Message to President Obama and Americans with a Conscience

There comes a time comes when silence is betrayal… History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims… We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular?

But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular- but one must take it simply because it is right.

— Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Since 1967, the Israeli authorities have demolished more than 24,000 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories.

Some are considered “collateral damage” in military operations; such as the 4,000 homes that were demolished in Israel’s December-January assault on Gaza.

Some are as collective punishment; such as the obliteration of the Jenin refugee camp in 2002.

Many are for lack of a building permit, which Israel denies to Palestinians; and due to the unjust justice system of Israel, the courts have ordered thousands of Palestinian families to demolish their own homes while threatening them with fines and imprisonment.

Currently there are tens of thousands of demolition orders on Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank .

The unjust justice system of Israel ignores that the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an Occupying Power from extending its law and administration into an occupied territory.

The very process of granting or denying permits to Palestinians is blatantly illegal under international humanitarian law.

Missing from Israel’s security framing is the very fact of occupation, which Israel both denies exists…and that “security” requires Israel control over the entire country… rendering impossible a just peace based on human rights, international law, reconciliation. ((Jeff Halper, Obstacles to Peace, A Re-Framing of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, page 1.))

International Law states occupation is to be temporary, but Israeli courts rule on the basis that there is no occupation and therefore the Fourth Geneva Convention protecting civilians under occupation is irrelevant to their sense of justice.

Jeff Halper, the American-Israeli founder of ICAHD/Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions informed this reporter: “Before 1947, the Palestinians owned 94% of the country. Then the UN gave away 56% to the Jews and today they have 78% of the land. Hamas cannot accept the legitimacy of Israel stealing their land, just as no colonial people would ever give up the claim to their homeland.”

The first house ICAHD rebuilt was in 1998 — the Beit Arabyia house — the name for the home of the Arabiya family with seven children which has been rebuilt at least four times by the efforts of ICAHD and the JCHR/Jurist Center for Human Rights, a Palestinian NGO focused on legal advocacy for Palestinians in the Jerusalem area.

Jeff said, “Israel has no constitution but has a Declaration of Independence which promised that Israel would abide by conditions and UN resolutions. They have not fulfilled the agreement which was the basis of their independence.”

The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel was signed on May 14, 1948 the day the British Mandate over Palestine expired:

On the day of the termination of the British mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations.

Jeff elaborated:

We really are only but actors in a play. When we wake up to that, and become an active participant in the human drama and pursue justice, things must change because injustice is unsustainable… One out of three Israeli children lives below the poverty line. It’s probably about 80% for Palestinians. Jews are like everyone else, those who have been abused grow up to be abusers. Things here have been turned on their head: its victim mentality and denial about the occupation. Once Israelis accept the fact that they are occupiers they will have to admit their State Terrorism.

Since 1967 the Israeli government has destroyed over 22,000 Palestinian homes. 95% of the cases have nothing to do with security. All these homes are on Palestinian private property. The Israeli government will not grant permits for them to build on their own land, and in reality are quietly transferring the Palestinians administratively from the land. They make conditions so intolerable that the Palestinians give up and leave and this is exactly what they are after. Not only do the Palestinians receive no warning when their homes are to be destroyed they are fined $1,500.00!

The reasons for the demolitions are: for The Wall, to establish illegal settlements, build roads and because the Israeli government wants to keep Palestinians confined to the islands [areas A and B] in the West Bank and so Palestinian land remain under the control of the Israeli government.

When you incorporate occupied territories, highways, settlements and use resources it is all illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention which states the status quo must be retained so that negotiations can happen. Unilateral actions are illegal. The occupying power is responsible for those under its control.

Tony Blair said 70% of all the conflicts in the world can be traced back to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. This conflict impacts the global community and especially everyone in the USA. This whole issue is based on Human Rights and it is a global issue requiring global intervention.

There have been three stages to make this occupation permanent. The first was to establish the facts on the ground; the settlements. There are ½ million Israeli’s and four million Palestinians here. They have been forced into Bantustan; truncated mini states; prison states. It is apartheid and Israel is not a democracy, it is an ethnocracy: full rights to Jews, but not Palestinians.

In 1977, Sharon came in with a mandate, money and resources to make the Israeli presence in the West Bank irreversible. The second stage began in April 2004 when America approved the Apartheid/Convergence/Realignment Plan and eight settlement blocs. This is just like South Africa!

The Bush Sharon letter exchange guaranteed that the USA considers the settlements non-negotiable. The Convergence Plan and The Wall create the borders and that is what defines Bantustans. Congress ratified the Bush plan and only Senator Byrd of West Virginia voted no and nine House Representatives.

Israel has set up a matrix of control; a thick web of settlements guaranteed to make the occupation permanent by establishing facts on the ground.

Israel denies there is an occupation, so everything is reduced to terrorism. It is our job to insist upon the human rights issue, for occupied people have International Law on their side.

Israeli policy is to maintain a 72% Jewish and 28% Arab population. Palestinians cannot get building permits to build upon their legally owned land. The Arab land has been re-zoned as green space, and the green space will be re-zoned for the settlements.

