Wednesday, June 30, 2010
T h e A m e r i c a n C o n s e r v a t i v e
The attack on the Gaza relief flotilla jeopardizes Israel itself.
By John J. Mearsheimer
Clarity is a virtue,
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Monday, June 28, 2010
Essay of the week: What drives Israel?
By Ilan Pappe
Published on 6 Jun 2010
Probably the most bewildering aspect of the Gaza flotilla affair has been the righteous indignation expressed by the Israeli government and people.
The nature of this response is not being fully reported in the UK press, but it includes official parades celebrating the heroism of the commandos who stormed the ship and demonstrations by schoolchildren giving their unequivocal support for the government against the new wave of anti-Semitism.
As someone who was born in Israel and went enthusiastically through the socialisation and indoctrination process until my mid-20s, this reaction is all too familiar. Understanding the root of this furious defensiveness is key to comprehending the principal obstacle for peace in Israel and Palestine. One can best define this barrier as the official and popular Jewish Israeli perception of the political and cultural reality around them.
A number of factors explain this phenomenon, but three are outstanding and they are interconnected. They form the mental infrastructure on which life in Israel as a Jewish Zionist individual is based, and one from which it is almost impossible to depart – as I know too well from personal experience.
The first and most important assumption is that what used to be historical Palestine is by sacred and irrefutable right the political, cultural and religious possession of the Jewish people represented by the Zionist movement and later the state of Israel.
Most of the Israelis, politicians and citizens alike, understand that this right can’t be fully realised. But although successive governments were pragmatic enough to accept the need to enter peace negotiations and strive for some sort of territorial compromise, the dream has not been forsaken. Far more important is the conception and representation of any pragmatic policy as an act of ultimate and unprecedented international generosity.
Any Palestinian, or for that matter international, dissatisfaction with every deal offered by Israel since 1948, has therefore been seen as insulting ingratitude in the face of an accommodating and enlightened policy of the “only democracy in the Middle East”. Now, imagine that the dissatisfaction is translated into an actual, and sometimes violent, struggle and you begin to understand the righteous fury. As schoolchildren, during military service and later as adult Israeli citizens, the only explanation we received for Arab or Palestinian responses was that our civilised behaviour was being met by barbarism and antagonism of the worst kind.
According to the hegemonic narrative in Israel there are two malicious forces at work. The first is the old familiar anti-Semitic impulse of the world at large, an infectious bug that supposedly affects everyone who comes into contact with Jews. According to this narrative, the modern and civilised Jews were rejected by the Palestinians simply because they were Jews; not for instance because they stole land and water up to 1948, expelled half of Palestine’s population in 1948 and imposed a brutal occupation on the West Bank, and lately an inhuman siege on the Gaza Strip. This also explains why military action seems the only resort: since the Palestinians are seen as bent on destroying Israel through some atavistic impulse, the only conceivable way of confronting them is through military might.
The second force is also an old-new phenomenon: an Islamic civilisation bent on destroying the Jews as a faith and a nation. Mainstream Israeli orientalists, supported by new conservative academics in the United States, helped to articulate this phobia as a scholarly truth. These fears, of course, cannot be sustained unless they are constantly nourished and manipulated.
From this stems the second feature relevant to a better understanding of the Israeli Jewish society. Israel is in a state of denial. Even in 2010, with all the alternative and international means of communication and information, most of the Israeli Jews are still fed daily by media that hides from them the realities of occupation, stagnation or discrimination. This is true about the ethnic cleansing that Israel committed in 1948, which made half of Palestine’s population refugees, destroyed half the Palestinian villages and towns, and left 80% of their homeland in Israeli hands. And it’s painfully clear that even before the apartheid walls and fences were built around the occupied territories, the average Israeli did not know, and could not care, about the 40 years of systematic abuses of civil and human rights of millions of people under the direct and indirect rule of their state.
Nor have they had access to honest reports about the suffering in the Gaza Strip over the past four years. In the same way, the information they received on the flotilla fits the image of a state attacked by the combined forces of the old anti-Semitism and the new Islamic Judacidal fanatics coming to destroy the state of Israel. (After all, why would they have sent the best commando elite in the world to face defenceless human rights activists?)
As a young historian in Israel during the 1980s, it was this denial that first attracted my attention. As an aspiring professional scholar I decided to study the 1948 events and what I found in the archives sent me on a journey away from Zionism. Unconvinced by the government’s official explanation for its assault on Lebanon in 1982 and its conduct in the first Intifada in 1987, I began to realise the magnitude of the fabrication and manipulation. I could no longer subscribe to an ideology which dehumanised the native Palestinians and which propelled policies of dispossession and destruction.
The price for my intellectual dissidence was foretold: condemnation and excommunication. In 2007 I left Israel and my job at Haifa University for a teaching position in the United Kingdom, where views that in Israel would be considered at best insane, and at worst as sheer treason, are shared by almost every decent person in the country, whether or not they have any direct connection to Israel and Palestine.
