Friday, October 26, 2012

Peace Team Member Assaulted by Israeli Authorities


Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 7:00pm EST

Just before noon local time on October 24th, 2012 Michigan Peace Team (MPT) member "Katrina" Katarzyna Dybzynska was choked by the neck and then bodily dragged behind a line of military vehicles by Israeli border police in the Binyamin region of Palestinian Authority, outside the Rami Levy Market near an illegal Israeli settlement. According to two witnesses, Ms. Dybzynska (a Polish citizen) was "choked with excessive force around the neck, before being dragged off by two border police."
After being detained on site, she was taken to an unknown hospital; MPT is awaiting information regarding her medical condition at this time. She was held overnight at an unknown facility in Jerusalem on October 24th; she has been detained for the remaining period to the present, including the night of October 25th, 2012 at Ramle Prision, to the best of Michigan Peace Team's information. She has now been held for well over 36 hours. MPT Team Members, staff, and lawyers in the West Bank have been attempting to contact Ms. Dybzynska to assure her safety, medical condition, and advise her on her rights and the legal process. According to attorneys and volunteers working to assist her, she has not been allowed adequate contact with her lawyers.
A witness standing at approximately five meters distance described the following:
  "Two border police grabbed Katrina and took her just behind a gate. One put his right arm around her throat, as he stood behind her. He squeezed very tightly and her face began to turn red immediately. At this point I was on the other side of the gate about 5 meters away. Her expression was complete terror, she appeared to be unable to breathe. I started yelling at the police to let her go, but was ignored. After choking her, they began dragging her across pavement, then grass, and then pavement again. In all they dragged her about 25 meters."
The MPT Peace Team was attending a nonviolent demonstration of boycott against Israeli goods at Rami Levy grocery store near an illegal Israeli settlement in the autonomous Palestinian Authority. The action yesterday was organized by the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) to highlight the BDS campaign ( ), which calls for a boycott of Israeli goods. Witnesses and international news reports state that demonstrators remained nonviolent as police and soldiers fired sound bombs and punched, kicked, choked and otherwise assaulted internationals and Palestinians. 
It is believed that the impetus for Ms. Dybzynska's detainment was her attempt to assist Palestinian activist Basim Tamimi as he was assaulted and forcibly taken to a military vehicle by several Israeli border police. MPT Team Members witnessed Tamimi being punched, kicked and otherwise assaulted by Israeli police while demonstrating nonviolently. It has been reported that during the assault upon Tamimi, several of his ribs were broken. According to the International Solidarity Movement, Tamimi is the head of the popular committee of Nabi Saleh, a village that has suffered drastically from the creation and expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank. Tamimi was released from prison in April of this year after spending 13 months in an Israeli prison for being accused of “taking part in illegal gatherings.”
Michigan Peace Team (MPT) trains volunteers from all walks of life in nonviolent action and communication, and deploys peace teams to areas of conflict worldwide to work with local people to reduce violence and deaths in high-tension situations. Over the past 20 years, MPT has deployed hundreds of Peace Team volunteers in response to requests from dozens of locations all over the world, including Bosnia, Iraq, Chiapas (Mexico), Juarez (Mexico), Algonquin Territories in Canada, and Haiti. MPT has continued to maintain a long-term presence of rotating teams in the West Bank (Palestine), and also regularly deploys Domestic Peace Teams throughout the United States.
All of MPT's Peace Teams are funded by donations from the general public. People wishing to take action to support this Peace Team may do so by making a donation online.
Contact: Peter Dougherty
Michigan Peace Team Headquarters is located in Lansing, Michigan (USA)
The Peace Team in the field is headquarted in the Nablus Region of the Palestinian Authority

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Postcard From Gaza

Dear Friends,
As you might have heard, Hamas received the Prince of Qatar in Gaza and his wife yesterday. They came with financial support to Hamas government to rebuild Gaza, as if Hamas needs more money.

The people in Gaza were not in favor for such a visit and think that Israel and the US stands behind this visit, and Qatar is providing this money to keep the Palestinian silent and secure that the Palestinians will not starve (which if happened Israel would be responsible).

The statement that we have been hearing from people in Gaza all day long today is, "Israel kills and destroys and Qatar is a gatekeeper that rebuilds and covers up Israel's crimes."

Today we have 3 people at least killed, in this context a different attack took place few days ago. After that Israeli airstrike, a Gazan paramedic discovered that the martyr he is carrying is his brother.

