Senate Bill 720 Makes It A Crime To Support Human Rights

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From left, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). (photo: Bill Clark / Getty Images)

Senators must stop hiding behind hollow support of a “two-state solution” that this bill would make impossible.

By James Zogby / Huffington Post
August 12, 2017


In order to build support for their effort, advocates for Israel have tried to portray BDS in the harshest of terms. They have made Israel the victim and while portraying advocates of BDS as “virulently anti-Semitic” aggressors. All of this has been done to obfuscate the reality that BDS is nothing more than a “strategic Palestinian-led form of nonviolent resistance to the occupation and denial of human rights.”


It is fascinating to watch some U.S. senators tripping over themselves as they attempt to defend their support for or opposition to proposed legislation that would make it a federal crime to support the international campaign to Boycott, Divest, or Sanction (BDS) Israel for its continued occupation of Palestinian lands. What ties these officials up in knots are their efforts to square the circle of their “love of Israel,” their opposition to BDS, their support for a “two-state solution,” and their commitment to free speech.

The bill in question, S720, was introduced on March 23, 2017 by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). S720 opposes calls by the United Nations to boycott or “blacklist” companies that support Israeli activities in the territories occupied in the 1967 war. The bill further prohibits any US person from supporting this UN call to boycott and establishes stiff fines and/or imprisonment for Americans who violate this prohibition.

There are a number of problems with the legislation. In the first place, supporters of S720 grossly mischaracterize the intent of the UN approach as “anti-Israel.” In fact, as S720, itself, acknowledges, the UN Human Rights Council specifically targets only businesses that engage in activities in “territories occupied [by Israel] since 1967.” The UN target is not Israel, but Israeli actions that serve to consolidate its hold over the occupied territories.

Then there is the concern that by making illegal either the act of boycotting Israel, or advocating for such a boycott, S720 is criminalizing free speech and stifling legitimate peaceful protest.

Finally, the legislation continues to build on earlier Congressional legislation using slight of hand language in an attempt to erase the distinction in U.S. law between Israel and illegal Israeli settlements in occupied territories. While earlier legislation accomplished this by referring to “Israel and areas under Israel’s control,” S720 notes that its boycott prohibition applies to “commercial relations…with citizens or residents of Israel, entities organized under the laws of Israel, or the Government of Israel.”

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Two College Kids Debate BDS

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Sami Rahamim is a rising senior at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Ravil Ashirov is a junior at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Sami is against BDS, while Ravil is a supporter. Here are there thoughts.

By Ravil Ashirov and Sami Rahamim
August 7, 2017


BDS is a set of tactics, not an ideology or a vision of a particular political resolution. These tactics are meant to force the negotiation of meaningful resolutions by putting a cost on the occupation. The ultimate details of such resolutions can only be decided by the relevant Israeli and Palestinian actors. It would be foolish and paternalistic for international activists to assert specific resolutions.


SR: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeply complex. Yet, one basic truth holds: Israelis aren’t going anywhere, Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, and it is in both of their best interests to come together and work to arrive at a solution that peacefully ends the conflict.

For decades, the framework of this solution has involved the creation of an independent Palestinian state beside a secure Israel. This is the dream of a majority of Israelis and many of Israel’s supporters around the globe, myself included.

One of several disturbing facets of the BDS movement is that it deceptively simplifies this conflict to exclusively assign the Palestinians the role of perpetual victims and Israel as oppressors. While this may fit a convenient narrative for pro-Palestinian activists, it distorts reality to the detriment of both Israelis and Palestinians.

I understand that we both care deeply about this conflict, but there must be a more productive way forward. When will we move in that direction?

RA: BDS is a set of tactics which seeks to put a cost on Israel for maintaining the occupation, an occupation it has been able to maintain relatively cost free, in order to compel it to recognize Palestinian sovereignty and human rights.

