By Teresa Castillo
In a continuing effort to share information, with a goal of gaining a better understanding of the Israel-Palestine issue, Peace Fresno recently brought two individuals to speak in Fresno. In September, Peace Fresno hosted an American freelance journalist, Alison Weir, and in October hosted an Israeli activist, Ronnie Barkan.
Speaking with the visuals of a PowerPoint presentation, Weir explained that she took her first solitary trip to the West Bank and Gaza in February and March 2001 as an individual simply to meet the people and see the region. That visit changed her understanding of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories controlled by Israel.
She has no personal connection to the region and realized then that her perspective of Palestine was based on the misinformation spread through biased U.S. media sources. This caused her to research Israel’s history and the current situation extensively.
Weir was deeply affected by seeing the number of Palestinian children injured and killed due to the Israeli conflicts and wondered why she didn’t know this situation existed as children’s deaths should be newsworthy. This caused her to conduct her first documented study of U.S. media coverage of Israeli and Palestinian children killed as of Sept. 29, 2000— choosing that date as it was the beginning of the Second Intifada (Uprising).
She found that all U.S. media outlets covered the deaths of Israeli children far more frequently and with greater detail, whereas the numbers of Palestinian children killed far exceeded the Israeli deaths but were seldom covered with the importance usually warranted to a child’s death. This disparity caused Weir to conduct more studies, all showing similar levels of information missing from American press coverage, which, in turn, led to her founding an organization, If Americans Knew. The organization provides researched, accurate, complete information for the American public (and the world) to access and is available in printed form.
In founding If Americans Knew, she hoped to help Americans see through the determined cover-up of Israel’s discriminatory practices, human rights violations and the distortion of Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general, leading to a demand for change and truth regarding this region, especially given that Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid ($10 million per day), which causes Americans to be culpable in driving the violence in this region.
Weir recently wrote a book, Against Our Better Judgment: How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel, which compiles her research outlining the unbiased history of U.S.-Israeli relations. Weir has dedicated her life now to exposing the truth about the Occupation of Palestine. Her writings and the organization’s Web site, ifamericansknew.org, for sources of accurate, well-researched information.
Barkan spoke in October. He is an Israeli Jew who co-founded Boycott from Within, which is an association of Jewish and Arab Israelis who have joined the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
Nearly 20 years ago, Barkan refused to complete his mandatory Israeli military service, recognizing that he disagrees with the idea of “us versus them” and can only act on a universal belief for humanity based on equality. His motivation continues to be the inequality of Jewish privilege and entitlement, which Israeli laws ensure, as well as the racist beliefs and teachings within Israel.
He became an activist and speaker for the BDS movement as a way to expose the injustices and insist on equality for all. He explains that the BDS movement does not target individuals; rather, the rights of Palestinians and Israelis alike are respected as the criminal policies of the State of Israel and its complicit affiliates are targeted.
Barkan speaks out as a way to dispel the Israeli propaganda. Growing up in Israel, Barkan experienced firsthand the privileged life of a Jew as well as the propaganda that is taught to all children beginning in kindergarten, that they must protect their lives and the well-being of their country, so military service is mandatory for all and those who do not serve are traitors or a parasite to society.
Speaking against the Israeli propaganda, he cites first the illogical claim that Israel is a Jewish democratic state. How can the state have a democracy if at the very core of Zionist Israel one group of people (the Jews) are identified as superior and all others are discriminated against?
He brought up many examples of Israeli laws and internal systems that ensure the segregation of people, foremost being that the Israeli state ID lists Jewish or Arab as the “nationality” of each individual living inside Israel, whereas the individual’s passport lists Israeli as the nationality and the ID also has the legalistic distinction of “Citizen” if Jewish and “Resident” for all other nationalities, regardless of the birthplace of the individual. These distinctions make it easy to discriminate against and profile non-Jews, effecting daily movement, employment, land use and ownership, as well as citizenship, immigration and naturalization, which furthers the Zionist plan for a Jewish-only state.
Barkan remarked that these laws have created a demography, not a democracy, which will never bring equality or peace to Israel. Therefore, he believes that outside forces from around the world must put economic, cultural and academic pressure on the State of Israel with the BDS movement to cause change and bring equality. Barkan shares a wealth of information on the inner workings and the behaviors of the Zionist powers driving Israel today and is hopeful with the progress toward change that the last decade has brought.
Israel’s Security Forces have increased its economic, cultural, religious, physical and emotional restrictions and oppression on the Palestinians, but U.S. media continues to place blame on the Palestinians for inciting violence. Recently, both sides have had individuals initiating violent attacks, yet the Palestinians continue to have more fatalities due to the armed Israeli Security Forces shooting live ammunition at unarmed individuals and protestors.
Going back several weeks, there has been increased Jewish encroachment at Al Aqsa Mosque and the settler extremist violence against Palestinians including the firebombing of a Palestinian home in Nablas, causing the entire family except one child to die due to their burns.
Incitements can be found on either side, but the bottom line is that without freedom, the Occupied people will resist and an uprising at some point is inevitable. However, in seeing the response from Israeli officials to advise all Jewish citizens to arm themselves and new checkpoints being placed in every neighborhood inside East Jerusalem and the Old City, it seems that the underlying goal of the incitement is to annex more land for Zionist control.
Palestinians’ daily life becomes nearly unbearable with the restrictions, where their economic well-being is at stake leaving their very existence as a form of resistance, while Israel’s military enforcement of these oppressive restrictions are funded with U.S. tax dollars.
Netanyahu seems also to be showing disease with world views changing against the oppressive Occupation. He is beginning to see the BDS movement as an existential threat to Zionist Israel so much that he has appointed his office of Strategic Affairs the task of combatting the effects of the movement.
As Zionist Israel becomes more restrictive with non-Jewish residents and exclusionary with Jewish citizens, Americans will have to recognize what other countries are already reacting to and call for an end to the apartheid actions of Zionist Israel. Only when a plan exists for all people in the land to live equally, with the same set of laws regardless of religion or ethnicity, will there be the hope for peace in Israel-Palestine.
Teresa Castillo works for human rights and social justice with Peace Fresno, Fresno WILPF, and the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley. Contact her at taca_03@ ymail.com