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GAZA CEASEFIRE: PALESTINE HOLDS STRONG IN THE FACE OF U.S.-BACKED ISRAELI TERROR CAMPAIGN November 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Genocide, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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An Egyptian boy leads protesters in chanting slogans against the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Washington feared uprisings in Egypt, Jordan and other countries in the region.
http://www2.answercoalition.org/site/R?i=Bnc-7QdrNP1UEEByLLfp_whttp://www2.answercoalition.org/site/R?i=OOp0WURIE0bnGdTxWzNliAhttp://www2.answercoalition.org/site/R?i=bSafGjjiOuReegdwuC7How

By Richard Becker

A ceasefire agreement between the Hamas-led Palestinian government in Gaza and Israel was announced today, Nov. 21, in Cairo by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr.

Clinton made an emergency trip to the Middle East with the aim of brokering a truce, a clear sign of the Obama administration’s fears that the continuation of the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza was endangering U.S. imperialist interests in the region.

http://www2.answercoalition.org/site/R?i=Lhgm0Wc4niMEZsO8tk97pg
Read Richard Becker’s important book ‘Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire.’ http://www2.answercoalition.org/site/R?i=BVGBKV1sHLNY5NaGiwoocw

Since Israel’s latest intense bombing campaign began last week, Clinton, President Obama, and Republican and Democratic congressional leaders have repeatedly expressed all-out support for the Israeli side, while pointedly ignoring far higher Palestinian casualties.

The House of Representatives “passed” a resolution expressing its “unwavering commitment” to Israel. House Resolution 813 was introduced at 12:04 p.m. on Nov. 16, and declared adopted at 12:05 p.m. the same day!

Since Nov. 14, at least 146 Palestinians have been killed, more than 1,000 wounded, and much of Gaza’s infrastructure and public facilities destroyed by a coordinated air, sea and land-based bombardment. On the Israeli side, there have been five killed and more than 100 wounded.

To hear U.S. officials talk, you would think it was the other way around. But despite their obscenely pro-Israel rhetoric, it was also clear that Washington was fearful that a new Israeli ground invasion of Gaza might provoke rebellions in Egypt, Jordan and other neighboring Arab countries, and possibly lead to a wider war.

Despite the death and destruction inflicted by Israel, and despite the fact that it has no air force, navy, armored units or anti-aircraft defenses, the Palestinian forces have not been defeated. Virtually all news reports from inside Gaza reflect a strong determination to resist among the population.

The terms of the temporary agreement reportedly call for a halt to the fighting, an end to Israeli targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders, and undefined steps to lift the Israeli blockade that has inflicted massive suffering on the 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Lifting the blockade is a critical issue for the people of Gaza. Whether there will be any real movement toward ending the blockade remains in doubt, as does the durability of the truce as a whole.

ISRAEL’S BLOCKADE: USING FOOD AS A WEAPON

While Israel withdrew its settlers and bases from Gaza in 2005, it has kept the area surrounded and blockaded ever since. As result, half of all school children are malnourished and two-thirds of infants are anemic. Eighty percent of Gaza’s population are refugees — those driven out of other parts of Palestine by the Zionist military forces in 1948 and their descendants.

After the Hamas party won the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, Israel imposed a complete blockade on Gaza, with the support of the United States, European Union and the client government of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. That the aim of the blockade was to make the people of Gaza suffer was highlighted by an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz the following month. It reported on a meeting of top Israeli government officials where the top advisor to then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Dov Weisglass, said: “It’s like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner but won’t die.” According to the Haaretz report, the assembled officials “rolled with laughter,” at Weislglass’s grotesque “joke.”

THE MYTH OF ISRAEL AS VICTIM

In the 1960s, the Black Panther Party had a saying about racist cops justifying their routine killing and brutalizing of Black people by “masquerading as the victim of an unprovoked attack.” It is a description that perfectly fits Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his predecessors going back to the creation of the Israeli state in 1948.

In the U.S. corporate media, Israel is invariably depicted as the “victim.” Its brutal and cowardly military assaults are justified as “retaliation,” inferring that Israel’s actions are “self-defense.” Over and over, since the early 1950s, successive Israeli governments have staged provocations to prompt responses that could then be used to justify massive attacks while presenting Israel as the “victim of an unprovoked attack.” The aim has generally been to gain new territory and/or crush any state or movement perceived as a threat to Israeli military domination.

This familiar pattern was repeated in November 2008. The murder of five Palestinian civilians on the day after the 2008 U.S. election broke a ceasefire and set in motion a train of events that led to an all-out assault on Gaza by the Israeli military. A vast array of weaponry, including white phosphorous and depleted uranium munitions, was unleashed on a trapped population. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, while Israeli forces had 13 killed -– a ratio of more than 100 to 1.

This time, the fatal shooting of a mentally disabled young man on Nov. 5 and a 12-year-old boy on Nov. 9, both killed by the Israeli army inside Gaza, set off the new round of fighting. Then, on Nov. 14, Israel assassinated a top Hamas leader, Ahmed Al-Jaabari, the very same day that he had been presented with a proposal for a long-term ceasefire by a joint Israeli-Egyptian commission.

These provocations were no doubt approved at the highest level of the Israeli government. The extreme right-wing Netanyahu-Lieberman government desired a new conflict both to further devastate the Palestinian infrastructure in Gaza and to advance their political prospects in the January 2013 Israeli election. That hundreds of Palestinians and some Israelis as well would die in order to achieve these objectives was incidental to the Israeli leaders.

