Pocan E1 Letter

The Honorable Antony J. Blinken Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Blinken:

November 22, 2021

We write to express our immense concern about the Israeli Government’s efforts to advance approval of settlement construction in the 12 square-kilometer E-1 area near Jerusalem in the West Bank.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank further entrench the occupation and undermine the prospects ofatwo-statesolution. SettlementsdiminishtheviabilityofacontiguousPalestinianstate,thereby also threatening the future of a negotiated two-state solution that guarantees the civil and political rights, safety, and self-determination of both peoples. Furthermore, settlements are a violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits the transfer of civilians by an occupying power into the territory it occupies.

Prior to the Trump presidency, U.S. Administrations from both parties have held that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are “inconsistent with international law” in accordance with 1978 U.S. State Department guidance. Unfortunately, there was a 28 percent increase in West Bank settlement construction during the previous Administration. The recent efforts by the Israeli Government to advance the approval to build 3,400 housing units in the highly sensitive area known as E-1 pose an irreconcilable challenge to a lasting peace solution between Israel and the Palestinians. Frozen for years, plans to build settlements in E-1 have been referred to as “doomsday settlements” because they would threaten the territorial contiguity necessary for a viable independent Palestinian state by dividing the north of the West Bank from the south, as well as the West Bank from East Jerusalem. E-1 is a vital corridor for Palestinian communal life, connecting Ramallah and the northern West Bank to Bethlehem and the southern West Bank.

To ensure the prospects of peace, we urge the State Department to exert diplomatic pressure to prevent settlement construction in E-1. In addition, we request an update regarding the State Department’s steps to discourage the advancement of settlements in E-1 by December 15, 2021.

Sincerely,

Mark Pocan, Member of Congress

Don Beyer, Member of Congress

Earl Blumenauer, Member of Congress 

André Carson Member of Congress

Joaquin Castro, Member of Congress

Steve Cohen, Member of Congress

Judy Chu, Member of Congress

Debbie Dingell, Member of Congress

Anna G. Eshoo, Member of Congress

Jared Huffman, Member of Congress

Sara Jacobs, Member of Congress

Pramila Jayapal, Member of Congress

Eddie Bernice Johnson, Member of Congress

Mondaire Jones, Member of Congress

Barbara Lee, Member of Congress

Andy Levin, Member of Congress

Alan Lowenthal, Member of Congress

James P . McGovern, Member of Congress

Eleanor Holmes Norton, Member of Congress

Donald M. Payne, Jr., Member of Congress

Chellie Pingree, Member of Congress

David E. Price, Member of Congress

Jan Schakowsky, Member of Congress

Maxine Waters, Member of Congress

Peter Welch, Member of Congress

John Yarmuth, Member of Congress

Legislative Round-Up: November 19, 2021

1. Bills, Resolutions, Letters
2. FY22 NDAA – Senate
3. On the Record

*Brought to you in cooperation with Americans for Peace Now, where the Round-Up was born!

New FMEP programming this week:

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Hard Questions, Tough Answers: The Iran nuclear talks resume (November 22, 2021)

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Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

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HQ_TA_Banner_slot_logo

Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

Continue reading

Legislative Round-Up: November 12, 2021

1. Bills, Resolutions, Letters
2. Recess Travel to Israel/Palestine
3. On the Record

*Brought to you in cooperation with Americans for Peace Now, where the Round-Up was born!

Special note: On October 22, 2021, the Israeli government declared six Palestinian human rights groups to be “terror organizations” – a designation that effectively outlaws the groups, criminalizes their work under Israeli law and enables Israel to seize assets, arrest staff, prohibit funding, and punish public expressions of support and solidarity. With this terror designation, the Israeli government has escalated its longtime efforts to crush Palestinian organizations that document Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights and seek to hold Israel accountable. FMEP is proud to present a compendium of resources on this issue (which we are adding to every day).

New additions this week:

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Standing Together Against Hate

At APN our mission is to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. We do so in solidarity and partnership with many people and organizations, including both Jewish and Muslim groups. And solidarity means that we stand together. This is why we support the Combating International Islamophobia Act.

This bill was first suggested in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in July by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and was signed by 23 additional members of Congress. The bill – introduced in October – requires the State Department to create a Special Envoy for monitoring and combating Islamophobia, as well as to include state-sponsored Islamophobic violence and impunity in the Department's annual human rights reports. This position would be a parallel to the existing Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Global Anti-Semitism, so there is already a model for this type of ombudsman in the Administration.

APN spoke up in support of this act before its introduction and we continue to encourage members of Congress to co-sponsor it.

Just as the US needs to rise up against all forms of antisemitism, we have an obligation to do the same around Islamophobia. Muslim Americans (and Muslims around the globe) deserve the same protection and support as do Jews, and for that matter, any group that faces rampant and sometimes violent discrimination and hatred.

As I said in the press release announcing the bill, “Just as it is necessary to have a special envoy to combat antisemitism, it is vitally important that the United States establish a Special Envoy to combat the scourge of Islamophobia. We stand in solidarity with Muslim victims of hatred and bigotry and we urge Congress to pass this important bill.”

We are proud of our partnership with Rep. Schakowsky and Rep. Omar, and are proud to support the Combating International Islamophobia Act. We hope you are too.

So please consider making a gift to APN today to help us continue fighting for what’s right on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Make a contribution to this work here.

Our advocacy for peace is inseparable from the work of fighting for tolerance, equality and justice. We’re in this together, and rely on your support and commitment to envision and work towards a better world for all.

 

PeaceCast #211: Encountering Palestinians (Transcript)

Ori Nir 0:10
Welcome to this episode of PeaceCast, Americans for Peace Now's podcast, it's November 11. I'm your host, Ori Nir, and with me in person in Jerusalem is Leah Solomon. She is the chief education officer of Encounter. We're here to talk about Encounter and she's here to tell us what it is. I've actually wanted to host Encounter for a long time, we tried to find a time that works for both of us, didn't work. And then on this current visit to Jerusalem just a few afternoons ago, I ran into her at a coffee shop here on Emek Refaim street of the German Colony. And here we are. Jerusalem is a big construction site, there's dust and there's loads in the air everywhere return and the Germany colColony is not an exception. So I apologize in advance. There's going to be background noise to that because seems to be in the the hiatus now, guess we're lucky now. Thanks. Thanks for joining us.

Leah Solomon 1:06
It's great to be here.

Ori Nir 1:07
I usually ask our guests to introduce themselves. So if you may just tell us a little bit about who you are. And what's brought you to Jerusalem. And then we'll talk a little bit about the work that you do. But I know you grew up in the United States, right?

Leah Solomon 1:24
I grew up in Los Angeles. But I've been here since 1999, like more than 20 years now. I came actually just a couple years after graduating college and kind of decided I wanted to, I wanted to work in the field of pluralistic Jewish education, and hadn't ever really done text learning before. I had a pretty decent Jewish education growing up, but I came here to learn I studied at the Conservative Yeshiva, and then at the Pardes Institute, that was for four years, and by then I had met my husband and and here we are. That was post-college. Yeah, yeah, I worked in Boston. For two years after graduating college helped open what's now Gann Academy, pluralistic Jewish day school, was one of the first, there's now a number, but then, you know, it opened in 1997. And it was one of the first pluralistic Jewish day schools, to high schools in the US.

Ori Nir 2:24
And when did you join Encounter?

Leah Solomon 2:25
So I've been with Encounter since 2015, six and a half years ago, shortly after I had, you know, to recall the last Gaza war, in the summer of 2014. I had, it was, it was a real turning point for me, between the, you know, running to the bomb shelters with my kids who were younger than the trauma that they experienced. And, you know, really feeling like, it was very hard. I'm thinking about, you know, we had only a few sirens here in Jerusalem, thinking about people in Tel Aviv, or on the Gaza border, the trauma that they and their kids were experiencing. And at the same time seeing the, you know, the other station in Gaza, our government, even by our own governments counts, you know, about 1300, non combatants, non terrorists, just people killed in Gaza, and also really just frightened by the, honestly, the racism that I saw within Israeli society, the kinds of comments and those three things combined, I kind of felt like, you know, I live here by choice. My whole family has American passports, we couldn't go back to the States, unlike most Israelis and Palestinians who are here, you know, don't have another passport. I sort of said to myself, like, if I'm going to keep living here and keep raising my kids in this reality, I need to work in this field. That was kind of the turning point,

Ori Nir 3:58
I guess, I'm just thinking I talk to a lot of people, obviously, who are involved in work that has to do with these really fascinating conflicts and wars and conflicts always punctuates their, their careers and their personal lives and so on. And I find more and more with with, you know, younger people that 2014 is is a big turning point for many people. So, yeah, so let's, let's talk a little bit about Encounter, just the kind of basics, when it was founded and what it does, and so on, and then we'll get a little more into the details.

