Israeli Supports Somerville Divestment
- Divesting conducive to Israeli Palestinian peace
By Shamai Leibovitz
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
As an Israeli citizen and former tank gunner in the Israeli army, I
feel the need to explain why I, along with many other Jews, support
divestment from Israel.
We are asking the city of Somerville, as well as other cities and
civic institutions, to divest from companies involved in selling
arms, bulldozers and military technologies that are used by the
Israeli army to commit war crimes against Palestinians. As people
committed to human rights for all, we call upon Americans to demand
that their tax-dollars are not invested in companies that sell
equipment and ammunition that fuel Israel's consistent and appalling
violations of international law and human rights.
As a young soldier serving in the Israeli army, I was ordered to
commit war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. My
platoon meted out collective punishment on whole Palestinian
communities, shot live ammunition at unarmed civilians, killed women
and children, enforced prolonged curfews, creating humanitarian
disasters, arrested and detained Palestinians without charge,
demolished their homes, and arbitrarily destroyed crops and
Being an eyewitness to these war crimes led me eventually to
announce my refusal to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories
in 1994. But the Israeli government, unaffected by the
growing "refusenik" movement, has continued the dehumanising
occupation. More than 3.5 million Palestinians continued to live
under a military regime and were subject to bombings of
neighbourhoods, extrajudicial killings, torture, home demolitions,
unlawful detentions, deportations and a myriad of human rights
Dozens of Jews were among the many supporters of the divestment
resolution who gathered in the Somerville City Hall on Nov. 8. I,
and several others, spoke in favour of this resolution, saying that
it is precisely because we are Jews and truly care about Israel that
we are asking the City of Somerville to pass this resolution. All of
us present in Somerville were profoundly hurt when accused of
being "anti-Semitic" or "anti-Israel". People abusing the concept
of "anti-Semitism" in order to support the Israeli government's
racist policy towards the Palestinians do nothing less than
desecrate the memory of those Jewish victims of real anti-Semitism.
I have heard too many times the argument that "now is not the time
to divest because Israel is involved in a peace process". The "peace
process" argument was used for dozens of years as an excuse to
continue inflicting suffering, humiliation and destruction upon the
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It is high time to do away
with this myth.
It has become clear that even during the Oslo process, Israeli
governments pulled the wool over the world's eyes. Israel continued
to resettle its own citizens on confiscated Palestinian land in the
occupied territories, in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth
Geneva Convention, while at the same time entrenching a cruel
military regime in the same areas and punishing 3.5 million
It became the primary objective of Israeli propaganda to hide the
brutal reality of occupation. To this end, Israeli governments
constantly came up with "peace plans" and built a sophisticated "we
only want peace" propaganda machine. However, over time, many of us
who lived in Israel and visited or served in the occupied
territories, saw the reality for what it is: Israel was intensifying
an oppressive military regime over millions of Palestinians who were
denied all human, civil and political rights, while building more
Jewish-only settlements for Jews who enjoyed full civil and
As an Israeli thoroughly familiar with Israeli politics, I believe
that selective economic pressure is the most effective way to end
the brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and bring peace and
security to Israelis and Palestinians. If the Jewish people are ever
to become "a light unto nations" (Isaiah 42:6), and return to their
core values of justice and human dignity, Israelis and Jews of
conscience must call now for effective measures to end the
occupation of millions of Palestinians.
I realise how hard it is, conceptually, for American Jews to support
divestment, but they should understand that these painful measures
will eventually lead to the path of peace and security. The call for
divestment reflects true loyalty both to Israel's peaceful existence
and to the highest Jewish values. I call upon the Jewish community,
as well as other communities, in the US: if you really want to see
in your lifetime Israelis living in peace with Palestinians, unite
with us behind divestment resolutions.
