Monday, July 06, 2015

[ePalestine] Haaretz: Close encounters: A glimpse of Palestinian reality few American Jews ever see

"We live in a fish bowl in which our lives are totally transparent to the occupation," says Bahour, today the managing partner of Applied Information Management. "When the fish get agitated, they throw us a little fish food. Never enough that the bellies of the fish are full, but just enough so that we never collapse. Israel is 100 percent responsible for every single strategic, economic asset that affects Palestinians."

Haaretz

Close encounters: A glimpse of Palestinian reality few American Jews ever see

Founded a decade ago, the Encounter program has quietly become a key route by which a new generation of American Jews meet Palestinians, learn about the realities on the ground, and come to new conclusions about the conflict.

By Ilene Prusher | Jul. 6, 2015

Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust speaks to Encounter participants on a West Bank hilltop.
Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust speaks to Encounter participants on a West Bank hilltop, July 2015. Photo by Ariel Brickman
KHALLET SAKARIYEH, West Bank – From the rooftop of a house in this tiny Palestinian village wedged between several settlements in the Gush Etzion bloc, a group of American Jewish visitors look down on a ramshackle primary school covered by a corrugated tin roof. The school was built on the villagers' own initiative, and has an IDF demolition order hanging over it.

The visitors' eyes then look up to the gleaming new schools on a nearby hill in the Alon Shvut settlement. One can't help but notice the contrast: The gleaming, large school buildings in Alon Shvut are a vision of privileged, first-world Israel, while a separate population within shouting distance makes do with third-world facilities that could be torn down at the army's will.

Afterwards, in a conversation with Palestinians in the village, the American visitors ask some basic questions. What language do the village's children learn in, one asks. Could they not just go to school with the kids in the Jewish settlement next door?

It's a perhaps reasonable question for someone coming from America, where it's been more than 60 years since separate but equal schools were declared inherently unequal by the Supreme Court.

But the everyday inequalities of life in the West Bank are unfamiliar to the average American. Matters such as the quality of school your child goes to, the amount of water available to you, and the number of hours you'll wait at a checkpoint to go to work in the morning are just a few of the issues that define life for Palestinians. These are realities that few American Jews coming to Israel will see, unless they travel far beyond their comfort zones – or sign up for a program with Encounter. 

'Non-partisan'

Founded a decade ago, Encounter describes itself as "a non-partisan educational organization cultivating informed and constructive Jewish leadership on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Largely avoiding the limelight and gaining participants by word of mouth, it has quietly become a key route by which a new generation of American Jews meet Palestinians, learn about the realities on the ground, and come to new conclusions about the conflict – ones that don't necessarily meet up with the establishment's.

"The Jewish community is a major stakeholder in the region," explains Yona Shem-Tov, Encounter's executive director. "But most people who teach or lead have not been to a Palestinian city or met a Palestinian leader. Encounter facilitates people having first-hand opportunities to do that." In the process, it brings together Jews with vastly different views at a time when support for Israel has never been so divisive. Progressive Jews are increasingly questioning the mainstream Jewish organizations' blanket backing for Israeli policy, while right-wingers see the ascendancy of the BDS movement as so threatening that Sheldon Adelson, a major backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, held a summit last month to raise millions for a new movement – dubbed Campus Maccabees – to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

"We as Jews are not talking enough to people with different opinions. We gravitate to people with similar views," Shem-Tov tells a group of Encounter participants on a recent Sunday morning before leading them on a trip in the Bethlehem area. "This can get to a place where it's ripping apart communities. Encounter seeks to be an honest but hopefully meaningful experience on that front."

Though Encounter's target audience was young North Americans Jews studying in Israel on year-long programs, more established groups started to take notice and asked to come on trips, too.
"American Friends of Likud and American Friends of Peace Now and J Street are all alumni, but they never sat together until we had them at the conference table on an Encounter trip."

Encounter began about a decade ago when four American women studying in Israel – two as part of their rabbinical ordination programs – wanted to enable young American Jews to go beyond Jerusalem's cozy study halls and meet Palestinians on their own turf. Melissa Weintraub, Miriam Margles (now both rabbis), Shana Tabak and Ilana Sumka starting quietly taking groups of students, many of them in training to be the next generation of rabbis, lay leaders and professionals in the American Jewish community, to hear Palestinians talk about life under occupation. As part of the journey, they studied Jewish sources on listening and mutual respect, and even allowed students prayer time and access to kosher food if necessary.

