Palestinian Schools Threatened

As the school year begins in New Hampshire the headline news seems to be the inability to find enough school bus drivers, especially to transport our grade school children to school. Districts having difficulty are offering signing bonuses to driver applicants, modifying start and dismissal school schedules, and delaying openings by a few days. Beyond efforts to provide transportation to all children there is also the on going goal of fulfilling the value of equal access to quality education once children arrive at the school building. This goal is far from fulfilled in New Hampshire and across our country. However, we cling to the value and persist in the search for solutions.

In contrast, on August 22 Ma’an News wrote Israeli military forces reportedly seized eight mobile classrooms from the village of Jubbet al-Dib, near Bethlehem and a neighbor of the illegal Noqedim Israeli settlement. The classrooms were donated by an Italian NGO for 64 students from the first to the fourth grade. Although disputed by village leaders, a spokesperson for the Israeli civil administration contested that the structures had not received the necessary permits, and that the construction was “illegal.”  The Norwegian Council Policy Manager Itay Epshtain said, “It was heart breaking to see children and their teachers turning up for their first day of school under the blazing sun, with no classrooms or anywhere to seek shelter in, while in the immediate vicinity the work to expand illegal settlements goes on uninterrupted.”

Another school, a kindergarten, was demolished in the Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba on August 21. According to The Norwegian Refugee Council, NRC, some 55 schools in the occupied West Bank are threatened with demolition and stop-work orders by Israeli authorities, many of them built with funding from the European Union states and other donors. “In the first three months of this year there were 24 cases of direct attacks against schools, including incidents where tear gas canisters and sound bombs were fired at students on their way to or from school. Last year, four communities’ educational facilities were demolished or confiscated and 256 education-related violations were documented in the West Bank, affecting over 29,000 students,” NRC’s statement said.

It seems, while we in New Hampshire seek ways to keep our children in school, our Israeli military ally is initiating ways to keep Palestinian children away from school. These actions by the Israeli military fly in the face of one of our cherished values: the right to access to quality education for every child.

The Israeli military attack on Palestinian children’s access to schools in order to make room for Israeli settlements and their infrastructure motivates people around the globe to boycott Israeli illegal settlement goods. It is an illegal Israeli settlement, Noqedim, that encroaches on Palestinian land where those mobile classrooms were situated. Senator Maggie Hassan’s opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement needs to take into consideration Israel’s anti-education activity toward Palestinian children as well as the United States complicity with its military financial aid to the Israeli military that enforces this injustice.

Senator Hassan believes the roots of the BDS movement spring from an intention to harm Israel. However, she misses the understanding that non-violent boycotts are an acceptable action for change acknowledge by our Supreme Court. In addition, she does not take into consideration that any movement includes a spectrum of advocates. In this case the vast majority of supporters of BDS recognize Israel’s right to exist as they call for the humanitarian administration of the occupied territories and a return to negotiations between Israel and Palestine. And even though it is becoming less and less realistic, many still support the goal of a two-state solution.  Also, Senator Hassan perceives BDS as an impediment to a return to negotiations and a two-state solution. However, BDS can just as easily be considered a non-violent lever to motivate to start negotiations. In contrast, Israel, with its military, political, and economic dominance uses harsh treatment of Palestinians and their children, as well as expansions of settlements, as pressure to force the Palestinians to the table.

And most of all, it is important that the United States be true to its value of education for every child, not only in our country but around the world. Our country can not credibly advocate for that value while at the same time being complicit with the Israeli military who violates that value in its treatment of Palestinian schools and children. U.S. complicity is evidenced by its more than $3.1 billion annual aid to the Israeli military.

There are three ways that Senator Hassan and Senator Shaheen can influence the United States to be a justice-seeking nation as well as to stand for the humanitarian value of dignity and respect for children and their education.

1.Vote “no” on S.720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act and pledge to reject all amendments, and Senator Hassan to withdraw her co-sponsorship of S.720.

2.  Seek legislation to withhold military financial aid assistance to the State of Israel due to its military practices of injustice in the occupied Palestinian territories including impediments to education as well as arrests and detention of Palestinian children.

3.  Vote for the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, which has been ratified by 194 countries including Israel.

The second and third actions were affirmed by a 79% majority by the delegates to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ at their meeting in July, 2017.

Children in Palestine have been under duress for over fifty years. They witness daily barriers to their education and constant anxiety concerning their vulnerability to institutionalized violations of their legal rights. Therefore, calling our ally and friend, Israel, to account for its use of power is the right thing to do. It’s how friends support each other.

