Jason B. Vagliano of Palestine Advocacy Project: Israel is an omnipresent problem for Palestinians

Milena Rampoldi, PorMosaik. In the following my interview about the PalestineAdvocacy Project I conduced with Jason B. Vagliano. I would like to thank Jason
so much for his time. We talked about the general objectives of his initiative,
about Israel and apartheid, about the importance of poetry in struggling for
justice and against occupation and oppression. And we talked about the
importance of networking to stand all together against Israel as a country of
structural violence and impunity. 

Rampoldi: Which are the main objectives of the Palestine Advocacy Project?
Jason B. Vagliano:
Overall, PalAD seeks promote awareness of the Palestinian struggle against
Israeli occupation, colonialism, apartheid, and human rights abuses.  Our organization focuses on using public
media and educational campaigns to draw the American public’s attention to the
grave implications of unwavering US military and diplomatic support for
Israel’s policies, as we firmly believe that greater awareness is fundamental
to changing American policies towards the region and holding Israel accountable
for its actions.
We support equal
rights for all people living in Palestine/Israel regardless of religion or
background, and oppose the traditional and structural violence that Israel
continues to commit with impunity against Palestinians and their property.
The indefinite
occupation of the West Bank, the siege of Gaza, and inequitable application of
law within Israel, which deny Palestinians the political rights to which
Israeli Jews are entitled, all constitute apartheid.
PalAD was founded
to focus on people who are just a bit beyond the reach of the (really powerful)
work being done by university organizations and by groups like Jewish Voice For
Peace and US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Public advertising is a
great way to do that because it allows us to meet Americans in the places they
spend time every day. It lets us expose them to the Palestinian experience and
then to get them linked up with solidarity community. In that way, we hope to
maximize the work others are doing. 
We also feel the need to take stand
in a public space. The media in the United States generally presents
Palestinians as Israel’s problem rather than presenting Israel as a problem for
Palestinians. But Israel is an omnipresent problem for
Palestinians—it negatively impacts almost every part of their lives—and we
think it is important for the public discussion to reflect that. 
MR: Which
are your main campaigns?
JBV: We have a
variety of distinctive campaigns, each approaching the issue from a different
angle. Our recent poetry campaign, for example, 
leverages the works of celebrated Palestinian National Poet Mahmoud
Darwish with a  series of posters on San
Francisco’s buses and trains. This campaign, while not explicitly
political,  highlights the  themes of loss and connection to the land
while emphasizing the rich identity and culture that Palestinians are fighting
to save.

Other initiatives take a far more direct, political approach to the conflict. For
example, our National Campaign , which we promoted on billboards, buses,
trains, newspapers, and other media across  seven major US cities, used headlines such as
‘Homeless,’ ‘Stolen,’ and ‘Violence,’ to draw attention Israel’s systematic
demolition of Palestinian homes, violence against Palestinian children, and
ongoing construction of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including
East Jerusalem.  Our Land Theft Campaign,
promoted via traditional and digital media, 
focused specifically on the Israel’s theft of Palestinian land, tying it
to support from US tax dollars. The ads, following Israel’s confiscation of
nearly 1000 acres of Palestinian land in 2014 to build a Jews-only
city, called for Palestinian freedom and boldly ask, “When a country
steals land, does it really want peace?”
We are currently
planning a campaign in high-profile US news media with actual quotations from Benjamin
Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders that incite violence against Palestinian
civilians. Our organization is also collaborating with  Defense for Children International’s on its
“No Way to Treat a Child” campaign, which targets Israel’s illegal
practice of military detentions of Palestinian children. We are also promoting
the Palestinian cause via a new billboard truck, which will appear in
high-visibility urban areas. 

MR: Tell
us about your campaign focused on poetry
JBV: As I alluded
to above, those who have followed Palestine Advocacy Project’s work will notice
that this campaign is different from our others.  Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was an award
winning Palestinian author and poet. He is critically acclaimed and has been
recognized as one of the greatest Arab poets of the modern age. Darwish’s work
used literature, particularly poetry, as a means of political advocacy. Highly
respected and beloved by his people, Darwish was regarded as the voice of the
Palestinians and is still considered Palestine’s national poet. Palestine
Advocacy Project brought excerpts from seven of Darwish’s most powerful poems
to San Francisco in a series of posters on San Francisco’s buses and trains.
The selection of poetry includes the epic ‘Under Siege’, as a well as shorter,
but no less powerful works such as ‘Earth Poem’ and ‘A Lover From

Through this campaign, we are reaching out as advocates of Palestinian culture
and of the rich identity that the Palestinian people are fighting to save. The
cold harsh facts and figures of Israel’s occupation and apartheid – so
prominent in our other media work – will continue to resonate on the world
stage; but our mission with this campaign has been to present Palestinians as
more than players in a geopolitical struggle. We feel that the human connection
we share with Palestinians through their art and culture can be an important
catalyst for challenging the dominant narratives that Americans are used to
hearing about Palestine and Israel. 

