Amnesty International Calls Israel an Apartheid State

We Remember Jerry Lawson on Israel's - and America's - "Slaughter of the Innocents"

Two significant things in my world happened early this past week:

On Tuesday, Amnesty International joined Human Rights Watch, and two Israeli organizations, Yesh Din and B’Tselem, in issuing a report not only calling Israel an “apartheid state” committing “crimes against humanity,” but scrupulously documenting Israel’s system of domination and settler colonialism.

Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued an explicit policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic hegemony and maximizing its control over land to benefit Jewish Israelis while minimizing the number of Palestinians, restricting their rights and obstructing their ability to challenge this dispossession.

 The other thing that happened – last Monday, one of my dearest friends, Jerry Lawson died. More about Jerry below.

The Amnesty International report, “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity" concludes that the consistent demolitions of Palestinian properties, unlawful killings, forcible transfers, movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians make up a system of apartheid.

Amnesty International has analysed Israel’s intent to create and maintain a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians and examined its key components: territorial fragmentation; segregation and control; dispossession of land and property; and denial of economic and social rights. It has concluded that this system amounts to apartheid. Israel must dismantle this cruel system and the international community must pressure it to do so. All those with jurisdiction over the crimes committed to maintain the system should investigate them. … 
The segregation is conducted in a systematic and highly institutionalized manner through laws, policies and practices, all intended to prevent Palestinians from claiming and enjoying equal rights to Jewish Israelis within Israel and the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], and thus intended to oppress and dominate the Palestinian people.

Naturally, AI’s report was decried in the US. US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides called it “absurd.” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that, “as the world’s only Jewish state, the Jewish people must not be denied their right to self-determination, and we must ensure there isn’t a double standard being applied.” And a bipartisan contingent in the US Congress reflexively criticized it as “anti-semitic.”

In her comments introducing the report, Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general explained, rejecting the claims of anti-semitism,

Whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights, … Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid.

Fortunately not all members of Congress are in Israel’s pocket; Congresswomen Betty McCollum, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib endorsed the report in social media postings.

It’s important that these human rights organizations call Israel’s oppression of Palestinians “apartheid” for a number of reasons, including: (1) it is the reality and it has been the Zionist program since 1948 and even before; (2) the language of apartheid provides precise recourse in international law; and (3) it puts the lie to the “dual narrative,” “both sides"-ism of the reports’ critics, especially those PEPs (Progressives Except Palestine).

My friend, Jerry Lawson, died on Monday, January 31, after a year-long struggle with Stage 4 lung cancer. He was 76 years old, married to wife, Marsi, for 51 years, and had two loving sons Eric and Kurt. And a long list of friends whose lives he touched in many and profound ways. Jerry was shy, yet with a sharp wit, and an encyclopedic curiosity and intellect. No subject was beyond his grasp. A mind of a scientist, the heart of a mystic, and the spirit of a revolutionary, Truth, Beauty, and Justice were his guiding North Stars.

Jerry traveled with me to Palestine and Israel in June 2016. It was a trip, he often said, “that changed my life.” He was an ardent supporter of the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace. He was moved by Daoud Nassar and the Tent of Nations, inspired by Abuna Chacour’s story in Ibillin, teared up when the Bereaved Parents shared their losses, stirred by Omar Barghouti and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and you could see his excitement as we walked the streets of old Bethsaida (the Bethsaida Archaeological Excavation) with our friend, Creighton University’s Dr. Nicolae Roddy.

Three experiences to which he would often return in the ensuing years:

The story of the Israeli schoolgirl on a bus, probably no more than nine or ten years old, as it stopped for a pick-up at the bus stop outside the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, who peered at him through the window with contempt and a silent rage – he never could figure out why – an experience, he said, that told him volumes about life and the education of children in Israel.

