Clearing the FOG Radio, based in Washington D.C., delved into the Middle East, focusing on the conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis, and in Egypt, between the Muslim Brotherhood, the Mubarak remnants and the revolutionaries seeking real democracy and a secular government. Since the broadcast, new concessions have been made by President Morsi in the conflict in Egypt, but opponents’ main demand, to postpone Saturday’s referendum vote long enough to overhaul a proposed constitution, still has not been met.
Israel Will Not Have Peace Until Palestinians Have Justice
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A lot has been happening very quickly in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza: the November attacks on the Gaza Strip by Israel; the United Nations vote favoring observer state status for Palestine; and the Israeli response to that vote of allowing settlements in a sensitive area of the West Bank and withholding tax dollars from the Palestinians. In order to get some clarity we talked with Sydney Levy of Jewish Voice for Peace.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine, he believes, should be looked at through the lens of human rights and equity. Jewish Voice for Peace recognizes that there will be no peace until the Palestinians are treated with justice. This includes ending the occupation of the West Bank and the open air prison of Gaza so that Palestinians no longer live under military control, equal rights for Palestinians living in Israel and solving the refugee problem. Over half of Palestinians do not live in Israel and Palestine, but are mostly in refugee camps.
On the sensitive issue of whether Israel is an apartheid state, Mr. Levy said that while Israel was not the same as South Africa, it meets the standards of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. In particular, Israel seeks to establish and maintain domination by one racial group (Jewish Israelis) over another racial group (Palestinians) and systematically oppresses them. Levy says this is not about opinion, but about the policies of Israel that systematically discriminate by allowing separate roads and separate laws, and through the “Separation Wall,” which has been ruled illegal by international courts. Even Palestinians in Israel, who make up 20 percent of the Israeli population, are discriminated against. While they are allowed to vote, there are many laws that discriminate, such as not allowing a spouse from another country to enter Israel and smaller budgets for Palestinian schools and other infrastructure.
As time passes, the two-state solution is becoming more and more difficult to achieve because illegal settlements and their infrastructure are breaking up the West Bank, and Palestinians do not control enough land for a viable and sustainable state. Whether there is ultimately a two-state solution or a one-state solution, all of these injustices must be resolved.
Jewish Voice for Peace strives to work in the best traditions of Judaism for peace, justice and respect for human rights and international law, with campaigns that will achieve these aims. At present, they are asking people in the United States to oppose the use of US tax dollars by Israel’s military to attack civilians. This is a violation of US law. Jewish Voice for Peace has a letter to President Obama that you can sign requesting that Israel use US military aid lawfully.
US financial support for Israel is not proportionate to US financial aid to other countries and needs to be reconsidered. Israel, a country the size of New Jersey, receives $3 billion annually, more than the US gives to Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America combined. President Obama gave Israel $70 million more in July of this year, just prior to a visit to Israel by Mitt Romney, for a new short-range missile shield, the Iron Dome, which was tested in the recent attack on Gaza. This and the largest joint exercise between the US and Israel, Austere Challenge, which ended just before the Gaza attack, indicate US prior approval and support for the attack.
In addition to focusing on US financial aid, Jewish Voice for Peace is organizing boycotts and divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. Some initial victories include:
- Morgan Stanley Capital International, a leading US investment firm, removed Caterpillar Inc. from its socially responsible investment indexes, saying Caterpillar’s role in Israeli human rights violations were one of the “key factors” in the decision.
- Shortly thereafter, retirement giant TIAA-CREF dropped $72 million in Caterpillar stock from its socially responsible funds.
- Friends Fiduciary Corporation, which handles investments for over 250 Quaker meetings, schools, organizations, trusts, and endowments around the US, divested from Caterpillar.
- The United Methodist Church resolved to boycott “products made by Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories.” The church called on all nations “to prohibit any financial support by individuals or organizations for the construction and maintenance of settlements and the import of products made [in settlements.]”
Egypt in Conflict over Draft Constitution, Presidential Decrees
In neighboring Egypt, which just helped negotiate the cease-fire in Gaza, the revolution has entered a new phase that is extremely complicated and dangerous. The Muslim Brotherhood, which had been oppressed by the Mubarak Regime and stood with the revolutionaries while promising not to run for office, initially downplayed their plans to put in place an Islamist state. After winning presidential and legislative elections, they are acting quickly to consolidate their power and put in place a theocratic government.
