Rep. Eric Swalwell left Sunday for Israel and the West Bank as part of a massive Democratic congressional delegation “to gain a firsthand understanding of some of America’s most pressing foreign policy challenges,” his office reported.
Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, is with Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and 36 other House Democrats who’ll meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. They’ll also meet with Israeli tech leaders to explore opportunities for bilateral economic and technological cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.
“I look forward to visiting our strong ally in the Middle East, and as a Member of the Homeland Security Committee, I’m particularly interested in viewing the security situation on the ground and learning about the technology Israel is using in its fight against terror,” Swalwell said in a news release.
“This is a critical time in the peace process with this new round of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” Swalwell said. “The visit will be an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the quest for a peaceful two-state solution through meetings with a wide variety of leaders across the spectrum –Israelis, Palestinians, religious figures, opposition members, and ordinary citizens.”
Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the Israel Defense Forces to reopen an investigation into the grievous head injury suffered by an Oakland activist during a West Bank protest in March 2009, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports.
Tristan Anderson, then 39, was at a protest of Israel’s security fence in the West Bank city of Na’alin when a tear gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier struck him in the head, causing severe brain damage.
The Israel Defense Force investigated whether the Border Police were at fault following the incident, but a petition to the court – filed by attorneys for Anderson’s family and by Yesh Din, an Israeli human-rights group – claimed the probe was inadequate. The petition said the army did not visit Na’alin and questioned only a few soldiers who were on the scene; it’s not clear whether the army questioned the soldier who fired the canister. No criminal charges have been brought against any police or military personnel involved in the case.
“It is the obligation of the State of Israel to investigate suspicions of unwarranted injury of protesters, which occur time after time,” Yesh Din attorney Michael Sfard said in a news release issued by Anderson’s supporters Wednesday. “It is a shame that it took three-and-a-half years for the High Court to intervene in order to force the investigators to implement basic investigative procedures.”
Anderson’s mother, Nancy Anderson, said in the release that her son “will live the rest of his life with serious mental and physical limitations and chronic pain. This has devastated his life and profoundly affected our family forever.” The family’s civil lawsuit against the Israeli military and government is scheduled to go to trial in November.
Gabrielle Silverman of Oakland – Anderson’s girlfriend, who was with him when he was injured – said Wednesday that Anderson was released from an Israeli hospital in June 2010 and now lives with his parents in Grass Valley. He remains hemiplegic – paralyzed on his left side – and suffers permanent cognitive and emotional impairments from his injury; he requires around-the-clock care, Silverman said.
Three Bay Area House members have just returned from a four-day, bi-partisan Congressional delegation trip to Iraq, Qatar and Israel, where they met with U.S. troops from the Bay Area as well as with military commanders and foreign leaders.
Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, issued a statement today saying he gained valuable insights on the region.
“I get a lot of good information in Washington, but when it comes to making tough decisions about our troops and our nation’s security it is also essential to get a first-hand view in critical parts of the world like Iraq and the Middle East,” he said. “The opportunity to meet face-to-face with U.S. military commanders and American troops on the ground to better understand the conditions there is invaluable.
“The troops we met with expressed a huge sense of pride over the daring mission that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden,” Miller continued. “Clearly, even the troops that were not directly involved in the raid were proud to be members of the military forces that accomplished it. And they have every right to feel that way. The mission was a huge victory for our country’s security efforts and for President Obama, U.S. military forces and the American intelligence community. And hopefully the death of bin Laden will hasten the return of American troops from the war in Afghanistan.
“Regardless of one’s position on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the men and women who serve this country day in and day out are to be commended. Their sacrifice and the sacrifices made by their families and friends is something that we must always keep in mind.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the rhetorical side of the conflict, at least – is visible in the Bay Area again as organizations for and against Israeli policy have bought dueling ads in several BART stations.
Jewish Voice for Peace – an Oakland-based group that “seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East” – co-produced an ad launched Dec. 5, urging commuters passing through the Downtown Berkeley, Oakland-12th Street and San Francisco Civic Center BART stations to “End U.S. military aid to Israel.”
“Our ads are not about repeating the same old paradigms, where one side (Israelis or Palestinians) is good and the other (Palestinians or Israelis) is bad. Our ads are about the common ground that we have,” Sydney Levy, Jewish Voice for Peace’s campaigns director, said today via e-mail. “It is about asking Americans to stand together with Israelis and Palestinians on the same side, not opposite one another.”
StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based international pro-Israel group, this week launched ads of its own in the same BART stations plus three more – Embarcadero and Balboa Park in San Francisco, and Oakland’s MacArthur – depicting both the “rage-filled eyes of a terrorist” as well as Palestinian and Israeli children playing soccer together, directing readers to a web site that blames Palestinians for obstructing the peace process.