That chapter in my life – too complicated to describe here – forms the basis of my forthcoming book, Out Of The Frame, to be published this autumn. But in brief, it involved the transformation of someone who had been a regular and unremarkable Israeli Zionist, and it came about because of exposure to alternative information, close relationships with several Palestinians and post-graduate studies abroad in Britain.
My quest for an authentic history of events in the Middle East required a personal de- militarisation of the mind. Even now, in 2010, Israel is in many ways a settler Prussian state: a combination of colonialist policies with a high level of militarisation in all aspects of life. This is the third feature of the Jewish state that has to be understood if one wants to comprehend the Israeli response. It is manifested in the dominance of the army over political, cultural and economic life within Israel. Defence minister Ehud Barak was the commanding officer of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, in a military unit similar to the one that assaulted the flotilla. That background was profoundly significant in terms of the state’s Zionist response to what they and all the commando officers perceived as the most formidable and dangerous enemy.
You probably have to be born in Israel, as I was, and go through the whole process of socialisation and education – including serving in the army – to grasp the power of this militarist mentality and its dire consequences. And you need such a background to understand why the whole premise on which the international community’s approach to the Middle East is based, is utterly and disastrously wrong.
The international response is based on the assumption that more forthcoming Palestinian concessions and a continued dialogue with the Israeli political elite will produce a new reality on the ground. The official discourse in the West is that a very reasonable and attainable solution – the two states solution – is just around the corner if all sides would make one final effort. Such optimism is hopelessly misguided.
The only version of this solution that is acceptable to Israel is the one that both the tamed Palestine Authority in Ramallah and the more assertive Hamas in Gaza could never accept. It is an offer to imprison the Palestinians in stateless enclaves in return for ending their struggle. And thus even before one discusses either an alternative solution – one democratic state for all, which I myself support – or explores a more plausible two-states settlement, one has to transform fundamentally the Israeli official and public mindset. It is this mentality which is the principal barrier to a peaceful reconciliation within the fractured terrain of Israel and Palestine.
How can one change it? That is the biggest challenge for activists within Palestine and Israel, for Palestinians and their supporters abroad and for anyone in the world who cares about peace in the Middle East. What is needed is, firstly, recognition that the analysis put forward here is valid and acceptable. Only then can one discuss the prognosis.
It is difficult to expect people to revisit a history of more than 60 years in order to comprehend better why the present international agenda on Israel and Palestine is misguided and harmful. But one can surely expect politicians, political strategists and journalists to reappraise what has been euphemistically called the “peace process” ever since 1948. They need also to be reminded that what actually happened.
Since 1948, Palestinians have been struggling against the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. During that year, they lost 80% of their homeland and half of them were expelled. In 1967, they lost the remaining 20%. They were fragmented geographically and traumatised like no other people during the second half of the 20th century. And had it not been for the steadfastness of their national movement, the fragmentation would have enabled Israel to take over historical Palestine as a whole and push the Palestinians into oblivion.
Transforming a mindset is a long process of education and enlightenment. Against all the odds, some alternative groups within Israel have begun this long and winding road to salvation. But in the meantime Israeli policies, such as the blockade on Gaza, have to be stopped. They will not cease in response to feeble condemnations of the kind we heard last week, nor is the movement inside Israel strong enough to produce a change in the foreseeable future. The danger is not only the continued destruction of the Palestinians but a constant Israeli brinkmanship that could lead to a regional war, with dire consequences for the stability of the world as a whole.
In the past, the free world faced dangerous situations like that by taking firm actions such as the sanctions against South Africa and Serbia. Only sustained and serious pressure by Western governments on Israel will drive the message home that the strategy of force and the policy of oppression are not accepted morally or politically by the world to which Israel wants to belong.
The continued diplomacy of negotiations and “peace talks” enables the Israelis to pursue uninterruptedly the same strategies, and the longer this continues, the more difficult it will be to undo them. Now is the time to unite with the Arab and Muslim worlds in offering Israel a ticket to normality and acceptance in return for an unconditional departure from past ideologies and practices.
Removing the army from the lives of the oppressed Palestinians in the West Bank, lifting the blockade in Gaza and stopping the racist and discriminatory legislation against the Palestinians inside Israel, could be welcome steps towards peace.
It is also vital to discuss seriously and without ethnic prejudices the return of the Palestinian refugees in a way that would respect their basic right of repatriation and the chances for reconciliation in Israel and Palestine. Any political outfit that could promise these achievements should be endorsed, welcomed and implemented by the international community and the people who live between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.
And then the only flotillas making their way to Gaza would be those of tourists and pilgrims.
Ilan Pappe is professor of history at the University of Exeter, and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies. His books include The Ethnic Cleansing Of Palestine and A History Of Modern Palestine. His forthcoming memoir, Out Of The Frame (published this October by Pluto Press), will chart his break with mainstream Israeli scholarship and its consequences.
