Sari Bashi, an Israeli human rights lawyer and the co-founder of Gisha, recently published a Hebrew-language book, “Maqluba: Upside-Down Love,” about her relationship with her partner, a Palestinian professor from Gaza. The book is a personal and political memoir: a romance, a historical record, a political critique, and an adventure story of navigating Israeli checkpoints.
This summer, Ben & Jerry’s announced its intention to cease sales of its products in the occupied territories. Despite repeatedly stating that the company’s policy is limited to territory that is under Israeli military occupation, and it would not impact sales of Ben & Jerry’s products within the state of Israel, the decision triggered enormous backlash from conservative voices within the American Jewish community and from politicians at both the state and federal level.
APN strongly supports Ben & Jerry’s and has repeatedly pushed back against efforts to paint their decision as anything other than a targeted and principled response to the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Americans for Peace Now sent a letter on Monday signed by leading New York Jewish activists to Governor Kathy Hochul, protesting New York's conflation of the sovereign state of Israel and West Bank settlements.
The letter, signed by 150 leading pro-Israel pro-peace New York-based Jewish activists objects to a recent determination by the Commissioner of the Office of General Services of New York State that Ben & Jerry's boycott of West Bank settlements constitutes BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) against the state of Israel.
November 29, 2021
The Honorable Kathy Hochul
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Hochul,
We are Jewish New Yorkers writing to express our opposition to the recent determination by the Commissioner of the Office of General Services of New York that Ben & Jerry’s boycott of settlements in the occupied territory controlled by Israel constitutes engaging in BDS against the state of Israel, and the subsequent decision to restrict New York pension fund holdings from its parent company, Unilever PLC under the auspices of Executive Order 157.
The July 2021 Ben & Jerry’s decision to cease sales of its product in Israeli settlements is a principled pro-Israel position. Both Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever have repeatedly stated that their policy is limited to territory that is under Israeli military occupation, and that this decision would not extend to sales of their products within the state of Israel. By narrowly targeting Israeli settlements in the West Bank while continuing to sell products in the state of Israel, Ben & Jerry’s has taken a moral stance to boycott settlements – one of the greatest threats to Israel's future and a Two-State solution – while continuing to support the legitimacy and existence of the state of Israel.
The United States does not recognize the Israeli settlements as part of the state of Israel. For a future Two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, indeed, for the future of Israel as a democracy and a Jewish state, it is vital that the distinction between sovereign Israel and the settlements be maintained.
The State of New York’s Executive Order 157, under which this decision has been made, also does not conflate Israel with the territories it controls. The Executive Order contains no mention of territories controlled by the state of Israel. Rather, it clearly defines BDS targeting Israel as engaging in or promoting any activity that is “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with Israel or persons doing business in Israel.”
Indeed, it is the decision by the Commissioner that fails to uphold these crucial differences. By wrongly applying the same standard of treatment to both the settlements in the occupied territories and the state of Israel, this decision undermines the distinction between the two –contributing to the erasure of the Green Line and threatening the future of a negotiated Two-State Solution.
While we may not all agree with the decision or ourselves choose to boycott settlements, we are united in condemning this decision. The decision to restrict pension fund holdings is an overreach beyond the specific territorial boundaries defined in E.O. 157, is a clear attempt to conflate Israeli settlements with Israel, and is a divergence from long standing bipartisan US foreign policy. As Jewish Americans who care deeply about the security and longevity of the State of Israel, we urge the Commissioner to reverse this decision.
Rabbi Guy Austrian
Stephen Bauer, Physician
Talia Benamy, Jewish Communal Engagement Chair, J Street NYC
Nathaniel Berman, Brown University
Ethan Bloch, Professor, Bard College
Kenneth Bob, President, Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel
Martin Bresler, Board member, Americans for Peace Now
Shifra Bronznick, Social Change Strategist
Dr. Jessica Brown, Co-Chair, J Street NYC
Alan H Channing, J Street NYC
Shira Danan, Director of Communications, T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Hasia Diner, Professor, New York University
Prof. David M Elcott
Dr. Ayala Emmett, Professor Emeritus, University of Rochester
Dan Fleshler, Board member, Americans for Peace Now
Evelyn Frankford, J St; NYJA; Malkhut
Bryony Schwartz Freij
Peter Frey, Vice-Chair, J Street Board of Directors
Cari Gardner, Vice chair, New York Progressive Action Network
Daryl L Gildenblatt, MD, FACOG, Senior Attending Physician, Assistant Clinical Professor, Director Ob/Gyn Clerkship Columbia-Bassett, Bassett HealthCare, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
Danny Goldberg, Board member, Americans for Peace Now
Phyllis Goldman, G&S Consultants
Miki Golod, National Director, Ameinu
Nancy H Goody
Dr. David Gordis, President Emeritus, Hebrew College
David P. Greenberg
Rabbi Steve Gutow
Howard Horowitz, President, Horowitz Associates, Inc. and member of Temple Israel of New Rochelle
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO, T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Barbara Kane, PhD
Jesse Kasowitz, Esq
Jonathan Kopp, J Street NYC Executive Committee
Edward Kornbluh, DDS
Dr. Helene JF de Aguilar Koster
Gil Kulick, Board member, PPI
Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie
Bill Leavitt, Attorney
Rachel Lerner, Director of Strategy, T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Alan Levin, Director, Sacred River Healing
Stefan H Levy
Kathryn Levy, Executive Committee Member, New York Progressive Action Network
Benjamin Linder, Board Member, J Street National Board
David Linkin, Retired
Arlene Mae Lundquest
Joel Magid, Board member, Ameinu
Rabbi Jeffrey Marker
James Meier, Arete
Rabbi Shira Milgrom
Mik Moore, Board member, Americans for Peace Now; CEO, Moore + Associates
Jo-Ann Mort, Board member, Americans for Peace Now; ChangeCommunications
Leila S Mustachi
Kathleen Peratis, Board member, Americans for Peace Now; Jewish Currents
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, writer, activist, APN past president
Terry Pristin, J Street
Robin Reid, Producer
Harry Reis, Columbia Law School
Daniel Rosenblum, Attorney
Bill Rosenthal, Retired Faculty, City University of New York
Mark Rosing, Physician, SBH Women's Health
Brad Rothschild, Ameinu
Anya Rous, Documentary Producer
Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips
Ellen Sarna, Retired
Dr. Daniel Savin
Roberta Shechter, DSW
Yaakov Shechter, PhD, Retired Professor Emeritus
Rabbi Brent Spodek, Beacon Hebrew Alliance
David P. Stone
Stephen L Teitel
Judith Tuller, Board Member, Americans for Peace Now
Rabbi Burton Visotzky
Randi Weingarten, Board Member, Americans for Peace Now
Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub
David Weiser, MD
Eileen B. Weiss, Managing Director, Same Difference Interfaith Alliance
Judith Wishnia, Stony Brook University
Dr. Kenneth Wishnia, Suffolk County Community College
Michael Young, Attorney
*Professional titles and organizational affiliations are given for identification purposes only and do not indicate organizational endorsement of this open letter
Claire Miller 0:10
Hello and welcome back to PeaceCast, Americans for Peace Now's podcast. Today is Wednesday, November 24th. I am Claire Davidson Miller and with me is my colleague and co-host Ori Nir. Today we'll be talking to Ali Awad, a Palestinian activist and resident of Tuba, a village in Masafer Yatta, in the southern part of the West Bank, and Maya Rosen, an activist with All That's Left, an anti-occupation collective. Thank you, Ali and Maya, for being with us today.
Ali Awad 0:47
Thank you for hosting and organizing that.
Maya Rosen 0:49
Thank you so much.
Claire Miller 0:51
In the 1980s, the Israeli army designated part of Masafer Yatta, an area adjacent to the Palestinian town of Yatta, South of Hebron, which spans some 22 miles, a closed military zone. In fact, 18% of the West Bank is designated as such. Before we examine the problem, Ali or Maya, could you tell us a little bit more about the communities that live in this area? How many villages are we talking about and how many residents?
