Sunday, September 03, 2017

What is a Quaker education for?

Should a Quaker education go beyond the intellectual and into the realm of the moral, the spiritual, and the equitable? 

We think so. 

In this post, PIAG comments on the recent controversy at Friends Central School in Pennsylvania, where an invitation from high school student club to a distinguished Palestinian speaker was denied. 

Friends' Central School
Head of School Craig Sellers
Clerk of the Board Philip Scott
1101 City Avenue
Wynnewood, PA 19096   

                                                                       August 23, 2017

Dear Mr. Sellers and Mr. Scott,
As the new school year approaches, we are deeply saddened to learn the outcome of the controversy at Friends Central last year regarding the invitation by the Peace and Equality in Palestine Club to Dr. Sa’ed Atshan to deliver a talk at the school. 

As we understand the situation, at the request of a number of parents who were dismayed at the idea of a distinguished speaker talking about his experiences as a Palestinian, you first rescinded Dr. Atshan’s invitation, then later, reconsidered and re-issued it (though understandably, he declined to accept). 

Distressingly, you suspended the student club and fired two teachers of color who had supported the students. We are concerned about these teachers, and wonder if you can share with us how the decision was made, their current status, and the support the school may have given them in finding new employment.

As for the school’s treatment of the Israel Palestine conflict, we understand that hearing about the experience of Palestinians under Israeli occupation can be deeply disturbing. 

However, fear has a way of eclipsing reason, reflection, fairness, and compassion – all qualities that we expect a Friends School to cultivate in its students. We ask you to find the courage to move beyond the emotions in this conflict and start anew.

We ask that in the new school year, you continue thinking about your reactions and those of your students and parents, and begin working to make the study of thorny conflict – with human beings on both sides -- a centerpiece in your classes involving international relations, human rights, and history. 

Although we are dismayed that Friends Central has lost the opportunity to hear from one of the most compassionate and compelling speakers on the Palestinian experience, we urge you to invite others – or perhaps spokespeople on both sides of the conflict -- to engage your students so they can make up their own minds about what is fair and just. 

After all, isn’t critical thinking the goal of a superior education? And shouldn’t a Friends education go beyond the intellectual and into the realm of the moral, the spiritual, and the equitable?

With hope,
The Palestine Israel Action Group (PIAG) of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tensions Escalate

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have escalated in recent weeks after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire from the al Aqsa Mosque Compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, killing two Israeli policemen. In response, Israel increased its security measures, which alarmed Palestinians, who saw the installation of new security cameras as a move by Israel to expand its control at the Muslim-administered site. 

Over the weekend, thousands of Palestinians staged a mass prayer vigil in the streets surrounding the compound.

Israel responded to the predominantly peaceful demonstrations by firing rubber and live ammunition, tear gas, and stun grenades, wounding more than 900 of the protesters. 

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, though quick to condemn the violence against Israelis, has now declared that the Palestinian leadership will “freeze contacts” with Israel “on all levels.”

The escalating hostility and violence is perhaps predictable, given the lack of any recent movement toward the resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the brutal conditions in Israeli jails – highlighted by a 40-day hunger strike by 1500 Palestinian prisoners, many who had been detained without trial – and above all, the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Gaza is on the brink of "systemic collapse.”

Two million people live hemmed in by armed checkpoints, concrete walls, wired fences, and a blockade at sea. For years, passage out of Gaza has been severely restricted, even during times of military siege. 

Infrastructure and agricultural lands have been shattered by Israeli military attacks, and the rebuilding of homes, schools, hospitals, farms, and other facilities has been slow, due to Israel’s restrictions on the movement of supplies. 

Throughout Gaza, electricity is now limited to two hours a day. 

Ninety-seven percent of the aquafer has become unsafe for drinking. 

Over one million Gazans are moderately-to-severely food insecure, even if they are receiving food assistance. Unemployment has reached 42%. 

Fewer than two doctors serve every thousand people. And the population in Gaza is growing rapidly, increasing the pressure on living space, services, and opportunities for employment.

As in the worst days of the South African struggle, increasing the pressure on the occupying power through proven nonviolent methods such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) may eventually end the impasse and ease the suffering of the oppressed population. 

Ann Arbor Friends Meeting supports BDS, and in July, approved a Minute requesting Friends Fiduciary Corporation to exclude investment in companies that support or are complicit in Israel’s occupation, its economic exploitation and control of the Palestinian population, and/or violations of international law. 

Individual F/friends can also support UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), which provides critical education, nutrition, and basic health services to five million Palestinian refugees. 