How inspired he was listening to Zoughbi Zoughbi at the Wi’am Palestine Conflict Resolution and Transformation Center in Bethlehem. With its offices in the shadow of the apartheid wall, from its rooftop overlooking the unholy trinity (wall, settlements, refugee camps), yet lighting a candle of hope, a belief in non-violent struggle and resistance, a model of sumud, resilience, steadfastness. Jerry returned to Fort Wayne and in his woodworking shop, created and then, to Zoughbi’s son, Lucas, delivered a plaque of Wi’am’s logo for Lucas to take back to Bethlehem.

Image shows Jerry Lawson smiling and holding the finished plaque he created of Wi'am's logo.
Jerry displaying the wonderful plaque he crafted of Wi'am's logo.

Finally, Jerry was particularly outraged by our visit with our friend, Iyad Burnat, in Bil’in. Iyad took us up on the hillside overlooking the expansive, illegal (contrary to international law) Israeli settlement, Modi’in Illit. Yet Jerry deeply admired the determination, strategic sense, and resilient spirit of Iyad, his family, and the people of Bil’in who demonstrated non-violently every Friday. He particularly was moved by Iyad’s small garden that displayed little planters made of tear gas canisters and cylindrical rubber smoke bombs now with flowers planted inside.

Thus it was on August 17, 2021, six months after his cancer diagnosis, that Jerry wrote a scathing essay decrying the moral bankruptcy of both America’s and Israel’s militarized, settler colonial politics, economy, indeed, their - our - very identity. He titled his essay, “We Believe the Slaughter of Innocents is Just.” Jerry explained to me how important this essay was for him to write (“Mike, I needed to write this”). It took him three weeks, five days a week, trying to put his rage into words, and he and I discussed it a number of times before it was published. He even wrote Iyad Burnat about it.

He recalled searing memories from our trip – the girl on the schoolbus, the cynicism he saw at Yad Vashem and the Israel Museum, and the words of German journalist, Kurt Tucholsky, painted in large letters on the apartheid wall overlooking Wi’am, words which also appear, cynically, ironically, in the first exhibit at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in West Jerusalem, “A country is not only what it does, but what it tolerates.”

He had been motivated to write by the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza in May 2021 (“We watch with indifference as Gaza is turned into a pile of rubble. The killing of innocents is ignored,” he wrote) as well as by a photograph posted on Facebook by Iyad Burnat, a picture of the nephew of his friend and fellow resister, Bassem Tamimi, from the neighboring Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, another center of Palestinian resistance and a village our groups often visited as well. Bassem’s nephew, “Mohammed Muneer Al-Tamimi, 17 years old, … was shot by Israeli soldiers invading his village of Nabi Saleh to suppress an unarmed demonstration against Israel stealing their land,” Jerry explained. In this powerful essay, Jerry condemns the US complicity in this young man’s murder as emblematic of two nations that have lost their souls.

What is happening in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza is possible because the United States government, whether led by Democrats or Republicans, is complicit by providing billions of dollars to finance and support this regime and its racist apartheid policies…. The theft of Palestinian lands, the destruction of housing and communities, the denial of human rights, and the maintenance of total control over their lives are made possible by U.S. support of these Israeli war crimes.

Jerry ends his essay with this poignant challenge:

More troubling is the United States playing a pivotal role in being comfortably complicit with the slaughter of innocents who protest peacefully against their oppressors. Our support reveals and reflects our history believing murder, ethnic cleansing, denying people their human rights, and genocide are justified and just. Americans would do well to think about Tucholsky’s words that “a country is not only what it does but what it tolerates.” Obviously, six million Jews and at least five million others died without learning one of history’s primary lessons expressed by German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” And so, it goes. Love and Serve.

Jerry's full essay can be found HERE.

For years, Jerry was a partner with and strong supporter of ICMEP's work. His wife, Marsi, and their sons, Eric and Kurt, have requested that memorial gifts be made to Indiana Center for Middle East Peace. We are grateful for Jerry's presence in our lives, and very grateful to his family for their generosity.
Memorial gifts may be sent to us at PO Box 12005, Fort Wayne, IN 46862 (please include "Jerry Lawson Memorial" in the memo line of your check), or click the button below to donate via PayPal.

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