Tuesday, June 30, 2009

US Campaign Advisory Board Member Huwaida Arraf: Israel's policy has nothing to do with security

Free Gaza!

Many of you have already heard the news that the Israeli navy has surrounded and boarded the Free Gaza Movement ship Spirit of Humanity while en route to the Gaza Strip, and has prevented the ship from completing its voyage. The ship, its crew, and passengers were on their way to deliver humanitarian and rebuilding supplies to the Gaza Strip. At no time did they enter Israeli waters. The ship and those on board have now been taken to an Israeli port. We are waiting for updates on the status of the boat, its crew, and passengers. For updates, please see the Free Gaza Movement website. The Huffington Post is also carrying an article on the Free Gaza boat. Just before the boat was boarded, US Campaign Advisory Board member and Free Gaza Movement chair Huwaida Arraf issued the following statement: "No one could possibly believe that our small boat constitutes any sort of threat to Israel. We carry medical and reconstruction supplies, and children's toys. Our passengers include a Nobel peace prize laureate and a former U.S. congressperson. Our boat was searched and received a security clearance by Cypriot Port Authorities before we departed, and at no time did we ever approach Israeli waters." Arraf continued, "Israel's deliberate and premeditated attack on our unarmed boat is a clear violation of international law and we demand our immediate and unconditional release." Take action to demand that Israel release these prisoners, illegally kidnapped in international waters, and allow them to complete their mission!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Global Boycott Movement Grows

Almost four years ago a coalition of groups, including unions, community groups, NGOs, academics and others representing a large cross-section of Palestinian civil society issued an open call for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) with the aim of forcing an end to Israeli occupation and apartheid practices. In a short time this call-to-action has grown into a global movement.
For years, the US Campaign has answered this call by coordinating boycott and divestment action aimed at Caterpillar and Motorola, two U.S. based corporations that are directly profiting from Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights and international law. Now, it seems that much of the U.S. movement to bring peace and human rights to the people of Israel/Palestine have moved beyond these “local” targets directly profiting from Israel’s militarism to boycotting consumer products made in Israel.
One example of this shift toward boycotting Israeli consumer goods is a recently launched campaign against Israeli beauty brand Ahava. CODEPINK’s “Stolen Beauty” campaign targets Ahava’s line of products from the Dead Sea. Ahava not only literally sells stolen Palestinian land (the mud in their products), but also processes all of its products in the illegal Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the West Bank.
Another US Campaign member group that has taken up this broader boycott campaign is the Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee, which recently started a boycott targeting Trader Joe’s for their sales of Israeli Couscous, Dorot frozen herbs, as well as Pastures of Eden Feta cheese. The Trader Joe’s boycott has spread across the country, with US Campaign member group, South Bay Mobilization (CA) and others participating in “deshelving” actions to commemorate World Refugee Day, on June 20th.
This wave of new BDS campaigns targeting Israeli based corporations could mark a turning point in the global BDS movement. CODEPINK has chosen to target Ahava products, recognizing that without international economic support settlement communities cannot continue to annex Palestinian land and resources. The Trader Joe's boycott targets include Pastures of Eden Cheeses from dairies across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Dorot prepared herbs from a settlement near the Gaza boarder, and ambiguously labeled "Israeli Couscous." While settlement products, especially those that require irrigation, directly support the continued appropriation of Palestinian land and resources there is still a lively debate about the efficacy of boycotting all Israeli products. Of course, without clear labeling requirements from the USDA and Customs and Boarder Patrol it can be impossible to tell the difference between "Israeli products" and "settlement products." Given this regulatory irregularity, and the argument that the entire Israeli economy makes military occupation and apartheid practices possible, it's easy to see why many are making the argument groups are starting to boycott Israeli products writ-large.
While the US Campaign has so far focused on U.S. corporations, many of our member groups and allies are moving toward boycotting Israeli goods. We hope to engage in this debate in Chicago this September at our annual conference. Please let us know what you think about expanding boycott and divestment targets on this blog and at our conference!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Willy Wonka Goes to Washington—Part II

Last week, we blogged about our unsuccessful Willy Wonka-esque attempt to get into the FY2010 budget “mark-up” of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs to see if there was any discussion about conditioning President Obama’s budget request for $2.775 billion in military aid to Israel. Yesterday, we tried again at the full committee level. We lined up one hour before the “mark-up” began in the hopes of delivering to Rep. David Obey, the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, an open letter signed by more than 200 organizations calling on his committee to cut off or, at the minimum, condition military aid to Israel. We also had hoped to deliver to him the names of more than 5,000 people who sent him individual letters with the same demand and more than 750 signed pages of petitions to the same effect. We shot this video after waiting unsuccessfully for two hours to get into the meeting to give people a sense of how opaque the budget process is on Capitol Hill. Thanks to Gael Murphy of Code Pink for the background signs. Enjoy! How silly of the US Campaign to think that Congress actually still believed in the 1st Amendment, which forbids it from abridging the right of the people to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” How exactly do the people petition Members of Congress when they won’t even let the public into the room? A select few members of the public actually did get into the “mark-up” eventually. We found this sign attached above one of the chairs of the lucky few allowed in. Democracy in action again! Oh yeah, by the way, the House Appropriations Committee voted to recommend $2.775 billion in military aid for Israel in FY2010 without any discussion or debate.

