March 2019 Monthly Update

In This Issue
Can Benny Beat Bibi? Does It Matter?
Trump’s Move to Recognize Israeli Annexation of the Golan Heights
Gaza: The Scathing UN Report
Gaza: The Great March of Return at 1 Year
Gaza: Is the Great March of Return a Turning Point?
Gaza: Rebuilding from the Ashes – A Gazan Woman’s TED Talk
Go to Palestine: Tours
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Can Benny Beat Bibi? Does It Matter?

Then-Chief of Staff Benny Gantz with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a graduation ceremony for navy officers in Haifa (Photo: Associated Press)

Shortly after Benjamin Netanyahu’s government fell apart late last fall, snap elections were called for April 9, 2019. Triggered by the attempt to extend the current law to conscript ultra-Orthodox men into the military, Netanyahu (also known as Bibi) could no longer hold his ruling coalition together. Can Netanyahu, who also faces a possible indictment for corruption, pull off another election, giving him a fifth term as Prime Minister?

In January 2019, Benny Gantz, the former head of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), declared himself a candidate to replace Netanyahu and he immediately surged ahead in the polls for Prime Minister. Before announcing his candidacy, Gantz spoke of solving the conflict with Palestine as the highest priority facing Israel: “Our number one interest is to find a solution…We have to find a way to live together…It is important to find a solution without compromising our security.”

Both Gantz and Netanyahu have begun forming the coalitions that will help them succeed in forming a new government. With ten days to go in the campaign, Gantz’ new party, named Kahol and Lavan (Blue and White), has fallen behind Netanyahu’s Likud party by 15%, likely due to the renewed bombing of Gaza and Trump’s declaration recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. Blue and White is typically described as left-center and Likud, linking arms with smaller parties on the extreme right, is being described as far-right. Indeed, Netanyahu has fully embraced the fear-mongering tactics of his White House friend, Donald Trump, in his effort to defeat Gantz.

But can Benny beat Bibi? And, more importantly to those seeking freedom and justice for Palestinians, does it matter”? A victory by Bibi would likely make matters worse, possibly far worse, for Palestinians as those to his political right constantly pressure him for increased violence and oppression against the people of Palestine. But what would a victory by Benny mean for Palestine? Meretz, the left-wing Israeli party which strongly supports human rights for all Palestinian people, is backing Benny, and Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has expressed a clear preference for Benny over Bibi.

Well-respected free-lance journalist, Jonathan Cook, is, however, far from convinced that Benny would be, in any significant way, helpful to Palestine. Recently writing in Counterpunch, Cook pointedly stated: “The reality of what Gantz stands for…is far from reassuring. [In 2014, he] led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly…Should he bring about Netanyahu’s downfall, Gantz, like his predecessor politician generals, will turn out to be a hollow peace-maker. He was trained to understand only strength, zero-sum strategies, conquest and destruction, not compassion or compromise.” Indeed, Gantz once bragged about “sending Gaza back to the Stone Age.”

What do Palestinian Christians think about the upcoming election. MennoPIN asked Sabeel Administrator, Omar Haramy, what he thought:

We as Palestinians are eager to gain back our rights and see an end to the military occupation, and we have faith that freedom is coming. How the occupation will end is not clear. History shows us that the oppressor does not set people free, a change in the attitude of the oppressor comes as a result to pressure, or the prospect that peace brings better rewards than war. Today, the Israeli government makes lots of money from the occupation, and the pressure from the Palestinians, or the international community, is minimal, there is no serious threat from Palestinians or Arabs. Our [Sabeel] Kumi initiative is aiming to change the rules of the game, create a road map for true peace, bring liberation and justice for all. Jesus did not analyze Rome and it’s politics but empowered the marginalized. We are followers of Christ, our savior.”

Read more here about Sabeel’s Kumi initiative and see how you and your congregation can make the Israeli government feel the pressure and seek peace, not war.

Trump’s Move to Recognize Israeli Annexation of Golan Heights

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu display the signed proclamation on the Golan Heights (Photo: Euroean PressPhoto Agency)

“Historic,” “Historic,” “Historic,” the term exuberantly used over and over by Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Benjamin Netanyahu to describe the President’s tweet recognizing the annexation by Israel of the Golan Heights, a nearly 600 square mile section of southwestern Syria.

Israel seized the territory during the 1967 Six Days War and fourteen years later, in violation of international law, annexed the territory as its own. Not one single country, including the United States, recognized this land grab, calling it “null and void.” That is, until Trump declared, “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability.”

As it did with Palestinian territories post-1967, after annexing the Golan Heights, Israel quickly occupied the territory with troops, established Jewish-only settlements and allowed Israeli businesses to operate.

While Netanyahu and Trump both claim that Israeli security is at stake, purportedly from Iran, the availability of natural resources to exploit may play a more significant role. The Golan Heights has abundant water resources and gives Israel full control over the Sea of Galilee, which borders the Golan Heights on its eastern shore. Of even more importance is oil, which would be much easier to extract if Israel has sovereignty over the land. Perhaps not coincidentally, Jared Kushner’s family has substantial investments in Genie, the U.S. energy company Israel is working with to explore the large reserves. Does Iraqi oil fields, Dick Cheney and Haliburton come to mind?