For BDS to have legitimacy, it must uphold two burdens. The first burden is prudence; BDS has to show gains in the achievement of Palestinian human rights or the potential to make gains. The second burden is that BDS must be able to refute the moral criticisms against it by the opposition, or otherwise point out their irrelevancy. These are burdens which can be upheld.

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Palestinian Fighting for His East Jerusalem Home

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An Israeli flag hangs from a Jewish home in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. (photo: Olivier Fitoussi)

Jawad Siyam is competing for his home against the well-financed settler group Elad.

By Nir Hasson / Haaretz
August 4, 2017


“These are not equal forces competing in the bidding. On one side is a simple Palestinian family of limited means, while on the other is a strong settler group with an annual budget of tens of millions of shekels assisted by unknown but wealthy foreign groups focusing on land acquisition, for which money poses almost no limits.”


Settlers and Palestinians are bidding for a property in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan that could decide the whole area’s character, local people say. The contestants: the settler group Elad and the man considered the Palestinian leader in Silwan, Jawad Siyam.

An invitation for bids was published by the Finance Ministry’s Custodian of Absentee Property and the Israel Land Authority, offering for sale a one-quarter stake in a building of four apartments. The invitation expires in less than three weeks. Siyam says the custodian is doing everything possible to help the settlers take over his home.

“Since 1994 we have been in the courts facing the settlers,” Siyam says. “If we lose now we’ll have only one quarter of the building and it will be much easier for them to evict us. But I won’t leave; they’ll have to kill me first.”

Both Elad and the finance minister say they are doing everything according to the law.

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BBC Profile: Tent of Nations

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Freshly picked apples at the Tent of Nations. (photo: Daniel Silas Adamson)

The Christian family refusing to give up its Bethlehem hill farm.

By Daniel Silas Adamson / BBC News
June 18, 2014

[Ed. note: Although three years old, we thought this article by the BBC might be of interest to our readership.]


“My father always said, ‘We will never achieve peace in Palestine and Israel just by shaking hands — we need to work on people, to start with the grassroots.’ So what we do now, as a family, is fulfilling the dream of my father that people can build bridges, for hope, for understanding, reconciliation, dialogue, to achieve peace. This is the idea.”
— Amal Nassar


On his farm outside Bethlehem, Daher Nassar is picking apples from the ruins of the orchard he planted at least eight years ago. The fruit is scattered across ground freshly opened and imprinted with the tracks of a bulldozer. At the field’s edge, branches reach out from inside a mound of earth, the bark stripped and mangled, unripe almonds still clinging to the trees.

On 19 May [2014] a Palestinian shepherd from the village of Nahalin was out at first light and saw the bulldozer at work in the field, guarded by Israeli soldiers. By the time Nassar arrived the whole orchard — the best part of a decade’s work — was gone. His English is far from fluent, but there’s no mistaking the pain in his voice: “Why you broke the trees?”

A spokesperson for the Israeli military authorities in the West Bank said the trees were planted illegally on state land.

Nassar’s sister, Amal, has a different explanation. The government, together with the Israeli settlers who live around the farm, is “trying to push us to violence or push us to leave,” she says. Amal insists that her family will not move from the land, nor will they abandon their commitment to peaceful resistance.

“Nobody can force us to hate,” she says. “We refuse to be enemies.”

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Profile: Amal Nassar

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Amal Nassar (in the white T-shirt) singing with volunteers at the Tent of Nations farm. (photo: Daniel Silas Adamson)

Amal Nassar is profiled as one of “12 Inspiring Women.”

By Graham Hill / Global Church Network
July 4, 2017


Amal Nassar told me a moving story about reconciliation, when I interviewed her. A few years ago, she unexpectedly chanced upon a woman jogging past her farm. The woman was an Israeli settler.
The woman said to Amal, “What are you doing out here, in the middle of nowhere?”
Amal replied, “This is my family farm. We’ve lived here for more than 100 years.”
Incredulous, the Israel settler replied, “That’s not true. No-one lives here. This is empty land. Where are the houses and roads?”
“Our homes are built among the caves,” replied Amal, “and all these vineyards you see are ours.”


