June 2012 Archives

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Poster for Mahmoud Sarsak by Hafez Omar

As European soccer stars compete in the European Championship, the eyes of the world must turn to a soccer star at urgent risk of death: Palestinian national team member Mahmoud Sarsak, 25, has been imprisoned under Israel’s “Unlawful Combatants Law” – the only prisoner so held – without charge or trial – for three years. Sarsak, from Gaza, traveled to the West Bank to join the Palestinian national soccer team for training. Upon his arrival he was abducted by the Israeli occupation military and since that time has been held in Israeli jails, subject to this special version of administrative detention designed especially for Palestinian prisoners from the Gaza Strip. 

Take action now – send a letter to Israeli officials demanding his freedom!

Mahmoud Sarsak launched his own hunger strike demanding freedom following the strikes of administrative detainees Khader Adnan and Hana’ Shalabi, on March 19 of this year. He was joined by thousands of other Palestinian prisoners on April 17. When the prisoners’ general open hunger strike ended on May 14 with an agreement, Sarsak continued his strike; his situation was particularly precarious due to the unique form of administrative detention under which he is held.

 According to Physicians for Human Rights and Addameer,

Despite the urgency of his condition, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has denied Mahmoud access to independent doctors from PHR-Israel until today. The IPS also refuses to transfer him to a civilian hospital for proper treatment. Following today’s visit, the PHR-Israel doctor reported that Mahmoud has experienced extreme loss of muscle tissue and drastic weight loss. He has lost 33 percent of his body weight, from an original weight of 76 kilos down to his present weight of 51 kilos. He also suffers from frequent incidents of fainting and loss of consciousness, in addition to lapses in memory. The doctor further reported that Mahmoud is in danger of pulse disruptions (arrhythmias) that are endangering his life.

Palestinian human rights organizations have urgently called for international action and solidarity for Mahmoud Sarsak – and for his fellow continuing hunger strikers, Akram Al-Rikhawi, on his 57th day of hunger strike, and Samer al-Barq, who renewed his hunger strike (following his participation in the April 17-May 14 general strike) on May 21 in protest of Israeli continual violations of the agreement – rather than being released as promised, his administrative detention was renewed.

Sarsak and Rikhawi have released a letter to the world, calling for action on their cases, as translated by the Electronic Intifada:

This is an urgent and final distress call from captivity, slow and programmed death inside the cells of so-called Ramle Prison hospital, that you know that your sons and brothers are still struggling against death and you pay no attention to them and do not remember their cause – as if, after the end of the general strike all the demands of the prisoners were met.

We are still here, continuing our open-ended hunger strike and that battle has not endeddespite 78 days of strike for one of us, and 59 days for the other.

Regretfully, we thought that you would support us in our hunger strike, but instead you have stood on our wounds and our pain.

 From here, we cry out to you, to our brothers, to dignified people, that you bear your responsibility, for after God, we have no one but you and the freedom loving people of the world to bring victory to our cause.

 Second: As the hunger strike continues to erode our bodies and sap what is left of our strength, we cry out to you to help us in our battle on every level and field, local, regional and international, especially in the media, and especially Palestinian television which represents the Palestinian people.

And also in the newspapers, radio and electronic media, so that our voices can reach the freedom loving people of the world and expose this entity, and for the victory of our cause.

We say: there is still enough time and the support that comes late is better than that which does not come at all. It is better that you receive us alive and victorious rather than as lifeless bodies in black bags.

Therefore we two hunger strikers remain on our strike, Mahmoud Sarsak who has endured 78 days, and Sheikh Akram Rikhawi who has endured 59 days and was already ill, having spent 8 years in Ramle Prison clinic suffering from illnesses, and who now struggles against death.

 We inform you that we will remain on our strike until all our demands are met and we will not submit to the demands of the Prison Service regardless of what we suffer in restrictions, provocations, and bargaining, and we will not accept promises and half-measures despite the deterioration of our health and our entry into difficult and dangerous situations, especially since we have lost more than 25kg and 18kg.

Our people, our leaders in Gaza, in the West Bank and outside, and freedom loving people of the world, we cry out to you, and to all people in the world who believe in the justice of our cause: do not abandon us to the vindictive hands of the jailers to take what they want from our frail bodies.

You are the ones able to support us for victory in our battle.

Your brothers who remain on hunger strike until victory or martrydom,

 Mahmoud Sarsak

Akram Rikhawi

Sarsak’s family has also joined in a video call for his freedom HERE 

Protests have taken place across Europe and more action is urgently needed. As the world’s eyes are on the best in soccer, take action for a true football hero – Mahmoud Sarsak – whose life is on the line for his freedom, and for dignity and justice for all Palestinians.

