Tag Archives: Sarah AB

CHILDREN OF PEACE INTERVIEW

This is a copy of an interview I did for charity Children of Peace.  Children of Peace is a UK based charity that works with both Israeli and Palestinian children to build positive relationships for a future generation, whose communities might live and work in peace, side-by-side.

“Steve is a human rights worker who spent five months in 2012 in the occupied Palestinian territories as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine. He is currently working in Kampala, Uganda.

Sarah Brown (Sarah): Could you tell us what sparked your interest in Israel/Palestine?

Steve Hynd (Steve): A mixture of design and chance is the straight answer.

My sister studied ancient Hebrew at the University of Jerusalem and was living in West Jerusalem in 2001 and experienced first-hand the impact suicide bombers had on the community in which she was living. I was at secondary school when this was happening and it challenged me to think about the conflict. My sister was moved deeply by what she saw, but will openly admit, she only saw one side of the story. This was my very first introduction to the conflict.

Since then I have been actively involved with human rights issues and organisations for a long time. Invariably Israel/Palestine came up – especially during my time at Amnesty International in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead.

At first though, I chose to work on other issues and countries and took an active interest in countries such as Turkmenistan (described by Freedom House as ‘the worst of the worst’) thinking that there were others with more knowledge and better placed to work on the Israel/Palestine conflict. I thought to myself ‘what could I contribute?’

Only after getting involved with EAPPI, almost by chance, I have come to think that I do actually have a role to play and something to contribute.

Sarah: What made you decide to work with EAPPI?

Steve: I became interested in a model of human rights work that combined impartial monitoring with the concept of ‘protective presence’. This was being practiced by organisations like Peace brigade International (PBI) and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Israel and Palestine (EAPPI). PBI worked mainly in South America and EAPPI worked in the West Bank. In the end I chose to apply for EAPPI for a range of reasons including being interested in positive examples of faith based organisations – this led me, in many ways by chance, to Israel and the occupied territories.

I had also come across EAPPI as I had previously worked for the Quakers (who coordinate EAPPI in the UK and Ireland) and had heard very positive feedback from people I respected. Before I applied I contacted Symon Hill (author of the No-Nonsense Guide to Religion) who at the time worked at Friends House in London and he had nothing but praise for the organisation.

Sarah: EAPPI has faced some recent criticism. Would you like to comment on that, or, more generally, on the assertion that Israel, as a comparatively accessible and open society, comes in for a disproportionate amount of scrutiny?

Steve: In the lead up to the Church of England synod vote (to endorse the EAPPI) they did come under a lot of criticism. A small amount of which I felt was valid, but a lot I felt was not valid and indeed was often inaccurate or misleading.

As with all conflicts, EAPPI as a human rights organisation challenges some vested interests and gets attacked because of it.

In terms of Israel more generally…

Israel is paradoxical in its human rights record. In one sense, as the question suggests, it is open and free. It consistently does well in terms of press freedoms and is a beacon of hope, in stark contrast to its neighbours, on issues such LGBT rights.

You cannot however, examine Israel’s human rights policy, without looking at their foreign policy and their on-going occupation of the territories and their continued disregard for International Humanitarian Law.

I have no doubt that some people use these violations as a tool to attack Israel – either because of regional politics or because of anti-Semitic values. Equally however, from my experience, most people working on the conflict are doing so because they care passionately about the victims. I know a number of good people working hard for peace that have been lazily labelled ‘anti-Semites’ – this cheapens a very serious problem.

Equally, sometimes the criticisms of human rights organisations are unfounded. For example, Human Rights Watch is often accused of ‘attacking Israel’ and focusing disproportionately on Israel. In reality, Human Rights Watch works on 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Israel accounts for about 15 percent of published output on the region. The Middle East and North Africa division is one of 16 research programs at Human Rights Watch and receives 5 percent of total budget.

I accept that Israel has more focus on it than most other countries (such as Turkmenistan), but I still maintain that we need more focus on these neglected countries rather than less on Israel. In my opinion it is a disgrace how few people care about, or are willing to work for the people in Turkmenistan.

This why, whenever I speak to people about Israel/Palestine I insist that we can all be doing more and working harder.

