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Dear Mayor Bloomberg: Thank you, but no thank you
Published Saturday 07/12/2013 (updated) 23/12/2013 20:26
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg waves an Israeli flag at the "Celebrate Israel"
Parade in New York City, 2012.

Sam Bahour is a business consultant living in Ramallah. He frequently provides independent commentary on Palestine and serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He blogs at www.epalestine.com.

It was recently reported in The Daily Jewish Forward that New York City Mayor and billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, was awarded the first-ever Genesis Prize, $1 million "which is meant to honor an exceptional Jew."

In his acceptance speech, given at an official Hanukkah party in New York, Mayor Bloomberg remained true to U.S. Jewish American politics and thus, before making his speech, cleared his intention to donate the money to "promote commerce between the people in Palestine and the people in Israel" with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As a Palestinian-American businessman on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territory for twenty years, I did not know whether to laugh or cry at this seemingly generous announcement. This well-intentioned act is flawed for several reasons.

First, "commerce between the people in Palestine and the people in Israel" is not hindered by lack of funds; it is stifled due to 46 years of Israeli military occupation, each year of which has been squarely supported by the U.S.

Every single strategic economic resource needed to build Palestine, from water, land, borders, trade routes, frequencies, airspace, and so much more are 100% micromanaged by the Israeli military.

Until the dirty boot of military occupation is removed from the necks of Palestinians, joint commerce can only serve to beautify a status quo which is creeping toward a state of apartheid, not peace.

Second, with Israel's military occupation and structural discrimination against Palestinians on both sides of the green line intensifying over the past few years, there is no appetite in the Palestinian community for more commerce with Israel, given that Palestine's economy is already massively dependent on Israel's economy by sheer fact of the military restrictions that Israel places on Palestinian economic development.

Today, the only appetite in Palestine, and many corners of the world, is to intensify boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel until Israelis feel the pain of occupation enough to want to end it. This cost-based approach is being more and more articulated by progressive Jewish Americans too, as was recently penned by Kathleen Peratis in the Daily Beast’s Open Zion, as well as by enlightened Jewish Israelis such as journalist Gideon Levy in Haaretz.

Instead of wasting $1M on trying to promote commerce between an occupied people and their occupiers, I have a much more constructive suggestion for Mayor Bloomberg: transfer the funds to the New York-based Jewish American organization, Encounter.

Encounter was founded by two rabbinical students and has two rabbis on its board. Jewish American political pundit Peter Beinart recently mentioned Encounter in his recent piece in the New York Review of Books. Encounter is an amazing group of dynamic Jewish Americans who are breaking the divide, not by chumming up to the reality of separation, discrimination, and occupation, but rather by mobilizing Jewish Americans from all walks of life, with the bulk being rabbinical students and mainstream Jewish American leaders.

The group brings delegations of Jewish Americans - Orthodox, Conservative and Reform - to the West Bank and engages them in active listening to hear directly from Palestinian community members and leaders from the "other" side of the conflict, viewpoints that most have never heard before.

This is not about normalizing the occupation; far from it. It is about sharing a reality that most Jews around the world have had purposely excluded from their education. It goes without saying that I too learn a lot from engaging the participants.

For nearly six years I've been a speaker to these delegations. As a matter of fact, I usually drop what I'm doing and head to Bethlehem to participate in the program because I see real education and progress being made. By looking into the eyes of the participants, even though many may not agree on much of the politics, I have come to learn that Mayor Bloomberg's own Jewish American community can't stand what they see on this side of the Separation Wall, if given half a chance to experience it.

Indeed, we in the Palestinian business community can take care of ourselves, as soon as our economy can breathe freely. In the meantime, and toward that end, I urge Mayor Bloomberg and those like him to empower those doing the nitty-gritty, behind the scenes education to enable equality, freedom, and independence to take root, for all of our sakes.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.
1 ) Colin Wright / USA
08/12/2013 04:16
Bloomberg needed to come up with some acceptable way of giving the money to Israel. At least now he needs to disguise it; forty years ago the donation wouldn't have raised an eyebrow.

2 ) southparkbear / usa
08/12/2013 09:56
this mayor is too pro palestinians.

3 ) Carol Scheller / Switzerland
08/12/2013 12:35
I hope that this article finds its way into the New York Times.

4 ) Ray Vegter / USA
08/12/2013 16:11
Great writing. I believe you are correct in your observation that the tide is turning, albeit slow. I am glad that you expressed the point that even some of the Jewish community is getting fed up with what is happening. My question is will it change faster if the US would quit giving Israel $15b a year?

5 ) Oliveland / Palestine
08/12/2013 17:06
Very well said .

6 ) Giacomo / USA
08/12/2013 17:47
Partial truths are lies. The military occupation stifles the economy, but itself is caused by lack of a durable peace agreement, wherein military forces can be mostly withdrawn; both Palestinian & Israeli leadership agree that a peacekeeping force will need to remain in the Jordan valley; they disagree on the composition. Jews in general are very informed and empathetic to the Palestinian plight, which is why we advocate for a formal peace agreement. Compel your leaders to negotiate one now.

7 ) Mel / USA
08/12/2013 18:57
'Bloomers' should give his 'Zionism-First'prize back to AIPAC.I'm honored to have some wonderful,long-term,German/Hungarian Jewish friends,who're WW2 survivors & they STILL refuse to go to Israel while it illegally occupies/persecutes Palestinians under USG patronage.They bravely recognize the dreadful parallels between Nazism & Zionism.'Bloomer'is essentially a Judenrat,who uses his 'Jewish Council' to pander,knowingly,to Absolutists with tunnel vision on extermination.He sells his soul CHEAP!

