inhabitant, what he was doing on his own land.

Well, the film crew immediately wanted to film the incident, but we discouraged them as we knew that it would aggravate the situation, and possibly create more anger which the settlers may project onto other Palestinians.  So we simply did what we were trained to do – we provided a protective presence. When Emma and I got out of the minibus, the sight of our EAPPI vests and our steadfast presence made them backtrack – albeit very noisily.  Only then did I take a picture:


Somehow this situation reminded me or my own country’s history. And for that very reason, I have hope, for I know that this kind of attitude has changed for so  many South Africans.

It made me reread the words of Cynthia Ngewu, one of the Gugulethu mothers whose children were killed by Apartheid Security Forces during our apartheid years:

This thing called reconciliation…if I am
understanding it correctly…if it means this
perpetrator, this man who has killed…
Christopher Piet, if it means he becomes
human again, this man, so that I, so that all
of us, get our humanity back…then I agree,
then I support it all.

(as recorded by Antjie Krog, a prominent Afrikaans poet who was a journalist during South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Process.)

I also realise that our process of reconciliation in South Africa, the one of finding our own humanity and those of others, is not finished.  Not by far.

South Africa on a failing Quartet

Outside the SA representative office in Ramallah with fellow South African ecumenical accompaniers Mpumi Nkosi and Zodwa Nsibande

When South Africa stated that the Quartet’s peace process comes to nothing, the Israeli response was one that will buy them more time to do what they do (expand their illegal settlements, grab more land, displace civilians and generally creating havoc) in their attempt to confiscate all Palestinian resources – but without the indigenous people.

If the Quartet makes no progress, it suits the Israeli agenda.
The world’s political leaders in turn seem to be too numbed and exasperated with the issue to come up with anything (like, for example, insisting that Israel too should adhere to international human rights laws).

What will bring the necessary change?  My hope is on the mobilisation of civilians….and there are indeed a growing awareness and actions from such groups worldwide.

Here’s an article on South Africa’s questioning of the credibility of the Middle-East Quartet:

South Africa has questioned the value and credibility of the Middle East Quartet that is tasked with mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even suggesting that it should be disbanded.

In a monthly United Nations Security Council debate on the region, South Africa pointed to the lack of progress in moving parties closer to direct negotiations by the group comprising the United States, European Union, Russia and the UN  – arguing that the prospects for peace were quickly diminishing.

There was tough talk in the Council on an issue where patience is clearly wearing thin.

Ambassador Doc Mashabane, South Africa’s number two at the UN says: “In the absence of any substantive progress, the peace process, we once again question the value and the credibility of the Quartet to which the UN has outsourced its responsibility. In our assessment, it has not proven its strategic worth. Therefore, let us urgently review this mechanism and either bolster, adjust or disband it.”

South Africa’s Charge de Affaires slammed Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza, criticised the indiscriminate firing of rockets from the territory into Israel, rejected continued Israeli settlement construction in disputed areas and again expressed support for Palestinian statehood at the UN.

“There is an urgent need to focus on the plight of the Palestinians, they expect a lot from us. They deserve better and we need not fail them. Political and economic events elsewhere in the world should not be allowed to derail the peace process, which is by far the best solution rather than ongoing confrontation and violence,” adds Mashabane.

There is an urgent need to focus on the plight of the Palestinians, they expect a lot from us

The UN’s head of political affairs Jeffrey Feltman warned that the door for a negotiated two state solution may be closing. “While the world’s gaze of concern points elsewhere in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drifts dangerously in a direction that must be avoided.

Both sides maintain their rhetorical commitment to a negotiated peace, however the creeping realities on the ground and the stalemated diplomacy portray a more worrying reality. Stated intentions to adhere to a two state solution are not translating into meaningful steps to renewed dialogue on the core issues to be resolved,” says Feltman.

Israel’s ambassador, Ron Prosor rejected continued Palestinian efforts for statehood. “Instead of sitting with Israel in direct negotiations, the Palestinian leadership is pursuing the path of unilateralism at the UN. This is no road to real statehood. It is a march of folly. Peace must be negotiated. It cannot be imposed from the outside. There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. No instant solutions,” says Prosor.

