Posts Tagged Gaza

Impressions of Gaza by Noam Chomsky

Impressions of Gaza
Noam Chomsky
chomsky.info, November 4, 2012

Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.

The intensity of this commitment on the part of the Israeli political leadership has been dramatically illustrated just in the past few days, as they warn that they will “go crazy” if Palestinian rights are given limited recognition at the UN. That is not a new departure. The threat to “go crazy” (“nishtagea”) is deeply rooted, back to the Labor governments of the 1950s, along with the related “Samson Complex”: we will bring down the Temple walls if crossed. It was an idle threat then; not today.

The purposeful humiliation is also not new, though it constantly takes new forms. Thirty years ago political leaders, including some of the most noted hawks, submitted to Prime Minister Begin a shocking and detailed account of how settlers regularly abuse Palestinians in the most depraved manner and with total impunity. The prominent military-political analyst Yoram Peri wrote with disgust that the army’s task is not to defend the state, but “to demolish the rights of innocent people just because they are Araboushim (“niggers,” “kikes”) living in territories that God promised to us.”

 

Gazans have been selected for particularly cruel punishment. It is almost miraculous that people can sustain such an existence. How they do so was described thirty years ago in an eloquent memoir by Raja Shehadeh (The Third Way), based on his work as a lawyer engaged in the hopeless task of trying to protect elementary rights within a legal system designed to ensure failure, and his personal experience as a Samid, “a steadfast one,” who watches his home turned into a prison by brutal occupiers and can do nothing but somehow “endure.”

 

Since Shehadeh wrote, the situation has become much worse. The Oslo agreements, celebrated with much pomp in 1993, determined that Gaza and the West Bank are a single territorial entity. By then the US and Israel had already initiated their program of separating them fully from one another, so as to block a diplomatic settlement and punish the Araboushim in both territories.

 

Punishment of Gazans became still more severe in January 2006, when they committed a major crime: they voted the “wrong way” in the first free election in the Arab world, electing Hamas. Demonstrating their passionate “yearning for democracy,” the US and Israel, backed by the timid European Union, at once imposed a brutal siege, along with intensive military attacks. The US also turned at once to standard operating procedure when some disobedient population elects the wrong government: prepare a military coup to restore order.

 

Gazans committed a still greater crime a year later by blocking the coup attempt, leading to a sharp escalation of the siege and military attacks. These culminated in winter 2008-9, with Operation Cast Lead, one of the most cowardly and vicious exercises of military force in recent memory, as a defenseless civilian population, trapped with no way to escape, was subjected to relentless attack by one of the world’s most advanced military systems relying on US arms and protected by US diplomacy. An unforgettable eyewitness account of the slaughter — “infanticide” in their words — is given by the two courageous Norwegian doctors who worked at Gaza’s main hospital during the merciless assault, Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, in their remarkable book Eyes in Gaza.

 

President-elect Obama was unable to say a word, apart from reiterating his heartfelt sympathy for children under attack — in the Israeli town Sderot. The carefully planned assault was brought to an end right before his inauguration, so that he could then say that now is the time to look forward, not backward, the standard refuge of criminals.

 

Of course, there were pretexts — there always are. The usual one, trotted out when needed, is “security”: in this case, home-made rockets from Gaza. As is commonly the case, the pretext lacked any credibility. In 2008 a truce was established between Israel and Hamas. The Israeli government formally recognizes that Hamas observed it fully. Not a single Hamas rocket was fired until Israel broke the truce under cover of the US election on November 4 2008, invading Gaza on ludicrous grounds and killing half a dozen Hamas members. The Israeli government was advised by its highest intelligence officials that the truce could be renewed by easing the criminal blockade and ending military attacks. But the government of Ehud Olmert, reputedly a dove, chose to reject these options, preferring to resort to its huge comparative advantage in violence: Operation Cast Lead. The basic facts are reviewed once again by foreign policy analyst Jerome Slater in the current issue of the Harvard-MIT journal International Security.

 

The pattern of bombing under Cast Lead was carefully analyzed by the highly informed and internationally respected Gazan human rights advocate Raji Sourani. He points out that the bombing was concentrated in the north, targeting defenseless civilians in the most densely populated areas, with no possible military pretext. The goal, he suggests, may have been to drive the intimidated population to the south, near the Egyptian border. But the Samidin stayed put, despite the avalanche of US-Israeli terror.

A further goal might have been to drive them beyond. Back to the earliest days of the Zionist colonization it was argued across much of the spectrum that Arabs have no real reason to be in Palestine; they can be just as happy somewhere else, and should leave — politely “transferred,” the doves suggested. This is surely no small concern in Egypt, and perhaps a reason why Egypt does not open the border freely to civilians or even to desperately needed materials

Sourani and other knowledgeable sources observe that the discipline of the Samidin conceals a powder keg, which might explode any time, unexpectedly, as the first Intifada did in Gaza in 1989 after years of miserable repression that elicited no notice or concern,

Merely to mention one of innumerable cases, shortly before the outbreak of the Intifada a Palestinian girl, Intissar al-Atar, was shot and killed in a schoolyard by a resident of a nearby Jewish settlement. He was one of the several thousand Israelis settlers brought to Gaza in violation of international law and protected by a huge army presence, taking over much of the land and scarce water of the Strip and living “lavishly in twenty-two settlements in the midst of 1.4 million destitute Palestinians,” as the crime is described by Israeli scholar Avi Raz. The murderer of the schoolgirl, Shimon Yifrah, was arrested, but quickly released on bail when the Court determined that “the offense is not severe enough” to warrant detention. The judge commented that Yifrah only intended to shock the girl by firing his gun at her in a schoolyard, not to kill her, so “this is not a case of a criminal person who has to be punished, deterred, and taught a lesson by imprisoning him.” Yifrah was given a 7-month suspended sentence, while settlers in the courtroom broke out in song and dance. And the usual silence reigned. After all, it is routine.

And so it is. As Yifrah was freed, the Israeli press reported that an army patrol fired into the yard of a school for boys aged 6 to 12 in a West Bank refugee camp, wounding five children, allegedly intending only “to shock them.” There were no charges, and the event again attracted no attention. It was just another episode in the program of “illiteracy as punishment,” the Israeli press reported, including the closing of schools, use of gas bombs, beating of students with rifle butts, barring of medical aid for victims; and beyond the schools a reign of more severe brutality, becoming even more savage during the Intifada, under the orders of Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, another admired dove.