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Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation

Concord Monitor “My Turn,” published April 8, 2017

The phone rang at 2 in the morning. Our friend Mafaq said, “Two Israeli military vehicles have come into the village. Soldiers have entered the house of our neighbor and taken away fifteen year old Khaled.” We dressed quickly and hurried through the dimly lit maze of narrow streets to Khaled’s home. A small gathering of men, women, and children stood across the street, distancing themselves from the armored military vehicles holding Khaled inside.

We were a World Council of Churches international team of four Ecumenical Accompaniers living for three months in a farming village forty kilometers northwest of Jerusalem.   As we approached Khaled’s home, the front door opened. The family clustered around as we entered: mother, father, two young children, and a grandfather who leaped from a mat on the floor against the far wall. We were invited to sit on the mat while the grandfather demonstrated what had happened. Speaking Arabic and greatly agitated, he raced back and forth across the sparsely furnished room showing how the soldiers had forced open the door armed with United States M16 rifles, asked for Khalid, herded the family into the far bedroom, rousted Khalid from sleep in the other bedroom, put him in handcuffs, and took him outside to the waiting vehicle while they searched his room leaving his possessions scattered.

By the time the grandfather had finished his pantomime, tea had been served and the military vehicles had driven away with Khalid. His parents, speaking English, explained the soldiers had refused to give a reason for taking Khalid and would not tell the parents where they were taking him. We sat with them as they vented their helplessness, fear, and controlled anger.

We learned later that while we had been listening to this family, a sound bomb had been thrown into a home in another part of the village and another teenage boy had been taken away. These incursions into this Palestinian village in the Israeli occupied Palestinian territory were repeated four times during our three-month stay. They continue in Palestinian villages and refugee camps to this day.

A United States State Department Human Rights Report released in March 2017 highlighted “grave violations against Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.” Among the issues cited were the ill treatment of child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights. Other violations included excessive use of force against children and unlawful killing, use of administrative detention (held without charges), and coercing Palestinian Arabic speaking children to sign confessions written in Hebrew. The report noted a “significant increase in detention of minors in 2016.”

Between 2012 and 2015, No Way to Treat A Child and the American Friends Service Committee reported that 97% of children had no parent present during interrogation or access to legal counsel. 84% of children were not informed of their rights. Three-quarters of detained children endured some form of physical violence. “Interrogators used position abuse, threats, and isolation to coerce confessions… 66 children were held in solitary confinement, for an average period of 13 days.”

Our experience with Khalid’s family and these human rights reports challenge the relationship between the United States and Israel. Vice President Penze said on March 31, “President Trump and I stand with Israel… because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight.” This statement is disconnected from the plight of Palestinian children. Our country’s cause is not to inflict military injustice upon children. The Israeli military’s abusive treatment of Palestinian children since 1967 does not reflect our values. The United State’s fight is not against Palestinian children.

Therefore, in order to “stand with Israel,” the United States must negotiate common values to support the relationship, guided by the State Departments 2017 report on human rights in Israel – Palestine concerning children. Meanwhile, consistent with U.S. values and considering 50 years of continuing violations by Israeli’s military, U.S. Senators’ and Representatives’ actions should include withholding military aid to Israel until acceptable uses are defined. The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act supports such action. It states that no assistance will be furnished to “any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

With its over $3 billion a year military aid to Israel, the United States is complicit in the military injustices inflicted on Palestinian children. Before any more aid is given, the Israeli military must cease human rights violations, insure basic due process rights, and establish an absolute prohibition against torture and the ill treatment of detained Palestinian children. Requiring these actions is not only consistent with our own values and sense of justice but also supportive to the many Jews and Israelis who are speaking out against the Israeli military’s unjust treatment of children in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The “phone” still rings since I’ve returned to my home in Concord. We still receive posts on Facebook from Palestinian friends, “last night the Israeli military came into our village at 3AM and took away two of the children.” As Jews, Muslims, and Christians, we need to support our leaders’ efforts to withhold military aid to Israel until the military no longer perpetrates fear and hopelessness against desperate Palestinians crying out for justice. Then, perhaps, the next communication from a Palestinian will be the joy of a great olive harvest or the success of the youth volleyball team. (names in article are fictitious)

Note:  The United Church of Christ General Synod; June 30 – July 4, 2017; will consider the resolution:  A Call for the United Church of Christ to Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation.  See <ucc.org> General Synod resolutions for detail.

U.S. Must Push Israel on Justice for Palestinians.

