Get on the boat

Toufic Haddad, a Palestinian-American writer and researcher based in Jerusalem and author of Between the Lines: Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S. “War on Terror”, calls for a renewed commitment to the struggle to stop Israel’s war on the Palestinians.

June 1, 2010

AS I write these lines, BBC Arabic language radio is reporting that upwards of 19 people were killed when Israeli commandoes stormed the Mavi Marmara–one of six ships in an international flotilla carrying peace activists who were trying to bring humanitarian aid and supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip.

Ten thousand tons of aid had been collected over recent months and was finally on its way to Gaza, accompanied by more than 700 activists from 40 countries. Among the activists was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a former U.S. ambassador, a former U.S. Congresswoman, members of European, Turkish and Arab parliaments, an 85-year old Holocaust survivor, and hundreds of other Palestinian solidarity activists, determined to break Israel’s barbaric siege on Gaza.

Though details are still sketchy about precisely what took place on the high seas, it appears that Israel attacked the flotilla more than 60 miles off the coast of Gaza–well in international waters–in the middle of the night, using naval gunships, attack helicopters and armed commando units. It also appears that the passengers on the flotilla attempted to resist the Israeli assault with the limited means at their disposal.

The fact of the matter is that Israel has taken over all the evidence from the crime scene, as well as arrested all independent voices who can attest to what took place there.

In the hours and days to come, we will certainly begin to hear the script of an Israeli narrative that declares that the use of force was justified. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has already made a statement this morning in which he described the flotilla as “an armada of hate,” whose organizers have connections with global jihad and al-Qaeda.

Israel’s absurd narrative is expected. They have just killed more than a dozen internationals (possibly some of whom are their own citizens), and used unconscionable force against activists dedicated to a humanitarian cause. For years, people like United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay have called Israel’s blockade against Gaza “illegal.” Figures like South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu have gone further, designating it “an abomination” that is “worse than [South African] apartheid.”

The world can now see that Israel doesn’t hesitate to use lethal force against unarmed demonstrators, and blames the spilled blood on the victims themselves in the name of Israeli self-defense. On previous occasions, the script for these scenarios portrayed Israel up against the caricature of Arab Muslim terrorists (who, in truth, was a dark-skinned, non-English-speaking, poor Palestinian refugee child). Today, it’s the same script, only the perpetrators are ‘radical’ leftists, Islamists and anti-Semites from around the world.

Any way you look at it, Israel and its motivating ideology of Zionism are sociopathic. This should surprise no one.

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IN ITS desire to solve the genuine question of Jewish persecution in Europe, Zionism preferred the establishment of an exclusivist Jewish state in Palestine, using racist settler colonial means to achieve this end, over a joint struggle against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism.

As an extension of this mentality, Israel has ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland, killed thousands of Arabs in its periodic wars against them, conducted countless acts of imprisonment, torture, piracy and sabotage, and, to boot, developed nuclear weapons that have already led to an arms race throughout the region.

But now is not the time to analyze Israel’s psycho-pathology, nor its past and present crimes. It is time to ask why Israel, its crimes and its racist nature have been tolerated and supported by liberal Western democracies for so long.

To begin answering this question is to journey into the failures of the modern world order, its double standards and its rote dehumanization of Israel’s Arab victims as though they do not belong to the human race.

For years, Western governments have supported Israel because it does the West’s bidding in the region in repressing democracy and other movements that threaten Western hegemony over this geo-strategic region. No matter how ugly Israel’s crimes, Western capitalism needs it because Israel remains the West’s most dependable ally (whoever wins its elections), given its state of utter dependency upon Western military, financial and diplomatic aid. No Arab dictatorship is that dependable, no matter how pro-U.S. they are.

The Palestinian and Arab people are the ones to pay this price tag. What is happening in Palestine is a crime. Israel currently engages in occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid wrapped into one, and has enjoyed unchallenged immunity from Western governments in doing so, especially the U.S. government, which funds it to the tune of $3 billion annually.

Furthermore, what is happening in Gaza is genocidal, as 1.5 million Palestinians languish in an open-air prison, barely able to feed or shelter themselves from the elements because Israel prevents concrete and steel reinforcement bars from entering the strip. A May 19 press release by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza–the most reliable human rights source in Palestine–noted that 110 types of medication and 123 types of medical supplies are out of stock at health facilities in the Gaza Strip because of Israel’s blockade.

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THE GAZA Freedom Flotilla represented the culmination of a rising tide of international solidarity activists who have come to understand what is happening in Palestine, and Gaza in particular. They consciously modeled themselves on the noble traditions of nonviolent direct action in challenging an unjust and inhumane situation.

Like the freedom riders who dared to travel to the American South to challenge segregation and the non-implementation of U.S. laws against it, the Gaza flotilla believed in the elementary human value of the right to support and defend a civilian population from Israeli barbarism, and to affirm the noblest of human values of solidarity and equality. They also had the courage to challenge the world’s duplicity about who is entitled to human rights, democracy and the right to resist their occupiers.

Israel’s blockade could not exist were it not for the complicity of many a Western and Arab government, which support Israel’s strangulation of Gaza and the suppression of Palestinian rights in general.

The world does not need another United Nations resolution condemning Israeli violations of human rights as has happened in the past and is likely to happen again here, too. There are already hundreds of such resolutions piled up in the archives of the United Nations in New York and Geneva, collecting dust.

The problem is not the lack of resolutions in the Palestinians’ favor, but the lack of a sufficiently strong movement which can translate these rights into action and genuine power. A movement which can end U.S. and Western financial and military support of Israeli apartheid, which can educate the world about the travesty of Palestine today, and which can build a Palestine based upon equality and justice instead of Israeli Jewish exclusivity and privilege.

Let the blood of the martyrs of the Gaza Freedom flotilla begin and accelerate this process. The movement to boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) Israel is the best starting point for this to take place.

The BDS movement is based upon a 2005 call by all sectors of Palestinian civil society to encourage people to take action until Israel abides by international law–specifically, the demands to bring about full equality between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israeli Jews; a full end to the brutal Israeli occupation; and the recognition and implementation of the right to return of Palestinian refugees who were displaced by Israel and prevented from returning home.

The BDS movement is a people’s initiative, based upon both consumer and worker-end boycotts of Israeli goods and services, while asking people to deprive Israel of the immunity it has enjoyed while committing its crimes. It consciously models itself upon the same movement which helped defeat apartheid in South Africa, and which is growing in pace and strength in Palestine and beyond today.

Its key is that it is not waiting for governments and higher bodies to take action, but instead is building the grassroots networks capable of imposing the will of the people on their governments and Israel together. If workers throughout the world refused to handle Israeli products at every link in the chain of their existence, the oxygen that sustains Israeli apartheid would be gravely weakened.

This is where emphasis needs to be placed now–as the best way to break the Gaza siege, as the best way to persist in the spirit of the martyrs of Palestine and the Gaza flotilla, and as the shortest way to bringing about justice and liberation for Palestine and its people.

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