Category Archives: Palestine

Opinion: America’s tents are pitched on shameful truths

Student protesters occupy a tent camp as they demonstrate against the war in Gaza at Columbia University. | Victor J. Blue / The Washington Post.

The Washington Post, by Robin Givhan, April 30, 2024

It’s been a long time since a tent was simply a tent. Today, it almost certainly represents an issue, a problem, a population with which society would prefer not to contend.

The tents are unseemly. They need to be. They’re flimsy structures staked on uneven ground surrounded by the stately architecture of the academy, capitalism and power. Their flapping scrims of nylon and plastic clutter up the landscape and serve as a rebuke to the grandiosities of polite society. The tents shame countries, cities and individuals for their failures even when the voices of the activists fall silent, when the chanting stops and the sun sets. The tents are still there.

Most recently, tents have become fundamental to the pro-Palestinian encampments constructed in college yards and on plazas from New York to California. In the nation’s capital, an encampment has taken root on the campus of George Washington University, where a few dozen tents have been pitched on the street and in the courtyard. All of it encompasses a one-block span of downtown Washington over which police officers keep watch with modest interest rather than alarm.

The asphalt has been colorfully chalked with mantras about Palestinian liberation and small placards abound. “Full cease-fire in Gaza now!” “Will you free my Palestine?” “Dismantle the war machine.” A statue of George Washington has been graffitied with accusations of genocide along with the university’s culpability. The life-size sculpture has also been draped in Palestinian flags, its neck wrapped in a kaffiyeh.

But it’s the tents that take up the space. Their presence is a constant, ringing reminder of unrest and anger even when the student activists type quietly on their laptops or softly sing that “Palestine needs our love” or listen in silence as the evening’s schedule is ticked off over a bullhorn. An activist lists their demands for everyone to hear, which mostly means the folks watching and listening and holding microphones and cameras. He doesn’t mention the hostages being held by Hamas. But he wants the university to divest from “all corporate ties to the Zionist state of Israel” and to cancel all trips to “occupied Palestine” for research or study abroad.

Among many things, the use of the word “Zionist” sets off alarms for the many different people who hear it. Is it pure antisemitism? Or is it an attack on the Israeli government, whose senior leaders have expressed concern that the International Criminal Court will issue arrest warrants for them? Is it an assault on the right of Israel to exist? Or is it a demand that it not continue to exist within its current contours and constructs with the Palestinian people?

Tents set up by pro-Palestinian activists at GWU. | Shawn Thew / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock.

For some college presidents, there seems to be a belief that by ripping away the tents and clearing the courtyards, they are also expunging any hate and hurt from their campus — as if antisemitism lives in these makeshift shelters and not in the heart. They demand that the protests be polite, convenient and perfect, or in the words of Princeton University’s president, that the protests adhere to “time, place and manner” regulations. They call police to make arrests. They suspend students and declare them trespassers on their own campus. But the very meaning of a protest is to disrupt the status quo, to bring thoughtless momentum to a halt, to underscore precisely how imperfect the world really is.

On college campuses, the tents represent one of many truths. In addition to the savagery of Hamas on Oct. 7, along with the cruel holding of hostages, alongside the shames of antisemitism and Islamaphobia, Palestinian civilians are being killed by the thousands.

The tents are always telling us something that we don’t want to hear.

The tents of the homeless fill parks, clutter walkways and sprout in the shadow of freeway overpasses. So leaders of western states across the political divide have gone to the Supreme Court to have those tents declared illegal. Under current law, they can’t just summarily clear the tents if those who are living in them have nowhere else to go, if there are no beds at a shelter in their city. Officials in Grants Pass, Ore., don’t want homeless camps on their streets or in their parks. But asking the Supreme Court to allow them to remove the tents doesn’t remove the problem; it doesn’t make a weak social safety net any stronger.

The activists who settled into New York’s Zuccotti Park back in 2011 drew attention to income inequality, joblessness and the outsize political influence of financial firms. Occupy Wall Street spread from Manhattan across the country and around the world. The protesters marched and rallied but mostly what they were remembered for was rolling out their sleeping bags and setting up tented tarps and creating their own little squatters camp in the midst of capitalism’s Emerald City. They werebelittled as jealous of the success of others, as anti-capitalist and as vaguely un-American.

Under a freeway overpass hundreds of people live in a homeless encampment under a freeway overpass in San Diego in 2023. | Melina Mara / The Washington Post.

In the midst of a city where money is considered the great equalizer, the men and women who slept outside under bright blue tarps through rain, wind and even a nor’easter were an insistent reminder of a society turned ugly and heartless for a cash payout.