MR: Which
are the most important strategies to show the Palestinian suffering in the
For so long, the pro-Israel side has
relied on well-funded, politically powerful 
lobby groups representing the special interests of the few to
effectively stifle any discussion on Israel/Palestine and censor mainstream
reporting on Israel’s ongoing abuses of Palestinian civilians. Nevertheless, the
movement for Palestinian rights has grown significantly over the past five to
ten years in the United States and elsewhere in the West because of the
inspiring work of young Palestinians who are sick of their friends and families
being attacked, Jews who are disgusted with what has been done in their names,
and other people of conscience who fight for what is right.
To us, the most important strategy
to show Palestinian suffering  and effect
change is to  provoke open discussion by
helping the mainstream public connect to Palestinians on a human level. People
are generally uncomfortable with information that contradicts what they already
believe, and the information PalAd is presenting isn’t part of the mainstream
narrative. Many Westerners, especially in the US, relate to Israelis—they live
in a technologically advanced country, maintain Western cultural practices, and
have experienced violent attacks from non-state actors who are sometimes
associated with Islam. To suggest that it is actually the Israelis who are
wrong and the Palestinians who are victims is to suggest that we Westerners are
wrong, and that some of the people we “defend ourselves” against are victims.
That is uncomfortable for a lot of people. 
But, when Westerners not directly
affected by the conflict start to connect to Palestinian suffering in terms we
can relate to, we, in turn, become more comfortable openly discussing Israel-Palestine.
When that happens, the long-established taboo against criticizing Israel that
has long permeated mainstream Western culture starts to unravel. Israel’s own
leaders and supporters know this and realize it has already started to happen–
hence their panic over what they call Israel’s
“de-legitimization”  and their
rush to criminalize the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement . They
know that once the broader public in the West 
is made fully aware of Israel’s policies, that the occupation and
apartheid regime will crumble, much as it did in South Africa during the early
MR: Which
are the most effective arguments against Zionist occupation, apartheid, land
theft, and colonialism?

JBV: There are two
core arguments – the first is as simple as it gets: the “golden
rule.” Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Israeli
policies, which are broadly accepted as the status quo by the mainstream
Western political and media establishment, 
constitute the indefinite occupation of the West Bank, the seige of
Gaza, the use of collective punishment, and inequitable application of law
within Israel to deny Palestinians the political rights to which Israeli Jews
are entitled. Israel engages in state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing, using
military force, brutalization, home demolitions, deportations, and bureaucratic
violence to remove Palestinians from their historic homeland and establish Jews-only
domination over stolen land.  Israel
routinely flouts international human rights law by targeting civilians with
violence.  Regardless of one’s political
beliefs, background, worldview, religion, or ethnicity, no one in his or her
right mind would ever want to be subjected to the above treatment, let alone day
in, day out, decade after decade.
The second
argument applies more to Israel’s own supporters.  Zionist occupation, apartheid, land theft, and
colonialism are all highly self-destructive and inherently unsustainable for
the perpetrators. Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians has made the country far
less secure at home while Israel’s blatant disregard for international law is
rapidly turning it into an international pariah state. Israel today is an
essentially hyper-militarized fortress, walled in all sides, and it spends
enormous resources on a vast so-called “security” apparatus–from
elaborate military prisons that detain civilians, including children, without
charge, to armaments, to state-sanctioned efforts burnish Israel’s tainted
image abroad through propaganda (known as “hasbara” among Israelis). Israel is causing itself huge economic
damage through its policies. 
Colonialism, as anyone with even a passing knowledge of history
understands, never works out in the long-run. The relationship between
colonizer and oppressed is an innately unstable and destructive. Israel will
eventually have to come to terms with this reality. 
MR: Tell
us about the history of your initiative
JBV: The
initiative started about 2.5 years ago when a small group of people came
together and saw that the movement for Palestinian rights needed a highly
skilled team to promote the cause through advertising.  The group is very diverse, consisting of
activists, students, academics, skilled graphic artists, media experts, young
people, and  older people.  We are
also Jewish, Christian, Muslims, Americans, Palestinians and others. We felt
there was a need to be very strategic about the message and audience.  
 Sometimes , the progressive movement has a tendency to advertise to
itself and puts out message that don’t resonate with mainstream Americans.  We set out to change that.  Our first
large campaign was the one-word campaign in eight major American cities
(Boston, NYC, DC, San Diego, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We
have also advertised in Chicago and Dallas).