Article #1: In the first article below, Naomi Klein discusses the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement in the light of the recent war. She argues that it provides the best strategy for the international community to end the occupation, and she easily counters some of the arguments brought up in opposition to BDS. BDS attempts to raise the cost of doing business with Israel, applying pressure to companies on the purely economic plane of profit calculation. It is a long-term strategy, but given the current state of heightened international awareness of the atrocities of occupation, now might be an excellent time to push for it.
Article #2: The second piece, by Oxford professor Avi Schlaim is an uncompromising account of the current situation. Schlaim puts the current war squarely into historical context, debunking myths such as (1) Hamas broke the ceasefire first; (2) Israel tries to avoid harming civilians; (3) this is a defensive war on Israel’s part; (4) Israel promotes democracy. Schlaim is unflinching and concludes that Israel is “a rogue state” that “habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism.”
Article #3: In this essay Levy brings up the question of who is the “real patriot” : Is it the person who blindly cheers on the troops, refusing to ask hard questions, and refusing to allow other people to ask such questions. Or, is it the person who feels that even at a time of war, ESPECIALLY at a time of war, raising the fateful and decisive questions is not only allowed, but the required duty of each and everyone who truly care for the fate of their country. He ends by saying: “Here and now it is my war, our war, the war of us all, for which we all bear responsibility, of which we are all guilty. And therefore it is incumbent on us to make our voice heard, a different voice, a “hallucinatory” voice to the ears of the desensitized, a voice that is “traitorous,” “base,” “Jew-hating,” “contemptible”; and different. This is not only our right, it is our supreme duty toward the state to which we are so bound, we patriotic scoundrels.”
Article #4: Sam Bahour, a Palestinian American living in Al-Bireh in the West Bank- and a consistent advocate for a just resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict – exposes as a lie the claim that Israel had no other choice, as he counts some of the options Israel could have chosen, other than the war (crimes) path. In closing, Bahour writes: “You may not see us over the Separation Wall you built; you may not see us from the cockpits of your F-16s or from the inside of your tanks; you may not see us from the command and control center in the heart of Tel Aviv as you direct your pilots to launch their ton of munitions over our heads. Still, I can assure you of one thing. Until you wake up and demand that your leaders choose a different path, a path toward a life as equals and neighbors instead of trampler-on and trampled-on, you and your warrior sons and daughters will continue to see us—all of us, living and dead—in your nightmares, where we will continue to demand peace with
Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction
By Naomi Klein
This article appeared in the January 26, 2009 edition of The Nation.
January 7, 2009
It’s time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa.
In July 2005 a huge coalition of Palestinian groups laid out plans to do just that. They called on “people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.” The campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (http://www.bdsmovement.net/) –BDS for short–was born.
Every day that Israel pounds Gaza brings more converts to the BDS cause, and talk of cease-fires is doing little to slow the momentum. Support is even emerging among Israeli Jews. In the midst of the assault roughly 500 Israelis, dozens of them well-known artists and scholars, sent a letter (http://www.freegaza.org/en/home/658-a-call-from-within-signed-by-israeli-citizens) to foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel. It calls for “the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions” and draws a clear parallel with the antiapartheid struggle. “The boycott on South Africa was effective, but Israel is handled with kid gloves…. This international backing must stop.”
Yet many still can’t go there. The reasons are complex, emotional and understandable. And they simply aren’t good enough. Economic sanctions are the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal. Surrendering them verges on active complicity. Here are the top four objections to the BDS strategy, followed by counterarguments.
a. Punitive measures will alienate rather than persuade Israelis.
The world has tried what used to be called “constructive engagement.” It has failed utterly. Since 2006 Israel has been steadily escalating its criminality: expanding settlements, launching an outrageous war against Lebanon and imposing collective punishment on Gaza through the brutal blockade. Despite this escalation, Israel has not faced punitive measures–quite the opposite. The weapons and $3 billion in annual aid that the US sends to Israel is only the beginning. Throughout this key period, Israel has enjoyed a dramatic improvement in its diplomatic, cultural and trade relations with a variety of other allies. For instance, in 2007 Israel became the first non-Latin American country to sign a free-trade deal with Mercosur. In the first nine months of 2008, Israeli exports to Canada went up 45 percent. A new trade deal with the European Union is set to double Israel’s exports of processed food. And on December 8, European ministers “upgraded” the EU-Israel Association Agreement, a
reward long sought by Jerusalem.