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Tuesday, June 22, 2010
It's amazing how, when all hands are on deck, non-violent tools to resist Israel's belligerence are not only more and more creative, but are also attacked just as much as violence means of resistance.
The attached cartoon appeared in The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) and here is The Plain Dealer's reader representative commenting on the storm that arose:
LONG LIVE CARTOONS and all non-violent means of resistance,
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Activists prevent Israeli ship from unloading at US port
Report, The Electronic Intifada, 21 June 2010
For the first time in US history, a peaceful protest was able to stop workers from unloading an Israeli cargo ship on Sunday, 20 June, in the San Francisco Bay area. From 5:30am until 7pm, social justice activists and labor union organizers blocked and picketed several entrances at the Port of Oakland, preventing two shifts of longshoremen with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to come to work and unload the Israeli Zim Lines cargo ship.
Approximately 700 protesters and labor organizers launched the action in direct response to the ongoing blockade in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli attacks on humanitarian aid activists aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla last month. Nine persons, including a 19-year-old American citizen, were killed in the attacks, and at least thirty were wounded as activists attempted to sail to the beleaguered Gaza Strip with thousands of tons of humanitarian supplies prevented from normal import by Israel.
The picket at the Port of Oakland comes on the heels of a similar actions around the world in protest of Israeli policies. Dockworkers in Sweden announced on 2 June that no Israeli ships would be unloaded or processed between 15-24 June in protest of the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
A coalition of Palestinian trade unions issued a call for the labor-led action , stating that "Gaza today has become the test of our universal morality and our common humanity." Bay Area members of the Labor for Palestine group, heeding the call, issued a press release saying that the ILWU Local 10 joins with dockworkers in South Africa, western Australia, Sweden and Norway, who have all launched similar actions.
A press release from Labor for Palestine stated: "this action stands in the proud tradition of West Coast dockworkers who refused to handle cargo for Nazi Germany (1934) and fascist Italy (1935); those in Denmark and Sweden (1963), the San Francisco Bay Area (1984) and Liverpool (1988), who refused shipping for apartheid South Africa; those in Oakland who refused to load bombs for the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1978); and those at all 29 West Coast ports who held a May Day strike against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2008)."
Monadel Herzallah, organizer with Labor for Palestine and the Arab-American Union Members Council, told The Electronic Intifada that the Port of Oakland remains a beacon of global justice activism tradition with the ILWU:
"They have been courageous and have stood in principle to support different issues. Today, the SF Labor Council, the Alameda Central Labor Council, and dozens of other labor councils have responded to the call by Palestinian labor unions to block the ship and make a statement -- after the flotilla incident, there's no way that Israel can conduct business as usual. Having this type of action at this moment in the US, a supporter of the injustice being done by Israel, is quite significant."
ILWU Local 10 member Clarence Thomas said that the action would raise the stakes and encourage other labor unions to broaden their education around the Palestine issue. "The world is watching," Thomas told EI. "There hasn't been any significant labor action responding to Israel's actions [until now]. Israel's naked aggression in international waters is very difficult to ignore. With this action today, this is the start [of a broader movement]. This is going to be a very important, a very historic day ... This is a teaching moment."
Thomas told EI that crossing the picket line raises an issue of health and safety for the workers, which was cited as the official reason ILWU shifts were cancelled (with full pay). In 2003, in a similar action against the loading of weapons and military equipment bound for US-occupied Iraq, both protesters and longshore workers were wounded by Oakland police officers who fired wooden dowels, sting balls, tear gas and percussion grenades after the crowd refused to disperse. "We don't want our workers put in the middle again," Thomas said.
Labor organizers handed out flyers to truckers, dockworkers and other port workers on their way to work, explaining what happened on 31 May to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and urging workers not to handle Israeli cargo "until the blockade in Gaza is ended." Workers turned around and went back home, many of them honking their horns in support of the picket.
After the first shift of workers decided not to cross the picket line following arbitration meetings, protest organizers urged activists to stay and block gates for the second shift. By 6:30pm, the second shift decided to honor the picket and refused to come to work. Meanwhile, the Israeli cargo ship arrived at the docks, but no one was there to unload it.
Wael Bheisy, a Palestinian refugee from Kuwait whose parents were expelled from Palestine after 1948, said he was at the protest to send a message of solidarity to his relatives in Gaza. "They live in a big jail ... and that this is happening in this day and age is just unbelievable to me. We're here to take action and make the world listen. No country should continue to have normal relations with the State of Israel, or any government that practices, in everyday policy, such brutal oppression against a people."
Bheisy said that this action could make a huge impact across the country and the world. "This is historic, this is unprecedented. As we know, in the '70s and '80s, the anti-apartheid movement against South Africa was launched. And it's disappointing that thirty years later, we're here again. But it's an action that's hopefully going to spark similar actions. For the first time, we stopped Israeli goods from unloading in the United States."