Every single Palestinian home in Jerusalem has a demolition order. The entire West Bank has been zoned as agricultural land by Israel, and that will also be re-zoned again for more settlements.

Under international law all the settlements are considered illegal colonies-but they are spun as “neighborhoods” by politicians and a limp and lazy media.

During an ICAHD bus tour, on my way to the Beit Arabiya Peace House, I witnessed acres of tree stumps that had once been miles of olive trees; but they were chopped off by the Israeli army.

Jeff commented, “It has been said that the Israelis do not love this land, they just want to possess it. I don’t just have a political problem with this Judiaization of the Old City; it is ecologically and environmentally offensive.”

It also is spiritually impoverished for the raping and pillaging of what is claimed holy ground refutes and denies the biblical meaning of dominion. The ancients understood dominion meant to nurture, love and protect but the destruction of indigenous peoples homes, the stealing and destroying of their legally owned property, has got to be an abomination unto God as well as a crime against humanity.

The Beit Arabiya Peace House, is at the crossroads of Areas A, B and C and the home has become a symbol of nonviolent persistent resistance and a meeting place for Israelis, Palestinian and International peace activists at the intersection of Areas A, B, and C.

The smallest of the three is Area A, which is under Palestinian authority. Areas B and C are under Israeli control.

When I saw Jeff last in June 2009, he told me there was another demolition order of the Beit Arabyia home, but during my visit I was captivated by a mural painted on the outer wall created by the North American Workers Against the USA occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The mural depicted Rachel Corrie, the American who was run over by a USA made Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza when she stood up to defend the home of a pharmacist with five children four days before the USA began bombing Baghdad. Also depicted was a pregnant Palestinian woman of ten who had also been run over by a Caterpillar in Gaza.

The angelic images of the two women floated above a depiction of a USA made Caterpillar bulldozer that had tipped to one side and was flanked by tanks and images of weapons of destruction along with images of people and a railroad track; a reminder that prior to 1948, Jews and Palestinians had worked together in peaceful solidarity to build a railroad.

The Arabyia home/Peace Center is at the cornerstone of the village of the Anata and the Shufat refugee camps, in the very area where the prophet Jeremiah in the 6th century B.C. critiqued the violent conflicts in the Mid East, which were already old news: “I hear violence and destruction in the city, sickness and wounds are all I see.” [Jeremiah 6:7]

Mohammad Alatar, film producer of The Iron Wall addressed my group after we broke bread and ate a typical Palestinian feast prepared by the Arabiya family:

“I am a Muslim Palestinian American and when my son asked me who my hero was I took three days to think about it. I told him my hero is Jesus, because he took a stand and he died for it.

“What really needs to be done is for the churches to be like Jesus; to challenge the Israeli occupation and address the apartheid practices as moral issues.

“Even if every church divested and boycotted Israel it would not harm Israel. After the USA and Russia, Israel is the third largest arms exporter in the world. It is a moral issue that the churches must address.”

The Obama Administration has demanded Israel freeze all construction of its illegal settlements; but the building continues. Money talks louder than words and people of conscience are exerting pressure to get Israel to change its behavior. The quickest and most effective way to do this is by ending U.S. military aid, which is being misused by Israel in violation of U.S. law to kill and injure Palestinian civilians and sustain Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.

Eileen Fleming is the author of Keep Hope Alive and Memoirs of a Nice Irish American Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory and the producer of 30 Minutes With Vanunu. Email her at Read other articles by Eileen, or visit Eileen's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Max Shields said on August 31st, 2009 at 9:12am #

    Please check your facts on what the Obama administration has “demanded”.

  2. eileen fleming said on August 31st, 2009 at 9:17am #

    Demanding is one thing. Getting is another!

    Learn more:

  3. eileen fleming said on August 31st, 2009 at 9:37am #

    In May 2009, at the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced in front of Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, that the Obama administration, “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions [the administration has communicated its position] very clearly, not only to the Israelis, but to the Palestinians and others, and we intend to press that point.”

    Obama said in a joint press conference with Abbas that, “We are a stalwart ally of Israel and it is in our interests to assure that Israel is safe and secure. It is our belief that the best way to achieve that is to create the conditions on the ground and set the stage for a Palestinian state as well. And so what I told Prime Minister Netanyahu was that each party has obligations under the road map.

    “On the Israeli side those obligations include stopping settlements. They include making sure that there is a viable potential Palestinian state.

    “I want to see progress made, and we will work very aggressively to achieve it…I think it’s important not to assume the worst but to assume the best. Obviously, Prime Minister Netanyahu has to work these issues in his own government.”

    Obviously there is much work to be done on all sides!

    Jeff Halper, wrote on May 25, 2009:

    “Although the Obama Administration may truly desire viable two-state solution and even understands all Israel’s tricks, it is also clear that without significant pressure it cannot be achieved.

    “And here is where the real problem arises. Israel’s trump card has always been Congress, where it enjoys virtually unanimous bi-partisan support. “-NETANYAHU CHOOSES WAREHOUSING

    Jeff also told me this ‘joke’:

    “Do you know why Israel does not want to become America’s 51st state? Because then they would only have two senators!”