It is in this context that Israeli leaders started their latest war: confident they would face no meaningful costs. It is remarkable that over seven days of wartime trading, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s flagship index actually went up 10.7 percent. When carrots don’t work, sticks are needed.
b. Israel is not South Africa.
Of course it isn’t. The relevance of the South African model is that it proves that BDS tactics can be effective when weaker measures (protests, petitions, back-room lobbying) have failed. And there are indeed deeply distressing echoes: the color-coded IDs and travel permits, the bulldozed homes and forced displacement, the settler-only roads. Ronnie Kasrils, a prominent South African politician, said that the architecture of segregation that he saw in the West Bank and Gaza in 2007 was “infinitely worse than apartheid.”
c. Why single out Israel when the United States, Britain and other Western countries do the same things in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the BDS strategy should be tried against Israel is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work.
d. Boycotts sever communication; we need more dialogue, not less.
This one I’ll answer with a personal story. For eight years, my books have been published in Israel by a commercial house called Babel. But when I published The Shock Doctrine, I wanted to respect the boycott. On the advice of BDS activists, I contacted a small publisher called Andalus. Andalus is an activist press, deeply involved in the anti-occupation movement and the only Israeli publisher devoted exclusively to translating Arabic writing into Hebrew. We drafted a contract that guarantees that all proceeds go to Andalus’s work, and none to me. In other words, I am boycotting the Israeli economy but not Israelis.
Coming up with this plan required dozens of phone calls, e-mails and instant messages, stretching from Tel Aviv to Ramallah to Paris to Toronto to Gaza City. My point is this: as soon as you start implementing a boycott strategy, dialogue increases dramatically. And why wouldn’t it? Building a movement requires endless communicating, as many in the antiapartheid struggle well recall. The argument that supporting boycotts will cut us off from one another is particularly specious given the array of cheap information technologies at our fingertips. We are drowning in ways to rant at one another across national boundaries. No boycott can stop us.
Just about now, many a proud Zionist is gearing up for major point-scoring: don’t I know that many of those very high-tech toys come from Israeli research parks, world leaders in infotech? True enough, but not all of them. Several days into Israel’s Gaza assault, Richard Ramsey, the managing director of a British telecom company, sent an e-mail to the Israeli tech firm MobileMax. “As a result of the Israeli government action in the last few days we will no longer be in a position to consider doing business with yourself or any other Israeli company.”
When contacted by The Nation, Ramsey said his decision wasn’t political. “We can’t afford to lose any of our clients, so it was purely commercially defensive.”
It was this kind of cold business calculation that led many companies to pull out of South Africa two decades ago. And it’s precisely the kind of calculation that is our most realistic hope of bringing justice, so long denied, to Palestine.
About Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (September 2007); an earlier international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002).
How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe
Oxford professor of international relations Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army and has never questioned the state’s legitimacy. But its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to devastating conclusions
The Guardian, Wednesday 7 January 2009
The only way to make sense of Israel’s senseless war in Gaza is through understanding the historical context. Establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”. I used to think that this judgment was too harsh but Israel’s vicious assault on the people of Gaza, and the Bush administration’s complicity in this assault, have reopened the question.
I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I utterly reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.
Four decades of Israeli control did incalculable damage to the economy of the Gaza Strip. With a large population of 1948 refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land, with no infrastructure or natural resources, Gaza’s prospects were never bright. Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.
Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion’s share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.
In August 2005 a Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon staged a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza, withdrawing all 8,000 settlers and destroying the houses and farms they had left behind. Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, conducted an effective campaign to drive the Israelis out of Gaza. The withdrawal was a humiliation for the Israeli Defence Forces. To the world, Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace.
The real purpose behind the move was to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank. It was a unilateral Israeli move undertaken in what was seen, mistakenly in my view, as an Israeli national interest. Anchored in a fundamental rejection of the Palestinian national identity, the withdrawal from Gaza was part of a long-term effort to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence on their land.
