Human Rights in Palestine Worsening as U.S. Solidarity Movement Strengthens

NOVANEWS

(L-r) Dr. Diane Shammas, Said Arikat, Jonathan Kuttab and Phyllis Bennis. (PHOTO D. HANLEY)

Waging Peace

By Dale Sprusansky

Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies began her remarks at the March 2 American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)’s annual convention in Washington, DC by noting the distressing disconnection between the increasingly successful Palestinian human rights movement and the worsening reality facing actual Palestinians on the ground.

“The movement for Palestinian rights is stronger than ever before,” she said. “That’s the good news.” The bad news: “We are not yet at a point where we can say it’s having a real impact on people’s lives [in Palestine]. There’s no illusion here, it is not.”

This reality should not leave pro-Palestine activists feeling dejected, Bennis insisted. The Palestinian human rights movement is gaining momentum at a faster rate than ever before, and she believes it will eventually see its efforts bear tangible, meaningful fruit.

The growing success of the solidarity movement can be attributed to the decision to focus on human rights rather than political solutions, Bennis said. While everyone may not agree on the ideal political resolution to the conflict, everyone can agree that Palestinians (and all human beings) deserve having their basic human rights upheld regardless of where they live, she noted.

“The struggle for Palestinian rights is being transformed into a human rights struggle, which means that the way we talk about it is different, the communities that take it up are different and the potential for success is way different,” she said. “As along as we are talking about rights and not states, the discourse is a whole different thing.”

The gains in momentum have been noticeable. “Palestinian rights is now part of the general agenda of progressives in the United States,” she said, even if the elite of the Democratic Party insist on toeing the pro-Israel line. The recent attempts to slander freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as an anti-Semite are likely a preview of what is to come when progressives push the establishment on Palestinian rights, Bennis predicted. “I think it’s going to get ugly,” she said when asked how she thinks the pro-Israel movement will respond to 2020 candidates who challenge the sanctity of Israel.

Bennis encouraged those in the pro-Palestine movement to forcefully defend hate, while also diligently rebuffing false accusations of anti-Semitism. “We have to fight against the real anti-Semitism and fight to defend those who are being falsely accused of anti-Semitism because both are going to undermine our work,” she said.

Johnathan Kuttab, co-founder of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, outlined the crumbling human rights situation facing Palestinians. He noted that thanks to a wide body of independent human rights research and reporting, the cat is out of the bag: Israel is an undisputed human rights violator. Even the Israeli government, he said, is increasingly disinclined to challenge this notion.

“Israel is no longer expending a lot of time and energy into trying to convince itself and the rest of the world that it’s really a modern democratic open society,” he said. “They are saying upfront ‘we are a Jewish society, and to the extent we are democratic, that only applies to the Jews of Israel,’” Kuttab stated, referring to Israel’s recently passed nation-state law.

He continued: “The entire state is declaring itself to be based on an ethnic/religious identity, and those who don’t fit within that identity are openly, deliberately discriminated against and kept out of power. This is the framework that we are talking about today, where racism, discrimination, and organized apartheid are an essential part of the situation in Israel and the occupied territories.”

This exclusion stretches to Israel’s allegedly democratic parliament, Kuttab said, where Palestinian-Israeli parties are ostracized. “Both groups of parties in Israel, the right and the so-called left, are very clear that they are not going to even consider that Arab parties in the Knesset are legitimate parties in any kind of coalition,” he pointed out. “Not only that, they are even reluctant to accept them supporting the government from the outside, because if you are accused of being in power in part by relying on Arab parties, then you are not really legitimate, you are not really properly Zionist and you are not really properly Israeli.”

Offering some advice to Israelis, Kuttab said an acknowledgment of the Nakba and the fact that the State of Israel was built on top of Palestinian land would go a long way toward healing wounds and fostering reconciliation. During his travels to Canada, he said he is always moved when local speakers acknowledge the country was built on appropriated indigenous land.

“We’re not asking to throw anybody out into the sea, we just want a simple human recognition that this state of Israel was in fact created, built, stolen, captured, conquered from us,” he said. “Once you start with that recognition, we can live together.”

He concluded: “Obviously there is a reality. There are 5 or 6 million Israeli Jewish colonialists who came in, they are there. They live there, and this has become their country,” he acknowledged. “But if you start by saying ‘no this is ours, God gave it to us, we’ve always been around, you guys don’t exist, your very name is illegal,’ there can be no peace. The reality is you need to start with a recognition of the injustice that was done.”

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