Whether the present ceasefire holds and for how long can’t be known at this point. The only real long-term solution to the crisis is an to end to colonial occupation and real self-determination for the Palestinian people, including the right to return to their homeland.

Gaza crisis: Grandfather in mourning after family of 11 killed in Israeli airstrike on their home November 20, 2012

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Roger’s note: According to the Israeli government, a nine month old baby who allows his fellow Gazans to vote for Hamas deserves to die.  And, of course, as President Obama so eloquently stated, Israel has the right to defend itself from a virtually hopeless and beseiged people who have about 1% of the military resources that Israel does.

A man carries the body of one of the Dalou children killed on Sunday when an Israeli missile struck their two-storey home in a residential area of Gaza City.
By Mitch Potter Washington Bureau
Toronto Star, November 20,2012
GAZA CITY—If the gates of hell are to swing shut now over the Gaza Strip amid talk of possible ceasefire, they will leave Jamal Dalou forever locked in their grip.

Patriarch of a family that is no longer, Dalou, 50, stared into the pancaked rubble that a day earlier was his three-storey home, his face a mask of alternating shock, sorrow and stunned defiance.

None of it had really sunk in yet, even as the Palestinian cause had hoisted him instantly from obscure market vendor to become the totem of Gaza’s newest misery. The chaotic funeral procession was over, and with it, Dalou’s last glimpse of his wife Tahani, his sister Suheila, his son Mohammed, and four grandkids, including his 9-month-old namesake, Jamal.

Eleven family members in all, with one body still believed trapped under the three-metre-high mound of broken concrete and twisted steel. And parts of the others, one neighbour whispered quietly in an aside to the Toronto Star.

All from a single Sunday afternoon missile strike the Israel Defense Forces said was meant for a local militant commander responsible for 200 to 300 rockets fired from Gaza in recent days. Faced with widening outrage a day later, the IDF said it was “still looking into” what happened but characterized the civilian casualties as an accident.

The two sides offered contradictory narratives as to whether any such commander even lives in these streets of Gaza City’s North Rimal neighbourhood.

Dalou readily acknowledged his son’s ties to Gaza’s Hamas-controlled government. But he and his neighbours insisted the 28-year-old served simply as a local police officer and not a member of the militant Qassam brigades.

The question alone prompted contempt from Dalou, as he and his three surviving sons received condolences under a mourning tent.

“Does a nine-month-old baby feeding at his mother’s breast have a gun in his hand?” Dalou said. “This area is empty of rockets, we have nothing.

“Israel is the stronger party — the sky, the sea, the land, everything is in their hands. And now they have destroyed my family. All the women, all the children. Gone.”

Thousands joined in the frenzied funeral procession, thrusting fists in the air in a codified ritual of martyrdom so familiar to Gaza. A Hamas minister spoke of vengeance, telling mourners: “This blood which was provided by your family will not go in vain. The rights of these children, these flowers, is on our neck.”

What was different this time was the presence of an Egyptian delegation, which later visited the Dalou mourning tent, offering bear-hugs for the patriarch and a blistering message from the neighbouring Arab Spring, intended for global consumption.

“We come here from the Muslim Brotherhood, from the salafists, from the liberals — all the parties of the Egyptian revolution — to say we are with you,” Egyptian activist Safuat Hijazi told the mourners.

“Down, down with Israel. We say, generation after generation, destroy Tel Aviv. And we ask, where are the others — the ones living in the palaces? The Gulf kings, the emirs with money filling up American banks. We want you to stand with us.”

As the six-day death toll rose to more than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis, Egyptian mediators working toward a negotiated ceasefire in Cairo signalled that a breakthrough may be in sight.

A survey by Israeli newspaper Haaretz showed that while 84 per cent of Israelis support an air campaign aimed at suppressing rockets from Gaza, only 30 per cent favour a ground invasion. That, coupled with the fact that the country is vectoring toward new elections in January, appeared to leave at least some space for compromise on the Israeli side.

“We prefer the diplomatic solution if it’s possible. If not we can escalate,” an Israeli official told the Associated Press. But Israel is demanding “international guarantees” that Hamas will not simply rearm or use the Egyptian Sinai next door to renew attacks in the coming months.

Khaled Meshal, the exiled Hamas leader, maintained a firm stance in Cairo, telling reporters that Israel must satisfy the group’s demands for an end to the blockade of Gaza if it expects the rocket barrage to end.

“We don’t accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor,” Meshal said. “We want a ceasefire along with meeting our demands.”

With the diplomatic window still ajar, the tempo of violence eased slightly Monday. But as night fell over Gaza a series of concussion explosions resumed.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, said at least 100 rockets were fired toward Israel during the day, bringing to more than 1,000 the number fired since Wednesday.

Some 35,000 Israeli army regulars and reservists, meanwhile, remain mobilized on the edge of the narrow Gaza Strip, awaiting orders to move in or stand down. And inside Gaza itself, the broken bones of bombarded Hamas government infrastructure, from police stations to political offices and even the Gaza City football stadium, suggest Israel may be near to exhausting its list of aerial targets.

For Jamal Dalou, who still has barely begun to process his loss, the idea of ceasefire sparked only an exhausted shrug.

“We want to work to relax, to live our lives. Not to come home and see our kids buried. But I still have God. That’s all I can say.”

Erdogan slams Obama for silence on Israel’s Gaza flotilla raid September 13, 2011

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Turkish premier reiterates Ankara’s intent to refer legality of Israel’s blockade on Gaza to The Hague, saying the world will see ‘who is standing alongside the victims’.