Leah Solomon 4:33
Sure. So encounter was founded in 2005. It was actually founded by two rabbinical students who had you know, we're spending their year in Israel, like most non Orthodox, rabbinical students, certainly at the time. Two female rabbinical students, one from JTS, from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and one from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. And they both had connections with Palestinians from you know, outside of rabbinical school and they were going to visit Bethlehem meeting up with their, their friends or colleagues. And they saw that their, their fellow students, this was, you know, 2005, the wall, the barrier was in the process of being built. The Intifada, the Second Intifada was just kind of starting to wind down but there was still a lot of fear. And they saw that these experiences that they were having of going to Bethlehem a meeting with Palestinians seeing Palestinian realities of this this intensive year in Israel, their fellow students had, we're not having this a series isn't really had no way to have these experiences. So they put together at the beginning, you know, a bus of - wasn't an organization yet - a bus of mostly rabbinical students. I, full disclosure, I actually participated in the second Encounter program as a participant, yeah, 16 years ago now. And they brought a busload of mostly rabbinical students to Bethlehem. And it kind of developed from there for the first. Just over 10 years of Encounter's existence, we worked mostly with students, there were times when we worked with more senior leaders as well. But for the most part, our target audience was young, emerging Jewish leaders. And we brought about 2000 students, student-aged people to the West Bank, to meet with Palestinians, to understand Palestinian perspective, to see Palestinianrealities on the ground. And in 2016, we made a pretty major shift. We had to date run mostly short term programs, I think the longest program we'd run was just under two days. And in 2016, we decided, you know, it really, it's wonderful to bring emerging leaders, but for a lot of reasons, and particularly around the impact. It makes, you know, what, what if we were to bring people who are currently major leaders within the American Jewish community. And so we shifted toward a more intensive model, we started running what we call intensive seminars, for the West Bank and East Jerusalem for senior executive level American Jewish leaders for four days, and basically, our goals, you know, our encounter, I should have started with this perhaps, but Encounter is a nonpartisan educational organization. So when I say that, you know, educational, I think it's pretty straightforward. We're not an advocacy organization, we're not an activist organization. Our goal is for our goal is to cultivate more informed, more courageous, more resilient Jewish leadership on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. And when I say we're nonpartisan, what I mean by that is not a political, because obviously, the subject matter, everything we deal with is incredibly political. But we are not, you know, it goes back to the educational piece, that non advocacy, we're not we're not here to promote a particular political policy solution, not on the macro level, we're not advocating for to state one state some other formal solution or on the micro level, you know, particular policies. But we are trying to cultivate more constructive Jewish leadership leading toward an eventual resolution of the conflict in which all parties will live with rights, with justice with dignity in this land, so I can think more about that, but--

Ori Nir 8:42
I want to start breaking it down. Yeah. You know, you talked about creating or forging a more, as if I remember all the adjectives, courageous, resilient leadership on this issue. What does that mean?

Leah Solomon 8:58
What does that mean? So, first of all, I should say, and we can get back to this later, up until 2019, we worked almost exclusively with American Jewish leaders. And in 2019, we sort of quietly started working also with Israeli Jewish leaders, so we can talk about that as well. Yeah, so we could talk a little bit about that. It's still very new for us, because obviously, got interrupted a bit started in late in mid 2019. And, of course, the pandemic hit shortly after that. I think it is not, this is an issue that it is not easy to lead on. You know, when I when I think about courageous leadership, like it's much easier for many, many Jewish leaders. I've heard so many people say this to me, it's easier to just not touch Israel, because no matter what I say, no matter what I do, somebody is going to get upset. It's also that's one reason I think it feels risky. People are afraid if they say anything that sounds controversial, which almost any thing in some way is going to be controversial for someone, they take a stand around the Israeli Palestinian conflict. You know, there are a lot of very real risks involved. They might lose constituents, congregants, students, parents might get angry in their schools, you know, donors. So I think that's one reason it takes a lot of courage. People also, I think it's a, it's a hard issue to lead on. I think people don't know, you know, it often feels like it's an intractable situation. You know, what, what can I as an American Jew do? What can I actually do? And so I think there's a sense like, Yeah, this is important to me, but I want to actually do things where I feel like I can have an impact on I don't know how to have an impact here. I think there's a tremendous sense of loneliness, because people, because often leaders shy away from talking about these issues in real deep kinds of ways. And certainly getting into the stickiness, the thorny issues, I think people who do feel like it's hard to find colleagues who are willing to do so. So part of our goal is really just to get people talking about this, really looking and listening to perspectives that they might disagree with, we talk a lot about, you know, I mentioned resilience, we talk a lot about resilient listening, really just being able cultivating the practice of both of sort of rigorous discipline of curiosity. But also cultivating the ability to hear perspectives that we deeply disagree with, both within our own, you know, from Palestinians, but also within our own community. And all of this just coming from a place of recognizing, and we can talk more about the values that underpin our work. But recognizing that the starting point is that Jews are in this land to stay, we're not going anywhere, I think, you know, with all of the threats that we face, they are not, most of them are not really certainly not from Palestinians, existential threats, right. And likewise, Palestinians are not going anywhere, there are somewhere between four and 6 million Palestinians living in this land, depending on how you count, maybe more when you count also Palestinian citizens of Israel, we have to find a way to share this land. And if we're going to do that, we need leaders who are going to help us get there. You know, we can either live by the sword forever, as our former prime minister has stated, or we can find another way. So, you know, I think that's why the leadership on this issue is so important to us.

Ori Nir 12:38
You know, for full disclosure for listeners, I participated in one of the intense programs. And I'm going to actually tell you a couple of, tell our listeners a couple of stories, a couple of experiences from from that tour. But I want to use that in order to ask you some questions about your modus operandi about, you know, one of the things that really impressed me, and I wanted to ask you about the rationale of that is, you know, you mentioned the issue of values, Jewish values and Jewish content, and you create a sort of a infrastructure almost or or foundation of Jewish values upon which you build the program. And one of the asking a little bit about, you know, why that is, what does that was achieved?

Leah Solomon 13:32
Yeah. So I'll, I'll share a couple of our really our core values that we talk about a lot. So I will start by saying so often in these conversations, we jumped straight to the end of the conversation, right? Do you believe in two states? Do you believe that Palestinians should have such and such right? We get into it, we start some policy conversation almost. And often, those conversations don't lead anywhere, because, you know, I've already staked out my position, you've already staked out your position, and then we just try to prove whose, you know, whose position is better? I think for us, first of all, we are actually guided by those values. You know, we can we wake up in the morning because when I, myself and our staff like we wake up in the morning because we care deeply about the values that guide our organization. And that's what motivates us to do this work. But I also think that pedagogically by starting with values, right? That is some values based conversation. Too often opens up opportunities for conversations with people that if we started on the policy level, we would very quickly find ourselves disagreeing, but when we start with values, it becomes much clearer that there's a lot that we share, and then the question becomes, okay, how do we most, how do we best move forward in a way that instantiates those values? So I'll give you three of our core values to start with, which I think I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of our participants agree with all three of these values. I'm hoping also your listeners, right, so those three values, our first value is have it style, a deep love of the Jewish people and commitment to the Jewish people, for us that's where this work starts, right it starts: I care as an American Jew, an American Israeli Jew, who's lived here for you know, two decades is raising my children here, and my kids start, they're all boys, they're all gonna, my oldest will be drafted in three years, like, I live here. And I'm raising them here because of a deep connection to the Jewish people for this land, a commitment to the ability of the Jewish of Jews to build a secure and thriving future in this land. That's a value that I think every participant that comes on our program agrees with, in one way or another, right, we might define that differently. But that's a really deep commitment. And our second value is to vote to adopt human dignity. Right? So right of all human beings to live in dignity, with everything that I mean, with rights, with freedom, with equality with justice, etc. And, you know, as a as a value, as a foundational value, I think, I think it's also fair to say most of our participants can agree with that as well. I mean, who doesn't agree with that, right? Finding the way to navigate between those two values, one of which is very particular is the commitment to our own people, and the future, our own people's future. And one that's much more universal, but in its own way, sort of particular in the way that we apply it, right. It's a universal commitment to human beings living in dignity. But you know, as expressed in our program, it's the human beings which of whom we are one way or another destined to share this land. And the third value that I'll mention is "aravut" in Hebrew, which we translate loosely as interdependence, and an extra stability, a really deep recognition that we, that our lives, the lives of Jews in this land, and the lives of Palestinians in this land are and have been for at least the last, you know, 100-150 years are deeply intertwined, our futures are intertwined, in a very inexplicable way, we are part of these other stories, you really cannot understand fully the story of the Jews in this land without understanding the stories of Palestinians in this land. And that, that extractability, that sense of interdependence needs to guide our relationships going forward. So those are three values that I think, you know, I'm sure there were people, there are people who could disagree. But for me, having those three values as a foundation to begin, having our conversations creates a very different kind of experience for the participants in our program.