The writer is an Israeli human rights lawyer, grandson of one of
Israel's most respected thinkers, Yeshayahu Leibovitz, and veteran
of the Israeli army who refused to serve as a reservist in the
occupied territories. His statement was prompted by a Nov. 8 public
meeting held by the Somerville, Massachusetts, Board of Aldermen to
consider a resolution to divest from Israel bonds and companies that
profit from the human rights abuses carried out by Israel against
Palestinians. If the resolution passes, Somerville will be the first
city in the world to pass such a resolution. He contributed this
article to The Jordan Times.
Sell-by date of war crimes about to expire in Somerville, MA?
Tom Wallace, The Electronic Intifada, 16 November 2004
The audience at the meeting.
Tension and apprehension filled the air in the Boston suburb of
Somerville, Massachusetts on the night of Monday November 8, 2004.
The Somerville Board of Aldermen held a public meeting to consider a
non-binding resolution to divest from Israel bonds and from
companies who profit from the human rights abuses carried out by
Israel against Palestinian people. If it passes, it will be the
first such resolution in the world to be passed by a city. The
Presbyterian Church and the National Lawyers Guild have already
voted to divest and The Anglican Church is considering it.
Companies targeted include Caterpillar, United Technologies, General
Electric, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin Corporation. Caterpillar has
been the target of numerous boycott campaigns since American Rachel
Corrie was killed by a D-9 bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier.
She was trying to protect the home of a Palestinian pharmacist from
demolition at the time. Caterpillar's D-9 is used by Israel to
destroy homes (sometimes with people still inside). It is also used
to destroy land, uproot olive trees and build the so-called
separation barrier/apartheid wall. When complete, the wall may
appropriate up to 45% of the occupied West Bank, including much of
its most arable land and water resources.
For the past 18 months, the Somerville Divestment Project (SPD) has
been educating residents of Somerville, Massachusetts about the 37-
year long Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank,
including East Jerusalem. SDP members have knocked on doors, stood
outside mass transit stations, hosted film nights, and had
individual meetings with many Aldermen in their homes. Through the
process, they collected almost 1,200 signatures in support of the
Socially Responsible Investment resolution.
Their hard work paid off last week when, on Tuesday, November 2,
eight of eleven Aldermen cosponsored the resolution to divest.
Though it almost passed, the resolution was sent to the Legislative
committee for further discussion. Thus the hearing for Monday, Nov.
8 was set and the Aldermen invited the Israeli Consul General and
representatives of the companies whose stock would be sold to
present their case.
Hundreds filled the chamber Monday night as tension mounted.
Supporters of the resolution held small signs that read "Somerville
for Human Rights". There was extra security at city hall and
absolutely no backpacks were allowed into the building. The Israeli
Consulate arrived with a police detail for body guards.
The hearing began with a display of power by opponents of the
resolution that was clearly designed to intimidate the Aldermen. The
Israeli Consul General, the Mayor of Somerville and State Rep. Tim
Twomey expressed their opposition before the actual hearing began.
Following this display there was one hour for each side to present
speakers at 2 minutes each.
Supporters of the resolution, excited by the possibilities raised by
such a hearing, were cautiously optimistic about the prospects of
success. Opponents were incensed that such a hearing was taking
place at all, that the Aldermen would even consider divesting from
Israel, and that it almost passed the week before.
Israeli Consul General, Meir Shlomo.
The Israeli Consul General, Meir Shlomo, began by saying that he
was "insulted" by this resolution. "Israel is a country that was
based and founded on social justice and respect for human rights".
He touted Israel's sterling record on civil liberties, which he
boasted, extended to gay people. On several occasions he noted its
freedom of the press. He talked about the Israeli Supreme Court,
freedom of speech, and reiterated Israel's claim to be the only
democracy in the Middle East. He did not talk about occupation,
collective punishment, house demolition, land confiscation,
settlement expansion or targeted assassinations, except to reassure
the crowd that Israel has no Capitol punishment, even for the worst
As far as I could ascertain, his case against the resolution was
that Israel was being singled out unfairly. Others would assert that
it was anti-Israel.