Ali Awad 1:26
So, like Masafer Yatta area that is designated by the Israeli army as firing zone 918, we are talking about 12 villages, including my village, Tuba. Now, there are like people there are living like the past and their livelihood on grazing the sheep husbandry of sheep and cultivating the land as a place where any kind of economic infrastructure is prohibited. This is the only way for the for those people to to be survived and to depend on their livelihood. The residents of the 12 villages nowadays are about 1300 people.
Claire Miller 2:09
Thank you. And can you also tell us a little bit more about what this designation means? What is the closed military zone? What is a firing zone for military training? And how does this impact the over 1000 residents?
Ali Awad 2:28
Okay, so I'm going to do like, since the 80s, since the beginning and since like starting this policies against those communities. So like for us as Palestinians Masafer Yatta, it started in 1981. Like at the meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the settlement affairs indicates that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon explained it like himself, who was the Minister of Agriculture at the time, proposed that land in the South Hebron Hills, which is the part of Masafer Yatta to be allocated to the Israeli Defense Force for live fire training. Sharon like explained that he wanted the military to use the land on account of the expansion of the Arab villagers from the hills.
And he added like we have an interest in expanding and enlarging the shooting zones there. In order to keep these areas which are so vital in our hands. Many additional areas for training could be added and we have a great interest in the army being in the place. So an IDF representative said in response, we would be very happy to have that. Later in the meeting, it was decided that the Agriculture Minister's Advisor for Settlement Affairs, would meet with the with the representative of that from the IDF and show them the places marked for additional shooting zones in between two quantities to keep the areas in our hands as the as they said, following the decision of declaring our homes as firing zone 918 which was like which was suggested by the Ariel Sharon in the ministerial meeting at 1981. So they declared like our homes as firing zone 918 So following that decision, my home village Tuba among 12 Palestinian hamlets located in the South Hebron Hills, southern edge of occupied West Bank in August and November 1999. The majority of inhabitants of the inhabitants of the 12 hamlets were served with evacuation orders due to their illegal dwelling in a firing zone as the state claim.
So my grandfather, who was born in Tuba 1942, he inherited our home and our homeland from his great grandfather, as the whole residents of the villages maintain our unique way of life, with many living in or beside caves, and relying on farming and husbandry of sheep and goats for their livelihood.
So like, in that year in 1999, I was just like one years old. I don't remember anything from the eviction, but my grandfather tells me a lot about it. And that year his extended family, which contains of nine sons and six daughters, two of whom were married at the time. My father, the second son, who had three sons, and my mom was pregnant with my fourth brother, and the oldest uncle who had a family of three sons and two daughters. The smallest was born during the eviction, beside hundreds of sheep, they all were evicted and thrown homeless out of Tuba.
So after like destroying our home in Tuba we moved, like in another place, three kilometers away from Tuba, and we settled there.
So my family life lived in a camp of tents until we could return to our caves in Tuba few months after the Israeli civil administration. That which is designated as the rest of administration is the arm of the army that manages the day to day lives of Palestinians under military occupation. Along with a bus of soldiers, they showed up at the alternative, families, community, and sheep. And they confiscated all again, beside water tanks, and even the food of the sheep and the people. They took everything in the trucks and left my family on that rainy day of March herding their flocks in the hills without any shelter or anything from life elements. We continued living like in this way until the petition that was received to the High Court of Justice in January and February of 2000, requesting an interim injunction that would allow us to go back to our homes and retrive our confiscated property was accepted by the judge. So even though we were allowed to return, we have lived under the threat of expulsion since then.
So today, until today, for two decades now we have not been allowed to build a new structure, or even fix existing ones. For 20 years until, until today, we have awaited the Israeli Supreme Court's final ruling, which could see us thrown out entirely.
Also, furthermore, because the villages are inn Area C they don't receive building permits and face regular home demolitions. In this area in the area of Masafer Yatta, the Palestinians are not allowed to build any kind of infrastructure, or to connect their villages to the most basic services such as electricity, and water. The people of Masafer Yatta tried to connect the villages to water pipes, but the Israeli civil administration, regularly destroyed them.
Ori Nir 8:36
Thanks, we'd really like to talk a little bit about what life is like today in this area. And one thing that occurred to me is, you're living in the midst of a military zone, meaning that there is military maneuvers going on, what is it like to live in a place where there's military exercises regularly?
Ali Awad 8:56
Yeah, so like, at the beginning, it was much, much worse. Even like in the other villages that is, where like next we're next to them, like Janba and al-Markaz and those like villages that are also located in the firing zone. They were like the army fields, like the shooting fields were just like a few 100 meters away from them. So the soldiers like I saw, I would miss them in my eyes like a shooting like to their goal like to the goals, hunting the goals, just like few 100 meters away from the children's homes. Some of the soldiers like were sometimes some commanders who have like a group of soldiers were raised in the village during during the night for, like for the exercises like to train the soldiers in how, how to search the houses under an execuse that the soldiers say that we lost something. And during the winter, getting all the family and the children out of the homes and started searching the houses. Besides, also like part of the season of the training for the soldiers, they bring tanks. So the tanks that just even this year that came and entered and passed through the village of Janba. And the tank pass over the roof of the cave, destroying the homes of the of the Palestinians. And the most like dangerous, which is also the bombs left over, just this year in January. In January, 2021 18 years old kid from the village of al-Markaz, Masafer Yatta, he was running behind his sheep just 100 meters away from his home. And while he's running behind his heard, he stepped on, bomb left, like a military leftover and it exploded on him. He was taken to the hospital and some of the, like the bombs caused, he lost his right hand and his knee was fractured. And he was almost dead because some of the pieces of the bomb settled millimeters away from the from the hearts and the stomach. Luckily, he was taken to the hospital before he was dead. So this is how does it look like for him for having your home as like firing a firing zone.
Claire Miller 11:43
Thank you for sharing that Ali and I'm sure our listeners as they already know, settlers also pose a very real threat to the everyday lives of Palestinians. You know, in the news here, even we saw how settlers stage just a violent pogrom on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. At the end of September, breaking windows smashing cars and sending a three year old child to the hospital with a fractured skull. I'm gonna ask both of you to talk a little bit about settler violence. Ali, would you want to start and tell us a little bit about how settler violence has impacted your village in your life?
Ali Awad 12:37
Yes, of course. Okay, so like, the most of like the main settlements that are established like in the hills of South Hebron Hills, like there is a chain of settlement on the hills that separate Masafer Yatta from the city of these settlements, they were just like a military bases after the Israeli army occupied West Bank in 1967. Like my father and my grandfather told me that at the beginning, they were just like military bases for the Army where the army Israeli Army in 1967 arrived and settled in with caravans. But at the beginning of 1980s patrons feel like the military bases to tourism rental neighborhoods, which is settlements in a clear light violation to international law. Israel has the intention of bringing Israeli people as settlers to live in a Palestinian lands in the occupied territories. So that time like the the nearest settlements, which is less than one kilometers away from my home village was established is the Settlement of Maon and the settlement expanded in the early 2000s. With the with the hub with the outpost of Havat Maon. Since then, like settlers have taken over a majority of our grazing and land belonging, which is belonging to Palestinian villages in the area, the army and the settlers like seem to be working in tandem to steal our resources. Soldiers take our land under the guise of security, only then to give it to settlers to establish agricultural outposts. Because like settler expansion and violence take place under the protection of the army and with legal support, whether it is a firing zone or by using the outdated Ottoman laws, to seize control of a huge swaths of land that are then declare the state land. So there is a full cooperation between the settlers and the military. Since that like how it affected me myself, like since the establishment or my family or my village since the establishment of Havat Maon, which as I said it was expanded from the settlement of my own the area between Tuba, my home, and the outputs took apart my own has been a regular site of harassment by settlers and the military. But like as the sheep and the land is our only livelihood we continued like to graze in the area despite all the harassment and violence and risk of arrest and injury. Yet at the beginning of the year, like this year in April, my own extended again with a new outpost which prevented us from accessing the whole fields where we regularly graze, also it was like established on on on the road that connect my village Tuba to the to the city of via that path is just like less than three kilometers which is 20 minutes from my home until 2002 we used to be working 10 minutes we will be in the city of Yatta. But after Havat Maon was established as a result of the settler violence, this that road it was also blocked. So from 2002 until today, the residents of Tuba have to make a detour of extra 20 kilometers to reach to the city. The city of Yatta is the address of the people of Tuba and Masafer Yatta for healthcare and food and water. Beside that that road it used like to lead to my school as in our area as a firing zone and area. See under those excuses. We are not even allowed to build any kind of infrastructure beside like health units or kindergartens. In our school we have in our village, we have none. So we have to go to the nearest that used to be the nearest village, which is the village of a-Tuwani. But after How about my own establishment between my home village Tuba and my school and a-Tuwani that road that lead and became inside how Havat Maon it became very dangerous to pass through.