More on conditions in Gaza

Check out this video series from American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) on daily life in the Gaza Strip, including this shocking video of Palestinians living in graveyards for want of better shelter: In order for this reality to change, the siege of Gaza has to end. Help the US Campaign challenge the U.S. policy that allows the siege to continue by clicking here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Two years of Gaza siege

As the siege of Gaza drags into its second year, and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip remain unable to rebuild after the devastation caused by the Israeli military's December-January assault, creative civil society responses to the siege continue to multiply. Take for example this video, released by Gisha, the Israeli legal center for freedom of movement, which illustrates the reality of what two years of closure means for the people of the Gaza Strip. (You might have seen the video that Gisha released during "Operation Cast Lead," entitled "Closed Zone.") Gisha has also published a report entitled "Two Years of Gaza Closure by the Numbers," which includes such shocking figures as 28,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip without running water and only 25% of goods allowed to enter Gaza relative to demand. A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz highlighted the cyncical politics behind some of these figures; click here to read the article. In response to these horrendous conditions, US Campaigns member groups and allies have been working on a variety of strategies and tactics for breaking the siege. US Campaign member group CODEPINK has organzied delegations to Gaza and creative protests. The Seattle Palestine Solidarity Committee has organized a response to a letter written by ten state Attorneys General that expressed support for "Operation Cast Lead." US Campaign allies at the Free Gaza Movement have continued to break the siege from the sea. And here at the US Campaign we continue to work to hold Israel accountable by challenging U.S. military aid and promoting boycott and divestment of Caterpillar and Motorola, two of the companies that made the devastation of Gaza possible. Let's keep up the pressure to end the siege of Gaza and ensure equal rights and freedom from occupation for all!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Weekly Roundup

A totally non-comprehensive list of media coverage and developments related to the work of the US Campaign from this past week (for a more comprehensive collection of cool stuff, we recommend checking out our bi-monthly e-newsletter, Occupation End Notes): 1) This year's Caterpillar shareholder meeting action really made a media splash. You can check out some of the media coverage on our website. Matan Cohen of Hampshire College Students for Justice in Palestine spoke on behalf of this year's shareholder resolution on CAT's military sales to Caterpillar. Matan was featured on Democracy Now!, and the folks over at Palestine Video were nice enough to provide the video: 2) We're also big fans of the Institute for Middle East Understanding's article about the CAT shareholder meeting, which you can read in full here. 3) It's been a huge month for the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. We've written quite a bit about recent victories on our website and on this blog, but we've got a few more to add. Independent Jewish Voices of Canada has voted to join the Palestinian BDS call. Also in Canada, hearings regarding appropriate jurisdiction for the lawsuit that residents of the village of Bil'in are bringing against companies involved in settlement building are scheduled to begin early next week. And amidst signs that Motorola might be planning to sell of yet another aspect of its Israeli operations (after selling off its bomb fuse department earlier this year), Defence for Children International-Palestine Division has asked UNICEF to reject Motorola sponsorship until the company totally cuts its involvement with the occupation. Check out more BDS news here. 4) The LA Times today is carrying a great piece by Saree Makdisi on the "special language" that effects the U.S. discourse on Israel/Palestine. Check it out:
"Reality can be so easily stood on its head when it comes to Israel because the misreading of Israeli declarations is a long-established practice among commentators and journalists in the United States....In fact, a special vocabulary has been developed for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the United States. It filters and structures the way in which developing stories are misread here, making it difficult for readers to fully grasp the nature of those stories -- and maybe even for journalists to think critically about what they write."
5) Slate carried an interesting piece on the challenges that Obama faces in the necessary task of pressuring Israel on settlements. Of course, there's a lot that you can do to create political space for this happen! 6) Speaking of challenges, Bridget Johnson writes on The Hill about the response of the various lobbying groups to Obama's Middle East efforts. 7) Despite the challenges, though, the Obama administration seems determined to keep up the pressure on Israel, as this recent article in Haaretz shows. 8) Want to see how your elected representatives are voting on this issue? We've made it easy by creating a report card for the 111th Congress. Check it out on our website! 9) Mondoweiss picked up US Campaign National Advocacy Director Josh Ruebner's post on the kafka-esque task of trying to get into a budget mark-up session. 10) The Israeli human rights organization B'tselem has issued a report about the use of live fire to "disperse" unarmed demonstrations. As we've written before on this blog, when live fire is used, there is a pretty good chance that it's the result of U.S. tax dollars going to military aid to Israel. And there you have it--a totally incomplete weekly roundup!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Willy Wonka Goes to Washington

