"Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us."
- Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967
- Me, January 19, 2009
If the much sought-after hope was finally affirmed on November 4, 2008, then surely the much-needed change is now just a day away. As George W. Bush makes a final pillow fort in the Lincoln Bedroom, giggles nostalgically whilst making some farewell fart noises with his hands in the Polk Bathroom, and orders a final decrusted PB&J from the Taft Kitchen, the rest of the country - if not the whole world - is eagerly anticipating a welcome return to reality after a surely surreal eight years.
Much ado has been made of Inauguration Day this time around and for good reason. There is certainly something to celebrate tomorrow. Yes, this is history. A sing-along concert replete with celebrities and rockstars was held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on Sunday. The timing, location, and occasion made the unmistakable connection - loudly, clearly, and deliberately - between the inspiration, influence, eloquence, and eminence of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the achievement, significance, confidence, and expectations of Barack Obama.
But while every media outlet, teary eyed pundit, sanctimonious blogger, and enthusiastic barista is all atingle with thoughts of peace, justice, and the first even moderately dark-skinned President, something seems amiss.
If Dr. King were still with us, if that April night in Memphis had been balmy rather than deadly, would he have supported Mr. Obama during his campaign for President? Would Dr. King approve of Barack's cabinet appointments, of his foreign policy advisers, of his bellicose posturing and aggressive threats, of his goals of increasing the size of the military, of "keeping all options on the table"?
On April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in Manhattan, exactly one year to the day before his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech entitled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" that resonates as loudly now as it did then - he dissented against America's imperial operations and foreign wars, challenged the citizens of the country he worked so hard to improve to protest the brutal actions of their government. He implored us all to stand with the oppressed, to side with the dispossessed, the exploited, the terrorized and the terrified, to challenge the hegemony and awesome power of the wealthy warmongers who send our sons and daughters to die for holographic ideologies, for dividends and assets, for, in King's own words, "the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long." This same arrogance, King said, explained the patronizing Western belief "that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them."
Dr. King, who devoted his life to the pursuit of justice, peace, civil and human rights, railed against America's then current aggression in Vietnam, accusing the US government of being "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" and speaking out in the name of the "hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence." He made clear, though, that "the war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit." He was right, of course, as this violence of ours has grown exponentially in the four decades since King's oration and the new Obama Administration shows no sign of changing course.
Is this a time of great optimism and hope or an opportunity to reaffirm and reorganize the struggle for true justice? Perhaps it is both. The stirring words of Dr. King are more relevant now than ever:
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on..." We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
Much speculation has been made about President Obama's inauguration speech tomorrow. Will he emulate Lincoln and King, Kennedy and Roosevelt? Personally, I think he should pay special attention to this 1967 Riverside Church speech and repeat Dr. King's prescient and timely words, "It should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war."
Obama ran a campaign and won an election on the promise of ending the brutal occupation of Iraq. Yet, for the past four years in the US Senate, he has consistently voted to fund and prolong this very occupation. He has no intention of removing all US personnel from Iraq, reserves the right of the United States to strike "enemy combatants" any time and anywhere, and has said nothing of dismantling the more than 700 military bases the US maintains in over 100 foreign countries. In addition, he has promised to send 30,000 more US soldiers to Afghanistan, almost doubling the 32,000 troops that are already there. He has affirmed his approval of cross-border attacks in Pakistan. He threatens the governments and people of Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine with extreme violence for not cowing to American dominance and hegemony. This is no path to peace or reconciliation. So what will Obama bring to the world? He has spoken often of resurrecting the sullied reputation of this country, the theoretical reputation of goodness, virtue, and honor that this country has never truly stood for nor sought to impress upon others (least of all ourselves), except through the business end of a bayonet, M16, or Apache helicopter.
Dr. King asked us, "Is our nation planning to build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new violence?"
This very year, the military budget of the United States will surpass $1 trillion, making it the largest ever recorded. This year, the federal government will spend more on nuclear weaponry than our primary education system. In this time of great economic crisis, where will the money required to care for the poor and the needy come from? Again, forty years ago, Dr. King warned us all, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
So, whose side will Obama be on? Will he restore the rule of law and respect for the Constitution? Will he close Gitmo and free its kidnapped hostages? Will he bring the criminals who approved torture and the monsters who committed it to justice, knowing full well that the prosecution of war crimes is not a partisan witch-hunt or political maneuvering? Will he invoke the phony "War On Terror" in order to continue a destructive imperial project? Will he continue to remain silent about the Israeli genocide of Palestinians in Gaza, the racist and dehumanizing apartheid system in the West Bank, and the murder of Oscar Grant by a police officer in Oakland, because these topics are politically inconvenient?
"This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers," King said.
And Obama should listen.
For the soldiers sent to kill and die for empire, King said, "We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved...The more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor."
He spoke against militarism and dehumanization, saying, "the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence" is that "it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition." Through empathy and reflection, King explained, we may begin "to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy."
We must make strong demands of our new President. We must demand that the era of American aggression come to an end. We must demand that our troops be immediately withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. We must be assured that our military will not attack or invade any other countries. We must demand that our government adhere to international law and act as an equal member of the world community. We must demand that our country respect our privacy and human rights. We must demand that we not be wire-tapped or spied upon. We must be assured that our country does not torture and that those who do will face the harshest of consequences. We must demand that our country provide its citizens with health care, education, and employment. We must demand an end to the $30 billion in financial aid and military support that this country will provide to Israel over the next decade, money that will be used to further subjugate the Palestinian people and destroy all possibility of a just and lasting peace.
