Greetings from Zimbabwe – May 11, 2016

My May 8 op ed in support of resolutions being considered at the United Methodist Church General Conference in Portland, Divestment an appropriate response to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, has provoked 63 comments to date, ranging from the supportive to the bizarre. A refugee from Nazi Germany wrote: “Israel can only be free when the occupation is ended. Zionism is a catastrophe, a racist ideology.” Another thoughtful soul commented: “Divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is the moral path for the Methodist Church – and for all of us who seek a more just world.” And then there were what I can only call the delusionals: “…no international court of (sic) body has ever declared the settlements illegal, no matter how often or frequently they have criticized them” or “Christian Arabs in what she calls Palestinian (sic) have been leaving in huge numbers…not because of their treatment by Israelis but the horrible treatment they receive from their Muslim neighbors.” And so forth.

But the follow up guest columnist really boggles my mind. Leon Jamaine Mithi is a law student, “avid debater,” and author from Zimbabwe, (Zimbabwe? That’s 9,888 miles from my computer!) He wrote a piece, Calling Israel an apartheid state is an insult to black South Africans.

So a very brief rebuttal, as they say, it is hard to know where to begin so I will begin at the beginning:

LJM: Christian and Jewish faiths “irrevocably intertwined.”
Me: Irrelevant to BDS conversation.

LJM: Claim that Israel is an apartheid state and negotiations have been unsuccessful is incorrect.
Me: Nobel Peace Laureate Bishop Tutu has stated that Israeli apartheid is sometimes worse than South African apartheid. In the occupied territories, Palestinians are not only living under an oppressive occupation with separate legal and court systems and a strict system of permits and checkpoints, segregated roads, housing, land ownership, and constant humiliation, but they are also restricted in their ability to work.
As far as failed negotiations….name a successful negotiation. Just ask John Kerry.

LJM: “Apartheid is colonialism on steroids” and this cannot be true of Israel since Jews lived in the West Bank and were driven out in 1948, and Jews lived there for thousands of years, returning to build their nation, blah blah blah…
Me: Big sigh. Please read the Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe’s Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Very briefly, the fact that a small number of Jews lived amongst a large Christian and Muslim population in historic Palestine does not negate the political realities of British colonialists promising Palestine to the Jewish people as a homeland and disregarding the indigenous population who has suffered from displacement and death since the Zionist project (which sought to displace this population and create a Jewish only state through massive immigration) began in earnest. And by the way, the Torah is a book of religious thought, philosophy, wisdom, and a lot more contradictory stuff. It is not a real estate document.

LJM: Oppressed blacks were mostly peaceful, but Palestinians and their Arab brothers are violent. The “war zone environment sets true apartheid apart for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Me: I am not an expert in South African resistance to apartheid, but starting in the 1950s, activists fought against apartheid, sometimes with peaceful resistance (often met with extreme violence), sometimes more aggressively. Think Sharpeville Massacre, the armed struggle of the ANC in the face of white supremacist violence, the militant strategy of the Pan-Africanist Congress, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the rising militancy of worker and youth organization in the 1970s. Not to mention the growing opposition to South African apartheid from Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.
To describe Palestinians as violent and to ignore the role of Israeli aggression and massive military might is to be blinded to history and current reality. Palestinians have a long history of nonviolent resistance starting with tax revolts against the British and extending to the BDS campaign today. While I would condemn violence, particularly against civilians, much of Palestinian resistance occurs in response to Israeli land confiscation, settler attacks, Israeli assaults using weaponry and surveillance provided by the US, and an utter lack of progress towards a just solution. This context is critical to understanding.

LJM: BDS “shuts down discourse, isolating the opponent, trying to turn them into a pariah, is not a healthy ground for any negotiation.”
Me: The strategy of BDS came after years of UN Resolutions and reports, International Laws, International Court rulings, endless peace processes as well as Intifadas, suicide bombings and major Israeli attacks that destroyed infrastructure and killed and injured thousands of civilians. BDS is a response to the fact of a massive settlement project in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and an unrelenting siege of Gaza that has only gotten worse with years of so called dialogue in which Israeli leaders backed by the US made demands on Palestinian leaders that did not respect their history, aspirations, or rights. The BDS campaign is part of a liberation struggle.

So here is a question from me:
Mr. Mithi, how did you find out about my oped? Were you paid to write a rebuttal? Am I under surveillance by the henchmen for the Israeli propaganda machine that monitors pro-BDS speech? Or is The Oregonian under surveillance? Or the lovely Methodists attending their national conference? How on earth could you withdraw your initial support for BDS after visiting Israel and the West Bank? You actually wrote that. Where is your conscience?

To quote the eminent Bishop Tutu: “In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime,” (Jerusalem Post)

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