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Louis Brandeis, referring to a smooth-functioning democracy, stated that “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” If so, then it’s time to open the curtains and windows of Capitol Hill and give it a proper airing out. For anyone who believes that Congress operates in a transparent manner with its inner workings open to public scrutiny, I would advise you to attend what is known as a “mark-up” session. Or, more accurately, TRY to attend one of these so-called public sessions. Today, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs held a “mark-up” session on the FY2010 budget. I know, this stuff sounds pretty arcane. Actually though, it’s a very important step in the budget process. Today, for example, the subcommittee voted to recommend to the full Appropriations Committee that the United States give Israel $2.775 billion in weapons for FY2010 despite the fact that Israel used U.S. weapons to kill more than 3,000 innocent Palestinian civilians during those wonderful Bush Administration years in violation of the Arms Export Control Act. Since we’ve been running a multi-year campaign to challenge U.S. military aid to Israel, and since we sent every member of the subcommittee an open letter yesterday signed by nearly 40 prominent national organizations and more than 150 other local groups asking the subcommittee to end or, at the minimum, condition military aid to Israel, we naturally wanted to check out the proceedings to see if we were having any influence on the discussion. The problem was that the subcommittee scheduled the “mark-up” for a tiny room in the Capitol, a building which is nearly inaccessible to the public. On Monday, I called the subcommittee asking if the “mark-up” session was open to public. I was assured by the staffer that it was, but I was also cautioned that there was very limited seating in the room so if I wanted a shot at a seat, I better arrive at the crack of dawn to line up. Okay, I’m not exactly a morning person, but I hauled myself up and was in line this morning with two of our interns before 8:00AM, an hour before the start of the “mark-up.” Happily noting that we were the fifth, sixth, and seventh people in line, I smugly told our interns that were in as good as gold. Psych. The sergeant-at-arms came out to announce that due to space limitations, they would only be able to seat five people (by this time, the line had stretched to a few dozen, including our Code Pink friends). But, wait, he had a magic list of lobbyists, none of whom I’m quite sure gives any money to any of the members on this subcommittee, whose names he called out like the winners of Willy Wonka’s contest to step to the front of the line. Democracy in action! Fortunately, none of them bothered to show up, and I felt so honored and privileged to be allowed the opportunity to be lucky person #5 in line and get into the “mark-up.” In I went to the Capitol with the sergeant-at-arms, through the metal detector—oops, actually, twice through the metal detector because my shoes set it off the first time, down a corridor painted in heroic murals and festooned with patriotic quotes, into—another line. Well, no problem. I had waited for 45 minutes just to be one of the lucky ones let into the Capitol and I could wait a few more minutes to get into the committee room. Except, then a subcommittee staffer came out with a grave expression on her face and solemnly declared that due to space limitations, she wasn’t even sure that us lucky five would be let in. What? After I had to run in my socks through the Capitol to catch up with my group that left me behind at the metal detector? Well, sure enough, after about another half hour’s wait in line, the doors to the committee room were flung open and the lowly line peons were able to get a glimpse of those who decide how we as a nation spend our taxpayer dollars in far-flung countries around the globe. Wow, I thought to myself, I’m actually going to get into one of these and see what actually takes place (no video or transcript of these “mark-ups” are made available), as I grabbed my bag and moved forward with the line. Super-psych this time. The door literally got slammed in my face. Sorry, no more room, I was told. No worries, I said, I don’t take up much space anyway and I’ll just plant myself in a small corner. No dice, sucker. After five minutes of trying to humor my way in past the staffer, I gave up. I did ask another staffer before leaving why the subcommittee always decides to do the “mark-up” in such a small space. It’s not like Congress doesn’t have huge rooms in which to hold meetings. He answered with a grin, quite frankly, something to the effect of “To keep the public out.” Nice. Well, my hour-and-a-half adventure wasn’t a total loss. I did walk away with a consolation prize. While in line in the Capitol, I got a press release from the friendly staffer highlighting what the subcommittee decided to do in the “mark-up.” Wait, how did they figure that all out before the meeting even started? Those press secretaries must have some straight-up supernatural mind-reading powers. How come they don’t teach you any of this stuff about how Washington really works in your high school civics class? I don’t remember “closed-door meetings” and “pre-written press releases about things that are supposed to be decided on in the future” being on that neat flow chart about check and balances. --by US Campaign National Advocacy Director Josh Ruebner

International law on settlements gets recognition in Washington Post

Here at the US Campaign, we often feel like we're fighting an uphill battle just to get the political establishment in Washington, DC to admit that there is such a thing as international law, much less to respect it. So we're glad to see Glen Kessler of the Washington Post drawing attention to a 1979 State Department ruling on the illegality of Israeli settlements under international law (thanks to the folks at Mondoweiss for this catch):
"Thirty years ago, the State Department legal adviser issued an opinion in response to an inquiry from Congress: The establishment of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories 'is inconsistent with international law.' The opinion cited Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power 'shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.'"
Of course, international law isn't dependent on a State Department ruling, and even if this ruling didn't exist, there would still be plenty of UN Security Council resolutions and rulings by international bodies on this issue. Nevertheless, kudos to Kessler for digging this one out of the archives. International law is important as a universally recognized framework that applies to all people, everywhere. To learn more about international law as it applies to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, click here. Click here to learn about international law concerning apartheid, and how it applies in Israel/Palestine. If you're really serious about this stuff, check out this new report from the Human Sciences Resource Council of South Africa on international law regarding occupation and colonialism in the occupied Palestinian territories. (It's 300 pages. Not for the feint-of-heart). Most importantly (we might be a bit biased), click here to support the US Campaign's ongoing work of challenging U.S. government and corporate policies that violate international law and human rights in Israel and Palestine.

