Israeli/US Aggression and Occupation in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq: Teach-In

 
The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of San Diego sponsored a teach-in on July 27 to provide background to the recent attack on Lebanon, the escalation of attacks on Gaza, and the continuing occupation of Palestine, Iraq and now Lebanon. Six speakers discussed discussed the historical and political context, the resistance, the human experience of occupation, and international law: Nasser Barghouti (moderator), Doris Bittar, Farid Abdel-Nour, Nadia Keilani, Marjorie Cohn and Jonathan Graubart. Audio Duration: 1:38:40, with partial transcript. A question and answer period followed. Audio Duration: 1:03:40.

"Imagine if the I-5 was bombed and I-805 and the I-15 and the depots of fuels and half of the gas stations of San Diego were bombed. Then imagine if one third of our hospitals had been destroyed. We have no electricity, no water and 800,000 of San Diego residents were forced to flee, go somewhere, inland maybe. Then you would get to understand the situation in Lebanon."

"As an artist, I have gathered many photo essays that document how individuals resist, often through creative acts, like Haldia at the Bourj al Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut, whose camp now is surrounded by rubble, built her entire home with mortar, cinder blocks, and river rocks from Nabitia... There are many forms of resistance, and all can be legitimate... For the ordinary person, Hamas and Hezbollah crush the walls of a demented and bigoted logic, whatever else you agree or disagree about their philosophy."

"Stability has historically has been usually brought about by barbarism and brutality...The reason Middle East politics is so complicated is that is usually hanging by thin delicate threads that connect different communities with each other... The reason the Middle East is unstable is that there hasn't been that kind of brutality in its history... I'm afraid that this administration takes this cruel truth not as reminder not to overvalue stability, not as a reminder of how cruel it is to merely pursue it. They take it as a prescription for what to do."

Prior to 1991, our first attempt to destroy Iraq, Iraqi women had equality in education and health care. They had the most progressive human rights in the region and they were the first Arab women to hold high positions in academia, government and law. Before the US invasion, they constituted 40% of the public sector work force and they made up 20% of Iraq's Parliament. In the U.S. Congress, only 15% of it is made up of women... Today an Iraqi woman walking alone in the street is asking to be killed, raped or kidnapped... I asked Iraqis if they had a message for the American people. None of their messages was without an expletive..."

"Bush could stop Israel in its tracks with a snap of his fingers. But why would he? Israel is doing his bidding. Redrawing the map of the Middle East to facilitate U.S. domination. Bush began that task with Iraq, and Israel is following suit with Palestine and Lebanon... The United States loyal and consistent support for Israel's policies to the tune of more than 3 billion dollars in aid per year has enabled Israel government to conduct a war of terror against the Palestinian and Lebanese people."

"These can be subject to great debate in the specifics, but a number of the Israeli actions defy any sort of debate. Certainly collective punishments, which is a pretty explicit effort to impose massive desperate conditions on the civilian population until they give in, is no question illegal. Certainly causing massive displacements, the attack on the power plants, even the United Nations, which is fairly diplomatic about this, has called these war crimes."

"About forty years ago, 1967, in six days the Israeli army destroyed the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, occupied all of the Sinai strip, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, killed thousands of soldiers in those Arab armies, all in six days. Today after 14 days of punishing bombardment of Lebanon, the Israeli army has not been able to progress more than 10 km into Lebanon."

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N. Barghouti, D. Bittar, F. Abdel-Nour, N. Keilani, M. Cohn and J. Graubart
N. Barghouti, D. Bittar, F. Abdel-Nour, N. Keilani, M. Cohn and J. Graubart
Sponsor:
American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of San Diego
adcsand@yahoo.com

Cosponsors:
SanDiego Coalition for Peace and Justice
International Socialist Organization
International Action Center
Activist San Diego
National Lawyers Guild San Diego Chapter
Committee Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran


Below you will find a partial transcript from the presentation of each speaker.

---Nasser Barghouti (0:00)
Watching American TV, it's all sanitized. You don't really get to understand what it means. Imagine if the I-5 was bombed and I-805 and the I-15 and the depots of fuels and half of the gas stations of San Diego were bombed. Then imagine if one third of our hospitals had been destroyed. We have no electricity, no water and 800,000 of San Diego residents were forced to flee, go somewhere, inland maybe. Then you would get to understand the situation in Lebanon.

