Nine boats of siege-busting ‘Freedom Rider’ activists are now gathering in the Mediterranean, preparing to challenge the longrunning siege that is one of the main tools through which Israel continues to stifle the lives and livelihoods of all of Gaza’s 1.6 million people.
An act of collective punishment like this siege is quite illegal under international law. Under international law, Israel has status over Gaza, as over the West Bank, only as a foreign military occupier, a status it has enjoyed for a jaw-dropping 44 years now. (Hey, even the Allied occupation of post-war Germany only lasted 14 years.) It is only that standing as occupying power that “allows” Israel to exercise control over all of Gaza’s land and sea borders, over its airspace, and even over the vital population registry that determines which Palestinians are allowed to enter into or reside in the Palestinian land of Gaza.
It is that long-running military occupation that needs to end; and we should never forget that.
Right now, there is zero movement in the “international community” towards ending Israel’s prolonged occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. There is no prospect of peace and none even of that long-running time-waster, the peace “process.” In the absence of any prospect of peace, actions to end the illegal siege through which Israel seeks to break the will of the civilian population of Gaza are a very valuable way to break the deadlock while also bringing hope to Gaza’s long-besieged civilians that no, the rest of the world has not forgotten about their plight.
I have such admiration for Freedom Riders like the amazingly talented and gutsy African-American writer Alice Walker. The essay in which she explains her reasons for joining the flotilla should be required reading in every class on Middle East politics, all around the world.
… Or Joseph Dana, an American-Israeli journalist who has decided to travel with and document the work of the flotilla, despite numerous attacks against him. Dana is great Twitterer. Follow his realtime updates here.
And then, there are all the sick attacks that Israeli government spokespeople and their fellow travelers in the U.S. State Department (including Hillary Clinton) and in pro-Israel circles in the U.S. and elsewhere make upon these courageous Freedom Riders… Including accusations from the IDF that the Freedom Riders are intent on using violence, from government sources in Israel and the U.S. that “Rafah is now open” and there are no remaining restrictions on the movement of goods or people in and out of Gaza, etc etc.
As I witnessed in Rafah with my own eyes (and suffered a bit with my sun-battered body) two weeks ago, claims that “Rafah is now open” are simply false.
In light of the above, what are we to make of this statement from an organization called “Americans for Peace Now” today? It includes this bit of verbal bullying:
Let there be no doubt: the organizers of the flotilla are seeking to provoke a confrontation with Israel. In doing so they are playing a dangerous game. None of us knows what the consequences of their actions will be…
Oh, come on. The flotilla organizers are not seeking to “confront” the whole of Israel. They are seeking to confront the specific Israeli policy that maintains a quite illegal siege on all of Gaza’s people. And this “confrontation” is of exactly the same kind used by the Freedom Riders or lunch-counter activists in the days of the civil rights struggle in the United States.
I suppose APN, which is a U.S.-based support branch for the once-magnificent and powerful Israeli organization Peace Now, was trying to establish its pro-Israeli “muscularity” there before they made their core argument which was that Israel should simply let the flotilla make it to Gaza.
Their statement argues that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a “failed policy.” It does describe it as part of a campaign of collective punishment of the whole population of Gaza, though does not spell out the essential illegitimacy of any such collective punishment.
And nor, crucially, does the statement mention that Israel’s ongoing measures against Gaza are possible only because of Israel’s status as occupying power in Gaza: a status that is only ever intended under international law to be a temporary situation, and one that is always– and hopefully speedily–brought to end by the conclusion of a final-status peace between or among the belligerents.
APN’s statement makes it seem quite possible that Israel could continue to exercise its sway over Gaza for ever! It says:
We recognize Israel’s right to stop and inspect ships it has genuine reason to believe are seeking to smuggle weapons into Gaza… More effective and defensible measures to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza – both via land and via the sea – must be implemented, in cooperation with Egypt, the United States, and the international community.
But how about calling for a speedy end to the occupation that Israel maintains over Gaza, which would be done in the context of a peace treaty between Israel and the PLO– like the one that the Oslo Accords stipulated should have been completed back in May 1999, but that very tragically, because of intense and often intentional Israeli and U.S. foot-dragging, is nowhere on the horizon even today.
In the context of a peace treaty, arms limitation agreements might (and should) be agreed to by both parties to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel as such would have no continuing right to inspect or control the movement of goods and people into or out of Gaza or the rest of the Palestinian state, though the Palestinian negotiators would likely agree to some form of trusted third-party monitoring.