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Monday, June 21, 2010
Echoes From The Warsaw Ghetto In Gaza
An Interview with Cecilie Surasky By Christiana Voniati
19 June, 2010
Gazing at letters that her grandmother wrote from the Warsaw Ghetto before she was killed , Deputy Director of the global organization “Jewish Voice for Peace”, Cecilie Surasky, discusses Israel's “anti-Jewish” crimes and the inescapable comparison between the sufferings of Gazans and the gradual crushing of Jewish life in the Nazi ghettos in the period that led to the Final Solution . More significantly, the Jewish activist for peace reveals and explores the relationship between Jewish collective trauma and Israel 's aggression
“Jewish Voice for Peace” is based in the United States of America . Was this choice of location intentional?
We are based in the US and we have one hundred thousand people on our supporter list, mostly in the United States but certainly across Israel , Canada and all over the world. We think it is important to be in the United States because most of the terrible things you see happening in Israel (the expansion of settlements and taking of land, the attack on Gaza , the construction of the wall, attacks on human rights activists) couldn't happen without US support.
We pay for it with billions in aid, we offer Israel diplomatic protection in the UN, and we have many Jewish and Christian Zionist institutional leaders in this country who are very vocal about defending Israel unconditionally. They want the US government to continue to give Israel permission to do whatever it likes including violating international law. And unfortunately, the majority of members of Congress are only too happy to oblige. The U.S. Congress, which is largely made up of Christians by the way, is shamefully committed to giving the Israeli government whatever they want. With relatively few exceptions, they have very little regard for Palestinian life or for Israeli life for that matter since this unconditional support is so destructive to Israel and to Jews everywhere.
That's why we think one of the most important places after Israel , to have a strong and powerful Jewish voice for peace, justice and equality, is in the United States . Once we stop sending billions of dollars in military aid with no strings attached, once we stop diplomatically protecting Israel in international bodies when they violate the law, Israel will have to change. This movement is primarily about accountability and ending the attitude of exceptionalism which allows Israel to consistently violate the human rights of Palestinians, and increasingly its own citizens, with impunity.
At Jewish Voice for Peace, our values are pretty simple: Full equality for Israelis and Palestinians. There is absolutely no difference between the value of life of my 7 year old son and the value of life of my Palestinian friend's child. They are equally precious and have the same rights to health, education, to safety and well-being. Palestinians have a right to land which is justly theirs without having it stolen from beneath their feet. But the Israeli government has absolutely no respect for their rights. New settlements are built every day on Palestinian land. Even president Obama has said this theft of land must stop, but the Israeli government refuses.
Nonetheless, the western media represents Arab life as being less “grievable” than that of a western or Jewish life…
One of the most important things about doing this work is the connections that we make, as Jews, as Muslims, as Arabs or Westerners. And what you discover when you connect on a human basis is that we are remarkably similar. We value the same things. All people really want is to be connected to their family, to have work that means something to them, to have education and joy in their lives. It's very simple when you break it down. I know there is a long history of western racism, colonialism and Orientalism and we see ourselves as being superior to people all over the world. The only way to break down that false thinking to help people connect to each other, and it's a revelation when you do.
One of the things to remember is that the very idea of international law and human rights is a product of WWII. It was institutionalized because of WWII, because of Hitler, because of what happened with the Nazis and to the Jews. And Jews like Rene Cassin were among the pioneers of this idea, that all people are equal and equally deserving of certain basic rights. Today, we know this, whether they are gay, disabled, whether they are black or white or Muslim or Jew: this is the foundational framework for human rights advocacy,
So it is particularly appalling and outrageous to see 60 years later many Jewish organizations actually working to undermine this idea of international human rights. This goes against an incredibly important Jewish tradition and it's a violation of everything we stand for and it's anti- Jewish in the end. There was a time when much of the Jewish institutional world realized that freedom for one person required freedom for all. That if you let bigotry and hatred against one group to stand, eventually it would come and take you. All of our fates are intertwined, let us not forget this. Jewish Voice for Peace is holding onto and celebrating this tradition. We are actively opposed to groups that are trying to undermine international law as a way to keep Israel from being accountable.
Exactly because of your fate as Jews, as a historically hunted people, one would expect that you would be the first to recognize the human rights of Palestinians.
Yes, historically, Jews are a hunted people. Some people survived and some others didn't and that's true for most of us. Yes there is a huge tradition of taking from that lesson and realizing that “Never Again” means never again for everyone. Period. Fullstop. “Never Again” is a phrase we say for the Holocaust. “Never Again” genocide, “Never Again” slavery. And the truth is that in the United States , Jews are one of the most liberal voting blocks. Somewhere around 80% of Jews voted for Obama. We contribute in this country to many of the most important human and civil rights causes. So that tradition is alive and well. But in the case of Palestine and Israel , many in our community simply have blinders. We call it PEP, Progressive Except Palestine.
You don't have to compare what happened to Palestinians in Gaza to the Holocaust to make it seem more important than it already is. It already is so important and so unique in its own way.