Dr. King warned us that "if we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."
On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama told the American people who had just elected him the 44th President of the United States, "This is your victory...This is our moment."
Forty-one years and seven months earlier, with the prescience of a prophet, Martin Luther King, Jr. continued:
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -- but beautiful -- struggle for a new world...Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
If Dr. King's beautiful dream, even in part, has been realized here in the United States, it is our duty here and now - and indeed it is the responsibility of the President we have elected, the leader who represents us all, the man we have selected to speak our words and wishes to the world - to know and to acknowledge that Americans are not the only ones with dreams. Afghans have dreams. Iraqis have dreams. Iranians have dreams. Lebanese have dreams. Syrians have dreams. Venezuelans, Cubans, and Bolivians have dreams. Today, as a result of the recent Israeli violence, there are now 1300 fewer Palestinian dreamers than there were three weeks ago.
These are dreams without violent invasions and foreign intervention, check points and separation walls, cluster bombs and white phosphorus, watchtowers and waterboarding, air strikes and Humvee convoys; these are dreams without threatening leaflets and bunker busters falling from the sky, without flak jackets and night-vision goggles, without bombed schools and broken levees, without FEMA trailers and refugee camps, without oil profits and no-bid contracts, without Blackwater and Halliburton, without body counts, death tolls, and collateral damage.
In his final book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, written in 1967, Dr. King writes: "Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten....America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness - justice."
This emphasis on justice may be lost on the incoming President, his retinue of Washington insiders, ardent Zionists, career militarists, and his coterie of armchair imperialists, bloated businessmen, and converted neoconservatives.
But the rebranding of American Empire will not signal the surrender of a global movement for peace and justice. Dr. King, as usual, spoke for all of us when he said, on that Spring day on the Upper West Side,
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now...I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted...I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours...These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
And we will protest.
We will dissent, we will disrupt.
We will object conscientiously and disobey civilly.
We will fight fiercely and revolt passionately with righteous indignation.
We will not be silent.
And we shall overcome...with or without you, Barack.
"When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe...The pressure on the border is going to be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we [Israelis] want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day."
- Arnon Sofer, Israeli government advisor and Haifa University professor, as quoted in the Jerusalem Post 4/24/04
For the past eighteen days, I have been paralyzed by both anger and sorrow over the current Israeli assault on Gaza and the willing and deliberate massacre of the trapped and terrified population there. There are barely any words adequate enough to describe the horror of death and destruction that Israel has inflicted upon the 1.5 million Palestinians penned up in the meager 138 square mile cage created and guarded by the Jewish State.
To sane, rational, and moral people, there is no doubt whatsoever that Israel is willfully engaged in a full-scale slaughter, a calculated and carefully planned operation designed to murder Palestinians in mass quantities, to further destroy the civil and political infrastructure of an already devastated ghetto, and to instill terror and grief in a civilian population already at the mercy of humanitarian aid and foreign support due to the crippling Israeli blockade imposed upon Gaza. The residents of Gaza are being punished for exercising their right to self-determination, to national liberation, to resistance and survival. They are being punished, not only with a brutal and illegal economic siege that has left the population in dire need of food, fuel, water, and medicine, but also with the deadliest of military action. Israel's actions are not simply aggressive and unnecessary, they are decisively inhuman and psychopathic.
The streets of Gaza are awash with the blood of innocent men, women, and children; countless bodies still lie buried under the rubble of what once were apartment buildings, private homes, mosques, schools, universities, hospitals, and civil institutions. The carnage is man-made; it is the blood-lust of the Israeli government, army, navy, air force, settlers, and the vast majority of citizenry that justifies genocide of this magnitude. It is the full-fledged support, or in some cases complicit inaction, of the international community that allows the slaughter to continue unabated and uninhibited.
What a fucking nightmare.
It is no surprise where I stand on this issue. What is surprising is how many people here in New York, the United States, and around the world, stand in full, blood-soaked support of Israeli aggression against the people of Gaza. What is so simply a case of brainwashing, propaganda, hypocrisy, and ethically bankrupt moral relativism, the blind support of Israel is something I am familiar with considering I have a number of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who suffer from this particular proclivity.
As a result, rather than continue feeling helpless and hopeless and simply rail against the naked aggression of Israel's Occupation Forces, I'll instead identify the lies and speak directly to the bullet-points (pun intended) and justifications propagated by Zionist apologists and genocidal militarists (read: mainstream politicians, media, and my Obama-loving associates) to explain Israel's most recent act of ethnic cleansing, collective punishment, and contempt for the most basic human rights and precepts of international law.
THE CLAIM: Hamas broke the six-month ceasefire by firing rockets into Israel from Gaza, thus prompting the Israeli government and military to act decisively to protect its citizens.
THE TRUTH: Israel broke the ceasefire, not Hamas. This is not even a remotely controversial statement nor it is a debatable matter of opinion. It's pure fact.
Hamas kept their end of the bargain while Israel did not. Even the New York Times admitted as recently as December 19, 2008 that Hamas was "largely successful" in stopping the homemade rockets. Ethan Bronner, the NYT Jerusalem bureau chief reported,
Hamas imposed its will and even imprisoned some of those who were firing rockets. Israeli and United Nations figures show that while more than 300 rockets were fired into Israel in May, 10 to 20 were fired in July, depending on who was counting and whether mortar rounds were included. In August, 10 to 30 were fired, and in September, 5 to 10.
