By Susan Schwartz, TMO
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict with Israelâ€™s gross violations of human rights and its refusal to adhere to the minimum standards of international law is at the focal point of concern for people of good conscience throughout the world. The people of Los Angeles were fortunate to hear two speakers address the subject this past weekend in an international and historic context, both speakers experts in their fields.
Professor Jeff Halper, a resident of Israel, and Dr. Richard Falk, a United Nations official, spoke at the Iranian American Muslim Association of North America (IMAN) center in Los Angeles this past weekend. This event was the first in a series titled: Progressive Conversations. Their topic was â€œWhatâ€™s Next for Israel-Palestine: Peace, War or more Occupation?â€
Professor Halper is the co-founder and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICHAD). He is a published author, an anthropologist, a political activist, and a sought after speaker. He has dual United States and Israeli citizenship and speaks with a insiderâ€™s voice about Israel.
ICHAD was founded in 1997 to stand against the Israeli policy of demolishing homes in the occupied Palestinian territories. In a spirit of non violence, direct action, and cooperation between peoples, he organized Palestinians, Israelis and internationals to work together and rebuild these homes.
Dr. Falk is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human rights in Palestine. He is a Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. In April of 2008 Dr. Falk was denied entry into Israel, an unheard of breach of protocol for a United Nations official.
In an article he wrote titled: â€œSlouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaustâ€, he compared the treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis to that of Jews by the Nazis.
Professor Halper began by mentioning that University of California in Irvine (UCI) Professor Mark Levine, a human rights activist and popular speaker, could not be the moderator of todayâ€™s event because he was able to catch a last minute flight to Egypt.
Professor Halper said that his underlying theme would be to address the revolutions in the Middle East. He spoke of television reporter, Anderson Cooper, recently surrounded by hostile crowds in Cairo. He said that, while he admired Mr. Cooperâ€™s courage in placing himself in harmsâ€™s way, he criticized him for not understanding the bases, including the historical context, of the turmoil in Egypt and the Middle East.
â€œThis year is a game changer yearâ€, he said. He urged his audience to keep the pressure on Israel through BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) in addition to other campaigns. He said that we are reaching a turning point. There is a world wide campaign to de legitimatize Israel. His travels all over the world have led him to believe in the power of the people. Governments can only work with other governments.
Professor Halper said that he did not regard Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority (PA) as collaborators, an accusation made often by, among others, Palestinian newspapers. They are weak, and their weakness is intentional. The strong leaders or those who had the potential to be strong leaders were either killed or imprisoned by the Israelis. He believes that the present PA government will resign or collapse in the near future.
â€œWe have a new strategy called â€˜working around Americaâ€™â€. We deal with Turkey, Brazil, Russia, India and China (the so-called BRIC countries). The US will soon be irrelevant, and then perhaps it will decide to rejoin the world.
Dr. Richard Falk was introduced by the moderator. He said that the Palestinian issue has become globalized, and this has led to the Palestinian peopleâ€™s winning the legitimacy war. The struggle of the Palestinians has become the natural successor to the struggle of the people of South Africa against apartheid. The issue has moral and political resonance throughout the world.
He then cited three recent events which have denied to Israel minimum international legal respect. First was the brutal way in which Israel conducted the 2006 war against Lebanon. The havoc and destruction wrought against the civilians of Lebanon shocked the international community. There existed for the Israelis no guiding principle which might have respected the concept of proportionate response, long a part of recognized international standards.
Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 was â€œan indiscriminate attack against helpless people locked in a prisonâ€. With the Israelis there is no willingness to permit the truth to emerge.
Thirdly, the attack this past May on the Mavi Marmara, an unarmed humanitarian aid ship, completed the triumvirate of Israelâ€™s abuses against the civilized world.
The entire historical drift, he continued, since the Iranian revolution of 1979 has been against Israel. Autocrats get pushed out of power, and an Islamic influence is reflected. The Palestinian issue is the litmus test of legitimacy.
â€œI feel I have learned so much from thisâ€ said one college age man â€œThese two are really knowledgeableâ€.
A question and answer session followed the presentation. After the event closed the members of the audience spoke among themselves clearly reflecting their interest in what they had learned.
Co-sponsors included Friends of Sabeel, LA Jews for Peace, Jewish Voices for Peace, Muslims for Progressive Values, and the Levantine Center.