That was in 2002. The last time one of us tried to use that road. It was my uncle, the settlers attacked him and they broke his tractor and injured him. From 2002 until 2004. The kids used like to like to make a detour around away from the outpost with extra ten kilometers climbing the hills at the morning and afternoon going and coming back to school. In 2004, a group of American volunteers from the Christian Peacemaker team decided to accompany the kids back from from the road through the outposts. But in September 2004, in at the beginning at the first week of the school most settlers put chains and sticks and attached the kids and the volunteers. So following that attack, and instead of for instance, this Havat Maon outpost it's also illegal in the in the Israeli in the Israeli law. So depending to the Israeli law this outpost was illegal. So, Israel didn't open investigation about like those criminals, masked guys who came out from the few cottages that settle and among the forests, or open an investigation for the attacks of the American citizens, or the six, seven years old kids who are going to school. So they end up in the child committee in the Knesset, they decided that military will ask for the kids at the morning and afternoon. So since 2004 until today, the kids at Tuba have to wait at the morning from their home site until an army and IDF patrol show up in the outpost to accompany them one kilometers from their road inside the outpost until their home. So that's like how it affected how like the settler violence effect affected me and until like for the livelihood of my family. I have like so many stories.
Ori Nir 19:39
Thanks, Ali. I'd like to bring Maya into the conversation. Thanks for your patience. Maya, I want to ask you a little bit about your role particularly in sort of serving as a buffer if you will, between the local Palestinians and the settlers. What what does your organization do actually to help the the the Palestinians in Masafer Yatta?
Maya Rosen 20:01
So I'm active with All That's Left anti-occupation collective, and also in a variety of other activist groups of Israelis and internationals based in a variety of places who are working together and in solidarity with people in Masafer Yatta with Ali and all sorts of other amazing activists down there. And we've been working together for years at this point. And it's been totally an honor and a privilege to get to know people and to get to know the communities. And also amazing to see, the longer we work together, the more that becomes possible. And specifically, this campaign, there's a major Supreme Court case coming up about the future of the firing zone, which is scheduled for March 15. So in just a few months, and we've been working together to think about how are we going to prepare ahead of what is going to be a what could have very strong implications in the ruling in this case?
Claire Miller 21:03
Could I ask a question actually, about that? So you mentioned that there's a Supreme Court case coming up in March. And Ali mentioned that, you know, the firing zone designation was made in the 80s. And the the first forcible removal of Palestinians from these villages was in 1999. So I guess my question is why now, why after 20 years, is this the year that the Supreme Court is looking to make sort of a final ruling on this land?
Maya Rosen 21:07
So there have been a series of hearings since essentially since 1990s. So the first evictions happened in 1999. And in 2000, residents were allowed to return until the Supreme Court reached a final decision, it was sort of an interim move. And that interim period has lasted over 20 years at this point, there have been a whole series of hearings over the last 20 years, which have all been inconclusive, there was an attempt at mediation that failed. Most recently, the Masafer Yatta Regional Council joined as a side in the case to be able to bring the perspective of the unique cultural and historical aspects of the of the region. And so that's one thing that's going to be discussed in this upcoming case. And any case could be the final case at this point. And so we don't know exactly what's going to happen in March, it could be that after March, there's going to be another hearing, it could be that the Supreme Court rules that operating a firing zone on occupied land is illegal. That's highly unlikely. But it's possible, it's possible that all residents will be forcibly evicted. I think that what's most likely, although, of course, we don't know is that the court will try to phrase whatever decision that comes to as some sort of compromise between the needs of the army and the needs of the residents. But what's important to keep in mind, and that is that the the Army's most recent proposals to the court have involved residents being forced to leave their homes for over half of the year, which makes living in the area, impossible for people who are dependent on agriculture and livestock, and does not actually permit any kind of life in the area. And so I think it's quite likely we're going to be sold a story of compromise. And it's important thing for us to keep in mind that any amount of forced transfer, even if it's partial is still forced transfer.
Ori Nir 23:40
One of the arguments that's been made by the state is that the residents of Masafer Yatta are not permanent residents in this area, because they're staying there is not it's not permanent. They're there only for certain seasons. Is that correct?
Maya Rosen 23:57
I think I mean, Ali, you're welcome to, I think you should say more about the actual lives of people in the firing zone. I'll just note that in the most recent Supreme Court hearing in in August of 2020, the judge explicitly said that it's possible to have a permanent residence in more than one place, and that that shouldn't be a relevant claim in the hearing. I think also, documents have now been submitted to the court that show that there have been Palestinian life in this area for much, much longer than the army is claiming. There's aerial photos from World War One. We have significant documentation from before the foundation of Israel, of Palestinian life in the area. And I think sort of the definitions on a broader level, the definitions that they're working with in terms of permanent residents and perennial are ones that don't aren't categories that may be appropriately matched the lives of people who have called this place home for many, many generations.
Ali Awad 24:49
Yeah, so as I said, like, my grandfather, and my he was born in tuba in 1942. And he inherited like our land from his a great grandfather. And on all this time like we are just living our only home is the village, this the village of Tuba in Masafer Yatta, even though that our life was like more mobile at the beginning and before of the occupation, so but it was just like inside Masafer Yatta in different like Masafer Yatta, but it's about like fields that are cultivated for seasonal cultivation that people use for the lands. So they they are staying there for raising their sheep and cultivating their land. So it doesn't make sense that they have to leave their fields and go somewhere else, as their lifestyle is like the delivery stock and decreasing the sheep so Masafer Yatta, in the West Bank, for them, is the best place to stay. Their job is to graze the sheep. So it doesn't make sense that they have to take 1000s of sheep and goats and go inside the crowded city, they need an open space for their lifestyle. So all our life and since I was born in 1998, and I witness that we didn't move anywhere, except for Tuba. So we are like all the people and the residents. And I know like the other villages, residents, I know them personally. And they know the families that they belong to. So I never saw that scene that they have moved anywhere else. In whole my life. The people that I know that I grew up with, they are living either in Tuba, or an advocate or an images, or Hallowee or jimba, ordinary miracles. They never move to anywhere else.
Claire Miller 26:48
Just kind of one final question to start wrapping things up. As you probably can guess, most of our listeners are Americans. But they are also people who really want to do something, to promote peace and to work toward ending the occupation. So what can our listeners do to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians of Masafer Yatta?
Maya Rosen 27:14
So one thing that Ali and other activists and I have all been working on together as a campaign called 'Save Masafer Yatta' and working against evictions and forced transfer in the area. And one of our main goals and one of the main things that we hope listeners can take from this is that Masafer Yatta does under immense threat and danger. And then it's a huge area of land with a tremendous number of people. And in the way that previous campaigns around Sheikh Jarrah, around Susiya, have been very successful in gaining gaining name recognition for those communities. One of the things that we're trying to do in this initial stage, is make sure that people who care about peace and justice in this land understand that Masafer Yatta is a huge piece of that. And we want that activists and organizations and American law makers when they think about what needs to be done in Israel-Palestine, they think about Masafer Yatta. So, one thing that that we've been working on recently, which is going to expand in all sorts of ways in the coming months is we worked together on a photo project where we worked with photographer Emily Glick to photograph residents of the firing zone and bring information about what their lives are like. And activists after that, in the middle of the night, put those posters up around Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. And so people woke up in the morning and you know, saw dozens and dozens of faces of men and women and children old and young who could be facing eviction in the coming months. And you can see all of those portraits along with some photo essays, including an essay about Ali and also about Ali's grandparents at www.savemasaferyatta.com. There's a form to sign up to get more involved in the campaign. And in the coming months we hope to reach out to both activist based here for ways to go down and meet the communities and be ready to join in if physical protective presence is necessary and also for people abroad in order to support in advocacy in fundraising for needs of the community and for the campaign. And we would really love for people to sign up share email addresses and we'll be in touch as campaign plans develop.