Next up was Somerville Mayor, Joseph A. Curtatone, who had not
participated in any of the previous meetings on divestment and who
had declined opportunities to meet with Somerville residents and
members of SDP to discuss the resolution. Mayor Curtatone concluded
that the issue was "too complex", that it "went back centuries" and
that the aldermen should reject the resolution. With emotions
already high, those opposing the resolution seemed exhilarated by
the mayor's guarantee that he would veto the resolution if it
passed. The mayor then left before hearing from supporters of the
As Somerville residents spoke one after the other Monday night, they
made clear that they do not want their money used to oppress and
violate the human rights of others. Neither do they want to support
companies that profit from those violations.
State Representative Tim Twomey called for a more constructive
resolution that endorses the roadmap. But he made no suggestion as
to what the City of Somerville could do to push the roadmap forward.
Ariel Sharon's senior advisor Dov Weissglass recently put to rest
any notion that Israel had any intention of implementing the roadmap
or creating a Palestinian State, which the roadmap calls for.
The aldermen have wrangled with these types of issues before when
they passed resolutions against Burma, the Patriot Act and the war
in Iraq However, never had they encountered such support for human
rights violations. As one opponent of the resolution put
it, "according to Donald Rumsfeld, the United States has determined
that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to its war on terror, why
should Israel be obliged to abide by them?"
More opposition to the resolution came from local labor leaders and
from leaders of Brit Tzedek and Meretz USA. They claimed that the
resolution would "demonize" Israel and once again we heard that
Israel was being singled out unfairly. Steve Grossman, the local
head of the Anti Defamation League (ADL) and former head of the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which is currently
under investigation for passing American top secret material to
Israel, claimed that the resolution was anti-Semitic. Others went so
far as to call for an investigation of SDP members.
Marty Federman, a Jewish educator and former board member and chair
of the Social Action Committee of Congregation B'nai Brith in
Somerville, pointed out that tactics including accusations of anti-
semitism and personal attacks are commonly used against anyone who
dares to speak out against policies of the Israeli government. He
strongly supported the resolution based on its merits.
Larry Miller is a former president of Congregation B'nai B'rith, a
congregation well represented on both sides. The outpouring
highlights the deep divisions created by the issue within the
Mr. Miller was embarrassed by accusations of "anti-Semitism" by some
of his friends toward people who support divestment. He told them
that they should be ashamed of themselves. With that, supporters
erupted with applause while Dr. Annique Kaplan, another of the
Jewish supporters of the resolution, shouted "Thank you! Thank you!
Thank you for saying that"!
As supporters of the resolution spoke, the actual issues surrounding
it began to focus. First and foremost, the only foreign country that
the City of Somerville is invested in is Israel. Thus, Israel had
been "singled out" and given "special treatment" long ago. The
purpose of this resolution, Liz Monin pointed out, was in fact to
end the special treatment and demand that Somerville stop taking
sides. She dispelled the claims that the resolution was "one-sided,"
by quoting from the language of the resolution which she said "seeks
to stop taking sides and instead take a stand for human rights for
The atmosphere in the room began to shift as proponents of the
resolution and therefore of divestment, spoke eloquently about why
they had become involved with the project. We began to hear about
human rights violations and the oppression of Palestinians by the
Israeli army and government. They explained why they support
socially responsible investing.
Somerville resident Kevin Qazilbash spoke about the effects of
collective punishment on children, and he said that, as a father and
a teacher, he could not look his students in the eyes if he was not
doing everything he can to work to end the violence against innocent
Palestinian civilians. Qazilbash also made the point that he is
against the violence perpetrated by both sides of the conflict, as
did many people from the other side.
Hilary Rantisi speaks to the meeting.
Hilary Rantisi, a Palestinian American now living in Somerville with
her American husband, spoke in a very personal way about her family
and about her life. She acknowledged that as painful as her story
sounded, that she has been privileged. Many more Palestinians have
suffered much more than she. Many more continue to suffer. We met 15-
year-old Khalil, who is an exchange student presently living outside
of Boston. When home in Gaza City he cannot visit family members
living just 18 miles away due to roadblocks and curfew. Several of
his cousins have been killed over the past year and he was unable to
attend their funerals. Just last week, his 16-year-old cousin,
Hanin, was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper while she played
with her little brother inside her house. She died instantly.