 TAKE ACTION! 

  1. Sign a letter demanding the Israeli state transfer Mahmoud Sarsak, Akram Rikhawi and Samer al-Barq immediately to hospitals and release them. Tell the Israeli Prison Services that the world is watching! Click hereto sign. 
  2.  Join a protest or demonstration for Palestinian prisoners. Many groups and organizations are holding events – join one or announce your own. Organizing an event, action or forum on Palestinian prisoners on your city or campus? Use this form to contact us and we will post the event widely. If you need suggestions, materials or speakers for your event, please contact usat samidoun@samidoun.ca…. 
  3. Contact your government officials and demand an end to international silence and complicity with the repression of Palestinian political prisoners. 

In Canada, Call the office of John Baird, Foreign Minister, and demand an end to Canadian support for Israel and justice for Palestinian prisoners, at : 613-990-7720; Email: bairdj@parl.gc.ca….

 In the US, call the office of Elizabeth Jones, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs (1.202.647.7209). Demand that Elizabeth Jones bring this issue urgently to his counterparts in Israel.

In Australia, write to the office of Bob Carr, Foreign Minister and demand an end to Australian support for Israel and justice for Palestinian prisoners HERE

Samidoun – Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network

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This just in from The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF), courtesy of the World Council of Churches:

June 2012

PIEF’s strategy has always included initiatives geared to ending public support for the occupation. The opposition against the occupation of the Palestinian Territories is growing both inside the state of Israel and internationally. In facilitating an end to public support, PIEF has focused on public education, economic measures and other concrete acts of solidarity directed at changing situations on-the-ground and also changing public perceptions around the world.

In the last few weeks, PIEF has received encouraging news on “economic measures” taken up by the international community. Many of these reports have appeared on the PIEF website in recent weeks. PIEF now reports to its constituents some of the recent steps as regards economic measures:

Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC) divests from caterpillar

Two weeks ago, the Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC) divested from Caterpillar. They assert that their action is one which upholds “the core commitment of the Society of Friends to peace”. In divesting 900,000 US dollars in shares of Caterpillar, they made a pertinent point of being categorical opponents of armaments – Caterpillar being a producer and seller of weaponized bulldozers to Israel.

After a roller coaster United Methodist divestment campaign ending in partial victory, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is so excited to announce that the Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC), which holds over 200 million US dollars in assets, has divested from Caterpillar! FFC divested 900,000 US dollars in shares of Caterpillar, which continues to feel the pressure from all sides for its production and sale of weaponized bulldozers to Israel, used to violate Palestinian rights and destroy Palestinian homes, schools, hospitals, olive groves, and lives.

The Ann Arbor Friends Meeting who initiated the call to divest described the decision as “a significant step since FFC handles investments for over 250 Quaker meetings, schools, organizations, trusts, and endowments around the US”. FFC has a “zero tolerance for weapons and weapons components,” and said, “We are uncomfortable defending our position on this stock.”

FFC is not the first Quaker institution to avoid companies that support the Israeli occupation. In March 2008, the Board of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a US Campaign member group, approved an Israel/Palestine investment screen, stating: “Investments should not be made in any company that provides products or services, including financial services, to Israeli governmental or military bodies… or to Israeli or Palestinian organizations or groups that are used to facilitate or undertake violent acts against civilians or violations of international law.”

For more information, read blog post by the Peace Resources Committee of Illinois Yearly Meeting

FinnChurchAid and EAPPI

FinnChurchAid and EAPPI Finland have launched a consumer campaign on settlement goods demanding that the government ban labelling of settlement products as “Made in Israel”. Campaign materials include a leaflet and postcard that people can give to their local shop managers or drop to customer feedback boxes in shops, a model letter to the headquarters of supermarket chains, and an online petition targeting several ministers and asking them to introduce compulsory labelling and to act on companies co-operating with settlements.

For more information visit the EAPPI Finland website (in Finnish) or read the PIEF news article

United Methodists take action on divestments

Delegates to The United Methodist Church’s assembly approved petitions dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They also called for efforts from the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits to explore “serious peace-making strategies in Israel and Palestine, including positive economic and financial investment in Palestine.” The petition asks for United Methodist general agencies and boards to ensure companies adopt United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The United Methodist Church condemned the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

Despite the failure to obtain approval for divestments that targeted Hewlett Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar based on the “role of their products in Israeli occupation”, delegates approved a report that called on the general Board of Pension and Health benefits to move towards “serious peace making strategies”.