Ori Nir 18:03
So what I'm thinking of doing is telling you a few stories, a few memories that I have, from my experience on Encounter and maybe having you comment on them and telling me a little bit about maybe kind of zoom out and tell me a little bit about how you've experienced similar things because because I think, those maybe three stories that I'll tell really capture a lot of what Encounter does and achieves. So the first one is the group that I was on really included some some pretty heavy hitters within the organizers community. And one of them was, I'm not going to name names, but someone who comes to Israel several times a year, he said, I think if I remember correctly he said I've been to Israel, 30 something times he actually counted them and so on. And he said something that I thought was so interesting. He said, You know, I calculated, you know, several times a year every time I go to the Western Wall, and you know, and he said we visit the Western Wall after you pray, you're supposed to walk back facing the wall, you're not supposed to turn your back that the sacred and so and then he said, I feel that whenever I come to this work, that's the way I approach Israel's relationship with the Palestinians. I, Is this bit having blinders, you know, I look straight and never look back to what's on my backside of the Palestinian or to the side. I just walked back and I always keep my eyes on the Jewish prize. Put it this way. The Western Wall, the Jewish narrative, basically these ways was that his narrative and he said and comfort you know, helped me broaden like this and see more and take more into consideration. I thought that that was really super interesting way of framing things. So I'm telling the story and I wanted to ask you to maybe tell me a couple of anecdotes, anecdotes, if you like, about these "aha" moments about these kinds of moments where people feel like they, they are, they're transforming their perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Encounter.

Leah Solomon 20:31
Yeah, that's a great question. I love that anecdote. I will answer your question, I promise. But I wanted to say about the anecdotes that you brought, I think it's, it's a really important observation about the work that we do. One of the one of the things that we talk about, actually, the very first morning of the program, is there's a concept called inattentional blindness. Or sometimes cognitive tunneling is another term that's used. But the reason I think it's so important is inattentional blindness. You know, you hear like they say, do experiments where there's like a basketball game, and they tell you to focus on like, counting the number of baskets or things like that. And then I have a gorilla walk through the game. And often, you know, people will ask people, What did you see? And they did not at all see the gorilla, right? It's like you're paying attention to one thing, and you don't have a lot of famous experiments about this. But one of the places that inattentional blindness and you literally don't see it, it's not a physical blindness, but it is a psychological blindness, they did not at all see the gorilla. One of the places that inattentional blindness comes up most, most profoundly is in situations of intense danger or trauma. Where so that they'll talk about it. Like, for example, there's a story that we tell about Yona, our executive director, tells about a plane that went into crisis. And you know, the pilots actually locked into seeing things, he couldn't see outside of very specific range of vision, and was missing all sorts of incredibly important stimuli, because there was a situation of, of immense pressure and danger. And I think that that happens to us. In this situation, we perceive ourselves, we as Jews, I mean, we, you know, we perceive yourself to hurt for generations have lived with so much fear, so much trauma for very good reasons. You know, persecution over the centuries, that we often don't see, right, our vision actually shuts down in a very real sense. And a lot of our work is widening those lenses that you described. So I'm really glad that you brought up that, that example, because I think, you know, you can't effectively grapple with the situation when you can't actually see the whole situation. So a couple example, stories. Look, I'll start with one one is, there's a village that we visit, it's actually been in the news lately, because -- did you want me to go there or do you want me to wait?

Ori Nir 23:13
Keep going and we'll come back.

Leah Solomon 23:16
We can talk about it. It's, you know, you might have heard recently about the Israeli government approving building permits, Palestinian building permits in the West Bank alongside building permits for more Jewish building in the West Bank. The whole story around that this facility has been in the news because they were originally told that they could build more buildings. And then under immense pressure from Jews in the surrounding communities, Israeli Jews, were then denied. So, but it's a very small village is surrounded by like 12 Jewish communities. And it's right next to Alon Shvut where many of our participants spent a lot of time especially in the Yeshiva in Gush Etzion, it has a lot of names. Yes. And there's a tiny school there that is under, there's a long story behind it. But basically, it has a demolition order, which is currently frozen for the past 12 years but hasn't been, you know, hasn't been lifted, that could be put back into effect immediately. And people, we stand in the village and listen to the mukhtar, the head of the village council. This village they basically have not been able to build since 1967. They have this tiny school that really is not, you know, sufficient for the needs but what I think for the needs of the people living there, what I think it's so powerful for our participants, one little piece of it is standing. It's almost like a mirror experience, right? They stood in Alon Shvut, many of them are in similar settings and looked out, and they don't even know that this village is there, it's just sort of part of the scenery. Yeah, there's some Arabs living there. And all of a sudden, you come into this village and it comes alive, you're looking at the exact same view, but from the reverse viewpoint, seeing the extraordinary growth of a launch foods and the communities nearby the beautiful building, the multiple, you know, large school buildings, and this dinky little school and in a community that has never participated in any form of violence against against Israelis, I think it's just a very, very powerful reversal. Suddenly, the village comes alive, there are real people, hundreds of people living here. And you might have walked past it driven past it hundreds of times if you live in that community, and never really seen it.

Ori Nir 26:07
So here's the thing, my story, it's gonna be a little long, but it's worth it's worth the wait. I come to the West Bank in the US started many years ago in 1986. And at the time, it was before the person defined it. So kind of page five story, try to think about it. And remember that one of the ways I used to live my news andideas for stories was just reading the Palestinian newspapers. So one day I read this Palestinian paper that there was a leak from a settlement berry farm, in Alon Shvut, there was some kind of an accident was not intentional. All the cow dung that was kept in a positive manner - I don't know what you call it exactly - the cows dung on a certain platform and their drippings go down. And then supposed to be taken by you know, there's the tanker trucks that come in. And someone apparently forgot to turn off the phosphate or something, and tons and tons and tons of it's just washed down the valley to the the fields of the neighboring villages. And so I read about a great story and the story, and I go there, and I meet with the mukhtar of the neighboring village, and sometimes we go about, and he shows me, and obviously, that was the, you know, kind of symbolic symbolism of this, you know, excuse the word crap going down from the settlement and covering the lands of the house, to neighboring Palestinians, and so on. Anyway, so that was a story. And then I went with Encounter to Khirbet Zakariya and there was a déjà vu moment, I said to myself, this is the place, this is what happened. And so after the mukhtar, you know, spoke to us and so on. I went to him and told him the story. And his eyes welled up. And he said, that was my father. You know, he's the son. And, you know, and we talked about it, and we kind of embraced because he said, he didn't remember that he actually joined his father then. And he remembered it, he remembered me, this was you know 1986. And on the bus, we went on the bus, the person sitting next to me about this, and her reaction was, wow, so this really has been going on for generations. Yes, it's one of those things where, you know, he talked about the kind of tunnel vision people tend to forget about the longevity of the occupation and its impact on people. So, again, I was wondering if you if you want to share maybe some some anecdotes, if anything comes to mind of this kind of aha moment that people have on Encounter.