It is something that is not conveyed accurately in the media. It is always conveyed as if it is a balanced situation between what's going on with targeting civilians in Israel and what's going on in Lebanon. They don't really give you the magnitude of the destruction that is going on. And of course the never ending chorus of people who just want to blame, they just want to say it is Hezbollah's fault.

It's as if your daughter hits another person's daughter at school, and that person comes and destroys your house, kills your wife and your two sons, and says its your fault, your daughter hit my daughter. That's what is going on. It is outrageous.

The UN high commission of human rights has warned clearly that what is going on in Lebanon today can constitute war crimes that individual leaders can be held accountable for. That means they can go after Ehud Olmert and charge him with war crimes, because he intentionally has asked his army to target the infrastructure in Gaza and Lebanon to deny civilians the ability to live, let along live in prosperity and peace.

---Doris Bittar (5:50)

To understand how resistance is created one must understand how human suffering exacts a motivation from its victims. It is a motivation to shake off its oppressors. This is human nature.

As an artist, I have gathered many photo essays that document how individuals resist, often through creative acts, like Haldia at the Bourj al Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut, whose camp now is surrounded by rubble, built her entire home with mortar, cinder blocks, and river rocks from Nabitia.

Or how my great uncle Hana in a little village in southern Lebanon, who has resisted through personal expressions of his ties to the land, by turning a ricocheting Israeli bullet on his dining room mirror into a shrine that signifies his being.

There are many forms of resistance, and all can be legitimate. And one need not agree with everything within that variety, but we can try to understand it...

We must remain dispassionate and detached when we look at groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. We must see them as forms of rational resistance, whether we agree with their philosophies or not. At this point, they are the major players in the role of resisters within Lebanese and Palestinian populations.

They have managed to capture the imagination of large minorities and small majorities of groups beyond their own immediate constituents.

There are other forms of resistance too, but they are small, and at this point rather ineffective. These other groups, I will list a few but not discuss them, but they could be important for us in the future, especially people in this audience, many of whom are activists. They are just too small at this moment, but I'll list a few locally and internationally.

There's the International Solidarity Movement, many religious organizations, from all sides, the Presbyterian Church, the Quakers, Rabbis for Peace, Jewish-Palestinian Dialogues, the ADC lobby, cultural liaisons in the visual arts, music theater and dance, as well as very important educational organizations, such as Al-Awda, our local Middle-East Cultural Information Center, and Tikkun...

The key to resistance is to have as broad a unity as you can have and remain committed to basic human rights. There may be nothing left of Lebanon after all this. But now after this brutal assault, the alliance between these two peculiar groups [Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, headed by former Christian Maronite General Michel Aoun, who allied with Hezbollah in February of this year-sdimc] could insure Lebanon's survival.

The current manifestation of war that we are seeing is an Israeli-American temper tantrum, because the prospects of Lebanon following the path of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, whose primary foreign policy aspirations is to protect Israel from its detractors, is off track.

Remember that the Mossad has been responsible for the King of Jordan's security for many years. The Palestine Authority's main function is to protect Israel from its own people, the Palestinians, as opposed to protecting its own civilians.

There is a double standard here. An ordinary people whose aspirations may be humble are not stupid. For the ordinary person, Hamas and Hezbollah crush the walls of a demented and bigoted logic, whatever else you agree or disagree about their philosophy.

A logic I hope that concerned Americans will be able to correct and replace with a more human and consistent agenda.

---Farid Abdel-Nour (23:50)
I actually think that future generations will put us to task to ask us what we were doing when Lebanon and Gaza were being bombed into a powder...

We should ask ourselves what our Secretary of State Condelezza Rice means by the New Middle East that she started talking about a few days ago...

I think we can take very seriously the idea that this administration takes its rhetoric very much to heart... We should stop kidding ourselves into thinking they are fooling anybody. They are not fooling anyone. They actually believe this stuff. And that's why i think this is a very serious turning point.

I think that what they mean by a new Middle East is a new and stable Middle East. What they have tapped into is a cruel truth... Stability has historically has been usually brought about by barbarism and brutality... For me personally, that truth is a reminder not to overestimate stability. It's a reminder for me as an indictment of stability as a sole value...

One of the most important features of the Middle East, and this might be counterintuitive to many of you, is that it isn't stable because it actually has not undertaken the kind of barbarism and brutality in its history that is commonplace in much of the rest of the world.

The reason Middle East politics is so complicated is that is usually hanging by thin delicate threads that connect different communities with each other... The reason the Middle East is unstable is that there hasn't been that kind of brutality in its history...