Israel even admits that Hamas was not responsible for the few rockets fired during the ceasefire. Nevertheless, the terms of the truce, negotiated by Egypt, between Israel and Hamas included not only a halting of Hamas rocket fire from Gaza, but also the Israeli agreement to lift its brutal economic blockade of Gaza. This blockade, in place even before Hamas was voted into power, has prevented any exports from the territory (a clear breach of a 2005 accord) and has drastically restricted the number of import and humanitarian aid trucks allowed to enter Gaza for the purposes of bringing much needed food, fuel, water, spare parts for plumbing and sewage plants, and medical supplies to the already suffering, starving, freezing, and imprisoned population.
Some apologists for Israel may argue that the shipment of goods into Gaza increased about 25% during the ceasefire. While this may be true, it doesn't tell the whole story. Bronner tells us that Hamas, having agreed to the terms of the truce, expected "a return to the 500 to 600 truckloads delivered daily before the closing, including appliances, construction materials and other goods essential for life beyond mere survival. Instead, the number of trucks increased to around 90 from around 70."
In actuality, the situation in Gaza is far worse. Harvard scholar Sara Roy reports that "during November, an average of 4.6 trucks of food per day entered Gaza from Israel compared with an average of 123 trucks per day in October. Spare parts for the repair and maintenance of water-related equipment have been denied entry for over a year. The World Health Organization just reported that half of Gaza's ambulances are now out of order."
So, even though Israel refused to lift the blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians, thereby essentially denying the residents of Gaza the right to live, Hamas still curtailed rocket fire as best it could. During the ceasefire, no Israelis were killed by Gazan rockets.
On December 30, 2008, the New York Times published its first editorial after Israel began carpet-bombing Gaza, beginning, "Hamas must bear responsibility for ending a six-month cease-fire this month with a barrage of rocket attacks into Israeli territory."
In their thinly veiled fealty to Israel, the editors of the New York Times were lying to you. Blatantly. News sources far and wide (weirdly enough, including the New York Times itself) prove that it was Israel, not Hamas, that broke the ceasefire agreement. Let's take a look:
"Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip fired more than 35 rockets towards Israel today, the army and the Islamist group said, hours after the Israeli army killed six militants in the coastal territory."
- Reuters, November 5, 2008
"Hamas militants fired more than 35 rockets into Israel today, hours after the Israeli army killed six people in the Gaza Strip in the first major exchange of fire since a truce took effect in June."
- The Guardian, November 5, 2008
"Israel Defense Forces troops yesterday killed a Hamas gunman and wounded two others in the first armed clash in the Gaza Strip since a cease-fire was declared there in June...Since the cease-fire, the IDF has launched frequent raids across the fence, albeit smaller in scale. The IDF is apparently interested in keeping these incursions low-profile, and they receive little attention in the Israeli media. Additionally, raids tend to be limited to addressing 'immediate threats,' as defined by the IDF...An Israeli army spokeswoman said troops had entered the territory."
- Ha'aretz, November 5, 2008
"For the first time since the ceasefire took effect in June, IDF forces operated deep in the Gaza Strip Tuesday night."
- Yediot Ahronot, November 5, 2008
"A five-month truce between Israel and the Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip was foundering yesterday after Israeli special forces entered the besieged territory and fought Hamas militants, leaving six Palestinian fighters dead and four Israeli soldiers wounded."
- The Times (UK), November 5, 2008
"A spate of Israeli and Palestinian attacks and counter-attacks in the past 24 hours could spell the end of a five-and-a-half-month ceasefire...The killing of six Palestinian militants in Gaza by Israeli forces in a ground incursion and air strikes on 4 November was followed by a barrage of dozens of Palestinian rockets. The Palestinian attacks caused no casualties or damage, but there is a real risk that any further armed actions by either side would risk igniting another deadly campaign."
- Amnesty International, November 10, 2008
If this weren't evidence enough, the New York Times' own hypocrisy is laid bare by articles it published before the Israeli air assault in late December:
"At least six Palestinian militants were killed in a clash and an Israeli air strike on Nov. 4 after an Israeli force entered Gaza for the first time in five months to destroy a tunnel Israel said it believed was intended for use in the abduction of soldiers."
- Isabel Kershner, NYT's Jerusalem correspondent, November 12, 2008
"The confrontations, following five months of relative calm, began to spike this month when the Israeli military destroyed a tunnel being dug toward Israel...The Israelis said it was an isolated operation, not a violation of the cease-fire agreed to in June, and asked Egypt to pass that message to Hamas in advance. But six Hamas militants were killed during the tunnel’s destruction, leading Hamas to retaliate with rockets, which led to more closings and operations and then more rockets."
- Ethan Bronner & Taghreed El-Khodary, November 14, 2008
So, Israel called "time out!" and killed six people then blamed Hamas for breaking the truce? Yup. Does the Israeli government even believe the shit they're shoveling? Nope:
THE CLAIM: Hmmmm, ok, so Israel clearly broke the ceasefire, but Hamas rejected Israeli calls to extend it in mid-December and started firing more rockets once it officially expired.
