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Human rights: not to be entrusted to governments

For those concerned with human rights, there is a never-ending assortment of countries to which to direct one’s attention. From the Congo to Chinese occupation of Tibet, to Slovakian treatment of the Roma, governments oppress and commit human-rights abuses and unimaginable horrors against vulnerable civilians. One of the purposes of the United Nations is to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. But the U.N., the Geneva Conventions, human-rights organizations and foreign governments have had, at best, mixed success in protecting the human rights of noncombatants.

Between 1972 and 1984 at least 51 U.N. resolutions against apartheid in South Africa were vetoed by the United States, effectively allowing the resolutions to die and the human-rights abuses to continue. Opponents of South African apartheid despaired that that vile system of institutionalized racism and legalized human-rights abuses would ever end.

But it did come to an end. Apartheid in South Africa ended through a combination of international pressure and the activities of leaders of the African National Congress (which for many years was banned as a terrorist organization) who knew that they could not depend on the United Nations or any foreign government. The ANC called on the international community to exert pressure in the form of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS), and other nonviolent actions against the South African government.

Same lack of support
Like their counterparts in South Africa, Palestinians have had the same lack of support by the governments meant to defend them. Since 1972 the United States has vetoed a similar number of UN resolutions related to Palestinian human rights as it did with South African Apartheid. Therefore, instead of depending on governments, in 2005 Palestinian civil society called for the international community to act in solidarity and to peacefully protest Israel’s human-rights abuses against Palestinians using BDS. Since then there has been a growth in awareness around the world about the plight of the Palestinians, millions of whom are living under repressive occupation, which has been described by South Africans as worse than that under which they lived.

For more than 60 years governments have been playing at a “peace process,” unfolding and refolding the Roadmap to Peace, endlessly talking about implementing the Oslo accords, and pretending to make progress while repression and human-rights abuses increased in severity. It is no longer up to the governments. Ordinary people and organizations around the world are beginning to take matters into their own hands.

The movement is gathering steam since Operation Cast Lead beginning in December of 2008. Israel framed this as a “defensive operation,” but in reality it was an offensive assault on the Palestinians in Gaza. Even before the assault Israel maintained a siege on Gaza — which, according to human-rights agencies, led to a humanitarian crisis. While Israel is not currently bombing Gaza, the siege continues to this day. Normal activities: farming, fishing, attending school, buying groceries, and earning a living, are impossible for Gazans. Construction materials are denied entry into Gaza so that no rebuilding has been possible after the massive destruction of the civilian infrastructure.

Investigations discounted; people galvanized
Israel and pro-Israeli groups in the United States discounted all investigations into war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead, including the Goldstone Report, as biased against Israel. With typical near unanimity, the House of Representatives condemned the Goldstone Report in H.R. 867, assuring that it will not be brought before the U.N. Security Council.

But rejecting investigations, rather than inflicting amnesia, has galvanized people worldwide. Many church groups, labor unions, universities, and other organizations within Europe and the United States are now calling for BDS and for further actions and demonstrations to force the end of Israeli repression and human rights abuses.

On Dec. 27, 2009, one year after the start of Operation Cast Lead, an international delegation of more than 500 people from 35 countries and 32 US states (including several people from Minnesota) will cross into Gaza on the border with Egypt. They will meet with Palestinians, U.N. agencies, and NGOs working in the Gaza Strip. On Dec. 31, the delegation, along with thousands of Palestinians, in the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., will march toward the Erez crossing in a nonviolent expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people and an effort to end the brutal siege of Gaza. Simultaneously, others will peacefully demonstrate in cities around the world.

Finally, people who have been despairing of ever seeing an end to Israeli human-rights abuses have effective grassroots tools to force governments to act morally. These actions — the Gaza Freedom March and boycott, divestment and sanctions — are the beginning of the end of the human rights abuses in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

Sylvia Schwarz is a member of International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network of the Twin Cities (IJAN-TC) and the Minnesota-based Coalition for Palestinian Rights (CPR).

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/19/2009 - 09:41 am.

    Anti-Israel groups do have some valid points that are worthy of thoughtful consideration.

    Unfortunately, the arguments regarding illegal settlements and human rights abuses are rendered moot every time a Palestinian straps on a knapsack full of explosives and nails for a trip to the shopping mall.

  2. Submitted by Rukhsana Ghouse on 11/19/2009 - 12:33 pm.

    Another great, thought-provoking and factual article by Sylvia Schwarz. Watch as the tide of comments comes in with accusations of Antisemitism(or self-hating Jew as the case may be), attacks on Muslims/Arab countries (as if this is a religious/cultural issue)and the portrayal of the Occupier as the victim. Understand that Richard Goldstone’s recent analysis accused both Hamas and Israel of war crimes. Hamas has agreed to cooperate with this investigation into war crimes, Israel has not. Dirty laundry perhaps?