And for more than 30 years, there was a lone tent in Lafayette Square, across from the White House. To be fair, it was really just a facsimile of a tent — an enormous umbrella and pieces of plastic sheeting — because actual tents are illegal. It was a singular place where a woman sat 24-hour vigil — aided by those who relieved her — in protest of nuclear proliferation. Concepción Picciotto was the woman who grew old sitting in that makeshift tent, handing out leaflets to advance her cause, being ignored, ridiculed and admired. She carried on until her death in 2016 because her cause proved just as stubborn as she was.

The tents house the people we don’t want to see. These humble structures that sit low in the valleys between skyscrapers and monuments, remind us of inequality, of the unpredictability of unfairness, of the ways in which capitalism and the American Dream don’t work. They represent one immoral truth out of many.

And whether leaders criminalize them, bulldoze them or ridicule them doesn’t matter. The problems endure because the problem is never the tent.

Several demonstrators at UCLA’s camp’s destruction defied orders to disperse, armed with only hard hats and umbrellas. | Getty Images.

Sanders hits back at Netanyahu: ‘It is not antisemitic to hold you accountable’

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw – I was a student protester during the anti-Vietnam-war movement, a young professional during the anti-apartheid movement in the U.S., and a protester here in Benicia against George W. Bush’s trumped up war against Iraq. War is almost NEVER a way to peace. Will Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza and the failure of Israel’s government to move toward a two-state solution generate the next massive peace movement here and around the world? Maybe so, maybe rightly so. Bernie Sanders made a good point this week, defending activists against charges of antisemitism – see below. The world is crying out for innocents in Gaza who are starving and whose homes, hospitals and cities are in ruins. The death count is now over 34,000! The United States MUST stand up to the Israeli Prime Minister, and I would encourage all of us to join in the widespread call for an immediate and lasting ceasefire. Yes, of course the hostages must be freed. And yes, Bibi, I am not an anti-Semite. – Roger]

US senator says Israeli prime minister is using antisemitism to distract attention from ‘extremist and racist government’ policies

Bernie Sanders speaks with reporters on 23 April 2024. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The Guardian, by Robert Tait, 27 Apr 2024

Bernie Sanders has hit back fiercely at Benjamin Netanyahu over the Israeli prime minister’s claim that US universities were being overrun by antisemitism on a scale comparable to the rise of Nazism in Germany.

In a video posted on X, the progressive senator from Vermont – who is Jewish – accused Netanyahu of “insult[ing] the intelligence of the American people” by using antisemitism to distract attention from the policies of his “extremist and racist government” in the military offensive in Gaza.

“No Mr Netanyahu, it is not antisemitic or pro-Hamas to point out that, in a little over six months, your extremist government has killed over 34,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 78,000, 70% of whom are women and children,” Sanders said.

The two-and-a-half minute video listed a catalogue of further consequences of the war in the Palestinian coastal territory, including the destruction of infrastructure, hospitals, universities and schools, along with the killing of more than 400 health workers.

Sanders, who sponsored an unsuccessful Senate bill in January to make US aid to Israel conditional on its observance of human rights and international law, said Netanyahu’s government had unreasonably blocked humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza, causing “thousands of children [to] face malnutrition and famine”.

In a blistering conclusion, he said: “Mr Netanyahu, antisemitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to many millions of people.

“But please, do not insult the intelligence of the American people by attempting to distract us from the immoral and illegal policies of your extremist and racist government. … It is not antisemitic to hold you accountable for your actions.”

Mr. Netanyahu, antisemitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to millions.

Do not insult the intelligence of the American people by attempting to distract us from the immoral and illegal war policies of your extremist and racist government.

Sanders’ comments were a riposte to a video posted on social media by Netanyahu in which he waded in to protests sweeping American university campuses and claimed not enough was being done to combat a “horrific” rise in antisemitism.

“Antisemitic mobs have taken over leading universities,” Netanyahu said. “They call for the annihilation of Israel. They attack Jewish students. They attack Jewish faculty. This is reminiscent of what happened in German universities in the 1930s.

“It has to be stopped. It has to be condemned and condemned unequivocally, but that’s not what happened. The response of several university presidents was shameful. Now fortunately, state, federal and local officials, many of them, have responded differently. But there has to be more.”

Netanyahu’s comments came against the backdrop of police deployments to break up pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University and numerous other US campuses. In some universities, faculty members have been arrested, including the chair of the philosophy department and a professor of English and Indigenous studies at Emory University in Atlanta.

Jewish students have reported feeling threatened by the protests and heated atmosphere that followed Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October, resulting in the deaths of about 1,200 Israelis and the kidnapping of more than 200 others.

Videos posted on social media have depicted anti-Israel protesters shouting “go back to Poland” and “go back to Belarus”, apparently at Jewish students. A congressional hearing earlier in April into a reported upsurge of antisemitism at Columbia heard allegations that Jewish students had been subjected to taunts of “F the Jews”.