THE TRUTH: In a 12/29/08 article entitled "The true story behind this war is not the one Israel is telling," Johann Hari of The Independent reveals that a week before the Israel bombardment of Gaza began,
Hamas offered a ceasefire in return for basic and achievable compromises. Don't take my word for it. According to the Israeli press, Yuval Diskin, the current head of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, "told the Israeli cabinet [on 23 December] that Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms." Diskin explained that Hamas was requesting two things: an end to the blockade, and an Israeli ceasefire on the West Bank. The cabinet – high with election fever and eager to appear tough – rejected these terms.
The core of the situation has been starkly laid out by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad. He says that while Hamas militants – like much of the Israeli right-wing – dream of driving their opponents away, "they have recognised this ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future." Instead, "they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967." They are aware that this means they "will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original goals" – and towards a long-term peace based on compromise...Halevy explains: "Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas."
THE CLAIM: But the entire framework of Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and its members and supporters want to throw all Jews into the sea, right?!
THE TRUTH: Whereas there are certainly elements of Hamas that wish to see the violent devastation of Israel, just as there are hundreds of thousands of virulent Zionists - in Israel and around the world - who believe that all of historic Palestine belongs rightfully to the Jews (the Chosen People) and that all Palestinians should be murdered or transferred from the land of milk and honey, this is not the guiding consensus or motivation of its current leaders. Extreme sentiments, like some emblazoned in the 1988 founding charter of the organization have since been renounced (as early as 1990, Hamas rejected many of its more religious-based motivations) and have been replace by more popular ideals. [Let's not forget that the beloved founding charter of the United States explicitly allows the continuation of the slave trade (Art. 1, Sec. 9) and considers all non-whites to be "three-fifths" of a person (Art. 1, Sec. 2).]
In its inception, Hamas provided an organized network of vital social welfare, educational, and charitable institutions that aided the poorest and neediest elements of the occupied Palestinian population. After the creation of its resistance military wing in 1992, during the First Intifada, Israel and the US met with and supported Hamas over the secular PLO in an attempt to weaken Fatah leader Yasser Arafat. Once Hamas grew stronger, receiving more popular support and gaining international backing, Israel reversed its course.
Hamas is a political party focused on resistance to an unjust occupation and the promotion of a national liberation movement in Palestine. Its leaders, such as elected prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, have repeatedly called for an end to the "vicious cycle of violence," strongly denied the allegation that Hamas' goal is "the ultimate obliteration of the Jewish people," and agreed to "the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital with 1967 borders," as per the popular consensus of 72% of all Palestinians. (Fewer than 20% of Palestinians demand the reclamation of all of their ancestral land.) [A bit of perspective: As recently as September 2004, 46% of American adults believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks. Whoa.]
THE CLAIM: But I've heard that the leaders of Hamas are just big meanies with beards and they're scary and I hate them. What's so hard about recognizing Israel's right to exist? That just means they hate Jews, doesn't it?
THE TRUTH: Prime Minister Haniyeh, in an 2006 interview with the Washington Post, stated clearly that "We are not lovers of blood. We are not interested in a vicious cycle of violence. We are oppressed people with rights...We do not have any feelings of animosity toward Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea. All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody."
Haniyeh has supported the ban on suicide missions which has lasted for more than two years despite the blockade of food, medicine, fuel, and electrical power to the Gaza Strip and despite the daily bombings, incursions, arrests, assassinations and countless other humiliations associated with occupation. Hundreds of Israeli civilians are alive today because Haniyeh and his Hamas colleagues abandoned the armed struggle and entered politics.
Khalid Meshal, head of the political bureau of Hamas, said the following in a 2006 article published in The Guardian:
Our message to the Israelis is this: we do not fight you because you belong to a certain faith or culture. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for 13 centuries in peace and harmony; they are in our religion "the People of the Book" who have a covenant from God and His Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) to be respected and protected. Our conflict with you is not religious but political. We have no problem with Jews who have not attacked us - our problem is with those who came to our land, imposed themselves on us by force, destroyed our society and banished our people.
We shall never recognise the right of any power to rob us of our land and deny us our national rights. We shall never recognise the legitimacy of a Zionist state created on our soil in order to atone for somebody else's sins or solve somebody else's problem. But if you are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce, we are prepared to negotiate the terms. Hamas is extending a hand of peace to those who are truly interested in a peace based on justice.
The decision not to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is not an arbitrary one, or one based on racism or stubbornness. Recognition is a tricky thing and one that does not exist solely in the context of Israel and Palestine, as Noam Chomsky often points out. Does the United States government insist that Native Americans formally recognize the right of the US to exist on 100% of Native American land? Has Mexico been forced to recognize the United States' right to exist on land annexed and claimed as a result of the 1846-48 Mexican-American War, in which Mexico lost about 70% of its total territory? Of course not. (And, hey, wasn't it Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir who denied the existence of the entire Palestinian people? Yes, it was.)
Perhaps Prime Minister Haniyeh summed it up best when he declared, "If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognize them."
THE CLAIM: Whatever. As far as I know, Hamas is just an Islamist terrorist organization that violently took control of Gaza. By siding with them, the Palestinian people brought this suffering upon themselves.
THE TRUTH: Hamas was democratically elected by the Palestinian people in January 2006 in free and fair elections supported by the US and closely monitored and approved by the international community. Israel refused to recognize the new government power due to its contrived determination that Hamas is solely a terrorist front. Israeli professor Avi Shlaim explains what followed:
America and the EU shamelessly joined Israel in ostracising and demonising the Hamas government and in trying to bring it down by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed.