By DPA and Haaretz 

 
 

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated on Saturday his country’s intent to refer the legality of Israel’s Gaza blockade to The Hague, adding a criticism of U.S. President Barack Obama’s position regarding Israel’s 2010 of a Turkish Gaza-bound flotilla.

Speaking a convention of businessmen in the central Turkish city of Kayseri broadcast live on Turkey’s state news channel TRT Erdogan vowed to continue the legal struggle for justice for the nine people killed in the raid.

   
 

“We will carry this struggle to The Hague and Erdogan criticizes Obama,” the Turkish premier said, criticizing Turkish opposition leaders for what he described as “acting as advocates for Israel.”

Erdogan was also deeply critical of the United States position on the Mavi Marmara incident, pointing out that he had to point out to Obama how the attack had left nine Turks dead from wounds inflicted by 35 bullets mostly fired from close range, one of them an American passport holder.

“I asked President Obama whether the reason he showed no interest in one of his nationals being killed was because [the victim] was [ethnically] Turkish – he didn’t reply,” said Erdogan.

Edogan’s comments came a week Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu first indicated that Turkey was to appeal the International Court of Justice in The Hague as soon as next week in order to probe the legality of Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, saying that Turkey could not “accept the blockade on Gaza.”

“We cannot say that the blockade aligns with international law,” he said, adding that the stance taken by the Palmer Commission Report was the author’s “personal opinion, one which does not correspond with Turkey’s position.”

Speaking in an interview with Turkish station TRT on Saturday, Davutoglu said that Ankara was preparing to appeal the international court in The Hague, reiterating the official Turkish position which rejects the finds of the Palmer Commission report.

He added that Ankara was planning to initiate the Hague appeal as soon as next week, saying: “We are bound by the International Court of Justice. We say that the ICJ decides.”

Erdogan: Turkish navy to protect Gaza aid September 9, 2011

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Turkish prime minister says he is
ready to deploy warships to accompany Gaza-bound vessels delivering humanitarian
aid.
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2011 08:07,

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies

Turkey’s naval forces would escort Turkish humanitarian aid ships bound for
the Gaza Strip, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister has said,
following Israel’s refusal to apologise for its deadly raid on an aid flotilla
heading to the besieged Palestinian territory in May 2010.

“We have humanitarian aid to be sent there. And our humanitarian aid will not
be attacked anymore, as happened to the Mavi Marmara,” he told the Al
Jazeera on Thursday.

“Turkish warships will be tasked with protecting the Turkish boats bringing
humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.”

Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, the ship which aimed to
break Israel’s naval blockade, and killed nine people – eight Turks and one US
citizen of Turkish origin – in international waters, causing a diplomatic row
between the two countries.

Erdogan also said that Turkey would closely monitor international waters and
had taken steps to prevent what he called Israel’s unilateral exploitation of
natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Responding to Erdogan’s interview, Dan Meridor, Israel’s intelligence
minister, told Israel army radio: “These remarks are grave and serious, but we
have no wish to add to the polemic.

“It is better to stay quiet and wait – we have no interest in aggravating the
situation by replying to such [verbal] attacks.”

Opposition critical

Turkey’s opposition too criticised Erdogan’s comments on Friday.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s
Party, said Turkey’s Red Crescent was already sending aid to Gaza without
breaching the blockade.

He called on Erdogan to “justify” in parliament the threats to send warships
to escort aid ships.

Turkish-Israeli relations hit a low last week after a UN report on the deadly
Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship said that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza
was legitimate but its raid on the flotilla trying to break the blockade was
“excessive and unreasonable.”

Turkey has since expelled top Israeli diplomats, cut military ties with the
country, pledged to lobby other nations in support of the Palestinians’
statehood bid at the UN in September and promised increased Turkish naval
patrols in the Mediterranean.

Israel has expressed regret for the loss of lives aboard the flotilla,
but has refused to apologise, saying its forces acted in self-defence.

Turkey, however, is still seeking an apology in order to normalise a
relationship once seen as a cornerstone of regional stability.

 

Turkey to Challenge Gaza Blockade at International Court of Justice September 4, 2011

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Published on Sunday, September 4, 2011 by The Guardian/UK

Turkish announcement appears to rebuff attempts by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon to end its row with Israel

  by David Batty and agencies

Turkey is to challenge Israel’s blockade on Gaza at the International Court of Justice, amid a worsening diplomatic crisis between the once close allies.

Turkey’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara would challenge the Gaza blockade at the International Court of Justice. (Photograph: AP)

The announcement by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu appears to rebuff UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s attempt to defuse the row over Israel’s armed assault on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in which nine people were killed.

Turkey dramatically downgraded its relations with Israel, cutting military ties with its former ally and expelling the country’s ambassador over his government’s refusal to apologise for the killings of eight Turkish citizens and a Turkish American last May.

Ban said today that the two countries should accept the recommendations of a UN report that examined the incident. The report found Israel had used “excessive and unreasonable” force to stop the flotilla approaching Gaza, but that it was justified in maintaining a naval blockade on the Palestinian enclave.

But Davutoglu later dismissed the report, stating it had not been endorsed by the UN and was therefore not binding.

“What is binding is the International Court of Justice,” he told Turkey’s state-run TRT television. “This is what we are saying: let the International Court of Justice decide.

“We are starting the necessary legal procedures this coming week.”

Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said his country had nothing to apologise for and accused Ankara of raising tensions for its own reasons.

“The problem here is on the Turkish side …. They were not ready for a compromise and kept raising the threshold,” Ayalon said on Israeli TV. “I think we need to say to the Turks: as far as we are concerned, this saga is behind us. Now we need to cooperate. Lack of cooperation harms not only us, but Turkey as well.”