Keep safe.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Israel v No. 2 Pencils

Click to enlarge

Seniors from Friends School in Ramallah could not take the SAT's last week because their exams were unaccountably held up by Israeli authorities. Are the college boards really a security concern? Harvard students Nina Awad and Shatha Hussein ask this question, and others in an op ed, published after a week of agonizing negotiations (see below the article) with the Harvard Crimson, on Oct. 16.  

As countless students around the world took the SAT a week ago, Palestinians from the West Bank could not join their ranks. The October SAT exam was cancelled for students in the West Bank: The Israeli authorities held the exams sent by the College Board for weeks, not releasing the tests to AMIDEAST’s office in Ramallah.

AMIDEAST is the only testing agency in the West Bank, serving over three hundred thousand Palestinian students. Yet Israel controls the flow of goods and people in and out of the ever-shrinking Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Israeli occupation impacts nearly every aspect of Palestinian life. In particular, the military occupation, illegal under international law, violates the basic right to education for Palestinian youth.

This SAT cancellation has been devastating for high school seniors across the West Bank who were planning to apply to college in the United States—including those from the Ramallah Friends School. As alumni of the school, we are proud of its emphasis on global citizenship. RFS has a rich history in Palestine. It was established in 1869 by American Quakers and has since been certified by the International Baccalaureate Organization in Switzerland. About half of RFS students are Palestinian Muslims and the other half are Palestinian Christians—the latter are descendants of the very first Christian community. We have been nurtured by values of peace, nonviolence, social justice, and equality—principles to which many Palestinian families are deeply committed.

Many Palestinians go on to the best universities across the United States each year, including Harvard. Recently, Harvard College admitted three individuals from RFS alone in one year. After graduating from college, many RFS graduates and their peers from other Palestinian schools return to Palestine because of the strong connection we feel to our homeland. We are eager to use the knowledge and skills we have gained abroad to help build a brighter future for the coming generations.

The College Board has announced that it will attempt to schedule a make-up test for those students who were supposed to take the October SAT. AMIDEAST suggested in an email that the tests were held because of an “administrative delay.” According to Michael Madormo, English teacher and Director of the College Preparatory Academy at RFS, “the SAT cancellation has been disheartening since it seems that the Israelis had the exams for weeks and despite efforts by UPS, ETS [Educational Testing Service], and AMIDEAST, the tests were not passed through customs.”

Palestinians have suffered from such profound lack of sovereignty for decades now. This latest SAT episode is merely a symptom of systematic attacks on Palestinian education. During the first Intifada, Palestinian educational institutions were deemed illegal by the Israeli occupation forces, and our parents were forced to hold clandestine classrooms in churches, mosques, and private homes. During the second Intifada, RFS was directly affected by the bombing of a next door police station by the Israeli military and students were unable to attend school due to Israeli blockades and curfews. One of the authors of this article, Lena Awwad, could not attend RFS for three years due to extensive Israeli checkpoints, which prevented her from reaching school. By depriving this year’s RFS seniors the ability to take the SAT, and more broadly hurting Palestinian education, Israel is jeopardizing the academic trajectories of future leaders.

The Israeli policy of bulldozing and destroying Palestinian schools continues unabated. Israeli settlers in the West Bank harass and violently abuse Palestinian schoolchildren—and the hundreds of humiliating checkpoints, Israeli settler-only roads, and the apartheid wall significantly impede freedom of movement for Palestinians and the right to access school. Additionally, Palestinian academic institutions such as Birzeit University find it tremendously difficult to secure basic resources and supplies for their students such as books from abroad. Yet Palestinians are an incredibly resilient people. Despite the assault we face on our right to education and on our livelihoods in general, Palestinians have among the highest literacy rates in the Arab world and the region's highest doctorates per capita.

It is daunting for us to explain the struggle of our families and nation under Israeli military occupation. It is difficult for others to imagine being prevented from taking an exam or, more importantly, to imagine having one’s right to education severely impinged upon because of a foreign occupying power. Palestinian voices are missing from mainstream discourse in the U.S. because of unconditional and blind support for Israel. Many Americans are conditioned to believe that Israeli policies are justified responses to security concerns. This raises the question, then, of what the SAT has to do with Israeli security. And this begs the additional question of when the right to basic human security will be recognized for Palestinians—a people that has been defenseless and stateless for far too long.

We hope that relentless Israeli policies enforced on our peers leading to the SAT cancellation will not impede their college application processes, and look forward to welcoming yet another group of Palestinians to Harvard in the fall.

