Breaking News: the latest Flotilla is en route to the Gaza Strip and CODEPINK activist Kit is on board.
This past week we witnessed, with tears in our eyes, history in the making when the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted in favor of admitting Palestine as a full member, marking a major step in the Palestinian people's struggle for self-determination.
UNESCO's mission is to contribute to building peace, eradicating poverty, and creating sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information, all the while emphasizing gender equity. Sounds a lot like the goals of CODEPINK, no? This admirable institution will now include Palestine, a move that has been greeted with both celebration and condemnation.
What is the US response?
With the whole world watching, the US government again flouted international will by opposing Palestinian membership (along with only 13 other countries and none from the EU save Germany).
On Monday the US pledged to kill all funding to UNESCO, against its own best interests, which amounts to $70 million annually. This means some programs, (like the Afghan police literary program,) may be cut out of the budget. Why? Because in 1990 the US Congress passed a legislative bill requiring the U.S. to withdraw funding from any UN body which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the status of a member state.
But the façade of the US as “honest broker” is crumbling. Watch this stunning video at right as a State Department spokesperson attempts to justify the US position in the face of excellent questions from Matt Lee of the Associated Press. The US spokesperson makes a poor case for how membership to UNESCO could harm the (nonexistent) peace process – but we know the truth about what will be harmed by the US reaction: it will further erodethe US's standing in world public opinion; it will undermine UNESCO's ability to protect World Heritage Sites and indigenous languages; and will harm UNESCO's work sharing science around the globe.
Join us in calling the State Department to voice your outrage about this misguided behavior. Hillary Clinton: 202-647-5291
What will Palestine's new UNESCO membership mean on the ground?
UNESCO supports education, environment, and culture, which are all under continual destruction for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. For example, while it continues to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Israeli government withholds building permits for Bedouins to build schools, while one of UNESCO's primary goals is to further early childhood education. To sustain their many lush pools and palm tree farms, Israeli settlements suck the water resources for Palestinian communities dry; UNESCO is working to provide capacity building and resource management to address dire water issues.
UNESCO has in the past frequently cited Israel's repeated desecration of religious sites. The membership of Palestine means the ability of Palestinians to advocate for more of their sacred sites (and even practical ones including ancient cisterns and wells) to be given World Heritage status so that they can be protected and not defined solely in terms of one religion that does not represent them.
We recognize this is only one step, and is the very least that the international community can do; much more is needed to end occupation and subjugation, and to ensure liberation and justice for all Palestinian people.
The US may be on the wrong side of history on this issue, but we don't have to be – take action today by calling the State Department.
Alli, Kristen, Nancy, Rae, Sasha and the CODEPINK Team
PS: Join the growing Occupy Wall Street movement and bring the message of ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine into the movement for justice.