I'm afraid that this administration takes this cruel truth not as reminder not to overvalue stability, not as a reminder of how cruel it is to merely pursue it. They take it as a prescription for what to do. They take stability as their only goal...

[That is why] they take seriously the idea that it is premature to call for a cease-fire in Lebanon today. Not enough destruction has taken place for the kind of peace and stability that they think is necessary...

I think if we want to avoid armageddon in the Middle East we have no choice but to try to influence public policy in this country. I believe public policy in this country has gone mad... This is a completely dangerous administration. I think it is extremely important that we be aware that we will be made to answer for our government acting in our name today pretty much destroying sections of the world.

What's the answer?.. There are no answers to these conflicts without negotiated settlement... There are no other alternatives.

All of these unilateral alternatives, we bomb Lebanon so that Hezbollah can be disarmed because we kill them all and we kill all the other Lebanese with them, is not an answer. In my view, the attempt to say that Palestinians and Lebanese can simply through terrorist tactics and guerilla warfare try to inflict more pain on the Israelis to tire them out is a failed strategy.

---Nadia Keilani (40:00)
Contrary to what we have been told, this is not an ethnic, religious or racial conflict. In my view this is a conflict over economic resources. Controlling the resources of the Middle East necessarily means subjugating, killing, brutalizing its people, because they happen to sit atop those resources that our govenment so desperately wants...

Since WWII Israel has served as the fig leaf for destroying Arab society, to a large extent...

Anyone who thinks that the current attack and destruction of Lebanon has anything to do with the capture of two Israeli soldiers, should join the search for WMDs in Iraq.

In my view, Israel is no different than any other colonial settler state. The only difference, the sole difference, is the flimsy excuse it uses of being a homeland for persecuted people.

The current attack on Lebanon, although it serves so many other purposes, it is also serving the purpose of diverting attention away from the war in Iraq and the destruction going on in Baghdad right now. I doubt that many of you have heard much mention of Iraq on CNN lately...

As much as we hear about what is going on, it is truly different to sit down with Iraqis and hear what their day to day life is like...

Total chaos and destruction reign in Iraq today, especially in Baghdad. Armed militias control the streets. Every militia has its own laws, every militia has its own jails.

Educated Iraqis who previously ran the country and its infrastructure have left en masse, and there appears to be a deliberate effort to kill off Iraq's academics.

Since the u.s. invasion, more than 250 college professors, scientists and academics of all walks have been killed. And they seem to be deliberately being targeted and assassinated.

84% of Iraq's institutions of higher learning have been burned to the ground or looted.

The secular middle class has all but deserted the country. An estimated 10,000 Iraqis are at the Syrian border each and every day seeking to get out... On that road to Syria that those 10,000 people pass every day they see dead bodies strewn all along the desert wrapped in white sheets. Those are the images I was told about when I met with my family members.

There is no central government in Iraq, it is a farce...

There are no services, no trash pickup, no road repair, no mail delivery, no running water, no electricity for large portions of the day. People have to collect water and use it when the water gets cut off, and they buy blocks of ice to keep their food from spoiling...

Roads are closed and checkpoints are set up virtually anywhere that an armed militia decides to set them up. So if you are driving home, you think you are going to be driving down Friars road, you get there Friars road is cut off, you need to divert to Mission Gorge. Mission Gorge is also cut off, and you need to divert to another place and in fact people end up having to seek refuge in the homes of complete strangers because they simply cannot get home.

It is very similar to Palestine in that sense, now there are checkpoints everywhere.

A few months ago the militias started stopping buses. A militia would set up a road block and stop a bus that is coming through and they would make everyone on the bus get off and they would check their ID cards.

The ID cards now, thanks to the new democratic government that we have set up, say what religion you belong to. And if it happens to be a Shia militia that stops your bus and if your ID card happens to say that you are Sunni or Christian or [Maturidi?], chances are you are going to be beheaded. What i find really sickening, in the past two months, 200 men with the name of Omar have been killed, because that is a very Sunni sounding name. Vice versa, if your name is Ali or Hussein, and you are stopped by the wrong militia, you're likely to be beheaded...

Neighbors are being emptied of anyone not belonging to the dominant religious group...

People leave their homes only when absolutely necessary, which leaves the militias to room free, and they essentially rule the streets. As one relative told me, his heart races every time he leaves his front door and does not stop racing until he gets back home...

It is these militias that control Iraq today... Each militia issues its own rules, depending on what it's version of religion is, or what its interpretation of religion is...