The Holocaust was a systematic, well planned extermination of millions of people… And it was six million Jews but it was 11 million people altogether. The other 5 million were homosexuals, socialists, artists, intellectuals, people with disabilities. Obviously in the case of Gaza and the Occupied Territories we don't have anything like that. But I do think that people do draw lessons from the rise of the Nazis.
In Nazi Germany, the reign of Hitler was 12 years and before the Final Solution, the agenda to exterminate an entire people, you had a gradual legalized crushing and tightening of people's lives. And there are Jews who we have worked with and Jews who lived through that time and they say “look, you can't compare the systematic extermination in terms of the deaths of people. But I lived through that experience of dehumanization, of the crushing of people's freedom and spirit. And there are things that are similar.” The culture of collaborators that Israel creates to monitor and divide people. The black market that has emerged in Gaza similar to those in the ghettos. The sickness. The way those with money find a way to survive and perhaps even profit, and those without have little recourse. The slow death by bureaucracy and laws—in the West Bank farmers need multiple permits just to farm their own land- no guns are needed to destroy a family.
The crackdown on human rights activists in Israel right now- the midnight raids and media gag orders on arrests of Israeli citizens, banning people like Noam Chomsky from the country simply because of their ideas, attempts to shut down human rights organizations…. These are not the elements of a healthy democracy. These are signs of an incipient fascism. And I use that word because our many friends on the ground in Israel use that word now.
I have letters of my great grandmother –I am looking at them right now sitting at my desk- from the Warsaw ghetto. That's where she was tortured to death and she wrote these letters to my grandparents asking for help. And I have letters from friends in Gaza . The tone of the letters feels similar to me. They're prisoners. They're trapped. They don't have enough food or supplies. They want help getting young relatives out. And they don't know what may happen the next day- a bomb, a lethal attack. And mostly, a sense that the world doesn't care. I am deeply haunted by that common message I heard from my great grandmother in the Ghetto and from people I've known in Gaza .
Of course we see the echoes of that and of course Jews in Israel are a traumatized people. But the problem is, it doesn't help to compare Gaza to the Holocaust. Eleven million people are not being systematically slaughtered in Gaza . But what you do have is, as I said, a kind of a slow destruction of a culture, a slow destruction of life. It's a slow ethnic cleansing that is not only killing people but destroying families, destroying spirits, destroying an entire culture with a cruel and callous deliberate intention that causes massive unnecessary suffering on almost every level. They are literally prisoners. And that doesn't need to be compared to the Holocaust to know how horrible and immoral and outrageous it is and how it must be stopped.
Operation Cast Lead killed some 1,400 people and injured countless others. The attack didn't just kill civilians including children, it terrorized an entire population of 1.5 million. It sent them a message that they can never be safe, they cannot protect their families. The level of dehumanization required to justify this kind of treatment of an imprisoned population of 1.5 million people is terrifying. Of course when I hear Israeli government officials use almost identical language that Nazis used to describe Jews, calling Palestinians a virus or bug that must be eradicated, it gives me terrible chills. That process of dehumanization is universal….it has happened in every corner of the earth, and the lesson is that Jews are just as capable as everyone else. We are not better or worse. We are the same.
As Jews, we have an obligation to strengthen and nurture the tradition within our community that struggles for peace and justice, and win out over this other culture that has taken over in the Jewish tradition that is traumatized and fear-based and supports Israel no matter what and really cultivates fear and hatred. It is a struggle within our very own community. I promise you, there's not one Jewish family that is not divided on this issue. There is a huge Jewish closet and people are finally starting to come out.
You say that the Jewish opposition to Israel 's criminal policies is quite strong, and yet those voices don't come out through the media. The only voices that do come out of Israel and the United States are quite reactionary and belligerent. Why is this?
In Israel the Left is much smaller than it used to be, and there are historical reasons for this, most of which are relevant to the colossal failure of the Oslo Accords. But things are changing, especially outside Israel . The numbers of people who are joining our struggle for peace in the Jewish community are rising dramatically. There's a lot of struggle happening in the Jewish world right now, more than we have ever seen since the founding of Israel . Jews are finally taking off their blinders and at least starting to ask questions.
But most people don't know this, and I will tell you why. Because we have all these dinosaurs running all the powerful Jewish organizations in this country who have been there forever. They are funded by an older generation that supports them and has a lot of money. And I am talking about people like Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League or David Harris of the American Jewish Committee. We don't have a spokesperson. Every Jewish community, every Jewish person has a different opinion. But the closest thing we have from visible Jewish representation are people like Abraham Foxman and he is from a completely different generation. Nobody under 45 identifies with him. But there is a generational change that is happening which isn't visible yet. Because the older people are dominating the airways. But that generation is going to have to leave the stage sooner or later.
How do you deal with people coming and criticizing you for anti-Semitism?