August 3, 2016

On July 27, during the Democratic National Convention and a week after the Republican National Convention, it was reported that 20 single and multi-family Palestinian homes were demolished in East Jerusalem by Israeli authorities. One Palestinian, Noor, reported that he found a demolition notice tacked to his door less than twenty-four hours before the destruction of his home. He had no opportunity to dispute the order, show his papers of ownership, or remove the family possessions. His home was one of the twenty single and multi-family homes destroyed that night. There have been 76 demolitions thus far this year in the Jerusalem municipality. In 2015 there were 74 and in 2014, there were 52 demolitions.

Also on July 27 it was reported that a 52 year old woman, Miriam, living in the Gaza strip was refused a visa for the third time to enter Israel for medical treatment in the hospital where she had previously been treated for cancer with chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. She now experiences bone pain and seeks follow-up examinations in the same hospital using equipment that is not available in Gaza. This equipment is forbidden by the Israeli government to be imported into the Gaza Strip. (Noor and Miriam are not their real names).

These incidents of injustice are important to lift up because such injustices are not recognized in either the Republican or the Democratic platforms concerning the relationship of the United States to Israel. Both platforms commit to an unexamined uncritical relationship of United States with Israeli political, economic and military policies.

Israel/Palestine may not be a primary concern for the electorate choosing a new president and congressional delegation. However, in the sections on Israeli relationships with the United States, both Convention platforms are blind to the conditions of injustice toward Palestinians such as the two incidents above. This should trouble the conscience of any citizen who values equal rights and justice for all people living in a democracy.

The Republican platform reads, (Israel is) “The only country in the Middle East where freedom of speech and freedom of religion are found. Therefore, support of Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.”

Furthermore, the platform seeks to discredit and limit the freedom to non-violently act contrary to the Party’s advocacy of an uncritical relationship with Israel. It reads, “We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier and specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel. Therefore, we call for effective legislation to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”

The Democratic Platform is briefer, focusing primarily on actions perceived to “delegitimize Israel.” It reads, “A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance, and pluralism. That is why we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.”

How do common values between the U.S. and Israel and the commitment to democracy work in Israel where the Palestinians lack freedom of movement to medical facilities, schools and the workplace or where Palestinians have limited access to Palestinian water, experience home demolitions, and taking of farmland? And what does it mean for the United States with it population diversity of race, religions, cultures and ethnic origins to bind itself to a state with such injustices? Do we in the United States want to support Israel’s oppression of ethnic and religious groups of Arabs, Christians, and Muslims? Do we want to support the perception that all Arabs, Christians and Muslims are dishonest and terrorists? Do we want to support, uncritically, a country that seeks to create conditions that will force these people to leave their homeland? Is not this support inconsistent with our American efforts to learn and grow from the mistakes we’ve made in our relationships with Native Americans, African Americans, and others?

Another issue of concern in the platforms is the opposition to United Nations approach to humanitarian law, resolutions concerning the Palestinian occupation and its administration, and recognition of a Palestinian state. Blanket opposition without deliberation, understanding, and seeking a variety of solutions may delegitimize the effectiveness of this international organization.

Perhaps, for United States citizens, the most distressing concept in the platforms is the opposition to non-violent boycott and divestment actions. The Republican platform also advocates the adoption of legislation to thwart BDS activity. Attempts to restrict boycott and divestment activity is a violation of first amendment rights to use economic measures to bring change. Boycott and divestment are tools to motivate serious negotiations to end the economic, political, and military injustices against the Palestinian people. They are appropriate non-violent actions following nearly fifty years of failed negotiations between unequal powers. They are in the tradition of boycotts that have been used to influence change in South Africa, segregation in the United States, and farm workers rights. Finally, labeling boycott and divestment as anti-Semitic or delegitimizing of Israel is spurious and dangerous to people seeking non-violent change for justice. It is also inaccurate to suggest that critique of the conduct of the Israeli government is in any way a comment on the Jewish faith.

When talking to candidates for Senate, Congress, and the Presidency this election season it is important to question their understanding of our relationship with Israel expressed in these two platforms. What is their understanding of the party platform on Israel in relationship to the injustices being perpetrated on the Palestinians in the Palestinian occupied territory of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip?

This is the time to seek their support for justice and peace in Palestine/Israel. It is time to encourage candidates to pledge the use of economic, political, and military leverage to move the Israeli government toward actions of justice for all the people. It is time to use the billions of dollars in United States military aid to Israel as leverage for a more just administration of the occupied Palestinian territory and to advance credible negotiations toward a just peace for Israel and Palestine. Palestinians, such as Miriam and Noor, are counting on us to help them get their freedom back.