This is the second in my series 12 Inspiring Women, looking at twelve passionate, courageous, prophetic Christian women, who inspire us to think deeply, act courageously, embrace others, and bring hope to the world. You can read the first one here.

A few years ago, I had the chance to visit The Tent of Nations, which is in the West Bank in the Palestinian Territories. There I met Amal Nassar, a Palestinian Christian committed to nonviolence, peacemaking, and reconciliation.

The Tent of Nations is a family farm, owned by a Palestinian Christian family. Its mission is “to build bridges between people, and between people and the land. We bring different cultures together to develop understanding and promote respect for each other and our shared environment. To realize this mission, we run educational projects at Daher’s Vineyard, our organic farm, located in the hills southwest of Bethlehem, Palestine. Our farm is a center where people from many different countries come together to learn, to share, and to build bridges of understanding and hope.”

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Mennonite Church Approves Divestment

The Mennonite Church USA approves “withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation” of Palestine.

July 6, 2017


“This resolution is a long overdue response to the Palestinian Christian call to the global church. Today we stand in solidarity with their courageous and nonviolent efforts for justice and equality.”
— Joy Lapp, Professor of Religion at Iowa Wesleyan University


The Mennonite Church USA overwhelmingly approved the resolution “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine” today at its biennial convention in Orlando, Florida. The resolution garnered approximately 98% of the votes of the 548 delegates.

The resolution declares the denomination’s opposition to Israel’s 50-year-old military rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories and commits to “withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation.” The resolution also urges church members to avoid purchase of products associated with the occupation or produced in Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law and longstanding official US policy, and to advocate for an end to U.S. military aid and arms sales in the Middle East.

The Mennonite Church USA joins with the following churches in taking economic action in support of Palestinian Human Rights.

  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • United Methodist Church
  • United Church of Christ
  • Quakers
  • Unitarian Universalists
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The resolution focuses on ways Mennonites have been involved in harms against both Palestinians and Jews, and names concrete steps to address those harms. It addresses the ongoing reality of anti-Semitism around the world, and the extent to which Mennonites in the U.S. are complicit in Jewish suffering historically, currently, and theologically. Church members are encouraged to build relationships with Palestinian-American, Muslim and Jewish communities in the United States.

[Read the full resolution here . . . ]

Palestine in 1923

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Map of Palestine, 1924. (map: British War Office / National Library of Scotland)

How a 1923 college textbook describes the nascent conflict in Palestine.

[Ed. note: I recently came across my father’s college textbook, Europe Since 1815.* I was curious to see how it described the then-recent events in Palestine. Here is the complete entry on Palestine.]


It is quite obvious that the vague term “a national home” does not mean, and cannot safely be made to mean “a Jewish State.” For Palestine as a Jewish State with supreme authority in the hands of the Jews would mean a clear and flagrant defiance of the principle of self-determination. . . . [The Arabs] consider Palestine their country, as it is, if majorities have any rights which the world is bound to respect.


. . . Great Britain has also been given by the League of Nations a mandate for Palestine. Embodied in the mandate is a provision for the establishment of a “National Home” for the Jewish People according to the principle laid down in the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, which reads as follows: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of that object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

What this may mean remains to be seen, the term and conception of a “national home” being new to political science and of uncertain scope and significance. It represents the presented status of the Jewish nationalist aspiration expressed in recent times in the movement called Zionism. Great Britain as the mandatory power is responsible for the carrying out of this purpose. It has not yet indicated what its interpretation of the Balfour Declaration will actually be. It is quite obvious that the vague term “a national home” does not mean, and cannot safely be made to mean “a Jewish State.” For Palestine as a Jewish State with supreme authority in the hands of the Jews would mean a clear and flagrant defiance of the principle of self-determination accepted as the underlying basis of the system of mandates created by the Conference of Paris.