Israel’s settlers were withdrawn but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air. Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed 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.
Israel likes to portray itself as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. Yet Israel has never in its entire history done anything to promote democracy on the Arab side and has done a great deal to undermine it. Israel has a long history of secret collaboration with reactionary Arab regimes to suppress Palestinian nationalism. Despite all the handicaps, the Palestinian people succeeded in building the only genuine democracy in the Arab world with the possible exception of Lebanon. In January 2006, free and fair elections for the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority brought to power a Hamas-led government. Israel, however, refused to recognise the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely and simply a terrorist organisation.
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 antisemitism, 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.
The war unleashed by Israel on Gaza on 27 December was the culmination of a series of clashes and confrontations with the Hamas government. In a broader sense, however, it is a war between Israel and the Palestinian people, because the people had elected the party to power. The declared aim of the war is to weaken Hamas and to intensify the pressure until its leaders agree to a new ceasefire on Israel’s terms. The undeclared aim is to ensure that the Palestinians in Gaza are seen by the world simply as a humanitarian problem and thus to derail their struggle for independence and statehood.
The timing of the war was determined by political expediency. A general election is scheduled for 10 February and, in the lead-up to the election, all the main contenders are looking for an opportunity to prove their toughness. The army top brass had been champing at the bit to deliver a crushing blow to Hamas in order to remove the stain left on their reputation by the failure of the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in July 2006. Israel’s cynical leaders could also count on apathy and impotence of the pro-western Arab regimes and on blind support from President Bush in the twilight of his term in the White House. Bush readily obliged by putting all the blame for the crisis on Hamas, vetoing proposals at the UN Security Council for an immediate ceasefire and issuing Israel with a free pass to mount a ground invasion of Gaza.
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.
Whatever the numbers, killing civilians is wrong. This rule applies to Israel as much as it does to Hamas, but Israel’s entire record is one of unbridled and unremitting brutality towards the inhabitants of Gaza. Israel also maintained the blockade of Gaza after the ceasefire came into force which, in the view of the Hamas leaders, amounted to a violation of the agreement. During the ceasefire, Israel prevented any exports from leaving the strip in clear violation of a 2005 accord, leading to a sharp drop in employment opportunities. Officially, 49.1% of the population is unemployed. At the same time, Israel restricted drastically the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking-gas canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants, and medical supplies to Gaza. It is difficult to see how starving and freezing the civilians of Gaza could protect the people on the Israeli side of the border. But even if it did, it would still be immoral, a form of collective punishment that is
strictly forbidden by international humanitarian law.
The brutality of Israel’s soldiers is fully matched by the mendacity of its spokesmen. Eight months before launching the current war on Gaza, Israel established a National Information Directorate. The core messages of this directorate to the media are that Hamas broke the ceasefire agreements; that Israel’s objective is the defence of its population; and that Israel’s forces are taking the utmost care not to hurt innocent civilians. Israel’s spin doctors have been remarkably successful in getting this message across. But, in essence, their propaganda is a pack of lies.
A wide gap separates the reality of Israel’s actions from the rhetoric of its spokesmen. It was not Hamas but the IDF that broke the ceasefire. It did so by a raid into Gaza on 4 November that killed six Hamas men. Israel’s objective is not just the defence of its population but the eventual overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza by turning the people against their rulers. And far from taking care to spare civilians, Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year-old blockade that has brought the inhabitants of Gaza, now 1.5 million, to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
The Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye is savage enough. But Israel’s insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash. After eight days of bombing, with a death toll of more than 400 Palestinians and four Israelis, the gung-ho cabinet ordered a land invasion of Gaza the consequences of which are incalculable.
No amount of military escalation can buy Israel immunity from rocket attacks from the military wing of Hamas. Despite all the death and destruction that Israel has inflicted on them, they kept up their resistance and they kept firing their rockets. This is a movement that glorifies victimhood and martyrdom. There is simply no military solution to the conflict between the two communities. The problem with Israel’s concept of security is that it denies even the most elementary security to the other community. The only way for Israel to achieve security is not through shooting but through talks with Hamas, which has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders for 20, 30, or even 50 years. Israel has rejected this offer for the same reason it spurned the Arab League peace plan of 2002, which is still on the table: it involves concessions and compromises.