My initial impression, after a visit of several days, was amazement, not only at the ability to go on with life, but also at the vibrancy and vitality among young people, particularly at the university, where I spent much of my time at an international conference. But there too one can detect signs that the pressure may become too hard to bear. Reports indicate that among young men there is simmering frustration, recognition that under the US-Israeli occupation the future holds nothing for them. There is only so much that caged animals can endure, and there may be an eruption, perhaps taking ugly forms — offering an opportunity for Israeli and western apologists to self-righteously condemn the people who are culturally backward, as Mitt Romney insightfully explained.

Gaza has the look of a typical third world society, with pockets of wealth surrounded by hideous poverty. It is not, however, “undeveloped.” Rather it is “de-developed,” and very systematically so, to borrow the terms of Sara Roy, the leading academic specialist on Gaza. The Gaza Strip could have become a prosperous Mediterranean region, with rich agriculture and a flourishing fishing industry, marvelous beaches and, as discovered a decade ago, good prospects for extensive natural gas supplies within its territorial waters.

By coincidence or not, that is when Israel intensified its naval blockade, driving fishing boats toward shore, by now to 3 miles or less.

The favorable prospects were aborted in 1948, when the Strip had to absorb a flood of Palestinian refugees who fled in terror or were forcefully expelled from what became Israel, in some cases expelled months after the formal cease-fire.

In fact, they were being expelled even four years later, as reported in Ha’aretz (25.12.2008), in a thoughtful study by Beni Tziper on the history of Israeli Ashkelon back to the Canaanites. In 1953, he reports, there was a “cool calculation that it was necessary to cleanse the region of Arabs.” The original name, Majdal, had already been “Judaized” to today’s Ashkelon, regular practice.

That was in 1953, when there was no hint of military necessity. Tziper himself was born in 1953, and while walking in the remnants of the old Arab sector, he reflects that “it is really difficult for me, really difficult, to realize that while my parents were celebrating my birth, other people were being loaded on trucks and expelled from their homes.”

Israel’s 1967 conquests and their aftermath administered further blows. Then came the terrible crimes already mentioned, continuing to the present day.

The signs are easy to see, even on a brief visit. Sitting in a hotel near the shore, one can hear the machine gun fire of Israeli gunboats driving fishermen out of Gaza’s territorial waters and towards shore, so they are compelled to fish in waters that are heavily polluted because of US-Israeli refusal to allow reconstruction of the sewage and power systems that they destroyed.

The Oslo Accords laid plans for two desalination plants, a necessity in this arid region. One, an advanced facility, was built: in Israel. The second one is in Khan Yunis, in the south of Gaza. The engineer in charge of trying to obtain potable water for the population explained that this plant was designed so that it cannot use sea water, but must rely on underground water, a cheaper process, which further degrades the meager aquifer, guaranteeing severe problems in the future. Even with that, water is severely limited. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which cares for refugees (but not other Gazans), recently released a report warning that damage to the aquifer may soon become “irreversible,” and that without remedial action quickly, by 2020 Gaza may not be a “liveable place.”

Israel permits concrete to enter for UNRWA projects, but not for Gazans engaged in the huge reconstruction needs. The limited heavy equipment mostly lies idle, since Israel does not permit materials for repair. All of this is part of the general program described by Israeli official Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, after Palestinians failed to follow orders in the 2006 elections: “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” That would not look good.

And the plan is being scrupulously followed. Sara Roy has provided extensive evidence in her scholarly studies. Recently, after several years of effort, the Israeli human rights organization Gisha succeeded to obtain a court order for the government to release its records detailing plans for the diet, and how they are executed. Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook summarizes them: “Health officials provided calculations of the minimum number of calories needed by Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants to avoid malnutrition. Those figures were then translated into truckloads of food Israel was supposed to allow in each day … an average of only 67 trucks — much less than half of the minimum requirement — entered Gaza daily. This compared to more than 400 trucks before the blockade began.” And even this estimate is overly generous, UN relief officials report.

The result of imposing the diet, Mideast scholar Juan Cole observes, is that “[a]bout ten percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under 5 have had their growth stunted by malnutrition … in addition, anemia is widespread, affecting over two-thirds of infants, 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, and over a third of pregnant mothers.” The US and Israel want to ensure that nothing more than bare survival is possible.

“What has to be kept in mind,” observes Raji Sourani, “is that the occupation and the absolute closure is an ongoing attack on the human dignity of the people in Gaza in particular and all Palestinians generally. It is systematic degradation, humiliation, isolation and fragmentation of the Palestinian people.” The conclusion is confirmed by many other sources. In one of the world’s leading medical journals, The Lancet, a visiting Stanford physician, appalled by what he witnessed, describes Gaza as “something of a laboratory for observing an absence of dignity,” a condition that has “devastating” effects on physical, mental, and social wellbeing. “The constant surveillance from the sky, collective punishment through blockade and isolation, the intrusion into homes and communications, and restrictions on those trying to travel, or marry, or work make it difficult to live a dignified life in Gaza.” The Araboushim must be taught not to raise their heads.

There were hopes that the new Morsi government in Egypt, less in thrall to Israel than the western-backed Mubarak dictatorship, might open the Rafah crossing, the sole access to the outside for trapped Gazans that is not subject to direct Israeli control. There has been slight opening, but not much. Journalist Laila el-Haddad writes that the re-opening under Morsi, “is simply a return to status quo of years past: only Palestinians carrying an Israeli-approved Gaza ID card can use Rafah Crossing,” excluding a great many Palestinians, including el-Haddad’s family, where only one spouse has a card.

Furthermore, she continues, “the crossing does not lead to the West Bank, nor does it allow for the passage of goods, which are restricted to the Israeli-controlled crossings and subject to prohibitions on construction materials and export.” The restricted Rafah crossing does not change the fact that “Gaza remains under tight maritime and aerial siege, and continues to be closed off to the Palestinians’ cultural, economic, and academic capitals in the rest of the [occupied territories], in violation of US-Israeli obligations under the Oslo Accords.”

The effects are painfully evident. In the Khan Yunis hospital, the director, who is also chief of surgery, describes with anger and passion how even medicines are lacking for relief of suffering patients, as well as simple surgical equipment, leaving doctors helpless and patients in agony. Personal stories add vivid texture to the general disgust one feels at the obscenity of the harsh occupation. One example is the testimony of a young woman who despaired that her father, who would have been proud that she was the first woman in the refugee camp to gain an advanced degree, had “passed away after 6 months of fighting cancer aged 60 years. Israeli occupation denied him a permit to go to Israeli hospitals for treatment. I had to suspend my study, work and life and go to set next to his bed. We all sat including my brother the physician and my sister the pharmacist, all powerless and hopeless watching his suffering. He died during the inhumane blockade of Gaza in summer 2006 with very little access to health service. I think feeling powerless and hopeless is the most killing feeling that human can ever have. It kills the spirit and breaks the heart. You can fight occupation but you cannot fight your feeling of being powerless. You can’t even dissolve that feeling.”