Palestine has a population of somewhat less than 800,000, of whom only about 80,000, or one in ten, are Jews, most of the rest being Arabs. The Arabs are absolutely opposed to the aims of Zionism. They consider Palestine their country, as it is, if majorities have any rights which the world is bound to respect. They regard the Balfour Declaration as the work of British politicians who have an eye to the advantage of British commerce and imperial expansion and who are sensitive to the influence of Jewish world finance. They see no reason why the should themselves be sacrificed to such considerations. There is an Arabic nationalist aspiration as there is a Jewish nationalism and a British imperialism. Whether the three can live together in harmony within the restricted area of Palestine remains to be seen. There are materials sufficient for a serious conflict. It should be noted, further, that there are nearly as many Christians as Jews in Palestine, 73,000 of the former, 83,000 of the latter. . . .


*Hazen, Charles Downer. Europe Since 1815. Henry Holt and Company, 1923. Excerpts from pages 999–1000.

Israel’s Irrational Rationality

Israeli policemen removing a protester during the eviction of Jewish settlers from the illegal settlement of Amona in the occupied West Bank, February 2017
Israeli policemen removing a protester during the eviction of Jewish settlers from the illegal settlement of Amona in the occupied West Bank, February 2017. (photo: Corinna Kern / NurPhoto / Getty Images)

By David Shulman / The New York Review of Books
June 22, 2017


No amount of coddling and reassuring, no increased bribes in the form of more money or military aid, will have any effect on Israeli policy for the simple reason that Israel considers any sacrifice that would be necessary for peace far worse than maintaining the current situation . . . . The assumption that Israel genuinely wants a peace agreement is simply wrong; the costs of such an agreement are tangible, immediate, and perhaps overwhelming, involving the loss of territory, an end to colonization, and potential political collapse, whereas the costs of maintaining the status quo are for many Israelis, if at times unpleasant, eminently bearable.


This June, Israel is marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War. Some Israelis, including most members of the present government, are celebrating the country’s swift victory over Egypt, Jordan, and Syria as the beginning of the permanent annexation of the entire Palestinian West Bank; others, like me, mourn it as the start of a seemingly inexorable process of moral corruption and decline, the result of the continuing occupation of the West Bank, along with Israel’s now indirect but still-crippling control of Gaza. As it happens, my own life in Israel coincides exactly with the occupation. I arrived from the US in 1967, not as an ideological Zionist but as a young student who had fallen madly in love with the Hebrew language. Sometimes I think it is my passion for the language that has kept me here for five decades, although I would now want to add the strong feeling that it is my fate and my good fortune to be able to fight the good fight.

The country I came to live in fifty years ago was utterly unlike the one I live in today. It was no utopia, but its society was broadly moderate and humane, a mildly Mediterranean version of a modern European social democracy. Despite what some would say, it was not a colonial settlers’ society. There was widespread fear and even hatred of Arabs, including Arab citizens of Israel, but it was nothing like the rampant racism one now hears every day on the radio or TV. Shame, sincere or not, had not yet disappeared from public life.

In those early years, most Israelis regarded the occupied territories — which included the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — not as providing an opportunity for enlarging the boundaries of the state through colonization but as bargaining chips in an eventual and hoped-for peace settlement with the Arabs. There were as yet no Israeli settlements in the territories and hence no fanatical, messianic settlers; the Israeli army could still claim, with some justice, to be an army of defense, not a police force sent to ensure that the project of seizing Palestinian land take place without too much resistance from the local population.

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Jerusalem Police: Jewish Peace Activists Are Human “Garbage”

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Protesters at the Flag March on Jerusalem Day, May 24, 2017. (photo: Olivier Fitoussi)

When the police officer wrenched back my arm I couldn’t tell if it was breaking. Now I am more sure than ever of the need for more direct action for equality between Jews and Palestinians.

