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PACBI | 30 December 2010

Listen to Our Voice!

Ramallah, Occupied Palestine, 30 December 2010

From time to time, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) brings to the attention of BDS activists, both in Palestine and abroad, Palestinian-Israeli joint activities that, while purporting to further “peace,” in fact pursue an agenda that is harmful to the realization of just peace and Palestinian rights. One such effort, which includes campus talks by Palestinian-Israeli teams in the United States and the UK, is organized by OneVoice, a US-based joint Israeli-Palestinian organization with chapters in North America and extensions in Europe. The Palestinian branch in Ramallah, OneVoice Palestine, appears to be the recruiting ground for Palestinian youth for the joint Palestinian-Israeli speaking tours, through a program of training workshops organized in the West Bank.

From PACBI’s perspective, which is grounded in the principles of the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and supported by a majority of Palestinian civil society organizations and bodies, [1] there are several objectionable features to the OneVoice platform in general, and its youth activities in particular. These objections pertain to the logic of OneVoice’s political analysis and program, its main objectives, and the forms of action stemming from these.

PACBI bases itself on its 2004 Call for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel [2], which follows the same logic as the Palestinian civil society BDS Call. In light of the hundreds of UN resolutions condemning Israel’s colonial and discriminatory policies as illegal; in view of the failure of all forms of international intervention and peace-making to convince or oblige Israel to comply with humanitarian law, respect fundamental human rights and end its occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people; and inspired by the South African anti-apartheid struggle, international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world are urged to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.

It is worth noting that the logic of BDS has become increasingly compelling to Palestine solidarity activists around the world. Today, the global movement for BDS is making great inroads into the political mainstream, pointing to the fact that this long-term strategy of resistance and solidarity is indeed viewed as the most effective means to fight injustice and work towards upholding international law and the realization of the UN-sanctioned Palestinian rights as a necessary condition for achieving a just and comprehensive peace.

It is clear from an examination of the underlying logic and political analysis employed by OneVoice, and its Palestinian branch, that it is neither the logic of pressure on Israel nor a concern about justice for the Palestinian people that fuels their work. While paying lip service to “ending the occupation,” the overriding imperative is to serve Israel’s basic interest in remaining an apartheid state while promoting a form of a Palestinian state in order to secure that end. The philosophy of one of the leading Israeli youth activists, as showcased on the OneVoice website, “is that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state equals a more secure Israel, requiring less money toward its defense and security, and more toward civic and social development.” [3] Simply put, it is the interests of the occupier that drive the mission.

Indeed, OneVoice declares that “by working in parallel, [it] can appeal to the nationalistic enlightened self-interest of Israelis, through the work of OneVoice Israel in Tel Aviv; and Palestinians, through the work of OneVoice Palestine in Ramallah. For Israelis, it’s about building an understanding that the occupation hurts rather than enhances Israeli security, and poses a threat to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. For Palestinians, it’s about building an understanding that violence and extremism hurts [sic] Palestinian national ambitions, providing a convenient excuse to those who wish to perpetually delay the establishment of a Palestinian state.” [4]

This unabashedly Israel-centered approach (framed as even-handedness), unfortunately adopted by the Palestinian branch as well, conveniently ignores the dynamics of the oppressor and the oppressed, the colonizer and the colonized. In reality, this approach takes as given the interests of the Israeli state and polity as they are constituted today. The OneVoice platform is devoid of any affirmation of the inalienable rights of the Palestinians, principally the right to self-determination. There is no mention of Israel's grave violations of international law, in many cases amounting to war crimes. Nowhere is there a discussion of the institutionalized and legalized system of racial discrimination in Israel, nor is there any recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes from which they were forcibly expelled in 1947-1948, in accordance with the norms of international law and UN resolutions. The latter right is at the very core of the Palestinian national consensus. Ignoring it puts OneVoice Palestine solidly against this consensus.

More significantly, the Israel-centric nature of OneVoice is exemplified by the way the concept of “the conflict” is defined and centrally located to inform the organization’s mission. OneVoice,, like many other well-funded dialogue and “peace” groups (Seeds of Peace is one of the most visible), is dedicated to “conflict resolution.” However, “the conflict” is defined symmetrically and trivializes the struggle of the Palestinians for self-determination. The organization describes itself as “an international movement of people fed up with the ongoing conflict” [5], as though this on its own is meaningful no matter how the “conflict” is defined and without taking into account whose rights are violated. “The conflict” paradigm, as used by OneVoice and many other “peace” groups, in reality de-centers the Palestinian struggle and creates parity between occupier and occupied, not to mention that it also ignores Israeli state violence in response to Palestinian resistance.