Since we started, we have been getting hate mail and death threats. Some said: “you should have burned in the ovens”. Interestingly enough, we get much less of it now, while our movement is growing. I won't lie to you; it has been very difficult to do what we have been doing, because we are also all struggling in our own families. As I have said before, there is not one Jewish family in the world that is not divided on this. But things are changing. What is extremely important is that younger Jews are educating and opening the eyes of the older generation. They go to school, they learn the facts and then they go back home and try to educate their parents. But we need to remember, it's not malicious. It's just that many elderly are closer to the memory of the Holocaust. (We also have many members over 60 who are absolutely clear about supporting Palestinian equal rights.) They lived the horror. It's easier for them to see enemies everywhere. But, like in your case with Turkish-Cypriots, so do we, with our Arab neighbors, share the same physical closeness and genetic closeness. Young people are beginning to realize this more and more and they try to deconstruct their parents false and phobic convictions and it's then that you realize how identity is constructed and even false. We need to collectively write a new national narrative.
We're told that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about terrorism or anti-Jewish hatred or the need for security. And we believe it because Jews have been so persecuted for so many generations.
But it's a false narrative. It's not really about any of those things, not at its most basic core. It's about land, and Israel 's constant thirst for more and more land that people already happen to live on. Israel wants the land but not the people, hence the strategy of making life miserable so that those Palestinians who can leave will do so. The rest? Israel is basically offering them open-air prisons. This is the real narrative.
Israeli Jew, because of the Holocaust, because they are historically a hunted and persecuted people, wrote a national narrative that has literally integrated into the DNA of Israel which is: “The world hates us!” That is the narrative and so they feel that the world hates them, they act like the world hates them. And when things like this happen, when international public opinion is outraged about the attack on Gaza or the attack on the flotilla, they just say “See, we told you they hate us”. And it becomes almost self-fulfilling in the end.
Of course, part of the problem is that anti-Semitism is very real. There are many people who do hate Jews, and those who would like to see us disappear. The Palestinian freedom movement is so clearly first and foremost motivated by a desire to see justice for Palestinians. And my experience with Palestinian leadership is that they have been extremely sensitive about making sure that genuine anti-Semites do not gain a foothold in the movement. There will always be people who hate Jews, or gays, or Muslims etc…, but I think any of us seriously committed to universal human rights must guard against anti-Arab, anti- Muslim, anti-Jewish hatred in all of its forms. The answer to bigotry is not more bigotry. It's acceptance, and the creation of new communities based not on skin color but on values of universal equality. We should interrupt anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim rhetoric wherever we see it.
There can be no Jewish liberation without Palestinian liberation. It is so clear. We are enslaved by this dynamic, just as they are. We have become psychologically enslaved to our fear and our bigotry and Jewish Voice for Peace and the Jewish Liberation Movement is struggling to free our community from the grip of fear and trauma and to celebrate the wonderful diversity and richness of Jewish tradition that puts social justice for ALL people back at its center where it belongs.
Christiana Voniatiis is a human rights activist from Cyprus. She has worked as Head of International News Department at POLITIS newspaper in Nicosia for a couple of years and currently a journalist with www.kathimerini.com.cy . Her work includes interviews with Noam Chomsky, Desmond Tutu, Bill Ayers, Shlomo Avinery, and an ex-Guantanamo detainee etc.
Name: Christiana Voniati
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
14-06-2010 News release 10/103
Gaza closure: not another year!
Geneva/Jerusalem (ICRC) - The hardship faced by Gaza's 1.5 million people cannot be addressed by providing humanitarian aid. The only sustainable solution is to lift the closure.
The serious incidents that took place on 31 May between Israeli forces and activists on a flotilla heading for Gaza once again put the spotlight on the acute hardship faced by the population in the Gaza Strip.
As the ICRC has stressed repeatedly, the dire situation in Gaza cannot be resolved by providing humanitarian aid. The closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is about to enter its fourth year, choking off any real possibility of economic development. Gazans continue to suffer from unemployment, poverty and warfare, while the quality of Gaza's health care system has reached an all-time low.
The whole of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law.
"The closure is having a devastating impact on the 1.5 million people living in Gaza", said Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo, the ICRC's head of operations for the Middle East. "That is why we are urging Israel to put an end to this closure and call upon all those who have an influence on the situation, including Hamas, to do their utmost to help Gaza's civilian population. Israel's right to deal with its legitimate security concerns must be balanced against the Palestinians' right to live normal, dignified lives."
The international community has to do its part to ensure that repeated appeals by States and international organizations to lift the closure are finally heeded.
Under international humanitarian law, Israel must ensure that the basic needs of Gazans, including adequate health care, are met. The Palestinian authorities, for their part, must do everything within their power to provide proper health care, supply electricity and maintain infrastructure for Gaza's people.
Furthermore, all States have an obligation to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of all relief consignments, equipment and personnel.
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is about to enter his fifth year in captivity. Hamas has continued to rebuff the ICRC's requests to let it visit Gilad Shalit. In violation of international humanitarian law, it has also refused to allow him to get in touch with his family. The ICRC again urges those detaining Gilad Shalit to grant him the regular contact with his family to which he is entitled. It also reiterates that those detaining him have an obligation to ensure that he is well treated and that his living conditions are humane and dignified.