Leah Solomon 29:20
Yeah, I mean, well, you hit on one of the things that I think goes back to the beginning of our conversation and it's also one of our values, which is hatmadah, steadfastness. I think you know, we talked about there's a well known mishna from Pirkei Avot, "lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v'lo ata ben chorin l'hibatel mimena" - It's not your your you don't need to finish the work, but you're not free to desist from it either. You need to you need to work on it. And I think, you know, to go back to the beginning of our conversation, I think this is one of the reasons that people are so reluctant to lead to take up this issue because it feels like ugh, it's been around for so long, and it's never going to get solved. So why bother? And I think a lot of our job is to say, you know, yes, it has been around for a very long time, we need to, we need to be steadfast. And we need to see ourselves as responsible. Even if we can't solve everything, right, there's all sorts of every major change in the world happened to because individual people and individual organizations, you know, made incremental change that eventually led to major change. You know, the image that popped up for me when you asked about this, actually, and yeah, that village has been there. And it's been there for 400 years or so, at least, they can count back. He can give you, you know, genealogy for 400 years. Certainly been there since 1967. It looks almost the same as it did in 1967. Because they haven't been allowed to build anything, right? It's not, when you look around you see unfinished buildings. As an unfinished minarets. It looks almost like a ton of neglect. And when you speak to them, you really not it. It's not a wealthy village, certainly, but it's not a lack of building materials or ability, they can build things, you know, there are people working there and construction, they're simply not permitted to expand. And by law, there, it's almost impossible to get permits. And like I said, this village was recently told that after, you know, more than 50 years, they could, they were going to be granted 50 permits. And the pressure was to build a permit to build 50 units, which are desperately needed. The young people of the village are moving to cities, because they just can't, right, they're sort of what they call silent transfer. And there was such intense pressure that they were then not included, there's that promise to grant 50 Building Permits was withdrawn. But what you actually made me think of was another very, you know, often powerful moment for people of being on our programs, transformative moments, we use checkpoints, are a very pervasive reality in Palestinian life. And so on our programs, first of all, we have to go through checkpoints. Sometimes, depending on the group will also go through a walking checkpoint, which is the only way for Palestinian, even with permits, to get from the West Bank to inside the Green Line, they have to go through walking checkpoints, they're almost without exception, aren't able to go in cars, or to bring their cars or to traveling cars. And, you know, so we've had experiences where, for example, driving through the Qalandiya checkpoint from Ramallah back into Jerusalem, we'll have soldiers come up on the bus to ask for people's IDs to seated. And it's usually a fairly uneventful moment in the sense of, you know, they look at a few IDs, they figure out very quickly that this is an American group, and they let the group through sometimes it's slightly more complicated. Sometimes we'll have an Israeli or two with us who has a permit. Sometimes they'll notice that we have Palestinian Jerusalem residents with us who are able to go on a bus. But for many, many years, it's happened many times. And I remember the first time it happened to me when I was in the Palestinian area, seeing soldiers and all of a sudden feeling afraid. And up until that time, you know, having lived in Israel for many years, I would see soldiers and to me, these are like, you know, there are people they're here to keep us safe. They're they're my were my what my children will eventually be my husband served in the Army, you know, plenty of friends and family members. Soldiers are always a comforting presence. And I think that's true. I always had that for many of our participants, and all of a sudden to go through checkpoint and experience, you know, the experience of having someone in uniform calm and ask for your ID. All of a sudden, you can feel a little bit of what Palestinians feel every time it has to go through a checkpoint. I'm very little bit. But I think also going back to your question about the kind of longevity of this seeing young people. This is what every - not every actually about half of Israelis - but so many Israeli Jews like this is what they're doing. And this is what they have to do. This is what they're, you know, they don't go to college at 18. They go to the army and the longer this goes on, the more young people have to serve in the army. This is you know, this is what our children's lives look like. And it will keep going and going in every generation unless we do something to interrupt that cycle. And I think that is often a really transformative moment for people in our program. Seeing no longer children, but really young people and recognizing the ongoing impact and the wit, the degree to which both Israeli and Palestinian children growing up growing up, are growing up in this reality and are impacted by this reality.

Ori Nir 35:16
I was really impressed with, you know, the tours that I participated in with people's strong emotional reaction. It was full reaction to moments that were difficult, that were emotional in nature and so on. But there were also some kind of personal or human catharsis. When we went to Palestinian homes and had a meal there were people who actually spent the night. Why do you, why do you include that in the program?

Leah Solomon 35:46
We actually stopped doing overnights for a lot of reasons. But we but actually, we do more visits to Palestinian homes than we used to. Look, I think the sounds really awful to say, and I don't mean it in a, I don't think for the most part, it's intentional. But you know, we were talking before about seeing, really seeing the reality, and how we often don't see the reality. Inattentional blindness and the feeling that like when you're really fried or traumatized, it's really often hard to see the other, it's easier to see your own pain, your own suffering, your own fear. And I think that's a barrier has also played a really major role in making Palestinians and Palestinian life, and just kind of lived experience of Palestinians, Palestinian perspective, like, almost invisible, I mean, first of all, physically invisible, right, it used to be that you would have to drive, you'd have to drive through Bethlehem to get to Gush Etzion, for example, right and the countless examples around the West Bank. Now, there are bypass roads, many, many bypass roads around Palestinian communities, the barriers literally makes much of Palestinian life invisible. And the more that people become invisible, the easier it is to not really see them as full human beings are to see the fullness of their humanity. And that actually is really dangerous for us. We, it's true that we also, you know, we end up being where we test see that they're actually really extraordinary people on the other side, yes, there are people that are real security threats. I'm not trying to minimize that. I live here, I want my children to be safe. I want my family to be safe. I have felt that fear. I lived through the Second Intifada, I lost friends in the Second Intifada and in other, you know, flare ups. And security is a real thing. But it is not the entirety of the Palestinian people by any stretch of the imagination, right, we talk. We hear the other it's just like this very common phrase that's thrown around, there's no partner. But what does that mean? There's no partner. There are hundreds of thousands of partners. And the only way to start breaking down that inability to, to see the fullness to understand the incredible range. There's not there's not one Palestinian we'll be talking about what are the Palestinians want? What do the Palestinians think? What do they believe? That's an absurd question is asking, What does the Jews believe? What do the Jews want? Right? It's an incredibly multifaceted society, with many different, you know, opinions and perspectives and desires. And people working for for change, for positive change. And I really, you know, in my experience, and I've worked in experiential education for for more than two decades, and there is no substitute for actually encountering other human beings. And so, you know, I think part of that can happen in a hotel room, meeting another person, but it happens, there's just much more fullness when it's in people's homes, when you see their families when you see them, you know, as full humans.

Ori Nir 39:26
So, I want to end our conversation soon. with talking about the the takeaway, the follow up, you know, what people do with that incredible experience here? But before that, just because you mentioned the Israeli program, which I wasn't even aware of, maybe a few words about that?

Leah Solomon 39:45
Yeah, I mean, look, the truth is that for many years, we've quietly worked like, for many years, we quietly worked with Israelis. We had a program about once a year for five or six years. I think it's was before we started working with, this was when we were still working with students. And, you know, long interesting story about how that developed. But we were experimenting. And you know, when I first interviewed for the position in 2015, I actually said, you know, I had been wanting to move to this field. And I said to Yona, our executive director at the time, now she's our CEO. I said, you know, I'm interested in this work, but I just, you know, I'm, I believe in the work with American Jews, I think it's incredibly important. I think it's even more important now than I did then. But it's really it's our on the ground, like, how are things gonna change if we don't reach Israeli when she said, You know, I asked the exact same question in my for my interview for the position, several years back. And, you know, at the time, I remember, she said to me, we're gonna make it happen, we'll work together, we make it happen. It is something we have heard over and over and over from our, from our American Jews, participants from, you know, supporters, all sorts of people, that and I really, you know, we could go, I could go on for a long time about why American Jews are stakeholders in this and why the work with Americans is so important. But also, you know, the work with Israelis, like Israelis are here, we have the ability to vote, you have the ability in a much more proximate way to make change on the ground. And it had been something we wanted to do for a long time. And so we started bringing cohorts of senior leaders, we stopped doing the same way we stopped working for the most part with younger leaders, among Americans we stopped working with, you know, we, we felt it would be more effective and more impactful to work with senior leaders. And so it's something that we have been experimenting with a little bit before the pandemic, we just got started again. But our hope is that this can make a real shift. Perhaps, you know, I think this is one of the things that you've hit on with the longetivity, we are under no illusion that this is a short term, project. This is a really long term, we're in it for the long game. And I think that there is all sorts of work that can happen in the short term that minimum can make people's lives better on both sides of the Green Line. And I think it's really Israeli leaders, influential civil society leaders who are in a position to make that change in ways that American leaders are not in the same way.

Ori Nir 42:44
Since you mentioned you and I just wanted to talk just a little bit about this path of Encounter. Yona is amazing. Yona Shemtov, right? She is she a dynamo. I've never seen anything like it. She's just full of charisma. One of the things that I just wanted to share this because I was so impressed with this. You know, I have organized the APN study tours to Israel for more than a decade now. And it was the piece always difficult and so on. Your operation was just exemplary. And it was just amazing how everything clicked. And the staff were just fantastic. I mean, really great. So, you know.

Leah Solomon 43:37
Well. Thank you. And I will also say one of the things that I think characterizes our staff, intentionally is, is a real sense of involving everyone in a serious way. Right? I think that's one of Yona's strengths as a leader. But I'm also bringing it up because I think it's really important for the work that we do as well, like any sort of change what's going to happen, it's going to happen in ways that involve all sorts of different players, that's not going to come from top down. It's going to come you know, there's a lot of work on this, if you've ever done anything with adaptive leadership or read anything about adaptive leadership. When you're looking to make systemic change, which is what will be needed in order to transform the current reality. You actually need people on all levels of society working together. I think you can see this in all sorts of mass movements around the world. That it has to come not only from the top, not only you know, grass tips, but also grass roots. And I think that's kind of something that we try to do organizationally and that Yona's been really key in implementing implementing among the staff. We have eight not a big staff, I hope we'll grow, you know, we're hoping to grow Especially now that we can get back to, in person work, we've done a lot of work online as like everyone else. For the last year and a half. We, we have two full time people here on the ground in our Jerusalem office we have, we also have a halftime office manager was back and forth from Jerusalem and Cyprus, you know has lived here for many, many years since he was a teenager. And we also really recently hired, started working with a tour operations firm to help build capacity. We've done all of those amazing operations, our operations team was amazing. But it's it's hard to build capacity that way. And so working with an external operations firm gives us the ability to, you know, to scale up, which is our hope as we as we start returning to being able to bring people in person.

