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Israel is no Democracy: A letter to Jimmy Panetta
by Sheila Carrillo
Tuesday Jan 24th, 2017 9:32 PM
A letter I sent to Jimmy Panetta regarding his his recent vote for HR 11, the non-binding resolution opposing UN sanctions of Israel. I filled my letter with eye witness information from my recent trip to Palestine to try to explain the subterfuge around the claim that Israel is a Democracy.
Israel is no Democracy: A Letter to Jimmy Panetta

Israel refers to itself as “nuclear ambiguous,” which is code for having a large nuclear arsenal (dating back to the 60’s,) and pretending that they don’t. Referring to Israel as the “only Democracy in the Middle East” as you did in your statement justifying your signature on the non- binding H. R 11, has much the same flavor to me. In the former the rule is: if you don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t exist; in the latter, the rule is: giving something a label makes it real. It is this double talk around Israel that makes my head spin, not to mention the thought of billions in U.S. aid to Israel--aid which is forbidden by law for the U.S. to provide to nuclear nations that haven’t signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty! But then again, Israel is “nuclear ambiguous.”

I returned a couple of months ago from an Inter-Faith Peace Builders delegation to Palestine/ Israel and find myself unconvinced that a nation without a constitution guaranteeing civil and human rights and whose laws are based on Jewish religious affiliation, can be called a Democracy. The fact alone that it is against the law for a Jew to marry a non-Jew in Israel and civil ceremonies are illegal is for me testimony to the sham of Israeli Democracy. Mixed marriages must occur outside of the country, and on return, the non-Jewish spouse is not afforded the same rights as their Jewish mate. Further, if an Arab Israeli should happen to marry a Palestinian, they could live together in Palestine, but would be prevented by law from living together in Israel.

I am an American Jew, born in 1942 New York and bathed in the agony of revelations of the horrors that had taken place in Germany. I grew up absorbing both my parents’ anguish and their awe and gratitude that the Jewish people of the world had acquired a homeland, Israel, in 1948. I remember being intrigued and inspired by Israel’s accomplishments and the Kibbutz concept as a young adult. But over the years, I became increasingly alarmed and confused as I observed Israel taking on the role of the oppressor.

I joined the IFBB delegation in the hope of understanding the situation in Palestine/Israel, and I wanted to know more about the BDS movement that is so controversial in our local Jewish community.
For most of the trip, we stayed in a hotel in East Jerusalum, and our first drive was from there to the city of Bethlehem, located in the West Bank. We traveled on a road known as a Superhighway, constructed by Israel through Occupied Palestine to facilitate settler travel from West Jerusalem to Illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Our guide pointed out that Israelis and Palestinians are assigned different color license plates—Israelis are yellow with black and Palestinians white with green. Surprisingly, all the vehicles in sight had yellow plates, yet it was a road through Palestinian land. He explained that it is theoretically not against the law for Palestinians to use this road built on their land, but they are required to pass through a checkpoint, where they would be held up for two to three hours to drive on it. So they “choose” to take a separate (and definitely not equal) road below it.

We sped past the 25’ tall concrete barrier wall, learning that in constructing it, Israel took 10 percent more Arab land than designated in the 1994 Oslo Accord, meanwhile separating Palestinian families and cutting farmers off from their farmland. With illegal settlements scattered throughout Palestinian land so that there is no contiguous Palestinian community, our guide told us how to distinguish between settler and Palestinian housing: “ The building complexes that have black tanks on the roof are Palestinian homes. The tanks are to store water for the times when the Israelis, who are in control of the water in the region, cut off the Palestinian’s water supply.”

At one point we turned off the highway and drove onto a rustic road into a section that is designated Area A which means that it is an area under the governance of the Palestinian Authority, and the only West Bank area with no settlements. (Oslo designated—supposedly temporarily—3 areas in the West Bank—Area A , Area B under joint jurisdiction and Area C under Israeli Jurisdiction.) There was a big sign at the entry to Area A stating that it is dangerous and illegal for Israeli citizens to enter Area A, which includes 8 major West Bank cities, effectively segregating Israelis and Palestinians. (Ironically, our guide pointed out 2 cars with yellow license plates that had come to have their cars repaired in the forbidden territory.) Does this sound like the freedom and equality characteristic of a Democracy? We visited the first Organic farm to have a CSA program in the West Bank, and I stood on a knoll admiring rows of beautiful eggplants, beyond which was an amphitheater of settlement homes. It felt eerily like being in a fish bowl with a shark.

Last week, here in Santa Cruz I went to a presentation called No Child behind Bars at Peace United Church by a Palestinian American woman who is a student at UCSC and an African American minister from out of state. They had planned to feature testimony from a 16 year old Palestinian non-violent peace activist regarding her experience growing up in Occupied Palestine. The organization sponsoring her had applied for her Visa last July but it was never granted, so instead they showed a film of her talking candidly about her experience with arrests, checkpoints, curfews, night raids. We learned that an average of 2 Palestinian children are arrested each night and that children are tried in military courts and often held for months without charges. The 2 women described eloquently what they called the intersectionality of the black struggle for justice in the U.S. and the Palestinian struggle for justice.

I arrived home the night before the election, weighed down with the realization that the Zionist government of Israel is an apartheid government and infused with the knowledge that, as in South Africa, BDS is the most powerful non-violent strategy to dismantle the system. I understood viscerally that without justice and equality for the Palestinian people there can be no peace. I experienced that, as Israel continues to frantically build settlements unchecked on Palestinian land, the reality of a two state solution is rapidly fading. As a Jew I care deeply and pray for transformation and healing.

I implore you, Mr. Panetta, to explore beyond the double talk and uncover the facts about Palestine/Israel.