Disgust at the obscenity, compounded with guilt: it is within our power to bring the suffering to an end and allow the Samidin to enjoy the lives of peace and dignity that they deserve.

Noam Chomsky visited the Gaza Strip on October 25-30, 2012.

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Making Space in the Sukkah: Social Justice and Joy

Making Space in the Sukkah: Social Justice and Joy

Mark H. Kirschbaum, MD

Making Space in the Sukka: Social Justice and Joy

 

The period of time in the Hebrew calendar reaching from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur is thought of generally as one unit, in English commonly referred to as the High Holidays, whereas Sukkot, the festival which follows four days after Yom Kippur, is generally thought of as a festive holiday, one of the three biblical Temple festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot), entirely distinct from the Days of Awe which happen to precede it. The mystics, however, view the period from Rosh Hashana until the end of Sukkot as one long arc, not as distinct notes on the page but as one continuous unfolding melody reaching its crescendo not at Yom Kippur, as we might guess, but at Hoshana Rabba (the last day of Sukkot prior to the final festival of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah). As this tradition is unfamiliar to most people, we may have an easier time in resacralizing it in a way that would be meaningful for our contemporary situation.

 

The first step would be to depart from our usual hierarchy regarding seriousness over joy. Mardi Gras is always first, followed by Lent; one parties first and then when that is done, one can graduate to solemnity. However, the difference to be emphasized here is that the apogee of repentance and life transformation comes not at Yom Kippur, during the ‘serious’ service, but at Sukkot, the holiday described biblically as ‘the time of our rejoicing’. Rather than attempt to summarize the roots of this concept, I will quote R. Pinchas of Koretz, one of the earliest Hassidic thinkers, who was contemporary with the Baal Shem Tov, and whose analogy is quite memorable:

 

‘the time of our rejoicing’: Sukkah is the unification of HVYH and ADNY (the male and female names of Gd- numerically Sukka=91=the two names of Gd combined). This unification brings about Da’at (which is the Kabbalistic term for the interface between the two highest male/female names of Gd, and literally means Understanding. For context, Moshe, who brings the Torah from Sinai, represents Da’at), and when there is knowledge, there is joy.

The proof (for the superiority of joy over sadness, sukkot over the high holy days)  is, that if one observes a newborn, who has very little understanding- already at birth he is capable of crying. It is only much later, when their understanding grows- that a baby can smile

 

Thus, there is a greater spiritual and cognitive message implicit in the joy of the Sukkah experience than in all the crying meant to occur during the High Holidays! Any baby can cry, but it takes deeper understanding to smile.  Perhaps we can this more than a cute metaphor when we recognize the reasoning behind this:  that the repentance and spiritual growth seen in the High Holidays is a personal, individual one, whereas the joy of Sukkot reflects an interpersonal, social level (the analogy to the newborn is even more apt using modern pediatric developmental terminology- this facial expression which the baby achieves as a significant milestone of development is referred to as the ‘social smile’).

 

There is support for the social nature of Sukkot back at the source; for example, the Torah tells us that the people were meant to gather with the king in the event known as ‘hakhel’ (‘congregate’) every seven years specifically on Sukkot. A global perspective is taken by the Talmud, as the seventy sacrificial cows brought on Sukkot during the Temple period were read as being offered for the sake of all the nations of the world. The Sukka itself, as an image, suggesting a remembrance of the plight of the refugee, can certainly be read in this way, as does the Midrash and the medieval thinkers, and as did Rabbi Arthur Waskow in a recent issue of The Nation. Rav Tzadok Hacohen of Lublin, in fact, explains that Sukkot follows the High Holiday period as a penitential exercise, that is, should we have been found guilty of sins requiring exile, we are, as it were, paying the price.

 

However, when one keeps in mind the emphasis on this being a time of joy, it seems more in tune with joy to read into the Sukka a “positive” value, that is, whereas the refugee imagery stresses the Sukka as symbolic of a “negative” value, a lack, a deficiency, (as per Hanna Arendt’s concept of the refugee being morally superior, given the lack of ability to oppress anyone, etc), clearly, to the mystics, a symbol associated with the highest Divine Union must contain within itself also a postive spiritual sense. Interestingly, even when using the “negative” reading of the Sukka, there is an implied positive undercurrent. Thus, for example, the Bat Ayin, who spins the negative transient quality of  Sukka living into a positive, for creating a permanent dwelling would impede the continuous ascent that we make; he reads the verse in Kohelet 7:23, which is read on the Sabbath of Sukkot- “I thought I would be wise (echkimah), but she is ever further from me”, as suggesting that the ideal is not reaching (or inhabiting) a fixed goal, but rather a more fluid, never-ending attainment of higher and higher divine states.

 

If not only a negative space, then what is the positive element signified by the Sukka? Geographically, as it were, the Sukka is viewed as encompassing a novel, even privileged spiritual space- ‘I love Sukkot because it is the one commandment which I can be immersed in with my boots on’ goes the line attributed to R. Shmelkie of Nicholsburg. This viewing of the material substance as reflecting a divine containment (the Hida points out that the word Sukka itself in Hebrew, contains the two names of Gd not only in its total numerical value, but in the form whereby the outside two letters, S-H, equal the male term, and the inner letters, V-K equal the female name) is that seized upon by the Tiferet Shlomo. In the biblical proof text instructing the people to sit in the Sukka, the verse which reads ‘In Sukkot teshvu (shall you sit) seven days, in order that your generations shall know”, he adds another possible reading of the word teshvu as being derived not only from lashevet, to sit, but from the word teshuva, return, repentance, and thus the knowledge, the da’at, the level of relationship with Gd that was vivdly experienced by the generation liberated from Egypt, can be recreated by the act of teshuva, repentance, specific to the Sukka. But what is that element that is specific to the Sukka that brings about this unique and high level of spiritual attainment? For this the Tiferet Shlomo cites another verse with a word similar to Sukka (more specifically, to the Halachically critical aspect of the Sukka- it is not the walls of the Sukka that are central, but rather the Sechach, the ecologically signifying roof, which must be made of organic substances only). The word sechach used as a verb is found in the verse regarding the Cherubim, the sculpture which adorned the ark which was meant to contain the Tablets upon which were inscribed the original ten commandments. These Cherubim were described as creating a canopy with their wings (sochichim b’kanfeihem) the covering of the ark (the kaporet, which is itself similar to the word kapara, atonement). In other words, according to the Tiferest Shlomo, Sukkot is the highest possibility of repentance, of world transformation (his exact phrase is ‘Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are the hakdama, the prologue to Sukkot’), and the specific defining feature of the superiority of Sukkot is found in the continuation of the verse about the Cherubim- who are described as being situated ‘with their faces one to another’. Thus, the possibility for change for the better is highest on Sukkot, because in the Sukka, at the table, one is contained within the same space as another, face to face as it were, and thus the emphasis must be one’s responsibility for the Other.