The UN investigation, chaired by Geoffrey Palmer, a former New Zealand prime minister, focused on the events on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-flagged vessel which was the largest ship in a flotilla aimed at breaking the Gaza blockade, on 31 May last year. It was boarded by Israeli commandos who were met with resistance by spro-Palestinian activists on board, nine of whom died.

Davutoglu said the investigation contradicted an earlier report by the UN Human Rights Council in September, which found Israeli forces violated international law, “including international humanitarian and human rights law”.

He warned Israel that it risks alienation among Arab nations by resisting an apology.

“If Israel persists with its current position, the Arab spring will give rise to a strong Israel opposition, as well as the debate on the authoritarian regimes,” Davutoglu said.

The UN secretary general said earlier that strong ties between Turkey and Israel, which both share a border with Syria, were important for peace and stability in the Middle East. “I sincerely hope that Israel and Turkey will improve their relationship,” he added.

“Both countries are very important countries in the region, and their improved relationship will be very important in addressing all the situations in the Middle East, including the Middle East peace process.”

But Ban, speaking in Canberra on Saturday after talks with the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, would not be drawn on findings of the UN report on the flotilla incident last summer.

“I’m not in a position to say any specific comments on the substance of the findings and recommendations of the panel’s report,” he said.

“My only wish is that they should try to improve their relationship and do what they can to implement the recommendations and findings.”

Turkey said on Friday that the Israeli ambassador, Gabby Levy, and other senior Israeli diplomats would have to leave their posts by Wednesday and that Turkey’s representation in Israel would be downgraded to the junior level of second secretary.

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited

Washington Okays Attack on Unarmed U.S. Ship June 30, 2011

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Published on Thursday, June 30, 2011 by Foreign Policy in Focus

The Obama administration appears to have given a green light to an Israeli attack on an unarmed flotilla carrying peace and human rights activists — including a vessel with 50 Americans on board — bound for the besieged Gaza Strip. At a press conference on June 24, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Campaign by saying it would “provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”

Clinton did not explain why a country had “the right to defend themselves” against ships which are clearly no threat. Not only have organizers of the flotilla gone to great steps to ensure are there no weapons on board, the only cargo bound for Gaza on the U.S. ship are letters of solidarity to the Palestinians in that besieged enclave who have suffered under devastating Israeli bombardments, a crippling blockade, and a right-wing Islamist government. Nor did Clinton explain why the State Department suddenly considers the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of the port of Gaza to be “Israeli waters,” when the entire international community recognizes Israeli territorial waters as being well to the northeast of the ships’ intended route.

The risk of an Israeli attack on the flotilla is real. Israeli commandoes illegally assaulted a similar flotilla in international waters on May 31 of last year, killing nine people on board one of the vessels, including Furkan Dogan, a 19-year old U.S. citizen. Scores of others, including a number of Americans, were brutally beaten and more than a dozen others were shot but survived their wounds. According to a UN investigation, based on eyewitness testimony and analysis by a forensic pathologist and ballistic expert, Dogan was initially shot while filming the assault and then murdered while lying face down with a bullet shot at close range in the back of the head. The United States was the only one of the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council to vote against the adoption of the report. The Obama administration never filed a complaint with the Israeli government, demonstrating its willingness to allow the armed forces of U.S. allies to murder U.S. citizens on the high seas.

As indicated by Clinton’s statement of last week, the administration appears to be willing to let it happen again.

Congressional Response

Last year, 329 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter that referred to Israel’s attack that killed Dogan and the others as an act of “self-defense” which they “strongly support.” A Senate letter — signed by 87 out of 100 senators — went on record “fully” supporting what it called “Israel’s right to self-defense,” claiming that the effort to relieve critical shortages of food and medicine in the besieged Gaza Strip was simply part of a “clever tactical and diplomatic ploy” by “Israel’s opponents” to “challenge its international standing.”

But not everyone in Congress believes the assaulting and killing human rights activists on the high seas is legitimate. Last week, on June 24, six members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary Clinton requesting that she “do everything in her power to work with the Israeli government to ensure the safety of the U.S. citizens on board.” As of this writing, they have not received a response.

Earlier in the week, the State Department issued a public statement to discourage Americans from taking part in the second Gaza flotilla because they might be attacked by Israeli forces. Yet thus far neither the State Department nor the White House has issued a public statement demanding that Israel not attack Americans legally traveling in international waters. Indeed, on Friday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland implied that the United States would blame those taking part in the flotilla rather than the rightist Israeli government should anything happen to them. Like those in the early 1960s who claimed civil rights protesters were responsible for the attacks by white racist mobs because they had “provoked them,” Nuland stated, Groups that seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers.” Again, The Obama administration didn’t offer even one word encouraging caution or restraint by the Israeli government, nor did it mention that the International Red Cross and other advocates of international humanitarian law recognize that the Israeli blockade is illegal.

Who’s On Board

Passengers of the U.S. boat, christened The Audacity of Hope, include celebrated novelist Alice Walker, holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, veteran foreign service officer and retired lieutenant colonel Ann Wright, Israeli-American linguistics professor Hagit Borer, and prominent peace and human rights activists like Medea Benjamin, Robert Naiman, Steve Fake, and Kathy Kelly. Ten other boats are carrying hundreds of other civilians from dozens of other countries, along with nearly three thousand tons of aid. Those on board include members of national parliaments and other prominent political figures, writers, artists, clergy from various faith traditions, journalists, and athletes.