As so often in the tragic history of Palestine, the victims were blamed for their own misfortunes. Israel's propaganda machine persistently purveyed the notion that the Palestinians are terrorists, that they reject coexistence with the Jewish state, that their nationalism is little more than anti-Semitism, that Hamas is just a bunch of religious fanatics and that Islam is incompatible with democracy. But the simple truth is that the Palestinian people are a normal people with normal aspirations. They are no better but they are no worse than any other national group. What they aspire to, above all, is a piece of land to call their own on which to live in freedom and dignity.
Like other radical movements, Hamas began to moderate its political programme following its rise to power. From the ideological rejectionism of its charter, it began to move towards pragmatic accommodation of a two-state solution. In March 2007, Hamas and Fatah formed a national unity government that was ready to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with Israel. Israel, however, refused to negotiate with a government that included Hamas.
It continued to play the old game of divide and rule between rival Palestinian factions. In the late 1980s, Israel had supported the nascent Hamas in order to weaken Fatah, the secular nationalist movement led by Yasser Arafat. Now Israel began to encourage the corrupt and pliant Fatah leaders to overthrow their religious political rivals and recapture power. Aggressive American neoconservatives participated in the sinister plot to instigate a Palestinian civil war. Their meddling was a major factor in the collapse of the national unity government and in driving Hamas to seize power in Gaza in June 2007 to pre-empt a Fatah coup.
In Khalid Meshal's own words soon after the 2006 election victory,
The day Hamas won the Palestinian democratic elections the world's leading democracies failed the test of democracy. Rather than recognise the legitimacy of Hamas as a freely elected representative of the Palestinian people, seize the opportunity created by the result to support the development of good governance in Palestine and search for a means of ending the bloodshed, the US and EU threatened the Palestinian people with collective punishment for exercising their right to choose their parliamentary representatives.
We are being punished simply for resisting oppression and striving for justice. Those who threaten to impose sanctions on our people are the same powers that initiated our suffering and continue to support our oppressors almost unconditionally. We, the victims, are being penalised while our oppressors are pampered. The US and EU could have used the success of Hamas to open a new chapter in their relations with the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Muslims and to understand better a movement that has so far been seen largely through the eyes of the Zionist occupiers of our land.
If Israel (and the US and EU) refuse to accept Hamas as the legal representative of the Palestinian people, as per a real democracy, they are therefore denying Hamas' own right to exist and to govern and they are explicitly, violently, and illegally disregarding right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. This right is guaranteed by UN General Assembly Resolution 2787 (12/06/71) and legitimizes the struggle for freedom by peoples under colonial and foreign domination or occupation.
THE CLAIM: Why do you keep talking about Gaza being occupied? Everybody knows that Israel unilaterally pulled all its troops and settlers out in 2005!
THE TRUTH: Just because Israel staged a pullout, doesn't mean the occupation ended. After Ariel Sharon's Likud government removed its 8,000 illegal settlers and accompanying military forces (making sure to first destroy all houses and farms they left behind) from Gaza, the Palestinian residents of the small strip - home to the highest population density and one of the very worst poverty rates in the world - were still very much under Israeli control. Gaza is the world's largest open-air prison, guarded on all sides by Israeli troops. The Israeli military still controls all access to Gaza, by land, sea, and air. Israel controls taxation in Gaza. The Israeli air force enjoys "unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison." Army incursions are frequent, as are the resulting extra-judicial killings, kidnappings and illegal arrests. Israel controls all imports and exports from Gaza and therefore completely controls its economy - or deliberate lack thereof. Under Israel's brutal domination, almost half of Gaza's residents are unemployed, most live in unspeakable squalor and misery, and 80% subsist on less than $2 a day and rely on humanitarian aid to survive. According to the agencies of the United Nations and multiple international relief organizations, "even before the military campaign commenced, 75 percent of Gaza’s children were malnourished, 46 percent anemic and 30 percent suffered from stunted growth," reportsCounterpunch contributer Rannie Amiri.
Even before the recent atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinian people, Gaza was already suffering from a tragic humanitarian crisis.
THE CLAIM: Hey, Israel just acts out of self-defense and wants to protect its citizens, just like any normal, sovereign, and democratic country would do in similar circumstances.
THE TRUTH: This statement assumes that Israel is a normal country. There has been a lot of talk lately of "what would any other country do" if people were shooting rockets at them, if the Quebequois were targeting Rochester, if British Columbians fired upon Seattle, if Mexicans were attacking San Diego, if Andorrans sought to destroy Spain and France simultaneously...
Israel was established in 1948 on land that was already inhabited by an indigenous population. In the late 1940's, despite representing no more than 30% of the total population of Palestine - a percentage reached only after decades of illegal mass immigration to the region - Jews were to be given 56% of the land for their own state as part of the US and UK promoted UN Partition Plan, a non-binding advisory resolution. It achieved legitimacy with the backing of Western world powers and gained "independence" as a colonial state through violent transfer of the native inhabitants, systematic ethnic cleansing, and the massacres and intimidation of paramilitary death squads. Immediately after unilaterally declaring its creation, Israeli militias fought a war of expansion and annexed an additional 22% of Arab land as its own. In 1967, Israel militarily conquered the remaining 22% of Palestine. It has brutally occupied the entirety of historic Palestine ever since.
Unlike other normal, sovereign, and democratic countries, Israel has no constitution and no internationally recognized borders.