Prior to 1991, our first attempt to destroy Iraq, Iraqi women had equality in education and health care. They had the most progressive human rights in the region and they were the first Arab women to hold high positions in academia, government and law.

Before the US invasion, they constituted 40% of the public sector work force and they made up 20% of Iraq's Parliament. In the U.S. Congress, only 15% of it is made up of women...

Today an Iraqi woman walking alone in the street is asking to be killed, raped or kidnapped. The fear of venturing outside the home means that girls and young women are not attending school. They are not working in the numbers that they used to. They are only working if they absolutely have to.

This in a country that had a female university population nearly equal to that of men only 5 years ago...

Since the beginning of the u.s. occupation, there has been a dramatic increase in sexual assaults on women, not just at the hands of these armed militias, ...but also at the hands of u.s. military personnel...

Iraqi women today for the first time in generations cannot leave their homes without covering their hair. And the price you pay, the warning that you get the first time is that you get to have your hair shaved off...

Women's rights were enshrined in the previous Iraqi constitution, a constitution which held rape to be a capital offense. This previous Iraqi constitution was dissolved by the Bush administration and an interim constitution was brought about without the participation of women. In December 2003 the Iraqi appointed governing council approved resolution 137, which replaced Iraq's prior law, the 1959 Personal Status law, with Sharia law, or Islamic religious law.

For those who do not know, Iraq before the first attack on it in 1991 and the 13 years of deliberate starvation of its people was an advanced society. Its infrastructure rivaled that of most European countries,. There was free public education to all, a 90% literacy rate. Homelessness was unheard of, as was malnutrition. The crime rate was lower than that of any major U.S.. city, there was running water, electricity and, most importantly, no sectarian strife.

No one asked you what religion you were, and no one cared.

Not to negate that it was a dictatorship, but with all due respect to Mr. Bush, we Iraqis had more reason to hate Saddam Hussein than any American. He was our dictator, and it was our job to get rid of him, not the U.S. government's...

Iraqis believe there is an orchestrated plan to destroy Iraqi society, drain it of its human resources and eventually divide it...

I believe that the worsening situation in Iraq is a means to an end, the end being the carving up of Iraq...

I asked Iraqis if they had a message for the American people. None of their messages was without an expletive...

Many see Israel and the U.S. as two heads on the same serpent.

---Marjorie Cohn (1:00:50)
During the Bush administration, from 2001-2005, Israel received 10.5 billion dollars in foreign military financing , the pentagon's biggest military aid program, and 6.3 billion dollars in U.S.. arms deliveries. Israeli is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance.

The US foreign assistance act prohibits the United States from rendering assistance to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. It's a great law, now we have to enforce it.

It is a violation of the US arm control export act to provide weapons to foreign countries that are not used for defensive purposes or to maintain internal security...

Walking in lockstep with Bush, neither one of these resolutions, the house or the senate, calls for a cease fire. Neither one. The senate resolution praises Israel for its restraint, and, have you read these?, the house resolution welcomes Israel's continued efforts to prevent civilian casualties.

The United States was the only country to veto a security council resolution that would have accused Israel of a disproportional use of force in Gaza. This sends a clear message that Israel can do whatever it wants and Washington will support it.

US ambassador John Bolton echoed this sentiment when he said there is no moral equivalence between the civilian casualties from the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and those killed in Israel... In other words, an Israeli life is worth more than a Lebanese life, in the eyes of "our" ambassador to the United Nations...

Bush could stop Israel in its tracks with a snap of his fingers. But why would he? Israel is doing his bidding. Redrawing the map of the Middle East to facilitate U.S. domination. Bush began that task with Iraq, and Israel is following suit with Palestine and Lebanon. Indeed Bush is hoping that Israel's next stop will be Iran or Syria...

The Unites States loyal and consistent support for Israel's policies to the tune of more than 3 billion dollars in aid per year has enabled Israel government to conduct a war of terror against the Palestinian and Lebanese people.

Yassar Arafat once told an American journalist. "I'll tell you what this war has taught us. It taught us that the really enemy is the United States. It is against you we must fight. Not because your bombs killed our people, because you have closed your eyes to what is moral and just."

How many of you are aware that thousands upon thousands of people in countries all over the world have been demonstrating in the streets against Israeli aggression in Palestine and Lebanon?...