This brief review of Israel’s record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”. 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. It keeps compounding the mistakes of the past with new and more disastrous ones. Politicians, like everyone else, are of course free to repeat the lies and mistakes of the past. But it is not mandatory to do so.
• Avi Shlaim is a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford and the author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World and of Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace. Related information
Last update – 15:03 08/01/2009
Gideon Levy: A different drummer
One could go to the sources and quote Leo Tolstoy, for example: “Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable signification is nothing else but a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason, and conscience, and a slavish enthrallment to those in power. And as such it is recommended wherever it is preached. Patriotism is slavery.”
And also: “How can we speak of the reasonableness of men who promise in advance to accomplish everything, including murder, that the government; that is, certain men who have attained a certain position; may command?” One can also resort to talk about “the last refuge of a scoundrel.” But there is another way: to admit that you, too, are a patriot.
One could also quote an e-mail from Mahmut Mahmutoglu, in Turkey: “You are one of the most beautiful voices … I have yet to see or hear from Israel … Tonight, after reading your article, I have come to have hope for peace and believe that humanity will prevail.” And there is also Robert, the talkbacker from Israel, who responded to that same article of mine by writing, “I am not a doctor, but that man is sick.” Or the reader George Radnay, one of hundreds, who wrote from New York: “Internal exile; a la Russie; should be instituted in Israel. You and other enemies of the human race should be exiled to Sderot. With no possibility to leave! Preaching hatred from comfort and fat wallet, and with a passport; must be countered in the name of decency and peace.” The vast majority want to impose a total ban on all criticism, on every expression of alternative thinking, on every heretical sentiment, especially when it relates to this war, of which I am already tired of calling
In this war, as in every war, an evil spirit has descended on the land. A supposedly enlightened columnist describes the terrible black smoke billowing out of Gaza as a “spectacular picture”; the deputy defense minister says that the many funerals in Gaza are proof of Israel’s “achievements”; a banner headline, “Wounds in Gaza,” refers only to the wounded Israeli soldiers and shamefully ignores the thousands of wounded Palestinians, whose wounds cannot be alleviated in the overflowing Gaza hospitals; the brainwashed commentators revel in the imaginary success of the incursion; the brainwashed soldiers are gung-ho for battle, for killing and for the mass destruction of the others, and maybe also, heaven forbid, of their own, and wipe out whole families, including the women and children; appalling Darfur-like images from Shifa Hospital show children dying on the floor; and the patriotic response is to shout: Three cheers! Hurrah! Well done! All hail the country that does these things.
Cry, the beloved country; that is not my patriotism, which is nevertheless supreme patriotism. In fact, the furious responses to every scrap of criticism give rise to the suspicion that perhaps some Israelis know deep within their desensitized hearts that something terrible is burning beneath their feet, that a vast conflagration is threatening to burst through the thick, stupefying, contorting and obfuscating fog that covers them. Maybe we are not as right as everyone promises us morning and night, maybe something horrific is happening in front of our wide-shut eyes. If Israelis were so sure of the rightness of their cause, why the violent intolerance they display toward everyone who tries to make a different case?
This is precisely the time for criticism; there is no time more appropriate. This is exactly the time for the big questions, the fateful questions, the decisive questions. We should not just ask whether this or that move in the war is right or not, not just wonder whether we are progressing “according to plan.” We also need to ask what is good about these plans. To ask whether Israel’s very launching of the war is good for the Jews, good for Israel and whether the other side deserves it. Yes, to ask about the other side is permissible even in war, perhaps above all in war. To know that the “children of the south” are not only the children who live in Sderot, but also the children of Beit Hanun, whose fate is immeasurably more bitter. To cringe with shame and feelings of guilt at the sight of Shifa Hospital is not treason: it is basic humanity. To take an interest in their fate, to ask whether their suffering is unavoidable, wise, just, moral and legitimate is an absolute necessity.
ask if things could have been done differently. To ask whether it would not have been more fitting to try a language other than the language of violence and unrestrained force that we invoke as a matter of routine, the only language in which we excel and in which we are articulate, believing that there is no other. This is the time to ask about our moral visage. This is exactly the time; there is no more appropriate time; to cast doubt on the wisdom and the usefulness of this awful war, to look also at the blood and the suffering on the other side of the border, on the other side of humanity.