Fifteen ships have previously sailed or attempted to sail to Gaza as part of the Free Gaza Campaign. None was found to contain any weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes. The current flotilla organizers have stated that their cargoes are “open to international inspection.” Despite this, however, the Obama State Department insists that the Israelis have the right to intercept the ships due to the “vital importance to Israel’s security of ensuring that all cargo bound for Gaza is appropriately screened for illegal arms and dual-use materials.”

Though the flotilla organizers have made clear that the U.S. boat is only carrying letters of support for the people of Gaza, the State Department has also threatened participants with “fines and incarceration” if they attempt to provide “material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas.”

As with many actions supporting Palestinian rights, the coalition of groups endorsing the flotilla includes  pro-Palestinian groups as well as peace, human rights, religious, pacifist and liberal organizations, including Progressive Democrats of America, Pax Christi, Peace Action, Nonviolence International, Jewish Voice for Peace, War Resisters League, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Despite this, Brad Sherman (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, has claimed that organizers of the flotilla have “clear terrorist ties” and has called upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute U.S. citizens involved with the flotilla and ban foreign participants from ever entering the United States.

Israel’s Position

Largely as a result of last year’s flotilla, Israel has somewhat relaxed its draconian siege on the territory, which had resulted in a major public health crisis. The State Department has gone to some lengths to praise Israel for allowing some construction material into the Gaza Strip to make possible the rebuilding of some of the thousands of homes, businesses and public facilities destroyed in Israel’s devastating U.S.-backed 2008-2009 military offensive, which resulted in the deaths of over 800 civilians. At no point, however, has the Obama administration ever criticized Israel for destroying those civilian structures in the first place.

As with many potentially confrontational nonviolent direct actions, there are genuine differences within the peace and human rights community regarding the timing, the nature, and other aspects of the forthcoming flotilla. However, the response to the Obama administration’s position on the flotilla has been overwhelmingly negative. Many among his progressive base, already disappointed at his failure to take a tougher line against the rightist Israeli government as well as his reluctance to embrace human rights and international law as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian peace, feel increasingly alienated from the president.

More significantly, the Obama administration’s response may signal a return to the Reagan administration’s policies of defending the killing of U.S. human rights workers in order to discourage grassroots acts of international solidarity, as when Reagan officials sought to blame the victims and exonerate the perpetrators for the murder of four American churchwomen by the El Salvadoran junta and the murder of American engineer Ben Linder by the Nicaraguan Contras. Perhaps the Obama administration hopes that giving a green light to an Israeli attack on the U.S. ship and other vessels in the flotilla will serve as a warning. Perhaps they hope that Americans volunteering for groups like Peace Brigades International, Witness for Peace, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Christian Peacemaker Teams, International Solidarity Movement, and other groups operating in conflict zones like Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Nepal, Indonesia and elsewhere will think twice, knowing that the U.S. government will not live up to its obligations to try to protect nonviolent U.S. activists from violence perpetrated by allied governments.

Indeed, nothing frightens a militaristic state more than the power of nonviolent action.

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Stephen Zunes

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a contributing editor of Tikkun. His most recent book, co-authored with Jacob Mundy, is Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution (Syracuse University Press, 2010.)

Alice Walker: Why I’m Joining the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza June 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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The Guardian / By
Alice Walker

Pulitzer prize-winning writer Alice Walker is on board an
international flotilla of boats sailing to Gaza to challenge the Israeli
blockade.

June 26, 2011  |

//

Photo Credit:
AFP

Why am I going on the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza? I ask myself this, even
though the answer is: what else would I do? I am in my 67th year, having lived
already a long and fruitful life, one with which I am content. It seems to me
that during this period of eldering it is good to reap the harvest of one’s
understanding of what is important, and to share this, especially with the
young. How are they to learn, otherwise?

Our boat, The Audacity of Hope, will be carrying letters to the people
of Gaza. Letters expressing solidarity and love. That is all its cargo will
consist of. If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked
the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history. But if
they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us, as they did some of
the activists in the last flotilla, Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done?

There
is a scene in the movie Gandhi that is very moving to me: it is when the unarmed
Indian protesters line up to confront the armed forces of the British Empire.
The soldiers beat them unmercifully, but the Indians, their broken and dead
lifted tenderly out of the fray, keep coming.

Alongside
this image of brave followers of Gandhi there is, for me, an awareness of paying
off a debt to the Jewish civil rights activists who faced death to come to the
side of black people in the American south in our time of need. I am especially
indebted to Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman who heard our calls for
help – our government then as now glacially slow in providing protection
to non-violent protesters – and came to stand with us.

They
got as far as the truncheons and bullets of a few “good ol’ boys'” of Neshoba
County, Mississippi and were beaten and shot to death along with James Chaney, a
young black man of formidable courage who died with them. So, even though our
boat will be called The Audacity of Hope, it will fly the Goodman, Chaney,
Schwerner flag in my own heart.

And
what of the children of Palestine, who were ignored in our president’s latest
speech on Israel and Palestine, and
whose impoverished, terrorised, segregated existence was mocked by the standing
ovations recently given in the US Congress to the prime minister of Israel?

I
see children, all children, as humanity’s most precious resource, because it
will be to them that the care of the planet will always be left. One child must
never be set above another, even in casual conversation, not to mention in
speeches that circle the globe.

As
adults, we must affirm, constantly, that the Arab child, the Muslim child, the
Palestinian child, the African child, the Jewish child, the Christian child, the
American child, the Chinese child, the Israeli child, the Native American child,
etc, is equal to all others on the planet. We must do everything in our power to
cease the behaviour that makes children everywhere feel afraid.

