Palestine and You

by Sam Bahour

“…Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

As the world witnesses yet another chapter in the never ending Palestinian-Israeli saga, it seems the political gridlock is so complex and the media spin so intense that even seasoned observers and actors are at a loss for a script that will end this all to lengthy story. For Palestinians, the pains associated with this latest distraught chapter in our history are not new, albeit the forthcoming outcome may prove fatal.

A source of strength to those living under occupation is the renewed calls from all corners of the world asking for advice on how they may support the legitimate and irrevocable Palestinian rights to freedom, statehood and return.

Being the recipient of many of these requests, I attempt to provide a modest resource framework for those living in the U.S., and elsewhere. Being born in the U.S.; having lived and worked there for 30 years before relocating to the West Bank; and having been part of the movement to change public opinion and safeguard Palestinian rights, I am aware of the paramount task before us. After 9/11, this task has been undoubtedly increasing exponentially.

We must acknowledge that historically, and today, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority have utterly failed to systematically and institutionally engage Palestinians in the Diaspora and those non-Palestinians in solidarity worldwide. This is a distinct missing link in the Palestinian struggle for independence in comparison to the successful anti-Apartheid movement of South Africa or even the successful worldwide Jewish mobilization to build Israel.

In the spirit of “thinking globally and acting locally,” one factor in today’s Middle East chaos is clear — it is past time for the grassroots to rise to the occasion and make their voices heard. Unfortunately, in the age of the Internet many well intended supporters of human rights spend too many precious hours behind the keyboard and not enough effort is spent speaking and engaging churches, synagogues, classrooms, congresspersons and media editorial boards. The Internet is a godsend tool in our global village, but decisions are still made in closed rooms with real people that represent a matrix of interests. Employing of the Internet tool is only one facet to a successful campaign for Palestine, the more potent action is returning to the ABC’s of people’s action.

I offer the following resource framework for all those who have expressed support to stopping the illegal Israeli military occupation. More important than the resources below is the need for everyone interested in supporting the Palestinian cause to become active in their local community by joining the numerous organizations active in this area. Individual action is necessary, but nothing replaces collective efforts. Education and Awareness

Different consistencies relate to Palestine in different ways. To focus on the aspect of Palestine you’re interested in, I urge a visit to http://www.birzeit.edu/links/index.html, which offers a comprehensive directory of Palestinian websites that range from government to business to travel.

Our national struggle is embedded in history and international law. For an excellent site that provides both the historical background of the issue as well as references for the related documents and official positions, the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations website and the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy- MIFTAH provide an excellent resource. Likewise, the official PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department addresses the current political issues.

Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition is another excellent resource for the issue of the Palestinian Right of Return, which is often labeled as the issue that negotiations broke down on. Another largely forgotten issue is that of Palestinian political prisoners. ADDAMEER (CONSCIENCE) Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association aims to disseminate information on this issue.

A superb official site is the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). This site has statistics on almost any issue related to the Palestinian society.

One of the many Israeli organizations, B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, deserves mention here given its unfettered monitoring and reporting Israeli violation of human rights over the last 13 years. B’Tselem has published excellent newspaper inserts and flyers that I recommend any community action to order or download and use in their dissemination of information. Another excellent Israeli site is Gush Shalom.

Information on all of these sites are excellent for self-learning and are professionally prepared for distribution at public events or to be used as flyers at rallies and the like. Media

During our times it has become clear beyond any doubt that the media is a key factor in molding political opinion. Media is an animal that requires billions of dollars and skilled personnel to tame. Unfortunately, the Palestinian movement has never been able to fully utilize the power of the media in a central way. Thus, decentralized local media efforts are absolutely critical to fill the gap.

During the first Intifada and during this Intifada, Israel has hired very expensive and high-powered professional public relations firms in New York to deal with their desire to justify their illegal occupation and cruel aggression on Palestinians. The Israeli government utilizes U.S. taxpayer aid to employ a mini-army of multi-lingual spokespersons that tow the state line and provide the required thick cover to Israel’s gross violations of human and national rights.

To address this gap in resources, the current Intifada has gone online at http://www.electronicintifada.net and at http://www.pmwatch.org/pmw/main.html. These professional, media-oriented, sites specialize on the media and are invaluable resources that may be utilized by all those in solidarity. The media is much more than sending letters to the editor or complaining that coverage is unequal or unfair. Physical persons — citizens, community leaders and clergypersons — need to knock doors and meet in a professional way with editorial boards and foreign affairs corespondents to educate them on the issue and to demand equal time and space, if need be. Building personal relationships and becoming a source of objective information to media staff is a long process that requires patience and persistence but will pay off in the long run. Every opinion editorial placed in your local paper reaches hundreds of thousands of people, whereas a forwarded email is flooded with the millions of other messages and only available to the minority of people online.

Other sites that may be used to address the media are http://www.amin.org where opinion editorials may be tapped and http://www.abunimah.org, which is an excellent site to get sample letters and talking points.

Community and Political Action

At the end of the day, all education, awareness and media efforts must funnel into a concentrated political action that is tangible. For the last few decades, the powerful and greatly feared pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has instilled an indescribable amount of fear into every level of U.S. politics. If you doubt this, please read former U.S .Congressman Paul Findley’s book They Dare to Speak Out : People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby (Lawrence Hill Books; ISBN: 1556520735).

It is absolutely critical that every community personally meets with their elected representatives and explains the seriousness of the situation and the injustice and illegality of the Israeli occupation. Elected officials must hear the ‘other side’ and know that there is also an electoral price to be paid for blindly supporting Israeli occupation. These officials need to be advised that the ‘generous offer’ that Israel supposedly provided in Camp David is no where to be found, never documented, never presented. They need to be reminded of International Law. They need be asked to take action to stop illegal Israeli use of U.S. armaments on civilians in blatant violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act.