Palestine’s Representative Riyad Mansour took issue with Israel’s lack of adherence to various international laws and resolutions that have for example called into question the legality of continued settlement activity. “Serious efforts must be made to overcome the paralysis in the international community, including the Security Council, especially with regard to ending Israel’s impunity and compelling its compliance with international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention and with the relevant UN resolutions,” says Mansour.

There was a sense of exasperation from many countries who addressed the matter in Council, at the lack of progress and the entrenched views on either side that refuse to move parties closer to direct negotiations. The UN has warned that the situation is drifting dangerously in a direction that must be avoided.

Both sides maintain their rhetorical commitment to a negotiated peace, however the creeping realities on the ground and the stalemated diplomacy portray a more worrying reality. Stated intentions to adhere to a two state solution are not translating into meaningful steps to renewed dialogue on the core issues to be resolved,” says Feltman.

Israel’s ambassador, Ron Prosor rejected continued Palestinian efforts for statehood. “Instead of sitting with Israel in direct negotiations, the Palestinian leadership is pursuing the path of unilateralism at the UN. This is no road to real statehood. It is a march of folly. Peace must be negotiated. It cannot be imposed from the outside. There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. No instant solutions,”says Prosor.

Palestine’s Representative Riyad Mansour took issue with Israel’s lack of adherence to various international laws and resolutions that have for example called into question the legality of continued settlement activity. “Serious efforts must be made to overcome the paralysis in the international community, including the Security Council, especially with regard to ending Israel’s impunity and compelling its compliance with international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention and with the relevant UN resolutions,” says Mansour.

There was a sense of exasperation from many countries who addressed the matter in Council, at the lack of progress and the entrenched views on either side that refuse to move parties closer to direct negotiations. The UN has warned that the situation is drifting dangerously in a direction that must be avoided.

by Sherwin Bryce-Pease, SABC-news, Tuesday 16 October 2012 06:53

South African EAPPI members from Group 41 (Mpumi Nkosi, Zodwa Nsibande and Alicia Lawrence) in conversation with Machiel van Niekerk at the South African representative office in Ramallah.

May Palestinians live on their own land?

Clearly not according to the Israeli Government’s logic.  Take for instance the crisis faced by the inhabitants of Susiya.

This village in South Hebron Hills in the West Bank is situated very close to an Israeli settlement, which according to international law, was built illegally on Palestinian land. But these settlers want more and so they filed a petition to the Israeli High Court. The State indicated in March 2012 that it plans to demolish 70% of Susiya.

No alternatives or compensation are offered to the inhabitants. It is still icy cold in Palestine. They will loose everything. To us who worked in the West Bank, they are not faceless people. They are not “Arab terrorists.”  They are people with families, who love and live and have dreams for their children. They live legally on the land of their forefathers, the land allotted to them by the United Nations in 1948. International law protects their human rights…. or does it?

Most of that land allocated to the Palestinians has already been taken by Israel in illegal ways. Palestinians have only 22% left of what was given to them in 1948, and of this 22%, Israel occupies (in the West Bank) a further 60%

Information from a fact sheet by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories of Palestine (UNOCHA otP):

Susiya families, who have lived in the community since before 1948, face some of the worst living conditions in Area C. Residents, who own the land in the  community, used to live in houses, but these were destroyed by the Israeli authorities. They now live in tents and tin shelters. Residents, who rely on agriculture and herding for their livelihood, depend on rainwater cisterns, as the community is not connected to the water network and there are no nearby filling points.

A demolished house in Jericho. Here too Israel claimed it was necessary to protect an archaeological site, but is this the real reason?