 

This concept, of Sukkot being primarily about the encounter with others, and not simply the spiritual growth of the Self, is seen in the well known, but not fully understood, tradition of the Ushpizin, the supernal visitors (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc) who are welcomed into the Sukka each night. This tradition, which has become very widely accepted, is of late origin and is first found in the Zohar (III:103b). What is less well known is that this passage in the Zohar is meant to encourage the invitation of the needy to the festival table. The Ushpizin come to partake not of the Sukka per se but of the meals placed for the poor, and as the Zohar states- ‘woe is he to whom a portion for the poor is not placed!’.

 

This theme of inclusiveness as the central motif of the Sukkot experience is emphasized in the readings of the other unique symbol of this holiday, the four species which are bound together and waved originally as part of the Temple service, now during the synagogue prayers. There are a series of midrashim attempting to explain this odd agricultural service, but the one that concerns us likens the four species to differing types of people within the community: the etrog (citron), which is fragrant and tasty, represents those who are both well versed and act for the common good, the lulav (palm frond), produces edible fruit but has no fragrance, is like those who are well versed but don’t act for the common good, the hadassim (myrtle branches) are fragrant but produce no fruit, symbolizing those who do good but haven’t studies, whereas the aravah (willow branch), has neither fruit nor fragrance, and stands in for those members of the community who neither know nor volunteer. The midrash continues that together, they will atone one for another. It is not to be assumed, however, that the midrash means that the three more worthy types will atone for the ‘arava’, for that is not the language used, particularly in a parallel teaching in the Talmud (BT Menahot 27.) which stresses that Israel does not achieve appeasement until all four are bound as one unity. The arava can’t be depreciated, even in the Midrashic reading, for in other Midrashim, brought in conjunction with this one, the arava is symbolic of any of the following highly positive references: the lips, Joseph, the matriarch Rachel, the court scribes, the name of Gd. Furthermore, on the final day of Sukkot, on the day which according to the Mishna the divine allotment of water for the whole world is decreed, the day on which (as a result of this Mishnaic view) according to the mystics, the absolutely final judgement on each individual is sealed (a view already found as early as Ramban), on this momentous day it is precisely the arava alone that is paraded around the altar, from Temple times to this very day.

 

So what, then, do the ‘aravot’, the unschooled, inactive people bring to the communal table? According to the Sefat Emet, they represent the ability to transcend the given situation of an individual, through prayer (hence the midrash comparing the arava to lips). Similarly, according to the Pri Ha’aretz, the arava symbolized pure emunah, pure faith, transcendent of the fragrance and flavor of either intellect or praxis. At any rate, we see that it is the total community, with its strengths and weaknesses, that are bound together in a mutually compensatory relationship (In fact, according to the Tiferet Shlomo, the obscure custom of hitting the arava on the ground on Hoshana Rabba, a custom so obscure that it is labeled ‘of prophetic origin’, is meant to demonstrate that any segment of the people that breaks away from concern for all, that travels its own solitary way without regard for the others, as does the arava on its solo circuit around the altar on Hoshana Rabba, is doomed to a bad end).

 

So perhaps we are not veering too far from the original message of Sukkot by suggesting that Hoshanna Rabba become synonymous with community-wide efforts to combat poverty. Perhaps that is a day when trans-denominational efforts to deal with local poverty, world-wide hunger, an end to war, can be institutionalized and inscribed into the calendar, and celebrated as a holiday, perhaps the way it was originally intended. True joy is in the negation of suffering, it is the overcoming of sadness and grief we must celebrate.

 

(If anyone wants to seriously put this thought into action, I would be glad to be of assistance, contact me via email at mkirschb@yahoo.com)

 

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“Well…it is an occupation!” By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

“Well…it is an occupation!”
The African World
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board

 http://www.blackcommentator.com/436/436_aw_occupation_share.html
I recently returned from North Africa and Palestine.  I found myself giving a talk to a group in the USA where I mentioned my trip as a way of discussing the manner in which events can unfold very rapidly.  I mentioned that I had been to North Africa and the occupied Palestinian territories.Barely had I finished speaking than an individual rose from their chair and moved toward the front of the room.  When the session broke the individual approached me and challenged my use of the term “occupied Palestinian territories,” claiming that that terminology is inflammatory and that I should have used a more neutral term like “West Bank” or “the disputed territories.”

I looked at the individual and listened to what they said.  I then responded:  “Well…it IS an occupation!” 

It is difficult to describe the Occupied Territories.  I have followed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict since the June 1967 War and I have been an advocate for peace and justice for the Palestinians since the spring of 1969.  I have studied countless documents, articles, speeches, etc.  I have seen pictures of the so-called settlements and the apartheid separation Wall.  Yet, to be honest, I still was not prepared for what I actually experienced.

I was part of a labor delegation.  When we crossed from Jordan into the Occupied Territories we immediately experienced the arrogance of the Israeli occupiers.  While waiting on line to go to the first passport control I was watched by an Israeli security person.  I somehow knew that this was not a good sign.  When my delegation awaited clearance to actually enter the Occupied Territories this same security person came up to me and me alone (in my delegation) and proceeded to ask me all sorts of questions about the objectives of my visit.  Perhaps it was my naturally curly hair, or perhaps it was that I am told that I look North African, but in any case, there was nothing approaching politeness in this exchange.  The Israelis held us at the border for about two hours for no apparent reason and then let most of my delegation through.  They then held one member of my delegation – not me – for an additional hour, again for no apparent reason and without explanation or apology (when they were released).

Driving from the border to Nablus is actually quite beautiful except for a few things.  You drive past these so-called settlements.  You can clearly distinguish an Israeli settlement from a Palestinian village or town, both by the newness but also by the often lush character of the surroundings of the settlements.  But here it is important for me to note that even the use of the term “settlement” does not convey what you see.  You see, in effect, either very big farms or you see suburban communities.  I don’t know about you but when I hear “settlement” I tend to think about something that can be easily disassembled.  Forget that idea, my friend.  These settlers have no intention of going anywhere.

