The Palestinian uprising has put the Palestinian-Israeli conflict onto the agendas of progressive organizations nationwide. It has ignited a broad range of activities, including coalition-building, referendums, conferences and teach-ins, demonstrations, petitions, letter-writing campaigns, lobbying and sister-city projects.
This intensified activity has promoted a newfound unity and direction of purpose in some circles, but it has also highlighted the obstacles to changing official US policies and public opinion vis-a-vis the Palestine conflict. No coordinated national strategy has emerged, and the broad range of responses reflects both the increased need to take action and the persistent differences among individuals and groups organizing around the issue.
On the national scene, the Washington-based Arab-American Institute (AAI) succeeded in getting resolutions passed at 10 Democratic state conventions calling on the US to support Palestinian rights to self-determination; some explicitly called for a Palestinian state. At the Democratic national convention, AAI promoted the minority plank endorsing US support for Palestinian self-determination. AAI also convened a Middle East peace caucus there and collected over 1,500 delegate signatures on a petition calling for Palestinian statehood. AAI organized a meeting in September to plan strategies to keep Palestinian rights an issue through the election and beyond.
The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) organized a series of Eyewitness Israel delegations to observe conditions and monitor the activities of Israeli troops and settlers in the occupied territories. Among the six delegations was one group of 14 US congressional aides, and another of doctors and lawyers. An ADC campaign prompted the main US exporter of tear gas to Israel, Federal Laboratories, to suspend sales. ADC also successfully petitioned the Office of the US Trade Representative to investigate Israeli violations of Palestinian workers’ rights before granting Israel preferential trade status. In Washington, ADC placed advertisements on the city transit system decrying human rights abuses by Israel.
The Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) (formerly November 29 Committee) organized a series of nationally-coordinated emergency demonstrations, including simultaneous ones in New York, Chicago and San Francisco on June 4, protesting continued use of US aid to fund the occupation and Israeli rights violations. PSC organized a postcard campaign to Israeli Defense Minister Rabin protesting military abuses, and a mailgram campaign to members of Congress calling for an end to US funding of the occupation and for Congressional hearings on human rights abuses in the occupied territories. PSC has done special outreach in Latino communities and sent several delegations of human rights activists, elected officials and religious leaders to the occupied territories.
The Palestine Human Rights Campaign (PHRC), in coordination with British, Dutch and North American nongovernmental organizations, is organizing a Palestine Peace Presence of professional volunteers (such as journalists, sociologists, computer operators, and academics) to work in the occupied territories with Palestinian institutions. PHRC regularly sends out Action Alerts on specific situations to media representatives and organizers in the United States and Europe.
The DataBase Project on Palestinian Human Rights has been publishing monthly packages of information, collected by the Jerusalem-based Palestine Human Rights Information Center (PHRIC), detailing rights violations during the uprising. This information includes a casualties list, with the name, date and cause of death of each victim, as well as special publications on issues like the use of tear gas or house demolitions.
The Foundation for Middle East Peace organized a nationwide speaking tour for two physicians from the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees. They addressed schools of medicine and public health on medical issues pertaining to the uprising. The Foundation placed ads in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Christian Science Monitor listing the demands of the Unified Leadership of the Uprising, to counter media reports that the Palestinians had no specific demands.
Palestine Aid Society sponsored a speaking tour for Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel in April to address issues of Palestinian human and legal rights. A PAS campaign has raised money for the Women’s Work Committees of the Occupied West Bank and Gaza, and PAS chapters have held educational activities in various cities. Since the uprising, the Jerusalem Fund and the United Palestinian Appeal have undertaken major new fundraising campaigns to support emergency Palestinian relief projects. Grassroots International, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has raised money for Palestinian medical relief.
Progressive Jewish individuals and organizations have protested the occupation and human rights abuses. A 3,000-strong Rally for Peace in New York on April 24, sponsored by an ongoing coalition of over 20 Jewish organizations, expressed solidarity with the peace forces within Israel and called for a mutual end to violence, negotiations based on mutual recognition and an end to the occupation, and active US involvement in the peace process. These slogans were broad enough to be acceptable to all the participating groups, including Friends of Peace Now and Americans for Progressive Israel, although certain groups within the coalition specifically support PLO participation in the peace process.