This cannot be solely the time for militarism, for the uniform and for the fanfare of war; this is also the time for humanity, for a critical view, for compassion. This is the time for a critical, humane, thinking media, not only media that is insensitive, bestial and blind. This is the time for a media that reports the whole truth, not only our one-sided propaganda truth. This is precisely the time to inform the public about the whole picture, on both sides of the border, however harsh it may be, without blurring it, without hiding anything, without sweeping the horror under the rug. Let the media consumers do as they wish with the information; delight in it, grieve over it; but let them know what is being done in their name. That is the role of everyone with eyes in his head, a brain in his skull and above all a beating heart in his chest.
People who make use of all their senses in trying times are no less patriotic than those whose restraint is lost, senses dimmed and brain washed. This is also the time for the patriot to say: Enough.
Patriotism? Who can measure what contributes more to the state, to which we are all bound by thick cords of steel, blood and feelings? Does joining the unseeing and stupefying chorus contribute or destroy; or could it be that the real contribution to democracy and the image of the state lies in raising the tough questions, precisely at this time? Is this the time to silence people and shatter the already fragile democracy here, or for an attempt to preserve not only the right to be silent but also the right to shout out? Are the handful of people who are trying to preserve Israel’s human image less concerned about the country’s fate than the majority, who now see everything through the barrel of a gun?
And since when is a majority a guarantee of justice? Do we lack examples from history – modern and ancient, world history and Israel’s history – in which the majority was fatally wrong and the minority right? Does a different voice, quiet and ostracized as it may be, but which nevertheless emerges from a darkened Israel to cast a ray of light into the world’s bleakness harm Israel’s standing in the international community, or does it perhaps enhance it? A whistle in the dark is still a whistle, even in a time when the darkness into which we have plunged Gaza is nothing compared to the thick black darkness that has descended on Israel. Now is the time to ask the questions that will certainly be asked later, to voice the criticism that will be voiced afterward, but of course grossly late. And who is a traitor? Who will decide for us whether launching this war of folly is patriotism and rejecting it is treason? Will it be the militants, the nationalists, the chauvinists and the
militarists among us? They, only they? Do they have an exclusive franchise on patriotism? Or will it perhaps be the right-wing American Jews; those who get orgiastic whenever Israel kills and destroys; who decide? Is it not the case that the terrible damage that Israel is suffering because of this war is the greatest treason of all?
I have covered other wars. In the winter of 1993 I saw in besieged Sarajevo sights that have never been seen here, at least not until this war. How can I forget the old Bosnian woman who was digging in the earth with her fingers to find a few roots to eat? How can I forget our panicky running in the streets to escape the snipers, the bomb that struck the market and the music that blared from an old radio on a heavily clouded evening in the midst of the darkness and the siege: “La ultima noche.” The last night. Last summer I covered the war in Georgia, where I saw refugees fleeing for their lives, carrying all their meager belongings in their hands, their eyes filled with fear and rage.
In both of those wars I felt remote, cut off, desensitized as a war correspondent who moves from one battle to the next. There we were not accomplices; my son’s friends and my friends’ sons were not accomplices to a crime. So it was easy for me, relatively and emotionally, to cover those wars. But not here and now. Here and now it is my war, our war, the war of us all, for which we all bear responsibility, of which we are all guilty. And therefore it is incumbent on us to make our voice heard, a different voice, a “hallucinatory” voice to the ears of the desensitized, a voice that is “traitorous,” “base,” “Jew-hating,” “contemptible”; and different. This is not only our right, it is our supreme duty toward the state to which we are so bound, we patriotic scoundrels.
No Other Option?!