“The anti-Israel ad confuses and deceives the public. It declares it represents the side of ‘peace and justice’ and shows happy pictures of an Israeli father and a Palestinian father with their little sons. These images and words appeal to all people of good will. But the real message is that Israel is the obstacle to peace and that the U.S. should stop all financial assistance to Israel,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said in a news release. “The ad tries to hide the real obstacles—Hamas, Palestinian terrorism, and decades of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish hate education. We cannot let this message, with its deceptive, velvet-gloved rhetoric, influence unsuspecting commuters who may not know the facts. Our ads will provide the needed facts.”
Levy, of course, disagrees. “Sadly, the Stand With Us ads are simply about demonizing and delegitimizing Palestinians. They say that Israel has no partner for peace. They ignore all the Palestinian nonviolent anti-occupation activists languishing in Israeli jails, including Abdallah Abu Rahmah, an Amnesty International Palestinian prisoner of conscience.”
Northern California’s top Israeli diplomat will make a public appearance this week, even as Middle East tensions spike following Israel’s ill-fated decision to board activist ships challenging the blockade of Gaza, leading to the deaths of nine activists on a boat where activists attacked the boarding troops.
Akiva Tor, the Counsul General for the Pacific Northwest Region, will speak on “Middle East Peacemaking, the Iranian Crisis and U.S.– Israel Relations” at 6 p.m. this Thursday, June 10, in the Commonwealth Club of California’s offices, on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco. Tickets cost $12 for club members, $20 for nonmembers or $7 for students with valid ID, and are available online.
In an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, Tor defended the need for a blockade on the Gaza Strip. “Simply put, we don’t have much choice….If we allow unfettered access to the Gaza Strip, Gaza will become an Iranian-armed missile base on our doorstep, much as Lebanon has become under Hezbollah.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties e-mailed out an “action alert” today urging people to go support Tor at Thursday’s event: “We understand there are plans to protest and possibly disrupt the lecture. Attend this event and show your support for Israel and its outstanding Consul General!”
Some of the more than three dozen Bay Area residents who are headed to Gaza for a New Year’s Eve peace march will gather tonight in San Francisco to make banners and flags.
The Gaza Freedom March is being organized by the International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza, with San Francisco activist Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK and Global Exchange on the organizing committee. The Bay Area contingent will fly to Cairo later this month, joining a 1,000-person delegation from 42 nations to enter Gaza for the march near the closed Erez checkpoint on the border with Israel; as many as 50,000 Palestinians are expected to attend.
The local contingent includes activists, UC-Berkeley and UC-Davis students, artists and at least one internationally known celebrity: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker of Berkeley.
Local “solidarity actions” mirroring the march are planned in other cities around the world. In San Francisco, there’ll be a memorial vigil at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27 in Union Square for Palestinians killed in an Israeli military operation in Gaza last year, and organizers have obtained a permit for a march across the Golden Gate Bridge at noon on New Year’s Eve.
“The world needs to know that the situation in Palestine is not morally acceptable nor legal under international law,” march participant and recent Cal Poly grad Marina Barakatt of San Francisco said in a news release. “Human rights abuses, land expropriation, targeted assassinations, house demolitions, and increasing repression are part of the price Palestinians pay, framed as a just, nationalist fight.”
But San Francisco Voice for Israel activist Michael Harris said “(T)he sad thing about this is that the groups promoting this event are really not interested in peace between a Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine. They are supporting the Hamas regime, which vows to destroy not only Israel but targets all Jews worldwide.”
“By continuing to promote an extremist agenda, and by supporting a regime that is not only anti-Semitic but also is homophobic and misogynistic, these groups are actually perpetuating Palestinian suffering,” he said. “Time and energy that could have been spent in building a Palestinian future has instead been devoted to trying to destory Israel’s future.”
The State Department issued a statement Saturday saying the conference’s draft outcome document still contains language that unfairly singles out Israel for criticism as well as language which could lead to free-speech restrictions. Lee said she and the CBC are “deeply dismayed” by the boycott.
“This decision is inconsistent with the administration’s policy of engaging with those we agree with and those we disagree with, expressed by President Obama during the G20 and on other recent occasions,” her statement said.
“The United States has a unique experience and history of combating racism and intolerance. As a result, the United States is well suited to play a leadership role in overcoming racism and related intolerances, which remain one of the great challenges facing many around the globe,” she said. “By boycotting Durban, the U.S. is making it more difficult for it to play a leadership role on UN Human Rights Council as it states it plans to do. This is a missed opportunity, plain and simple.
“Had the United States sent a high-level delegation reflecting the richness and diversity of our country, it would have sent a powerful message to the world that we’re ready to lead by example. Instead, the administration opted to boycott the conference, a decision that does not advance the cause of combating racism and intolerance, but rather sets the cause back.”