US Campaign Steering Committee member Phyllis Bennis discusses Netanyahu's speech on "The Real News"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens is pro-divestment?

Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar, really knows how to endear himself to human rights advocates. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, along with allies and member groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Chicagoans Against Apartheid in Palestine, and the Sisters of Loretto, created a presence both inside and outside last week's Caterpillar shareholder meeting. Faced with a presentation from Matan Cohen of Hampshire College Students for Justice in Palestine and questions by human rights advocates including the National Organizer of the US Campaign, Owens repeatedly made statements to the effect that if shareholder don't like the way that CAT operates, they shouldn't hold stock in CAT. That's right. The CEO of Caterpillar is urging shareholders to divest! At the end of the meeting, one shareholder who was previously unfamiliar with Caterpillar's complicity in occupation and apartheid confided that his retirement had already been hit hard by corporations which have made bad P.R. moves or lost law suits. On his way out of the meeting, he stated that he would follow Jim Owens' advice to divest of Caterpillar stock. We're thrilled that Owens is recommending divestment, and thrilled that he is confirming human rights concerns about Caterpillar operations by comparing the company to notorious human rights abuser Coca-Cola, at one point saying "We're the Coca-Cola of the manufacturing world." Of course, these rare moments of candor only come along every so often. Act now to let Caterpillar's management know that you plan to take Owens' advice--and that you are going to urge your faith community, school, or union to do the same! (US Campaign supporters educate passersby about Cat's crimes at the June 10 shareholder meeting)

Jimmy Carter questions military aid to Israel. He's not alone.

Former President Jimmy Carter visited Gaza for the first time since the massive destruction wrought by the December-January Israeli military assault, and was shocked by what he saw. President Carter reacted to conditions in Gaza, stating at one point that "the citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than like human beings."He also commented on U.S. military aid being used to destroy U.S.-taxpayer funded institutions:
"It’s very distressing to me. I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been wracked against your people. I come here to the American school, which was educating your children, supported by my own country, and I see that it’s been deliberately destroyed by bombs from F-16s made in my country and delivered to the Israelis."
President Carter isn't the only one who's been noticing the incongruity of $3 billion in military aid to Israel being used to destroy homes and schools and subsidizing the Israeli settlements that are supposedly opposed by the United States. Writing at the Huffington Post, Stephen Zunes describes the connection between U.S. aid to Israel and settlement growth in great detail:
"With the right-wing Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu categorically rejecting the idea of a freeze and with Democratic-controlled Congress ruling out using the billions of dollars of U.S. military aid to Israel as leverage, the situation remains deadlocked....uch direct subsidies for Israeli settlements placed the United States in violation of Article 7 of U.N. Security Council Resolution 465, which prohibits member states from assisting Israel in its colonization drive. So, not only has the United States allowed Israel to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions in continuing to maintain and expand its illegal settlements, Clinton placed the United States itself in violation of a U.N. Security Council mandate as well."
US Campaign Steering Committee member Phyllis Bennis, in a response to Netanyahu's June 14 speech, argues that the "ball remains in Obama's court":
"Without concrete consequences for Tel Aviv's noncompliance —such as withholding all or part of the $3 billion annual U.S. military aid to Israel, or withdrawing the U.S. diplomatic protection that keeps Israel from being held accountable in the UN Security Council — Obama's demands for a settlement freeze or anything else will have little impact."
And Philip Weiss calls U.S. opposition to settlements "toothless" without the cutting or conditioning of military aid to Israel. We agree. That's why we've asked you to help the U.S. government oppose settlements by ending or conditioning military aid to Israel. It's not too late to add your name by clicking here! The letter, which can be read in full here, argues that military aid to Israel should at the very least be conditioned on Israel’s “progress toward achieving the President’s stated goals of ending the siege of the Gaza Strip, ending all settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and engaging in a credible negotiating process that results in a just and lasting peace.” View the full media release about the letter by clicking here.

40 National Orgs. Tell Congress, "Freeze Military Aid to Israel Until Israel Freezes Settlements"

Washington, DC - As the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs prepares to mark-up the FY2010 budget tomorrow, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation sent today an open letter to subcommittee members calling on them to cut off or, at the minimum, condition military aid to Israel to achieve U.S. policy goals. Nearly 40 prominent national organizations and more than 150 local organizations in 32 states have signed this open letter opposing President Obama's FY2010 budget request for $2.775 billion in military aid to Israel. The letter, which can be read in full here, comes in the midst of the Obama Administration's demand that the Israeli government freeze all settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a precondition for peace talks. The letter argues that military aid to Israel should at the very least be conditioned on Israel's "progress toward achieving the President's stated goals of ending the siege of the Gaza Strip, ending all settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and engaging in a credible negotiating process that results in a just and lasting peace." To read the entire release, click here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Max Blumenthal's latest video from Jerusalem shows Israeli support for ending U.S. military aid