I
once asked my best friend and husband during the era of segregation, who was as
staunch a defender of black people’s human rights as anyone I’d ever met: how
did you find your way to us, to black people, who so needed you? What force
shaped your response to the great injustice facing people of colour of that
time?

I
thought he might say it was the speeches, the marches, the example of Martin
Luther King Jr, or of others in the movement who exhibited impactful courage and
grace. But no. Thinking back, he recounted an episode from his childhood that
had led him, inevitably, to our struggle.

He
was a little boy on his way home from yeshiva, the Jewish school he attended
after regular school let out. His mother, a bookkeeper, was still at work; he
was alone. He was frequently harassed by older boys from regular school, and one
day two of these boys snatched his yarmulke (skull cap), and, taunting him, ran
off with it, eventually throwing it over a fence.

Two
black boys appeared, saw his tears, assessed the situation, and took off after
the boys who had taken his yarmulke. Chasing the boys down and catching them,
they made them climb the fence, retrieve and dust off the yarmulke, and place it
respectfully back on his head.

It
is justice and respect that I want the world to dust off and put – without
delay, and with tenderness – back on the head of the Palestinian child. It
will be imperfect justice and respect because the injustice and disrespect have
been so severe. But I believe we are right to try.

That
is why I sail.

The
Chicken Chronicles: A Memoir by Alice Walker is
published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. A longer version of this article appears
on Alice Walker’s blog:
alicewalkersgarden.com/blog

U.S., Israel escalate threats against flotilla, including U.S. citizens June 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Monday, Jun 27, 2011 08:28 ET

 

                                                     AP
This May 31, 2010 photo shows the Mavi Marmara ship, the lead boat of a flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip, which was stormed by Israeli naval commandos in a predawn confrontation last year.

(updated below)

A co-founder of the right-wing blog RedState (and former Bush speechwriter) created a mini-controversy over the weekend when he issued a sociopathic endorsement of Israel’s possible shooting of his fellow unarmed citizens on a flotilla currently sailing to Gaza; that flotilla is trying to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gazans and protest the ongoing Israeli blockade:

 

When asked by Israeli-American journalist Joseph Dana — who is covering the flotilla for The Nation — whether that sentiment applies to the shooting of journalists on board the ships, this was the reply:

 

Condemnation of this outburst was pervasive but also easy: cheering for a foreign army to shoot unarmed protesters — one’s fellow citizens — is self-evidently warped; that this came from a right-wing war-cheerleader-from-a-safe-distance with endless pretenses to uber-patriotism just added a layer of irony (Dear Foreign Nation: go ahead and shoot and kill Americans).

But over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also gave her views on the flotilla, and while her rhetoric was somewhat more restrained than that quoted above, she also seemed to endorse possible violence by this foreign nation against her own country’s peacefully protesting citizens:

Well, we do not believe that the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza. Just this week, the Israeli Government approved a significant commitment to housing in Gaza. There will be construction materials entering Gaza and we think that it’s not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.

 

Though Clinton’s language was draped with the subtleties of diplomatese, there is little doubt that she, too, is justifying a potential attack by a foreign government on unarmed American protesters (ironically, Clinton’s remarks came at the same Press Conference where she impugned the patriotism of others — namely, critics of the Libya War — by branding them as “on Gadaffi’s side”).

The perception that Clinton endorsed possible Israeli violence against Americans is bolstered by the conduct of the U.S. Government in the wake of Israel’s attack on the prior Gaza flotilla, when Israel killed 9 people, including the unarmed 19-year-old American citizen (and Turkish citizen) Furkan Dogan.  While most governments instinctively condemn the killing of their own unarmed citizens by foreign armies — Turkey was furious at Israel for months and world leaders in virtual consensus harshly condemned the Israeli aggression — the Obama administration almost immediately took Israel’s side, culminating with Joe Biden’s disgusting rhetorical question, posed before the American teenager was even buried: “what’s the big deal here”?

Worse, the Clinton State Department is now explicitly threatening Americans who participate in the flotilla with criminal prosecution (h/t Jason Ditz):

The United States on Friday warned activists against plans to send a new aid flotilla to challenge Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, saying it would be irresponsible and dangerous. . . . “We underscore that delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas, could violate U.S. civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration,” [State Department Spokesperson Victoria] Nuland said.

 

In contrast to the Israel-must-always-be-defended mindset of U.S. political officials, compare how other governments view the possible shooting of their citizens by a foreign country:

As the second “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” gets ready to sail this week, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore urged Israel to avoid any repeat of last year’s actions against the convoy, Irish media reported Sunday.

“Israel must exercise all possible restraint and avoid any use of military force if attempting to uphold their naval blockade,” Gilmore, who also holds the post of trade minister, said after meeting with Israeli Ambassador to Dublin Boaz Moda.

“In particular, I would expect that any interception of ships is conducted in a peaceful manner and does not endanger the safety of our citizens or other participants,” he added, reiterating the country’s position that the Gaza blockade was “unjust and counterproductive'” and that the violence that marked last year’s flotilla venture was “completely unacceptable and unjustified.”

 

That type of uncontroversial statement — you shouldn’t shoot our unarmed citizens — is inconceivable when it comes to the U.S. and Israel.  So devoted is the U.S. Government to defending the actions of Israel’s that it will even preemptively justify violent attacks on its own citizens, threaten Americans protesting Israel’s policies with prosecution for aiding Terrorism, and isolate itself from the world to defend them.