This brings up another point or question of terminology.  What is going on in the occupied Palestinian territories is not really an occupation; it is an annexation-in-progress.  The Palestinians are being squeezed out, with the obvious Israeli hope being that they will simply give up and move out of the West Bank and go to Jordan, Lebanon, or who knows where ever, but just out of the area.  When you think about an occupation, you think about the troops of one country taking over another—which, of course, happened to the West Bank—but you do not normally think about settlers moving in, unless you are thinking about the way that the United States expanded west; the manner in which Morocco took over the Western Sahara; or what we have been witnessing in Palestine.  Whatever the original ambitions of the Israelis in the aftermath of the June 1967 War, it is clear that the settlements are no longer a bargaining chip but are there as part of a process of annexation.

This is a slow-moving annexation that is accompanied by slippery rhetoric out of the Israeli government.  The creation of the so-called Separation Wall, but what most of the world condemns as the Apartheid Wall, is all part of the annexation process.  The Wall is one of the ugliest, most offensive pieces of work you will see.  It was NOT created along the so-called Green Line (the pre-1967 border of Israel) but along lines that protect some of the key territories that the Israeli government seeks to formally annex.  It also is used to divide Palestinian territories such that farmers are separated from their land.

When you stand near the wall, however, you do not think much about the larger political issues at stake.  Rather, it feels like you are inside a prison.  You look up and down the expanse of the Wall at the guard towers and, frankly, you do not know what will happen next.  The environmental damage created through the building of the Wall is a sight in and of itself.  Piles of dirt, rubbish, concrete, weeds, etc., on the Palestinian side of the Wall reminded me of construction debris that some contractor ‘forgot’ to remove from a project.  This damage makes the land in the immediate vicinity of the Wall useless and, for all intents and purposes, dead.

The sense of being imprisoned was more stark when we witnessed thousands of Palestinian workers pass through the Qalqeelya border crossing to go to Israel for work.  We arrived at the border crossing around 3:30am and workers (men and women) were already crossing the border, though in small numbers.  As dawn approached this trickle of workers turned into a flood.

The workers proceeded down a covered walkway and then went to a turnstile, reminiscent of one you might find in a subway system.  But this was not a turnstile that one can jump over, but fully metal where only one person at a time can pass, assuming that the light over the turnstile is green.  There is an assembly point on the other side where the workers then gather and seek transportation to their jobs.  They have to arrange their own transportation, either through their employers or on their own, because public Israeli transportation is denied them.  They cannot drive into Israel and go to work because that is forbidden.  The process is so demanding that many Palestinian workers remain at their worksites   for days rather than go back and forth in this process.  And, while this is going on, it is all under the watchful eye of the Israeli guard tower, shouting commands to the Palestinians in Hebrew.

The violence of the Occupation is what you feel more than any other sensation.  Not the violence that you hear about on mainstream television when they discuss a terrorist attack or a military action, but rather the silent violence that includes traffic signs in big Hebrew letters, while the Arabic wording has been crossed out by fanatical settlers.  Or it may be the violence of the apartheid Wall, supposedly constructed to stop Palestinian terrorist and military attacks, yet no one can seem to explain if that were the case, why the Wall was not built on the Green Line rather than over and through Palestinian territories.

There were moments when I forgot where I was.  My own anger boiled to the surface and I came close to yelling at the Israeli security personnel or making signs at them with my fingers, only to stop myself and realize that I was not an angry African American in the USA (which carries its own set of risks), but a North African-looking man in Occupied Palestine who could easily get shot – or cause my colleagues to get shot – with the assurance that my wife would get a letter of apology from the Israeli government for the incident, which they would certainly alleged to have been the result of my unprovoked actions.

This is what Palestinians experience every day…and then some.

So, yes, this is a violent occupation, and no semantics will get around that simple fact.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president ofTransAfricaForum and co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA.

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It Can happen Here by Uri Avnery

It Can Happen Here!
15/07/11Uri Avnery

YEARS AGO I said that there are but two miracles in Israel: the Hebrew language and democracy.

Hebrew had been a dead language for many generations, more or less like Latin, when it was still used in the Catholic church. Then, suddenly, concurrent with the emergence of Zionism (but independently) it sprang back to life. This never happened to any other language.

Theodor Herzl laughed at the idea that Jews in Palestine would speak Hebrew. He wanted us to speak German. “Are they going to ask for a railway ticket in Hebrew?” he scoffed.

Well, we now buy airline tickets in Hebrew. We read the Bible in its Hebrew original and enjoy it tremendously. As Abba Eban once said, if King David were to come to life in Jerusalem today, he could understand the language spoken in the street. Though with some difficulty, because our language gets corrupted, like most other languages.

Anyhow, the position of Hebrew is secure. Babies and Nobel Prize laureates speak it.

The fate of the other miracle is far less assured.

THE FUTURE – indeed, the present – of Israeli democracy is shrouded in doubt.

It is a miracle, because it did not grow slowly over generations, like Anglo-Saxon democracy. There was no democracy in the Jewish shtetl. Neither is there anything like it in Jewish religious tradition. But the Zionist Founding Fathers, mostly West and Central European Jews, aspired to the highest social ideals of their time.

I have always warned that our democracy has very shallow and tender roots, and needs our constant care. Where did the Jews who founded Israel, and who came here thereafter, grow up? Under the dictatorship of the British High Commissioner, the Russian Czar, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the king of Morocco, Pilsudsky’s Poland and similar regimes. Those of us who came from democratic countries like Weimar Germany or the US were a tiny minority.

Yet the founders of Israel succeeded in establishing a vibrant democracy that – at least until 1967 – was in no way inferior, and in some ways superior, to the British or American models. We were proud of it, and the world admired it. The appellation “the Only Democracy in the Middle East” was not a hollow propaganda slogan.

Some claim that with the occupation of the Palestinian territories, which have lived since 1967 under a harsh military regime without the slightest trace of democracy and human rights, this situation already came to an end. Whatever one thinks about that, in fact Israel in its pre-1967 borders maintained a reasonable record until recently. For the ordinary citizen, democracy was still a fact of life. Even Arab citizens enjoyed democratic rights far superior to anything in the Arab world.

This week, all this was put in doubt. Some say that this doubt has now been dispersed, and that a stark reality is being exposed.