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Hamas Accepts 1967 Borders

Two new political developments in Gaza signal a possible breakthrough in the long-standing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis: the election of a new leader of Hamas’s political bureau who promises a “new Hamas” that is more “dynamic and open-minded;” and a policy document, two years in the making, that advocates a more moderate stance toward Israel.

 Ismail Haniya, the new political bureau chief who is described as open to compromise and willing to talk, has a long history in Palestinian politics. 

Born in Gaza in 1962 to parents who fled their homeland when Israel was created in 1948, Haniya was jailed multiple times in the late 1980's during the First Intifada, a largely nonviolent uprising, and later deported to Lebanon. 

Haniya rose to political prominence in 2006, when he led Hamas to a shock election victory over Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority. 

Haniya stepped down from the post of Prime Minister in 2014 after a reconciliation between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.

Just days before Haniya’s election as political bureau leader this spring, Hamas unveiled an important new political document that accepts the formation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of refugees to their former homeland. 

However, the position paper does not fully recognize Israel, nor does it give up its goal of liberating all of Palestine. Despite these confusing contradictions, the document does signal important changes, notably greater unity among Palestinians. 

According to Professor Mohammad Abu Saada of Gaza’s al-Azhar University, “Hamas is trying to walk a fine line between its hardliners and its own moderates. In one way, the moderates can say they accepted a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, but the hardliners can still say they are not recognizing Israel.”

The new document also attempts to calm the fears and distrust of Israelis, affirming that the Palestinian struggle is not with the Jewish people or the Jewish religion, but rather, it is against the “Zionist project” -- the Israeli state and its citizens who occupy Palestinian lands. 

So far, however, the Israeli political leadership is not willing to budge. Israel rejected the document even before it was made official, calling it an attempt by Hamas to trick the world into believing it was becoming a more moderate group.

In the U.S., where presidents have long desired to create a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Donald Trump is no exception. But his upcoming visit to Israel, theoretically about combating religious extremism and advancing peace, is likely to inflame tensions further, given his choice of the location of his major speech, the hilltop fortress of Masada, one of the ultimate symbols of Zionist nationalism. This is the spot where, in the first century, 960 Jewish rebels chose to commit suicide rather than die at the hands of Roman army. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Loving Solidarity

Excerpts from an Easter Message from Jean Zaru, Ramallah Friends Meeting 

From the land of Palestine, I extend loving greetings to you as sisters and brothers, both near and far. For Palestinian Quakers, Resurrection is a time of joy, hope and sharing. In Palestinian households, we bake small cakes for this occasion which are rich in symbolism. 

Even though the cakes themselves taste sweet, their shape represents the last bitter moments before Jesus’ torturous death.  We transform ring-shaped cakes filed with dates into crowns of thorns. Another type of cake is filled with walnuts and shaped like the vinegar soaked sponge, which instead of water, was offered to Jesus on the Cross. These cakes are baked by Christians and Muslims alike for their respective special occasions. 

With similar import, eggs are naturally dyed a deep red color to represent the blood of Christ. Colored eggs are the joy of children and adults alike, who exclaim "Christ is Risen!" when cracking them open. . .

We learn through scripture that Jesus was a mystic. He had vivid and frequent experiences with the Spirit. He was a remarkable healer, wisdom teacher, and social prophet. An outspoken critic of the domination system, Jesus was also an organizer, an initiator of inclusive movements that shattered the social boundaries of his time. 

While interpreting Jesus in purely political terms does not allow us into a full understanding, we may also reduce his message if we exclude the political dimensions of his life, death and resurrection. 

Our struggle against the inter-related threats of oppression, violence, warfare and the destruction of the environment can be and should be understood as one struggle – a struggle for life." 

About Ramallah Friends Meeting 

There has been an active and vibrant Palestinian Quaker community in Ramallah since the late 1800’s. In 1910, this community built the Ramallah Friends Meetinghouse and later added another building that was used for community outreach.
The Ramallah Friends Meeting has always played a vital role in the community. In 1948, the buildings and grounds became the home to many Palestinian refugees. Throughout the years, the members of the Ramallah Friends Meeting organized numerous community programs such as the Children’s Play Center, the First Day School, and women’s activities.
By the early 1990’s, the Meetinghouse and Annex which housed meeting rooms and bathroom facilities, fell into disrepair as a result of damage inflicted by time and impact of conflict. So serious was the deterioration of the meetinghouse that by the middle 1990’s it was impossible to use the building at all.
A further blow to the Friends and the wider Palestinian community was the high level of emigration brought on by the economic situation and the hardships arising from the continuing Israeli military occupation. The Meetinghouse, which had served as a place of worship for the Friends in Ramallah, could no longer be used as such and the Annex could no longer be used for community outreach.