Kairos Palestine commended the United Methodist Church (UMC) for its important steps toward the defence of Palestinian rights and peace with justice. They stated that “although we had hoped that the General Conference would have courageously crossed this concrete step, we trust that the international community is becoming increasingly aware of these corporations’ complicity with Israel’s human rights violations, and we applaud the UMC for raising awareness through its support for a (general) boycott”.

For more read the UMC-GBCS news article and Kairos Palestine reaction (pdf)

Swiss supermarket giant Migros steps in with stringent labelling regulations

In a report from the Times of Israel, we are informed that Switzerland’s largest retail chain “would join a growing list of countries and sellers refusing to mark goods produced in the West Bank as “Made in Israel.” This move follows close on the heels of decisions in South Africa and Denmark where firm steps were initiated to stop labelling products made in the settlements as Israeli. Migros described the decisions as ones taken “in the interests of greater transparency, and (is) designed to help the customers to make an informed choice”.

Palestine’s Christians expressed support for decisions by the governments of South Africa and Denmark, as well as from Switzerland’s largest retail chain Migros, to distinguish products made in the illegal West Bank settlements from those made in Israel, a statement by Kairos Palestine said on Friday. Describing the decisions as “historic,” Kairos Palestine said, “We believe that this decision is a positive step into the right direction and we hope more countries and companies will follow this initiative.”

For more, read an article in the news portal swissinfo.ch and the comment by Kairos Palestine (pdf)

South Africa Trade and Industry Ministry announces labelling measures

The South Africa Trade and Industry Ministry declared its intent to “ban local importers from selling products from West Bank settlements with a label indicating that they were made in Israel”. A one year-long campaign launched by Palestinian organizations and South African human rights groups preceded this decision.

As in many cases, countries and companies are not necessarily banning the sale of products from settlements, but obliging sellers to apply a special label noting that the product originates from beyond the Green Line.

For more, read an article in ynetnews.com

Presbyterian Church in the USA to propose Responsibility Through Investment

According to the website of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, “The General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) is recommending that the upcoming 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) divest the church of its stock in three companies ‘until they have ceased profiting from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine.’” The three companies are Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard.

The report says: “At issue are their participation in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the construction of the ‘security barrier’ between Israel and Palestinian territory, and the destruction of Palestinian homes, roads and fields to make way for the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which have been declared illegal under international law.”

“We have run out of hope that these companies are willing to change their corporate practices [in Israel-Palestine],” said the Rev. Brian Ellison, a Kansas City pastor and chair of the denomination’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI).

For more information, read the PCUSA news article

PIEF comment

PIEF acknowledges and recognizes the dedicated moments of preparation and the political pressures that the people behind these decisions have been through. The founding call of PIEF in Amman Jordan called for “costly solidarity” and that’s just what these steps are. The plea from Palestinian Christians to their brothers and sisters in Christ in Amman still echoes: “Enough is enough. No more words without deeds. It is time for action.” In pursuance of the summons to “costly discipleship”, churches increasingly refuse to remain silent in the face of Palestinian suffering.

PIEF encourages and urges its constituents to continue their courageous and innovative action for justice and peace.

In solidarity,

Ranjan Solomon
Consultant
Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum

          

The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) is an international, inter-church advocacy initiative for peace in Israel and Palestine. The PIEF Newsletter is distributed by the World Council of Churches. You are registered to receive it at the address jk@zeta.org….

 

Click in order to change the selection of mailings that you receive or unsubscribe from all mailings distributed by the WCC (including newsletters of the Ecumenical Water Network, PIEF, EAPPI, EHAIA etc.)

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway.
Media contact: media@wcc-coe.org…; +41 79 507 6363
Visiting address: 150 route de Ferney, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

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Ibrahim Barzak, Associated Press, Thu, Jun 14, 2012

Gaza City, Gaza Strip (AP) – Fifty international aid groups and U.N. agencies on Thursday urged Israel to open Gaza’s borders, saying its border blockade violates international law and indiscriminately harms Gaza’s 1.6 million people.

The appeal was issued on the fifth anniversary of the imposition of the blockade, triggered by the violent takeover of Gaza by the Islamic militant Hamas in June 2007. Two years ago, Israel started allowing imports of most consumer goods, but continues to ban virtually all Gaza exports and travel through Israeli crossings.

Israel has said the blockade is meant to prevent Hamas from building up its military arsenal and Gaza militants from carrying out attacks on Israel. The Hamas founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel, and over its 25-year history, the group has killed hundreds of Israelis in shootings and bombings.