By Sam Bahour http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/01/10/no_other_option/
I watch in shock, like the rest of the world, at the appalling death and destruction being wrought on Gaza by Israel; and still it does not stop. Meanwhile, we see a seemingly never- ending army of well-prepared Israeli war propagandists, some Israeli government officials, and many other people self-enlisted for the purpose, explaining to the world the justifications for pulverizing the Gaza Strip, with its 1.5 million inhabitants. Curious about how Israel, or any society for that matter, could justify a crime of such magnitude against humanity, I turned to my Jewish Israeli friends today to hear their take on things. One after another, the theme was the same. The vast majority of Jewish Israelis has apparently bought into the state- sponsored line that Israel was under attack and had no other option available to stop Hamas’ rockets. More frightening is the revelation that many Israelis—including one person who self- identifies as a “leftist”—are speaking of accepting the killing of
100,000 or more Palestinians, if need be.
I have a problem with this logic.
I am a Palestinian American based in Al-Bireh, the sister city of Ramallah in the West Bank. I can see how an observer from abroad could be blind to the facts, given the blitz of Gaza war propaganda orchestrated by the Israeli military. But I know better. Like all other Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, I am not an observer from abroad. We live every day under the bitter burden of Israeli military occupation and we know that this question, presented as rhetorical—did we really have an option? —has a rational answer. Allow me, from my vantage point as an economic development professional, to touch on some of the other options that could have been chosen. Moreover, many of them will be forced on Israel anyway, sooner or later, whether after the next “war,” or in the coming days under the ceasefire agreement and the Egyptian-sponsored implementation mechanism being discussed as I write this. Meaning: all this death and destruction could have been easily avoided.
Dear Israeli citizen, short of ending the occupation, you could have:
1. Opted to agree on how to disagree: There are two bodies of law that deal with international relations in this world, International Law and the Law of the Jungle. Until today, your government—and maybe you—refuse to accept the global consensus that the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are all militarily occupied territory. The occupying power is Israel—as attested in dozens of United Nations resolutions over the past four decades. By ignoring this fact that Israel is an occupying power, thus removing (unsuccessfully, of course) any internationally recognized baseline for the conflict, you have created an environment that can only be described as the “Law of the Jungle,” where might is right and where, as we see in Gaza now, anything goes. You could have accepted international humanitarian law, as stipulated in the Fourth Geneva Conventions regulating occupations, and avoided many of the seemingly impossible positions you find yourself in today: from the
albatross of the settlement enterprise to the reality of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip.
2. Opted to allow for an international presence in the occupied territory: For over 30 years – yes, 30 years! – the Palestinians have begged the international community to create and maintain a serious presence in the occupied territory, something to stand between us and protect the civilians on both sides. Israel repeatedly refused to consider this. Instead your government chose to deal with the Palestinian territory as if it was its own, always behaving in line with its meta-objective: getting a maximum of Palestinian geography with a minimum of Palestinian demography. You could have avoided dealing directly with the natural reaction of any occupied people to resist their occupation, by allowing international players to get involved and serve as a sort of referee between you and those you are occupying militarily.
3. Opted to accept lawful non-violent resistance to your occupation: For over 40 years, Palestinians have tried everything to remove the Israeli boot of occupation from our necks (all documented, for anyone interested enough to do the research): tax revolts, general strikes, civil disobedience, economic development, elections, and on and on. Your response every time was to rely on violence, on control; your message was that you respect nothing other than your own desires. Your children on the front line in Gaza may be too young to recall, but you might remind them, so that they will at least be informed as they march ahead to your drummers: Let them know you deported duly elected mayors back in the 1980s; let them know that you closed down entire Palestinian universities for years on end; let them know that you have imprisoned over 650,000 Palestinians since your occupation began, creating a virtual prison university for the resistance movement and stunning any possibility
for a new leadership to arise; let them know that even after Oslo you prohibit, to this day, Palestinians from building fully independent utilities—not only in Gaza, but in the West Bank as well. You could have tried a little harder to understand that people under occupation do not throw flowers and rice at their occupiers and resolve to surrender to a slow death.