But the idea– as seems encapsulated in the APN statement– that Israel has any unending “right to stop and inspect ships it has genuine reason to believe are seeking to smuggle weapons into Gaza”? Where did that come from? I thought APN was dedicated to achieving a fair and sustainable final-status peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Surely, they should have mentioned that?
Yesterday I tweeted (@justworldbooks) about this amazing, 9-minute video clip from the Egyptian paper Al-Masry al-Yawm, which shows the large-scale confrontation across, I think, the broad expanse of Qasr al-Nil bridge on, I think, Saturday. It is shot from high up, and with some amazing lenses that on occasion give amazing close-ups. There are also some shots taken from ground-level, particularly at the end.
Go and look at the whole thing if you possibly can. You see unarmed, unprotected protesters coming from the left-hand side of the bridge, being met by heavily protected Amn al-Merkezi (Central Security) phalanxes coming in from the right. The Amn people are supported by a few of their large, very well-protected (light-armored?) people-carriers, which careen toward the protesters and then slew around in their midst, scattering those they run into (and running right over more than a few) before they bumble back to their own lines.
The ‘frontline’ on the bridge shifts back and forth throughout the footage. First the protesters have the advantage, then the Amn.
But watch what happens for the half-minute from about 3:40 on. The protesters are right up against the Amn lines, on the ‘near” side of the bridge. The Amn bring up a couple of their very powerful water-hose trucks to try to break the protesters’ line. The protesters form into tight prayer lines and there, while being repeatedly basted by the ice-cold water from the trucks, they perform an afternoon prayer. One man in a white gellabiyeh has gone out in front of them to lead the prayer.
He– and all of them– have the amazing courage of “Tienanmen Square man”. But they are not acting individually. They are acting in a very deliberate, corporate, and disciplined manner.
I think I understand what they were doing. Engaging systematically in familiar, small actions can be a great way to calm panic and collect your thoughts. (Ask any woman who’s ever done natural childbirth; or the protesters in the U.S.’s own civil rights movement who sang hymns to calm themselves in the face of the attack dogs.) And there is no doubt in my mind but that performing corporate prayer is something these protesters are very familiar with. It does, after all, take quite a bit of practice to know “almost instinctively” how to form up into those lines without pushing or shoving, and while focusing on the rhythms of the prayer actions.
But I think this collective prayer action also had a couple of other effects. It held the line of physical space for the protesters on the bridge. It also, quite likely, served as a simple but powerful reproach to the water-cannon shooters. “Here we are, on this bridge, praying. Are you truly going to continue to blast as with water as if we were dirt?”
Well, I don’t pretend to read the minds of the water-cannon shooters. But what was evident, by the end of the clip, was that the protesters had “won” the Battle of of the Bridge and had pushed the Amn people away from it. Using disciplined, nonviolent mass action.
And then what did they do after they had won? You’ll have to watch to the end of the clip to see… (Or maybe you can guess.)
We’re still tweaking the website at Just World Books, so until it’s ready to roll out, I’ll be sending out my updates from here.
I’ve signed three new contracts in the past couple of weeks. Two are with Manan Ahmed, who’s the principal blogger (Sepoy) at Chapati Mystery and also blogs at Informed Comment: Global Affairs. He’ll be publishing one book with JWB on the impact of the ‘Global war on Terror’ on society, culture, and politics, in Pakistan, and on relations between the majority-Muslim world and westerners. The other will be on the impact of the internet and other social and technological innovations on society and culture in Pakistan, and on the “desi” community worldwide.
Those books will both be author-curated compilations of Ahmed’s blog posts and other writings.
The third contract I signed is with Ron Mock, who’s a professor of political science and peace studies at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. His book will be an exploration of the challenges Christian pacifism has faced over the centuries, and continues to face today. It will be coming out next year.
In 2004 Ron (who’s an old friend, and an excellent writer and thinker) published a very thoughtful and timely book called Loving Without Giving In: Christian Responses to Terrorism and Tyranny. This one develops and deepens some of the arguments he was making there.
When I was talking with Ron about publishing this new book, I thought it would be nice to make this into the “flagship” book– or whatever the nonviolent equivalent of that would be– of a new series of books that JWB might publish on issues in nonviolence. If any JWN readers know people who are doing interesting writing in this field and might want to be included in this series, please let them know about this opportunity and have them contact me!
Finally, since I’m sure people are all excited about Laila El-Haddad’s book(s), I should tell you that after further consideration and discussion I have decided her manuscript will be published as one book, after all. It will be a big one– maybe 350 pages. But it’s going to be great. The title we’ve chosen is Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between. Expected Publication date: October or November 2010.