In Max Blumenthal's latest video on Mondoweiss, Israeli peace camp members respond to Obama's Cairo speech. Many call for ending U.S. military aid or for some other sort of serious pressure from the United States in order to end the Israeli occupation. Watch the whole video below: Of course, this isn't the first video that's surfaced featuring Israeli voices calling on the U.S. to stop arming Israel. Here's a video-letter from a member of the Israeli organization Machsom [Checkpoint] Watch, a group of Israeli women who do human rights reporting at checkpoints in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The letter calls on President Obama to be a "truly true friend" to Israel, not one of the "plenty of friends who arm us...and protect us from the international courts." Find out how you can be a "truly true friend" by working against U.S. military aid by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Caterpillar and Corporate Accountability

Today, member groups of the US Campaign will gather at Caterpillar's annual shareholder meeting with a simple message: Caterpillar should build the U.S. economy, not destroy Palestinian homes, lands, lives, and livelihoods. Click here to read a media release regarding the shareholder meeting from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. This is the sixth year in a row that concerned shareholders and members or organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace have gathered at the shareholder meeting to tell Cat to stop profiting off of the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Caterpillar equipment, especially weaponized and armored D-9 bulldozers, is used by the Israeli military to violate human rights and international law by demolishing Palestinian houses, building the apartheid Wall and settlements, uprooting olive and fruit trees, and killing civilians, including dozens of Palestinian civilians and U.S. peace activist Rachel Corrie. This past February, President Obama visited CAT headquarters in Peoria, Illinois, to promote his stimulus package plan. Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens is a member of President Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. In Obama's speech (which you can view here), President Obama tied Caterpillar's economic performance with the status of the U.S. economy, and said: "This isn't about figures on a balance sheet. It's about families...folks who are losing their jobs and their health care and their homes." Exactly. Caterpillar's economic performance--and the economic health of the U.S. economy--should be about people, not numbers. And that means that it can't be based on profiting off of occupation, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid. This year's Caterpillar shareholder meeting comes in the midst of a series of major victories for corporate accountability. Recent corporate accountability news includes suits against companies that aided and abetted the apartheid regime in South Africa, the announcement of Veolia's decision to pull out of the illegal East Jerusalem light rail project after sustained boycott and divestment pressure, suits against Canadian companies involved in settlement construction, and the victory against Shell's complicity in extrajudicial assassinations in Nigeria (a victory that was won with the support of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the same organization that supported the Corrie family in their suit against Caterpillar). All of this is good news for the global movement to hold corporations accountable for their complicity in violations of human rights and international law. If you haven't already, send an email to Caterpillar and join this global movement.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Media Release: "Caterpillar Should Build America, Not Destroy Palestine"

Chicago, IL - As Caterpillar shareholders gather on June 10th at the Northern Trust Bank Building in Chicago, to discuss falling profits, they will be met by representatives of Jewish, Christian, and human rights organizations calling on Caterpillar to build the U.S. economy, not destroy Palestinian lives and livelihoods. Human rights groups will urge Caterpillar shareholders to vote yes on proposal #5, a shareholder resolution which calls for a review of Caterpillar sales to countries with poor human rights records, including Israel. The resolution is sponsored by an interfaith coalition including Jewish Voice for Peace, the Mercy Investment Program, and 16 Catholic orders. Jewish Voice for Peace will personally deliver thousands of letters asking the Caterpillar Board of Directors to end military sales to Israel. These shareholders will be supported outside by a public gathering calling on Caterpillar to "Build America, Not Destroy Palestine."This effort is organized in part by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and local groups, Chicagoans Against Apartheid in Palestine and the Arab Jewish Partnership for Peace and Justice in the Middle East. Events are also planned for June 10th at Caterpillar dealerships across the country. According to Katherine Fuchs, National Organizer for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, "It is possible for Caterpillar to turn a profit, employ Americans, and rebuild the U.S. economy without destroying Palestinian livelihoods. Investors need to understand that supporting the violation of international law and the destruction of Palestinian homes, land, lives, and livelihood is not good business. The recent divestment decisions of the Church of England and Hampshire College show that there is a price for destroying instead of building." The dissent inside and outside of the Caterpillar shareholder meeting comes in the midst of a growing movement to divest from Caterpillar until it ends its material support for Israel's military occupation and apartheid practices. Caterpillar equipment, including armored and weaponized D-9 bulldozers, are used by the Israeli military to destroy Palestinian homes, lay waste to thousands of acres of Palestinian agricultural land, and build illegal Israeli settlements, which are opposed by the Obama administration. Most recently, unmanned Caterpillar D9 bulldozers were used to destroy houses during "Operation Cast Lead" in December-January. Additionally, the Israeli military has killed dozens of people using Caterpillar equipment, including American peace activist Rachel Corrie of Olympia, Washington. "Ultimately, Caterpillar is contributing to the destruction of any future for the Palestinian people," notes Bill Chambers of Chicagoans Against Apartheid in Palestine. "We challenge Caterpillar to contribute to building, not destroying, Palestine." The movement to hold Caterpillar accountable has received a recent boost from decisions by the Church of England and Hampshire College to divest. These institutions held a combined total of more than $3 million in Caterpillar stock before their decisions to divest in December 2008 and February 2009, respectively. More recently, a group of 20 Israeli human rights organizations have petitioned the Norwegian government to divest its pension fund from a list of companies providing support for Israel's military occupation, including Caterpillar. The pressure on Caterpillar is part of a larger effort to promote accountability for companies that profit from Israel's military occupation. Human rights groups, students, and faith organizations have joined forces to put pressure on these companies. The US Campaign and its member organizations plan to continue pressuring Caterpillar by organizing divestment efforts in cities, campuses, and churches across the country.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Major BDS Victory as Caterpillar meeting approaches!