They also created communication guidelines that, as Sam Bahour, a frequent Palestinian speaker on the program puts it, "require the Jews to do most of the listening and the Arabs to do most of the talking."
After each speaker, the participants are given a chance to ask questions, and have ample opportunity to "process" the experience afterwards, individually and in groups. The guidelines somehow manage to keep difficult topics from descending into arguments or accusations. Most trips are at least two days long, with participants afforded a chance to stay in Palestinians' homes. 

Memory of humiliation

So, for example, during this particular Encounter trip in the Bethlehem area, participants heard Suzan Sahori talk about the difficult experience of growing up during the first intifada, raising her young daughters during the second intifada, and viewing the grim reality today, as her daughters finish college and struggle to see a future for themselves here.

"I remember the soldiers entering our home when I was a child. The soldier wanted me to lift the lid on what we explained was our well. He didn't believe us so he spit in it," Sahori says, describing a memory of humiliation that has stayed with her. "My father was jailed. My brother was jailed six times. There are so many regrets I hold in my heart for the occupation."

She spoke alongside Mohammed NasserEddin, the Ramallah-based director of Seeds of Peace, who also told of his intifada experiences, and how he came to where he is today: working on Israeli-Palestinian peace, but worried for his children's future. "I am not willing for my children not to feel at home in their homeland," he told them. "This is a cake that needs to be shared – I don't think it's impossible for them to break this down into an agreement for two states."

This particular Encounter trip also included a visit to the West Bank village Batir, during which participants learned about various water and land issues. Mohammed Obidallah, the project manager for EcoPeace Middle East, explained it this way: "In settlements there's water flowing all the time, for swimming, for gardening, while Palestinians here are always asking, 'Who's got water today?' because there isn't enough." The Oslo Accords set up a Joint Water Committee to work on these issues, but it hasn't met in five years."
Then, to hear a far more blunt Palestinian viewpoint on everything that not only failed in Oslo but was perhaps flawed from the start, Bahour, a Palestinian-American businessman, tells the group about his experience of coming to the West Bank some 20 years ago to start the first Palestinian telecommunications company. Israel, he says, kept this company – and the Palestinian economy overall – from developing.

"We live in a fish bowl in which our lives are totally transparent to the occupation," says Bahour, today the managing partner of Applied Information Management. "When the fish get agitated, they throw us a little fish food. Never enough that the bellies of the fish are full, but just enough so that we never collapse. Israel is 100 percent responsible for every single strategic, economic asset that affects Palestinians."

Mohammed Obidallah gives Encounter participants a short lecture on a terrace in the West Bank village of Batir. Photo by Ilene Prusher

The BDS bugaboo

One participant raises a hand and asks if Bahour thinks BDS is the answer. "I'm glad I get this question a lot because it makes me believe something's working," he says. "We have to find a way to nonviolently levy a cost on that occupation," says Bahour, who was born and bred in Youngstown, Ohio. "Give Israel the headache you think it needs."

Encounter certainly does not endorse BDS nor any particular solution to the conflict. Neither are the participants expected to walk away "converted" to a new worldview. But it would be hard for anyone to go on an Encounter trip and not find themselves questioning whether a continuation of the status quo is a viable, ethical strategy.

"This isn't Israel's fault – there wasn't anyone to give this land back to when they took it," says Joseph Kahan, a retired scientist who lives in Boston, at the end of his Encounter trip. "But I guess I'm more formally convinced than ever that a two-state solution is the only solution to stop this hatred."

One of Encounter's veteran funders is the Dorot Foundation, which has been running a fellowship program in Israel since the early 1990s. Steve Jacobson, director of the Dorot Fellowship in Israel and a board member of Encounter, came on the recent trip and described why he supports what they do.

"The occupation – like it or not – has become among the defining elements of the Zionist enterprise," says Jacobson, who lives in Rhode Island. "To be ignorant of its ramifications, both for Israel and for the Palestinians, is irresponsible. As much as I'm invested in the humanity of Palestinians, I'm even more concerned for the security and the well-being of the State of Israel, and I believe that the status quo is a threat to the continuing existence of a democratic Jewish State and its capacity to thrive." 

Imbalanced, or correcting an imbalance?

Not everyone who comes on the program walks away feeling edified. The focus on hearing just the Palestinian side of the story, says one participant on this recent trip, didn't work for her.