CHARLES BOYCOTT, the agent of a British landowner in Ireland, could never have imagined that he would play a role in a country called Israel 130 years after his name had become a world-wide symbol.

Captain Boycott evicted Irish tenants, who defaulted on their rent because of desperate economic straits. The Irish reacted with a new weapon: no one would speak with him, work for him, buy from him. His name became synonymous with this kind of non-violent action.

The method itself was born even earlier. The list is long. Among others: in 1830 the “negroes” in the US declared a “boycott” of slave-produced products. The later Civil Rights movement started with a boycott of the Montgomery bus company that seated blacks and whites separately. During the American Revolution, the insurgents declared a boycott on British goods. So did Mahatma Gandhi in India.

American Jews boycotted the cars of the infamous anti-Semite Henry Ford. Jews in many countries took part in a boycott of German goods immediately after the Nazis came to power in 1933.

The Chinese boycotted Japan after the invasion of their country. The US boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow. People of conscience all over the world boycotted the products and the athletes of Apartheid South Africa and helped to bring it to its knees.

All these campaigns used a basic democratic right: every person is entitled to refuse to buy from people he detests. Everyone can refuse to support with his money causes which contradict his innermost moral convictions.

It is this right that has been put to the test in Israel this week.

IN 1997, Gush Shalom declared a boycott of the products of the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. We believe that these settlements, which are being set up with the express purpose of preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state, are endangering the future of Israel.

The press conference, in which we announced this step, was not attended by a single Israeli journalist. But the boycott gathered momentum. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis do not buy settlement products. The European Union, which has a trade agreement that practically treats Israel as a member of the union, was induced to enforce the clause that excludes products of the settlements from these privileges.

There are now hundreds of factories in the settlements. They were literally compelled, or seduced, to go there, because the (stolen) land there is far cheaper than in Israel proper. They enjoy generous government subsidies and tax exemptions, and they can exploit Palestinian workers for ridiculous wages. The Palestinians have no other way of supporting their families than to toil for their oppressors.

Our boycott was designed, among other things, to counter these advantages. And indeed, several big enterprises have already given in and moved out, under pressure from foreign investors and buyers. Alarmed, the settlers instructed their lackeys in the Knesset to draft a law that would counter this boycott.

Last Monday, the “Boycott Law” was enacted, setting off an unprecedented storm in the country. Already Tuesday morning, Gush Shalom submitted to the Supreme Court a 22 page application to annul this law.

THE “BOYCOTT LAW” is a very clever piece of work. Obviously, it was not drafted by the parliamentary simpletons who introduced it, but by some very sophisticated legal minds, probably financed by the Casino barons and Evangelical crazies who support the extreme Right in Israel.

First of all, the law is disguised as a means to fight the de-legitimization of the State of Israel throughout the world. The law bans all calls for the boycott of the State of Israel, “including the areas under Israeli control”. Since there are not a dozen Israelis who call for the boycott of the state, it is clear that the real and sole purpose is to outlaw the boycott of the settlements.

In its initial draft, the law made this a criminal offense. That would have suited us fine: we were quite willing to go to prison for this cause. But the law, in its final form, imposes sanctions that are another thing.

According to the law, any settler who feels that he has been harmed by the boycott can demand unlimited compensation from any person or organization calling for the boycott – without having to prove any actual damage. This means that each of the 300,000 settlers can claim millions from every single peace activist associated with the call for boycott, thus destroying the peace movement altogether.

AS WE point out in our application to the Supreme Court, the law is clearly unconstitutional. True, Israel has no formal constitution, but several “basic laws” are considered by the Supreme Court to function effectively as such.

First, the law clearly contravenes the basic right to freedom of expression. A call for a boycott is a legitimate political action, much as a street demonstration, a manifesto or a mass petition.

Second, the law contravenes the principle of equality. The law does not apply to any other boycott that is now being implemented in Israel: from the religious boycott of stores that sell non-kosher meat (posters calling for this cover the walls of the religious quarters in Jerusalem and elsewhere), to the recent very successful call to boycott the producers of cottage cheese because of their high price. The call of right-wing groups to boycott artists who have not served in the army will be legal, the declaration by left-wing artists that they will not appear in the settlements will be illegal.

Since these and other provisions of the law clearly violate the Basic Laws, the Legal Advisor of the Knesset, in a highly unusual step, published his opinion that the law is unconstitutional and undermines “the core of democracy”. Even the supreme governmental legal authority, the “legal advisor of the government”, has published a statement saying that the law in “on the border” of unconstitutionality. Being mortally afraid of the settlers, he added that he will defend it in court nevertheless. The opportunity for this is not far off: the Supreme Court has given him 60 days to respond to our petition.

A SMALL group of minor parliamentarians is terrorizing the Knesset majority and can pass any law at all. The power of the settlers is immense, and moderate right-wing members are rightly afraid that, if they are not radical enough, they will not be re-elected by the Likud Central Council, which selects the candidates for the party list. This creates a dynamic of competition: who can appear the most radical.

No wonder that one anti-democratic law follows another: a law that practically bars Arab citizens from living in localities of less than 400 families. A law that takes away the pension rights of former Knesset members who do not show up for police investigations (like Azmi Bishara.) A law that abolishes the citizenship of people convicted of “assisting terrorism”. A law that obliges NGOs to disclose donations by foreign governmental institutions. A law that gives preference for civil service positions to people who have served in the army (thus automatically excluding almost all Arab citizens). A law that outlaws any commemoration of the 1948 Naqba (the expulsion of Arab inhabitants from areas conquered by Israel). An extension of the law that prohibits (almost exclusively) Arab citizens, who marry spouses from the Palestinian territories, to live with them in Israel.

Soon to be enacted is a bill that forbids NGOs to accept donations of more than 5000 dollars from abroad, a bill that will impose an income tax of 45% on any NGO that is not specifically exempted by the government, a bill to compel universities to sing the national anthem on every possible occasion, the appointment of a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry to investigate the financial resources of left-wing [sic] organizations.

Looming over everything else is the explicit threat of right-wing factions to attack the hated “liberal” Supreme Court directly, shear it of its ability to overrule unconstitutional laws and control the appointment of the Supreme Court judges.

FIFTY-ONE YEARS ago, on the eve of the Eichmann trial, I wrote a book about Nazi Germany. In the last chapter, I asked: “Can It Happen Here?”

My answer still stands: yes, it can.

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Sacred Mantras By URI AVNERY

June 28, 2011

Not Even Good Propaganda Anymore

Sacred Mantras

By URI AVNERY

The Palestinians are planning something thoroughly obnoxious:  they intend to apply to the UN for statehood.