Amb. Chas Freeman’s first book with us is now in editing. Its title is America’s Misadventures in the Middle East. Publication date October 2010.
The Irish Times reports that the Irish aid ship the MV Rachel Corrie is still steaming toward Gaza– and that Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Brian Cowen has warned Israel that “If any harm comes to any of our citizens, it will have the most serious consequences.”
HT: Paul Woodward for that.
The Irish do, of course, have a long memory of having been colonized by a bullying neighbor– who was also ready on occasion to use mass starvation as a mechanism of colonial control.
The Irish Times report tells us that the Rachel Corrie has five Irish nationals and five Malaysians aboard it. It had become separated from the other boats in the flotilla due to “logistical” problem. (Or perhaps to earlier Israeli sabotage?)
Five other Irish nationals were on other boats in the flotilla– the ones Israel has attacked and impounded. Among them is the amazing Caoimhe Butterly, a dedicated International Solidarity Movement organizer whom we had the honor of meeting when we were in Damascus last November.
The ISM is now listing Caoimhe (pronounced, roughly, “Queever”) as one of three key female ISM leaders who have not been heard of since yesterday’s murder-raid, and about whom they have great concern. I’m praying for their wellbeing– and for the wellbeing of all those injured in the attack or held incommunicado since it occurred.
The Israeli government had zero authority under international law to launch its assault on the boats in international waters, and zero legitimate authority to kidnap all those riding as passengers or crew members on them. These captive should all be freed immediately. Israel should also be required to provide a full accounting of what happened to all those who were killed or injured, and to cooperate with the international enquiry that needs to be launched into this grave breach of international law.
Issandr el-Amrani of the Arabist has been doing some of the best blogging on today’s IDF flotilla massacre.
Among his great posts have been these: How Israel sets the TV agenda and The flotilla crisis seen from Cairo.
In the latter post he writes:
this is the biggest protest about Palestine since the Gaza war, in an atmosphere in which such protests have not been tolerated. We might see more in the next few days, including on Friday after prayers. This may revive local activism on Gaza as well as linkages made between the situation there and the situation in Egypt — notably the Mubarak regime’s collaboration with Israel on the blockade. Expect a fierce fight in the media over this in the next few days, and more opportunities to express all sorts of grievances. But when Turkey expels its ambassador and Egypt is seen to be doing nothing, it looks very, very bad for Cairo.
Egypt is of course a central ally for the U.S. military in the Arab world. Plus, its leadership is now in the throes of a long-drawn-out succession crisis. (Has anyone actually seen the elderly Pres. Mubarak in public any times recently?)
I watched ABC News here in the U.S. this evening. They had Jim Sciutto reporting from London on the international fallout from Israel’s thuggish act of piracy today. He and the other reporters made these two centrally important points:
1. Israel’s assault on the ship took place in international waters and is thus considered by many to be an outright act of piracy, and
2. The anti-Israeli feeling engendered by the Israeli assault is also spilling over in many places into anti-U.S. sentiment– and this has direct consequences for the many U.S. service members now serving in vulnerable places in Muslim countries.
Good for ABC News! Let’s hear those very salient facts from a few more members of the U.S. political elite.
Israel’s security forces have become accustomed over many decades to using lethal force against opponents, then claiming it was the opponents who “fired first”. They have become accustomed, moreover, to their government and its cheerleaders around the world having such a dominant position in the media that they can hope to have this version of events generally accepted– or at least, accepted by enough of the people in power around the world that they don’t need to worry about the real facts getting out.
It seems they don’t understand the 21st century.
The Freedom Flotilla organized by an international group of nonviolence activists and humanitarians has all along pursued textbook rules of nonviolent action. In particular they allowed their ships to be inspected by governments before they took them to sea, they continually announced their intention of taking the humanitarian supplies to Gaza, and they worked hard to make their action as visible as possible.
None of that stopped Israel from using deadly violence against them. The number of the dead among the hundreds of civilians on board the five boats is not yet clear. Israel’s Ynet is reporting 15 dead. The BBC reports that Israeli Channel 10 TV is saying 19.
And then, just as if this were an Israeli death squad going in and killing someone in a distant village in the West Bank in the middle of the night, Israeli military and political leaders come out with the rote accusation that the victims had been the first ones to open fire.
Around the world– and perhaps even inside Israel— it is already clear that very few people indeed believe that version of events. And indeed, the diplomatic/strategic repercussions for Israel around the world are already starting. There are even reports that PM Netanyahu might cancel or postpone his Wednesday trip to Washington.