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Home arrow Blog arrow January 2009 arrow January 30, 2009

January 30, 2009
January 30, 2009: Calling for Regime Change in Israel Palestine:Tough Love and Brutal Truth  

Jerry Levin, Author and a former CNN Mid East Bureau Chief in Lebanon, was a full time volunteer with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, when I first met him.

After Jerry showed me around town, I told Jerry that Hebron felt like hell.

Jerry replied, "You haven't seen anything until you see Gaza."

Jerry said that in June 2005.


On
January 20, 2009, Jerry delivered the following statement to the Muslim Students Association at University of Alabama, Birmingham.



Despite widespread concerns about Israel’s continuing expropriation of Palestinian land and assaults on Palestinian farmers in the West Bank, the creation of the Gaza ghetto, and Israel’s Army’s blitzkrieg tactics being used to throttle Hamas’ rocket fire, the violently militant Palestinian militia is not justified in the indiscriminate lethal manner it is carrying on its protests and promotion of regime change in Israel.


Last summer President-elect Obama said that he would expect Israel to do “everything” in its power to stop Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. But his statement was ambiguous enough to hope that “everything” means that Israel’s military-industrial-theocratic establishment should cease the relentless provocations that are providing Hamas with its grisly rational for killing Israeli civilians.


I too favor a regime change in Israel, but not to an exclusivist authoritarian Islamic state Hamas leaders seem to be intending. The one I favor and the one I hope our next President will tactfully encourage would encompass a change from the current Jewish state to a truly democratic pluralist equalitarian society whose polity would not be prey to any sectarian, ethnic or racial interest.


 I’m going to spend most of my time tonight with some thoughts on how yours and my struggle for Palestinian rights might well proceed in Birmingham. But first I want to say unequivocally that, if any you here tonight feel that defending one’s self or people from aggression, repression, and oppression can or should ever involve the deliberate attempt to kill noncombatants…men, women, children…then you’ve lost me. You’ve lost me, because there is nothing patriotic, there is nothing that can be condoned or rationalized about the way militant Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups have been trying to promote regime change in Israel.


However, I too favor regime in Israel; but not that way. I too favor a regime change in Israel, but not to an exclusivist authoritarian Islamic state some Hamas leaders seem to be intending. The one I favor and the one I hope our next President will tactfully encourage would encompass a change from the current Jewish state to a truly democratic pluralist equalitarian society whose polity would not be prey to any sectarian, ethnic, racial, or gender interests.


I too favor a regime change for Israel, because we know that the cause of freedom and justice for Palestine has never been honestly served by every one of Israel’s brutal terrorizing governments, every one of them since Israel’s inception; and something must be done about that. We know that the cause of freedom and justice for Palestine has never really…I repeat, never really has been served honestly by any European Government; and something also needs to be done about that.


And finally we know that the cause of freedom and justice for Palestine has never been served honestly by every American President since at least Lyndon Johnson; and something must be done about that too, In fact pressuring nonviolently our newest national government that we – you and I – right here in Birmingham must start working on in order to motivate an about face in our previous shameful official policies toward the Palestinian people.


And we might start by recognizing that although Hamas militant violence against Israeli noncombatants is part of the problem, entering into some kind of dialogue with its political leaders is part of the solution too. At the same time, however, we need to recognize that using the Israeli army to deprive Palestinians of their humanitarian needs, to kill noncombatants, and continue to perpetuate the nullification of the electoral franchise Hamas politicians won in the West Bank as a result of U.S. and Israeli demanded free elections in 2006 is part of the problem too.


Having said that tonight, on this day of all days, the inauguration day of our new young President, perhaps some of you are feeling hopeful about what may be ahead for Palestine in the coming days, in the coming years. But although I am a man of hope, I am also a realist.


And where Palestine is concerned I am aware that one of the closest confidants of the new President is Alabama congressman Artur Davis. I imagine everyone in this room knows he beat the previous incumbent, Earl Hilliard, who was one of the few congressmen anywhere who was courageous enough to stand up publicly during his terms in office for Palestine.