Dear Friends,
After over a week of agonizing negotiations with the Harvard Crimson, we were finally able to publish this piece. It is written by Lena Awwad and Shatha Yasin, two Ramallah Friends School alums who are now at Harvard College. It takes a lot of courage to speak on Palestine at this campus. We would greatly appreciate your help in circulating this piece by email, Facebook, twitter, etc, and helping draw attention to this issue.

Sa'ed Adel Atshan
Joint PhD Candidate
Anthropology & Middle Eastern Studies
Faculty of Arts & Sciences
Harvard University

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Witnessing to Wall Street: The Work of Friends Fiduciary

Friends Journal

by Jeffery W. Perkins, Executive Director, Friends Fiduciary Corporation
Published in Friends Journal, September 15, 2012

If you ask an average Friend what “socially responsible investing” means, chances are he or she will cite the importance of screening out companies that produce weapons, alcohol, tobacco, or firearms. Some may add a prohibition of investing in companies that operate gambling operations or for-profit prisons.

Still others will emphasize a company’s record on labor, the environment, and social and governance issues. Few, however, recognize the opportunity—or the importance—of actively using the power of the shareholder vote to ensure conformity with Quaker values. In addition to co-sponsoring and supporting shareholder-initiated resolutions, socially responsible investors can engage company management in dialogue to clarify policies and positions, which potentially influences their practices.

Although shareholder resolutions are often labeled “non-binding,” the threat of adding one can
convince a company to engage with concerned shareholders in order to avoid extra costs and negative perceptions. Socially responsible investing is an inexact science, made more so by the complexities of the current global business environment. There is difficulty in discerning Quaker values and right action in the context of our twenty-first century, profit-driven global economic system. There is tension between garnering a market-based return for investors and seeking to reflect Quaker values; it is tricky to decide when to sell a particular company’s stock instead of continuing to engage that company in efforts to try and effect change. Therefore, socially responsible investing requires a continual process of vigilance, review, and discernment.

As Quaker investors, the staff and board of Friends Fiduciary Corporation are keenly aware of the limitations of our impact in certain situations. The available levers for creating change are quite limited and indirect. This is why we seek to be discerning, strategic, focused, and patient. We believe an important part of our unique Quaker witness is to balance accountability with forthrightness and fairness.

While we understand that people can have strong beliefs and concerns about particular corporations or industries, socially responsible investing cannot rest simply on listening to the most vocal positions. Friends Fiduciary is responsible for carefully investing the financial resources of a diverse group of organizations who depend on that income. This is why our investment choices are an effort to reflect the broadly shared values of the Religious Society of Friends.

Recent activities demonstrate the important, real, and complex issues with which Friends Fiduciary engages. In the fall of 2011, Friends Fiduciary received a minute from a constituent meeting stating their concern with companies who provide products or services they identified as supporting the Israeli occupation. They asked Friends Fiduciary to implement a no-buy list of 29 companies, only 4 of which were in our portfolio. 25 of the companies on the no-buy list were already excluded based upon our existing screening process.

Like all Quakers, Friends Fiduciary board and staff abhor the seemingly endless cycle of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After receiving the minute, staff contacted the constituent meeting, researched the genesis of the no-buy list, and began dialogues with the four companies in question. We considered the approach of the no-buy list, but after careful deliberation and discernment, the committee and board uniformly affirmed the current screening process. We deemed the current process more appropriate, effective, and comprehensive than a punitive approach toward some targeted companies. The Friends Fiduciary Board believed that in this type of conflict, lasting change rests in governmental and political solutions, not corporate ones.

We did, however, use the opportunity to take a closer look at the four companies held by Friends
Fiduciary. One of the four companies was Caterpillar, Inc. Our investment policy states that off-the-shelf products sold to the Department of Defense are not considered weapons components. For example, a shoe manufacturer may sell boots to the military, and this company would not be excluded from the portfolio. We also do not reject a company because a purchaser or consumer of that company’s product chooses to use an otherwise constructive or benign product in a harmful manner.

Therefore, the focus of the Caterpillar review was whether the products supplied (bulldozers and earth-moving equipment) were being modified by Caterpillar such that we would effectively consider them weapons or weapon components. We engaged directly with company officials through a series of communications. We sought clarity on whether the products being sold to the Israeli military were being modified specifically for their use and, if so, the nature of the modifications.