As the US Campaign and member organizations prepare for this week's Caterpillar shareholder meeting, we welcome news of a major victory for the movement to hold accountable corporations that profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Haaretz is reporting that the French company Veolia has announced that it will pull out of a light rail project that is planned as part of the illegal settlement infrastructure in East Jerusalem. Veolia's decision comes after sustained boycott and divestment pressure from many groups, including the French BDS movement, Dutch and British activists, and the Church of Sweden. Boycott activist Omar Barghouti announces the victory:
"In the first smashing and convincing victory of the global BDS movement in the field of corporate responsibility and ethical compliance, Veolia is reportedly abandoning the Jerusalem Light Rail project, an illegal project that aims at connecting Israeli colonies built on occupied Palestinian territory to the city of Jerusalem. As the Haaretz article...admits, the BDS campaign's success in costing Veolia some $7 billion worth of contracts is the key behind this decision by the troubled company to pull out of the project."
This is a cause for celebration! At the same time, it's a chance to redouble our own efforts at corporate accountability and BDS work in the United States. If you haven't already, visit the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation website to find out how you can let Caterpillar know that the bulldozer manufacturer should build in the United States, not destroy in Palestine.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Signs of Hope in President Obama’s Cairo Speech?

Yesterday President Obama delivered his much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt. As we've noted in previous posts, he devoted a considerable portion of his speech to Palestine/Israel, the transcript of which you can find here. Below, we provide an analysis of the President’s remarks. Make sure you check out our website for action ideas to translate this speech into tangible change in U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine. Empathy for the Palestinian narrative. In his speech, President Obama broke new ground for a sitting U.S. President by displaying considerable empathy for the Palestinian narrative. He recognized that the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people is “undeniable.” He acknowledged the “daily humiliations” of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. And he made mention of Palestinian refugees who for more than 60 years have “endured the pain of dislocation” and who “wait in refugee camps…for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead,” although unfortunately he fell short of acknowledging the Palestinian refugees’ internationally-recognized right of return. Nevertheless, President Obama summed it up by calling the situation for Palestinians “intolerable.” Also noteworthy was the President’s implicit comparison of the struggle for Palestinian rights with the struggle against slavery and racial discrimination in the United States and against apartheid in South Africa. Although this comparison came within the context of a one-sided call for Palestinians to abandon violence (with no concomitant call for Israel to abandon its much more deadly violence against Palestinians), by mentioning these struggles it appears that President Obama views the Palestinians as an oppressed people whose plight is similar to those of other oppressed peoples, a true departure in thinking for a sitting U.S. President. Two-State Framework. In Cairo, President Obama reiterated his antidote for this “intolerable” situation: “The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.” While the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation takes no position on whether there should be a two-state or one-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we do raise critical concerns about whether a U.S.-backed two-state solution will lead to a just and lasting peace based on human rights, international law, and equality. While President Obama ratcheted up his critique of Israeli settlements during his Cairo speech, stating that the United States does not accept their “legitimacy,” this formulation still falls short of President Jimmy Carter’s stance deeming Israeli settlements “illegal,” as they are according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. The President’s increasingly adamant calls for Israel to stop expanding settlements in conjunction with its obligations under the “road map” is certainly a positive step; however, he is still very far from demanding and exerting pressure on Israel to dismantle all of its illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a fundamental prerequisite if the two-state solution has any chance of success. A two-state solution might meet some of the “legitimate aspirations” of Palestinians currently living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. However, it is highly doubtful that such a solution would fulfill the “legitimate aspirations” of Palestinian citizens of Israel who suffer from institutionalized discrimination or Palestinian refugees whose plight, but not rights, the President recognized in his speech. On the one hand, on the other. President Obama’s empathy with the Palestinian narrative and acknowledgment that both Israelis and Palestinians are “two peoples with legitimate aspirations” is certainly an advance over traditional U.S. discourse which over the decades has primarily portrayed Israel as an innocent victim and either downplayed or ignored Palestinian human and national rights. However, there is a danger that the “both sides” rhetoric—“It’s easy to point fingers,” and “if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth,” for example—President Obama employed obscures the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has never been one of equals. It has been and continues to be today a conflict of Israel, an apartheid state that institutionalizes discrimination against non-Jews, versus Palestinians, a people dispossessed of their homeland through ethnic cleansing. In the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, for the last 42 years it has been and continues to be a conflict of Israel, an Occupying Power defying international law and the Geneva Conventions, versus an Occupied People, the Palestinians who struggle daily to maintain their existence in the face of widespread and systematic human rights abuses by Israel. Within this framework, it is intellectually dishonest for President Obama to ask Palestinians to give up violence without asking the same of Israel. (In fact, Palestinian civil society is engaging in nonviolent campaigns of boycott, divestment, and sanctions to advocate for their rights, a call which we support.) It is unrealistic and even cruel to ask Palestinians “to focus on what they can build” when Israel systematically destroys Palestinian civilian infrastructure and maintains a siege of the Gaza Strip under which Palestinians have difficulty importing pasta, much less necessary things like concrete to rebuild after Israel’s devastating attacks that left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead and thousands of buildings destroyed. President Obama must do more than just ask Israel “to take concrete steps to enable such progress” toward Palestinian economic opportunity; he must recognize instead that as long as Israel maintains its brutal occupation and siege of Palestinian territories, then Palestinian institution-building and economic development are impossible. Where is the United States? Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of President Obama’s speech was his failure to acknowledge the destructive and biased role that the United States has played and continues to play today in perpetuating the “intolerable” situation he alluded to. It’s not as if President Obama is incapable of recognizing and acknowledging U.S. mistakes. In other sections of his speech in Cairo, he candidly referred to the war on Iraq as a “war of choice” and honestly referenced the fact that the “United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.” Missing from his speech however was any similar recognition that U.S. policy has directly contributed to the impasse in Israel/Palestine. By providing Israel with more than $100 billion in economic and military aid since 1949 and by consistently vetoing UN resolutions to bring Israel into compliance with international law and human rights standards, the United States is the central player enabling Israel to continue its brutal treatment of the Palestinian people. Also absent from the President’s speech was any hint that he is prepared to exert pressure on Israel to achieve his goals. While words are extremely important in setting frameworks for policy debates and while we should rightfully views certain aspects of President Obama’s speech as advances, rhetoric alone will not change the behavior of other nations. To do so, the United States should use its leverage, and with Israel we have a lot of it. President Obama has requested $2.775 billion in military aid for Israel in his FY2010 budget request, which now is in front of the Appropriations Subcommittees on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. This is where we come into the picture. We have the power to help take the shifting discourse on U.S. policy toward Palestine/Israel that we are witnessing and translate it into actual policy change. Please take some time to read over and act on the ideas below on what you can do to organize and advocate with us to end military aid to Israel and help us bring about a profound change in policy. Together we can generate the political strength to help bring about the goal President Obama articulated yesterday in Cairo, a goal in which we believe: “All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra -- (applause) -- as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer.” Click here to take action to transform a change in discourse into a change in policy!

