Last night in Decatur, GA about 30 people gathered in a church basement to hear Josh Ruebner discuss his new book Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace. The evening was a small window into the awareness spreading across this county of the U.S. role in Israel/Palestine, and the movement growing in its wake.
The evening was hosted by the Kairos mission group of the Oakhurst Baptist Church, and co-sponsored by a project of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta called Joining Hands for Justice in Israel and Palestine, local chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and Interfaith Peace Builders, as well as the Tikkun Olam committee of a nearby reconstructionsist synagogue called Bet Haverim.
As I waited for the event to start I chatted with the woman sitting next to me. She was in her early 50s and told me she is planning on visiting the West Bank in May, her first visit back since 1977 when she lived on a kibbutz as a teenager. She said she loved Israel from those days, but now was worried. Her teenage daughter is currently living with an Israeli family as part of an exchange program and has been surprised by the degree of racism she has encountered in her Israeli high school. She said her daughter had only met one other student who expressed “pro-Palestinian” sympathies, which in this case was just correctly pointing out that a landmark was located in the West Bank, not Israel, during a geography lesson. She was going to travel over to Israel/Palestine when the exchange was finished to travel some with her daughter. She didn’t quite know what to expect.
Ruebner soon came to the podium and we turned our attention forward. He has been on a barnstorming tour to promote his book, and gin up the Palestine solidarity movement in the process. It’s not too many book events that the author passes out postcards to mail to the President, or fliers on companies to boycott as part of the BDS movement, but we got them last night. Ruebner did sit and sign books at the end, but he came across more as a movement circuit rider, going station to station bringing the good news on the activism sprouting up across the county.
But first the crowd had to take its medicine.
Ruebner started with the subject of his book – the peace process. And specifically the Obama administration’s policy during its first term. He said he sought to answer the question of how the administration, that entered office with such high aspirations and relatively strong language, stepped down to the position we see it in today, essentially playing the role of Israel’s lawyer yet again.
Ruebner summarized, “These negotiations are not about bringing a just and lasting peace. These negotiations are a dog and pony show to enable Israel to continue its colonization of Palestinian land. That’s what these negotiations are about.”
After recounting Obama administration policy during its first terms, including how US aid went to arm and train the Palestinian Authority police force used to quell Palestinian protest against the occupation, Ruebner got to the current moment. He said Kerry’s soon-to-be-announced framework for negotiations is bound the fail because the Palestinian state that Israel and the U.S. describe is diametrically opposed to the state Palestinians demand. Palestinians seek to exercise their self-determination while Israel and the U.S. look to deny it. “This U.S.-led ‘peace process’ is not about ending Israeli apartheid, instead the reverse is true. This is about entrenching it, and trying to make permanent Israel’s apartheid policies toward the Palestinian people,” Ruebner said. “And this is reason that this round of negotiations will fail as have all the others.”
He also addressed Israel’s latest demand, that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. After pointing out that there is no precedent for one country demanding another state to recognize a special characteristic of that state, he broke down what the demand means, “In essence, what Israel is demanding of the Palestinians by saying they have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is trying to legitimate this notion that Israel, unlike any other country of the world, normatively should not be a state of all of its citizens.”
Yet with the scale weighed so heavily against justice, Ruebner ended by saying he has never been more optimistic. He said we are at a historical juncture at the “demise of the paradigm” of the current peace process and that this opening is allowing for “new creative opportunities.” He pointed to the explosive growth of the BDS movement and the Israel lobby’s inability to confront it. Bringing up the recent case of the Northeastern University Students for Justice in Palestine chapter being suspended he said, “Israel’s defenders can no longer defend Israel on the substance of it’s policies. And so, because they can’t do it, it’s all about suppression now.”
After describing the victories the BDS movement has been able to accomplish in its short history he concluded, “I am convinced that Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians are nothing more than a short term proposition at this point . . . we are systematically undermining and pulling out the pillars of U.S. support for Israeli apartheid and when enough of those pillars are pulled out, even though the structure looks solid, it’s going to topple. And when it does it’s going to topple very quickly.”
As the event broke up after an hour and a half or so, Ruebner signed some books, but also had to get going. Today he was headed to a morning event in Augusta, GA and then driving to Chapel Hill, NC for an event tonight. No rest for the weary.
I returned to my conversation with the mother sitting next to me. She seemed energized, saying she felt very involved in the issue in the late seventies when she visited and has taken some time off, but now is back. She asked me about the one-state solution. She said it just makes sense to her. I recommended she read Ali Abunimah’s One Country, and agreed with her. “It’s hard to argue against equal rights”, I said. She smiled and nodded as if that was the most common sensical thing in the world.