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The Sign

by on August 7, 2021

I’ve make a commitment to stand on the street corner and wave signs for social justice every Friday afternoon. Fridays for Future, of course, has been doing this for a a couple years on a global scale to draw attention to the climate emergency we have created. It was Israel’s most recent major assault on Gaza, in May of this year, that impelled me out of my comfort zone and led me to the streets.

During the onslaught against Gaza there were a few dozen people waving signs for several weeks. The number of people who maintain a weekly presence have varied over the weeks. There tend to be about fifteen people on both sides of the street with different messages about peace and social justice – the climate, nuclear weapons, black lives matter, and maintained focus on Israel, during the hour and a half time slot we allot ourselves. Some of the people have been sign-waving for social justice for more than twenty years at the same location.

There are numerous signs about Israel ranging from “It Was Wrong In South Africa and It’s Wrong In Palestine” (referring to apartheid), to signs like “Save Sheikh Jarrah“. I have a sign enjoining people to contact congress about HR2590. This week I was holding both the sign about HR2590 and a sign that said “Israel Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity” with text clearing indicating that such as message came from Human Rights Watch.

Standing on a street corner during rush hour traffic our signs are targeted at the cars but intended for anyone that sees them. During a lull in traffic a young man came across the street, pointing at my sign. I didn’t hear what he said at first with the noise of the traffic, but after a minute made out he was asking about the sign “Israel Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity”. He was genuinely asking about it.

Perhaps I dd a bad job of explaining “crimes against humanity” when put on the spot, but we had a decent and pleasant conversation, despite the fact it is sometimes hard to explain something to someone when it appears you have to start with the basics. He was pressing in his point that we (the USA) commit crimes against humanity in the Middle East – but I agreed with him, and pointed out that Americans should also be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. I’m not sure he knew that Israel occupies Palestinians under international law, much less the resulting human rights abuses regarding land, resources, the right to movement, or anything about settlers. Nonetheless, he he was willing to take literature I had with me, and listened politely to my point that actions make a difference, and that there can be cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Here’s what that young gentleman should know. The sign I was holding about crimes against humanity referred to Human Rights Watch. In April of this year HRW noted that Israel carries out apartheid – a crime against humanity – against the Palestinians, writing that:

Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.

Providing all the background on the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the history, HRW follows this up with the observation that “International criminal law has developed two crimes against humanity for situations of systematic discrimination and repression: apartheid and persecution” Regarding persecution, HRW summarizes that

The crime against humanity of persecution, also set out in the Rome Statute, the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights on racial, ethnic, and other grounds, grew out of the post-World War II trials and constitutes one of the most serious international crimes, of the same gravity as apartheid.

The State of Palestine is a state party to both the Rome Statute and the Apartheid Convention. In February 2021, the ICC ruled that it has jurisdiction over serious international crimes committed in the entirety of the OPT, including East Jerusalem, which would include the crimes against humanity of apartheid or persecution committed in that territory. In March 2021, the ICC Office of Prosecutor announced the opening of a formal investigation into the situation in Palestine.

HRW recalls that “Crimes against humanity consist of specific criminal acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack, or acts committed pursuant to a state or organizational policy, directed against a civilian population”. It’s likely that Israel not only engages in apartheid and persecution, but almost all of the other crimes against humanity (inter alia, murder, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture, and sexual violence).

We stand on the street corner to draw attention to these facts, and to encourage people to demand that elected and appointed officials stop funding, and prevent, crimes against humanity. The awareness of these facts should propel us to action, and one substantial action is to contract our elected representatives in Congress about HR 2590 (Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act) and ask our representatives to stop funding human rights abuses.

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