By Ori Weisberg / Haaretz
May 31, 2017


“At the fall of your enemy, do not rejoice; at his stumbling, do not gladden your heart” (Prov. 24:17)


No day of the year demonstrates the division of Jerusalem like Jerusalem Day, which was marked last week. Most Israelis see it as marking the city’s “liberation” and “unification,” but Palestinians, who make up a third of the population, and a minority of Israelis, see it as the beginning of its occupation.

The Jerusalem municipality annually authorizes a march through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, shutting it down for the protection of its residents. These Jerusalemites are forced to sacrifice a half day’s revenue, which many of them sorely need, while marchers punctuate their songs with chants like “Death to Arabs!”, “Mohammed was a pig!”, “Burn the villages!”, and “Burn the mosques!” Residents are locked into or out of their homes for the duration while marchers bang on the metal shutters of their closed storefronts, often causing damage that they must repair at their own cost. Even if such a march proceeds peacefully, it would be still be experienced by Palestinians as a form of violence.

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The Dovekeeper and the Children’s Intifada

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Ahmed Manasra being escorted into a courtroom in Jerusalem, in October, 2015. (photo: Ahmad Gharabli / AFP / Getty)

How a thirteen-year-old boy in Jerusalem became a Rorschach blot for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

By Geraldine Brooks / The New Yorker
May 27, 2017


“Our children don’t have normal childhoods. From the minute they open their eyes they wake into a reality of checkpoints, soldiers, settlers insulting their mom. They see the news from Gaza, children like them, bombed and homeless. They hear about a boy their age, burned alive by Israelis. They are sad and afraid. It’s not a healthy environment.”


Their plans were quite precise: they wouldn’t attack women, or the elderly, or children like themselves. Their targets, they agreed, would be men in their late teens and early twenties — young men of military age. All this was settled between them before they left the house. Hassan Manasra, fifteen, took a carving knife from his mother’s kitchen, but his cousin Ahmed, thirteen, couldn’t find the long, daggerlike knife he’d intended to use for his weapon. It took him a while, but finally he located it, concealed in a cupboard, where his father had hidden it for safekeeping.

The Manasras live in a compound of multifamily homes occupying almost an entire block in the Jerusalem hillside neighborhood of Beit Hanina. In the shared courtyard, half a dozen bicycles of various sizes are propped against a tree or lie in the dirt by the tall entry gate. Ten brothers and their families share the compound, and the children move fluidly through each other’s apartments, which are furnished rather formally: prints of alpine landscapes, velvet-covered sofas, lacy tablecloths. They’re the homes of a modestly prosperous clan whose breadwinners owned a grocery store, or work in trades or in transportation. Until October 12, 2015, Hassan and Ahmed followed the same schedule as all the school-age cousins in the household: go to class, come home, eat, change clothes, and then go play in an area that their uncles had cleared for them on the unused land beneath the highway overpass that separates Beit Hanina from the adjacent neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev. Sometimes the cousins played soccer, but Hassan and Ahmed particularly enjoyed training for parkour; the concrete pylons and grassy embankments under the highway were ideal for practicing vaults and tumbles.

The highway divides two East Jerusalem neighborhoods — the House of Hanina and the Peak of Ze’ev — that face each other across a shallow valley. Both are long-settled places. Beit Hanina was home to a few farming families as early as Canaanite times; in Pisgat Ze’ev, excavations have uncovered ritual baths from the Second Temple period. Both neighborhoods have seen tremendous population growth since 1967, when Israel captured this territory from Jordan in the Six-Day War. Now the busy highway is all that marks the division between the Palestinian neighborhood and the Jewish one. Pisgat Ze’ev is the last stop on the Jerusalem tramline, Beit Hanina the second-to-last. Residents of the two neighborhoods live cheek by jowl, yet they inhabit two different worlds.

Continue reading “The Dovekeeper and the Children’s Intifada”