Ori Nir 45:55
So let's talk a little bit about, you know, the follow up work that you do and what it is that you hope to accomplish. You might you brought here about 2000 Jewish leaders, so?

Leah Solomon 46:08
We brought up till..two thousand emerging leaders close to 2000. That was that was, you know, up until 2016. And we continued running those shorter programs for a couple more years before we phased out. But at this point we've brought close to close to 3000. Total. Of whom, yeah, a few people of whom about 500 are executive level American Jewish leaders. So you know, executive directors of Federations or Hillels, of JCRCs, of senior rabbis, heads of Jewish state schools, etc. People at that level, many lay leaders as well. And, yeah, now it's close to about a 80 or 90 Israeli senior Israeli leaders as well. So yeah, pushing 3000.

Ori Nir 47:06
So there's a great deal of emphasis I've noticed on on the follow up work on what people do with their experience and with accumulated information experience following the outcomes of progress. Maybe talk a little bit about that? about how you do it, and what you what you hope to accomplish?

Leah Solomon 47:23
Yes, so one of the I hate to say that the pandemic was a blessing or silver lining in any way. You know, but I will say that one of the, you know, kind of forced opportunities of the past year and a half was that we had the bandwidth to focus more on our work with people who had already had this experience, people within our network of leaders. And so we were able to invest the time and energy in that a little bit more. You know, here's what I will say, I think that you know, we said at the beginning, our goal is to cultivate more informed, courageous resilience, I would also add constructive Jewish leadership on this issue, part of what that means is, first of all, that people who come on this program, recognize or begin to view the issue of the conflict as a Jewish people that issue. Part of what it means to be a responsible Jewish leader is to grapple with these issues and to support one's constituents, in grappling with these issues, that we simply it's just simply too pressing too urgent, too consequential to, to advocate that to other people. Because, you know, we as do as leaders don't step in, the vacuum will be filled by the media, by loud, shrill voices from other you know, all sorts of other places, as we see over and over and there's so much vitriol. But very, it's very hard to find places where people can actually engage across echo chambers, in really constructive ways, and really diving into this. So part of what we want to do and we strive to do is to support people to actually first of all to begin leading on these issues at all, to see that as part of their responsibility. We have a number of different initiatives that we've started in the past year, year and a half of creating spaces in which people can connect with other people who have had this experience leaders, both across sectors but also you know, we have a group of Jewish educators meeting heads of school or heads of, you know, Israel curricula, or Jewish studies departments who are really thinking about and working with each other on how can they lead, educate on this issue more effectively within Jewish day schools or other education Jewish educational settings congregational rabbis meeting Orthodox leaders, we've got many orthodox leaders, how can they engage their congregants or their students more effectively? So that's one piece of it. And another piece of that, I would say, is supporting people to integrate Palestinian narratives, alongside Jewish narratives on issues of the Israel and the Israeli Palestinian conflict really helping not just, you know, they had this experience for themselves, helping their the people that they work with their communities or organizations to also begin to hear Palestinian voices in ways that can be constructive and can help us think together what what could it really look like to build a future and to contribute? I mean, there's so many ways in which American Jews are invested and actually have a voice, whether that's through philanthropy, whether that's through lobbying, whether that's through the many, many countless programs that bring American Jews to the region. So what does it look like for us to be more constructive stakeholders in that, and part of that is integrating Palestinian voices into all of our Israel engagement in the hopes, really, of building of supporting Israel and working to build a better future for both Palestinians and Israelis in this land. And I guess the third thing that I will say is like listing up there so many organizations, I think so often, this issue is defined in binary terms, black and white terms, you are either pro Palestinian, or you're pro Israeli, right? It's totally zero sum, totally us in them. And there are so many people on both sides of the green line, I don't mean to sound you know, all rose, rose colored glasses like this is a very, very hard issue. But there are also the one thing that really keeps me going is there are so many individuals and so many organizations who are actually working for a future that will be not, there will be both pro Palestinian and pro Israeli or pro Israel or pro Jewish, right, that will actually seek to ensure a better future for for all inhabitants of the land, and whatever we can do to work with both ourselves as an organization, but also the people that we work with to lift up those voices to strengthen those voices to give them more traction within Jewish communal discourse. That's also something that, you know, we've worked really hard. And I think we've had, you know, different kinds of success. Like I said, it's slow and it's hard, and it's incremental. And it's not always like, things that you can plaster on, you know, the cover the years our impact, the impact is often much quieter and more anecdotal. But I think that it's very real. And I'm, like blown away by what a lot of the people in our network do. So.

Ori Nir 52:55
So Leah, this is a Thursday, I know exactly what you're going to be doing at the end of the workday, following you on on Facebook, I know that you're going to start working with yeast because you are a challah queen. I'm blown away by the incredible challah that you bake. So I want to say Shabbat shalom. Thank you very, very much for this fascinating conversation. It was really, really interesting.

Leah Solomon 53:21
Shabbat shalom to you and all your listeners, and really it was just a pleasure and a privilege. Thank you.

Webinar Transcript: Michael Sfard on Six Palestinian Groups Designated as Terrorist Organizations

Listen to the recording here.

 

Hadar Susskind 0:04
Hello, everybody, and thank you for joining us. We will get started in just a moment or two, we're going to let people come on in it takes a few minutes for for everyone to join. But again, thank you. I am Hadar Susskind, the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, and I'm really glad to have you all here with us today. In a moment, I will introduce our esteemed guest. But I'm going to give it a moment because I'm watching the participant numbers still still rolling in there. So we'll take one more minute. So I thank you all for your patience. And then we will go ahead and get started with our topic of the day. So alright, 12:01. Here we go. Those of you who are regulars know that I like to run a tight ship. And we are probably the only Jewish organization in America that starts our programming on time. But here we are. So today, I am very pleased to have with us as our guest, Michael Sfard. I'm sure many of you know Michael and are familiar with his work for sure. He is, as he humbly makes me say one of Israel's leading human rights lawyers, although everybody else calls him Israel's preeminent human rights attorney, representing many organizations, Palestinian and Israeli, including often our friends and colleagues at Shalom Achshav. He has received the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award from ACRI. He's an Open Society Fellow. He's written...His writing has appeared in The New York Times and Haaretz, in Foreign Policy, Independent. And of course, in 2018, he published his book, "The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the legal battle for Human Rights," which could not be more relevant right now. So Micha, thank you so much for joining us. We're here today to talk about the recent developments. I guess it's two weeks now, two and a half weeks since Defense Minister Gantz made his proclamation, declaring six Palestinian NGOs to be terrorist organizations. And since then, we've seen a little bit of up and down, at least from what we're seeing here in the US, there was a declaration, people didn't really know what it meant. You know, we were in touch with folks on Capitol Hill with members of Congress with people in the State Department in the administration. The State Department, I think, quite rightly stated publicly that they wanted, you know, some more background, they wanted to see the evidence from the Israeli government. The Israeli did, the Israeli government did send a delegation here to Washington, they briefed members of Congress and key staff, they spoke to people in the administration, we'll get into maybe a little bit of what they showed them what they didn't show them. But where we are right now is having seen yesterday? Right? Hard to keep track of the story. The government now declared the original declaration was only in Israel, not in the occupied West Bank. Yesterday that came out that they've made that formal too, which seems like the next step. So you know, I could keep rambling on but we have you here and you know what you're talking about? So with that, I'm just going to turn to you and say, Please, Micha, enlighten us. Tell us a little bit more about this.