Even though Caterpillar did state that they were not “weaponizing” their products, our progressive, detailed questioning helped us discern we were not comfortable investing there anymore. At the end of April 2012, we sold our shares. We also questioned Valero Energy Corporation, an independent petroleum refiner and marketer that provides commercial grade diesel and jet fuel through a Department of Defense program. They responded immediately and forthrightly to our inquiries. Discussions with company management led us to determine that they provide the same off-the-shelf products that are used for non-military purposes. When we shared this information with the concerned monthly meeting, we learned they were open to reconsidering Valero’s inclusion on their “no-buy” list.

As an aside, some might question our investment in Valero on the basis that it is in the oil refining business. While oil refining can raise environmental issues, we believe that Valero is better than many of their competitors with their low-sulfur gasoline program, their use of advanced technology “scrubbers” that reduce sulfur dioxide emissions at their refineries, and their investments in renewable energy sources including a wind farm and emerging, alternative biofuels. As investors, we believe our primary lever to encourage a clean energy future is to promote responsibility and accountability in the oil and gas industry so that the risks and impacts of exploration, production, and distribution are addressed and mitigated. We also believe companies like Valero should be encouraged to invest in sustainable energy solutions. Staff was continuing its dialogue with the two remaining companies at the time this article was written.

Friends Fiduciary has received a number of emails in support of the decision on Caterpillar, many from people who would like to see Friends Fiduciary take a broader political stand. However, we believe the investment committee and board’s process and action was one of careful discernment and integrity. We received one email that seems to go to the heart of this difficult discernment process. It read, “I recently signed a public letter of thanks for your divestment of Caterpillar on grounds of conscience. The letter is fine but does not say all I want to. In addition to saying thanks, I want to acknowledge the difficulty and sensitivity of the issue you decided. As a Jew, I have long counted on the tolerance of the Religious Society of Friends. There can be no doubt in my mind that there is still anti-Semitism hiding behind the movement for boycott and divestment directed against the government of Israel.”

When faced with dynamic tensions and difficult choices, Friends have long turned to the
Spirit and their testimonies for guidance. At Friends Fiduciary, we do the same. We team with Quaker organizations and faith communities to align stewardship of their financial resources with their mission and values. I believe our approach to socially responsible investing is an important contribution toward Friends’ testimonies of peace, simplicity, integrity, and justice.

This is the work we are called to do.

US Quakers Sell Share Over Israel Policy Concerns

Tiles from the Quaker Peace Garden, Bristol
From the Associated Press, October 3, 2012
By Rachel Zoll, AP Religion Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- A firm that manages assets for U.S. Quakers has sold its holdings in three companies after investors raised concerns about their dealings with Israel.

Friends Fiduciary Corp., a Philadelphia nonprofit, sold its shares in Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Veolia Environment after a review was requested by the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting. The Michigan Quaker group wanted to avoid investments in companies that provided products to the Israeli military.

Jeffery Perkins, the Friends Fiduciary executive director, said the nonprofit does not comment on its investment decisions. However, he confirmed the contents of a letter he wrote to Ann Arbor Friends last month stating the fund could not determine whether the products Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard sold to Israel would be considered "weapons components" according to criteria Friends Fiduciary uses for responsible investing.

"In the absence of that information, we chose to sell our holdings based on the peace testimony," Perkins wrote, citing the core Quaker teaching against the use of weapons.

The fund dropped Veolia because of "environmental and social concerns," Perkins wrote in the letter. Activists protesting Israeli policy in the territories say Veolia holds contracts to transfer trash from Jewish housing settlements in disputed areas. A North American spokesman for Veolia could not be reached for comment.

Caterpillar equipment gained notoriety in March 2003 when an armored bulldozer crushed an American activist, Rachel Corrie, in the southern Gaza Strip while she tried to prevent it from toppling a home. A subsequent military investigation ruled Corrie's death an accident.

Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan said in a statement that the company does not equip tractors with armor or sell directly to the Israeli military. Instead, he explained that bulldozers such as the D9 tractor are first traded to the U.S. government and then resold to Israel, among other countries, which can then outfit the bulldozers for their own use.

"As a values-based company, Caterpillar has deep respect and compassion for all persons affected by the political strife in the Middle East and supports a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Dugan said. "However, we believe it is appropriate for such a resolution to be reached via political and diplomatic channels."

Friends Fiduciary said it had reviewed Hewlett-Packard's information technology consulting with the Israeli Navy. A Hewlett-Packard spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday.

Perkins did not release a dollar value for its investments in the three companies. Friends Fiduciary says it manages about $200 million for nearly 300 Quaker groups.