The ADC has filed this incredible lawsuit in Detroit on behalf of 38 named plaintiffs who are U.S. citizens, many of whom have gotten back to the U.S. from Lebanon after great hardship, many of whom are stranded in Syria, and many of whom have not even been heard from, and they don't know what happened to them. This lawsuit says that shipping firearms with mass destructive capability and putting U.S. citizens in great danger where there is no cease fire and no indication from Israel that it will not attack in areas where there are U.S. citizens... They ask the court that the defendants Rice and Rumsfeld be enjoined and restrained during the time of the evacuation of U.S. citizens, ... that they be restrained from supplying any further weapons that could put U.S. citizens in danger...

---Jonathan Graubart (1:20:30)
Probably some of you are thinking - why bother to talk about international law? It is not as if our administration seems to care about it all. I am not naive. I certainly know about many practical limitations of international law, I know that it is certainly manipulated often by the powerful again, as we see in the Israel-Lebanon-Gaza case...

I don't consider international law irrelevant in practice... It does provide a global consensus on how to evaluate certain standards.

When can conflict be initiated?
Let's just start with the abduction of the Israel solders... So first with Hamas, crossing from Gaza to abduct Israeli soldiers. As an isolated event, you could possibly consider this illegal, but the better view is that you have to see this in the context of a tit-for-tat or just response of prior provocations from Israel. So this probably would count as a proportionate response.

In Hezbollah's case crossing the border from Lebanon into Israel, the dominant view here is that this one probably is illegal.

Looking then to Israeli's response, massive bombing, the sealing of borders in particular. Certainly the dominant view is that Israel had a right to respond diplomatically. Thats the idea, you go to the United Nations, you make complaints, you pursue diplomatic channels with Lebanon. One could harken back to an older customary version of international law, maybe you could do a proportionate response such as trying to rescue the solders if that's possible or even some sort of proportionate military response... But even I think under very conservative principles that give benefits of doubts, there really is no defense of Israel's response.

Now turning to laws of acceptable warfare...
What about the Hamas and Hezbollah attacks into Israel, basically bombings that kill and injure both Israeli citizens and Israeli soldiers. Here we can turn to customary international humanitarian law and Geneva III provisions... This requires careful discrimination between military and civilian targets. Most of the rocket attacks into Israel are illegal given their indiscriminant nature. Insomuch as they are attacks on military posts, so all the attacks on Israeli soldiers, those are acceptable forms of warfare. Yes some war crimes have been committed, fairly minor relatively speaking, certainly the US-NATO intervention in Kosovo did far worse.

Turning to the Israeli attacks, killing of many civilians, killing of belligerents, devastation to the infrastructure in Gaza and Lebanon and massive displacement of people, beyond a half million in Lebanon. Again the same standards apply... A similar idea that civilian sites like residential areas are prohibited from attack unless it can be proven that they have been converted into military uses. The burden of proof is on the attacker...

These can be subject to great debate in the specifics, but a number of the Israeli actions defy any sort of debate. Certainly collective punishments, which is a pretty explicit effort to impose massive desperate conditions on the civilian population until they give in, is no question illegal. Certainly causing massive displacements, the attack on the power plants, even the United Nations, which is fairly diplomatic about this, has called these war crimes. So I think we can conclude that these are major war crimes...

What can the United Nations do?...

I think the whole idea of the UN Security Council peace enforcement is a nonstarter. It certainly doesn't even have a good record elsewhere, as seen in the Balkans and Somalia.

Option 2 is peacekeeping. Peacekeeping does involve blue helmets under UN control going in after the belligerents have negotiated a cease fire. So the UN troops provide a buffer to keep the peace...

Here it would have to come in after a mutual agreement between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah. We know what has been stopping this, Israel and the United States...

The UN or the Secretary General can serve as a bully pulpit to call for comprehensive negotiations that take seriously a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, not based on greater Jerusalem, that condemns war crimes...

Don't look unfortunately to International law as a knight in shining armor... But I think it can provide guidance and inspiration... And then it comes down to old fashioned political mobilization. This is especially pivotal in the United States to turn the tide...

There is very consistent, robust polling data to show high United States public support for international law and international diplomacy. Perhaps that is something to work with.

---Nasser Barghouti (1:33:30)
About forty years ago, 1967, in six days the Israeli army destroyed the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, occupied all of the Sinai strip, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, killed thousands of soldiers in those Arab armies, all in six days. It accomplished most of that in one day, in less than six hours.

Today after 14 days of punishing bombardment of Lebanon, the Israeli army has not been able to progress more than 10 km into Lebanon.

The good news is that the Middle East has changed, there is a much different force of resistance. The bad news is the way Israel responds to this is much more severe destruction against civilians, targeting civilians.

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