Ori Nir 29:43
Ali Awad 29:44
What I wish from the listeners who are gonna like have a look at the link of the campaign. I wish that the will like have a look at like the stories and the faces of the people and from Masafer Yatta to read like the story of my grandma, my grandfather and how their life used to be long before of the occupation came of, to Masafer Yatta in '67. So, what I wish also from the listeners that will achieve like the wish of my grandma because when she was seven years old, she used like to ride the donkey and to follow her brother's like 20 kilometers around Masafer Yatta and sleep with a sheep everywhere she wants safely and without any worries. But as she said, like in when we interviewed her that when I was seven years old, I was not really worried to move around the hills freely and safely. But her granddaughter when she was seven years old, just like 100 meters from the home, she sent a bottle of water to her uncle while he was grazing in the sheep, and a group of teenagers settlers chased her. And while she's running the hit her leg with a stone, and when she falls down on the dirt, they came and smash her head directly with other rock. So I hope that they will take an action into returning those people into their safe and peaceful life, people of Masafer Yatta but they are just like shepherds and farmers who really wish to have and to practice their normal life without any racist laws that intervene to evacuate them from their only homes. If those people will be evicted from Masafer Yatta they're gonna lose their everything. First of all, they have no other place to go, they will be homeless, they will lose their job because they cannot go anywhere with their job, their job is connected to their land. If they go out of their land, they're gonna lose also their livelihood. So I wish that people will take action and support them, to save them and to save their homes. And thanks to everyone.
Ori Nir 32:07
Thank you, Ali. And thank you, Maya, I want to thank you for joining us and the important things you said about the suffer yet it's a it's an issue that we have APN and are going to continue following and hopefully talk to you in the future to get an update about how things are going.
Ali Awad 32:23
Thank you so much for organizing.
Maya Rosen 32:24
Thank you very much
Hadar Susskind 0:03
Good afternoon, everybody. I am Hadar Susskind, the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, and I am very happy to be here with you all today. For those of you who are regulars in our webinar, you know that this is the part where I talk for like 10 or 15 seconds and wait as everybody joins the webinar. This is introduction number one, before we get deeper into the details, but again, we are thrilled to have you all here with us. Hope everyone had a nice good holiday weekend, is enjoying their Hanukkah, Hag Sameach to everybody. So once again, I'm Hadar Susskind. I'm the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, and I'm thrilled to be here with you. Thank you all for joining us today for what is going to be a great conversation. Before we get going. Just a little bit of housekeeping. I want to let everyone know we are recording this. If you are interested in sharing it with friends, hearing it again, whatever you'd like afterward, we will post it as an episode of PeaceCast, our podcast, and we'll also be posting the video to YouTube and you can find it on our website and our social media afterwards. Once we get into the conversation, we will be taking questions. As always, please post those questions using the Q&A function at the bottom of your screen. That's the only way we're taking questions so no need to use the hand raised or any of the other pieces. It is all through the Q&A and Madeleine and I will be sharing those questions with Congressman Levin. And with that I am thrilled to hand it over to Madeleine.
Madeleine Cereghino 1:41
Hello, everyone. I'm Madeline Cereghino. I'm the Director of Government Relations at Americans for Peace Now and it is my honor to welcome Congressman Andy Levin, from the great state of Michigan, which I hear had a very good weekend for football. So congratulations. And Congressman -- Go Michigan -- Um, Congress Levin has been a leader for diplomacy and nuance in Congress. And this October, he introduced the Two State Solution Act, which we were so excited by and are so excited to have him here to talk to us a bit more about this. So Congressman Levin, I would like to turn it over to you or so you can share your thoughts on this legislation and your efforts to reinvigorate the US role in the peace process.
Andy Levin 2:28
Well, thanks so much, Madeleine. Thanks, Hadar. Go blue. I'm still kind of in shock. Not that we beat Ohio State but that Michigan just like trounced Ohio State so that's, that's amazing. And it's just great to be with you all, Hag Sameach. Looking forward to this very, as we go from Thanksgivingukkah into straight up Hanukkah, whatever.
Just I love this season. So it's good to be with you all. Um, yeah. So, um, I I'm so grateful to Americans for Peace Now for your support for this bill, and for having me here today. And just excited to talk to you all about this project that's so personally meaningful to me, the Two State Solution Act. First, let me just tell you kind of how I got here. Personally, it's been a long journey. Um, in 1990, I was a 29 year old graduate student at the University of Michigan. And I helped to organize an interfaith delegation of Michiganders to Israel and Palestine. We were Jews, Christians and Muslims, Arab Americans, Jewish Americans. Our leader was the Episcopal Bishop of Michigan. My wife and I went together and it was a wonderful trip. And when I returned, home, I wrote an op ed in the Detroit Jewish news, urging my fellow Jewish Americans to speak out in support of a two state solution and an end to the occupation.
In that piece, I asked why don't we join thousands of courageous Israelis in opposing their government's policy, when it runs counter to Israel's own interests, and denigrates the Jewish people's centuries of struggle against injustice? Well, at that time, it was kind of a radical position in our community. And that didn't earn a lot of friends among the most the loudest and most powerful voices among Jewish organizations in America. But today, supporting a two state solution isn't just non controversial. Sometimes it feels banal and even meaningless. And I often feel like people saying they're in favor of a two state solution has become like people saying that their thoughts or prayers are with the survivors after the latest mass shooting at a school or shopping mall in this country. And I say no more mouthing support for long term security for Israelis and justice for Palestinians, and peace for everyone. Without action, words are empty. And sometimes people mouth the words and even support things that make peace impossible or further out of reach. So, I have always felt personally that resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict is important, not just for Israel's peace and security, but for the soul of the Jewish people. The Torah mentions the mitzvah of loving your neighbor as yourself in one form or another 36 times, more than any other. And as a person of faith, I feel we have to not only treat strangers or neighbors or others, well, and generally, but we have to ask ourselves, who is the most important or difficult neighbor for us and for the Jewish people? I think the answer is clear. It's the Palestinians.
And we don't have time anymore, to not act or to avert our gaze. America must reassert its long dormant role in bringing these two parties together and helping create the conditions for real peace and security. So that's why I introduced the Two State Solution Act. It's a bill to accelerate progress towards a two state solution, and discourage steps that put a two state solution out of reach. Briefly, the bill does a number of things. First, it clarifies the distinction between Israel and the Occupied Territories, and reverses policies put in place by the Trump administration that removed those distinctions. Second, and finds - rather it funds programming in the occupied Palestinian territories to promote human rights, democracy, the rule of rule of law to strengthen civil society organization, because a Palestinian government that respects civil and human rights and enjoys legitimacy amongst the Palestinian people, is both a good in its own right and necessary, but it's also important for productive negotiations on two state solution.
