PSC members Diane and Marion have recently returned from New York. Here they give a vivid account of the ways in which voices for solidarity with Palestine are growing in this longtime bastion of support for Israel.
Words by Diane Langford, photographs by Marion Macalpine
Previously, dissenting Jewish voices were often drowned out by the strident tones of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) which claims to speak on behalf of all Jewish people in the USA, and their allies, fundamentalist Christian-Zionists.
Although the US President and Congress still support Israel to the hilt, things are rapidly changing on the ground. In just a few months, Jewish Voice for Peace, the main organiser of the demonstration, grew from 41 to 72 chapters (local branches), and now has 9,000 members and nearly 200,000 online supporters countrywide.
On October 6th, supported by Adalah-NYC and many of the other solidarity organisations that proliferated across the USA last summer, JVP held a day-long event, handing out leaflets, displaying posters, reading poetry and chanting outside the offices of two New York City senators. In a call and response session, passersby were given current news about the Israeli ship that had been unable to dock in Oakland, California, due to action by trade unionists. Protestors called for the implemention of the Leahy Act which bans state-to-state dealings with human rights abusers.
Scroll to the bottom for the text of the letter written to the two senators from Jews Say NO! and JVP
“We are here to condemn Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for their ongoing support for the Israeli government’s systematic violations of the Palestinian people’s basic human rights and their refusal to meet with constituents who do not support Israel’s policies.
“We call on our senators to enforce the federal “Leahy Law” they voted for that requires US funding to be cut off to units of a country’s armed forces that have committed a ‘gross violation of human rights.”
The leaflet was co-sponsored by dozens of organisations including Stand Up for Palestine, Audacity of Hope (the name of one of the humanitarian boats to Gaza), Jewish Voice for Peace and Adalah (NYC Chapter).
The following evening the same groups were attending a demo at the National Football League Maccabi game. Several actions were planned for inside the stadium that they hoped would attract media attention.
A leaflet by a group called Humanize Palestine read, “Humanize Palestine attempts to restore the humanity that is often stripped away when Palestinians are reduced to calculative deaths, forgettable names, and burned and mutilated bodies, rather than people who shared loved ones, stories, dreams and aspirations.
The centerpiece of the day was a pavement performance of Caryl Churchill’s play, Seven Jewish Children.
Caryl Churchill wrote her ten-minute play as a means of raising funds for Medical Aid to Palestinians. It is free for anyone to stage but any funds raised at performances are to be donated to Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). The play takes you through key events in Jewish history, ending with the bombing of Gaza in early 2009. Thirteen performances took place on the main stage of the Royal Court Theatre, during February 2009 and the play has since been performed around the word, including in Tel Aviv.
Caryl Churchill explained: “It came out of feeling strongly about what’s happening in Gaza – it’s a way of helping the people there. Everyone knows about Gaza, everyone is upset about it, and this play is something they could come to.”
Her instructions to players are minimal: No children appear in the play. The speakers are adults, the parents and if you like other relations of the children. The lines can be shared out in any way you like among those characters. The characters are different in each small scene as the time and child are different. They may be played by any number of actors.
The script can be downloaded from several sources, including the MAP website. Any budding actors in our midst? This makes for compelling street theatre!
Diane Langford is a novelist and member of Faversham and Whitstable PSC.
Marion Macalpine is a photographer and a member of the national PSC. Her exhibition defending the NHS, How Come We Didn’t Know, is currently touring
Here is an extract from Jews say NO! and JVP’s letter to the two Senators:
October 6, 2014
Senator Charles Schumer Senator Kirsten Gillibrand 780 Third Avenue New York, N.Y. 10017
Dear Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand:
We are two organizations of Jewish New Yorkers who write to ask that you take action to enforce provisions of federal law that require the termination of aid to any unit of a foreign military for which there is credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. During the recent Israeli operations in Gaza, world leaders, human rights organizations, and journalists have all described actions by units of the Israeli military that would constitute gross violations of human rights. Accordingly, we ask you, as our Senators, to first, initiate Senate hearings that will investigate these reports of human rights violations, and, second, if the hearings demonstrate that U.S. is supporting those units, to seek implementation of the provisions of federal law that provide for termination of that aid.
As for the applicable law, it begins with this unequivocal declaration: “[A] principal goal of the foreign policy of the United States,” according to the Foreign Assistance Act, “shall be to promote the increased observance of internationally recognized human rights by all countries.” Eventually, to give practical effect to that declaration, the Act was amended by the “Leahy Law,” which forbids assistance to “any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights.”
We believe that there is undeniably credible evidence that military units of the Israel Defense Force committed gross human rights violations during their military operations in Gaza from July 7 to July 29. According to the UN, during that time, Israel killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, of whom at least 1,400 were civilians and some 500 were children. Approximately 108,000 were left homeless; 133 schools and 23 health facilities were also damaged. Israel struck the Gaza Strip’s sole power plant and its water supply system, limiting the access of hundreds of thousands of residents to electricity and clean water…..
…One operation, in particular, drew international attention. On July 20, Israeli military units attacked the residential neighborhood of Shejaiya in Gaza City, killing at least 17 children. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Israel’s attack on Shejaiya “atrocious.” Ten Israeli human rights organizations expressed “serious concern” about “the potential violation of the fundamental principles of the laws of war, specifically the principle of distinguishing between combatants and civilians.”
Israel has said that the devastation it inflicted on the people of Gaza was justified by military necessity. However, two of the world’s most respected independent human rights agencies, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have investigated numerous locations where human rights violations were charged and found little evidence of military justification for the indiscriminate loss of life and property damage in those places.
All that is to say that there is credible information that U.S. foreign assistance is going to military units of the IDF that have been implicated in gross violations of human rights. The Leahy Law is unequivocal: The Secretary of State must insure that no assistance shall go to such units.
By enacting the Leahy Law, Congress sought to insure that American dollars do not promote human rights violations. The Secretary of State has failed to act. It is, therefore, up to the Congress to do whatever possible to insure that the law is obeyed. We urge – we demand – that you call for prompt Senate hearings to investigate this matter.
– Alan Levine on behalf of Jews Say NO! and Jewish Voice for Peace/NY