Why obnoxious? Any Israeli spokesman (not to mention spokeswoman) will tell you readily: because it is a “unilateral” move. How dare they proclaim a state unilaterally? How dare they do so without the consent of the other party to the conflict – us?

A stickler for detail might ask at this point: “But was the State of Israel not proclaimed unilaterally?” Our state, it may be remembered, was declared by David Ben-Gurion and his colleagues on Mai 14, 1948, without asking anyone.

But who would dare to compare?

Furthermore, these dastardly Palestinians are going to the UN General Assembly, trying to circumvent the UN Security Council where the US can block them with its veto. Dirty trick!

But just a moment! Was the State of Israel not proclaimed on the basis of a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly? To be precise: resolution 181 of November 29, 1947, on the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state?

As a matter of fact, this resolution is still in force. It served as the centerpiece of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and serves now as a basis for the Palestinian demand that the State of Palestine be accepted as a full-fledged member of the United Nations.

But again, how can one compare?

* * *

IN SHORT, the Palestinians must be condemned for their impertinent effort to resort to “unilateral” action. Binyamin Netanyahu says so. Barack Obama says so. Hillary Clinton says so. Angela Merkel says so. It has become a mantra.

One more mantra. It might have been thought that the Israeli-Palestinian arena is so full of mantras, that there is no room for more. But there always is.

Shlomo Avineri, a much respected Zionist professor, has dredged up one of the oldest. In a recent article entitled “Narratives and Truth” he claimed that there are two narratives about our conflict, but only one truth. The truth consists of incontestable facts.

For example: there are several narratives about the UN partition resolution, but only one truth. As it so happens, this truth coincides with the Israeli narrative, which has become a sacred mantra.

It goes like this: in 1947, the Zionist leadership accepted the UN partition plan, and the Palestinian Arabs rejected it. Instead, they attacked the Jewish community in the country and were later joined by the regular armies of the neighboring Arab states. They wanted to throw us into the sea. They lost the war and paid the price.

Facts? Incontestable? Well…

* * *

IT IS indeed a fact that the Zionist leadership accepted the partition plan – formally. Many Zionist leaders objected, but were persuaded by David Ben-Gurion to agree to the official acceptance. However, in several secret meetings Ben-Gurion made it clear that the partition borders were unacceptable and must be rectified at the first opportunity. The minutes of these meetings are there for all to read.

The other side of the mantra – “the Palestinian Arabs rejected” – is more complex. There was no democratically elected Palestinian Arab leadership. In the 1936-39 Arab revolt, the Arab leadership – such as it was – was destroyed, partly by the British but mostly by the foremost Palestinian leader, the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini. He had most of his competitors killed off.

During World War II, Hajj Amin fled to Nazi Germany and the rest of the “leaders” were deported by the British. After the war, the discredited Hajj stayed abroad. A distant relative of his headed the so-called “Arab Higher Committee”, which was unelected and had shallow roots among the population. There was no effective Palestinian leadership in existence.

No one asked the Arab Palestinians whether to accept or reject anything. If they had been asked, they would probably have rejected partition, since – in their view – it gave a large part of their historical homeland to foreigners. The more so, since the Jews, who at the time constituted a third of the population, were allotted 55% of the territory – and even there the Arabs constituted 40% of the population.

The governments of the Arab states rejected partition, but they certainly did not represent the Palestinian Arabs, who were at the time still under British rule (as were we).

As a matter of fact, during the war there was no effective united Palestinian Arab leadership, nor was there anything even remotely resembling a united Palestinian fighting force.

One can interpret these facts as one wishes – but they certainly do not paint a clear picture of “the Zionists accepted, the Palestinians rejected”.

Yet this mantra is being repeated endlessly in newspaper articles, TV talk-shows and political speeches as self-evident truth. Prof. Avineri is only one of a legion of Israeli propagandists to repeat it.

* * *

ANOTHER MANTRA parading as the incontestable truth is that the 750,000 original Palestinian refugees left their homes in 1948 voluntarily, after being requested by the Arab leadership to do so, ”in order to clear the way for the advancing Arab armies”.

Any thoughtful person hearing this must come to the conclusion that it is utter nonsense. No advancing army would want to remove a friendly population. Quite the contrary. Needless to say, not a shred of evidence for this contention has ever been discovered. (There may be some doubts about local events during the conquest of the Arab parts of Haifa, but they do not change the broad picture.)

This mantra is compounded by the idea that in war, all the people on the losing side forfeit their country, their homes and their property. This may have been so in Biblical times, but in modern times it does not reflect international law or common morality.

There may be many different opinions about how to put an end to this tragedy. The Palestine refugee population has grown to over five million. The landscape has changed completely. Very few people, even among Palestinians, believe in a mass return of refugees. But this does not change the fact that the mantra sounds hollow.  It is not even good propaganda anymore.

A NEW mantra is now gaining ground. Binyamin Netanyahu put it in simple words: “the Conflict is Insoluble”. Many respected figures, including prominent university professors, now repeat it daily.

I am reminded of a late friend of mine, Samuel Merlin, a member of the first Knesset, who once took part in a public debate with Professor Yehoshafat Harkabi, a former chief of army intelligence. At the time – the era of euphoria between the 1967 and the 1973 wars – Harkabi was a raving Arab-hater (after 1973 he repented and became a determined peace activist).

When his turn came to answer Harkabi’s arguments, Merlin said: “I respect Professor Harkabi very much, but in order to utter such views you don’t need to be a professor, you can be anyone on the street.”

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

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Alice Walker Challenges Israeli Blockade of Gaza

http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/06/alice_walker_to_sail_to_gaza.html

Alice Walker Doesn’t Mince Words in Challenging Israeli Blockade of Gaza

Celebrated poet and novelist Alice Walker is sailing on the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza, as part of a humanitarian mission meant to bring aid and awareness to the plight of those affected by Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The author, who penned the best-selling book “The Color Purple,” wrote a special piece for CNN outlining her intention. She will be sailing on a boat called “The Audacity of Hope”, which will be carrying letters expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Walker said she is participating in the mission after seeing the devastation in Gaza following Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” military offense in 2009.

“I saw the incredible damage and devastation. I have a good understanding of what’s on the ground there and how the water system was destroyed and the sewage system. I saw that the ministries had been bombed, and the hospitals had been bombed, and the schools. I sat for a good part of a morning in the rubble of the American school, and it just was so painful because we as Americans pay so much of our taxes for this kind of weaponry that was used,” she said in an interview.