4. Opted to accept the results of Palestinian democracy: For Palestinians, and believe it or not Israelis too, the best thing that happened in the recent past was when Hamas was chosen in peaceful elections to take over the governance of Palestine. Prior to those elections, where was Hamas? They were in their underground bunkers carrying out atrocities that were disrupting your daily agenda—and mine—with absolutely no accountability whatsoever. When they accepted the Oslo process and ran for office and were duly elected, they stopped, for all intent and purpose, attacking inside Israel (by which I mean, inside the Green Line). Your citizens become significantly safer! Your government (and the U.S.) responded by refusing to accept the results of our elections and imposed sanctions on the elected Palestinian government. This was long before any violent infighting took place in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah. How did the Palestinians react to your intransigence? They pressed
Hamas to replace its Hamas-only government with a unity government that had all the significant Palestinian political factions represented. You were thus presented with an accountable body that encompassed all Palestinian political flavors. Your government again responded by refusing to accept the results of our elections and continued with sanctions against the Palestinian government, repeating over and over the mantra that “there is no partner.” Beyond that, the Israeli government intensified its campaign of assassinating and arresting Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and introduced a whole new range of draconian punitive measures against the Palestinian public at large. Like what, you ask? Well, one such measure was that your government began blocking foreign nationals—people like me—from entering or doing business in the occupied territory, thus hindering any real chance to create a new, forward-looking reality. You could have accepted Palestinian democracy instead of
propping up your own version of a failed Palestinian leadership.
5. Opted not to interfere in Palestinian internal politics: When Hamas violently struck at Fatah in Gaza—for reasons that have been well documented elsewhere—your government chose to punish all 1.5 million Palestinians by installing a hermetic seal on Gaza and allowing only a trickle of normal traffic to go in or out, meeting only a small fraction of Gaza’s needs. Lest you suspect me of indulging in empty clichés, I shall explain. International agencies have estimated that Gaza’s daily basic needs amount to 450 truckloads a day. For 18 months prior to your aggression on Gaza, your government allowed 70 truckloads a day on average. Yes, seventy! And these were allowed to enter only when the border crossings that you control were open, which was only 30% of the time. You could have chosen not to use food, medicine, education, cement, water, electricity, and so forth, as tools of repression. If you saw yourselves accurately as the occupying power you are, you could have kept
in place a lawful security regime on the borders without creating a humanitarian disaster which led to irrational acts (such as missiles being lobbed over the border) by those you tried to starve into submission. You could have made a firm distinction between your political desires and your humanitarian obligations as an occupying power.
This list could go on and on.
The fact of the matter is that you had a long list of options open to you! So many, indeed, that it boggles the mind that your government has apparently been able to blind you to all of them…so that today, as the bombs shriek over Gaza, you can say, and evidently sincerely mean it: We had no other option.
Nevertheless, even with all these options effectively invisible to you, there is nothing on this earth—not law, not politics, not even a desperate and lengthy campaign of rockets creating widespread fear and even some civilian deaths on your side of the border—there is nothing that can justify, by Israel or any other country on this earth, the decision to opt for a crime against humanity as your chosen response. Nothing!
You accepted your government’s path to separate unilaterally from occupied Palestinians; you accepted an illegal barrier to be built on confiscated Palestinian lands; you accepted a unilateral disengagement that simply redeployed your occupation from the heart of Gaza to its perimeter, on land and sea and in the air, rather than actually removing it; you accepted the continuing expansion of your settlements and their systematic harassment of their Palestinian neighbors while talking peace; you accepted, and sadly continue to accept, a consensual blindness to the fact that the majority of Palestinians live as refugees, far from your occupation (practically, not geographically), and feel much more rage than you have lately been creating in the Gaza Strip. I urge you to stop acquiescing in this policy of managed unreality. I urge you to open your eyes and wake up. If not for our sake, then for your own.
You may not see us over the Separation Wall you built; you may not see us from the cockpits of your F-16s or from the inside of your tanks; you may not see us from the command and control center in the heart of Tel Aviv as you direct your pilots to launch their ton of munitions over our heads. Still, I can assure you of one thing. Until you wake up and demand that your leaders choose a different path, a path toward a life as equals and neighbors instead of trampler-on and trampled-on, you and your warrior sons and daughters will continue to see us—all of us, living and dead—in your nightmares, where we will continue to demand peace with justice.
Sam Bahour is a management consultant and entrepreneur living in Ramallah; he is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians,” and blogs at epalestine.blogspot.com.