ODVV Interview: Recently, the American media...
While more countries across the world gear up to recognize the historic city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to be as insoluble and intractable as ever.
After the United States moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, countries such as Australia, Czech Republic, Honduras, Romania and Paraguay also signaled their willingness to follow the U.S. example. Guatemala has already opened its new embassy in Jerusalem in May.
The relations between Israel and the United States warmed up significantly under President Trump and there's no trace of sporadic skirmishes between the two governments that would come to surface from time to time when Barack Obama was in office.
President Trump, who doesn't shy away from making his hostility towards the Palestinians known publicly, cut off the U.S. funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and ordered the closure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Washington. According to the State Department, PLO "has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel."
Unsuccessful attempts by different world countries made at bringing the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiation table to strike a lasting peace agreement have produced an apparently endless war with no clear winners. The beleaguered Gaza Strip is in a humanitarian crisis and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which run afoul of the UN Security Council Resolution 2334, continue unabated.
In an interview with the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, distinguished American sociologist Judith Blau shared her views about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip and the campaign of academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
Judith Blau is a professor emerita of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She had served as the President of the Southern Sociological Society, and most of her academic career involved teaching and writing about human rights.
The following is the text of the interview.
Q: How realistic and objective is the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the plight of the people of Palestine in the mainstream media? Is Palestine a priority for the global media at all or is it being neglected?
A: Let me just say right off that I was overjoyed that Rashida Tlaib was elected to Congress! I would like to unpack why I felt that way. First of all, and to be objective, a reason why there are so few Palestinians in national life in the U.S., compared with Jews, is a matter of numbers. There are relatively few Palestinians living in the United States – about 85,000, and Israeli-born Jews make up about five times that number. If we were to compare, say, people who have Palestinian backgrounds with those with Jewish backgrounds, this would be about zero to about 5.3 million. Just in terms of numbers, we might see that Palestinians are disadvantaged in the U.S. Academics will know Edward Said, the prominent Palestinian intellectual who taught at Columbia University, but given the much greater numbers of Jews in the US, there are more Jewish academics. But, yes, I believe there is discrimination against Muslims that cannot be accounted for by numbers alone. This I cannot quantify.
There is no question that Palestinians and residents of Gaza have not been treated well by the U.S. media, and I don’t think American mainstream media devote much time to covering Palestine. During the recent border protests, I think the media tried harder to be objective. Or we might say that the American media "discovered" Gaza for the first time, and in so doing learned how horrifically, unfairly, and illegally Israelis have been treating Palestinians and continue to do so. Although Al-Jazeera is a main source of news for me, I think it presented the conflict with painstaking even-handedness.
Q: What's your idea about the response by the United Nations to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially the humanitarian crisis going on in the Gaza Strip? Has the UN used all of its resources and capacity to settle the crisis and find a just solution? What about the UN Security Council?
A: Formally the UN has been consistent, although not at all effective, in recognizing the rights of the Palestinians, and repeating that Jewish settlements are illegal. The aim, according to international agreements, is for Israel and Palestine to "live side by side in peace." António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, has given speeches consistent with these agreements. Generally, the UN and its officials and representatives have been consistent, at least as far as I can tell, but they have not been very effective. The Security Council is a different story, with the U.S. vetoing any resolution that it perceives as anti-Israel.
Q: Figures and statistics about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip are worrying. 44% of the residents of the coastal enclave are unemployed and economic recession is rife due to the Israeli blockade. Is there any hope for the improvement of the situation?
A: Justice would be served if Israel and Egypt provided freedom of movement for people now living in Gaza, ended the sea blockade and opened up opportunities for those who wish to leave and pursue educational, healthcare, or employment opportunities elsewhere. Gaza could also attract social services, businesses and employment opportunities.
The UN could designate the Gaza Strip as an arts or sports center or computer, internet center. This would get around Israel’s illegal and fictitious nonsense. People would flock to Gaza and it would be inevitable that Israel would be shamed and forced to open the gates, and to negotiate.
The world has put up with outrageous actions on the part of Israel, disallowing access to doctors, setting limits on fishing, etc., probably because of collective guilt about the treatment of Jews by the Nazis. Where does this stop? Do all of us non-indigenous people give our land back to indigenous peoples to compensate for what our great-great-great grandparents did?
There is no question, we should now compensate the descendents of slaves in America because black people are handicapped still and experience prejudice because of harms committed to their relatives – slaves. We must implement reparations. The Palestinians deserve reparations. We can say that Israel was created out of collective guilt and the land they were given was stolen from Palestinians. The Jews, in Israel, in America, and Europe are doing fine. We should not allow Israelis to treat Arabs and Palestinians the way they do. We and Israel should provide residents of Gaza and the West Bank with compensation. Instead, the Trump administration pulled U.S. funding from UNRWA, which was cruel and without merit. I mentioned above that the UN can provide resources for Gaza to become an international hub for the arts, technology, or another activity.
These are dire and intolerant times, with anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim sentiments prevailing in Europe and the U.S. This is certainly tragic because the refugee crisis is already bad and will get worse as people flee intense heat. Across the Middle East there are already areas that are not only barren but also uninhabitable. Climate refugees fleeing from the Middle East and South will increase.
Q: In a recent meeting with the President of Chad, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he has plans to meet more leaders of the Arab world. What's the reason behind Netanyahu's willingness to meet the Arab leaders? Is he on a quest to win Israel legitimacy by creating new alliances?
A: I believe Netanyahu has been charged with committing crimes and his wife certainly has been. I suspect that he is trying to attract allies and "friends" as he is looking for "safe haven."
Q: How do you think the recognition of Jerusalem by the United States as the capital of Israel will affect the prospects of Israel-Palestine relations and the finding of a solution to the differences between the two sides?
A: This was a horrible, detestable decision since Tel Aviv had historically been the recognized capital of Israel. Historically, Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, with its many holy sites as the capital of a future Palestinian state and vehemently oppose the American decision. The U.S. and some Latin American countries are moving their embassies to Jerusalem.
Q: Israel's settlement constructions in the West Bank and the efforts by Israel to Judaize Jerusalem run counter to the UN Security Council resolutions. Is the international community determined to prevent the violation of the Security Council rulings?
A: The UN has repeatedly declared Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights to be illegal, citing the fourth Geneva Convention, which refers to the Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. António Guterres has repeatedly called on Israel to recognize a two state solution, as have his predecessors. I suspect it is the U.S. and Germany that have blocked UN support.
Q: Do you think the movement of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel and also the BDS movement are effective to the point that they can influence the policies of Israel, stop violence and improve the living conditions of the Palestinians?
A: And don’t forget the Freedom Flotilla, which of the various movements in support of the Palestinians has been the least successful, but perhaps the most dramatic. The question always is how does a movement grow and grow, and related to that, how do people become passionately involved? As I respond, I remember going to jail in support of NAACP and to protest racial injustice. Of course. That is what one does. Somehow the movement in support of Palestinians does not provide the opportunities to go to jail.
I support BDS and give monthly to UNRWA, but there is no opportunity for me to, say, go to jail, or yell and scream at protests. Other opportunities are so close at hand, say, to collaborate with black colleagues for racial justice or write about human rights. Again, I come back to the theme of my answer to the first question; the answer is about numbers. I do not think there are any Palestinians on Cape Cod.
Maybe I should add that my husband was a Jewish refugee and was tortured by the Nazis, and imprisoned in France when it was occupied by the Germans. When he was alive he was opposed to the premise of the founding of Israel.
By: Kourosh Ziabari