Although about 80 types of goods are now allowed into Gaza – twice as many as a year ago –over 4,000 items could be brought in prior to the closure. Generally, the price of goods has increased while their quality has dropped – this is one consequence of the largely unregulated trade conducted through the tunnels that have been dug under the Gaza-Egypt border to circumvent the closure.
Fertile farmland located close to the border fence has been turned into a wasteland by ongoing hostilities, affecting people's livelihoods in many rural communities. The buffer zone imposed by Israel extends in practice over one kilometre into the Gaza Strip, covering a total area of about 50 square kilometres that is host to nearly a third of Gaza's farmland and a large share of its livestock. Agricultural activities in the area are hampered by security conditions. Israel's enforcement of the buffer zone and frequent hostilities have resulted not only in civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian property but also in the impoverishment and displacement of numerous families.
Gaza's fishermen have been greatly affected by successive reductions imposed by Israel on the size of the fishing grounds they are allowed to exploit. The latest restriction to three nautical miles has cut down both the quantity and quality of the catch. As a result, nearly 90% of Gaza's 4000 fishermen are now considered either poor (with a monthly income of between 100 and 190 US dollars) or very poor (earning less than 100 dollars a month), up from 50% in 2008. In their struggle to survive, the fishermen have little choice but to sail into no-go zones, at the risk of being shot by the Israeli navy.
"I have already been arrested and my boat has been confiscated several times," said Nezar Ayyash, who heads Gaza's fishermen's union. "But this is our life here. We know that fishing can cost us our lives, but we have no other choice but to go out with our boats: we need to feed our families."
No cure in sight for ailing health-care system
Gaza is suffering from an acute electricity crisis. The power supply in Gaza is interrupted for seven hours a day on average. The consequences for public services, especially the primary health-care system, are devastating. Hospitals rely on generators to cope with the daily blackouts.
The power cuts pose a serious risk to the treatment of patients – and to their very lives. It takes two to three minutes for a generator to begin operating, and during that time electronic devices do not function. As a result, artificial respirators must be reactivated manually, dialysis treatment is disrupted and surgery is suspended as operating theatres are plunged into darkness.
To make matters worse, fuel reserves for hospital generators keep drying up. Three times this year, fuel shortages have forced hospitals to cancel all elective surgery and accept emergency cases only. Gaza's paediatric hospital had to transfer all its patients to another facility because it could no longer function. Laundry services have repeatedly shut down. With the prospect of increased electricity consumption during the hot summer months when air conditioning is required, the situation is likely to deteriorate further if hospitals do not receive ample fuel.
Fluctuations in the power supply can also damage essential medical equipment. Repairs are difficult owing to the closure, under which the transfer into Gaza of spare parts for medical equipment is subject to excessive delays of up to several months.
The transfer of disposable electrodes, which are used to monitor the heart rhythm of cardiac patients, has been delayed since August 2009. Without this equipment, patient lives are at risk, as heart problems may not be detected in time. Because of the restrictions in place, most heart monitors in Gaza will be unusable by the end of this month. The run-down state of equipment is one of the reasons for the high numbers of patients seeking treatment outside the Strip.
Stocks of essential medical supplies have reached an all-time low because of a standstill in cooperation between Palestinian authorities in Ramallah and Gaza. At the end of May 2010, 110 of 470 medicines considered essential, such as chemotherapy and haemophilia drugs, were unavailable in Gaza. When chemotherapy is interrupted, the chances of success drop dramatically, even if another painful round of treatment is initiated. Haemophilia patients face life-threatening haemorrhages when compounds such as Factor VIII and IX are not available.
More than 110 of the 700 disposable items that should be available are also out of stock. The only way to cope is to re-use such items as ventilator tubes or colostomy bags, even though doing so can lead to infections that endanger patients' lives.
"The state of the health-care system in Gaza has never been worse," said Eileen Daly, the ICRC's health coordinator in the territory. "Health is being politicized: that is the main reason the system is failing. Unless something changes, things are only going to get even worse. Thousands of patients could go without treatment and the long-term outlook will be increasingly worrisome."
The health-care system is further weakened by severe restrictions imposed on the movement of people into and out of Gaza. The restrictions prevent medical staff from leaving the Strip to get the training they need to update their skills, and technicians from entering to repair medical equipment.
Lack of sanitation hazardous for health and the environment
The lack of proper sanitation and certain agricultural practices are polluting Gaza's aquifer. Only about 60% of the territory's 1.4 million inhabitants are connected to a sewage collection system. Raw sewage discharged into the river Wadi Gaza, which snakes through urban areas, jeopardizes the health of the communities living on its banks.
Because the aquifer is over-exploited, drinking water in most of Gaza contains high levels of nitrate, chloride and salt. The water is unfit for consumption, and the risk of contracting an infectious disease is high.