"For me, it undercuts their credibility to tell half the story and leave out the other half which shows why something happened," said Marian Scheuer, the CEO of FedArb, a San Francisco arbitration firm. For example, the visual comparison of the two schools – the ramshackle one in Khallet Sakariyeh and the luxurious one on the Alon Shvut hilltop – wasn't a fair comparison, she said, because the population of the village was much smaller.

"I'd like to hear the facts in a more balanced way instead of feeling they are purposely misleading the people who come to hear their side of the story," she says. "I think the instinct to talk to Palestinians is important, but I find the propaganda spin artificial to the point where you can't know anything like the real story because what they are saying is clearly not the whole story."

But Leah Solomon, Encounter's regional director, says the point of Encounter is not to provide a comprehensive window into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Our approach intentionally provides opportunities for participants to hear Palestinian voices, which they don't otherwise know how to gain access to. We're not presenting Jewish speakers. American and Israeli Jews are well acquainted with Jewish perspectives on the conflict and have opportunities and resources to access them on their own. So in that sense, we are not trying to be 'balanced' or to give a neutral or all-encompassing perspective on the conflict," Solomon says. "We explicitly acknowledge that this is not the be-all, end-all. We don't ask participants to abandon what they already know about the conflict, and we want them to continue learning after the trip. But we do strive to ensure that Jews are hearing from a diversity of Palestinian narratives and perspectives, which we believe are essential to be heard and grappled with by the Jewish community."


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Saturday, July 04, 2015

[ePalestine] AVPE: Donate Now to stir economic activity and benefit the Palestinian people

Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy (AVPE)


Donate Now to Sow Seeds of Hope


Your donation creates links that stir economic activity and benefit the Palestinian people

Your donation will help Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy (AVPE) link Americans and Palestinians through business partnerships and positive investments.

See:
Thank you in advance.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

[ePalestine] Two astounding journalists, one in 2015, the other in 1923

Haaretz

In Israel, we walk amongst killers and torturers

The harassment of the Al-Midan Theater stems from envy of our subjects' ability to overcome oppression, to think and create, in defiance of our image of them as inferior.

By Amira Hass | Jun. 22, 2015

IDF detain a Palestinian during clashes in the Jalazone refugee camp, June 12, 2015.

In our homes, our streets and our places of work and entertainment, there are thousands of people who killed and tortured thousands of other people or supervised their killing and torture. I write "thousands" as a substitute for the vaguer "countless" – an expression for something that cannot be measured.

READ ON AT:
http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.662364

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From Sam's Facebook:



The Palestine Deception, 1915–1923: The McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, the Balfour Declaration, and the Jewish National Home

By: J. M. N. Jeffries
Edited by William M. Mathew
Publisher: Institute for Palestine Studies (2014)
(http://www.palestine-studies.org/books/palestine-deception-1915%E2%80%931923-mcmahon-hussein-correspondence-balfour-declaration-and-jewish)

Have you ever heard of the journalist J. M. N. Jeffries? Me neither. Before stating who he was, let me provide an analogy; he was the Amira Hass of the UK, speaking truth to power (and speaking truth to lies, many lies), just like Amira today! He reported from ground zero in Palestine and did not shy away from calling reality as he witnessed it.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

[ePalestine] The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict

In memory of all the lost children, childhoods, and futures,
Sam

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

[ePalestine] +972 Magazine: [Israel's] High Court: Palestinians have no planning rights

Last week I gave a talk to a group of Jewish students from the U.S. who came to Ramallah by way of a group called EXTEND Tours. One of the students, an astute female student, asked me when I was done, "Do you call what Israel is doing Apartheid." In answering, I said I do, but in reference to the Crime of Apartheid and not necessarily the South African version of Apartheid. I went on to say, however, I try not to throw the word around in vain and prefer to explain what reality looks like on the ground and let people reach their own conclusions, especially Jews given this is all being done to us (and them) in their name. In the spirit of my answer, I share this latest development from the invisible part of the Israeli military occupation. ~Sam Bahour

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+972 Magazine

Published June 12, 2015

High Court: Palestinians have no planning rights

By Haggai Matar
By rejecting a petition by Palestinian residents of Area C, Israel's High Court of Justice effectively cemented two separate planning regimes on the same plot of land: one for Jews, another for Palestinians.
Palestinian farmers search the remains of concrete shelters demolished by the Israeli military, A-Tuwani, West Bank, April 2, 2014. Seven shelters built in agricultural areas outside of the village belonging to different inhabitants of A-Tuwani were demolished on the same morning. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

http://972mag.com/high-court-palestinians-have-no-planning-rights/107697/


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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

