Jewish Voices Address Occupation Economic Morality
By Sonia Nettnin
Recently, Shamai Leibowitz and Liat Weingart spoke about their life experiences with Israeli occupation, Jewish oppression and targeted divestment, to a group of sixty people in Oak Park, IL.
Leibowitz, an Orthodox Jew, is a human rights lawyer in Tel Aviv and a staff sergeant in the Israeli Defense Forces. Weingart, born in Netanya, Israel, is the Co-Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the largest grassroots organizations in the United States.
From 1986 – 1991, Leibowitz served as a non-commissioned officer of the Israeli Army in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. During his army duty, his commanding officer sent him to raid Palestinian villages that incited against the occupation or that did not pay their taxes. Most of the raids were in the middle of the night.
“I see the look on the children as their parents were humiliated, sometimes beaten,” he said. Leibowitz spoke about a torture chamber in Tulkarem where people were beaten blue with bruises. He expressed his reservations about the torture of Palestinians to his commanding officer.
“Here in the Occupied Territories, you’re not supposed to think,” his commanding officer said. “Just follow orders.”
When Leibowitz saw Palestinian prisoners held for years, their homes demolished by Israeli bulldozers, and the expansion of Jewish-only settlements and roads, he asked himself: “Can this really be protecting the State of Israel?”
He described Israel’s construction of a concrete wall, 24-feet high, around Palestinian villages, in the name of security. “The wall doesn’t allow people to live, develop and flourish,” he said. “It denies them basic necessities.” He believes Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians “…are sowing the seeds of insecurity and terror.”
Leibowitz sees the peace process over the years as diplomatic diversions. He said what is important are the actions. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, established in 1967, calls for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the Occupied Territories. U.N. Security Council Resolution 338, established in1973, calls for an immediate cease fire after the implementation of U.N. Resolution 242. Leibowitz stated that the media redirects public attention to talks of a new era; despite the fact that the Israeli Government continues building settlements and settlement roads.
“I’m asking Americans who really care about Israel to care about where their money is going,” Leibowitz said. “We first have to cut the lifeline that feeds the occupation.”
Since 1967, the U.S. Government gave $100 billion dollars for the occupation’s infrastructure. Moreover, several American companies sell equipment that causes this suffering. Leibowitz gave several examples. He told the audience: “Do everything you can in your power so that your money is not going to these companies.”
The Palestine Monitor published The University of Wisconsin Divestment from Israel Campaign plan, which details some of the companies Leibowitz mentioned:
“Caterpillar Corporation provides the Israeli Army with the D-9 bulldozer and other equipment used to carry out widespread and systemic house demolitions, acts which have been classified by the UN Commission on Human Rights as war crimes. Caterpillar’s equipment is also used to uproot olive trees, destroy infrastructure, and to build Israel’s separation wall which has been deemed by the International Court of Justice to be a violation of International Law and the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people. Other companies provide fighter jets (Lockheed Martin), aircraft engines (General Electric), and missiles (Raytheon) often used to bomb targets in civilian areas and commit other human rights abuses. Investments in the companies specified by the resolution exceed $2.8 Million.”
The campaign cited divestment guidelines from The University of Wisconsin Regents Trust and Fund Policies which are “…carried out in cases where ‘any company, corporation, subsidiary or affiliate…practices or condones through its actions discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, creed or sex…’ or cases where ‘corporate policies or practices … cause substantial social injury.’”
Occupation, Oppressor and
Leibowitz stated he knows people who take action may be harshly criticized by the American Jewish establishment; but he believes that people for peace seek truth and justice. He said Israel betrayed its core values and that taking away the liberty, the humanity and the dignity of the Palestinian people takes away security from Israel.
Weingart talked about her organization’s “STOP Caterpillar” campaign. Despite firestorms of criticism, the organization believes their campaign will move the selective divestment movement forward in America.
However, she shared a sociological perspective about the conflict. She explained that Americans need to deal with anti-Semitism in more effective ways.
“I don’t think Americans are going to budge on this issue until they deal with Jewish oppression.”
She explained that Americans feel guilt and shame about the Holocaust. When people criticize Israel, they may be accused of anti-Semitism. “The way (Americans) deal with anti-Semitism is to arm Israel,” she said. “But Palestinians pay the price.”
Weingart questioned why Americans do not see the lopsidedness of the conflict. “They’ve shut off their brains and become the yes men,” she said. “We’re going to have to talk about anti-Semitism.” From her point of view, American Jews need to stare Jewish oppression in the face in order to face the occupation.
As a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Weingart explained that the legacy of persecution can pervade as tension for some Jewish families. The constant level of anxiety can make some Jewish people feel alone, as if they had no allies or friends.
The panelists emphasized their beliefs in selective divestment, not blanket divestment. They stated selective divestment will not hurt Israel’s economy. Their focus was on the 3.5 million Palestinians who live under occupation and who suffer human rights violations.
“We want to make Israel realize it’s on a self-destructive course with the occupation,” Leibowitz said.
The panelists expressed their concerns for Israeli and Palestinian children. Schools for Jewish and Palestinian children give the youth the opportunity to know each other so they can create their future.
The organizations Not In My Name and a Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine sponsored this event.