Michael Sfard 3:14
Well, thank you, Hadar. Always, always, always a pleasure to be with the APN friends. So thank you for inviting me. And thank you all the the people who are who have logged on to this webinar, I'm really happy to see that there are so many people who are interested in and care about these things. I will not assume that everybody knows who these six organizations are. Because until the designation has entered our lives, many people in Israel and did not know and probably around the world did not know. So I want to say first few things about a few things about these organizations. And to explain to you why this is a huge earthquake. This is a watershed moment in the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The six organizations that were designated, three of them are human rights organizations, and the three others are community organizers. All of them civil society organizations. They have not been established yesterday. Some of them were established 40 years ago, others 30 years ago. They're all veteran, well known in the circles of human rights, international community of human rights. They are known to be extremely professional there. They have won prizes. They are members in international umbrellas of human rights organizations. Some of them have official status at the UN. Their reports have been have been used and and their reputation is extremely high. In a way the six organizations are the backbone of Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian cry for democratic, for democratization and respect for human rights. So declaring them as terrorist organization is an equivalent of declaring of the American administration, the American government declaring the ACLU and Human Rights Watch as a terrorist organization. That's how huge it is in Palestinian terms. I know three of these organizations intimately, very well. I know they work for years. And that's al Haq, which is the Palestinian, your ACLU, the oldest, the biggest, the most well known human rights organization in Palestine, I know Addameer very well, which is an organization that deals with rights of people in detention, prisoners and detainees. And I know, Defense of Children International Palestine, DCIP, which is an organization that that is working on juvenile justice, and rights of minors, and children. All of these organizations have been very critical naturally, of Israeli governmental policies and practices, but also of PA policies and practices. They have published reports on abuse of rights by Israel, as well as by the Palestinian Authority. And as I said before, the international human rights community is really in shock with that step. Now, having said that, everyone is in shock, doesn't mean that it came out of the blue that designation has has a history. But before I'll say a few- and this history exposes the real motivation behind it, the reason behind it, and what is Israel has, the Israeli government wants to achieve by the by these designations, but first a word about what it means to be designated as a terrorist organization. Such a designation is the NGO equivalent, I call it in several briefings. It's the NGO equivalent of capital punishment. It's a, it's a death sentence, the designation makes, creates a thick belt of administrative powers and prohibitions, the violations of which are criminal, you know, in order to enforce the dissolvement and stopping of all operations and existence of of the designated entity. So once an entity is designated as terrorist organization, all its members, of course, are members of a terrorist organization, which is a criminal offense, the executive director, he becomes a leader of a terrorist organization, and he faces up to 25 years imprisonment if he continues to serve in that role.

People who provide service to a terrorist organization are also committing a crime. And by the way, the service does not have to be in and of itself illegal. It's enough that I sell the organization, let's say computers, or if I provide them with some kind of service, including legal service, by the way, not legal service, in relation to the designation itself, which is exempted, but any other legal service might be might amount to a criminal offense. Expressing support to admit to terrorist organizations is an as is a crime under the Israeli counterterrorism act and under the military legislation in the in the West Bank. So as you can see, the end of course, there are administrative powers, which now Israeli authorities can use. In order to enforce the designation for example, Israel may send troops to shut down the offices and expropriate all the property of these organizations, including their computers, their hard drive, hard drives, and everything they have. Israel may block any transaction of donations to the to their accounts in Ramallah. So this is a real existential threat for these for these organizations and personal threat for anyone who's a member of volunteer and employee or works with with these organizations. Now, in order to be designated as a terrorist organization, you don't have to be involved in committing or carrying out acts of terror. The Israeli definition of terrorist organization has two alternatives. One is the coordination, the the type one terrorist organization, which is indeed an entity that carries out acts of terror. And for the sake of simplicity, let's not get into the question, what are acts of terror, let's just agree that at the core of it, there is violence against civilians. So that's, that's a terror organization. The second type of terror organization is an entity that is that is not carrying out acts of terror, but rather provides service to or has links and ties to type one. So you don't have to be involved in any acts of violence, it's enough that you are providing service to or have ties, links, etc, very blurry concepts, which, depending on how broad their interpretation is, can swallow the entire society. And that's enough to be declared a terrorist organization. All the six NGOs we are talking about were designated terror organizations. According to the second option, the government of Israel does not allege that these organizations have been involved in any violence. Now, as I said, at the beginning of this talk, it did not come out of the blue, it was a shot, but it did not come out of the blue. Why? Because these organizations have been targeted by the Israeli government for years now. And, and it started not in the Ministry of Defense, and not as a as a security issue. But it started in the now late Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which was headed by Gilad Erdan, now the Israeli ambassador to the UN, when, in 2017-2018, when these organizations were identified, and categorized as not terror organizations, but rather delegitimization organizations. And why were they categorized that way, because of their political human rights work, because they advance or promote BDS, and more importantly, because they support and advance and promote international criminal court investigations into alleged crimes committed by Israelis. And these two issues, but mainly and I put an emphasis on the ICC International Criminal Court. The ICC activity was the reason why they were identified and targeted. And the the method chosen to deal with these organizations was to dry out their funding to go to their donors and convince the donors, most of them European governments, to stop supporting these organizations. Now, you cannot go to Western European governments and say, You should stop a supporting al Haq or Addameer. Because they promote investing ICC investigations, the International Criminal Court is cherished by Western Europe. In fact, it's the pinnacle of their lessons learned from the Second World War from the Shoah. And the idea that and they are all members at the ICC. So instead of and so because that's a non starter. The method the method chosen to target these organization is by defaming them, that they have links to terror organizations, and the terror organization that was alleged to be to have links to these civil society organizations was the the Palestinian sorry, the People's Front for the Liberation of the Popular sorry, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the PFLP. And the the evidence that was presented to the European governments were all guilty by association methodology. This guy was convicted in the back in the 80s, some 35 or 40 years ago that he was a member, the other guy's father is a member. And here they hired someone who's an ex prisoner and was involved in in membership in the PFLP, all kinds of things like that. Now, the European governments have looked into the evidence presented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which worked in in coordination with the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and said that's that's not enough that we don't we don't buy that. These are well known established human rights organizations who are working in complete independence. They criticize both Israel and and the Palestinian Authority, and and all these evidence is amounts to absolutely nothing. There were several rounds of Israeli advocate governmental efforts to convince European governments. It began in 2019. And the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, you can find it on online, has published a report called "Terrorists in Suits," again, alleging the same things they are alleging now, it did not work, then again in 2020.

And then in 2021, this summer, that was the last effort going back to the European governments telling them now we have real evidence, it comes from an investigation we had to a seventh organization, a different organization, not one of those six, we have arrested. The accountants have this seventh organization, by the way, accountants that were laid off on charges of embezzlement from that seventh organization, which is called the Workers' Health Committee. And they have told us that they have been diverting funds of the world of the Workers' Health Committee, to the PFLP. And when we asked them, Which other organizations in Ramallah are associated with the PFLP? They named all the organizations and they brought all kinds of pieces of information, you can find the full dossier. On 972 mag there is this splendid article there that runs through the full dossier that was presented in May to the European governments, and European governments. Some of them said, You know what, we don't buy that. But in order to for your peace of mind, we will perform a special in depth audit of the organizations that we support in order to make sure that no scent is diverted to an illegitimate goal. And indeed, some of these organizations went through, you know, European governments are sorry, organizations that are funded by European governments and the EU go through hell, on a daily basis in the sense of very strict auditing. But but this time, they placed another audit, even more thorough and sent people from Europe to Ramallah and looked at every piece of, you know, accounting and receipts and all and came back recently saying, We found nothing. We found absolutely nothing, not a single cent was passed and have passed to any goal that is not the projects that we have been funding. So he's got a third or fourth No. And then, when the when the, when the strategy of convincing the donors to stop donating failed, massively failed, then Israel has taken the unilateral violent step of declaring these organizations, terrorist organizations, and by doing that, it created the administrative power to block every donation that would be transmitted from any country in the world to the organization's bank accounts in Ramallah. And that closes the circle. That's what the government the Israeli government wanted from the first place to make sure that these organizations will be silenced, through their through drying out their funding, and why because of their political activity, which Israel does not like.

Now, the last thing I want to say is the following even before we open it up for questions and comments, even if even if there was some golden piece of evidence that would prove that someone in one of the organizations or in several organizations has committed has has been involved in terrorist activity, even if there has been even if I would be shown the golden evidence, that money was passed from one of these organizations or several of these organizations to a terrorist organization. Even then, the question still lingers is the correct act is to shut down the organization if a hospital in America found that that that its executive director was embezzling money and passing it to ISIS, and another member of the another director was involved in terrorist activity? Would that hospital be shut down, leaving the community without the hospital, or what the right thing to do would be surgically to remove these people try them for their for their offenses, and clean that hospital from these elements. The only reason that the act chosen by the government the only explanation for the method that was chosen by the government of Israel, not to target specific individuals or acts that they that the government thinks it has enough evidence to prove that have happened, but rather to shut down their organizations, and again, organizations that no one argues that were established as a front that has not that that that the human rights work of which is artificial. No, they concede that these are real civil society organizations with, you know, tens of thousands of beneficiaries, and hundreds of employees. So the only reasonable explanation why the method chosen was to shut them down completely, is because the goal is to shut down their activity, their political human rights work. And that is, of course, illegitimate. So I'll stop here. And I'll allow time for questions and comments.

Hadar Susskind 21:32
Right. Thank you very much for for sharing all of that with us. Because I'm a bad host, I forgot at the beginning to remind everyone that you can submit questions through the q&a button at the bottom, some of you have done so already. So again, if you have questions, please submit them there. And we will be looking for them there. I want to start out with something that you just talked about, about, you know, whether or not there are allegations that this is, you know, these organizations are do form some sort of network or were created for these purposes. And to go to the politics of this a little because you talked about the dossier that the Israeli government presented to the European Union countries. That was back in May. We know that just a few weeks ago, they were here in the US. And they presented what turned out to be actually the identical dossier. I'm having had a chance to look at both of them, literally, you know, page by page Word by word letter by letter. Basically, what happened is they took the the, we'll call it evidence, it really was allegations, not evidence, but they took the allegations they showed to the Europeans and brought them here and showed them to American officials. And part of that conversation was actually alleging that this was, I'm quoting what somebody told me a nefarious network to support terror. And it seems like there is very, very little, as you said, evidence around that. So I guess the question is, you know, why do you think the Israeli government what was the purpose of Israeli government coming to the US and to the American administration and Congress with this information at this point?