PACBI finds the framing of the colonial and apartheid reality in Palestine as a symmetric “conflict” without specifying the nature and scope of the domination and oppression that characterize the relationship of the Israeli state with the Palestinian people to be problematic, to say the least. It implies that a resolution of the conflict is a matter of replacing misunderstandings with more empathy and a concern for the predicament of the “other side.”

Nowhere is there any discussion of the roots of this “conflict,” what it is about, and which “side” is paying the price. OneVoice glosses over the historic record and the establishment of a settler-colonial regime in Palestine following the expulsion of most of the indigenous people of the land. The defining moment in the history of “the conflict” is therefore not acknowledged. The history of continued Israeli colonial expansion as well as dispossession and forcible displacement of Palestinians is conveniently ignored.

OneVoice prefers to forget the past, the recognition of which, we believe, holds the key to the future. Instead, OneVoice declares that “the idea of focusing on the future instead of clinging to the past is paramount to the philosophy of both OneVoice members and its programs. This is none the more prevalent than in OneVoice’s Imagine 2018 campaign, aimed to create a more future-oriented discourse among the grassroots. Israelis and Palestinians are being asked to envision what the future will look like if there is a peace agreement versus maintaining the toxic status quo or worse.” [6] A closer examination of the campaign reveals the Israel-centeredness of the much-advertised “Imagine 2018,” “a multiplatform campaign that depicts visions by Israelis and Palestinians of 2018.” It is significant that while OneVoice Palestine “targets former flashpoint cities with visions of a peaceful future” in the form of wall murals, OneVoice Israel asks Israelis what they hope for on Israel’s 70th birthday. The choice of the year 2018, not immediately clear from reading the Palestinian promotional material, becomes understandable if one looks at the Israeli website. [7] That it is all about Israel is abundantly clear!

To put PACBI’s objections to OneVoice and similar ventures in perspective, we refer to the PACBI guidelines for the academic and cultural boycott [8] dealing specifically with joint Palestinian-Israeli projects. According to these guidelines, Cultural events and projects involving Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis that promote “balance” between the “two sides” in presenting their respective narratives, as if on par, or are otherwise based on the false premise that the colonizers and the colonized, the oppressors and the oppressed, are equally responsible for the “conflict,” are intentionally deceptive, intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible. Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or “reconciliation between the two sides” without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice. All such events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless the Israeli side is explicitly supportive of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and unless the project/event is framed within the explicit context of joint opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott. Other factors that PACBI takes into consideration in evaluating such events and projects are the sources of funding, the design of the program, the objectives of the sponsoring organization(s), the participants, and similar relevant factors.

It is clear that OneVoice is one of those projects that bring Palestinians and Israelis together, not to jointly struggle against Israel’s colonial and apartheid policies, but rather to provide a limited program of action under the slogan of an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state. In essence, however, and by ignoring the history and reality of the apartheid and colonial system in place, OneVoice and similar programs serve to normalize oppression and injustice. The fact that OneVoice treats the “nationalisms” and “patriotisms” of the two “sides” as if on par with one another and equally valid is a telling indicator. Announcing a series of talks in the UK, OneVoice recently declared that “our youth leaders are uniquely placed to be able to approach these taboo topics with an unparalleled level of authenticity and a singular and previously unheard voice of moderation and pragmatism; bringing a strong, nationalistic and patriotic perspective from both sides of the conflict.” [9]

PACBI believes that the acceleration of OneVoice’s youth work in North America and Europe is meant to counter the growing movement for BDS on campuses in these regions. OneVoice describes its international education program, in the framework of which Palestinian and Israeli youth leaders address North American and European university audiences, as being “designed to help those outside the Region to dispel polarization, extremism, and hatred in their own communities.” Specifically, OneVoice Europe, established in 2006 and based in the UK, “was set up to fundraise for the ongoing work of OneVoice Palestine and OneVoice Israel in the region. Very quickly, however, it became clear that there was a need for the organisation to combat the increasingly extreme positions that pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian communities were taking within Europe; with UK university campuses being the most glaring example of where action was needed. OneVoice Europe’s mission is to help combat this polarisation amongst the pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian communities in Europe, and to engage peoples’ energy and passion over Israel-Palestine away from hatred and towards helping moderates in the region; those looking to end occupation and all forms of violence and find a way out of the conflict.” [10]