Sarah: Could you tell us about some moments which most stick in your mind from your time with EAPPI?

Steve: It is hard to pull out a couple of moments. There was not a day that went by where I didn’t hear about how people’s lives were being affected by the occupation.

Perhaps the best place to start would be the occasion when I felt the most hope. I was in Sderot in Israel on the border with Gaza and we met with representatives from the peace group ‘Other Voice’.

Every house in Sderot has a built in ‘safe room’. I was told residents have just 14 seconds to get to it should they hear the warning siren before rockets from Gaza might hit. This is a physical impossibility for many such as Sderot’s elderly residents. People live in fear. Nearly all of Sderot’s residents have been affected by rocket attacks.

Despite this reality, I found people who were looking to work creatively with Palestinians to find a lasting peace. I passionately believe that change needs to come, at least in part, from within Israel. Groups like Other Voice might provide the seeds from which this change grows.

A second example that sticks in my mind highlights the complicity of the Israeli Defence Force in some of what is happening. I was in the village of Urif and settlers had set fire to a large section of Palestinian farmland. When Palestinians went to put the fire out, the IDF fired teargas at them and the settlement security shot a Palestinian in the spine. When Palestinians went to help the man, the IDF continued to fire tear gas at them. The whole time they watched on as the settlers continued to undertake acts of arson.

This is just one of many examples where the IDF were not fulfilling their responsibilities to protect the occupied population!

Sarah: Is there anything which really surprised you in Israel/Palestine? And anything which you have changed your mind about?

Steve: It surprised me quite how the occupation affects every part of life for so many people. Before I went, I understood that terrible things happened. I didn’t understand that not a day would go by in the West Bank without either a demolition, a midnight raid of a village, some arbitrary arrests, detentions, excessive use of teargas, child detention, etc. The reality of everyday life for an ordinary Palestinian shocked me.

I was lucky, and unusual, in that before I went I didn’t hold many preconceptions about the conflict. In that sense I would say that the experience was a steep learning curve for me.

Sarah: Which commentators (journalists, writers or bloggers) on Israel/Palestine would you recommend to someone wishing to learn more about the region?

Steve: This question has a catch in it. One of my biggest gripes is that too many people approach the conflict from a partisan side-taking perspective. If you follow bloggers, journalists and writers, you have to take 90% of them with the assumption that they are pushing an agenda. In light of that, I feel more comfortable naming a few organisations (with the understanding that I might not agree with everything that they say/do)

  • B’Tselem – The Israeli Human Rights organisation.
  • Breaking the Silence – The Israeli organisation of ‘veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada, and have taken it upon themselves, to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories’.
  • Al Hac – Palestinian Human Rights organisation.
  • EAPPI – They provide regular on-the-ground accounts of what is happening.

I would encourage everyone to explore and read on this issue as widely as possible – trying to empathise with what has been written.

Sarah: Can you tell us something about your hopes/fears for the future?

Steve: The same as most people I think – I hope for lasting peace that enables Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side feeling safe and secure.

My fear? That the detrimental spiral of violence and mistrust will continue and people will continue to suffer.

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Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – a productive path to peace? Part 2

Simply, I don’t know what I think about the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. I believe passionately that the Israeli government must be held to account for its actions (in the same way any government should) but I am not (yet) convinced that boycotting all aspects of Israeli life is the way to bring about change.

As such I have asked two people to put forward different arguments on BDS – one broadly in favour and one broadly opposed.  I hope that this exercise will help me, and possibly others, to think about the impact of the BDS campaign.

This is a second article which follows Sarah AB’s argument that the BDS movement is counterproductive to peace.

This article is by Jane Harries, a Quaker and a human rights activist.

“Many thanks to Steve for asking me to contribute – I do so as a member of Women to Women for Peace, a grassroots women’s peace organisation which has been actively working with Israeli and Palestinian peace women since 2004, as a recently-returned Ecumenical Accompanier, and a Quaker.

Action, partial action or inaction around BDS is fraught with dilemmas. What is the ‘right’ thing to do? What are the likely effects of our action, and could we – by having a negative impact on trade with Israel – actually be hurting those we wish to benefit – the Palestinians? Is BDS efficacious, or could it lead to more hard-line attitudes and ways of evading restrictions? As so often, we would like things to be clear-cut – but they are not. I believe that we all have to work through these dilemmas for ourselves. Here are some suggestions as to how we can do this.