KEY FACTS (from an UNOCHA fact sheet, March 2012):
  • Susiya has a population of some 350 people, including 120 children.
  • In 1986, the main residential area of the community was declared an archaeological site by the Israeli authorities and approximately 60 families were forcibly displaced, without any compensation according to residents; an Israeli settlement outpost, Suseya Synagogue, was subsequently established in the same area.
  • The Israeli settlement of Suseya, est. 1983, and the outpost, est. 2002, control land that is ten times larger than the built-up area of both Israeli settlements, much of which is privately-owned Palestinian land. (source: Rabbis for Human Rights)
  • Susiya residents now have access to less than one-third of the approximately 6,000 dunums of land that were previously available to them for residential, agricultural and herding purposes.
  • In 2001, all structures in the community were demolished and the residents forcibly displaced again.
  • In 2011, the Israeli authorities carried out four waves of demolitions, targeting 41 structures, including 31 residential tents or shacks and two water cisterns, repeatedly displacing 37 people (including 20 children) and affecting another 70.
  • At least 70 percent of the existing structures in the community, including the school, have pending demolition orders.
  • Residents pay 25 NIS per cubic meter of tankered water, five times more than the nearby illegal Israeli settlement, which is served by the national network, and spend up to 1/3 of their income on water.
  • Water consumption is 28 litres/capita/day (l/c/d), significantly less than the 70 l/c/d consumed by an average Palestinian and well below the World Health Organisation standard of 100 l/c/d. (WASH cluster)

There is a clear pattern of discrimination between Susiya and the nearby Israeli settlements, particularly regarding planning and zoning. The illegal Israeli Suseya settlement has an approved plan that allows construction. While the structures in the nearby Israeli outpost lack a building permit, the Israeli Civil Authority (which is actually a military body) has carried out no demolitions here and to discriminate even further, the illegal Israeli outpost is connected to the water and electricity networks.

Susiya residents are exposed to systematic intimidation and abuse from settlers, in an attempt to forcefully displace them…..  to have no home in one’s own land. The cases recorded include physical assaults, verbal harassment and prevention of access to their land and hence their livelihood. Of course these ongoing abuses damage people on a psycho-social level…. particularly children who have not yet developed coping strategies.

This seems to be a deliberate Israeli strategy.  For if Palestinian communities in Area C my not build or live on their land and if there is no freeze on demolitions, the situation in these communities will continue to deteriorate, increasing their risk of forced displacement and hence undermining Palestinian presence in Area C of the West Bank.  This seems to be what Israel wants. The ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements counter to international humanitarian law, and together with that the persistent settler violence which the Israeli authorities consistently fail to investigate, make matters worse and all of this play into the forceful removal of locals.

Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907:

it is especially forbidden (for the occupier) to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.”

Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949:

“any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

The case of Susiya is unfortunately not unique. See also my post on Al ‘Aqaba where 97% of the village is under threat of demolition by Israel.
Gallery

It is possible, we CAN live together

The ever increasing number of illegal Israeli settlements and their outposts may ultimately stretch like tentacles around all the West Bank villages to isolate them from one another.

The purple fields on the United Nations map above show some of the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Palestine.  Note, for example, how the village of Yanoun in the north is totally surrounded by outposts of the Itamar settlement. 

Before 2011, Qusra was not in the news.  But since the beginning of that year armed Israelis from the illegal settlement Shilo and its outposts Eli and Eish Qadeesh have started to enter the Palestinian village to harass the townsfolk and damage their property.

My encounter with Qusra started in September 2011. During the course of this month alone, Israeli settlers:   

  • Desecrated Qusra’s new mosque with fire and terrible graffiti (I do not want to post my photos),
  • Burnt, cut and uprooted hundreds of olive trees (usually on Fridays when most of the villagers are at the mosque for prayers),
  • Injured five men and killed another (the Israeli army equipped these illegal Israeli settlers with live ammunition and teargas.)

I went to the funeral of the young man who was killed, not knowing what to expect as this was only the second day after my team and I started our service term in this area.  This is what I found… men praying over and over again in an open field next to the olive groves:

A boy watched intently as men pray at the funeral of a villager killed by the IDF on 23 September 2011 after settlers invaded Qusra and damaged the olive groves.  Unarmed villagers, with the broken branches of their trees in their hands, tried to chase the settlers away. But they were shot at and five more had to be hospitalised.  No Israelis suffered injuries.



During the funeral the settlers invaded olive groves on another side of the town and damaged 500 more olive trees.

In yet another incident, approximately 200 olive trees were broken or uprooted by settlers on the night of 06.10. 2011. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) were present. They stopped the unarmed Palestininians from entering their fields to safeguard their property and the soldiers did nothing to stop the settlers. In fact, they used flares/ light bombs to light up the area making it easier for settlers to find their way over the rocky terrain. Olives and olive oil are the main of source of income to most Palestinian farmers.

