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Israeli Supports Somerville Divestment

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    Divesting conducive to Israeli Palestinian peace By Shamai Leibovitz Tuesday, November 30, 2004
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2004
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      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
      political rights.

      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
      all people".

      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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