Mass protests have been occurring since November 22, when President Morsi issued decrees seizing power, making him impervious to judicial challenge and protecting the Islamist-dominated Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt’s parliament) and Constituent Assembly (which wrote the new constitution) from dissolution by court order.
Our guest, Mokhtar Kamel, the president of the Alliance of Egyptian Americans in North America, sees the current political situation as a stalemate between the civil segment and the Islamists over the new religious constitution. He sees it heading toward a collision as each side digs in its heels. Right now the civil forces, which support a secular democracy, have less resources and organization than the Islamists who control a large segment of the uneducated population through mosques. The Constitution is complex, 300-pages long, and with unclear language. Nobody knows how the constitutional referendum vote will turn out on December 15, or what will develop afterwards.
The draft Constitution, as originally proposed, falls short of the demands of the Egyptian revolution. There are two major deficiencies:
1. The lack of freedom of thought and religion
2. The lack of personal freedom and freedom of the press
In protest over the lack of freedom of the press, twelve Egyptian newspapers and five television channels announced a one-day strike, with the newspapers not printing on Tuesday, December 5, and the television channels going off-air on Wednesday. Journalists are striking because the Constitution does not include articles against the imprisonment of journalists in cases related to freedom of expression. On Monday, five newspapers shared the same front page headline “No to Dictatorship” with an illustration showing a prisoner made of newspaper sitting in a dark cell.
Media websites showed their solidarity in different ways. The Egypt Independent, Al-Masry Al-Youm’s English news web site, halted work and covered its main page with a statement: “You are reading this message because Egypt Independent objects to continued restrictions on media liberties, especially after hundreds of Egyptians gave their lives for freedom and dignity.” Masrawy expressed its solidarity with the newspapers by changing its news web site to black and white. Daily News Egypt has added a logo to its web site with the words “Tuesday Press Strike . . . No to Dictatorship.”
The revolutionary forces are doing all they can to oppose the Constitution, but Mokhtar reports they have been infiltrated and divided by Mubarak and Islamist forces. Until recently, they have not been able to mount large protests. They have suffered personal injuries, including the loss of eyes and limbs, and are in poverty unable to find employment. However, the actions of Morsi and the Islamicists have united the opposition with hundreds of thousands now protesting outside of the presidential palace. The Central Security Forces withdrew from the palace, and photos show police uniforms on the ground as the police joined protesters.
On Monday, more than one hundred activists signed a statement rejecting President Morsi’s decrees and draft constitution. The revolutionaries refuse to accept an “undemocratic” constitution that “lacks basic rights” in order to cancel a “power-grabbing declaration.” The statement was signed by members of the Strong Egypt Party, Kazeboon (anti-military rule campaign), Doctors Without Rights and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, as well as rights organizations, independent academics, artists, activists and intellectuals. The activists also rejected the “forced” polarization between secularists and Islamists, used by both camps for political gain. Key opposition figures including Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa spoke out and are being investigated by the Morsi government.
These actions have created a division between the judiciary and the president. The Judges Club announced it would boycott the vote and refuse to supervise the polling stations in protest to Morsi’s decree which undermined their independence. In response, Egypt’s Supreme Judicial Council announced Monday it will allocate judges and members of the prosecution to supervise the referendum. The striking judges said the SJC decision is not final and judges can always individually refuse to participate. And, also in response, judges from the Administrative Prosecution Court have announced that they will not supervise the referendum votes until Morsi’s constitutional declarations are repealed.
When asked what will shift the power? Mokhtar responded that the revolutionaries need to continue peaceful protests, and follow the model of Tahrir Square and not take the same path as the Syrians who are now in a civil war. And, he noted, the leaders of the civil and revolutionary factions have formed a committee called the Front for Saving the Country and will try to work together for the time being. This entity could even become a temporary form of a government that challenges the Islamist dominated government.
Mokhtar urged Americans to raise awareness of the Egyptian Revolution in the US public. There are many in Egypt who believe their country should adopt progressive values along the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He urged Americans to support the revolutionaries and not the theocrats.
The situation in Egypt is changing rapidly. We will keep our website, October2011.org, up to date with reports.
You can hear the radio program in its entirety at Clearing the FOG.