However, international aid agencies say the blockade mainly punishes ordinary Gazans by crippling the territory’s economy, forcing foreign donors to spend money on humanitarian relief instead of investing in the economy.

“What Gaza needs is real development, but because of the blockade we are obliged to concentrate on humanitarian work,” Filippo Grandi, head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, told reporters in Gaza on Thursday. UNRWA is Gaza’s biggest foreign agency, supporting some 1.2 million refugees and their descendants in the territory.

Spending on emergency needs, such as food and medicine, does not address fundamental problems, Grandi said. “In fact, it’s a waste of money, but a waste we are obliged to make because of the blockade,” he added. He said his agency is running low on funds and, among other things, had to cancel its popular summer camps for tens of thousands of Gaza children.

In its six-decade history in Gaza, UNRWA’s main roles have been supplying refugees with basic food products and operating schools.

One-third of Gaza’s labor force is unemployed, and exports are at only 5 percent of what they were in 2007, he said.

The easing of import restrictions spurred some growth, but mainly because Gaza started from a very low baseline, Grandi said, noting that the per capita GDP in 2011 remained at 10 percent below the 2005 level.

About 60 percent of Gazans are under 18 and youth unemployment stands at 51 percent, according to U.N. figures.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said restrictions remain in place because Hamas has not dropped its violent agenda. Over the years, Gaza-based militants have fired thousands of rockets at southern Israel, though since a major round of fighting more than three years ago, Hamas has largely held its fire. Smaller groups, however, continue to fire rockets sporadically into Israel.

Israel’s government holds Hamas responsible for all violence from Gaza.

“The fundamental reason for the lack of economic development in Gaza is that the extremist Hamas regime puts its jihadist radical agenda above and beyond the interests of the people of Gaza,” Regev said.

Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but maintained control over access to the territory by sea and air and through Gaza-Israel land crossings. In June 2006, after Hamas captured an Israeli soldier, Israel began tightening restrictions before the full blockade was imposed a year later.

Egypt went along with Israel until the fall of President Hosni Mubarak last year. Since then, Egypt has allowed more Gazans to enter through its border crossing, but continues to impose some restrictions.

Among the signatories of Thursday’s appeal were 43 aid groups and seven U.N. agencies, including the World Health Organization.

Original link: news.yahoo.com…

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A press release from Gush Shalom:

June 19, 2012

It took three months of hunger strike before decision was reached to release the Palestinians soccer player held without trial and without charges. In this affair the state of Israel scored an own goal

It is good that the decision makers came to their senses at the last moment and agreed to set free soccer player Mahmoud Sarsak, member of the Palestinian National Team – averting his imminent death in the Israeli prison. It is a pity that it took three months of hunger strike, which might leave its marks on his health for life. The fact that it was now agreed to release him casts grave doubts on the secret and unknowable ‘security considerations’ which had led to Sarsak’s detention in the first place and which have now suddenly evaporated and disappeared.

Those responsible for this detention have clearly scored an Israeli own goal.  A senior Palestinian soccer player was detained and held in Israeli prisons for years, without trial, without charges and with no evidence given of any illegal act. The State of Israel exposed itself to sharp protests by such renowned soccer players as Eric Cantona, who just a few years ago held a friendly visit to Israel and participated in a tournament at Netanya and has now become a harsh critic of Israeli policies. The International Football Federation felt obliged to speak up and use its influence to save a Palestinian soccer player  whose life was in danger. It is worth remembering that the global sports boycott on Apartheid South Africa began when it became clear that the policy of oppression and discrimination against Blacks had direct and tangible effects in sports. More generally, it is worth remembering that the occupation, lasting already for forty-five years, entails daily acts of oppression against the Palestinians, an oppression which is inevitably leading Israel to international isolation and the status of a pariah nation.

Contact: Adam Keller, Gush Shalom Spokeperson +972-54-2340749

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A press release from Jewish Voice for Peace:

For Immediate Release

Caterpillar Removed from TIAA-CREF’s Social Choice Funds

Victory for Pro-divestment Advocates

June 21, 2012- Pension fund giant TIAA-CREF has removed Caterpillar, Inc. from its Social Choice Funds portfolio. As of May 1, 2012, financial data posted on TIAA-CREF’s website valued Social Choice Funds shares in Caterpillar at $72,943,861. Today it is zero.

“We applaud this decision,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, Director of Campaigns at Jewish Voice for Peace and National Coordinator of the We Divest Campaign (www.wedivest.org…). “It’s long past time that TIAA-CREF began living up to its motto of ‘Financial Services for the Greater Good’ when it comes to the people of Israel and Palestine.”