Palestinian demonstrator killed--your tax dollars at work

The International Solidarity Movement is reporting that the Israeli army shot and killed a demonstrator in the West Bank village of Ni'lin today.

The army shot 36 year old Yousef Akil Srour in the chest with .22 caliber live ammunition while he was participating in the weekly demonstration against the construction of the apartheid Wall. He died before reaching the hospital.

Another 4 demonstrators were shot with live ammunition today in Ni'lin, including 15 year old Mohammad Mouslah Mousa.

Read the full story here.

In FY2001-2006, the U.S. provided $2,515,080 worth of .22-.50 caliber ammunition to Israel--26.619,524 bullets. In FY2007, the U.S. provided $4,181,378 in ammunition--28,672,145 bullets (the State Department changed their practice for publishing weapons sales data from 2006 to 2007 to no longer include a breakdown of ammunition by caliber, so the comparison is not exact).

The Israeli army uses small caliber live ammunition to wound and kill unarmed demonstrators. Is this what you want done with your tax money?

Click here to help the US Campaign end U.S. military aid to Israel.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Phyllis Bennis: Obama's Cairo speech represents shift in discourse, not yet shift in policy

Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and a member of the Steering Committee of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, argues that Obama's Cairo speech represents an important change in U.S. discourse, if not U.S. policy:
"The shift in discourse, away from justifying reckless imperial hubris, unilateralism and militarism and towards a more cooperative and potentially even internationalist approach was potent. The actual policy shifts were much smaller. It remains the work of mobilized people across the U.S. - starting with the millions who mobilized to build a movement capable of electing Barack Hussein Obama as President - to turn that new language into new policies - reversing the escalation and moving towards ending Obama's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, ending the occupation of Iraq immediately rather than years from now, ending U.S. military aid to Israel and creating a policy based on an end to occupation and equality for all, launching new negotiations with Iran not based on military threats, implementing U.S. nuclear disarmament obligations, and more."
She adds that "in the crucial weakness of the speech" Obama did not "make any U.S. commitment to insuring that compliance - such as conditioning all or even part of the $3 billion annual U.S. military aid to Israel on a complete settlement freeze or other adherence to other aspects of U.S. or international law." Bennis notes the significant shift in the framing of the Palestinian struggle:
"Obama did move the discourse significantly by his linking the Palestinian struggle to that of the U.S. civil rights movement and those in South Africa. While Obama referred only to the non-violent nature of those struggles, and didn't explicitly describe the Palestinian struggle for human rights as a civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle, those parallels are now part of the U.S. framework for understanding the fight for Palestinian rights. This gives new legitimacy to the anti-apartheid and "BDS" (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movements that shape the global civil society mobilizations in support of Palestinian equality.
Read the full article here. As Phyllis Bennis says, it's up to mobilized people to turn new language into new policies. Join the growing ranks of the mobilized by clicking here!