The bill also encourages diplomacy on a governmental level and people to people level both providing a way to reopen the PLO foreign mission here in Washington, and authorizing funding for shared educational opportunities, and youth activities among Israelis and Palestinians. Finally, the bill makes clear that the assistance to help Israel address its very real security challenges should continue. But it cannot be used in a manner that violates internationally recognized human rights, or for activities that perpetuate the occupation or enable the fact or, or heaven knows does your annexation. That includes activities like expanding settlements, demolishing houses or homes in Palestinian communities or evicting Palestinians from their homes. Congress has long delineated explicitly what taxpayer dollars can and cannot be used for. That's kind of our job. And that includes assistance provided to Israel, like all other countries, it's nothing new. It is, however essential if we're serious about achieving a two state solution, and upholding the political and human rights of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
During the Trump administration Israel accelerated planned settlements by more than 154% as compared to the prior administration. If we're serious about a foreign policy that respects human rights, if we're serious about supporting two states for two peoples, then we can't waste any more time, or use excuses about the conditions of the palace of the PA or this fragility of the Israeli government, or the fact that a terrorist organization is running Gaza, we've got to create the conditions for progress. You know, a couple of years ago, in the fall of 2019, I took a trip to Israel and Palestine. And it was my first as a member of Congress. And honestly, I went wondering whether a two state solution is still viable. Maybe the so called facts on the ground in all those years since my earlier trip meant that there's no way to make it feasible. But when I went there, and had so many meetings, and site visits and conversations with Israelis and Palestinians, I have to admit I was wrong. I believe it's still totally possible to have a two state solution that secures Israel's future as a democratic state and a national homeland for the Jewish people, alongside a viable democratic Palestinian state. But friends, it's not going to happen overnight. And it's not going to happen without work, it's going to take concrete actions. And the Two State Solution Act is a roadmap for those actions. I'm thrilled to have the support of 38 of my colleagues and counting, including several Jewish members, fellow members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and, and also of its State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, and many more. I'm also honored that the bill has been endorsed not only by Americans for Peace Now, but by J Street, T'ruah, and a number of other organizations. We're showing the world that peace isn't on the back burner. And support for a two state solution isn't just empty words, it's real. And there are people in Congress working hard to make it happen. I'll stop there and be happy to answer any questions or have any conversation you want, whether Madeleine or Hadar whoever's playing MC.
Hadar Susskind 11:14
Great, I will start us off and then Madeleine and I'll take turns. So first of all, again, thank you, Congressman, both for being with us, and much more importantly, for introducing this bill and doing all the work around it. We are getting some questions. And I want to remind folks, please use the q&a button at the bottom of the screen to submit your questions. I want to start though, kind of at the 30,000 foot because I was I was honored to stand with you at the press conference when when you introduced this bill. And one of the things that really stayed with me that you said then was that, you know, you're new introducing us that this isn't, you know, it's not getting a vote right now, it's not going to pass Congress, you know, this week or next week. This is really about resetting the stage in Congress for this conversation. And recommitting, at least I would say the Democratic caucus to actually supporting two states and not having it be like you just said, you know, thoughts and prayers. So can you talk to us a little bit about what's what does it feel like to talk about this issue with your colleagues? Are people you know, do other people think that that two state solution is still viable? Are people committed to this? Are there other things? What are the responses you've been getting? When you when you raise this issue in Congress?
Andy Levin 12:29
Well, thanks for being there Hadar, we wouldn't have done it without you. But it was that was a memorable moment. You know, I have to say, it's a real mix. I'm going to speak very personally, you know, as sort of a Jewish member of Congress, Congress who's decided to be, you know, in a way the most out there among us, and pushing for this, and in saying that the occupation has to end and so forth. You know, it's tough, it's difficult, because there are a lot of voices in the Jewish community that are very hostile to this. And so that's hard. But really, more importantly, and I don't know if it's surprising, or certainly heartening, that reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. And it's, it takes a number of forms. One is there are a lot of members of Congress who are a little bit afraid, and they've got their politics, and they're trying to balance whatever they think their politics are, but they love the bill. They say it's about time, they say we want to actually have an effective foreign policy. And so there's just a lot of excitement about it. And especially it's meaningful to me that it's coming from very senior members who really been around this issue in foreign policy for a long time. You know, Jerry Connolly, very senior member of the of the Foreign Affairs Committee, for example, just, you know, somebody I've been in conversation with, for so long, David Price many other people been around this issue for so long. And it's, I'll tell you, what I really feel like, Hadar, is that there's so much noise, and so much chatter that is superficial. And a lot of people get, I think, caught up in the idea of people are stuck in old ways of talking about things. And I really think with this bill, and all the work we're doing around it, we're really creating a new center of gravity, around support for Israel, support for peace, support for Palestinian political and human rights and real solid concern for Israeli security, that people have to realize that the Congress is going to keep continue to change and evolve. And that I think this kind of much more honest, robust push for a two state solution is going to be where we have to let And because it's the only way forward, and you know, it's gonna just pick up, pick up steam over time. So I feel very bullish about it. Even if there's, you know, you have to let's, you have to be strong in the building process. And I'm really happy about how it's going so far. Good. Well, again, you know, just thank you for doing it. Like you said, I think the changes that we're seeing in Congress, policy wise, demographics, wise politics, you know, politics was, they're all coming, but they all take leadership to help to help bring them into existence. And so I'm really glad to have you there. We're doing it.
Hadar Susskind 15:45
Madeleine Cereghino 15:46
Yes. So I have a question. While we're on the subject of kind of congressional support for this issue and where the future of it is. I have a question here from the audience that says, as the Two State Solution Act and the McCollum bill, the Pocan E-1 letter and other initiatives indicate there's a growing sentiment for more balanced US policy? Where do you think the future congressional support will come from the middle, the progressives, etc?
Andy Levin 16:15
Well, I think that I guess what when I say that, I think this creates a new center of gravity. What I mean is that my like my friend, Rashida Tlaib, my fellow Michigander, you know, she's like on record one person, at least for a one state solution, you know, so there and there may be more people like that. And, of course, we have people on the right, who are essentially for a sort of Greater Israel, one state solution, some may not admit it, but many, you know, really are. Some people don't want to reaffirm our aid to Israel, I understand that. So there, there's some people on the left, who will not support this, but I think they would be they are actually would be super supportive of the outcome. I mean, if we get to the point where there's a referendum, an authentic referendum amongst the Palestinian people voting for peace, where they really get to determine their own fate, I think everybody will, you know, will end up embracing that. And that's, you know, essentially, what we're pushing towards is real, authentic political voice and power for Palestinians in their own right for their own to determine their own future. And, of course, this bill doesn't get into what the, you know, status, the final like, how to handle Jerusalem, and what kind of land swaps, you know, I personally assume there'd be some kind of start with the 67 borders and have land swaps of equal size and equal value. But that's just me. You know, the point is, it's up for the parties to negotiate that. So I think that the I basically, I think that the support in Congress, we'll start from sort of the heart of the Democratic side of the aisle and grow out both to the left and right. And I think that it will eventually have Republican support as well, when we have a legitimate Republican Party again, I mean, I just don't honestly think we have a Republican Party in Congress that is participating in small d democracy. And, you know, debating these kind of questions like this in an honest way, the worst possible thing for Israel is to be for people to try to turn it into a partisan football. That's what's been going on. And if we get to a point where we're past that, I think, you know, I've anyway, had, let's just put it this way. I've had conversations with Republican colleagues who are serious about foreign policy, who won't support this now. But I think, you know, in the long term, when we get, I hope we get past this horrible period of the Republican Party being kind of outside of the realm of democracy with what they're doing. And then I hope we get back to them being a serious interlocutor on foreign policy. So we'll see.
Hadar Susskind 19:12
I had another question teed up, but I have to follow up on that first. You know, I like you have been doing this long enough that I remember when there were some Republicans who, you know, took took serious non partisan positions on this. I'm curious and, you know, not sharing any names, but whether you've actually had conversations with any Republican colleagues who you think are even considering supporting this bill.
Andy Levin 19:38
Not that are considering supporting it now. But you so so, you know, I have Republican colleagues who are well aware that presidents like Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, George HW Bush, George W. Bush, all looked, had a clear view that we had to have a two state solution for there to be peace in an ongoing way. And we're willing to use American, you know, the the muscles that we have to try to push the parties in that direction, including Israel and the Palestinians. So, and I have Republican colleagues who think that that was the right approach, and the only approach and so I think there's not a ton of political courage I'm seeing amongst my colleagues right now, I guess, if you, you know, are part of a party that used to mean something fairly different, but that, you know, the base, what's, you know, when people pull the base, and vast majority of them are loyal to Donald Trump, they and they don't want to cross him and they don't, they kind of don't know what to do. So it would have, I think, it's not an immediate thing had our I think it's something for a hope, hoped for time when the Republican Party is in a, you know, a whole different place where they can be serious about a range of policies. And, you know, ultimately, for the health of our democracy, we're gonna need that we, we have to have multiple, at least two parties that can engage in you know, I can disagree with you about an issue. And then we sort of duke it out, we pass a law that, you know, addresses our views as best as possible, we move on, and then we try to beat each other in the next election, come back and legislates more. That's not what's happening right now. And I hope we can get back to it, though.