New Jewish Agenda (NJA), with 50 chapters nationwide, organized a petition drive calling for a “negotiated settlement that will end the occupation and ensure security and the right to self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians” and for an international peace conference including the PLO. The petitions, to be delivered to the US and Israeli governments and to the PLO, had over 7,000 signatures by mid-September. Local chapters have sponsored demonstrations, vigils, ad campaigns and educational events.
America-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (AICIPP) is working on a special project on freedom of communication, which was developed before the uprising began but expanded to include new issues. This project deals with the closure of media offices, the imprisonment of journalists, and censorship. AICIPP sponsored meetings in April for Israeli lawyer Avigdor Feldman to address media and civil liberties groups on the subject. AICIPP also organized a tour in July for Ibrahim Kara’een, Palestinian journalist and co-owner of the closed Palestine Press Service, and Amnon Zichroni, PPS’s lawyer, and has lobbied for its reopening. In February AICIPP organized a delegation from various Jewish groups to lobby members of Congress.
Since April 25, the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation has been holding weekly vigils in support of the Israeli peace movement outside the New York offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
The Jewish Committee on the Middle East (JCOME) is a new organization formed after the uprising began to oppose Israeli policies and reject claims by leaders of mainstream American Jewish organizations to speak for all American Jews. JCOME’s statement calls on the US to dissociate itself from these Israeli policies by reducing aid levels and by normalizing relations. JCOME aims to present a distinctive point of view of American Jews who support Palestinian rights and are working to change US policy.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) convened a national-level consultation, “Putting the Middle East on the National Agenda,” on June 13. The meeting brought together representatives of at least 30 religious, peace and Middle East groups who affirmed a three-point statement supporting a two-state solution, recognition of the PLO as the chosen representative of the Palestinian people, and a UN-sponsored international peace conference with all parties involved. In August, a continuations committee established an informal national working group, the Network for Israeli/Palestinian Peace, which will meet periodically and share information. Local AFSC chapters have been involved in teach-ins, leafletting, and have served as conduits for coalition-building. AFSC has made an emergency appeal in the US to support the work of its legal aid office in East Jerusalem, which has had a tremendous increase in its caseload.
The Los Angeles-based Coalition for Peace in the Middle East, comprising Arab-American, Jewish and peace groups, calls for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, US recognition of the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and PLO participation in a UN-sponsored international peace conference. Their March 20 rally was attended by 1,000 people and sponsored by more than 20 peace, political action and ethnic groups.
In Boston, the Coalition for Palestinian Rights, set up during the uprising by a number of area groups, organized a referendum campaign in Cambridge for the November ballot. The resolution calls for an end to Israeli violation of Palestinian rights, a halt to the use of US taxpayers’ money to pay for the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the creation of an independent Palestinian state in these territories, with peace for all nations including Israel.
Initiatives are also on the ballots in San Francisco and Newton, Mass., calling for mutual recognition and Palestinian statehood, and in Berkeley for a sister city project with Gaza’s Jabalya camp.
Network for Middle East Peace, based in New York, is sponsoring delegations of US lawyers to tour Israel and the occupied territories. American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism (AJAZ) has put its office at the disposal of groups working on the issue and participated in demonstrations and coalitions. The Boston chapter of Mobilization for Survival (MOBE) offers educational crash courses on the conflict and the US role in the region. Their slide show, “From the West Bank to Armageddon,” is being updated with a segment on the uprising.
This year’s annual North American Regional Non-Governmental Organization Symposium on the Question of Palestine, sponsored by the United Nations, had a record attendence. The final resolutions reaffirmed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state and a UN-sponsored international conference including PLO participation, as well as declaring support for the uprising and demands of the Unified Leadership. Workshops discussed tactics for lobbying; doing outreach to the media, church, peace and women’s groups; and publicizing the positions of progressive American Jewish and Israeli groups.
These activities have served to draw attention to the causes behind the uprising, its effects on Palestinian and Israeli societies, and the role Americans can play in promoting a just resolution to the conflict. But many obstacles remain. Mobilization has been more ardent, directed and unified among those who wish to reaffirm Washington’s unwavering support for Israel and to obstruct the airing of demands for Palestinian self-determination and an end to occupation. People working for a positive US consensus on Palestinian rights continue to fight an uphill battle, though now in greater numbers and with more resources.