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Est. April 5, 2002
July 04, 2019 - Issue 796

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Happy Independence Day?

"The Palestinans have been living in refugee camps,
living in other countries, and in what has been described
as the biggest open-air prison in the world, the Gaza Strip. 
Often, on this day, you may read the words of Frederick Douglass
about the condition of black Americans, slave or free, in the
'land of the free.'  His words could stand today for those who
remain unfree, at home and around the world."

As the U.S. celebrates its independence and its birthday, it is right to remember a people who wish to celebrate their own independence, but the prospect of that happening is very remote and the U.S. has much responsibility for their occupation and oppression.

They are the Palestinans, and they have been living in refugee camps, living in other countries, and in what has been described as the biggest open-air prison in the world, the Gaza Strip. Often, on this day, you may read the words of Frederick Douglass about the condition of black Americans, slave or free, in the “land of the free.” His words could stand today for those who remain unfree, at home and around the world.

Speaking o
n July 5, 1852, at Corinthian Hall, Rochester, N.Y., he gave a keynote address at an Independence Day celebration and asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” He spoke respectfully of the founders of the nation and their declaration of equality of all “men.” He declared:

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn...”

The evil that was perpetrated during the centuries of slavery, during Reconstruction, through the years of Jim Crow, remains with the nation today. The same can be said of the plight of the Palestinans in that they have seen their hopes for a nation dashed, day by day, over a half-century. They are a people under brutal occupation, with their every move monitored and controlled by the Israeli government and its Israel Defense Forces. In addition to their subjugation, they have lost most of the land they historically occupied in the land of Palestine. When some 750,000 were ethnically cleansed at the creation of the State of Israel, they were told that they would have the right of return to their homes and villages. They never made it back.

A look at a small series of the map of Israel-Palestine from 1946 to the current decade shows the inexorable disappearance of Palestinian-owned land and the increase of Jewish-occupied land. There is little left on the map for any Palestinan state, except for small spots here and there that resemble the bantustans of South Africa within which black South Africans were supposed live. Oppressed South Africans refused to accept what was offered and that was the beginning of the end of apartheid. The so-called settlements of Israel have taken more and more of what would have been a Palestinan state over several years. There is little contiguous land left in the West Bank for a Palestinan state and the Gaza Strip is considered around the globe as the world's biggest open-air prison.

There is little prospect of a one-state solution, because Israeli leaders are sure that the Palestinians would overwhelm their population in short order and there would not be a Jewish state. Israel apparently has expanded itself right out of the possibility of a two-state solution by settling more and more land, especially under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Another huge problem is that, in exile in their own land and elsewhere, Palestinians have increased their numbers from the 750,000 who were coerced and forced out of their homes and villages in the late 1940s, to the millions who are waiting for their right of return.

Now, however, Israel has said that the right of return only applies to those 750,000 original inhabitants who were forced into refugee camps and the Gaza Strip. If this rule were allowed to take effect, there would be few Palestinans left, because so many are very elderly or have died waiting. Problem solved, except for the Palestinian millions waiting to return.

Israel and its supporters in the U.S. have asked why Israel is being “picked on,” when there are so many other nations that deserve criticism for their own human rights violations. Israel is often described as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” but American-born Israeli Jeff Halper noted in a talk in Troy, N.Y., a few years ago that such an opinion is true, but only if you are a Jew living in Israel. Halper, an anthropologist, is co-founder and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, which for decades has opposed and tried to prevent the demolition of Palestinan houses. Such actions by the Israeli government have paved the way for Jewish settlements, as the available land for a Palestinan state has diminished, year by year.

The State of Israel can function internally and in the region (including possibly hundreds of nuclear weapons) only because it has the backing of the money from the U.S. and the U.S. military forces and power. For that reason, Americans have a responsibility to make Israeli governments live up to their claim to be a full democracy. U.S. “exceptionalism” makes it responsible to lead in human rights struggles around the world, but its efforts in that are woefully inadequate. At home and abroad, it needs to fulfill the promise of the founders that “all men (and women) are created equal.”

As the Jewish Voice for Peace has stated, the goal is to bring freedom and peace to everyone in Israel and in the Middle East and see that no one is oppressed or occupied by a superior military or financial power.

On this day of independence celebration, it might be well to remember the words of some of the great leaders, such as Douglass and Eugene V. Debs, the great labor leader: (Paraphrasing) “When one person is not free, I am not free; if one person is in prison, I am in prison.” Good words to heed, on the Fourth of July or any other day of the year. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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