Last October’s attack triggered an overwhelming and continuing Israeli military response that has so far killed more than 34,000 Palestinians – according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza – and led to a burgeoning humanitarian disaster, accompanied by accusations that Israel is committing “genocide”.

In his video, Netanyahu said Israel was being “falsely accused” of genocide and called it part of an “antisemitic surge”.

“Israel tries to defend itself against genocidal terrorists who hide behind civilians,” he said. “Yet it is Israel that is falsely accused of genocide. Israel that is falsely accused of starvation and sundry war crimes. It’s all one big libel.

“But that’s not new. We’ve seen in history that antisemitic attacks were always preceded by vilification and slander.”

The Joe Biden White House, while resisting pressure to condition or limit weapon supplies to Israel, has voiced frustration over its resistance to allowing more humanitarian aid freely into Gaza and roundly criticised the recent strikes that killed seven workers from celebrity chef Jose Andres’s World Central Kitchen charity.

Protests on campuses across the US continued on Saturday, with some protesting student bodies and universities locked in a standoff that saw demonstrators vowing to keep their movements going at the same time as college authorities moved to close down the encampments.

Police in riot gear cleared protest tents on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston, while students shouted and jeered at them, the Associated Press reported. The university said the protest had been “infiltrated by professional organisers” with no connection to the institution, while some demonstrators had used antisemitic slurs.

The picture of campus antisemitism run amok was lent further credence by Lawrence Summers, a former Harvard president and ex-US treasury secretary, who accused authorities at his former university of failing to act decisively against protesters occupying Harvard Yard.

“This is the predictable culmination of the Harvard Corporation’s failure to effectively address issues of prejudice and breakdowns of order on our campus,” he posted on X. “There can be no question that Harvard is practicing an ongoing double standard on discrimination between racism, misogyny and antisemitism.”

His comments provoked a sharp response from critics of Israel. “Your efforts to portray student demonstrators challenging Israel’s genocidal actions as ‘antisemitic’ are cheap & disingenuous,” wrote Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn). “These students should be commended for their courage & compassion, risking suspension & smears (like yours), to fight the most heinous crimes underway in Gaza.”

See earlier posts about the Israeli/Hamas war on BenIndy:

Highly recommended: Queen Rania al Abdullah of Jordan on the Food Crisis in Gaza

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw – The world is crying out for innocents in Gaza who are starving. Malnutrition and certain death is everywhere. The United States MUST stand up to the Israeli Prime Minister, and I would encourage all of us to join in the widespread call for an immediate and lasting ceasefire. Christiane Amanpour’s interview with the articulate Queen of Jordan, Rania al Abdullah is a call for heart and historical perspective, as well as food for the Palestinian people. – Roger]

Queen Rania al Abdullah of Jordan on the Food Crisis in Gaza

Amanpour and Company on Youtube, Originally aired on March 11, 2024  #amanpourpbs

On Sunday, the United States and Jordan conducted another joint airdrop into northern Gaza. Jordan’s Queen Rania has been outspoken in defense of Gaza civilians. She is urging the United States and other allies of Israel to use all their leverage to end what she calls Israel’s “deliberate effort” to deprive those in need. Christiane speaks with Queen Rania exclusively from King Abdullah II Air Base in Jordan, just ahead of another airdrop.

See earlier posts about the Israeli/Hamas war on BenIndy:

Stephen Golub: Despite the Hamas Horrors, Glimmers of Light Beyond the Unbearable Darkness

Hamas must go. So must Netanyahu.

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land.

By Stephen Golub, October 15, 2023

Amidst all the thoughts and feelings I had as 9/11 unfolded, the one that hit hardest was utter dismay at how incredibly cruel and savage people can be to each other.

That’s how I feel this week. Over 1,300 Israelis slaughtered – most of them civilians, many of them babies, children or elderly – with over 150 more taken hostage. Given America’s much larger population, this would be the equivalent of 50,000 people murdered here in a single terrorist attack, or seventeen 9/11s.

In the Hours and Days Ahead…

I won’t deeply delve right now into what’s going on and what’s to come as Israel takes the fight to Hamas in Gaza. There will be time enough for reasoned, complex or bitter debates about who’s to blame for that humanitarian calamity.

And, before seeking to see some light in this situation, I won’t deny that matters will most likely get much worse before they even have a chance of getting better.

More specifically: Within hours of my publishing this post, Israeli tanks and troops may be surging through Gaza. Or Lebanon-based Hezbollah, “the world’s most heavily armed non-state actor,” may open up a second front, raining many of its estimated 130,000 rockets down on Israel. Or the mounting violence and Palestinian deaths on the West Bank – 53 since October 7 – could explode into a full-fledged conflict there. Or some Palestinian citizens of Israel proper could rise up. Or the United States, or Iran, or both, could be drawn into the conflict.