Meanwhile, like the U.S., Israel is issuing its own menacing threats.  Yesterday, Israel announced that any journalists who are on the flotilla merely to cover it will be subject to a 10-year-ban from the country and the confiscation of their equipment. As noted this morning by the New York Times — one of whose reporters intends (or at least intended) to be on the flotilla — this is but the latest Israeli attack on press freedoms as a means of suppressing reports and examination of their conduct:

Two and a half years ago, when Israel invaded Gaza to stop Hamas from shooting rockets at Israeli communities — about 8,000 had been fired — the Israeli military barred reporters from entering Gaza to report on the war.

There was no public outcry, but the Foreign Press Association took the case to the Israeli Supreme Court, which ruled that the army had acted improperly. It ordered the army to admit a small groups of reporters. Commanders kept saying that it was unsafe, and it was not until the last day of the war that the foreign journalists were allowed to enter.

 

Israel did the same thing in the wake of the last flotilla attack, confiscating all video and other evidence from passengers and detaining on-board journalists, all to prevent the world from learning what it really did, ensuring that the heavily edited propaganda video the IDF produced and released to the world could not be critically examined. It’s strange that a country which incessantly claims that it acted properly is so fixated on suppressing journalistic freedoms and reports about what it did. And one thing is certain: if Israel does make good on its threats to violently attack protesting passengers and/or punish journalists for covering the event, the U.S. — even as it lectures the world on the evils of identical behavior — will have nothing but praise to offer.

 

UPDATE:  Israel now appears to be backing away from its threat to impose a 10-year ban on journalists, instead announcing it will “find a formula” to determine the proper sanction (h/t sysprog).  What’s most remarkable about all of this is that this flotilla (like the last one) has no intention of entering Israeli waters, nor is it delivering anything other than basic humanitarian supplies.  It is, manifestly, a theatrical, non-threatening form of peaceful protest against the blockade. Yet Israeli and U.S. officials continue to bloviate about “self-defense,” “entering into Israeli waters,” and criminally aiding Hamas; all of that is nothing more than a by-product of the notion that they own the world, and anyone who fails to honor that claim is either a Terrorist-sympathizer or even a Terrorist.

Setting Sail for Gaza, Armed with Love Letters and a Missive from Dr. King June 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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“Instead of demanding safe passage for unarmed U.S. citizens participating in what passenger and writer Alice Walker calls the Freedom Ride of our era,” the State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner has labeled our actions “irresponsible and provocative” and the U.S. government has joined Israel in strong-arming countries in the Mediterranean to prevent us from sailing.”
Published on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

“I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him,” said Dr. Martin Luther King as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. These words will guide me and other passengers aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a fleet of nine boats scheduled to set sail for Gaza on June 25 from various Mediterranean ports. While the Israelis try to label us provocateurs, terrorists and Hamas supporters, we are simply nonviolent advocates following the teachings of Dr. King. We refuse to sit at the docks of history and watch the people of Gaza suffer.

The U.S. boat, which will carry 50 Americans, is called The Audacity of Hope. It is named after Obama’s bestselling political autobiography in which he lauds our collective audacity of striving to become a better nation. But I prefer to think of our boat as part of Dr. King’s legacy. He, too, talked about audacity, about his audacious faith in the future. “I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him,” Dr. King said.

Our intrepid group has its moral compass aimed at the way things ought to be. Our cargo is not humanitarian aid, as some of the other ships are carrying, but thousands of letters from the U.S. people, letters of compassion, solidarity and hope written to people living in the Gaza Strip. We travel with what Dr. King called “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

We focus on Gaza because since 2007 the Israeli government has enforced a crippling blockade on its 1.5 million residents. Inflicting collective punishment on civilians is morally wrong and is a gross violation of international humanitarian law under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Yet the world’s democracies do nothing to stop Israel’s extraordinarily cruel behavior, and in fact did nothing for 22 days in 2009 while the Israel military unleashed a tidal wave of carnage that left 1,400 Palestinians dead. They continue to sit by while the people of Gaza remain isolated and unable to secure access to building materials and basic living supplies, and while Israeli soldiers shoot at Gaza’s farmers trying to till their land along the border and attack fisherman trying to make a living in waters off their shore. And in the case of the United States, our government is not simply sitting by, but supporting the Israeli military with $3 billion in military aid a year.

Bonus Photo - Gaza Demo

The Palestinians’ plea for help has been ignored by world governments, but it has pricked the conscience of civil society. Caravans have crisscrossed Europe and Africa, carrying tons of aid. Boats have braved Israeli war ships and tried to dock in Gaza’s ports. Over 1,000 people joined the Gaza Freedom March, an attempt to break the siege that was brutally stopped by Egyptian police during the rule of Hosni Mubarak.

In May, 2010, seven ships and nearly 700 passengers carrying humanitarian aid tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade. The Israeli military violently intercepted the ships, killing nine passengers aboard the Turkish boat, including a 19-year-old American citizen. The rest of passengers were roughed up, arrested, thrown in Israeli prisons, and deported.

For a brief moment, this tragedy in international waters focused the world spotlight on Gaza. Israel said it would ease the draconian siege, allowing more goods to enter the beleaguered strip. But just this month, the health authorities in Gaza proclaimed a state of emergency due to an acute shortage of vital medicines and also this month, a report from the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA, found unemployment in Gaza at a staggering 45.2 percent, among the highest in the world. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the number of abject poor living on just over one dollar a day has tripled to 300,000 since the blockade was imposed in 2007. “It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution,” Gunness said.