In 2002, a committee consisting of members of the Religious Society of Friends in the U.S. and the Clerk of the Ramallah Meeting began to raise funds for the renovations of the buildings and grounds of the Meetinghouse. By November, 2004 the renovations were complete, and on March 6, 2005, exactly 95 years to the day after the dedication, the Meetinghouse and Annex were rededicated as a Quaker and community resource. 

Friday, February 03, 2017

The 8 most significant BDS Wins in 2016

The Palestine BDS National Committee announces the eight most significant indicators of BDS impact in 2016:

1.Three more multinationals ended their involvement in illegal Israeli projects. Orange, the French Telecommunications giant, announced the termination of its franchise relationship with the Israeli company Partner Communications, which provided telecommunication support, subscription fee waivers, and entertainment services to Israeli soldiers during the 2014 war on Gaza. 
    The Irish building materials corporation CRH sold off its 25% equity stake in its Israeli operation, Nesher Cement, over links to Israel's illegal Wall and settlements on Palestinian land. 

G4S, the world's largest private security company, ended most of its involvement in illegal Israeli business. Considered a top BDS target for years due to its provision of products and services to Israeli prisons, police, military roadblocks and illegal colonies, G4S severed ties with Israel after it lost lucrative contracts or faced prominent divestment decisions in Kuwait, Norway, South Africa, Colombia, the European Union, Jordan, Lebanon, and the U.S.

    2. The European Union upheld the right to boycott Israel as a legitimate form of freedom of expression protected by European Human Rights Conventions. Previously, the right to boycott had been supported by Sweden, Ireland, and the Netherlands, as well as Amnesty International, the ACLU, the International Federation of Human Rights, and hundreds of political parties, trade unions and social movements around the world.

3. Municipal Councils in France, Norway, and Northern Ireland joined BDS, while in the U.S., Portland, Oregon became the first U.S. city to endorse divesting from Caterpillar. 

4.  Israel’s global isolation intensified as appeasement began to give way to sustained international pressure: 

    The UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2334: Israel’s settlements built on occupied Palestinian land constitute a “flagrant violation under international law.” Even though the US abstained from the UN decision, current polls indicate that 46% of the public and 60% of Democrats supported imposing sanctions or taking more drastic measures against Israel to compel it to end its colonization of Palestinian lands. 

Similarly, the U.N. Human Rights Council decided to create a database of Israeli and international corporations that are complicit in and profiting from Israel’s occupation. This remarkable development has made many companies nervous about their own involvement in Israel’s violations of international law.  

5. More mainstream churches around the world adopted BDS-related measures in support of Palestinian human rights. These are: the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, the United Methodist Church, the Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the Presbyterian Church USA, The Alliance of Baptists, the Peace United Church of Christ in Santa Cruz, and the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly (US).

6. The BDS campaign against Hewlett Packard went viral.
A global Week of Action was organized around November 29, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, to hold HP accountable for providing technology that enables Israel’s system of occupation and racial segregation. The spread of the HP boycott actions exceeded all expectation. Over 150 actions were organized in 101 cities across 30 countries.

  7. The academic and cultural boycott of Israel spread further among student unions, academics, artists, and writers, especially in the Global South. Groups in 225 cities and university campuses registered their participation in Israeli Apartheid Week. 

8. International trade 
unions intensified support 
for BDS measures in 
solidarity with Palestinian

Of course, Israel's right wing 
    took exception to all this. Oh well...

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Hooray! A BIG BDS Win!

G4S, the security company that has long been a target of Boycott, Divest and Sanctions activism, has sold most of its business with Israel, where it had been extensively involved in Israel's notorious prison system, and provided services to Israeli checkpoints and illegal settlements on Palestinian land. 

Pressure from BDS campaigns worldwide, including educating the public about G4S activities, and persuading individuals and religious and civil institutions to withdraw their investments in the company, has caused enormous damage to G4S's reputation and cost it millions of dollars in lost contracts.

Step by step, sometimes slowly, sometimes with sudden victories like this one, BDS is working around the world, wherever G4S and similar corporations repress the most vulnerable.

For even though G4S has found it unprofitable to continue to do most of its business in Israel, the company still deals in oppression worldwide.

In the U.S. alone, G4S played a role in the repression of the Standing Rock Sioux water protectors.

G4S still aids ICE and Homeland Security with immigrant deportations. 