[ePalestine] Partners4Israel: Conversations with Israel and Palestine: Sam Bahour

June 10, 2015



Conversations with Israel and Palestine: Sam Bahour

"The Palestinian leadership has returned to the venue of the United Nations and the international community to rebound from the failed Oslo peace process. They have embarked on getting third states to recognize the State of Palestine, while at the same time using the newly-acquired toolbox of statehood to hold Israel accountable for its continued military occupation. Is this high-profile international effort a negotiating tactic to better their hand at the negotiating table or a totally new strategy to gain freedom and independence?" – Sam Bahour

http://progressiveisrael.org/conversations-with-israel-and-palestine-sam-bahour/

LISTEN AT: http://progressiveisrael.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/14078972-16.wav (58:55 minutes)

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Monday, June 08, 2015

[ePalestine] NEW REPORT: The Costs of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (RAND Corporation)

Download PDF eBook for free by clicking here.

"A two-state solution provides by far the best economic outcomes for both Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis would gain over three times more than the Palestinians in absolute terms — $123 billion versus $50 billion over ten years."

June 8, 2015

The Costs of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Cover: The Costs of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Abstract

For much of the past century, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been a defining feature of the Middle East. Despite billions of dollars expended to support, oppose, or seek to resolve it, the conflict has endured for decades, with periodic violent eruptions, of which the Israel-Gaza confrontation in the summer of 2014 is only the most recent.

This study estimates the net costs and benefits over the next ten years of five alternative trajectories — a two-state solution, coordinated unilateral withdrawal, uncoordinated unilateral withdrawal, nonviolent resistance, and violent uprising — compared with the costs and benefits of a continuing impasse that evolves in accordance with present trends. The analysis focuses on economic costs related to the conflict, including the economic costs of security. In addition, intangible costs are briefly examined, and the costs of each scenario to the international community have been calculated.

The study's focus emerged from an extensive scoping exercise designed to identify how RAND's objective, fact-based approach might promote fruitful policy discussion. The overarching goal is to give all parties comprehensive, reliable information about available choices and their expected costs and consequences.

Seven key findings were identified: A two-state solution provides by far the best economic outcomes for both Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis would gain over three times more than the Palestinians in absolute terms — $123 billion versus $50 billion over ten years. But the Palestinians would gain more proportionately, with average per capita income increasing by approximately 36 percent over what it would have been in 2024, versus 5 percent for the average Israeli. A return to violence would have profoundly negative economic consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis; per capita gross domestic product would fall by 46 percent in the West Bank and Gaza and by 10 percent in Israel by 2024. In most scenarios, the value of economic opportunities gained or lost by both parties is much larger than expected changes in direct costs. Unilateral withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank would impose large economic costs on Israelis unless the international community shoulders a substantial portion of the costs of relocating settlers. Intangible factors, such as each party's security and sovereignty aspirations, are critical considerations in understanding and resolving the impasse. Taking advantage of the economic opportunities of a two-state solution would require substantial investments from the public and private sectors of the international community and from both parties.

Key Findings

Results of Economic Analysis of the Five Scenarios

  • A two-state solution provides by far the best economic outcomes for both Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis would gain over three times more than the Palestinians in absolute terms — $123 billion versus $50 billion over ten years.
  • But the Palestinians would gain more proportionately, with average per capita income increasing by approximately 36 percent over what it would have been in 2024, versus 5 percent for the average Israeli.
  • A return to violence would have profoundly negative economic consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis; per capita gross domestic product would fall by 46 percent in the West Bank and Gaza and by 10 percent in Israel by 2024.
  • In most scenarios, the value of economic opportunities gained or lost by both parties is much larger than expected changes in direct costs.
  • Unilateral withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank would impose large economic costs on Israelis unless the international community shoulders a substantial portion of the costs of relocating settlers.
  • Intangible factors, such as each party's security and sovereignty aspirations, are critical considerations in understanding and resolving the impasse.
  • Taking advantage of the economic opportunities of a two-state solution would require substantial investments from the public and private sectors of the international community and from both parties.
SOURCE: http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR740.html

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