It took gobs and gobs of in town and out of town Jewish Zionist lobby and Christian Zionist lobby money to give Artur Davis the wherewithal to win his elections and reiterate ad nauseum and sanctimoniously since then his one sided support of the continuing Israel aggression. All of you here tonight undoubtedly know that. But are you also aware that two former rabidly pro-Israel right or wrong State Department diplomats, Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, have been and are probably going to play extremely pivotal Middle East and Asian advisory roles in the new administration.


And then, of course, there is our new Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, whose sellout of Palestine when she ran for the United States Senate is well documented. I tell you this, because if these Israel always right never wrong leopards are ever going to change their spots, it is going to take all of us here tonight working persistently in new creative nonviolent ways to make that happen.


And the first thing that needs to be done is to reject what Business Schools teach as crisis management also known as management by exception. Gaza is a crisis and indeed needs to be responded to by all of us. But what happens when that crisis dies down? (And it will.)


What will happen is that we will lower our protest signs; we will shut off our bull horns; we will stop our city hall protests, and we will go home. We won’t insist on frequent meetings with the Birmingham News Editorial board and we won’t insist that our local television stations, which if anything are more cynical than the Birmingham News, stop editing our sound bites out of context.


We will stay home and not do much until the next crisis brings us into the streets for a couple of days. But while we quietly wait for the next inevitable violent Israeli massacres unhindered by the latest U. S. government, Israel will in between times continue its blockades of Gaza.

Israel in between times will continue to break cease fire agreements by assassinating Hamas leaders. In between times Israel will continue to demolish houses in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In between times Israel will continue to expand settlements in the West Bank. In between times it will continue to expropriate Palestinian farm land, destroy Palestinian crops, attack wound and kill farmers and villagers, and continue to prevent Gazan fisher folk from getting to their fishing grounds.


And in between times Israel will continue to hold behind bars year after year without charge or any other kind of due process scores of duly elected Hamas politicians who were elected to the Palestine Legislative Council in 2006. In other words, in between each violent crisis, in between each violent Israeli blood bath the situation never gets better for Palestine…only worse.


That being the case, it’s time to shift from waiting for violence to flare up before acting. It’s time to shift from crisis management from management by exception to management by objectives. And the answer as to how to do that can be learned from Birmingham’s unique history.


A great precedent, a great nonviolent precedent was set right here in Birmingham during the 1960’s. It was right here in Birmingham that Martin Luther King’s nonviolent oppression resistance movement underwent one of its greatest dramatic tests and prevailed. King in his letter from the Birmingham Jail explained how that was to be done.


In effect he said no more crisis management no more management by exception; instead, he said, we must be persistent and keep unremitting creative nonviolent pressure on by as many means as possible. And we must keep it up until our plutocratic elite is compelled to develop a newer consciousness. King helped to make that that happen in the nineteen fifties and sixties. And you and I can make that happen now.

We can, if we keep at it.


Applying creative nonviolent pressure persistently and continuously is management by objectives. There are precedents for persistent nonviolent resistance succeeding in the struggle against despotism. It happened in South Africa. It happened in the Philippines, in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. And last year a nonviolent movement defeated the U.S. backed violently repressive Musharref regime in Pakistan. And let us remember with great pride that it was a Muslim nonviolent movement that restored democracy to that troubled nation.

Back to Birmingham.

What does persistence mean? Well, I think instead of occasional crisis management protest demonstrations where we speak mainly to each other in City Hall Park what is really needed for starters is an ongoing campaign of persistent visits to the local offices of our two U.S. Senators and two U.S. congressmen to make our points: not just to raise our usual complaints about the occupation and the blockades but to insist persistently and continuously for a change to a fair liberation oriented U.S. policy toward Palestine. That’s where the message needs to take place.

Not City Hall Park but upstairs in the Federal Building. Mayor Langford doesn’t need to get our persistent message. But Senators Shelby and Sessions, and Congressman Bacchus, and Davis do. To get their attention, sit in their local offices if necessary. And if necessary sit in more than once. Be willing to be arrested for that action. And be willing to be arrested again. If you are willing to do that, I am too. In closing I want to emphasize that nonviolent visitations are just one form of one hundred and ninety eight different ways to mount persistent and continuous nonviolent actions in order to promote and achieve justice and rights. They were catalogued in the early 1970s by political scientist, Gene Sharp, who also founded the Albert Einstein Institution, which studies and promotes the use of nonviolent action in conflicts around the world.