G4S still runs youth detention facilities and provides prison technology as part of the U.S. prison industrial complex.  

"Two things have never been clearer," says the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. "(1) BDS works. and (2) We have a lot more work to do."

Congratulations to activists and institutions around the world that have been a part of the Stop G4S campaign, illustrating the tremendous ability of grassroots organizing to impact multinational corporations and send the strong message that profiting from oppression is not so profitable after all. Now -- on to the next big win!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Resisting the Rising Tide of Oppression

“The election of Donald Trump was an earthquake that changed the face of the planet, writes Israeli political columnist, Uri Avnery. In the U.S. personal threats to Muslims, Jews, and people of color, already on the rise before the end of the presidential campaign, have spiked in the days after the election. A Palestinian-American Quaker writes on Facebook, “Folks in Palestine messaging me to stay safe. Let that sink in.”

On the University of Michigan campus, racist posters and fliers demeaning African Americans, Jews, Muslims, and women have been stapled to kiosks and slipped into dormitories in the dead of night. Last week a white man approached a young Muslim woman and told her he would set her on fire with his cigarette lighter if she didn’t remove her hijab. Twitter accounts of activists have been filled with vile messages from the “alt-right,” emboldened by the blatant racism and xenophobia of the Trump campaign.

But Donald Trump’s “unique mixture of megalomania, showmanship and mass appeal,” as Avnery puts it, is not unfamiliar to Israelis. After last year’s elections, Avnery writes, “Israel was overrun by a band of far-right politicians, like a pack of hungry wolves. Men and women without charm, without dignity, possessed by a ravenous hunger for power.”

These politicians are challenging the Tel Aviv "old elites," just as Trump has set the U.S. public against Washington. The worst of them are inciting interpersonal hatred and resentment: “Jewish citizens against Arab citizens, Israelis of Eastern descent against Ashkenazis of European descent, the uncultured against the cultured, and the poor against all others, tearing apart the delicate ties of Israeli society.” 

Yet such rabble rousing and intimidation pales in comparison with the larger, more impersonal forces that isolate, exclude, and diminish whole populations based on their social or religious identities.

In the U.S., we hear loose talk about the new administration compiling a vast and detailed registry of immigrants from Muslim countries, incarcerating or deporting up to three million undocumented immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, and turning mass incarceration into a lucrative business.  

In Israel/Palestine, the far-right is threatening to retroactively legalize settlements on Palestinian lands, and to continue to escalate the violent repression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. 

Such large scale oppression is facilitated by technology – impersonal in itself, but political when put to human use.

Hewlett Packard, the global technological giant, is using its expertise not only to supply ink to millions of ordinary folks’ printers, but also to identify and suppress dissidents, censor information, and supervise and control restive populations around the world.

In the U.S., HP technology is being used by the Department of Homeland Security to track, raid, detain, and depart millions of immigrant families on a scale unprecedented in US history. HP tracks data essential for the continued incarceration of millions of black, Latino, Native American, and impoverished people, as well as for widespread legal discrimination against former prisoners.

In Israel/Palestine, HP technology is being used to develop an automated biometric control system that allows Israel to obtain the full profile of virtually every Palestinian over the age of 16, including fingerprints, retinal scans, and facial recognition. Biometric ID cards facilitated by HP technology lay the technical foundation for Israel’s system of tiered citizenship, which assigns rights and privileges according to “nationality” – Jewish, Arab, or Bedouin. 

These ID’s form the basis of rampant discrimination in housing, employment, marriage, healthcare, education and policing.
Such a scale of technological control has brought forth a tactical, coordinated response from grassroots activists, religious and civil institutions, universities, and individuals around the world. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement began in 2005 in response to Palestinian oppression. But now that activists recognize that global corporations and state institutions are repressing the vulnerable in similar ways around the world, the BDS movement has expanded.

This year, on November 25, the U.S.’s biggest shopping day of the year, and in the week that follows, BDS activists plan nonviolent actions in Palestine, Egypt, Malaysia, several Latin American countries, and all across Europe. In the U.S. the campaign has confirmation from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Chico, Santa Cruz, DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, and are waiting to hear from Rochester, Atlanta, St. Louis, and Ithaca. Everywhere, it seems, activists are calling for economic boycott and divestment from HP and its insidious methods of and control.

In these perilous times, a strong, coordinated, nonviolent response to repression is essential. As Quakers, we hope readers will join in by personally boycotting HP, persuading schools and religious institutions to divest from HP, and educating government officials about the ways that institutional racism and bigotry can be so easily facilitated by the benign technology we rely on every day.