8 ) Johnny benson / USA
08/12/2013 19:46
The Palestinians could have peace tomorrow...or they have to do is...recognize Israel....give up all talk and teaching of violence...put their violent ones in jail..take what ever security arrangements Israel wants....take whatever land Israel is willing to cede...that's it...simple..remember you lost all the wars...over the years of peace..and trust you should regain some more land...otherwise all this fighting and hate will continue and the injustice for you will go on and on

9 ) Ghazi Essawi / USA
08/12/2013 20:03
Very accurate and to the point, well done

10 ) Carlos / usa
09/12/2013 20:53
Palestinians have recognized israel repeatedly even while israel murders, tortures and steals. Palestinians would have had peace years ago if recognizing israel was all it took. israel does not want peace. No matter what the Palestinians do israel will always want more. israel is terror.

11 ) @ Carlos-10 / USA too
10/12/2013 02:48
1- Israel kills or shoots in self-defense, but never "murders", and Israel interrogates like other nations, but never "tortures." 2- Palestine Never Owed (just claimed) any West Bank Lands, so Israel "stealing" their land is impossible, and 3- Both Israel and the PA want peace and statehood, just Not on the other's terms, which each sees as unacceptable, so THE SITUATION WIL REMAIN as it is today: - AN ISRAEL WITHOUT PEACE, AND - A PALESTINE WITHOUT REAL STATEHOOD.

12 ) إyahya Tahaineh / palestine
10/12/2013 10:03
ya, as palestinian, we think Israel doesn't want any peace either political or economic peace, they just deceive people and the whole world by crying and talking about terrorists evern they are the real terrorists and occupiers

13 ) @ Yahya-12 / Both Peoples' Honesty
10/12/2013 16:30
Jews think Palestine wants the Jews dead and the Jewish state destroyed !!
But Both Peoples want "peace Both political or economic", and
Honestly Only the terms of a peace deal are the problem, where:
-a- Palestine definitely wants borders it never had, and probably wants all the land, or at least borders that will help the next invasion to take it all, and
-b- Israel definitely wants to remain secure, and wants Palestine's borders to be roughly that of the present (Areas A/B & Gaza).

14 ) Robert Haymond / Israel
15/12/2013 14:07
2nd attempt to contribute (Pt 1): Sam Bahour's editorial is disingenuous to a laughable degree. As a businessman, he must realize that the major factor is limiting economic growth in the Westbank and Gaza is the incredible corruption of its governors who even the usually unflappable EU has questioned not knowing the whereabout of six years and over a billion dollars worth of contributions for the betterment of the Arab people. Sounds like you're trying to get in good with Mr. Abbas, Sam!

15 ) Robert Haymond / Israel
15/12/2013 14:11
(Pt. 2): Sam, you never mention the incredible contributions made by Israel to the Westbank economy. Here, I'll name a few: 1) Construction jobs in settlements including the hiring of Arab managers and contractors; 2) Ramy-Levys' two supermarkets in the Westbank which hire as many Arabs as Jews including supervisors and managers; 3) The industrial park in Samaria which employs over a thousand Arabs, some whom have been with their respective companies for more than a decade.

16 ) Robert Haymond / Israel
15/12/2013 14:16
(Pt. 3) Basically, Sam, you're playing the "Pallywood" card. You take no responsibility for your own shortcomings as a Westbank Arab which has been used to charitable donations since the State of Israel was born. If you really wish to make a difference (which I doubt), try criticizing the inability of Arabs in the Westbank (and elsewhere) to establish genuine international business acumen as opposed to a "blaming" society. I doubt that your intent is/was honest, however.

17 ) Robert Haymond / Israel
18/12/2013 20:03
Reported today in the Jerusalem Post: Over 5 billion dollars worth of business done in the past year between Israel and the Westbank Arabs. A new official business mediation organization set up between Israel and the Westbank with its office in East Jerusalem. Very promising. Where were you, Sam? Oh, playing the "blame game".

18 ) Robert Haymond / Israel
19/12/2013 13:43
It's called the Jerusalem Arbitration Centre (JAC) and it's up and running. If you didn't know about it, then you're just an ignoramus. If you did, then as I wrote (see #14), you're simply "disingenuous". That is, a man who thinks he can get away with petty deception.

19 ) Rafael / USA
19/12/2013 15:58
Truth is PLO/PA do not want two states for two people but all of Israel. The PA governs in Area A where 95% of the Palestinians of the West Bank Live. They do a lousy job. They fired Fayaad who knew what he was doing and was for real peace not just conning the Israelis into weaker defensive positions after which to continue the jihad.

20 ) spb / us
21/12/2013 04:40
His mother is from gaza

21 ) Carlos / usa
24/12/2013 15:54
I am often irritated sometimes disheartened when I see these israeli paid propogandists post comments on this website. I wish them a Merry Xmas because I know, on this website you will convince no one israel is the good guy. So I enjoy israel wasting resources trying to convert the readers of Maan with these lies. When I read your nutty points, twisted logic and unbelieveable claims I feel good israel had to pay someone to write it and it sounds so stupid.

22 ) Bob / Canada
31/12/2013 17:31
Very interesting to see a billionaire (Bloomberg) (Jewish) receiving $M from a Jewish outfit and then donated to a Jewish cause. But where does all this money come from? From the backs of the Gentile consumer, that's where. If the Jewish communities on this planet had to rely on only Jews to make their fortunes, it would not happen. So they should be thanking all gentiles for their good fortune.
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