With the Arab world handicapped in the lobbying arena, grassroots action becomes a key component. Several organizations are professionally specialized in this field and can provide help, namely, the Arab American Institute.

Additionally, the organization Stop US Tax-funded Aid to Israel Now! (SUSTAIN) is a well focused effort and resource to address a major U.S. sore spot which is their continued, blind funding of Israel in spite of the role these funds play in the illegal occupation.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is another long-standing organization that provides an institutional framework for channeling US support to Palestinian rights.

During this holiday season, I strongly urge that every community request their local church, mosque or synagogue to dedicate a service to those Palestinian children that have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces during the last 15 months. Names of those killed could be read aloud, along with their age, during the service. If you live in a community with Palestinians, maybe Palestinian children can light a candle for each one of the names read. We must never forget that there were bubbling lives and bright smiles behind each of the numbers being tallied on the nightly news. Civil Society

The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO) offers the focal point for all Palestinian Civil Society organizations. These Palestinian NGO’s are in need of funds and support. Their activities are broad and their resources are being drained, especially in the healthcare, children and education fields. With the inability of the Palestinian National Authority to function under the Israeli siege and closures, these NGOs fill an important gap to the average citizen under occupation.

With regards to the health sector, in specific, the Palestine Red Crescent Society, our equivalent to the Red Cross, The Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, and the Union of Health Work Committees, which may be reached at bsmc@p-ol.com are all doing excellent work in the field attending to those injured and are all worthy of support.

On the humanitarian front, The Society of In’ash El-Usra, a well known and long-time service provider to families in need is still active and may be reached at, 970-2-240-2876.

Academic Community

Education in the Palestinian society is just as important as water, shelter and clothing. Israel knows this and exercises pressure on the academic world to perpetrate a silent exodus from Palestine, a ‘voluntary transfer’ policy, if you will.

Palestinian schools and universities, a partial list of which may be found at http://www.birzeit.edu/links/snu.html, are attempting to operate in one of the most volatile conditions ever. Continuous Israeli bombing raids and closures interrupt elementary and secondary schools; teachers are not able to make it to their classrooms, thus interrupting the educational process; and students are subjected to harassment while travelling to and from their classrooms.

Institutions of Higher Education are even worse off with many of the students not able to travel to attend class or forced to literally climb mountains and be subjected to inhumane treatment at the numerous Israeli checkpoints, let alone those that have been imprisoned. Many will not graduate on time. Even more will not be able to afford the extra cost of lost time and added expense to continue.

Student bodies and organizations abroad can build sister university relationships with Palestinian universities in an effort to expose the ramifications of Israeli occupation on the academic world as well as provide material support by means of books, journals, equipment, etc to help the next generation of Palestinians gain a proper education.

Economy and Business

Israel has yet to face a divestment campaign, as was the case with Apartheid South Africa. While it continues to illegally occupy Palestinian lands and livelihood, Israel funds its actions by selling Israel Bonds. These bonds have been downgraded more than once and as the Israeli economy fails during this Intifada so does the value of these bonds. Hundreds of private and public U.S. funds have invested in these financial instruments which are out of sight to the public eye. I urge community action to investigate and expose municipalities, pension funds, 401K plans, and the like, that have chosen to invest in these bonds and take action to have them re-invested in instruments that are not stained with Palestinian blood, occupation or gross violation of human rights.

Closer to home, Palestinian investors entered the Palestinian economy full-force following the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. At the time, two major, fully private sector, investment groups were created, mainly by Palestinian Diaspora funds, the $200 million Palestine Development and Investment Ltd., located at http://www.padico.com, and the $100 million Arab Palestinian Investment Company, located at http://www.apic-pal.com. Despite the treacherous business environment, these holding companies, and others, still exist and remain active today, dealing on a day to day basis with the disastrous ramifications to their business due to the Israeli aggression and constant blockades.

The Palestinian private sector is usually a group that people do not think of while Israeli aggression rages on. However, the Palestinian private sector deserve recognition and grassroots support as well. These are the entities that fight all odds to build an economy while under fire. They provide critical jobs during periods of extended closures and economic destruction. I have coined a phrase to describe the kind of support that one may provide this sector, “charitable equity”. Charitable equity is the act of investing in these firms, or others active within Palestine, with the clear intention to help sustain their existence and jobs and potentially, in the long-term, to regain your investment once stability returns.

One way to invest in charitable equity is either by direct investment into non-publicly traded firms or buying shares on the Palestine Securities Exchange via the network of brokers throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Others ways to help our economy is to assist Palestinian products or services to reach your market. For those interested in importing Palestinian goods or services they may contact the Palestine Trade Center. In the information technology sector Palestinian software and Internet firms may be reached through http://www.pita-palestine.org.

The above list is neither comprehensive nor an official approach to tapping the wealth of resources that can be employed by those who support us around the world.

In addition to this starting point of action, I urge my fellow Palestinians to speak loud and clear to Palestinian representatives, at home and around the world, in an effort to develop a national plan of action, well funded and professionally staffed, to channel international support. Collectively we can turn the final page of our struggle and bring the occupation tumbling down and in its place the free State of Palestine, or New Palestine, that so many have sacrificed for over the last 54 years will rise.

Together, we will end Israeli occupation, once and for all.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank and can be reached at sbahour@palnet.com.

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Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah and serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio and blogs at ePalestine.com.

CounterPunch Magazine



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