Lana Habash, another Palestinian American and Somerville resident
spoke of the racism upon which the occupation is based. Last summer
she traveled to the West Bank as an International. She relayed her
eyewitness account of an Israeli soldier who shot a young
Palestinian woman in the stomach and genitals right in front of
her. "If this is what they do in front of us, you can only imagine
what they are doing when we're not looking," said Habash.
Almost all of the speakers supporting the resolution, both Jewish
and gentile alike, had in fact, traveled to the West Bank and
witnessed first hand the "horror" of occupation. The only opponent
who had been to the Occupied Territories was a former Israeli
soldier who claimed that any killings of children or civilians
were "mistakes". Meir Schlomo had also acknowledged that "mistakes"
are made by democracies but claimed Israel second to none in
rectifying them. He did not cite any examples of such rectification.
Shamai Leibowitz, an Israeli attorney who had come in support of the
resolution, quickly dispelled that myth. He recounted that as a
young Israeli soldier he was ordered to commit war crimes in the
Occupied Palestinian Territories. "My platoon meted out collective
punishment on whole Palestinian communities, arrested and detained
Palestinians without charge, demolished their homes, shot live
ammunition at unarmed civilians, killed women and children, and
arbitrarily destroyed crops and property". Leibowitz now refuses to
serve in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
As a former Israeli soldier and an Orthodox Jew, Leibowitz felt
compelled to emphasize the urgent need for divestment. "The flow of
money that facilitates Israeli war crimes and gross human rights
violations which have been going on for nearly 40 years in the
Occupied Palestinian Territories must be stopped". He, like many
others, made the point that "only through divestment will Israel be
forced to end the occupation and therefore achieve peace and
security for both Israel and Palestine".
During the hearing last week, five of the aldermen thanked the SDP
for bringing the plight of the Palestinian people to their
attention. They had known little about the issue. Many of the people
in the room on Monday had probably never listened to such
impassioned and honest descriptions of the West Bank and Gaza, or
heard an honest explanation of why divestment is important.
When I got up to speak, I addressed the question of why the aldermen
had known so little about the issue. I explained how the media works
in the US on this issue, that after 22 years of badgering by CAMERA
and now "Honest Reporting" as well, the US media is afraid to report
on anything Israel is doing in the West Bank and Gaza. Just last
week, international observers watched as CNN filmed an Israeli
soldier shoot a Palestinian child who was throwing rocks. CNN
refused to air the footage or even talk about it. I also told the
crowd that "because of this experience you no longer have the luxury
of ignorance. Now that you know what is being done with your money,
you have a responsibility to stop it, to approve the resolution and
support responsible investing".
As if to underscore my point on media bias, the Boston Globe ran a
story Tuesday, November 9, entitled "Proposal to Divest Israel
Funds Sparks Outrage". Roughly 80% of this story was on the
opposition to the resolution. The author, Benjamin Geden, does not
even appear to have read the resolution.
The vote has been put off until Dec.9 , 2004. No doubt, attempts to
influence the Aldermen by both sides of the issue will continue.
Regardless of the outcome, people had a real opportunity to hear
each other, not a common occurrence on this issue. Nancy Murray of
Boston Committee for Palestinian Rights saw this night as a
watershed in the struggle for peace and justice for Palestinians and
Israelis. Let's hope so.
Contact information for the Somerville City Clerk and
Board of Aldermen - Please encourage them to support divestment!
City Clerk: John Long
Somerville City Hall by email
Denise Provost At-large, President
Bruce Desmond At-large, Vice-President
Dennis M. Sullivan At-large
William White At-large
William Roche Ward 1
Maryann Heuston Ward 2
Thomas Taylor Ward 3
Walter Pero Ward 4
Sean O'Donovan Ward 5
John Connolly Ward 6
Robert Trane Ward 7
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