Michael Sfard 23:10
Well, I think it's quite clear that one of the dangers of this act is a massive diplomatic pushback. And, and our two main actors in the international arena that may that have leverage against Israel and may use that leverage and and the first and most powerful one is the American administration, the American administration would have said, if it will say, this is not acceptable. This is not what countries that purport to be democratic do. This is an act. I'm saying this is an act of tyranny, to outlaw human rights organizations, in an occupied territory, where people anyway do not have civil and political rights. And the work of human rights organization is four times more important than in in democracies. If if the American administration would say that Israel would have to reverse and the second actor is the is the European continent, the European Union and European governments who are not part of the European Union. I'll say something about Europe in a moment, but I just wanted complete about America. So I think what Israel you know, the the Israeli governmental fantasy is that America will follow suit, that it will declare these organizations also, because every America has its own list of terror organizations. And if America does that, then the international banking system will come publicly be shocked for these organizations in at the moment, the problems that might that these organizations might have, in receiving funds have to do with the fact that the Israeli banking system controls the Palestinian banking system. And every cent that is sent every cent that is send from abroad, to Ramallah goes or Gaza goes through these ready banking system. And that's where it can be blocked because the receiver or the sender is on the list of the Israeli list. But when it comes to passing resources and funds and money from accounts that do not include Israel, at the moment, this is not that is not a problem, because these six organizations have only been declared in Israel and in the West Bank. And they were not declared in Europe and America by the UN. And there are other lists. So I think the most that what the Israeli government is trying to do is twofold. One is garner legitimization. For for their act, for the designation. If if American officials come out and say, we've seen it, it's pretty heavy, we are convinced that would be a huge contribution for the legitimacy of this act that is completely shattered at the moment completely in shatters. And because the government of Israel - and I want to highlight this, the government has not presented any evidence, not this dossier, which was leaked, but it did not. It was leaked, not by the Government of Israel, they definitely did not want the public to know what's in the cell because it's so poor. But the government has not of its own initiative presented a shred of evidence to the public, not directly and not through its representatives, the media, they could have taken, you know, several Israeli journalists, who are who are known to know how to keep a secret, but would be would provide their readership with their understanding of how strong the evidence is. But they did not do it. Two and a half weeks after the resignations, they have not presented a shred of evidence. So they need the American administration or American. You know, Congress, men and women and senators to say we've seen it, it's, it's strong.

Hadar Susskind 27:47
Well, I can tell you at least my opinion on why they haven't done that. And that is, of course, that it's not strong. And you know, without digging into all the details, you mentioned the health workers committee earlier, which is again, a seventh organization, not one of the six under discussion here. And yet that dossier, which is, you know, 74 pages long. I might be off by a page or two, but about 67 pages of it are focused on the allegations on the Health Workers' Committee and on the, you know, the what came out of the interrogations from the workers from the Health Workers' Committee. So it's overwhelmingly focused on that. So I'm not surprised there. So we've got a lot of questions coming in. There's a theme here. One major question is, you know, is there the capacity to appeal this? And if so, what's that process? Is that in the Israeli courts, is that in military courts? What does that look like?

Michael Sfard 28:47
So we have two systems, because the designation has been signed, both in Israel by the Minister of Defense and according to his powers under the Counter Terrorism Act of 2016, which is an Israeli Act of Parliament. And we have a designation under the Mandatory British mandatory emergency regulations of 1945, which provide, vest, the power of designating an entity as unlawful association with the military commander of the occupation forces in the West Bank. So we have two designations. Just say that my understanding is that there couldn't be a gap between the status of of organizations in Israel and the West Bank, because we have one political power that oversees both areas. It will be it will it will it is not viable, legally speaking, to have a designation lifted in Israel and stay remained in the West Bank. If an entity is a terrorist organization in one area, it must be terrorist organization for the other government, it can't be different. And so it seems like the the the primary process that is open for the designated organizations and by the way, they have not decided what to do here. So this is a question that is for them to make a decision on. Just to give a fair disclosure, I'm providing legal advice to one of those organizations to al Haq on Israeli law. So, the Counterterrorism Act of 2016 stipulates that the preliminary designation, the one that was signed Friday, two weeks ago, is a temporary designation. It is enforced from the moment it is signed, and it is the same as a permanent designation, but it is, but it is considered temporary until it becomes permanent. And in between, there is a procedure in which the designated entity has a right to object to that designation within 60 days, so they still have like 40-something days to to file an objection. And if they do object, then there is a statutory advisory committee set up in the Ministry of Defense. It is composed of three members. It is headed by a district court judge, a retired district court judge, and the other two members are a retired Attorney General Office lawyer and a retired legal adviser in the Shabak in the Israeli Secret Service. So as you can see a very neutral and unbiased composition of retired members of the executive and one judge. And they will consider the arguments presented by the Shabak by the Secret Service that requested presumably, this designation and, and the arguments presented by the designated entity, they will provide a recommendation to the minister whether to lift the designation all together because it's, it was proved to be baseless, or to make it permanent. If the, if the minister decides to make it permanent, then the designated entity has a right to challenge that final decision in a judicial review in a high court petition that goes to the Israeli Supreme Court sitting as a High Court of Justice. So that's the process under the under the Israeli counterterrorism Act. In the West Bank, there is no process because it's 1945 mandatory laws that did not think of any hearing or anything like that. So there is a practice under which you can object to it. And that objection will be considered by the military commander. Now, one last thing that I need to say the process under the counterterrorism act seemed seems like a process, there is a committee there, you can find objections, but your attention that it is the opposite of what due process is all about in a process that that safeguards due process, you first hear the allegations against you, you are provided with the evidence that allegedly prove these allegations, and then you respond to the allegations, if you so choose. And then the neutral arbitrator committee or or court will make a decision. In this case, it's the other way around. First of all, you have to file your objection against allegations that have never been leveled against you. It's just very, very only the title is there. That, for example, in this case, all we know is that the government has has decided to designate these organizations because they are part of the PFLP network of NGOs. Only after you find the objection, then the Shabak will provide more detailed allegations, but not evidence, the evidence remains secret. So you cannot you're not confronted with the evidence against you. So the whole process is rigged. The court process is distorted when it comes to due process rights.

Hadar Susskind 34:43
One follow up on that and then I'll take one of these other questions here. When you're talking about the the ability to appeal and you know, an entity or each of the six groups able to do that individually. Is there some possibility they do that collectively because One of the things that to me was interesting is that even in the little bit the kind of headlines we've seen, from the actual allegations, they're of course not the same for the six groups. Some of them, I think, two, if I haven't correct, or were actually accused of, you know, embezzling money and giving money to the PFLP, and others, just sort of supporting it in some, you know, undetermined matter.

Michael Sfard 35:23
Yeah, yeah, there are, there are nuances in the I mean, the Israeli got the Minister of Defense, and in all the briefings that he and his people have, have done, they treat all the six as one group as the same, when in fact, in the designation themselves, there are nuances, as you said, and not all organizations are, have been charged with diverting funds to the PFLP. And in fact, those who didn't all that is left in their designation is that they have advanced the goals of the PFLP in the international arena. What does that mean, if the PFLP, for example, is is in favor, one of its goals is boycott on settlement projects. And those organizations because of their human rights, concerns, or concerns are also advancing boycott on settlement projects? Does that mean that in the international arena in the international institutions, does that mean that they advance the goals of the PFLP? It's really the the allegation, even the allegations, and the wording of the allegations are extremely thin? So yes, it's it's an individualized process, every organization will have, if they so choose, they will have to embark on their own objection, appeal. And, and, and confront the allegations that are leveled against them, but all of them will not receive the evidence. And probably this is why there has never been in Israel, a judicial intervention that overturned a designation of an entity as a terrorist organization or unlawful Association. Never. I mean, the word processes, which ended up with lifting it, because the army decided that to back off, or because there was some kind of an agreement reached. But a, a judicial order that overturned the decision of the minister or the military commander never on the record here is extremely poor.

Hadar Susskind 37:44
Well, I'll note that Americans for Peace Now also supports a boycott of settlement goods. So you know, what we'll see. We'll see where that goes. So I want to take another question from the q&a here, which was somebody asked what the responses were from the Arab members of the government. And I want to expand that actually to say, you know, what are the responses from the other members of the government from not only the Arab members from Meretz broadly, Labor others? What has Lapid said about this?

