Patrick Connors

Why Does PEN American Center Reject the BDS Call to Refuse Israeli Gov’t Funding But Support Boycotts Elsewhere?

Israeli government threats against the well-being and freedom of expression of Palestinian civil society leaders who organize for a boycott of Israel have pre-occupied human rights organizations and made headlines in recent weeks. Simultaneously, the Israeli government is escalating attacks on Palestinian writers. It is currently detaining 19 journalists and a poet.

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What You Wouldn't Know About About Israel and Gaza If You Read the New York Times

The New York Times’ reporting on Israel’s latest assault on Gaza has been a rollercoaster. Unfortunately the high points have been few, short and quickly followed by dizzying and prolonged plunges back into a morass of lazy, credulous recitations of Israeli government talking points, and efforts to portray balance and symmetry in a dramatically unbalanced situation, all permeated by an absence of skepticism and critical analysis, and a failure to explain context. Though Israel has slaughtered over 1000 Palestinian civilians in Gaza and only three civilians have been killed in Israel, in The Times’ upside down world, every Palestinian weapon is a major threat, while Israeli weapons are either defensive or non-existent.

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Israel Is Failing the Moral Test

Patrick O'Connor writes from Ma'asiyahu prison in Ramle, Israel, where he is being held on charges of "illegal demonstrations." This piece originally appeared in Haaretz.

According to Israeli authorities, one reason for my arrest two weeks ago in Biddu and my denial of entry into Israel in 2003 is that I "organized and participated in illegal demonstrations." Israeli authorities frequently use the term "illegal demonstrations" to describe peaceful protests against Israeli government violations of international law. This twisted reasoning needs to be exposed and rejected.

What is legal often does not completely correspond to what is moral. However, when what is moral is described as illegal, there is a major problem.

Why is it "illegal" for hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children to march peacefully to assert their right to their land in the face of Israeli soldiers, who are defending the construction of a wall that has been declared illegal by the world's highest legal body, the International Court of Justice (ICJ)? Why is it "illegal" for communities to try and implement the ICJ decision by walking together to their farmland to try peacefully to block Israeli contractors from bulldozing their land, from building a wall to cut them off from their land and from imprisoning them in their villages?

Apparently, it is forbidden for Palestinians to use the tactics of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to try to save their land and their communities from destruction. Apparently, Israeli authorities believe that it is legal for Israeli soldiers to club Palestinian men, women and children, to use tear gas on them, shoot rubber bullets and live ammunition at them and arrest them for peacefully protesting. This use of violence against peaceful protesters is "legal" even though the ICJ declared the construction of the wall on Palestinian land illegal. The Israeli government explains the soldiers' violence as "Palestinian clashes with security forces," even though the Israeli military invariably initiates the violence and young Palestinian men only occasionally respond with rocks.

According to this perspective, Israelis and internationals like me who support Palestinians in peaceful protest for legitimate rights, are acting illegally. Therefore, we must be stopped, arrested and deported at all costs. The International Solidarity Movement documents that 68 international activists have been deported and more than 100 have been denied entry to the country, many for protesting the wall. For this reason I have been held at Ma'asiyahu prison for more than two weeks and am awaiting deportation. I was arrested leaving the village of Biddu after planting olive tree seedlings with Palestinians, Israelis and internationals along the path that is being bulldozed for the construction of the wall through Biddu's olive groves. Nonetheless, I am proud to have non-violently protested against the wall in Jayyous, Tul Karm, Al-Zawiya, Budrus and Biddu.

In reality non-violent protest has been declared illegal because it is threatening for Palestinian civilians to face Israeli soldiers with a stark and public moral choice – to allow protest for legitimate rights or to crush it with military force. Unfortunately, the Israeli military and government have repeatedly failed that moral test.

Hundreds of peaceful protests against the wall have been met by Israeli military force; six protesters have been killed. Thousands have been wounded – some seriously, including Israelis Gil Na'amati and Itai Levinsky. Hundreds of Palestinians, Israeli and international protesters have been arrested, including Palestinian protest leaders Ayed Morar, Naim Morar and Ahmed Awad of Budrus, and Mohammed Mansur of Biddu.