Why?

The first question to ask is ‘Why might individuals and organisations choose to adopt BDS as a strategy?’ The answer, for me, would be that this is the right thing to do. If we believe that the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements are illegal under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), if we abhor the violations of human rights which stem from this occupation, then this is one way in which we – consumers and organisations – can show our public and concrete disapproval of the Israeli government’s policies and actions – particularly other actions have proved ineffective.

It is important to state clearly that this has nothing to do with anti-semitism – as is sometimes alleged. For me, BDS is a campaigning tool which aims to put pressure on governments which infringe human rights. As the present Israeli government is doing by continuing to occupy the West Bank and impose a blockade on Gaza, condemning the Palestinian people to a daily reality of control, harassment, restrictions and deprivation. This has nothing to do with Israel’s right to exist within its own borders, or about anti-Jewish prejudice, but everything to do with a willingness to move toward a just solution where two states can live together in equality and peace.

The second answer to the ‘why’ question is because people affected by the Occupation have asked us to do this. There have been several calls for the international community to consider adopting some measure of BDS – for instance from the World Council of Churches, Sabeel and in the Kairos Palestine document. There are also calls for BDS from within Israel, despite the controversial Anti-boycott law, passed in July 2011, which made it a civil offence to call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of people or institutions in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

What do we mean by BDS?

It’s important to be clear what we mean by BDS, what extent of activities we are willing to undertake, and why.

The first question to address is whether we are calling for a boycott of all Israeli products or just those from the illegal settlements on the West Bank.

Although there are arguments in favour of an all-out boycott, it seems to me consistent with a position based on respect for IHL and human rights to support a boycott of products from the illegal settlements only. This position was endorsed by a judgement of the European Court of Justice in February 2010, which established that goods originating from the illegal settlements are not covered by the EU-Israel Association Agreement, and therefore cannot be imported into EU countries without appropriate duties.

We might ask our MEPs to go further by pressing for a complete restriction on the import of such goods into the EU. Uri Avnery of the Israel peace organisation Gush Shalom has also urged boycott campaigners to make the distinction between the legitimate state of Israel and illegitimate settlements, arguing that an all-out boycott can play into the narrative that ‘everyone is against Israel.’

The decision to boycott just products from settlements still leaves me with dilemmas. Faced with a label on a supermarket product that says ‘Israel’ or even ‘West Bank’, how do I know whether it has come from a settlement or not? Nothing is straight forward.

Can we go further with BDS?

There are areas where the moral argument for the divestment from companies is clear: particularly those exporting arms to Israel, and those which support and resource the occupation in various ways – for instance by supplying materials for the Separation Barrier, providing infrastructure which links the settlements, or vehicles involved in house demolitions.

Another category would be companies which support the economic life of the settlements – and this list would be more far-ranging, including banks, retailers and construction companies. Information about such companies is available, but getting involved in such campaigns may depend on energy levels and how likely we think our efforts are to have an impact.

How do we campaign?

The question of how we campaign for an end to the occupation and a just and sustainable peace is directly related to the ‘why’ question – our motives for undertaking actions under the BDS banner.

For me, this is definitely not about Israel-bashing or a black-and-white portrayal of the situation – but springs from a desire to see a just and sustainable peace for everyone in the region – Israelis as well as Palestinians. We need to recognise that aggressive stances are counter-productive, and may widen rifts rather than working towards solutions, forcing people into defensive positions.

When talking to supermarkets, and companies, our aim should therefore be to inform and discuss from an ethical standpoint. At the same time we may sometimes need to ‘speak Truth to power’, as Quakers say. One way of showing disapproval is by withdrawing financial support.

In relation to academic, cultural and social boycotts, we need to consider when and how to act. As far as academic boycotts are concerned, it depends what area of academic life we were addressing. Would we, for instance, wish for academics to be cooperating regarding ‘security’?

In general, however, a more productive approach in these fields is to foster and encourage positive links with Palestinian individuals, groups and institutions. We can do this by encouraging twinning arrangements between schools and universities, and inviting Palestinian musicians and actors to tour the UK. Maybe one of the problems with the BDS campaign is that is seen as being negative – against trade with Israeli settlements, against companies that invest in them.