    On June 11, 2009, while I was in Jerusalem at the ICAHD office, Jeff Halper said:

    “There are reasons for hope and we are all making a difference. We’re in a weak position because governments work with governments not civil society; countries don’t have friends they have interests.

    “But we are winning the war of legitimacy because it is getting harder for Israel to justify their actions.

    “The encouraging thing about Obama’s speech is that we turned a corner, but we must keep struggling to end the occupation, and ICAHD’s vehicle is rebuilding Palestinian homes that Israel demolishes.

    “Congress has always been Israel’s trump card and the democrats have been more pro-Israel than the republicans. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the problem, not Netanyahu.

    “When you meet with your congressional reps ask them how their uncritical support for Israel-and what is seen throughout the world as a USA-Israeli occupation of Palestine can possibly be in the best interest of America. It is Congress that is keeping Palestinians fragmented by not dealing with Hamas.”

    We the people pay elected officials their salaries and also provide the $3.4 BILLION a year that goes to support the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.

    People get the government they deserve and silence is complicity.

  4. b99 said on August 31st, 2009 at 11:26am #

    Obama has been a little slippery. He has called for ‘no settlement growth’ or ‘no new settlements’ (I forget which), and also as you state above . What he has not called for is either a rollback or dismantlement of settlements. And he has not differentiated the ‘Greater Jerusalem’ settlements from those elsewhere on the West Bank. The Israelis will, as always, carefully parse these statements to their advantage.

  5. Max Shields said on August 31st, 2009 at 11:59am #

    He has “allowed” the continuation of construction where begun!!!

    When you give into that you are basically slippery at best.

    Very good interview on with Eugene Bird

    Definitely worth a listen.

  6. Max Shields said on August 31st, 2009 at 12:07pm #

    Eileen, your piece is all well and good…but it is not a trivial matter to see Obama as anywhere near talking about Palestinians as if they are equal partners in any of this with the US and Israel, let alone DEMANDING anything from Israel. Demanding is a pretty strong word that the US government is forbade to use regarding the preditory state of Israel.

    This is simply a return to the Clinton era (at best). The deals are always one sided and when the Palestinians cannot capitulate, the US/Israelis claim they “tried” but the Palestinians are unwilling…

    Personally, while the US is certainly part of the problem, and most be involved (I would say by re-constituting allegiances to all things Knesset), I just don’t see the US who is in the process of continuing war crimes against peoples in multiple countries, as an honest broker.

    Who in the world is doing all the killing? Palestinians? Iranians? Afgranistan people?

    The warlords reside here and in Televev.

  7. bozh said on August 31st, 2009 at 12:17pm #

    Uncle sam, once he had chosen a course, never wavers; deviates only tactically but never abandons cosa nostra.
    US policy towards pal’ns, now 60 yrs old, appears crystal clear: utter destruction of palestine.
    It is known by US, europe, and ‘jews’ as the “two state solution”. And in spite of naked eye, seing only separated counties for pal’ns.

    It takes only a bit of acumen to see that US wld never say that Iraq, Afgh’n, Iran, Pak’n, and Palestine will never ever rise again.
    At this time US is cowing entire enemy world. No nation dares utter even a peep, so frightened are the foe nations.
    And US has entire christian world onside and even most arab lands.
    So, what is puny palestine, or 12% of it that remains, which is cut up with roads, walls, check points, etc?

    Since US appears frightened of an expulsion, the idea is to treat pal’ns as dogs. And the hope is that the youngsters wld voluntarily leave the ‘jewish’ state.
    We cannot expect the christo-talmudic cultists to spell it thus
    I recommend strongly to just use your eyes! tnx

  8. Annie Ladysmith said on August 31st, 2009 at 11:51pm #

    As i watch more and more horror stories coming out of Iraq and Gaza i can’t but think that at the heart of these conflicts there is a huge amount of ‘ethnic cleansing’.

    It is directed at the Arabs. The US has completely devastated Iraq, morally, socially, physically and mentally. If America is a liberator and the army is in Iraq to ‘help’ the people, why are the Iraqi’s in the worst nightmare ever. Their children are born deformed, torture victims wander around trying to find someone to listen, women and children wander through the rubble trying to find husbands and fathers who have dissapeared.

    In Gaza they just drop bombs at will and civilians ,lots of children, get shot full of scrapnel without the slightest warning. I see it as ethnic cleansing, the same crime that the US stuck on Serbia.

    America and Israel are the ‘rouge’ states and they label their victims with the very crimes they themselves are committing. Arabs are different, most are Moslems, that makes them different still, but, that is no excuse for treating them like they are human refuge. i have come to feel very much for these broken people who have lost everything and have no hope to move forward. And indeed, there is no forward for the majority of them.

    The US war in Iraq: A COMPLETE DIASTER. The conquest of Gaza: A COMPLETE NIGHT-MARE. These poor people are the expendable pawns in this elite high stakes powerplay and the winner takes all.