A very good introduction to Sharpe’s list and a concise introduction to the training, planning, and practicing of nonviolent resistance that goes with it can be found by Googling “Intro to NVDA handouts.” Then click on “PDF The Ruckus Society Nonviolent Direct Action.” It would be quite fitting if the first really successful nonviolent movement designed to change U.S. foreign policy toward Palestine to something historically meaningful and devoid of Western prejudice and sophistry began right here in Birmingham; right here in Birmingham where one of the first great successes in the movement to change brutal oppressive domestic U.S. policy took place. If it began tonight right here in this very room; for as we know King’s movement began with dedicated, trained, creative well prepared young people just like you…not with over the hill guys like me. Nevertheless, if and when you decide to build this new movement, I’ll come too.








Notes on the above letter to the Birmingham News and talk to the Muslim Students Association
January 29, 2009:


After I saw how little effect the massive outpouring of rage with respect to Israel’s latest full fledged military war of aggression and attrition on Palestine was having on official western governmental sensibilities (and, of course, the current Israeli regime) with respect to an enlightened response, I decided it was time to reframe the argument in terms of the current State of Israel’s moral and ethical legitimacy.


Until now the subject of that aspect of the so called authenticity of any Jewish State, which by definition in some form or other is exclusionary, has been an elephant in the room that has been avoided for too long. Now before it’s too late, and it already may be that, I think Americans, especially Americans, need to start questioning assertively in public not just the Jewish State’s credibility but its legitimacy as well.


For instance we need to be asking: if the concept of an Islamic state ruled by either theocratic, monarchical or secular elites is not acceptable to our political sensibilities honed and shaped as they are by the Jeffersonian concept (and later by the United Nations concept) of inalienable rights for all humans, then what is acceptable about the notion of a Jewish State when there is hardly a dime's worth of difference between the two? Both types are pretend democracies.


The inhabitants of both two are ruled by elite strong arm anti-pluralist plutocracies, which thrive on fear By its long running nonstop oppressive actions, the Jewish State, it seems to me, has forfeited the legal legitimacy that was bestowed by western factions in the United Nations in retrospect unwisely in 1947-48. These are the critiques, statements and questions, I strongly feel whose time has come and need to be vigorously pursued by many others besides me.


The question and the answer we need to start hammering at needs to be: what is so wrong about the idea of a patronizing Islamic theocratic state or Islamic republic, which suppresses many of its inhabitants that is so right about the state that is avowedly "Jewish" but is equally patronizing and suppressive of many of its inhabitants as well as the people in the West Bank and Gaza.?


The answer, of course, is there is nothing right about either when it comes to human and civil rights. Here in the west our own government, in particular, for too long has insisted that there is a laudable and qualitative difference: the Muslim version is wrong, the Jewish version is right.


So it has not dealt with the issue and instead has vilified scornfully any persons or parties that challenge the Jewish State's right to exist; but in so doing our governing elites have been engaged long term and big time in the worst kind of sophistry, because, of course, they understand, in fact they clearly know, that what is clearly meant by Muslims and those of us who are sympathetic to Palestinian needs and rights who talk about the destruction of Israel do not mean that the Jewish inhabitants of the Jewish national exclusionary political entity should be destroyed or pushed into the sea.


What they, what we are calling for specifically is regime change in Israel.


Putting it another way, except for the scandalous demagogic extremist fringe in the Islamic world, who do not speak for most Palestinians or most of their supporters elsewhere in the world including Israel, what the Jewish state's human and civil rights critics mean when they talk about the destruction of Israel is not killing or driving out its Jews but simply the destruction, replacement, dissolution if you will, of the present Jewish State to be replaced by a sovereign political entity that embraces and is emblematic of unlimited constitutional democracy.

That's regime change.

And I support that, not that pretend democracy I mentioned earlier, which continues to masquerade with official United States collusion as the only democracy in the Middle East.



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