Israel has upwards of 20 laws that discriminate against its Arab citizenry, laws not dissimilar to those of Apartheid South Africa regarding mixed marriage, employment, real estate, and travel. The "Separation" Wall constructed in the West Bank has been deemed illegal by the Hague, the Geneva Conventions strictly forbid the acquisition of land through warfare, and guarantees "that persons displaced during armed conflict must be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased." The people of Gaza and the West Bank have consistently been subjected to Israeli reprisal for their own resistance to occupation despite the simple fact that Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly prohibits collective punishment:
No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Pillage is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.
Israel often demolishes Palestinian homes as a matter of both policy and penalty. The Israeli Knesset just recently banned the only three Arab political parties from running in next month's Parliamentary election. Israel insists on being recognized as Jewish democratic state even though that description is an obvious contradiction is terms: how can a nation bestow dominance to one religious or cultural group and still equally represent all of its citizens, Jewish or not, as a democracy is supposed to do? Does this sound like a normal state that abides by normal rules?
As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted - a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, "crying and shooting".
To be sure, Hamas is not an entirely innocent party in this conflict. Denied the fruit of its electoral victory and confronted with an unscrupulous adversary, it has resorted to the weapon of the weak - terror. Militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad kept launching Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli settlements near the border with Gaza until Egypt brokered a six-month ceasefire last June. The damage caused by these primitive rockets is minimal but the psychological impact is immense, prompting the public to demand protection from its government. Under the circumstances, Israel had the right to act in self-defence but its response to the pinpricks of rocket attacks was totally disproportionate. The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.
THE CLAIM: There's no such thing as "disproportionate" force! If someone is trying to kill you, isn't it your duty, if not your right, to stop them? Stop playing the numbers game already. Sheesh.
THE TRUTH: In the past 18 days, at least 1,025 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombardment from the sky, sea, and land. At least 60% of the dead are civilians, including well over 300 children. An additional 5,000 people have been injured and an estimated 90,000 have fled their homes in fear and desperation. In one of its very first aerial assaults, Israel decimated a graduation ceremony for new police officers in Gaza. Israel considered these cadets to be agents of Hamas and therefore viable military targets. So far, no international press has been allowed to enter Gaza to report on the assault as Israel has enacted and enforced a complete media blackout, despite a ruling by Israel's own Supreme Court to allow reporters access.
Israel's reason for not letting the press cover the situation in Gaza is clear: they wish to maintain total control over news coverage to ensure that the truth is not told to its own citizens and the world at large. Truth implicates Israel in war crimes and, as John Ging, Gaza operations director for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, confirms, "For the truth to get out, journalists have to get in."
Former spokesman for the Israeli army, Nachman Shai, claims that full news coverage helps "the enemy," confuses and "destabilizes" the Israeli public. "Today, Israel is trying to control the information much more closely," he told the New York Times. Israel is intent on controlling public opinion based on its own propaganda, a decision made clear by Aviv Shir-On, deputy director general for media in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who told the Times, "We are trying to coordinate everything that has to do with the image and content of what we are doing...We have talking points and we try to disseminate our ideas and message."
The Foreign Press Association recently released a statement condemning Israel's restriction of the press:
The unprecedented denial of access to Gaza for the world’s media amounts to a severe violation of press freedom and puts the state of Israel in the company of a handful of regimes around the world which regularly keep journalists from doing their jobs.
The scale of the damage to both human life and property in Gaza is unimaginable. If the same casualty percentages had befallen the Israeli population these past two weeks, there would be over 6,000 dead and 23,000 wounded. Think about what kind of international outcry there would be if that were the case. How many condemnations and resolutions and consequences there would be.
By contrast, 3 Israeli civilians (2 of them Israeli Arabs) and 10 soldiers (4 by "friendly-fire") have been killed since the assault began.
Lanny Davis, senior adviser and spokesperson for the Israel Project and former special counsel to Bill Clinton, betrayed the deep-seated racism of most of the Zionist community when he revealed yesterday on Democracy Now! that "whether it’s one child in Israel or a hundred children in Palestine or in Gaza. To me, they’re equally tragic. There is no disproportionality. They’re equally tragic."
A hundred to one? Equal? There's Zionism for ya!
THE CLAIM: But Hamas uses its own people as human shields and hides in and amongst the civilian population of Gaza. It is their own fault that the civilian death toll is so high. Israel would never intentionally target women and children the way Hamas does. Remember, Israelis are the civilized ones!
THE TRUTH: Members of resistance movements are not trained soldiers using high-tech weaponry. They are subjugated people fighting for freedom from oppression. Should the French Resistance in World War II have worn uniforms so that the authorities could pick them out of a crowd? Should the Jewish Labor Bund have passively accepted life in Russian pogroms? Should the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising have been easy on Jewish Nazi collaborators, stopped digging escape tunnels, and acquiesced to the fate awaiting at Treblinka? Should the ANC have packed up their struggle once the Pentagon and Pretoria deemed it a "a major terrorist organization"?
Regardless of where Hamas "militants" may be hiding or storing homemade rockets, it is unequivocally forbidden under international law for Israel to target schools, universities, and civilian infrastructure. Israel has targeted and destroyed private homes, apartment buildings, cars, boats, ambulances, college dormitories, private industrial and agricultural enterprises, government and municipal facilities, the Ministries of Justice, Finance, Interior, Education, and Prisoner Affairs, City Council offices, television stations, police stations, courts, marketplaces, greenhouses, workshops, dairies, parks, charities, clinics, hospitals, cemeteries, and mosques.