The Pulitzer Prize winner joins several other prominent figures, including Nobel Peace Prize winners Rigoberta Menchú from Guatemala, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, American Jody Williams, and Shirin Ebadi of Iran, as backers of the mission to bring humanitarian aid — including medical, school, and construction materials — to the beleaguered territory. About ten ships carrying over 1,000 activists from 20 countries will depart this month in an attempt to break the blockade. The first Freedom Flotilla was stormed by Israeli troops last year in an ambush that left nine Turkish activists dead and more than 50 on board injured.

On Monday, Israel rescinded its warning to foreign journalists aboard the flotilla after receiving widespread criticism for saying that media who travel with the activists will face the same punishment as other participants in the convoy. However, the Israeli Navy said they are planning to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza, after the country’s diplomatic efforts to do so have failed. Meanwhile, the State Department is urging Americans to not participate, and although the United Nations has condemned Israel’s siege, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked for international cooperation in stopping the flotilla.

When asked about Israel’s accusation that groups participating in the mission have ties with extremist and terrorist organizations like Hamas, whose 2006 election in part led to the blockade, Walker stated that she believes Israel and the United States are great terrorist organizations. “If you go to Gaza and see some of the bombs — what’s left of the bombs that were dropped — and the general destruction, you would have to say, yeah, it’s terrorism. When you terrorize people, when you make them so afraid of you that they are just mentally and psychologically wounded for life — that’s terrorism,” she said, adding that she knows the feeling from growing up in the segregated South.

Like rapper Lupe Fiasco, she went on to cite U.S. interventionist policies and the use of drones in the War on Terror as examples, but also stated that she did not endorse the firing of rockets by Hamas.

“But it’s extremely unequal. If people just acknowledge how absurdly unequal this is. This is David and Goliath, but Goliath is not the Palestinians. They are David. They are the ones with the slingshot. They are the ones with the rocks and relatively not-so-powerful rockets. Whereas the Israelis have these incredibly damaging missiles and rockets. When do you as a person of conscience speak and say enough is enough?”

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Jewish history commands the Gaza flotilla by Jane Hirschmann

Why am I organizing the Gaza boat? Because Jewish history commands me

by Jane Hirschmann on June 21, 2011

http://mondoweiss.net/2011/06/why-am-i-on-the-gaza-boat-because-jewish-history-commands-me.html

People often ask me why I am part of a team to organize a U.S. Boat to Gaza that will be sailing this month with the next International Flotilla to break the siege of Gaza. They often make clear they are asking because I am an American Jew, whose family survived the Holocaust with some surviving family members ending up in Israel. And my only answer is: How could I not?

My parents raised me with stories about what happened in Germany and their family’s escape. I came to see that Israel represented for them a safe haven should there be another attempt at annihilating Jews. And yet, at the same time, they worried it was not so safe a haven given the animosity and physical threats and violence in the area.

But no one ever mentioned the displacement of 750,000 Arabs that was the result of the creation of Israel. I vaguely knew there were people living there, but I was never curious about who these “others” were. All I took away from my family’s history and the atrocities endured was that this should never happen again to anyone, anywhere.

Growing up in the ‘60s, I became active in opposition to the war in Vietnam, the anti-apartheid struggle and the women’s rights movement and later became involved in opposing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a social worker, I was focused on social justice issues but never questioned the relationship between the U.S. and Israel and their policies regarding Palestinians.

Then came the war on Gaza and a real political awakening for me.

Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report were the catalysts. In November 2008, the ceasefire ended: Israeli soldiers broke it in a cross-border raid killing six members of Hamas and, in response, rockets were launched into Israel. Israel, fortified with American weaponry, attacked the people of Gaza. Approximately 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed compared to 13 Israelis. Gaza was pulverized. Judge Richard Goldstone and his team did a thorough report of the causalities on both sides. There was no doubt that the people of Gaza were disproportionally affected.

Right after the invasion in Gaza I realized I could no longer remain silent. I became one of the organizers of a group called Jews Say No! in New York City. We wanted to speak out and to make clear that the Israeli government did not speak in our name as they claimed. I began reading about the occupation, settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the building of the separation wall, Jewish-only streets for Israeli settlers, special identity papers for Palestinian citizens of Israel (one step away from wearing a yellow star) and the other indignities endured by the people of Palestine on a daily basis. And I saw the total collusion by the U.S. government – its unconditional support no matter what the Israeli government did, including giving them 30 billion dollars over a 10-year period for weaponry (F16s, Apache helicopters, white phosphorous, Caterpillar bulldozers used to destroy homes in Bedouin encampments) used ruthlessly against the Palestinians. This was intolerable for me.

I understand the fears and frustrations of Israelis being fired upon by rockets and the resultant deaths and injuries. But what about the thousands of Palestinians being killed and whose homes, schools, hospitals, farms, mills, factories and infrastructure are being destroyed? What about a people living under a brutal occupation who are being denied the right to live with dignity in their own homeland?

The siege and blockade of Gaza continue. The Israeli government controls the land, sea and air of this small area (25 miles long and roughly six miles wide) where 1.6 million people live. There has been no movement in recent years unless Israel allowed it. (Egypt’s partial opening of the Rafah gate to human traffic, though not to commerce, is a positive sign if it is allowed to grow). Most people cannot travel in or out of Gaza because of continuing restrictions, 61 percent of the population is food insecure, the unemployment rate is around 45 percent, one of the highest in the world, and exports remain banned with the exception of limited items like strawberries and carnations for European markets. Gaza is called an open-air prison even by England’s Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Given all this, I can remain silent no longer. Every day Palestinians are confronting the Israeli government at the wall, at check points, at demolition sites. They risk their lives. Like the Freedom Rides our boat is sailing to call attention to the illegal occupation and siege of Gaza.

My humanity and my Jewishness – Jewish history – demand my being part of an organizing effort to end the inhumane treatment of the Palestinians. The U.S. Boat, called The Audacity of Hope, will sail in late June to Gaza as part of the Freedom Flotilla 2-Stay Human. We will be approximately 50 individuals from across the U.S. committed to non-violence, human rights and freedom and justice for the Palestinian people.

To date, tens of thousands of individuals and over 80 organizations have endorsed this U.S. campaign and each day more sign on to travel with us in name. We travel in peace for justice, and I am proud to be part of this international effort.

Jane Hirschmann is a member of Jews Say No!, a psychotherapist from New York City, co-author of three books, and one of the organizers of the U.S. Boat to Gaza. More information about the The Audacity of Hope is available at www.ustogaza.org.

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