Hadar Susskind 21:37
Indeed. So I want to ask you about what I think is one of the most important parts of the legislation. And I think it's clearly one of the most controversial is the issue around aid to Israel. And you know, and I preface this with, you know, earlier this year, APN, became the first first organization sort of, in our political space, a progressive Zionist organization to come out with a position in favor of conditioning aid to Israel. And you know, our position is we support aid, we want to see that aid continue. And we believe that in order for it to do so, we need to be able to demonstrate that it's supporting American policy priorities, upholding American values. And I think your bill states with slightly different language, the same thing. But talk to us a little bit about what, you know, what that might look like, if this bill were to become law. How does that provision get enacted?
Andy Levin 22:30
Yeah, well, so this, you know, people there, you get into so much wordsmithing here, right? I mean, this bill does not, this bill potentially restricts aid, but it doesn't condition it in the sense of, it doesn't say, if you do X, you will not get Y or that kind of thing. And there is a difference there. It's not just semantics. So for example, people know that we explicitly condition I believe, $300 million of aid to Egypt, on human rights conditions, and it was never really taken seriously. And finally, the Biden administration said, Well, you're focusing on human rights. So we're withholding 180 million. And a lot of us said, Hey, wait, we didn't say you get to pick and choose. We said the 300 million is conditioned. Well, this bill doesn't do that. It it set. But it does, I think, something very important, it says that the aid that we give you is for a specific purpose or set of purposes, it's for your defense, it's for your, your security. And it's not for extending the occupation, expanding the occupation. In fact, we think that's counter to your security. So you may not use the security assistance we give you to perpetuate or expand the occupation. And I think what, you know, when this bill passes, what are what what will happen is, Israel will face this that actually looking at, okay, are these weapons or these tanks or these whatever that we're using for this thing? Are they is it all being used for, you know, to extend the occupation? Are, can we account for this? You know, are we and I think that's very healthy and important. And if it turns, you know, if it turns out that they're actually using our aid to, you know, make a two state solution impossible. That, you know, that needs to stop because we think it's counter to Israel's interests, and it's certainly counter to the purpose of our aid. So that's, you know, I think it would be a huge step to pass this bill, in helping Israel realize that, you know, going on and on with this occupation, is just harmful to its own interest and that the US will not be a partner in that we want to be a partner in long term security for Israel, which can only be achieved through peace with the Palestinians.
Hadar Susskind 25:13
Thank you. Madeleine?
Madeleine Cereghino 25:15
Thank you so much. Congressman. I have another question on the substance of the Two State Solution Act. This one is asking if you could please explain the section of the Act regarding the Taylor Force Act and payments to Palestinian families and why opponents criticize this part of it?
Andy Levin 25:34
Well, so a lot of I don't know what the question means by opponents, but a lot of people just completely lie about it and say it ignores the Taylor Force, I mean. So here's what the bill does. The, it says that, we are going to really encourage you and incentivize you to comply with the Taylor Force Act. And obviously, if the PA wants to give support to Palestinian families, that's fine. But it's not fine to, you know, single out families of people who have committed terrorist acts and support them. That's what the Taylor Force Act says. So we want to encourage the the PA to come into compliance with the Taylor Force act by stopping doing that. And if they did, it would, you know, facilitate, expanded, expanded diplomatic relations between the US and and the Palestinians, essentially, what it's what it's saying is that the Taylor Force Act, which blocks economic support, fund, aid benefiting the PA directly, why don't you come into compliance with this? And then we can take, you know, our relationship to another level? Because we think you should comply with this. And we don't think you should, you know, be it's not a good thing to be singling out people who have committed terrorist acts to you know, their families for support in ways that you don't support other families. That's not a healthy thing for peace between Israel and Palestine.
Hadar Susskind 27:43
One of the things I'm just going to jump in and follow up on that, you know, you mentioned at the beginning, the opportunity of reopening the PA representation offices here in DC, there's really the way I've been thinking about there's, you know, a whole category of cleaning up with a Trump mess. And that includes closing down the PA offices here, of course, the East Jerusalem consulate, some of the binational trade agreements. So I know you touched on a number of those things. And frankly, some of them connect to compliance of Taylor Force Act. Can you talk a little bit more about those and how they connect to the bill and your broader efforts?
Andy Levin 28:19
Yes, well, I mean, a little, some of it is undoing that, what the Trump administration did, and some of it is just saying, Look, we, we want, if we want peace, we have to engage in the hard work of diplomacy. And so this bill makes clear that the goal is to reopen the US Consulate in for Palestinians in East Jerusalem to you know, have a PLO mission in Washington, to, you know, increase people do people diplomacy to increase aid, and and some of the a lot of what the bill does, you know, a lot of people who, I guess, whatever you want to call them the right wing about, you know, say, oh, it only picks on Israel, but it does, it's really totally false. Not only does it encourage the PLO, and basically say you have to come into compliance with the Taylor Force Act, it says Hamas is a terrorist organization. It reaffirms that we're not giving direct aid to the PA and it also would give significant aid to democratization to civil society, society organizations in the Palestinian territories, to organizations that uphold or build up the rule of law. Because, you know, there are serious problems with the PA as a government, obviously, it hasn't had elections in many years. It's has a lot of problematic behavior, you know, in terms of human rights, within within its jurisdiction. So the bill would really try to build up a Palestinian civil society to build in demand democracy for the Palestinian people. And so it's very pro diplomacy between the US, Israel and the US in Palestine in all three, and it also tries to sort of build up the democratic political capacity of Palestinian society.
Madeleine Cereghino 30:32
Perfect. This actually brings us to our next question about, you know, Palestinian society and Israeli society, there have been a few folks who've written in asking about some statistics that show that neither Palestinians nor Israelis are super enamored with the idea of a two state solution at the moment. And they want to know, what you think, you know, contributes to that and what you think can consult resolve this and make, you know, inject more hope into the situation?
Andy Levin 31:03
Well, you know, I have to say that the, you know, the occupation has been going on for 54 years. And some people just think it, you know, it's, it's not possible to end it. And so they turn to other ideas. Certainly, there are many young people of all ages, but American Jews, young Palestinian Americans, Arab Americans, people within Palestine in Israel, who have that view, what I think is that, that there, a lot of the reason for those for the poles within Palestine and within Israel is the lack of hope. And looking at all the obstacles. So you have Hamas running Gaza, and you know, it's a terrorist organization. It sends rockets, it's really a, a war crime to send rockets over another country to hit whatever people they might hit and kill whatever people they might kill civilians, obviously, um, and the PA, I don't know, if anybody here is, you know? I know, Hadar and Madeline have been some others. But if you've looked at the extensive, really very high quality polling of the Palestinian people that's done in Palestine, you know, it's, it's depressing. I mean, the level of, of support for the PA amongst the Palestinian people is so low. And their sense of its legitimacy is so faint, that it seems logical to me that people might despair of achieving a two state solution, the fragility of the Israeli government, the fact that, you know, the Prime Minister of Israel, who represents I believe, six seats in the Knesset, he is a outright opponent of a two state solution. You know, and they're talking about building settlements, in, you know, the area, east of Jerusalem that would sort of cut off the West Bank at the waist, preventing a contiguous Palestinian state, including the northern and southern parts, purposefully just for that purpose. So, I mean, there are a lot of reasons to say, well, this, things aren't going in this direction. So why even try, but I mean, and and, you know, ultimately, this is 100% for the, for the Palestinians and the Israelis to decide. My point here is that it's really two things as a Jewish person, I feel like all Jewish people have a stake in the home, you know, in the homeland of the Jewish people, you know, uplifting Jewish values. And so it's really important that we not get into some permanent thing where we're, you know, the Palestinians are would soon be a majority of people in this area, and they need their rights vindicated, like all people do. But also, I just don't, I think it's the only practical way for Israel to have long term security. So I think there are a lot of reasons people could despair. I think it's high time, the United States reaffirm, what has been decades long consensus that a two state solution is the way to go, and also to take concrete steps to prevent things that would obviate a two state solution and to encourage things that would make it possible and bring it to fruition. And I think we, you know, we're not just an outside actor that is watching, we are a participant in all this lord knows, financially and diplomatically and militarily, we're all engaged in all this. So I think we can contribute to more of a sense of hope and possibility. By getting off our duff and getting to work on achieving a two state solution. I think that'll change the polls, right?