The first of the air strikes took place shortly before noon, a time when there were the maximum number of people on the streets of Gaza, corresponding with lunch breaks from work and shift changes at schools. A clearly marked UN school, sheltering Palestinian civilians, was bombed by Israel in an operation that took at least 40 lives. The school had, as per protocol, given the exact location to Israeli authorities to ensure the building's and occupants' safety. Israel first claimed that Hamas mortars were fired from the school, but later backed off the claim once hard evidence appeared and proved that Israeli story to be a lie. Israel has also targeted clearly marked UN cars and have delayed and even denied ambulances access to wounded civilians, thus compounding the already sickening death toll.
The Guardian reports:
The nine Israeli human rights groups, which include B'Tselem, Gisha, Amnesty International's Israel section and Physicians for Human Rights, said accounts from Gaza showed the Israeli military was "making wanton use of lethal force" and called for a halt to attacks on civilians, access for civilians to escape the fighting, medical care for the injured, access for medical and rescue teams and the proper operation of electricity, water and sewage systems. Their unusually strong criticisms stand out in a country whose Jewish population at least has been united in extraordinarily strong support for the war in Gaza.
The desperate state of health facilities in Gaza was highlighted yesterday in the Lancet medical journal. Several mobile clinics and ambulances have been damaged by Israeli attacks, it notes, and at least six medical personnel killed. Hospitals and clinics have been forced to close. International law requires that all medical staff and facilities be protected at all times, even during armed conflict, said the Lancet. "Attacks on staff and facilities are serious violations of these laws," it said.
Many doctors are working 24-hour shifts, ambulances cannot be maintained and are breaking down, while hospital equipment, medicines and anaesthetics, beds and medical staff are all in short supply. Hospitals and clinics have had their electricity supplies cut and are relying on "fragile back-up generators".
Norwegian doctors Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse wrote that during their spell working in al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City in the current conflict they had "witnessed the most horrific war injuries in men, women and children of all ages in numbers almost too large to comprehend. The wounded, dying and dead have streamed into the overcrowded hospital in endless convoys of ambulances and private cars and wrapped in blankets in the caring arms of others. The endless and intense bombardments from Israeli air, ground and naval forces have missed no targets, not even the hospital."
Israel has even been using banned and experimental munitions during its horrific assault. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!reports that "Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of illegally firing white phosphorous, which causes horrific burns if it comes in contact with the skin, over crowded refugee camps in Gaza. Medics and human rights groups are also reporting that they are seeing injuries distinctive of another controversial weapon, Dense Inert Metal Explosive, known as DIME, that was designed by the US Air Force in 2006. Those struck by the weapon who survive suffer severe mutilations and internal injuries."
Israel has one of the world's most sophisticated militaries. Canadian journalist Justin Podur reminds us that, with about 2500 tanks, 1000 artillery pieces, more than 500 warplanes, 200 helicopters, 12 warships, 3 submarines, state-of-the-art unmanned aerial drones and the ability to "gather very precise intelligence using aerial photography and satellites," the Israeli war machine can pick and choose who and how many people to kill. "Given the intensity of its intelligence and the precision of its weapons," Podur writes, "Israel is able to choose the death toll, with some precision...Israel uses airpower and artillery to destroy from a distance, and opened its ground invasion at night. Since it has long since dismantled Gaza's electricity infrastructure, its soldiers are the only ones who can see at night through their infrared goggles - Gaza's people, civilians and anyone who might want to try to defend them, are in complete darkness."
Millions of people worldwide have taken to the streets and demonstrated against Israeli aggression, including massive protests within Israel itself (and not just by its Arab population). Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald has written extensively about Israel's current terrorism. Raji Sourani, head of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has called for Israel to be prosecuted in an international court for committing war crimes. Antoine Grand, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza, has declared that “there is no place safe in Gaza for the civilians." The UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel for its "massive violations of human rights of the Palestinian people.” President of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, has called Israel's Gaza operation "a genocide."
Journalist Chris Hedges reminds us that, even though Ehud Barak has claimed that Israel is engaged in a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas in Gaza, "Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder."
THE CLAIM: Shit happens. Sometimes sudden and reactionary military decisions don't yield the most finely-tuned results. Plus, it's not like anyone is happy about what's going on there and dancing in the street.
THE TRUTH: First of all, this operation, long in the planning, was not simply a devastating response to some symbolic rocket fire. Both Ha'aretz' Barak Ravid and independent Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook report that Israeli Defense Minister (and prime ministerial candidate) Ehud Barak has been preparing for this attack for over six months. Cook writes that "in fact, indications are that the invasion's blueprint was drawn up much earlier, probably 18 months ago."
Additionally, an October 2008 article published in Ha'aretz reveals the Israeli intention to "expand its destructive power beyond what it demonstrated two years ago against the Beirut suburb of Dahiyah [during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon]" during what the IDF [sic] called "the next war." The report quotes Israeli commander Gadi Eisenkot as saying,
We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these are military bases...This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized.
Regardless of Israel's reasons for obliterating Gaza (to stop rocket fire? to weaken or destroy Hamas? to show Israeli military might after its 2006 defeat in Lebanon? to re-occupy and re-settle the Strip? to kill as many Palestinians on George Bush's watch as possible before the new guy's sworn in?) the death toll alone makes all such rationalizations and justifications irrelevant. War crimes are war crimes are war crimes are war crimes.