Or all of the above.

Hamas Unveiled

Against this backdrop, why in the world speculate about something positive possibly springing from this horrific situation?

Because, despite the intense despair we all feel, we need to think about what happens to Gaza after the havoc ends.

So, even though it’s massively, monstrously outweighed by the October 7 massacre, what good could conceivably come of this? Two things.

First, Hamas has discredited and disgraced itself as a savage terrorist organization that cannot be trusted and must be crippled to the extent possible.

This seems painfully clear today. But up until October 7, and despite its many bouts of combat with and rocket attacks against Israel, certain experts and Israeli officials entertained the notion of a “pragmatic Hamas” that had evolved past its genocidal 1988 Covenant, a document that channels the notoriously fake Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other antisemitic attacks. These officials included the former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Will Hamas necessarily vanish from the scene in the wake of Israel’s likely onslaught? We’ll see. Its ideology will live on after many of its leaders and members are killed. What’s more, the New York Times’ Thomas Friedmanand other observers wonder whether Israel will walk into a trap if it launches a full-fledged invasion of Gaza. Hamas and its ally Iran may well welcome such an attack, valuing the propaganda victories that could flow from the potentially massive Palestinian and Israeli deaths to which they’re indifferent.

Regardless, it’s crucial to at least and at last clearly see Hamas for what it is. In the words of one Palestinian human rights activist: “The world knows Hamas now as terrorists who have committed depraved atrocities that would even make ISIS blush. But the people of Gaza already knew them…[as] monsters for years.”

Netanyahu’s Demise

Second, the atrocious intelligence, preparedness and response failures by the Netanyahu government – which, to be clear, I’m in no way equating with the Hamas butchery – could well result in his political demise after this war’s deadly dust has settled. As an Israeli former deputy national security adviser puts it, “The only good news is that the magnitude of the debacle will likely hasten the downfall of the criminally negligent and fundamentally illegitimate government in office in Israel today.”

Over the course of his many years dominating the country’s political landscape, starting long before he launched his current assault on Israeli democracy, Netanyahu has inundated the West Bank with settlements that undercut the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority there and sabotage the possibility of Palestinian statehood. He has explicitly vowed to block such statehood; he tolerated and even propped up Hamas in certain respects in pursuit of that goal.

In the interest of his evading justice and jail, last year Netanyahu brought into his government far-right religious zealots who prioritize West Bank domination over human rights, national security and national unity. They include his national security minister, previously convicted of supporting a terrorist organization, incitement to racism and many other charges.

Given that so much blood was spilled barely a week ago, is it too soon to point a finger at Netanyahu and his ilk? The brother of an Israeli soldier killed battling the Hamas invasion does not think so: “The bunch of imbeciles leading the country we live in, the country where my beloved little brother was killed protecting the homeland that forgot us — not because it was inevitable but because this disgraceful government is involved in everything it should not be involved in. My beloved brother was murdered by hate-filled terrorists, but those who disgracefully opened the door for them are the Israeli government, from the minister of national security and his messianic friends — clowns who busy themselves creating violent, idiotic slogans — to the prime minister, who is doing everything in his power to disintegrate the State of Israel.”

Could a peaceful two-state solution emerge in partnership with the Palestinian Authority, which recognizes Israel but is corrupt and ineffective? Quite possibly, though not inevitably. And for at least the near future, that possibility weakens in the wake of massive Israeli and Palestinian trauma. But until Netanyahu and his messianic allies lose control of the government, we may never know.

No Equivalence. But Both Must Go.

Let me again be clear: Like that slain soldier’s brother, I’m not equating the Hamas mass murder with the Netanyahu government’s conduct and policies, as execrable as they are. Hamas shows how horrifically low humanity can go.

Moreover, I’ll readily admit that in these unbearably dark days, the possible glimmers of light I’m pointing to lie way beyond the horizon, if they’re there at all.

But after the death and destruction are done or at least diminish, we must seek whatever good, whatever solutions, can emerge from the ashes.

We don’t have any alternative.

. . .

In the name of love, I’ll share a couple of post-October 7 U2 concert videos honoring the October 7 victims. If you’re able to access the first, you may need to go to your downloads to actually view the clip, along with the tear-inducing message and photos associated with it. The second lacks that additional information. But it is easier to access, and the band’s moving words and music are still worth viewing.

This post was produced by Benicia resident Stephen Golub. Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations, at A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. If interested, you may sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.

Read more from Steve by visiting his blog or clicking any of the links below.


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