Will Trump’s next tweet support an annexation of the West Bank and Gaza – for security reasons, of course?

Gaza: The Scathing UN Report
On February 28, 2019, the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 Gaza protests issued its conclusion on Israeli attacks on Gazan citizens during the Great March of Return. Beginning on March 30, 2018, citizens of Gaza demonstrated nonviolently the right of return to their homelands and to end the siege of Gaza. Although the protests have continued every Friday since then, the inquiry only covers the violence through the end of 2018. The report documents 183 deaths and over 6,000 injuries to Palestinians caused by live fire from Israeli troops. Since January 1, 2019, those numbers have continued to rise.

Santiago Canton chaired the UN commission and Sara Hossain was a member. They appeared on Democracy Now shortly after the report was presented and summarized some of its findings. Canton stated: “The commission found reasonable grounds to believe that the Israeli security forces committed serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. These violations clearly warrant criminal investigation and prosecution, and we call on Israel to conduct meaningful investigations into these serious violations.”

Hossain added: “We are saying that [Israeli soldiers] have intentionally shot children, the have intentionally shot people with disabilities, they have intentionally shot journalists.

You can read the full report here.

Gaza: The Great March of Return at 1 Year

The Day it All Began – March 30, 2018 (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty)

The organizers of the Gaza Great March of Return have called for massive demonstrations throughout Palestine on March 30, 2019, the first anniversary of the nonviolent protest at the Gaza/Israeli border. During this first year, more than 225 people have been killed and tens of thousands injured by Israeli military snipers. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed and one other injured. The Great March of Return has called for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to former homes now inside Israel and supported by international law.

The National Commission for the Great March of Return referred to the environmental event also held on March 30: “We call for our people to commemorate Earth Day and to provide the biggest support for the Great March of Return demonstrations.” They hope millions throughout Gaza and the West Bank will march with them that day. A supportive rally is being held in San Francisco as well.

Gaza: Is the Great March of Return a Turning Point?
As the Great March of Return nears the one-year mark, +972 online magazine interviewed Tareq Baconi, a young Palestinian scholar and activist, about his views on the Great March of Return and the nature of the Palestinian struggle. Here are a few of his comments:

On the Great March of Return. “The marches are a source of hope. They indicate that the politics of Hamas and Fatah have failed, that the American-led track of negotiations has also failed, but the Palestinian people remain steadfast and are still demanding their rights…The people are still holding on to their values.”

On the Great March as a Turning Point. “The Palestinian people are at a point of transition, shifting from demanding a state to demanding their rights. It’s a shift toward a civil rights movement, and Gaza is leading the way…The way the marches started in Gaza shines a light on a path forward and indicate a new development. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a source of hope.”

On Hamas’ Role in the Great March. “I believe, 100 percent, that Hamas intervenes in everything. On the one hand, these are protests based on the right of return, started by civil society, attended by hundreds of Gazans. They introduced a new politics and allowed us to glimpse into the future of the Palestine struggle…On the other hand, Hamas played a big role in providing resources, in allowing the movement to grow, and in bringing Israel to agree to concessions…I’d rather these protests had nothing to do with Hamas. At the same time, I’ve seen Hamas become a political force that can handle Israel in a way Fatah and the [Palestinian Authority] are not capable of.”

On the Future of Palestinian Resistance. “I believe that…the marches will continue. Even if they don’t continue on the same scale, there’s no political resolution on the horizon. I believe we’re going to see more popular movements and uprisings, not only in Gaza but all over, including in the diaspora.”

Gaza: Rebuilding from the Ashes – A Gazan Woman’s Ted Talk
A powerful 10-minute TED Talk by a Gazan woman on turning the ashes and rubble of war into bricks and solar powered lights, and Gazan women are leading the way. View the video here.

Go to Palestine: Tours
MennoPIN strongly encourages trips to Palestine to see upfront the struggle Palestinians endure on a daily basis. Established justice tours usually last about two weeks and offer both visits to Holy Land sites as well as experiences with Palestinian people. Most tours also include visits to both Palestinian and Israeli activists who work for justice and freedom for the people of Palestine. Or you may want to plan a do-it-yourself tour. To find out more about tours, visit the MennoPIN website and click on the Tours to Palestine tab.
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President Trump announced on Thursday, the 21st of March, that the US will declare the occupied Golan Heights to be Israeli territory. For the past fifty years previous US administrations have viewed the Golan Heights as occupied Syrian territory, in line with the United Nations Security Council resolutions. Lord, we pray that governments and lawmakers throughout the world will raise their voices in protest at this provocative move against international law. Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer. Sabeel Wave or Prayer.

Mennonite Palestine-Israel Network | | | Committee:
Tom Harder (Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, Wichita, KS)
Joy Lapp (Pleasant View Mennonite Church, Mt Pleasant, IA)
Jonathan Kuttab (Palestinian lawyer and human rights activist)
Anita Rediger (Emmaus Road Mennonite Fellowship, Berne, IN)
Joe Roos (Peace Mennonite Fellowship, Claremont, CA)
Rod Stafford (Portland Mennonite Church, OR)

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