Since 2010, We Divest has been urging TIAA-CREF to drop Caterpillar and other companies profiting from and facilitating Israel’s 45-year-old military occupation and colonization of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.

“By selling weaponized bulldozers to Israel, Caterpillar is complicit in Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian human rights,” said Rabbi Wise. “We’re glad to see that the socially responsible investment community appears to be recognizing this and is starting to take appropriate action.”

Caterpillar has come under increasing criticism from human rights organizations in recent years for continuing to supply bulldozers to Israel, which uses them to demolish Palestinian civilian homes and destroy crops and agricultural land in the occupied territories, and to build illegal, Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land.

In the coming weeks, many will be watching the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly taking place in Pittsburgh, where church commissioners will vote on a motion to divest from Caterpillar and two other companies, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard, that remain in TIAA-CREF’s Social Choice Funds.

Last month, Friends Fiduciary, a Quaker institution, divested $900,000 worth of shares in Caterpillar stating: “We are uncomfortable defending our position on this stock.”

What Others are Saying:

Omar Barghouti, Palestinian human rights activist and founding member of the BDS movement said, “CAT is out of the bag of TIAA-CREF’s socially responsible companies thanks to the inspiring campaign waged by JVP and its partners, with vision, persistence and tactical skillfulness. Palestinian civil society, represented by the BDS National Committee (BNC), deeply appreciates these efforts and believes that more pressure will ultimately convince TIAA-CREF to fulfill its basic moral obligation to finally divest from CAT and all other corporations that are complicit in Israel’s grave and escalating violations of international law and human rights.”

Cindy and Craig Corrie, Rachel Corrie’s parents said, “For nearly a decade, we have witnessed human rights abuses committed with Caterpillar equipment in the West Bank and Gaza and have joined thousands who have asked the company to stop supporting these actions.  We are hugely gratified that TIAA-CREF has taken this step.  When governments and corporations avoid responsibility, we must refuse to profit from their abuses. Our family salutes and thanks TIAA-CREF for this decision that moves all of us closer to accountability.”

Jennifer Bing, Middle East Program Director of the Chicago office of the American Friends Service Committee, a member organization of the We Divest Campaign Coordinating Committee, said, “As a TIAA-CREF client institution which has divested from Caterpillar ourselves, we are encouraged to see this first, great step toward creating a complete occupation-free portfolio that my colleagues and I are eager to have as an investment option.”

Samia Shafi of Adalah-NY, a member organization of the We Divest Campaign Coordinating Committee, said,  “This small, positive first step shows that TIAA-CREF is not immune to pressure for human rights for Palestinians. Our We Divest Campaign will continue pressuring TIAA-CREF until we win full divestment from all companies in TIAA-CREF’s portfolio that profit from violations of Palestinian human rights.”

Anna Baltzer, National Organizer with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation — a coalition of more than 380 organizations around the country — and a member group of the We Divest Campaign Coordinating Committee, stated: “After years of Caterpillar refusing to change its practices, we are gratified that the U.S. corporation and others like it are seeing that support for Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies comes at a dear cost. There can be no more business as usual with such institutions. The tide is turning.”

Background

  • The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate with Caterpillar before calling for selective divestment. MRTI’s report on engagement with companies on Israel/Palestine-related issues noted that:

    Caterpillar’s complicity in non-peaceful pursuits led the 2010 General Assembly to denounce the company’s profiting from involvement in human rights violations. Sadly, despite significant support for the shareholder resolution calling for a review of its human rights policy, Caterpillar has become even more intransigent. It has cut off all communication with the religious shareholders. Caterpillar continues to accept no responsibility for the end use of their products.

  • In 2004, Amnesty International urged Caterpillar to take action in response to the documented use of its bulldozers to violate international law in the occupied territories, noting that “thousands of families have had their homes and possessions destroyed under the blades of the Israeli army’s US-made Caterpillar bulldozers.”
  • Human Rights Watch, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Presbyterian Church USA have all made similar recommendations to Caterpillar, to no avail.
  • In 2003, a Caterpillar bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier killed American activist Rachel Corrie while she nonviolently protested the demolition of Palestinian homes in the town of Rafah, in Gaza.

P.S. The CREF shareholder meeting is just around the corner on July 17th, in New York City. If you are in NYC, let us know if you’d like to be part of the action that day. If you are not in NYC, that day is still a great day for organizing an action at your local TIAA-CREF office. As always, there will be opportunities for online activism. Stay tuned for more!