Assembling enough suitable materials to carry out sanitation projects is a slow and haphazard process. Materials obtained through the tunnel trade can be of questionable quality, while some items, such as certain electro-mechanical pumps, cannot be found at all, which hobbles construction efforts.
"The current situation is critical and may lead to an irreversible trend in the degradation of underground fresh water," said Javier Cordoba, who oversees the ICRC's water and sanitation activities in Gaza. "Large-scale projects, such as the construction of a desalination plant, must be undertaken to meet water-supply needs without further exposing the aquifer. The closure must be lifted so that the 4.5 billion US dollars pledged by donor countries over a year ago can be put to use."
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ICRC activities in 2010
In Gaza, the ICRC continues to work closely with the Palestine Red Crescent Society, supporting its efforts to boost its capacities as a provider of core humanitarian services within the Gaza Strip, which include pre-hospital emergency care and psycho-social activities. The ICRC has also provided support for construction and renovation work carried out on three stations of the Palestine Red Crescent emergency medical services, two of which were damaged during last year's war.
The ICRC closely monitors the situation of civilians adversely affected by the conduct of hostilities or armed violence. It makes confidential representations to the authorities or armed groups concerned, reminding them of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law and other international rules.
The ICRC endeavours to ensure that a certain level of care is maintained for sick and injured patients, but owing to restrictions there is only so much it can do. It delivers spare parts needed to keep medical equipment in working condition. In addition, to help hospitals cope with the most urgent needs, it regularly supplies medical facilities with drugs and other medical items intended mainly for emergency rooms and operating theatres. It also provides technical assistance and supplies for the Artificial Limb and Polio Centre in Gaza City, where over 1,000 patients have received treatment this year.
The ICRC is doing everything it can to enhance the power and water supply in hospitals, where it is also seeking to improve sanitation, laundry and other services. In addition, it is building an extension to the Polio Centre in Gaza City.
The ICRC continues to work on upgrades for the Rafah wastewater treatment plant which will eventually serve some 170,000 people. However, to finish the work, certain materials must be allowed in through the crossing points. The upgrades, once completed, will result not only in a safer and more healthful environment for the population, but also in treated wastewater clean enough to seep into and refresh the aquifer, which remains the sole source of drinking water in the Gaza Strip.
The ICRC helps needy families in Gaza to make ends meet through cash-for-work programmes, and helps farmers to increase crop yields. In particular, the aid it provides enables farmers to reclaim and develop land degraded by military operations or enforced neglect, to improve soil fertility and productivity, and to obtain enough seedlings for each agricultural season.
Over 800 Gazan detainees in Israeli prisons have been prevented from meeting face-to-face with their loved ones since June 2007, when Israel suspended the ICRC's family visit programme. To mitigate the effects of this measure, the ICRC has doubled its own visits to Gazan detainees and stepped up its efforts to maintain family links by delivering written and oral messages between detainees and their families.
Between January and May 2010, the ICRC:
* visited about 450 people held in places of detention throughout the Gaza Strip in order to monitor the conditions of detention, the treatment they receive and the application of procedural safeguards. The organization shared its findings with the authorities on a regular basis and made confidential representations whenever appropriate;
* visited 300 Gazan detainees in over 20 places of detention in Israel;
* delivered over 100 messages from Gazan families to detained relatives and over 200 from Gazan detainees to their families in Gaza;
* provided about 90 tonnes of drugs and disposable items for eight government hospitals;
* responded to 17 requests from the Ministry of Health to help keep specialized medical equipment up and running; in particular, the ICRC provided spare parts for ultrasound and mammography machines, oxygen connectors for an intensive care unit, a laryngoscope lens, and a power supply box for a CT scanner. It also provided spare parts for hospital generators and washing machines;
* provided technical support for Shifa Hospital's emergency department, which included two emergency-room training courses attended by over 50 doctors and nurses;
* provided maintenance for over 60 ambulances from the Ministry of Health's fleet, and carried out 15 station visits together with the Palestine Red Crescent Society to monitor and support the activities of the emergency medical services;
* supported the efforts of the Palestine Red Crescent to boost its capacities, and took steps to enhance coordination between various ambulance service providers in the Gaza Strip;
* provided support for construction and renovation work carried out on three stations of the emergency medical services;
* provided support for Palestine Red Crescent workshops on disaster planning attended by 120 staff and volunteers;
* promoted international humanitarian law in sessions with Gaza's Hamas authorities, armed groups, academics and religious groups.
For further information, please contact:
Dorothea Krimitsas (English/French), ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18
Florian Westphal (English/German), ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 82 or +41 79 217 32 80
Cecilia Goin (English/Spanish), ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 52 601 91 50
Nadia Dibsy (Arabic), ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 2 582 88 45 or +972 52 601 91 48
Hicham Hassan (Arabic), regional spokesperson in Cairo, tel: +20 1 87 42 43 44
Simon Schorno (English/French), ICRC Washington, tel: +1 202 361 15 66
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