We sat in the shop of Mohammad A.A. Hassan after settlers uprooted and damaged more of the village’s olive trees on 06.11.2011. He rubbed his tired eyes:

Look at this young man who studies at university. We want him to find a job and have a family like everyone else in the rest of the world. We want a normal life, not more, but also not less than others. But now we are sad and angry.  The army uses live bullets, rubber bullets and teargas and we throw stones.  But this can’t liberate our land. We need the help of the world.  We are waiting for this.

I turned to the young man he pointed to, an IT specialist, who started to talk:

I have many internet friends all over the world who have very nice lives. I don’t want that, I just want a simple life here.  I have in my heart that Palestine will one day be free. I am optimistic. I don’t want to kill settlers.

Some of my friends are settlers because they used to come into the town to buy things before the new outpost was there. I asked one of them if he can smell this soil, as for me, it is like heroine, I breathe it in. He started to cry. He said they were promised a good life in this land, but he cannot smell this soil and he doesn’t know the names of the plants. He told me that I am a good man.  He is from California and he thinks his life here is bullshit, but his parents came here to have a good life. He wants to return to California.  I told him that if he wants to stay, he should stay.  We are all human and we can all live here.  Just don’t burn our olive trees, I asked.

On another day a soldier at a checkpoint called me a terrorist. I said I wanted to ask him just one question and then he may shoot me if he thinks it is necessary.  I asked him where was his father born.  At first he got angry and called five more armed soldiers. But I just looked at him and asked him the same thing again.  Then he saw me as a human being. He sat down for a long, long time and said nothing.  Then he looked at me and said he knows I am not a terrorist.  I felt that this soldier has a heart and a mind.

I trust my friends who are Israelis.  They all say to me that this is my land.

We need to talk to one another without religion. We need to talk as human beings. We can live in peace with all religions.

Do you know how we greet one another in the street?  We say assalamu “alaykum which means peace on you.  We say this every time, even if we bump into the same person after five minutes. By doing this, we actually say let there be peace for all everywhere.

The younger Mohammed telling his story to Eduardo, my fellow EA.

See more.

South Africa urges Israel to save the village of Al ‘Aqaba

My team member Ueli Schwarzmann from Switzerland at the ruins of a demolished farm-house in Al ‘Aqaba

On Thursday 9 February 2012 tears welled up in my eyes as I sat in my living room.  I was so angry, and so upset.

How does it happen that almost an entire well managed, clean village with residents who live in peace in the northern part of the Jordan Valley, Palestine, are under threat of being demolished?

When I was there at the end of 2011, I met the mayor, teachers, pupils and other townsfolk.  These people lead simple, peaceful lives on land they legally own and which is recognised as such by the United Nations.  Like us they have dreams for themselves. At the time 95% of the village had received demolition orders from Israel. (See my earlier post on demolitions and scroll down to the heading: AL ‘AQABA: 95% of this village has demolition orders…)

We asked the children how they feel when they see soldiers on their way to school.  This is what they said to my colleague Linda Baily (from Whales) and me:

 “I am scared when I see their guns and that they may hit me with it. I have seen them hitting motorists at Tubas with the back of their guns.”

“When I see them, I think they came to demolish my home.”

“Our minds are not with our teachers when there is training happening.”

“They sometimes knock on our door at night and search our house.  They ask if we have guns. We are scared that they may leave guns in our house just to be able to say that it belongs to us so that they can arrest us.  They once took my neighbour’s father far away for a week.”

“I started to cry when I arrived at my house after school and saw that it was demolished. We couldn’t remove anything from the house.”

What I learned that afternoon on 9 February in my living room, was that 97% of this village now has demolition orders. 

How did this happen? I quote from the e-mail I received that afternoon from EAPPI:

In recent years, the Rebuilding Alliance (www.rebuildingalliance.org), an American human rights organization sparked international interest in the Jordan Valley village of Al ‘Aqaba by discussing its problems with Members of the US Congress and organizing an awareness-building tour for the village’s mayor, Haj Samy Sadeeq (Tel. +972.9.257.2201) in the US.

