This week’s installment of Between the Lines features an interview with Josh Ruebner, national advocacy director with the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
(Interview conducted by Scott Harris.)
President Obama’s recent trip to Israel and the Palestinian West Bank, the first of his presidency, was surrounded by low expectations given that Middle East peace talks have been stalled for most of the years he’s been in office. One of the highlights of the president’s visit was a warmly received speech given at the Jerusalem Convention Center, in which Obama pledged unwavering U.S. support for the Jewish state while imploring young Israelis to look at the world through Palestinian eyes and move their politicians to take risks to negotiate a path to establish an independent Palestinian state and a just and lasting peace.
But during a brief visit to the West Bank, where he held a press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama pointedly avoided demanding a halt to the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Israel’s continued construction of settlements, a violation of international law and United Nations resolutions, has been one of the main obstacles to renewing peace talks, where Palestinian leaders declare that they will not engage in negotiations until Israel freezes all settlement expansion.
During his trip, President Obama reminded both Israelis and Americans of the two nations’ special relationship that provides the Israeli government with more than $3 billion annually. But Israel is confronting growing isolation in the world community, owing to the success of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign organized to pressure Israel to end their occupation of Palestinian land and grant the Palestinian people their fundamental right to self-determination. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Josh Ruebner, national advocacy director with the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, who explains why he believes President Obama’s recent visit to Israel/Palestine will yield little unless the U.S. pressures Israel to halt settlement expansion
JOSH RUEBNER: I think Obama signaled very clearly to Israel and the Palestinian people that all he is offering is rhetoric. And, that Palestinians living Israeli military occupation, living under continued settlement expansion, living as refugees who are denied their right to return are living as second-class citizens within Israel, are now painfully aware that this no longer a policy priority for the Obama administration.
And for President Obama to throw his hands up in the air and say, “Well this is a very difficult problem” – as he did with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – in their press conference, I think is quite disingenuous. I think it obfuscates the role that the United States plays in maintaining Israel’s apartheid policies toward the Palestinians. President Obama didn’t at all address the fact that its unconditional U.S. diplomatic support and almost unconditional military support in the form of weapons that sustain and enable Israel to defy the rest of the international community and to perpetrate the types of human rights abuses that Palestinians suffer on a daily basis.
So, to throw his hands up in the air and just say, “Well you all deal with it, you all resolve it, make your leaders do it” is quite disingenuous. What the United States should do if it’s serious about trying to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, is first and foremost to end the U.S. military support and diplomatic support that enables Israel to continue these policies that even the United States opposes.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Do you think that there’s any concern in the Obama administration that the legacy of his administration may be tainted by the fact that they are not really aggressively looking to restart these negotiations and exerting pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to make the possibility of peace real?
JOSH RUEBNER: Well, I would put it this way. I think that Obama certainly has a lot of egg on his face because he made this huge priority in his first term and abysmally failed due to an incredibly flawed strategy for trying to bring these parties back together to the negotiating table. I think very clearly, the Obama administration is singling it for its second term. It’s hoping to keep this issue as much as possible on the back burner and hope against hope that things don’t boil over and will need direct U.S. involvement, direct U.S. attention. I think Obama – this was his farewell tour of the Middle East, this recent trip, and I think it was a clear indication that he’s not willing to put the kind of political capital behind this effort as he did in his first term.
BETWEEN THE LINES: For a number of years now, there’s been a new strategy employed by many of the Palestinians particularly in the West Bank, on attempting to gain world attention and solidarity and support from people around the world by really focusing on nonviolent approaches to resisting Israeli occupation. Maybe you can give us a little bit of your thoughts on the progress and advancement of that movement and its effect.
JOSH RUEBNER: It’s a hugely significant development and I think it’s having a huge impact on the United States affecting the discourse, changing people’s perception of who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. In 2005, more than 170 different Palestinian civil society organizations came together and issued a historic call for a global campaign to boycott divestment and sanctions against Israel and corporations that are profiteering from Israeli military occupation and apartheid. And since that call from Palestinian society, the BDS movement – for short Boycott, Divest and Sanctions – has really mushroomed all across the world.
Corporations such as Veolia – the French multinational that does a lot of transportation and water projects, for example, has literally lost billions of dollars’ worth of contracts primarily in Europe because of their involvement and profiteering from Israel occupation and apartheid.
And of course, on the ground, you’re also seeing weekly nonviolent protest in Palestinian villages that have been cut off from their lands by Israel’s illegal wall in the West Bank by expanding Israeli settlements, etc. And you can see that those efforts are really making waves with “Five Broken Cameras,” nominated for the Best Documentary this year at the Academy awards, which documents the struggle of this one West Bank village called Bil’in to protest Israeli aggression and apartheid policies toward this village.
So yeah, it’s having a huge impact, it’s changing minds, and it’s very, very difficult for Israel to portray itself as the victim when they’re acting so violently and so ruthlessly against nonviolent protesters.
Learn more about the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation campaign by visiting EndtheOccupation.org.