  3. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/19/2009 - 05:13 pm.

    Israel says it feels no need for an investigation since it is entirely innocent of any wrong-doing.
    The U.N. may bring action on the Goldstone Report to the General Assembly, since the U.S. and Israel are able to veto any meaningful response to Israel’s assault on Gaza’s civilian population.

    Any organization or person can ask the International Criminal Court to conduct an investigation and trial, so it may be out of our hands or those of Israel’s current leadership.

    Sure wish the Congress would catch up with the rest of the world on this issue. Over 150 members, however, attended J-Streets recent conference, which seems to indicate a gradual movement away from 100 per cent support for AIPAC (fundamentalist Zionism) toward a recognition of Palestine’s equal right to exist in peace.

  4. Submitted by myles spicer on 11/19/2009 - 09:16 pm.

    No…I am not accusing Schwarz of being a “self-hating Jew; or the others as being anti-Semitic. But I am accusing them of bias — the same charge they are leveling against the Israelis. My reference point is very simply the Hamas Charter of 1988. Have they — have any of you — READ IT??? Please do, them try to make some more balanced and reasonable commentary. Also, then decide exactly who among us are anti-Semitic (when Hamas pulls out the ancient crap about “Elders of Zion” they sure lose me). For your edification, just a few snippets printed below:

    Article Thirteen: Peaceful Solutions, [Peace] Initiatives and International Conferences
    [Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion;

    Article Twenty-Eight
    Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims. “Let the eyes of the cowards not fall asleep.”

    Article Thirty-Two:
    Hamas is calling upon the Arab and Islamic peoples to act seriously and tirelessly in order to frustrate that dreadful scheme and to make the masses aware of the danger of coping out of the circle of struggle with Zionism. Today it is Palestine and tomorrow it may be another country or other countries. For Zionist scheming has no end, and after Palestine they will covet expansion from the Nile to the Euphrates. Only when they have completed digesting the area on which they will have laid their hand, they will look forward to more expansion, etc. Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present [conduct] is the best proof of what is said there. Leaving the circle of conflict with Israel is a major act of treason and it will bring curse on its perpetrators.

  5. Submitted by Rukhsana Ghouse on 11/20/2009 - 08:43 am.

    There are hundreds of comments made by Israelis regarding the dehumanizing of Palestinians? Of course, each side can bring their own proofs. So if we are so sure that Israel has not committed any war crimes, let’s not hinder the investigation of Justice Richard Goldstone (who has impeccable credentials, and is Jewish by the way).

    Our Congress did just that a week ago by enacting a resolution that tries to smother any further investigation by the U.N. Do your research – the U.S. has been the sole veto vote at the U.N. for decades against resolution after resolution by the United Nations condemning Israeli acts of aggression.

    One important fact to understand is that you cannot blame the victims of occupation for fighting for their freedom. Indeed, our own forefathers where labeled as terrorists by the British when we wanted to escape their shackles. So too was the African National Congress of South Africa (labeled by our own country as being a terrorist organization), until public pressure made it politically incorrect to side with the South African Apartheid system.

    The boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign has finally arrived to the shores of America and it is rolling across the nation like an avalanche!

  6. Submitted by myles spicer on 11/20/2009 - 11:34 am.

    Ms Ghouse
    Please recognize the enormous difference between “comments” and a “Charter”. The “Charter”, like our Constitution, is a declaration of a nation’s goals, aspirations, mores, and committments. “Comments” are merely less signficant words of varying individuals.

    I too, sincerely believe the Israelis must cooperate in any peace effort (like freezing the settlements) — but failure to recognize that the goal of Hamas is to KILL THE JEWS AND RETURN ISRAEL INTO AN ISLAMIC STATE is so disengenuous, that it simpley retards the prospects for any peace in that region…ever!

  7. Submitted by Ralph Jacobson on 11/30/2009 - 02:24 pm.

    Sylvia gets lots of stuff wrong in this article and throws around language that creates heat…not light. Most in Israel prefer to stay Israeli citizens, not Palistinian citizen for they enjoy a level of benefit not offered elsewhere. The medical care, schools, etc. are excellent. Yes, there is a level of discrinination against Palistinians…as we also have here with minority populations in the U.S. That, however, does not warrant the notion of apartheid.

    Also missing from this one-sided presentation is the notion that Palistinian children are taught hateful notions of Jews. They are not taught about the holocaust. The State of Israel does not appear in their text books. The screed of the Palistianians as noted by other posts is the annihilation of the State of Israel and Jews. These facts are conveniently left out of this one sided presentation. I wonder what Sylvia’s motives are?

    Sylvia asks little of the surrounding Arab countries that could easily and more actively support a peace process and lift the cause of the Palistinians. Instead, they arm them with munitians. Why? She asks more of the State of Israel who are the stated enemy than the Arab states…why?

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