Hadar Susskind 35:38
Absolutely. And that's a great, great segue into what I want to ask you next, really. So like you said, you know, people have been saying to seek a solution. Again, it's a long standing bipartisan policy, but it's become lip service, it's become something that people just mouth. And, you know, so rarely do we see action. So first of all, back up to a second, you were talking about the building, and he one, and I'll just say thank you for signing the letter with Congressman Pocan speaking up against that, because that's one of the things that we need to see is members of Congress, demonstrating that leadership standing up when things like this happen, and making clear that the US is paying attention to this. So and that goes into the question of the Biden administration. You know, they came in they have a basket of things, some of which we mentioned already on this topic that need to be cleaned up from the last administration. But there's been a pretty clear sentiment that they're not eager to engage on this topic. We saw them, I would say, sort of slow walk or response around the last conflict in Gaza, you know, rockets and missiles flying back and forth in both directions. They didn't say anything for a while they finally spoke up sort of urging a ceasefire, but not even really calling for it. I think, you know, a lot of folks who work in this space and observe it closely would say that they have been hesitant to engage. And I think what we need is that US leadership, and we need the demonstration of exactly what you were just saying that the US is going to do on this, not just to talk about it. So I'll take two of the questions that came in from the audience together on this one, because I think your bill is an important step is, you know, along with, of course, taking the action through our action, or what can people do to help support this bill and push Congress? But also, what do you think we and by we, I'm gonna say you in Congress, we an advocacy organizations and people who care about this, what can we do to help push the Biden administration to really engage on this? I know, that was a lot of stuff altogether.
Andy Levin 37:37
Yeah, no, that's okay. Um, well, so I really want to emphasize to your to folks watching this and, and participating your members, people who are just, you know, active citizens, your voice really matters on this, I, I'm engaged with my colleagues on the two state solution act a lot. And they, if you go to them, when they're home, they tell, they say, oh, Americans for Peace Now was just in my office, or you know, this person in this person. And it really matters you personally matter to them. So, you know, whether it's phone calls, emails, letters, texts, but to the extent you have relationship, and you can have a little delegation with them, or whatever, to visit in, when they're home. You know, that's, that's probably the gold standard, but it really, really matters. And just speaking up on this, and speaking up in your Jewish community, if you're Jewish, you know, and in or just in your, you know, local newspaper or whatever, that all that stuff, I think is really, really helpful in terms of the Biden administration. You know, this is really interesting, because I, I'm, you know, I would say that in a way, you know, they're not moving as fast as I'd like, on a number of of priority. So let me just, you know, folks know, I'm on the, on the foreign affairs committee. I'm the Vice Chair of the Asia subcommittee, this, this Congress, and I'm also on the on the Latin America subcommittee, I created an Colita Haiti caucus, because I have a whole history in Haiti. I've been quite frustrated. They're very different topic, right. Also, the Asia subcommittee, one of our responsibilities is non proliferation. And I just think like, wow, Joe Biden, elder statesman of foreign policy for America, right. He's not just the president of the moment. He was the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate and on their committees, you know, so he gets like this lot knowledgeable guy. I would really like to see them more active on on non Proliferation and you know, Russia and China and non state actors, and I'll say there are many issues and not certainly on this issue of Israel and Palestine. I mean, they were kind of backburner during it. And then that can come back and bite you in the butt when? Because this is an issue. I think my simple statement is, this issue cannot be backburner, you can try to put the pot back there on the factor. But it'll, it'll boil over. And you can't really control it. So you kind of have to get in there and send clear signals and strong signals. And so I guess, what I'm doing is continuing to be in dialogue with Tony Blinken and his team and Jake Sullivan and his team, and to really encourage them to take a little bit more risk. And, and, and just to realize that, yes, it's great to have a strong focus on China as our most important relationship going forward probably for many years. But that the world is big and complicated place. And we have to, we have to tackle these these problems. And and you got a big team. State Department's a big awesome organization, USAID is, the National Security Council's no slouch. So you got people working on this, empower them to move forward. Joe Biden is, as I said, a super experienced foreign policy president. So empower your people to move forward with really some gusto and passion to say that we are picking back up the mantle of a two state solution and longtime US policy, we have a little blip, they're going in the wrong direction. But we're really going to push this forward with all our might, and and see where it see where it leads.
Unknown Speaker 42:08
So I'm definitely not giving up on the Biden administration. Let's just put it that way I am on on this range of issues. I am super grateful to them for wanting to have a conversation about it. And I'm hopeful that, you know, as they you know, as as they come into the conclusion of their first year, they'll really be more active on a number of these issues. Let's remember the conditions they came in under, not they- And a couple things. One, the they took over from an administration that to an unprecedented level completely did not cooperate, or, you know, hand things off to them in any kind of serious way. They were not briefed, and did you know, any problem, and then January 6 happened. And the aftermath, which is quite on top of the lack of cooperation. So it really, you know, my hat's off to them for getting it now, of course, you know, Ted Cruz and whatever. They're blocking nations, yeah, confirmations of dozens of key positions in the administration. So I'm a little impatient. But I think they, you know, they can be great partners going forward. If we all just keep just, we can't be shy, we can't, nobody should say, Oh, they're not going to do anything. So let's just give up that. That would be the worst thing. I think we have to keep pushing for our vision of a beautiful future for Israelis and Palestinians living together in peace, and that it takes a lot of American elbow grease to help make that happen. Indeed, indeed.
Hadar Susskind 43:49
Madeleine Cereghino 43:52
So on pushing for our vision, I have a couple different questions from folks about the Israeli government and the coalition and how we push them and the timing around this. You know, as we, as you said, and as we know, it's a fragile coalition that was really held together by the like, Bibi never again ideology. So with having a coalition from all sides, how do we push them? Do you think that? You know, there's been an argument that we should just leave them alone? Because this coalition is so fragile? Do you think that strategy makes sense? And why do you think we should push for this reinvigoration peace process right now?
Andy Levin 44:40
Well, I certainly don't think we should leave them alone. Um, I think that we, you know, we need to be very clear about American interests, America's national interests, and our, our support for Israel and for a Palestinian state and you know how we think things should go? Um, I, you know, basically, what I can tell you is that one of the things I was quite surprised about when I launched this was the, the degree of support for it in Israel. I did not expect, I don't know, I didn't think about it that much. And I can tell you that there's a level of support for it in Israel beyond what is we see publicly, because some very influential people feel like, you know, they, they don't want this government to fall. And they're, you know, they're modulating a lot of what they're doing. So I think that, but that makes it even more important, right to keep going, it just shows that we've got to keep being clear. And, you know, that is things solidify. We, you know, I think it'll get better, what the, here's the thing, we just say, Oh, well, we just have to be quiet or not do anything. I mean, we have an Israeli prime minister, who is for a greater Israel vision, with no Palestinian state. And, you know, that is wrong, wrong wrong. And we better say so, we better say we totally disagree with that it's not acceptable. You can't use American resources to achieve that vision. Because, you know, it's counter to everything we've stood for for all these years. And so it's, it's, it's super important that America engage, and that everyone who loves Israel engages to have a very clear, it can be a cacophonous set of voices, because they were Jews. So you know, three Jews, four opinions. But um, you know, we have to really be in more relation, more communication. And in terms of how it's going to go, who knows, I mean, obviously, Yair Lapid is supposed to take over, after a couple of years, in, you know, in the Netanyahu times when he did something, he never let that happen. But this is a very different situation, and Lapid represents, you know, the critic, the sort of core biggest critical mass of this coalition. And, you know, so I think we have to sort of keep pushing forward with a vision of, of what needs to happen, you know, I think that US government, over time, and before this became a partisan thing, was very successful at doing two things at once. Being very clear to Israel, that we're your guarantor and best friend, we have your back, and that you were gonna, we're not there's no blank checks. We're not you know, that you must move towards peace with the Palestinians. And, you know, we have to get back to that. It's, in my view, we should have done much more of it, you know, over many years. But here we are. And certainly the answer to a coalition that's fragile, or a coalition that is everything, but the kitchen sink and includes, you know, the far right to, you know, quite over to the to the left side is not to be quiet, it's to be more clear than ever, that we need to push towards a two state solution. And we're going to keep saying that and keep taking concrete action to push you to get there.