Hopes inside Gaza were buoyed by the Egyptian revolution. A groundswell of grassroots solidarity by Egyptians pushed the new government to announce that it would open its border with Gaza. But that promise remains elusive, asthousands are still blocked from crossing, and all imports and exports must still pass through the Israeli side. Israel remains the warden for the world’s largest open-air prison. It continues to decide what goods can enter, what exports can come out, and which people can get exit visas. It continues to control Gaza’s electricity, water supply, airspace and access to the Mediterranean.

Although the Israelis know that our boats will not carry arms and we, the passengers, are committed to nonviolence, they have nonetheless vowed to stop us with a dizzying array of force—water cannons, commandos, border police, snipers, and attack dogs from the military’s canine unit.

Equally astonishing is the U.S. government’s reaction. Instead of demanding safe passage for unarmed U.S. citizens participating in what passenger and writer Alice Walker calls the Freedom Ride of our era,” the State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner has labeled our actions “irresponsible and provocative” and the U.S. government has joined Israel in strong-arming countries in the Mediterranean to prevent us from sailing.

This pressure is having an impact. At the urging of the Turkish government, our flagship, the Mavi Marmara, the same ship that was so violently attacked last year, recently announced that it will not be joining the flotilla. The Mavi Marmara was going to carry 500 people; its absence cuts our numbers in half. And there may be more ships forced to drop out.

All this bullying, however, only strengthens our resolve. We may be fewer boats, we may have fewer passengers, we may be threatened with violence, but we will sail. And if the Israelis intercept our boats, we call on people around the world to gather at Israeli embassies and consulates to express their outrage.

Like the inexorable rhythm of the ocean, the Palestinians will continue to lap at the shores of injustice. They will keep coming back, wave after wave, demanding the right to rebuild their tattered communities, the right to live in dignity. Shoring them up will be the international community, including activists like us who join their nonviolent resistance. The real question is: How long will the Israelis, with U.S. backing, continue to swim against the tide?

 

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org) is cofounder of Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org) and CODEPINK: Women for Peace (www.codepinkalert.org). She is author of Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart.

US Boat to Gaza Is a Quarter Jewish – “Not Too Shabby!” June 7, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Uncategorized.
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Hedy Epstein is an 86-year-old US Boat to Gaza passenger whose parents died in the Holocaust. (Photo: marx21de)

Tuesday 7 June 2011
by: Robert Naiman, Truthout

Editor’s Note: Robert Naiman will be a passenger aboard the Audacity of Hope boat, which sets sail for Gaza this month. – ms/TO

According to The New York Times, a quarter of the passengers on the upcoming US Boat to Gaza are Jewish.

What does it mean that the US Boat to Gaza is a quarter Jewish? According to the noted American Jewish commentator Adam Sandler, a quarter Jewish is “not too shabby!” Maybe the US Boat to Gaza will be mentioned in Adam’s next Hanukkah song.

What does it mean that the US Boat to Gaza is a quarter Jewish? Maybe it means that the Israeli authorities will have some compunction about shooting up our boat. After all, isn’t the official story of Zionism all about making a “safe harbor” for Jews in Palestine? We’re not trying to make aliyah. We just want to visit. Should we be shot for trying to do so? Wouldn’t it be a mitzvah to let us pass unharmed?

What does it mean that the US Boat to Gaza is a quarter Jewish? Maybe it means that we can openly contest a construction of Jewish identity based on supporting the obstruction of Palestinian freedom, with a Jewish counter-narrative of universal human liberation.

US Boat to Gaza passenger Hedy Epstein, an 86-year-old whose parents died in the Holocaust, told The New York Times,

“The American Jewish community and Israel both say that they speak for all Jews. They don’t speak for me. They don’t speak for the Jews in this country who are going to be on the US boat and the many others standing behind us.”

Of course, in referring to “the American Jewish community,” Hedy meant organizations commonly presented in the media as representing American Jews on the question of Palestine, even though the leadership of these institutions isn’t elected by American Jews as a whole and even though key policies that these institutions support, such as Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and opposition to Israel’s internationally-recognized 1967 borders being the basis of a peace deal, don’t represent the opinions of the majority of American Jews.

In a March 2009 poll commissioned by J Street, 60 percent of American Jews opposed Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, 76 percent supported a peace agreement on the 1967 borders with negotiated land swaps (the position recently articulated by President Obama) and 69 percent supported the US working with a unified Fatah-Hamas Palestinian Authority government to achieve a peace agreement with Israel.

To act as if Bibi Netanyahu has been anointed to speak for all Jews on the question of Palestine is preposterous. Even Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad, has said that Israel’s top leaders lack judgment and has criticized the Israeli government for failing to put forward a peace initiative with the Palestinians and for ignoring the Saudi peace initiative promising full diplomatic relations in exchange for a return to the 1967 border lines, as The New York Times noted last week.

In the 2009 poll, 65 percent of American Jews agreed with the statement,

Israel has the right to defend itself, but it must also take into account humanitarian considerations and avoid collective punishment of the entire Palestinian population by closing the borders and causing major civilian hardship.

I have previously noted that in challenging the blockade of Gaza, we are acting consistently with the policy advocated by President Obama in June 2010 when he said that external restrictions on Gaza’s travel and commerce should be “focusing narrowly on arms shipments” rather than a general blockade of goods and persons, to which some exceptions are permitted.

But we are also acting consistently with the policy advocated by 65 percent of American Jews in March 2009: no to “collective punishment of the entire Palestinian population.”

It will be a great day when the opinions of the majority of American Jews matter more than the tired right-wing slogans recycled to try to maintain the destructive status quo. Letting our peaceful boat reach Gaza unmolested would be a great place to start. If you agree, tell Secretary of State Clinton, whose job duties include the protection of Americans traveling abroad.

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