In a recent New York Times piece, Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi asserts that "this war [sic] on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about 'restoring Israel’s deterrence,' as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: 'The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.'"
Unfortunately for Israel, which desires and is determined to create such havoc, terror, and grief in Gaza that Palestinians abandon their struggle for freedom and dignity, become compliant, complacent, and submissive for fear of even harsher future reprisals for their pesky resistance, they won't have much success. Joseph Massad, Khalidi's Columbia colleague, assures us that
the only constant in Palestinian lives for the last century of Zionist atrocities has been resistance to the Zionist project of erasing them from the face of the earth. While Zionism sought and recruited Arab and Palestinian collaborators since its inception in the hope of crushing Palestinian resistance, neither Israel nor any of its collaborators has been able to stop it. The lesson that Zionism has refused to learn, and still refuses to learn, is that the Palestinian yearning for freedom from the Zionist yoke cannot be extinguished no matter how barbaric Israel's crimes become.
As for dancing in the street, read Max Blumenthal's report and watch this video:
THE CLAIM: Hey, I know what I know...or what I'm told. And I'm told that Israel wants peace.
THE TRUTH: Peace doesn't bomb children. Peace doesn't wipe out entire families with the push of a button. Peace doesn't drop terrifying leaflets saying "Stay safe by following our orders." Peace doesn't threaten more violence. Peace doesn't murder others to keep its own safe.
Avi Shlaim concludes, "A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism - the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel's real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination."
Resistance against occupation, oppression, apartheid, humiliation, land theft, ethnic cleansing, disenfranchisement, imprisonment, extrajudicial killings, collective punishment, and the immoral and illegal denial of both human rights and vital resources is not terrorism.
The invasion and devastation of a ghetto, the bombing of homes, schools, and mosques, and the deliberate murder of men, women, and children is not self-defense.
If Israel claims it is justified in seeking revenge and retribution for 6,000 homemade rockets and desperate stone-throwing amounting to fewer than 20 Israeli deaths over the past decade, then what, I wonder, is Palestine to demand for over 100 years of violent displacement and militarized colonization, over 60 years of institutional racism, legalized ethnocentrism, and martial law, and over 40 years of aggressive and dehumanizing occupation and brutality that has and continues to destroy the lives and livelihoods of millions of indigenous people? What kind of justice can there be for the kind of grief suffered by three generations of Palestinian mothers?
The struggle against the very worst in human nature and the most appalling of human actions is the struggle for a free, safe, and secure Palestine. I mourn for the people of Gaza. I curse myself for not being there and suffering alongside them. I hate myself for not being able to help.
I stand with Gaza. And you should too.
Last week, I received an automatic e-mail response from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office after signing on to an urgent appeal for an immediate ceasefire. With the above information in mind, please read what Olmert's cyberobots send to me. The message contains in it a single truth; one belief that I share with the war criminal Olmert: Terrorism is terrorism no matter where it occurs.
From: PMO HEB (PMOH@pmo.gov.il)
Re: Urgent Appeal to Israel's Prime Minister's office
We acknowledge receipt of your e-mail regarding the IDF campaign to protect the residents of southern Israel.
For the past eight years, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have lived under the specter of incessant and indiscriminate rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. While people in other countries have carried about their normal routines, sending their children to school and walking their dogs in the park, the people of Sderot and its neighboring communities have been denied such luxuries - for fear of being hit by incoming missiles. No sovereign nation should be expected to tolerate the daily targeting of its people, and yet the State of Israel has exercised maximum restraint and worked relentlessly to achieve a peaceful solution with the Palestinians.
Since seizing control of the Gaza Strip by way of a violent coup in June 2007, Hamas - a terrorist organization allied with Iran, Syria and Hizbullah - has escalated its assault on the State of Israel. Even a truce with Israel was abused by Hamas which persisted in attacking Israeli towns, while also conspiring to upgrade its terrorist capabilities, manufacture and smuggle massive quantities of weapons into Gaza and construct a network of underground tunnels for combat purposes.
Now, after Hamas has unilaterally abandoned this ceasefire and expanded the range of its missiles to threaten close to one million Israelis, the State of Israel must act decisively to defend its citizens.
In 2005, the Disengagement plan brought an end to Israel's presence in the Gaza Strip, with the hope and aspiration that its Palestinian residents would begin to govern themselves and prosper. Israel has no desire to re-establish its hold over Gaza, but has resolved - in self-defense - to gain control over areas from which rockets are being launched on Israeli towns, and to significantly disable the Hamas terrorist infrastructure. Ultimately, Operation Cast Lead aims to produce lasting change in the security predicament affecting residents of Southern Israel, and Israel expects the international community to lend its support in the fight against Hamas terror. Terrorism is terrorism no matter where it occurs.
At the same time, the IDF is taking great pains to direct its activities exclusively against terrorists. Hamas, however, callously places Palestinian civilians in harm's way, using schools, mosques, other public institutions and even private homes as arsenals and bases of operation - effectively taking the Palestinians of Gaza hostage and using them as human shields. Responsibility for injury to civilians in Gaza rests solely with Hamas. In contrast, the State of Israel is doing its utmost to minimize any harm to the Palestinian civilian populace; hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian aid have been allowed passage into Gaza and this assistance will continue. There is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
The State of Israel seeks peace and will remain steadfast in its pursuit of a two-state solution that will allow Israelis and Palestinians to live together as neighbors in harmony.