By undertaking more positive actions under the broad BDS umbrella may help to give the campaign a more human face.

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Boycotts, Disinvestment and Sanctions – a productive path to peace? Part 1.

Simply, I don’t know what I think about the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. I believe passionately that the Israeli government must be held to account for its actions (in the same way any government should) but I am not (yet) convinced that boycotting all aspects of Israeli life is the way to bring about change.

As such I have asked two people to put forward different arguments on BDS – one broadly in favour and one broadly opposed.  I hope that this exercise will help me, and possibly others, to think about the impact of the BDS campaign.

To start with though, let us be clear about what we mean by BDS – it is a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it ‘complies with international law and Palestinian rights’ (according to Palestinian BDS committee).

This first article is by ‘Sarah AB’ – a blogger and an academic and is based on the premise that the BDS movement is counterproductive to peace.

“Steve suggested that I might write something on why I think boycotts are counterproductive. Although I do think they are (or may be) counterproductive, I don’t think that could be said to be my main reason for opposing them, though it’s a very good one.

The feeling that one’s country is being singled out may well have the unintended consequence of making some Israelis feel more beleaguered and defensive. The more aggressive manifestations of BDS irritate and alienate neutral people outside Israel – and push those who are already inclined to support the country into a more hardline position.

I am though particularly opposed to sporting, cultural and academic boycotts; these seem to target Israel with a demonizing scrutiny not seen in the context of other countries, and shut down the possibilities for conversation, for the exchange of views and ideas.

A very important factor for me is the intersection between BDS and hostility to Israel which seems so extreme as to tip over into antisemitism. I do not mean that all boycotters are driven by conscious or unconscious antisemitism. What I mean is that it does sometimes seem that some boycotters can become so swept up in their cause that they fail to acknowledge antisemitism. One case which I found particularly disturbing concerned the invitation – more precisely the failure to withdraw the invitation – to Bongani Masuku who was invited to address my union after being deemed to have made remarks amounting to hate speech by the SAHRC.

Another thing which I find unwelcome is the way in which shutting down Israeli voices seems almost itself to become the ends, rather than the means. I am thinking of the way in which groups such as Batsheva, the Israeli dance company, have become the focus for zealous opposition, and also about Moty Cristal, who was prevented from speaking at an NHS event just because he was Israeli.

Although I do not boycott Israel in any way myself, I think it’s very important to distinguish between the motives of different people who support BDS. One boycotter for example who has clearly gone to sincere efforts to engage with the dangers of antisemitism is the Green Party’s Peter Cranie. Even those who are most implacably opposed to boycotts, and see them (if not necessarily their promoters) as inherently anti-Semitic, might appreciate his attempts to counter antisemitism and to acknowledge, meaningfully, that it may intersect with opposition to Israel.

By contrast there are others whose support for the Palestinians seems tainted either by antisemitism or just by a chilling disdain for Israelis. A comment that I read just today on Loonwatch struck me as rather telling. ‘Lo’ confesses that ‘my reasons in supporting the one state solution is tainted with spite.’

Moving away from boycotts – and just focusing on pro-Palestinian advocacy more generally – I think this is most effective when it manages to acknowledge and even accommodate a more pro-Israeli perspective. Advocates who do this – and of course Steve is one of these – are far more likely to get those who are more sympathetic to Israel to take what they say seriously. People who use terms such as ‘Zionazi’ (or who simply seem to take pleasure in dipping their toes into the waters of antisemitism before darting back to the sands of pious anti-racism) just make me want to switch off.

Thank you again to Steve for inviting me to write this post. His recent piece on the demonstrations in London struck me partly because of its even-handedness, and partly because it made me reflect that there is something slightly absurd about the way people, often with no connection to the region, feel such a pressing need to take a ‘side’. As Bassam Aramin puts it ‘if we, the fighters, the same people who used to kill one another can sit down and talk, everyone else can.’ I think if Bassam Aramin can look at things from both sides – then surely those of us who are just observers can too.”

 

A second article on’why BDS is a path to peace’  will be published in the coming days.

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