It is not difficult to link these oblique statements about “polarization” and “extremism” to efforts to combat the growing BDS movement among UK student activists, especially the courageous campus occupation movement spearheaded by students there during the Israeli war of aggression on Gaza. OneVoice’s judgment is clear: “On UK campuses the war in Gaza led to an entrenchment of positions of advocates for either respective side. We aim to reconnect Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israeli activists with the grassroots of those societies so their advocates reflect the will of the people in the region.” [11]

Finally, one of the features of the OneVoice youth speaking tours is the showcasing of Israeli “moderates” alongside those from Palestine. The Israeli speakers, based on media reports and their own testimonies, do not appear to challenge the dominant colonial and racist Israeli institutions, paramount among which is the army. The army is a natural part of the landscape in the highly militarized society that is Israel, and the culture of violence, criminality and impunity that pervades the Israeli army is not considered remarkable. In the words of a senior youth leader, “[f]or 3 years I served as a tank commander and did so out of respect for my country, my family, and those we have lost. I am still in [sic] active in the reserves. It is difficult to find any soldier who would choose to connect with someone they once called an enemy. But as a representative of OneVoice Israel, this is exactly what I did. What I learned from this experience is that any soldier or policymaker around the world would benefit from an experience like this. If they did it would have a truly positive effect on the world.” [12]

This is not the first time that PACBI addresses the harmful normalization activities of OneVoice. In 2007, PACBI issued a call urging Palestinian and international artists and public figures not to participate in and be associated with a OneVoice-organized public event that was to be held concurrently in Jericho and Tel Aviv billed “A Million Voices,” “to mark the first time that massive numbers of Israelis and Palestinians gather simultaneously to unite against violent extremism.” The appeal, endorsed by tens of cultural and other civil society organizations in Palestine and the Arab World, called “on the Palestinian public and international supporters of a just peace in Palestine not to take part in this public relations charade that conceals a misleading political program that falls significantly short of international law tenets and the Palestinian national program.” [13] As a result of mass mobilization against this typical normalization event, it was canceled.

PACBI continues to appeal to Palestinians, especially youth and students, to carefully examine what OneVoice stands for, and to reject a deceptive political agenda that does not in any way address the minimum requirements for justice for Palestinians, and instead is aimed at shielding the Israeli system of apartheid.

PACBI supports the appeal issued by student councils and youth organizations in Palestine in commemoration of the anniversary of the Nakba in 2010. The appeal mentioned “Seeds of Peace, OneVoice, NIR School, IPCRI, Panorama, and others that specifically target Palestinian youth to engage them in dialog with Israelis without recognizing the inalienable rights of Palestinians, or aiming to end Israel’s occupation, colonization, and apartheid.” [14] It is indeed time to listen to the voice of Palestinians.

PACBI
www.PACBI.org
pacbi@pacbi.org

[1] http://bdsmovement.net/?q=node/52
[2] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=869
[3] http://blog.onevoicemovement.org/one_voice/2010/11/iep-spotlight-eliran-eyal-finds-partners-for-peace-on-the-palestinian-side.html
[4] http://press.onevoicemovement.org/2010/02/one-voice-looking-for-hope-in-an-endless-blame-game
[5] http://www.onevoicemovement.org/about-onevoice
[6] http://blog.onevoicemovement.org/one_voice/2010/11/iep-spotlight-mohammad-asideh-devotes-civic-service-to-palestines-future-generations.html
[7] http://www.onevoicemovement.org/Imagine2018Temp/index2.php
[8] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1108 and http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1047
[9] http://www.onevoicemovement.org/programs/onevoice-europe.php
[10] http://www.onevoicemovement.org/programs/onevoice-europe.php
[11] http://press.onevoicemovement.org/2010/02/onevoice-makes-itself-heard-for-peace
[12] http://blog.onevoicemovement.org/one_voice/2010/12/traveling-to-the-united-states-and-speaking-on-the-onevoice-international-education-program-tour-with-mohammad-asideh-was.html
[13] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=612&key=million%20voices
[14] http://pyan48.wordpress.com

Posted on 30-12-2010


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