Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Open letter to Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation:

Open letter to Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation:
Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar,
Representatives Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, Tim Walz, John Kline, Erik Paulsen, Collin Peterson, Richard Nolan and Tom Emmer

The undersigned individuals and organizations, all based in Minnesota, express our resolute concern that Congress has taken imprudent steps to punish Palestinians for seeking legal redress from the international community for the serious war crimes that Israel, with extreme impunity, has committed and continues to commit against them.  Congress is also seeking to punish Palestinians for showing maturity and diplomacy in signing more than 20 international treaties.

When the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, there were only a handful of illegal (Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49) settlers in the occupied West Bank. Since then, an ever-widening encroachment of illegal settlers has caused ever-increasing Israeli expropriation of Palestinian land, the destruction of the Palestinian economy and infrastructure, the theft and destruction of Palestinian natural resources and the loss of thousands of Palestinian lives at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and armed illegal settlers.

 According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (founded by Hibbing native and current Israeli citizen, Jeff Halper), since 1967, the Israeli Government has destroyed over 49,000 Palestinian homes[1] forcing the families who owned and inhabited these homes into homelessness in a conspicuous and continuing effort to ethnically cleanse Palestine to create a Jewish-only state. According to respected human rights organizations such as Amnesty International[2], Human Rights Watch[3], the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs[4] (UNOCHA) and B’tselem[5], daily Palestinian existence is dominated by a brutal, illegal and dehumanizing occupation under which self-determination is an unrealizable dream. Checkpoints and road closures make routine activities associated with normal daily life, like going to school, obtaining medical treatment at a hospital or commuting to work, impossible. The infamous Apartheid wall prevents Palestinians from visiting friends and family who live only a few minutes away as the crow flies. During his presidency, George W. Bush uttered the words, “This is awful,” when he was spirited through one of these checkpoints in his limousine[6], having gazed out the window at throngs of Palestinians being dehumanized at the hands of 18-year-old IDF soldiers equipped with machine guns paid for by the United States.

Conditions were horrendous in 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed. The promise of the Accords represented an anticipated negotiated final status agreement between the Palestinians, a stateless, de-militarized, powerless people, and the Israelis, the strongest military and the only nuclear power in the Middle East. This could have been a crowning achievement for both sides.  All attempts to reach a negotiated final status agreement, however, failed long ago and the principles for settlement enunciated in the Oslo Accords are unlikely to ever be revived. In 2001, with the election of hard-liner Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister of Israel, the Oslo Accords, along with any realistic hopes of an equitable negotiated final settlement, died. Sharon had consistently rejected the Oslo peace process and criticized Israel's positions in attempting to negotiate a final status settlement with the Palestinians. Fourteen years later, any negotiated settlement between the parties is realistically impossible given Israel’s massive illegal colonization of the West Bank. Israel’s far right government won’t budge. Racist elements in the Israeli government and society are gaining more and more political control. The United States, given the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, has repeatedly demonstrated its unwillingness to serve as a neutral mediator and Israel refuses to deal with any other country or international organization willing to assume that role.

When you arm Israel to the teeth with the most sophisticated weaponry in America’s arsenal while simultaneously blocking Palestinian access to non-violent legal remedies, you are committing the worst form of hypocrisy. In addition to severely tarnishing America’s image abroad, you are providing convincing arguments to those who preach that violence is the only practical means to bring about change.

Presenting a case to the International Criminal Court is, above all, a non-violent remedial legal action consistent with the rule of law. By punishing the Palestinians for pursuing a legal remedy in an international forum, Congress is saying that the Palestinians are not entitled to the same universal rights and protections that others enjoy under international humanitarian law, that Palestinian lives don’t matter, that they must accept that they are lesser human beings entitled to nothing more than a wretched existence, always to be powerless, stateless and dependent on whatever scraps of dignity and sustenance Israel may allow and forever without a path to achieve the freedom, equality and self-determination that many in the U.S. take for granted. Our Congress is telling the Palestinians that their humanity is less than the humanity of the Israelis that rule over them, that they must never strive to be equal human beings and that if they do, they will be punished.

The FY15 Consolidated Appropriations Bill was passed by Congress in December. A provision in the bill cuts off all aid to the Palestinians if they initiate an International Criminal Court investigation against Israeli nationals. For the “crime” of simply attempting to seek the enforcement of international law by an internationally recognized law enforcement authority, Congress has imposed a penalty. This is shameful. Israel, a rich and powerful country, having methodically committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinians for more than half a century, continues to be the recipient of a never ending stream of rich rewards from an overly fawning Congress, surpassing in extravagant largesse the financial and military assistance given by the United States to any other country. 

We call on the members of the Minnesota delegation to Congress to be strong advocates for justice and human rights. There is only one path towards peace in the Middle East and that is the path of justice. Do not punish Palestinians for seeking justice through legal and non-violent means.

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