As a result, in January 2012, the Head of the Israeli Civil Administration, Brigadier General Motti Almaz visited the village, to “look into complaints” filed by ‘Aqaba’s residents pertaining to mass demolition orders that would effectively destroy the entire village if executed.

According to Sadeeq, he told Almaz the following during the latter’s visit to Al‘Aqaba’s Village Council:

“You destroy our homes and we build them again. What else can we do? This is our village and we have nowhere else to go. In our village there had never been clashes with the military. Yet, for years soldiers trained here with live ammunition between our homes, and as a result villagers were killed and wounded. I personally was shot when I was just 16 years old and remain in a wheelchair for life. Yet I feel no bitterness or hatred. I support peace. I just ask that the military leave us alone.”

Sadeeq asked Almaz to approve a zoning plan for Al ‘Aqaba so villagers can build legally, and for reassurances that the military will not demolish ‘Peace Road’ (the main entrance into Al ‘Aqaba) again if the village rebuilds it with their own money and labor.

 The mayor also asked Almaz for:

  • permission to build a school on the 42 dunams (4.2 hectres) of “state land” that is in the middle of the village,
  • Al ‘Aqaba to be connected to the water network, and re-connected to the electric grid.

Almaz responded to all of Sadeeq’s concerns by saying, “We will look into it”.  At this stage 95% of the village had received demolition orders from Israel.

A few days later, on 24 January 2012, a representative of the Israeli Civil Administration (which is actually a military organization, despite its name) distributed 17 more demolition orders for homes, animal shelters, and even the communal oven.

 The representative told Sadeeq, “This whole village is illegal; everything must be destroyed”. A few days later, the same person returned to Al ‘Aqaba and issued another eight demolition orders, which included orders to demolish Al ‘Aqaba’s kindergarten and medical clinic. In total, 25 of 45 structures in the village received demolition orders in January 2012.

See the EAPPI online album of photographs of structures in Al ‘Aqaba that have pending demolition orders.

Israel’s behaviour is in clear violation of the International Humanitarian Law (Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907 and Article 53
 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949).

URGE ISRAEL TO SAVE THE VILLAGE OF AL ‘AQABA:

I decided to do something and so we at Kairos Southern Africa wrote a letter to the South African government (Kairos SA letter to SA Govt re Al ‘Aqaba).  We asked them to stop Israel.  We now appeal to all Kairos movements in the world to join us in asking your governments to stop the demolition of Al‘ Aqaba. All the villagers in Area C of the West Bank has the right to  adequate housing and infrastructure without the threat of demolitions.

This is what we asked our government:

Dear Sir

Urgent Action Appeal to rescind Demolition Orders in Palestinian Village

In November 2009 the South African government called upon the Israeli government to cease its activities that “are reminiscent of apartheid forced removals”. Sadly, those policies and practices of the State of Israel continue. We now call upon the South African Government to request the Israeli Ambassador in South Africa and/or Mr. Ehud Barak, Israeli Minister of Defense to rescind the recent 25 demolition orders issued by the Israeli Military Government’s Civil Administration to the village of Al ‘Aqaba in the West Bank: 

Mr. Ehud Barak, Minister of Defense, Hakirya, Tel Aviv, Israel, Fax: +972-3-6977285 / +972-3-6916940, e-mail: minister@mod.gov.il / dover@mod.gov.ilpniot@mod.gov.il

The village of Al‘Aqaba lies east of Tubas, in the northern part of the Jordan Valley.  For many years, the 300 inhabitants of this village have faced severe repression by the Israeli Military Government, and repeated destruction of homes and infrastructure. Despite recent promises to the village by IDF Brigadier General Motti Almaz, harassment continues on a weekly basis and the threat of mass destruction of homes hovers over the village.  (Please see the attached information sheet).

 The residents of Al‘Aqaba have the right to live peacefully in their homes. 

Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907 clearly states that:

it is especially forbidden (for the occupier) to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.” 

Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 in turn states that:

“any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

 Al ‘Aqaba is not the only example of a village in the West Bank where civilians suffer from multiple and illegal ways by which the Israeli occupation is enforced:

  • Members of Kairos Southern Africa who worked in Palestine as human rights monitors witnessed the devastation on the lives of civilians when their houses, schools, clinics, mosques, water cisterns, animal shelters and roads are being demolished by Israel. 
  • According to the United Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (UNOCHA) demolitions and forced displacements in the West Bank are on the increase. During 2011, almost 1100 Palestinians, over half of them children, were displaced due to home demolitions.  This represents an increase of over 80% in comparison with 2010. During last year, 4 200 Palestinians were affected by the destruction of their livelihoods.
  • On 27 January 2012, Mr Maxwell Gaylard, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for occupied Palestinian territory called for an immediate end to home demolitions in the West Bank by the Government of Israel.

 Our call for justice on behalf of the residents of Al ‘Aqaba is an urgent appeal for adequate housing and infrastructure without the threat of demolitions in all the villages in Area C of the West Bank.

 Sincerely,

Kairos Southern Africa (including Rev. Moss Nthla, Rev. Edwin Arrison, Ms. Dudu Masango, Dr. Stiaan van der Merwe, Dr. Frank Chikane, Terry Crawford-Browne, Laurie Gaum, Dr. Clint le Bruyns, Deon Scharneck, Ms Christel Erasmus and Ms Marthie Momberg); Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in South Africa (BDS South Africa); the Media Review Network; the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in South Africa; the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU); Dr Carol Martin, Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI Team 40) and Shereen Usdin.

YOU CAN ALSO MAKE A DIFFERENCE:

 

Al ‘Aqaba 2011: The IDF’s destroyed the tar on this road.

Gallery

A mother and her children at home

When my EAPPI colleagues and I visited Asira, Naja (pictured here with one of her children) gave us water and tea and cool drinks.  She told us their story and showed us how they try to protect their windows and where fire was set to the house.  But what I remember best, is the weary expression in her eyes despite her friendly smile.  I could see that she didn’t think there is much we could do to help her. Asira is a Palestinian village south of Nablus, in the West Bank.

September 2011:  In a special arrangement between the Israeli government and ICRC (the Red Cross), Israel removed 40 of its most vigilant settlers from the West Bank to Tel Aviv (where they were on holiday) for a few months.  This was necessary to calm things down in the West Bank when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas asked the UN to recognise Palestine.

Despite this, other (more moderate?) illegal Israeli settlers did their best to provoke Palestinian villagers during that time….  they damaged hundreds of olive trees, unarmed villagers were shot (one dead and four injured), etc.  But the removal did help, as in some of the other villages where we monitored human rights, things were more quiet.

And now those vigilant settlers are back… and they have renewed energy.  This news my team members and I have already received  from the team who replaced us.  They told us about renewed efforts of the nearby settlers (living illegally in the West Bank) to harass Palestinians who have every right to stay in their own land:

On 1 February, 2012 Padre James Bhagwan wrote:

The homes at the edge of this Palestinian village are located a few hundred metres from houses in the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar. But the relationship is anything but neighbourly.

On a late January tour of the Palestinian village led by representatives of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), residents said attacks by Jewish settlers on their village are more organised and increasing.

Sometimes the attacks, which involve rock throwing, vandalism and crowd intimidation, are a part of reprisals known as “price tag” attacks carried out by settlers after an Israeli government attempt to dismantle illegal outposts or a Palestinian attack against Israeli targets, they said.

Read more…

This breaks my heart. Naja’s husband leaves home early in the morning to start his day as a taxi driver. What happens while he is away – and also why he is there? More damage to their house due to fires, stone throwing, broken windows, and Zionist signs on the walls? Their children scared to come home after school or to play outside next to the fragrant red roses in Naja’s garden?  My heart aches for them, and for those who feel called to intimidate others and damage their property.

Naja was right.  I couldn’t do anything for her and her family while I was in the occupied territories of Palestine.  But I’m not giving up.  We, ordinary citizens, need to speak up, and cry out, each and every one of us: injustice no more and an end to the oppression! Like the world did with South Africa under an apartheid regime. The UN is not going to do it, for the USA will continue to veto the UN’s recommendations.  They have already done so many times. The mass movement against oppression in Palestine needs to grow and we need to put pressure on the powers of the empire. As Alice Walker said, “we are the ones we have been waiting for”.

(All images in this post were taken by me when we visited Naja and her family)