Hadar Susskind 48:59
Thank you. I want to sneak one more question or one or two, if we can, if we can get to them quickly. Another thing that came up in the q&a here is, you know, Just now you were talking about how we're relating to the Israeli Government and that coalition. There's a, you know, a player that's not new to this, but the circumstances are different. Now, post Abraham Accords and Israel having relationships with Gulf states and Morocco and others. And I'm curious whether, you know, in your work on the committee through this bill or otherwise, you are engaging with any of the Arab states around Israel-Palestine differently.
Andy Levin 49:39
Yeah, well, that's a really interesting point in a good one. I am hopeful that we can take this process of more countries, befriending Israel if you will, and then reaching out to them and say, Great, let's get it. Let's have you get in the game more about achieving a two state solution. And I think it's seem, there seems to be a little question in my mind anyway, that whatever, Donald Trump or Jared Kushner said, their view of the Abraham Accords was an end run around a two state solution, clearly, but anyway, it's not a bad thing for these countries to be engaging with Israel. It's a good thing. So let's, uh, there, they've long been, you know, on record for being for two state solution. So let's get them actively engaged on this. And in terms of I have had conversations with them. But I'm especially eager to see people in person, our, you know, our travel. I don't know what to say about this Omicron thing. But I, you know, I was about to resume some travel that would have allowed me to do that, you know, with with colleagues on the foreign affairs committee, but we'll see. But I think it's very important not to assume that because of whatever Jared Kushner was doing, that this doesn't create, open, in fact, really history that the history of diplomacy and of international relations is largely history of unintended consequences, and unexpected turns. And so I think whatever someone's intention was about setting this up, I think it creates a significant opportunity to try to build momentum for a real two state solution.
Hadar Susskind 51:49
Great. I am going to do this. I'm going to turn to Madeleine for one last quick question. And then we are welcome Jim Klutznick, our chair, I'm gonna turn it to Jim for a last question or comment. But Madeleine sneak one more in there first.
Madeleine Cereghino 52:01
All right, I'm gonna squeeze this in. So this is a question coming actually from a state representative in Minnesota, who plans to introduce a resolution of support for your bill. And he asks if there are other actions that state and local elected officials can take to help your efforts.
Andy Levin 52:21
That sounds tremendous. I think that raising this issue at the state and local level is really important. And let me speak as, as an old anti apartheid activist from you know, I we, as an organizer of a hunger strike at Williams College, you know, January 1983. And I remember, a big part of that movement was many cities and states, speaking up on a foreign policy issue. It mattered that it mattered that and this would matter tremendously if the Minnesota State Legislature, if City Council's if governors, whatever, speak up and support this and say, you know, we support this legislation, we support this movement. The other thing is that there are a lot of, sort of, you know, state, the state and local, the local friendships, you know, city partnerships of all kinds, I think it'd be very interesting. If, you know, a state or local government had an exchange like that with Palestinians, or Israelis, or especially a tripartite one that you had, you know, took a city in Israel city, in Palestine, in a city and Minnesota, or you know, you know, at a state level and created exchanges like that. So I think there are a lot of things local governments can do, that'd be helpful, but I greatly appreciate that person stepping up.
Hadar Susskind 54:01
Great. We will connect you. With that. Jim, I want to turn it over to you. Welcome.
Jim Klutznick 54:07
Thank you Hadar.
Andy Levin 54:08
Hadar Susskind 54:09
Hi, Andy. Good to see you. I didn't think I was gonna be on here today little auto flat tire issue that kept me away from this and I, but I did come in about about 30 minutes ago. And just want to thank you again, for standing up where others have not been able or willing to stand up and try to convince, particularly the Jewish world that two states are the only answer here to sovereign states. You can't be the over permanent overseer of another people into eternity. You know, as I've said, to my own colleagues, you might as well just put on the Pharaoh hat and start building pyramids if you want to act like that. We've been there before. And I think you've rightly pointed out the way lack of hope being the biggest issue here, whether it's for Jews, or it's for Palestinians, Palestinians live it every day. And the Jews have been convinced by some of our own people that it's the way to go that we should annex and that should be ours. And, and now that we finally have Netanyahu, apparently out of the way, let's not be afraid of this coalition. And he pointed out, quite frankly, that this is a coalition that has two prime ministers in it. And there is an alternate choice that does believe in two states. And the current one doesn't believe in two states. And then now that's a clear, there's a clear statement that we haven't had for a while, because Netanyahu always obfuscated about this, crosses fingers behind his back and said he would do it. So I salute you, Andy, and your your colleagues who have joined you in this for raising this pen is high. This is a billboard for the rest of the world to see, the two states solution is the answer, and the only answer. Two sovereign states, two sovereign people, one not dominating the other, and the only people who can do that start with the United States of America. And I will I will add to it the EU who'd been steadfast in keeping this alive while we've had administration's of equivocate, we have people who equivocate and I think the now that this issue has been presented in Congress, let's keep it going, let's, let's make a bigger billboard, let's make it as big as we can to make people have hope on both sides, that this can happen. And that we will join with Andy and his colleagues. Certainly peace now it with its colleagues in the in the progressive Israel network, including J Street and New Israel Fund and other organizations much bigger than we are, we can all join in and support Andy and his, say, Andy and his gang, the call out the and he's old enough to remember that anyhow. So I thank you. Again, I think everybody who's joined us today on this and keep plugging, we've got it going. Now we can convince Uncle Joe to do this. I'm convinced of it. Thank you.
Andy Levin 57:22
Thank you, Jim. Well, can I just respond briefly Hadar, because it's, Jim, you are so awesome. And just eloquent, really, you know, as somebody who loves the wilderness, you know, a lot of times you climb a mountain, and you keep thinking you're near the peak, and then you get to the top of something and Dang it, it's just like a sub peak. And you keep going. And I feel like the hope that you know, hope can be difficult, until all of a sudden, something seems in reach, it's on us to help people see that this is possible, and we're not going to give up. And as long as I can tell you one thing, as long as I'm here, I'm going to be carrying your banner your billboard forward with joy and determination. And in a very, you know, Jewish, proud Jewish way. And so proud to be in loving relation with Palestinians and other Arab Americans and people from all over the world. Realizing that this is the this is a you know, someone reminded us in the in the questions, this is a an issue of two rights, not of right and wrong. And that's what makes it hard. But that's what makes it all the more important to get it. Get it across the finish line. So, so, so grateful to be partnering with you, Jim and Hadar, and Madeleine and all your whole wonderful organization, all the other partners who are not going to give up on this no matter what. Thank you.
Hadar Susskind 58:56
Thank you. You know, we said at the beginning, this is Hanukkah. Hanukkah is the holiday of light. And we are going to continue to shine light on this on the bill on the work that you are doing, and keep this effort going. So thank you again, thank you everyone for joining us.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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.
Congressman Andy Levin recently (D-MI) introduced groundbreaking legislation intended to re-define the United States’ role as a catalyst for Israeli-Palestinian peace. By implementing tangible steps that would accelerate progress toward peace and discourage steps that push it further out of reach, Congressman Levin’s Two-State Solution Act injects new hope into the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
On Monday, November 29 Americans for Peace Now hosted special webinar featuring Congressman Andy Levin to hear directly from him about the significance of his legislation.
Watch the video recording here.
Listen to the recording here.
Read the transcript here.
Israel’s Knesset hosted a rare conference on Monday, November 22, to discuss the surge in violent anti-Palestinian attacks by West Bank Israeli settlers. The conference was organized by MKs Mossi Raz (Meretz), Osama Saadi (Joint List) and Ibtisam Mara’ana (Labor) as well as the nongovernmental organizations Peace Now, Breaking the Silence and Yesh Din.
This week, Congressman Mark Pocan (D-W1) led 26 House Democrats in sending a letter to Secretary of State
Anthony Blinken, urging him to act to prevent the advancement of plans to
build settlements in the E-1 area of the West Bank.