Michael Sfard 38:17
Um, there is an opposition within the coalition to this to this designation, it's important that there is an opposition within the coalition. But that opposition is not rigorous. And I And I'm saying I say that with with sorrow, because you know, Meretz is supposed to be the party that is based on the on civil rights and civil liberties, and the home for Human Rights Code, the human rights community. And while it did, to a certain degree, condemn the act, it did not follow through it did not make did not make a crisis, a political crisis out of it. And I have to say, again, with with, with deep sadness, that it seemed like the ministers of Meretz wanted the news cycle to be over and get back to other stuff. Because it's not their constituency. Palestinians are not constituency, they do not get to vote. They can they they do not have representation. That's what the occupation is all about. And so they don't have people working for them in the corridors of power where decisions are made. And so it's very, it's really very, very sad. Now It is important that there is an opposition within the coalition because if there will be legal or diplomatic pressure on the government to reverse that, that opposition could become more vocal could be helpful. But on its own. I think both Meretz and Labor who have expressed reservations of this act. For them, the threat of having Netanyahu back in power is more serious than anything that this government can do, whether it builds 4000 new units in in settlements, whether it is involved in in severe violence against Palestinians, and only, you know, in the last four and a half months inside was, since this government took power, more than 60 Palestinian civilians were killed in demonstrations in the West Bank, and even when human rights groups that some of the parliament members of merits know, personally, are being designated their organizations. So unfortunately, it seems like nothing serious will come out from that opposition within the coalition.

Hadar Susskind 41:32
And let me, I'm gonna follow up with one of the other questions here that goes with that. What's the, what's been the reaction more broadly in the Israeli, you know, population is this? You know, we've seen our colleagues at Shalom Achshav joined with many other Israeli groups in signing a statement. I don't know if in solidarity, I would say, but how much, you know, how much attention do you think this is getting? Do you think there's any push within the society around this issue?

Michael Sfard 42:02
Well, there is, you know, the full half and there is the empty half of the glass. So the empty half I think I've mentioned, there is no, you know, big wave of demand to reverse it. But the full half is the probably for the first time, probably ever an act of designating an entity as a terror organization in order to, you know, defend the lives of Israeli children and Israeli populations is second guessed, both by the media, even mainstream centrist. Commentators have raised doubts about this act. And there is a growing feeling that, that hiding the evidence behind this comm excuse of, of security, is concealing emptiness, especially after the disclosure of the dossier. So we saw, for example, immediately after the the designation on the weekend, following a many commentators that usually are either centrist or even leaning to the right, asking questions about it, which is something that is unusual in Israel. Again, it's not enough, it is not mobilized, because these people are behind the mountains in Ramallah. They're not speaking Hebrew. They're not Jewish. They're not part of us. But it means that if a reversal will happen, it will not be resisted by the Israeli popular sentiment. And that's a lot because when it comes to security and terrorism, usually most Israelis just stand still, and salute.

Hadar Susskind 44:11
Yeah, that actually, I think that that half full glass is a lot. Yeah. I got another category of questions here that I want to sort of put together for you, which comes down to what can we here in the US do, I think is the big vision? But first of all, there's actually a, I think, a legal question, which is it possible, given the current status can people here in the US donate to those organizations? is that money going to going to get through? So if you can speak to that? And then there's a lot of questions here that are really about Congress and the administration and, frankly, the work that that APN is doing in terms of trying to help people both in Congress and the administration to understand this and understand the evidence and the questions, but I'll put that to you. And you're seeing as, you know, what do you think short of of course having the admission stand up and say, as the Europeans did, no, we don't believe this. But in terms of individual members of Congress or statements or things like that, you know, do you think what do you think was would be helpful or impactful on that front?

Michael Sfard 45:11
Every statement by American representatives, any statement by Jewish leaders, any statement by, by credible associations that are known in favor of reversal is extremely important, because at the end of the day, we need them. There is we need a critical mass in order for the government to say, Okay, it's not, it's not worth it. It's not worth it. The it's a PR disaster. And, and we are losing some of our allies, we're losing some of our friends. So what can you do? You can you can go to your congress, woman or man or your senator and ask them to make a statement. And these statements pile up, you can also express support to the Israeli organizations that work against that designation. Now, do you have a feature in zoom that where you can say this is not legal advice? I no one should look at, see this webinar as legal advice. And I definitely cannot advise Americans on the risks that are associated with being involved with organizations that were designated in Israel and Palestine. And you know, whether to contribute or to donate would amount to any crime. But as far as I can say, and I'm an Israeli lawyer, I'm not giving advice on American law. But in Israel, of course, that would have that would be an offense. When you think of a terrorist organization, think of the Hezbollah think of the Hamas, okay. And it is clear that, that if I will donate to the Islamic Jihad, that would be an offence under Israeli law and under was under military law. So, so, but But in America, these organizations are not designated. And you should ask an American lawyer, what are the impacts of making such donations? I would, I would just say that, that, that the Israeli executive directors of Israeli human rights organizations have all not only signed on, on a statement of solidarity, but also went to Ramallah, to make a solidarity visit. And this was a basis for our Israeli right wing organization to file a criminal complaint against them, and also against me that because of things that I tweeted and posted for supporting a terrorist organization, so this is something this is definitely coming.

Hadar Susskind 48:14
So just to dig into that for one little bit, well, it's not legal advice. But in terms of the Israeli control over the accounts of those organizations right now. Can they receive money? Forget, forget the legal?

Michael Sfard 48:32
So the answer, the answer is I don't know. And that is because I what I can say is that Israel has the power to block it. And now the question is a question of policy. What will they do? Right? in Ramallah, there are probably, I don't want to say how many but three or four digits number of people who are considered by Israel to be terrorists, terrorists, or members or members in a terrorist organization. And there are definitely offices in Ramallah and other parts in cities of, of associations that have been outlawed by the military. And yet, not all of them are being arrested immediately. And not all of these offices are being shut down. Israel uses these powers selectively, sometimes arbitrarily, when it finds it suitable for its goals. So the fact that that other means when in hock and DCI Palestine and Bisan and all the rest have been designated doesn't mean that tomorrow, the tonight their offices will be shut down, raided, and their directors will be arrested it means that they can do it. Same goes to donations. They have the power to block all donations not only blocked but also expropriate the funds once they arrive to Israel because these are proceeds of terror or their money. And they have done that before. In other cases. I I've litigated cases where a European organization has made a transaction to a charity in Gaza in this case, and the and the money was blocked and seized by the Israeli government and expropriate. So it's a question of policy, not question of power, they do have the power to do.

Hadar Susskind 50:25
Gotcha. Thank you for the clarification. So and that actually raises one of the other questions. Again, we know this started with the organizations being declared as terrorist supporting orgs, or whatever the right phrase is, in Israel. Now, it's, you know, happened in the West Bank. Also, one of the questions that I know, when I was talking to people here, you know, folks on Capitol Hill and the administration, they said, Well, you know, if this is the case, if these groups would be declared as terror organizations, why weren't those leaders arrested? You know, a lot, you know, many of us have been on webinars with some of the folks who run these organizations in the last week or two public webinars. So, you know, why are they doing webinars instead of sitting in industrially jail if they have been accused of being terrorist supporting us? So I realized, you know, that puts you in the thinking on the part of the Israeli government. But why do you think that's the case that they made this designation, but then didn't take the actions?

Michael Sfard 51:18
Because the only reason they made the designation is only in order to stop the donations. That's the only reason, the only reason and by doing that, the Israeli government has completely depleted the concept of terrorism, just the way it does with antisemitism. If, if everyone is antisemite, then no one is, if everyone is a terrorist, even human rights defenders, then no one is a terrorist. And that's a crime against the the very important fight against antisemitism and against terrorism. And and that's a that's another proof that the outcome they wanted to achieve is not for these defenders to sit in prison, maybe they will do it eventually, because they need to show. But the goal was to silence these organizations to shut down their offices and stop their work that is seen by Israel, rightly or wrongly as a strategic threat, not a security threat, but a political strategic threat.

 

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Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

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Legislative Round-Up: November 5, 2021

1. Bills, Resolutions, Letters
2. The Great 2021 Iron Dome Supplemental Debacle (cont.)
3. FY22 NDAA – Senate
4. Hearings & Markups
5. On the Record

*Brought to you in cooperation with Americans for Peace Now, where the Round-Up was born!

Special note: On October 22, 2021, the Israeli government declared six Palestinian human rights groups to be “terror organizations” – a designation that effectively outlaws the groups, criminalizes their work under Israeli law and enables Israel to seize assets, arrest staff, prohibit funding, and punish public expressions of support and solidarity. With this terror designation, the Israeli government has escalated its longtime efforts to crush Palestinian organizations that document Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights and seek to hold Israel accountable. FMEP is proud to present a compendium of resources on this issue (which we are adding to every day).

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