My name is Tom. And, as Beth said, I am here speaking on behalf of Jews for a Just Peace NC.
I want to look at this same issue through a different lens.
G4S’s involvement in the abuse of Palestinians is a very personal issue for me. Not only because I am Jewish and not only because I feel that Israel’s ongoing occupation and violation of Palestinian rights is done in my name. But also because I have seen up close and personal what Israel, with G4S’s help, is doing to Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In 2002 my partner, Tema Okun, and I were part of a fact finding delegation in the West Bank. We have since returned to the West Bank and Jerusalem 5 times, in part because of our close relationship with a Palestinian family – parents Yahia and Reema Abu Sharif, and their two children Samer and Luna. We had also brought Samer to live with us in North Carolina for three separate summers. Please know that this is a middle class and educated family, just like yours and mine, except they are Palestinians living under occupation.
Tema and I have traveled extensively in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with Samer and his family to visit their family members. We have witnessed time and again the purposeful humiliation and frustration they are subjected to as they are inevitably forced to wait, often for long periods of time, at Israeli check points placed within Palestine with the sole purpose of controlling Palestinian daily life. During our visits, Tema and I have met countless friends and relatives of the Abu Sharif family. Every single Palestinian man we met has one thing in common – they have spent time in Israeli prisons, most without formal arrest or any meaningful due process and all unrelated to criminal or terrorist activity. So, when I learned that G4S is complicit in the abuses taking place at Israeli checkpoints on Palestinian land, Durham’s G4S contract becomes personal for me. And when I learn that G4S is complicit in the abuse of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons in Israel and Occupied Palestine, Durham’s G4S contract becomes personal for me. And as Samer graduates college, and my worries intensify that he will face abuses at Israeli checkpoints or, god forbid, in prison, Durham’s G4S contract becomes personal for me.
Commissioner Reckhow will recall that many years ago, when I was President of the Durham People’s Alliance, I was very involved with the County Commissioners during the struggle to merge and thus integrate Durham’s city and county schools. I was very proud about how the Commission tackled that extremely difficult civil rights issue and ultimately made the right decision. The G4S contract presents this Commission with another civil rights issue that, fortunately, is much easier to resolve than school merger and integration – we ask simply that the Commission join the Gates Foundation and numerous other entities and political bodies and end our contract with G4S.