Foreigners and Israelis continually lecture Palestinians that they must use non-violent means to gain their freedom from Israeli's military occupation. However, these same people have done nothing to oppose the criminalization of these non-violent means. These people now have a responsibility to demand that Israel respect peaceful protests. The Israeli government's criminalization of legitimate protest suggests that its goal is not simply to stop terrorism, but is rather to crush all forms of Palestinian resistance. The Israeli government seems to be seeking submission, surrender and the abandonment of Palestinian rights. Thus the Israeli government puts itself in the category of repressive regimes throughout history that have attempted unsuccessfully to stop legitimate protest.

Israelis should carefully consider if they can accept laws that contradict morality, and if they endorse their government's efforts to criminalize non-violent protest against the wall.

Stonewalling the Peace Process

George Bush's road map for Middle East peace may soon crash straight into a wall, or to be more accurate, a "security fence."

Israeli newspapers report that Condoleezza Rice and President Bush recently raised objections with Ariel Sharon over Israel's construction of a West Bank "security fence," a barrier ostensibly aimed at preventing Palestinians from entering Israel to carry out attacks.

In reality, however, the "fence" is a massive wall that serves an illegitimate goal: the seizure of Palestinian land in the West Bank. In many places the "fence" is actually a 25-foot-high concrete wall, with guard towers and trenches. Yet it is not the size but the location of the Wall that worries the Bush administration.

It is primarily being built within the West Bank, up to four miles from the "Green Line", the generally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank. Its path is being bulldozed through Palestinian olive groves and greenhouses, surrounding entire Palestinian cities and villages, separating them from their farmland and wells, while trapping other villages in a "no man's land" between the Wall and Israel.

The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem found that the Wall's northern phase alone "will likely infringe the human rights of more than 210,000 Palestinians residing in sixty-seven villages, towns, and cities." A World Bank study raises fears that "the Wall will isolate, fragment, and, in some cases, impoverish those affected by its construction."

It is choking the life from the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. With 40,000 residents, Qalqilya is entirely surrounded, a ghetto with one narrow, Israeli-controlled entrance for people and goods. The villages of Jayyous and Mas'ha primarily depend on agriculture but will lose virtually all their farmland behind the Wall. Both lie four miles inside the "Green Line." Meron Rappaport of the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth writes that, "Behind the separation fence are thousands of personal tragedies, which are entirely invisible to the Israeli public."

The initial route planned for the Wall isolated 10 percent of the West Bank. But in recent months, the Sharon government has proposed a more drastic plan, cutting ten miles into the West Bank to surround major Israeli settlement blocs, and building a second wall in the eastern West Bank to secure Israeli control of the Jordan Valley. If executed, these plans would effectively annex more than 50 percent of the West Bank to Israel, imprisoning Palestinians in three disconnected islands.

Israel's government asserts that the Wall is not a permanent, political boundary, and that Palestinian farmers will pass through gates to their farmland. But the colossal, concrete Wall is clearly not designed to be removed, and some Israeli soldiers are already harassing many farmers, denying them access to their land. B'Tselem, the World Bank and others have expressed deep concerns about the Wall's permanence, and maintaining farmers' access to their land.

Village residents, with support from Israeli peace groups and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), have held peaceful protests against the Wall. In Mas'ha, Palestinians, Israelis and foreigners established an open-air "peace camp" to educate visitors about the Wall's impacts. B'Tselem, echoing the views of Palestinian farmers, recommends: "If it is decided that there is no choice other than building the barrier, the government must set the route, as a rule, along the Green Line or, alternatively, within Israel."

Israel's security needs are real, but the means being used to achieve them are unjust and self-defeating. No wall has ever brought peace between peoples, and one forcibly built upon stolen land at the expense of recognized international boundaries certainly will not.

Patrick Connors conducted advocacy on the Wall for three months in the West Bank with the International Solidarity Movement. He has previously managed international humanitarian aid programs for twelve years, including three years in the Gaza Strip.

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