Obama addresses Israel/Palesine in Cairo: What do you think?

President Obama proposed a "new beginning" for relations between the U.S. and Muslims around the world. The full transcript of his speech is available here. Here is the section of Obama's speech that refers to Israel/Palestine. Are these remarks a positive sign for U.S. policy? Or more of the same? Let us know what you think by commenting on this post, and keep an eye out for analysis and action ideas from the US Campaign here at the blog and on our website.
"The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world. America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied. Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews -- is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. (Applause.) For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It's easy to point fingers -- for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. (Applause.) That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. (Applause.) The obligations -- the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them -- and all of us -- to live up to our responsibilities. Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered. Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist. At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. (Applause.) And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress. And finally, the Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past. America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. (Applause.) We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true. Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra -- (applause) -- as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer. (Applause.)"
Let us know what you think by commenting on this post. And keep up the pressure on Congress and the Obama administration by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Corporate accountability suits: bad news for companies, good news for BDS movement

The global movement for boycott of and divestment from companies complicit in Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem has been getting a boost lately from a growing number of corporate accountability lawsuits that are being heard in U.S. and international courts. A New York district judge recently ruled that suits can go ahead against companies that supplied equipment to aid and abet the crimes of the apartheid South African government. The companies include IBM, Ford, and General Motors. Commenting on this decision on the Foreign Policy in Focus blog, South African journalist Khadije Sharife argues that "this landmark decision sets a global precedent for corporate accountability and transparency. By finally laying to rest the ghosts of apartheid, the lawsuit may well usher in similar moves targeting the economic systems of global apartheid." Companies that profit off of Israeli apartheid, take note! New York courts are also the center of human rights suits filed against Royal Dutch Shell for their complicity in the assassination of Nigerian activists by the Nigerian government. Suits targeting both Shell Oil international and its Nigerian subsidiary are scheduled to be heard in U.S. courts. Corporate accountability suits have also been brought on behalf of Palestinians in Bil'in against Canadian companies building settlements on their land, as well as on the companies involved in the illegal light rail project in East Jerusalem that would connect West Jerusalem to the settlement blocs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Check out this great report from Al Jazeera on these cases: As the June 10 Caterpillar Shareholder Meeting approaches, and member organizations of the US Campaign once again make the case that Caterpillar's sales to the Israeli government enables the destruction of Palestinian land and homes, the building of the apartheid Wall, and the extrajudicial assassination of innocent civilians, these cases serve as a key indication to companies that they can and will be held accountable for the effect that their operations have on people suffering from government injustices and violence. CAT and Motorola beware--history is catching up to the corporate perpetrators of apartheid and human rights abuses, and it will catch up to you too!

Israeli journalist Amira Hass calls for ending military aid to Israel

Israeli journalist Amira Hass was interviewed yesterday on Democracy Now! in regards to the UN investigation of war crimes in the Gaza Strip. When asked by Amy Goodman for her evaluation of the Obama Administration in regards to Israel/Palestine, Hass gave this response:
"My evaluation, it’s—so far I see more hope invested in him than I see real inclinations to pressure Israel. I mean, all the statements that were said so far are encouraging, in the sense that he understands or his administration understands that there must be a way out of this deadlock. But there must be measures taken, such as freeze of sales of arms to Israel, freeze or stoppage of all support, financial support of Israel as long as it continues to build in the settlements. So these things are yet to be seen."
Watch the full video below, and click here to find out what you can do to help end U.S. military aid to Israel until settlement construction is stopped and other policy goals are met.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Help the U.S. Stop Israeli Settlements

An article in today's online edition of the Haaretz Israeli newspaper is reporting that senior U.S. officials are expressing their anger with Israeli construction plans in East Jerusalem:
"Washington is furious over the Interior Ministry's anticipated approval of a plan to build a new hotel in East Jerusalem, just 100 meters from the Old City's walls. The plan, which would see the demolition of a wholesale market and kindergarten, is slated to be approved today."
And Mondoweiss today features video from Max Blumenthal in East Jerusalem, reporting on settler activity. In meetings last week with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Obama Administration again made its position on Israeli settlements crystal clear. While tough words on settlements are certainly appreciated, words by themselves are unlikely to produce a change in Israel's behavior without corresponding action on the part of the United States. If the United States wants to see Israel stop the expansion of settlements, then it should cut off or, at the very minimum, conditions its military aid to Israel until this and other policy goals are met. Find out how to make this happen by clicking here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Eyewitness Reports from IFPB Delegation to Israel/Palestine

Want to learn more about what an Interfaith Peace-Builders trip to Palestine and Israel consists of? You can read reports from the current IFPB delegation here. If you like what you read, please consider joining the summer delegation cosponsored by the US Campaign. Click here to read more, and here to apply.